Today’s Gainesville, FL City Guide comes from Melanie Ling, a digital branding and social media manager who can’t resist prints, colors, patterns and good design. While Melanie is originally from Miami, Florida, Gainesville has been her home since 2003, and she is currently working on a photography book of Victorian architecture in Trinidad and Tobago. Today she gives us a tour of this eclectic Florida city. Thank you for this wonderful guide, Melanie! — Stephanie
Read the full guide after the jump . . .
There is a lot to be said about Gainesville, Florida, but it is only when you live here and get entrenched in the local culture, activities and haunts that your role in the city starts to make sense. It never occurred to me (until my friend Lester said it) that Gainesville IS international.
Here you’ll meet people from around the world in all kinds of careers who’ve lived, traveled, worked and studied in unimaginable places, due in part to the educational offerings (the University of Florida, Santa Fe College and Shands teaching hospital). Our tech and start-up scene is on a rapid incline, and our nature parks and preserves are a source of pride. We believe in buying local and supporting the economy from the ground up with a progressive, entrepreneurial and community spirit.
While Gainesville is one of those Florida cities that preserves the slower-paced southern charms of polite gestures and friendly smiles, if you seek it, you’ll also find the upbeat culture of galleries, art, culinary journeys and dance parties that will knock your socks off. Here are some of my favorites:
Check out this Google Map with all of the listings below!
SWEETWATER BRANCH INN
This charming Victorian bed and breakfast on the east end of Gainesville allows visitors close and direct access to all the highlights downtown. The property houses two restored Victorian-era mansions and guest cottages surrounded by private gardens.
HAMPTON INN DOWNTOWN
The newest hotel to hit the city is in the heart of downtown Gainesville. It sits along brick-paved streets, above storefronts and restaurants, a block from the Hippodrome State Theatre and across the street from wine bar Half Cork’d. Can’t beat that!
UNIVERSITY HILTON & CONFERENCE CENTER
Located on the southwest end of the Univ. of Florida campus, this large hotel is on a direct route to the Harn Museum and around the corner from our main shopping and dining drag, Archer Road.
EAT & EXPERIENCE
Your Gainesville dining experience would not be complete without a visit to The Top, arguably the city’s premiere destination for vegetarian dining. With a window display that can rival any Anthropologie storefront, their porch and back patio (dubbed “The Porch”) are where you’ll find Gainesville’s finest hipster set.
Carnivores aren’t left out from their lengthy menu — choose from chicken or fish dishes and burgers like The Maradona layered with chimichurri, sautéed onions and Swiss cheese. The Shiitake Mashed Potatoes are also a plate of awesome, and do not miss their appetizers like the infamous Creamed Corn Nuggets, Tofu Triangles or my personal favorite, the Plantain Dip Trio served fresh with sides of guacamole, black beans and salsa.
Almost five years ago, 101 Downtown claimed Gainesville’s downtown fusion dining title. It has evolved from a snazzy dinner restaurant and midnight martini lounge to include trendy weekend brunches and a newly installed onsite wine cellar for guests to enjoy.
By day you can’t go wrong with the Traditional Breakfast — a man-sized plate with all the a.m. classics. By night, the Chilean Sea Bass is a must-try for dinner along with the Coconut Lamb cutlets. Their martini and thoughtful drink concoctions list is endless (and quite unparalleled locally).
The fancy sushi joint (imagine Japanese pub-grub). Atmosphere and ambiance are not lost here with a full sake bar, innovative dishes and house favorites like the Dragonfly roll. Rolls are tasty, and other dishes are separated into hot (like Short Ribs served with Kimchi and Pork Belly Steamed Buns) and cold sashimi.
Open for dinner, lunch and weekend brunch; you’d be hard pressed to find a more innovative restaurant than Civilization. This co-op is the place where friends kick back for good food and great conversation.
Visiting Civilization, you can enjoy their ever-changing list of special dishes or menu favorites like the Mediterranean Rice Salad or Chicken Piri Piri (a traditional Mozambique/Portuguese dish). This restaurant takes great pride in sourcing their inventory from local farmers and growers.
