Evan Scott Schwartz
Tuesday November 11th, 2014

The Gators might dominate Gainesville, but the town is known fore more than just the University of Florida. One of the most famous natives is Tom Petty, the legendary rocker who formed Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in his hometown in the 1970s. Petty’s own life was colored blue and orange. He grew up in the shadow of the university, briefly worked on the grounds crew at Florida Field, allegedly wrote his signature song “American Girl” about a UF student’s tragic death and sang about a “Gator on the Lawn.” Whether that Gator wore a football uniform or not is unclear.

Nowadays, Gainesville still has a thriving music scene, as well as all the trappings that make it one of the most fun college towns in the country. Here's a look at the best Gainesville has to offer.

• Check out all the stops on Sport Illustrated's Go Rving Tailgate Tour

The Bull

Live music, no cover charge, open until 2 a.m. A casual place to catch some local musicians and relax.

Satchel’s Pizza

A funky roadside pizzeria that offers homemade sodas, great salads, killer calzones, and -- of course -- some pretty impressive pizza. A bunch of toppings, white and pesto sauces, and a healthier millet and flax pizza crust give you plenty of combinations.

La Tienda

Possibly the best Mexican in town. Tacos, chimichanga, and chile rellenos are just a few highlights from the massive and authentic menu. Locals put La Tienda up against some of the best Latin food in the state. (That includes you, Miami.)

Reggae Shack Cafe

Located on the edge of campus, this Caribbean joint offers several types of Jamaican meat stews, plus vegan options chock full of flavors and spices. Make sure to try the coconut cake, a popular choice that may be gone by the time you’re ready for dessert.

2nd Street Speakeasy

Easy-to-remember location, though you may not remember much after sampling some of their fantastic cocktails. Their mixologists have whipped up some crazy creations, like “The Show Goes On!” With Benchmark Bourbon, Campari, lavender honey, and blackberries, no wonder it needs an exclamation mark.


A place to grab an affordable drink, a BBQ pork sandwich and a karaoke microphone. With live music, trivia, swing dancing and unbeatable drink specials, you’ll want to come back every night of the week.

34th Street Wall

This 1,120-foot-long concrete wall went up in 1979 and since then has been painted over with hundreds of layers of graffiti, art, messages, memorials and pictures. It has become a centerpiece of UF’s campus community and often reflects the mood and demeanor of what’s going on in school. When Tom Petty returned to his hometown to play a concert, he received the key to the city and a special welcome message on the wall.

Bat House

The story is simple: The Florida campus was infested with bats who needed a new home. The school built the Bat House, and within a few years more than 100,000 of the flying mammals had taken  roost inside. On late summer nights, the bats stream out of the house to feed on the millions of insects that hang like a cloud around town. It’s amazing to see -- a free activity that may just inspire you to become a superhero.

The Hippodrome Theater

A professional theater that has produced hundreds of shows over the last four decades, the Hipp is the seat of culture in town. From main stage productions to films to concerts, one of the best ways to spend an evening in Gainesville.

Carson Springs Wildlife

This is not a zoo. It’s a conservation facility dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating exotic animals. It 's an incredible place to see some of the rarest animals on earth, including big cats like lions and tigers and cheetahs.

Florida Museum Of Natural History

All the trappings of a natural history museum, with the added benefit of a Butterfly Rainforest. Walk through the indoor space to see some of the prettiest fluttering bugs feasting on fresh fruit, and keep your eyes peeled for the exotic birds, turtles and fish that inhabit the enclosure.

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