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Before UF Gator football, here are ideas for restaurants and what to do in Gainesville

If you're in Gainesville for football, you came to the right place. College football doesn't get much better than the University of Florida Gators on the field in the Swamp with 90,000 chomping fans.

Gainesville can be the right place for other outings, too, especially before and after the game, especially if you're with friends or your college students.

But sticking with football for a bit, make sure before kickoff that you're properly clothed and outfitted in orange and blue by cruising one of several university shops, or the University Avenue sidewalks, where local merchants and entrepreneurs sport a wide variety of Gators paraphernalia.

Then take a stroll across campus for all the tailgating parties – emphasis on party, with food, drink, camaraderie and costumes, and starting early. It's a great way to meet people – and see what your kids are up to at college.

Leave a few minutes to stop outside the Swamp, otherwise known as Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, to salute the statues of three Gators quarterbacks who won the Heisman Trophy: Tim Tebow, Danny Wuerffel and Steve Spurrier. And don't miss (you can't, really) the big Bull Gator. Inside, stop off to contemplate the SEC (eight) and national championship (three) trophies.

All that constitutes entertainment in abundance for any UF student, parent or fan. Go Gators!

But while you're here, there's more to enjoy. Here's a sampling:

OUTDOORS

Lake Wauburg

The Seminoles used to call this area home, followed by Spanish cattle ranchers. But Lake Wauburg gets its name, sort of, from Frederick Warburg, who with Moses Levy, established a Jewish settlement near here in the 1820s.

Levy, a Sephardic Jew descended from families expelled from Spain in the 1400s, believed Florida could be a home for persecuted Jews from all over Europe, and by 1820 had begun buying thousands of acres in the north central part of the state. He established a plantation and hired Frederick Warburg, a member of a prominent German banking family, to help recruit Jewish settlers. Though Levy's dream of a new Zion never fully materialized, his son, David, became the first Jewish member of the U.S. Senate.

Over the years, Lake Wauburg (the misspelling is lost in history), via purchases and donations, became the property of the university. Today it's a great spot to relax and enjoy nature.

You can go boating (by canoe, sailboat, rowboat, paddleboat or kayak), swim, play disc golf or try your hand, and feet, on a climbing wall. The 55-foot wall has no fewer than 19 routes to the top, able to satisfy the novice and expert alike.

Or you can bring a picnic (tables and grills are scattered throughout the park). Then, just loll on the grass, enjoy the cool breeze off the lake and take in the greenery.

Another highlight: Admission and activities are free with your student's Gator 1 Card, and a cardholder can bring up to four guests.

Lake Wauburg is at 133 Regatta Drive, in Micanopy, which is eight miles south of the UF campus on U.S. 441. Closed Mondays. Generally open from 10 a.m. 'til 5:30 p.m., but call to check seasonal hours. Call 352-466-4112, or go online at www.recsports.ufl.edu/lake-wauburg.

Payne's Prairie Preserve State Park

This state park boasts 20,000 acres, three ponds, two lakes, alligators, herds of American bison, wild horses and scrub cattle, the latter two descended from the stock of Spanish conquistadores. An observation tower provides an excellent view; a visitor center with museum offers history and information. It's also one of the best spots within miles to boat, camp, hike, fish, picnic and observe up to 100 species of birds.

Located 10 miles south of Gainesville on U.S. 441. $6 per vehicle with up to eight occupants. Call 352-466-339, or visit the website at www.floridastateparks.org/paynesprairie.

Devil's Millhopper State Geological Park

At least a dozen small waterfalls provide a gurgling soundtrack as you take 232 steps downward to the bottom of this old sinkhole, 120 feet deep and 500 feet wide. It's a cool, damp mini-rainforest, amidst the sand and scrub above. There are picnic tables, and a visitor center with interpretive displays.

4732 Millhopper Road (SR 232); $4 per car of up to eight. Call 352-955-2008 or visit www.floridastateparks.org/devils-millhopper.

The Bat House

It's a natural nightly ritual, drawing curious crowds to watch these flying mammals as they begin their nightly hunt. Get there just before dusk (park down the street) and you'll see at first a couple of the free-tailed bats swoop out every few seconds until, whoosh, up to 100,000 of the creatures stream out for their nightly feast on the insect population. The odd Bat House, on stilts and complete with a Batman-like logo, was built in 1991 as a new home for the night creatures after their first residence at the tennis and track stadiums, and their odor, forced relocation.

The bat house is on the UF campus, on the westerly Museum Road and across the street from Lake Alice.