SNACKS & LIGHT FARE
FLACO’S CUBAN BAKERY
What city would be complete without its dive-y, late night salty destination? You’ll find no more perfect choice than Flaco’s. A Cuban-influenced emporium that offers savory and sweet on their menu of sandwiches and pastries. Get there early for the Chicken Borrracho Sandwich (they run out fast) or the Ropa Vieja. Locals frequent Flaco’s on the Thursday to Saturday night haul craving a meal after a long night out (because y’know, sometimes you just need something for the road).
MAUDE’S CLASSIC CAFE
Love coffee, classic cinema and board games? Maude’s is your ultra-cool destination for all of the above. Located next to the historic Hippodrome State Theatre in downtown Gainesville, it’s like that friend’s comfortable living you have a hard time leaving late at night.
Enjoy specialty coffees, roasts and baked treats along with cinema-sized screenings of films, from cult favorites to Italian Neorealism and French New Wave.
The area’s destination for Mexican delights. Your usual favorites (beef, chicken and pork) are on the menu, but they also offer gator meat and vegetarian options along with a monthly exotic taco (you’ll know what it is before you order). Side note, BEST nachos in town!
Open only with afternoon and night hours, Sarkara Sweets offers fancy vegan cupcakes. Think a “create-your-own-bakery” where you choose your flavor of cupcake from the base, filling and topping.
EVENTS/DO AND SEE
Our affectionate nickname for this communal art workshop (the official name is the Doris Bardon Community Cultural Center). It opened at the end of 2011 and was born from the namesake’s vision to have an arts facility open to all — from novices to local masters in painting, sculpting, drawing and music.
The Doris gives the community a home for the arts. Their list of classes includes painting, ceramics, printmaking and drawing. It is also a location for the monthly Downtown Art Walk, and it looks especially stunning at night.
DOWNTOWN FAMER’S MARKET
Every Wednesday afternoon, locals enjoy the best stock North Central Florida growers have to offer: fruits, produce, vegetables, honey, flowers, soy candles, fabrics and more.
Artwalk Gainesville: held on the last Friday of every month at participating galleries, restaurants and studios.
DOUBLE DOWN LIVE
Event and concert space with an ever-changing lineup of music acts and monthly stand-up comedy.
THE HIPPODROME THEATRE
Located in the historical Federal Building, the theatre is open 340 days a year for public performances of original works and off-Broadway gems. An onsite cinema screens first-run foreign, limited-release and avant-garde films, while their Visual Arts Gallery hosts eight Florida artists annually.
THE ECLECTIC CO. VINTAGE & RESALE SHOP
Worth a Saturday morning perusal. This shop doesn’t have a set stock date, so if you’re on the hunt for vintage and retro treasures, it’s worth a visit or two . . . or three. The store is located in a beautiful old Floridian home, and each room is designed with merchandise to fit the space it inhabits (e.g., kitchen essentials, parlor goods and more).
The city’s destination for TOM’S™ and other gift options. Buy local!
A food market on Main Street that pulls double duty on the weekends with its courtyard space and farmer’s market. A health nut and vegan paradise with a long selection of good, exotic ingredients and fresh spices and herbs.
WINE & CHEESE GALLERY
A bountiful supply of fine wines, cheeses, cured meats and a knowledge staff that knows how to pair them all. Products are locally sourced and imported goodies — worth a visit for anyone with an interesting palate.
NORTHWEST, MIDTOWN & CAMPUS
EAT & EXPERIENCE
BENTO SUSHI CAFE
Ask anyone for a sushi recommendation in Gainesville and I guarantee Bento makes it on the list. A favorite with the college circuit and locals, this business has grown from its flagship Gainesville store to a second location in town — an additional “quick eats” version opposite the University of Florida campus — to multiple locations in Jacksonville and Orlando.
Their extensive sushi list will appeal to the California Roll novice and the most experienced sushi connoisseur. Rolls are their specialty, but take a stab at their noodle bowls, soups, rice bowls, bento boxes and Pad Thai. Warning: the portions are HUGE so go hungry.
