Getaway Game Plan
Sending a kid to college? Then Gainesville, Tallahassee and Miami are your towns too. Here’s how to enjoy them.
So your kid’s ready to head off to college. Don’t think of it as losing a child, but as gaining a town to get to know. Whether your son or daughter ends up at the University of Florida, Florida State University or the University of Miami, you’ll get a lot more out of his or her college experience if you explore the city beyond the campus.
When you’re on the college-tour circuit or visiting your child’s school of choice, venture outside the dorm-student union-stadium circuit, look beyond the fast-food joints and chain hotels and discover the hidden gems in and around each of these cities.
What to Do
Union Street Farmers Market: Every Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m., locals head downtown for fresh produce, fresh-baked goods, local honey, handmade soaps, handcrafted items and other goodies. Join them in sampling treats such as chocolate-dipped figs and vegan cheeses.
The Hippodrome Theatre: Home to the only professional theater in the region, “The Hipp” is housed in a stunning, historic Palladium Classical Revival-style building. In addition to live theater performances, The Hipp screens art films.
Kanapaha Botanical Gardens: Sixty-two lushly landscaped acres include more than a dozen specialty gardens, including rose, bamboo, camellia, azalea, Asian and herb. Check out the plants with medicinal uses, each one with a plaque describing its special healing or soothing properties.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park: The author of The Yearling called this rustic Cracker homestead home during the Great Depression, and many of her furnishings and personal possessions remain. From October through July, a park ranger in period costume is available for guided tours of the site, 15 miles south of Gainesville.
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park: If you take U.S. 441 into Gainesville, you’ll drive right through the broad grasslands of this environmentally significant preserve, where wild horses and bison roam. Climb the observation tower for a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding flora and fauna.
Santa Fe Canoe Outpost: Rent a canoe or kayak and paddle the Santa Fe River to see some of the state’s prettiest springs. Go for a few hours or all day; for the truly adventurous, there are overnight and moonlight options, too. Bonus: It’s all downstream; the outfitters provide drop-off and pickup service. Prices start at $34 for two.
Where to Eat
Blue Highway: This retro-cool pizzeria on U.S. 441 is a great place for a pit stop to or from Gainesville. The exceptional pizza isn’t the only reason to pull in—Blue Highway makes scrumptious specialty sandwiches and hearty salads, too.
Blue Gill Quality Foods: Check out the giant chalkboard for daily specials at this casual eatery that focuses on fresh-caught seafood and Southern-inspired cuisine. Be sure to get a side of cornbread.
Great Outdoors: After kayaking, head to the quaint hamlet of High Point for a bite at this friendly neighborhood restaurant. Rustic décor provides an appetizing backdrop for hearty steaks and fresh seafood.
Emiliano’s Café: Savor Latin-flavored tapas in the heart of downtown. Try the chorizos epañoles, Spanish sausage sautéed with garlic, onions and peppers, or the tortas de cangrejo, lemon-tarragon crab cakes with chipotle aioli ($8 each).
Where to Stay
The Laurel Oak Inn: Gainesville’s bed-and-breakfast row is populated with brightly painted Victorian manses, including this gingerbread charmer. Formerly student apartments (rocker Tom Petty once lived in what is now the kitchen), the Queen Anne-style home has been beautifully refurbished. Rates start at $125 a night, which includes a sumptuous breakfast prepared by innkeepers Monta and Peggy Burt. At the end of a busy day, head to the drawing room for complimentary drinks.
Reitz Union Hotel: The eco-friendly Reitz is part of the university and located right on campus. College recruits, alumni, official guests of the university and savvy travelers all stay here. A standard room goes for $99 a night, including a continental breakfast.
Paramount Plaza Hotel & Suites: Billed as Gainesville’s only lakefront hotel, the Paramount stands at the edge of the Bivens Arms Lake Nature Preserve near Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. Rates at this budget-friendly inn start at $53.96 a night.
What to Do
Mission San Luis: Passersby to the white stucco wall on Tennessee Street just off campus might think there’s an apartment complex behind the iron gates instead of the 17th-century western capital of Spanish Florida. The community of Spanish settlers and the native Apalachee who once flourished here has been re-created with a council house, Catholic mission and friary, two-room home, working iron forge and even a Spanish “fort.” A museum building houses artifacts excavated from archeological digs on the site, including a cross carved from a piece of quartz crystal.
Tallahassee Museum: Examples of Florida’s indigenous wildlife can be spotted along the raised boardwalks here, including river otters, red wolves, deer, black bears, bobcats, rare Florida panthers and—though this is Seminole territory—plenty of gators, too. The elevated boardwalks are high, but the zip lines are even higher—three courses of varying difficulty (the intermediate course is $25) allow visitors to zoom along the treetops.
The Wilderness Way: The Tallahassee area is brimming with crystal-clear springs and meandering rivers, and the guides of The Wilderness Way can take you on a tour of these aquatic wonders. Opt for a single rather than a double kayak (hint: guide Georgia Ackerman calls doubles “divorce boats”) and start paddling.
Alchemy: While your son or daughter is at college orientation, search for the secret entrance to this Prohibition-style speakeasy and try a drink from the times. Call or email in advance to get the password.