Also, check out:

Retirement Home for Horses in Alachua (386-462-1001)

Santa Fe Canoe Outpost in High Springs (386-454-2050)

Kanapaha Botanical Gardens in Gainesville (352-372-4981)

ART AND CULTURE

The Thomas Center

The historic William Reuben Thomas Center – first a private home, then a hotel, now a museum and arts and culture center owned and operated by the city of Gainesville – is a beautifully restored Mediterranean Revival-style complex of buildings.

The original home was built in the 1900s by its namesake, an educator, merchant and politician who was instrumental in bringing the University of Florida to Gainesville. Later, 94 hotel rooms were added, and luminaries such as Helen Keller, Robert Frost and new UF professors slept here.

Today, the site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is known for its fine art galleries, 1920s period rooms, local history exhibits, performance space, and banquet and meeting rooms.

Enveloping all the history: Lush, colorful gardens, with manicured lawns perfect for relaxing.

302 NE Sixth Avenue, Gainesville. Open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. 'til 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. No charge to visit. Call 352-393-8539 or visit www.GVLCulturalaffairs.org.

Hippodrome Theatre

Catch a play, an opera or a movie at this former federal building. The stately columns are impressive, as is the old-timey elevator to the second-floor main venue, where every seat puts you almost on stage with the actors.

The Hippodrome is at 25 SE Second Place in downtown Gainesville. Tickets are available at the Hippodrome Box Office by calling 352-375-HIPP and online at thehipp.org. Parking in downtown Gainesville is free after 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and all day, Saturday and Sunday. There's also a parking garage a block away, on Second Avenue, across from Dragonfly restaurant. The Hipp will validate your ticket, cutting the cost to $3.

Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art

The Harn, which opened in 1990, contains 8,000 works of art, in Asian, African, modern and photography collections, plus traveling exhibitions. One of the largest university-affiliated art museums in the United States, the Harn Museum features 32,800 square feet of exhibition space, a 250-seat auditorium, study center, a museum store and a cafe with a calming water garden out back.

The Harn is at the corner of SW 34th Street and Hull Road on the west end of the University of Florida campus. Open Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free. Call 352-392-9826, or visit www.arts.ufl.edu/harn.

Florida Museum of Natural History

There's 55,000 square feet of oohs, ahs and education here, perfect for young and older alike. Exhibits reveal Florida's ecological and cultural experiences, including fossils and specimen collections, plus displays on people and environments, waterways and wildlife.

Located at SW 34th Street and Hull Road on the west end of the UF campus. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays and holidays, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Call 352-846-2000, or visit www.flmnh.ufl.edu. No admission fee, but donations are appreciated.

Butterfly Rainforest

Hundreds of multi-hued butterflies flit throughout a four-story screened world, with trails through cascading waterfalls, lush plants and trees.

Located at SW 34th Street and Hull Road on the west end of the UF campus. Open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 1 to 5 p.m. Cost is $7.50 for adults, $4.50 for children age three to 12. Call 352-846-2000 or visit www.flmnh.ufl.edu.

Also, check out:

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings State Historic Site in Cross Creek (352-466-3672)

Archer Community Museum in Gainesville (352-495-1044)

Historic Haile Homestead at Kanapaha Plantation in Gainesville (352-336-9086).

MUSIC

Downtown Concerts

The Bo Diddley Community Plaza sings out from 8 to 10 p.m. Friday nights from May through October, with local and regional bands doing their stuff under the stars. It may be blues, bluegrass, rhythm and blues, Brazilian. Who cares? It's all free.

It's family-friendly, and you can even join the dancing in front of the stage.

Bring a chair or a blanket to spread on the lawn. Buy a glow stick, hot dog or snow cone from a nearby vendor and enjoy.

Shows start at 8 p.m. at the park, corner of SE First Street and E University Avenue in downtown Gainesville. Find out more at www.gvlculturalaffairs.org.

Rockey's Dueling Piano Bar

A popular spot with both the college crowd and their parents, the draw at Rockey's is raucous music and drinks. Two pianists do requests (and they seem to know everything – country, soft rock, Lady GaGa, you name it) starting around 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Make a request with a tip. Count on crowd sing-alongs, and you might just get called to the stage to have a song sung about you. But do not count on being flattered. 112 S Main St., downtown Gainesville; 352-505-0042

DINING

Satchel's Pizza

If you visit Gainesville but don't eat at Satchel's, then some would say you haven't really visited Gainesville. Satchel's is eclectic. Different. Okay, it's downright odd – but altogether delightful. And we're not even talking about the food yet, which is very good.