MI APA LATIN CAFE
Hands down my favorite Cuban food joint this side of Florida. Dine in or do their drive-through window. Mi Apa serves breakfast, lunch and dinner with classic favorites like croquettes, papa rellena, guava pastelitos and natural fruit juices, such as mango, passion fruit, lulo, papaya and blackberry. The pork (through lechon or pernil) never disappoints. The portions are huge and full of flavor, and the prices are nice and low.
MILDRED’S BIG CITY FOOD
A great dinner without the stuffy atmosphere. The location is central and the ingredients locally sourced. Get the Braised Escargot or Roasted Beet Salad with Pistachio Nuts — you won’t be sorry.
BLUE GILL QUALITY FOODS
This takes southern fare to a place anyone can enjoy. While keeping the traditional charm, like serving drinks from a mason jar with boiled peanuts, the food is a well-crafted blend of comfort and contemporary. Try a Crab and Scallop Cake, Smoked Pork Belly with Butterbeans or the GIGANTIC Fried Chicken Plate with Black-Eyed Peas and Cucumber Salad.
SNACKS & LIGHT FARE
SWEET DREAMS ICE CREAM
Sweet Dreams wins the prize for creativity. You won’t find a more interesting, larger selection of ice cream flavors in town. All sourced locally, they offer their take on the usual suspects like Pistachio and Balsamic Chocolate Strawberry; however, the menu is pretty much seasonal so when you see the Honey Zucchini flavor or Peanut Butter Curry, do not hesitate!
TEMPO BISTRO TO GO
You’ve died and gone to sandwich heaven when you visit Tempo Bistro. The combinations and flavors are what set this place apart. It’s a small store but everything is super fresh. Be sure to grab a jar of their homemade Strawberry and Basil Jam on the way out!
EVENTS/DO & SEE
A pottery and ceramic studio for all ages, workshops and parties. The fees are nominal and the turnaround on fired pieces is pretty quick, depending on the size. Choose from any vase, bowl and sculpture imaginable and let your creative juices flow.
This addition to the Harn Museum on the Univ. of Florida campus is their latest installment – a 26,000 square foot Asian Wing, showcasing work from China, India, Japan, Korea and Southwest Asia. It opened in March 2012 and promises to show pieces from the Neolithic period up to present day.
SWAMP HEAD BREWERY
Cottonmouth? That’s one of the beverage names at this local beer brewery. The offerings (with awesome names like Stump Knocker and Midnight Oil) vary from year-round releases to limited-edition flavors. You can drink and enjoy onsite at their tasting bar — The Wetlands — or bring your own container from home to take away.
A hidden gem — pun intended — for jewelry repair, antique and estate jewelry finds, cameos, gems, geodes, silver and gold pieces from yesteryear, fossils and shells. The store is overwhelming on your first visit, but pop in every so often as their stock is always replenished.
Circle Square is a studio and factory for repurposed, river-rescued woods like cypress, cedar, pine and bamboo. Owner and master craftsman Alexis Dodd with Shawn Masichino use these 2000-year-old woods from the river floor as well as steel and leathers to make furniture pieces.
While not an operating storefront, you are welcome to visit the studio and factory of Fracture — a service that prints your images directly to glass. No frames, no matte, just your art or photos ready to be displayed. Fracture lets users upload images through its site and prints them to many sizes and dimensions — a great way to make the kids’ art projects last through the years with a simple scan or digital photo.
4MOST GALLERY AT WARPHAUS
A gallery curated with student- and alumni-created art from the University of Florida School of Art + Art History. Shows are ongoing and work is on sale.
EAT & EXPERIENCE
THE QUEEN’S ARMS PUB
The only authentic pub-grub find in these parts. The English and Welsh owners have created a true British pub experience complete with a long list of lagers, twice monthly high English tea, a typical fry-up breakfast platter and cricket matches on the telly. Their bistro next door serves Mediterranean and Persian fare to reflect one of the couples’ Iranian roots.
SOUTH GARDEN CHINESE FOOD
The family that runs this restaurant spent many years in Colombia after leaving China. The dishes, while typically Cantonese, hint at their time in South America through their use of spices. Dim sum is offered weekends only and ordered off a checklist menu (no room for serving carts here as the place is always packed). During the week, enjoy lunch and dinner.