Where to Eat
Avenue Eat & Drink: Located in the heart of downtown, this is where the Tallahassee powerbrokers from the Capitol Complex gather to schmooze. Executive Chef Greg Brown is a proponent of the locavore movement and features locally sourced produce, dairy, fish and meat in his Southern fusion dishes.
Paisley Café: Midtown Tallahassee is home to a variety of independent eateries, bars and shops, and Paisley Café is at its center. Simple, fresh fare featuring seven ingredients or less includes sandwiches, salads and baked goods. There’s an outdoor garden tucked in the back for alfresco dining. Save room after your healthy meal for a treat from Lucy & Leo’s Cupcakery next door.
Anthony’s Wood Fire Grill: The collection of upscale stores and restaurants (including Anthony’s) in the Market District makes this part of town another area of Tally to discover. Weather permitting, grab an outside table, or dine in the understated dining room. You’ll likely spot a number of professorial types savoring the tasty wood-grilled steaks and seafood. Italian dishes are also on the menu, including eggplant parmigiana ($14.50).
Where to Stay
Hotel Duval: Swanky-chic and very boutique, the circa 1951 hotel was renovated and reopened as the Hotel Duval in 2009. Each guest room floor features a different color scheme and its own signature scent, and the top of the hotel is dedicated to the Level 8 Lounge. Only the towering Capitol building has a more commanding view of the city. Rooms start at $129 a night.
The Governors Inn: A Tallahassee institution for more than 25 years, “The Gov” is within walking distance of campus. Regulars like the hotel’s Southern charm and old-fashioned appeal. Room rates start at $169.
Aloft: As the name implies, this trendy hotel features loft-inspired rooms. It’s close to campus and downtown restaurants, and regulars rave about the hotel’s cool, hip atmosphere and friendly staff. Room rates start at $119 a night.
What to Do
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden: Close to the UM campus and a Coral Gables fixture since 1938, the garden is lushly planted with palms, flowering trees and shrubs, bamboo, vines and fruit trees. There are gardens planted with edibles and succulents, and a butterfly conservatory, where the vividly hued Blue Morpho resides amid other colorful butterflies.
Lincoln Road: Sidewalk cafes and top-flight shops line this stylish swath of the city, and on select Sundays from October through May, white tents pop up like mushrooms along the street for the Lincoln Road Antique and Collectible Market.
South Beach: Art Deco buildings, trendy nightclubs and restaurants, and posh shops strung along a broad band of sandy beach make this part of Miami a must-see. Get to the Art Deco Gift Shop on Ocean Drive by 10:30 a.m. any day for the official walking tour; it’s $20 for you, $15 for your student.
Miami Seaquarium: This granddaddy of marine parks, established in 1955, was the site of the television pilot for the 1960s classic, “Flipper.” Today, the park offers educational and entertaining programs spotlighting marine biology, the oceans and marine animals. There’s also a ropes course and an underwater helmet diving adventure that allows visitors to explore the 300,000-gallon reef aquarium.
Vizcaya Museum & Gardens: A National Historic Landmark, Vizcaya was built as a private home in the early 20th century by agricultural industrialist James Deering. Today, the stunning waterfront mansion and landscaped gardens feature an impressive art collection and an orchidarium with a variety of exotic plants.|
Marlins Park: The retractable roof of the new 37,000-seat Major League Baseball stadium shields spectators from the blazing sun and inclement weather, so it’s always a great day for a ballgame. And when a Marlins player hits a home run, a mechanized sculpture by contemporary artist Red Grooms lights up, displaying marlins leaping out of the water.
Where to Eat
Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill: The up-and-coming Midtown district is where you’ll find Sugarcane. Tapas-style and traditional large plates run the gamut from seafood to Latin and Asian specialties. The bacon-wrapped dates ($11) are salty-sweet and succulent.
MC Kitchen: In Miami’s trendy Design District, this Italian-influenced eatery emphasizes seasonal cuisine. The menu changes quarterly, but there are always stone-oven baked pizzas and bruschetta, pasta dishes, and fresh fish and meat selections.
FIX: It’s easy to miss this Collins Avenue eatery in South Beach—it’s tucked inside the Blue Moon Hotel. But don’t miss out on the New American cuisine here. Ask for a table by the pool so you can catch the movie of the night playing on the outdoor screen—you get dinner and a show.
Where to Stay
The Angler’s: This Mediterranean Revival boutique hotel has hosted travelers to South Beach since the 1930s. It’s been restored and modernized into an all-suite hotel, perfect for traveling with your student. Cap off a weekend visit with Sunday brunch at the hotel’s 660 at The Angler’s restaurant. Rates start at $199 a night.
Winter Haven: An Art Deco gem in South Beach located right on Ocean Drive, Winter Haven boasts nautically inspired architecture and décor. Like The Angler’s, the hotel was built in the 1930s and has been renovated to appeal to 21st-century travelers. Rates start at $159 a night.
Sense Beach House: The SoFi (“South of Fifth”) District is home to this sophisticated boutique hotel with a cozy guesthouse feel. Sense boasts ocean-view rooms and beachy-fresh décor, and the starting rate is $249.
The Biltmore: This Coral Gables landmark is close to campus and offers resort-style amenities, including tennis courts and an 18-hole Donald Ross-designed golf course. Rates start at $246 a night.