“This is Gator Country,” being loudly chanted by 90,000 roaring University of Florida football fans on Saturday afternoons in fall is likely the first thought that comes to mind when most people hear “Gainesville.” The truth is that in addition to football, the city has so much to offer.
As the weather cools, jackets are added to the usual t-shirts and flip-flops, and tailgating classics are replaced with local flavors and winter harvests. Just a couple hours north of Orlando, winters in Gainesville feature temperatures in the 50s and crystal-clear blue skies with plenty of sunshine. The saying “Gator Country” proves true, as alligators sun themselves along hiking trails at the Alachua Sink in Paynes Prairie State Preserve. Many outdoor activities are popular during winter, cyclists pedal the 33-mile Gainesville-Hawthorne Trail and hikers traverse the 232 wooden stairs that lead down into the sink hole at Devil’s Millhopper State Park.
Outdoor adventurers are sure to work up a thirst, and Gainesville’s growing craft beer movement offers the perfect complement to a day of exploring nature. Local breweries serve year-round favorites including Swamp Head’s “Midnight Oil,” and “72 Pale Ale” from First Magnitude – named after the constant temperature of the water flowing from nearby First Magnitude springs. Specialty brews are sometimes limited to the tasting rooms where you can sample flavors and meet other beer lovers. Taps continue to pop up at local restaurants making it easy to enjoy local craft beer while you explore the food scene.
Downtown Gainesville has a tremendous selection of local dining establishments including The TOP Restaurant, Big Lou’s NY Style Pizzeria, Dragonfly Sushi, Emiliano’s Café, and Vello’s Brickstreet Grill. One of the most recent additions is Crane Ramen, serving incredibly fresh and flavorful craft ramen noodle bowls. Bragging rights for the best burger constantly shift between Loosey’s and Sweet Mel’s.
Winter farmers’ markets provide a great opportunity to gather your own harvest. Cool Florida weather yields a supreme selection of kale; broccoli; collard and mustard greens; beets; sweet and juicy citrus fruit; and strawberries which make their appearance in January. Local farmers proudly display the “fruit of their labor” at various markets each week. One-of-a-kind artisan breads, wood fired pizzas, locally roasted coffee, and hand-made crafts make each trip to the market unique.
Chef Bert Gill features these locally-sourced ingredients on the menu at Blue Gill Quality Foods by serving fresh, contemporary meals inspired by southern cuisine. Daily specials include signature cocktails, fresh seafood, and decadent desserts like fried pies and coconut cake. The number one selling item on the menu is the Blue Gill Burger made from dry aged ground beef and shredded pork, topped with house made pimento cheese and bacon. For those wanting to bring southern flavors home with them, a new cookbook by Bert Gill highlights the Florida foodscape. “Pickled, Fried, and Fresh” showcases signature items like pimento cheese, clams with fennel and oranges, watermelon salad, and bourbon cocktails. Recipes include notes on sourcing ingredients and tips to master cooking techniques.
Winter provides a great combination of terrific weather, nature, and wildlife; craft beer and fresh local flavors make Gainesville an easy recipe for a getaway in Florida.