A short drive west of Gainesville you’ll find Sabore restaurant in the Town of Tioga. Chef William Hernandez serves a collection of tapas inspired by flavors and dishes of the world (try the Arancini or Tuna Tostone and their homemade White Wine Sangria).
Probably the freshest, most flavorful Mexican restaurant in town. The walls are beautifully decorated; their plates and servings are enormous.
The place to go for breakfast after a long morning at the Farmer’s Market. Their menu is locally sourced and organic. They do an excellent job of accommodating meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans alike without sacrificing flavor. Give them a try for dinner, too, with live music on the porch under twinkling lights.
SNACKS & LIGHT FARE
Cupcakes, coffee and WiFi — need I say more? And apparently gourmet mac n’ cheese because that’s right up there with cupcakes in the comfort-food category.
EVENTS/DO & SEE
HAILE PLANTATION FAMER’S MARKET
On Saturday mornings, under a lush canopy of trees, the neighborhood market in Haile Plantation gathers the best stock that North Central Florida has to offer. Fresh seafood from the coast and Gulf, meats, fruits, produce, vegetables, organic honey, soy candles, antique jewelry, orchids and more. The market is Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to noon.
KANAPAHA BOTANICAL GARDENS
A 62-acre plot featuring various gardens like their rose, herb, woodland, hummingbird and ginger gardens (these are all separate) and classes like “Getting the Tropical Look with Hardy Evergreen Plants” as well as bonsai and bamboo care and cultivation classes. The garden is open most days to the public for a small fee.
Fifteen minutes south of Gainesville is the charming, antique village of Micanopy, Florida (most famously put on the map as the backdrop for the 1991 film Doc Hollywood). Its antique shops contribute to the town’s notoriety, as the main drag is filled with antique coves and treasures.
Just off I-75 is Smiley’s Antique Mall, an enormous emporium of collections including housewares, kitchen items, dishes and cookware, jewels, furniture, tools, linens, books, art, frames and paintings. My advice: COME HERE LAST. Smiley’s is so big and overwhelming that if you go first, it could be too much to head further into the town.
UPPERCRUST BAKERY WINE AND CHEESE TASTINGS
This artisan French-style bakery hosts wine tastings every Saturday afternoon, but their regular bakery offers fresh, artfully crafted breads, croissants, pastries, rolls and quiches. Get their Cinnamon Walnut Rolls or the Turkey and Chèvre Croissants.
BEAD ALL ABOUT IT
An adorable store that hosts classes and sells beads of every color and material imaginable. Make your own bead or stone jewelry. If you’re looking for something more exotic, ask for their trunk show calendar, where vendors who source worldwide sell their turquoise, lapiz azul, amber, silver and other precious finds.
UNICORN HILL FARM
The oldest Christmas tree farm in the area
DOWNTOWN FESTIVAL & ART SHOW
A nationally recognized weekend event featuring oils, acrylics, sculptures, watercolors, ceramics, metal work, wood and leather crafts on display. There is a children’s learn and play area. Other than the art, this festival boasts a long list of fair foods to choose from in the Thai, Italian, Greek, Indian and Southern categories — go hungry.
SPRING GARDEN FESTIVAL
Held in March at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, this two-day event is the kick-off to warmer weather in Gainesville. Over 60 acres of crafted gardens, natural landscaping and ponds are open to the public. The course is transformed with booths from various landscapers, growers and botanists, geode collectors, orchid and bonsai houses, windmills, crafts and more.
An annual music festival with hundreds of acts in the scope of punk rock (the majority), indie and alternative music every Halloween weekend. The shows are played simultaneously within walking distance of each other. There is also a massive art show and “flea market” featuring merch from record labels, design companies, clothing lines and independent artwork.
GREATER GATOR BEER FESTIVAL
An afternoon smorgasbord where admission includes UNLIMITED samples of more than 100 of the world’s best beers and appetizers from area restaurants.
Brittany & Cynthia Daniel (can’t watch Joe Dirt without noting that)
Joaquin & River Phoenix
Tim Tebow (really from Jacksonville, but we claim him as part of the Gator Nation)
Robert Cade (inventor of Gatorade)
Less Than Jake