Aside from dining, there's a junk museum, a gift shop, a souvenir shop, a toy store and a waiting lounge with beer, wine and music. But that hardly captures what's here.

In the garden and greenhouses, you can contemplate cactus, mushrooms, herbs, bamboo – and drop off your own ailing plants to be nursed back to health. Players at the bocce ball court use beer for fuel. The fountain utilizes junk, water and concrete; beyond that it's hard to describe – it just has to be seen. There's a tree house. And play areas for the kids. And a pine cone contest.

There's live music most nights, usually from 6 to 9. Like the rest of the Satchel's experience, you never quite know what you'll get. Bohemian hillbilly, high-energy bluegrass, tribal belly dancers or a father-daughter duo doing swamp grass Americana.

For sale: Branded T-shirts, Florida snow globes, whirligigs and mobiles from what is billed as the best collection anywhere, tiddlywinks, an ant farm, finger puppets, facial hair kits, wind-up metal toys and a bike plane.

The junk museum has probably the world's best selections of yarn art, fruit baskets, knobs, pet tags, chalk ware, coconut heads and fake greenery.

"Much" and "more" are not words easily overused at Satchel's. There's even a 1965 Ford van out front where you can eat your pizza.

Ah, yes, the pizza. It's king here, some of the best around, and lots of ways to order it. Sausage with basil is a good place to start. There's also the Satch Salad, with a garden of ingredients and a secret dressing; calzones; and, for dessert, cannolis. Wash it all down with a soda or a selection from a better-than-average list of white and red wines.

This is a true Gainesville experience not to be missed. Get there early and be patient; Satchel's draws a big crowd.

Satchel's is at 1800 NE 23rd Ave., Gainesville. Open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. 'til 11 p.m. Cash only, but there's an ATM on premises and the $1.50 fee is donated to local charities. Call 352-335-7272 or visit (and this is worth some study in itself) www.satchelspizza.com.

Ivey's Grill

This is breakfast and lunch elevated. Crab cakes Benedict. Homemade bran muffins with pears. Coffee blended on premises. A selection of raw foods. Plus, artwork on the walls from local painters.

Ivey's is at 3300 W University Ave. in Gainesville, on the north side of the shopping center containing Publix. Call 352-371-4839, or visit www.iveysgrill.com. Open for breakfast (which is served all day) and lunch Tuesday through Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Breakfast only on Sunday.

Harvest Thyme

This one's very popular with students and no wonder: excellent food, low prices (the costliest item on the menu is only $8.25), emphasis on quality and healthy ingredients.

Breakfast features organic coffee, fresh muffins, scones, bagels and brownies. For lunch, choose from sandwiches (our favorite was the Smoked Apple Bacon Turkey Melt), wraps, pastas, soups (the tomato bisque was outstanding), fruit salads, shakes and fresh fruit smoothies.

Harvest Thyme is just down the street from the university, at 2 W University Ave. in downtown Gainesville. Open 8 a.m. 'til 8 p.m., Monday through Friday; 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday; 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday. Call 352-384-9497 or visit www.harvestthymecafe.com.

Panache, in the Wine and Cheese Gallery

Panache is a small bistro within the Wine and Cheese Gallery, an institution in Gainesville since 1973. Great sandwiches – roast beef with aged Vermont cheddar, or French brie with apples and cinnamon, for instance – come with kettle chips and a pickle, for only $7.49. Salads range from simple to extravagant, but only cost $6.95. Then cruise the store, a warren of rooms in the old home, with wines – more than 3,000 choices – tucked in every nook. Up front, there are cheeses, chocolates and olive oils, too.

Located at 113 N Main St., downtown Gainesville, lunch is available from 11 a.m. until 2:15 p.m., Monday through Friday. On Saturday, brunch is from noon 'til 3 p.m. The store is open for retail Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and on Fridays until 8 p.m. Call 352-372-8446, or visit www.wineandcheesegallery.com.

Also, try:

The Swamp Restaurant (352-377-9267)

Phil-Nick's Restaurant (352-376-8269)

The Top (352-337-1188)

Northwest Grill (352-376-0500)

Leonardo's Pizza (352) 375-2007)

Philip Ward, formerly a reporter, editor and manager at the Tupelo (MS) Daily Journal, the Miami Herald and the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, lives in Plantation.

Editor's note: This story was originally published on VISITFLORIDA.com

Before UF Gator football, here are ideas for restaurants and what to do in Gainesville 08/23/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 23, 2011 5:10pm]

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