Paul first visited Gainesville, Florida, in 2007. Three years later he relocated to the city and has been living there ever since.
I made the decision to move to Gainesville in late 2010, having visited the city numerous times beforehand. I've lived here ever since and come to know the place very well.
It's a vibrant and, in many ways, unique place with a friendly and highly-educated population. Although you may read that it has an above average crime rate, it generally feels very safe and still has a community spirit.
Despite its moderate size, the city serves as a hub for north-central Florida. There's an abundance of economic and educational opportunities, as well as things to see and do, thanks in large part to the presence of the University of Florida.
The neighboring city of Ocala, which is similar in size and population, is nicknamed "Slow-cala" by locals. The name comes from the perceived dearth of entertainment, but nobody would accuse Gainesville of being boring.
If you ever tire of Gainesville, it's just over an hour's drive to either coast. There are also other cities within fairly easy traveling distance, such as Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Orlando, Tampa, and St. Petersburg.
10 Perks of Living in Gainesville, FL
- Affordable Living and Housing
- The University of Florida
- Quality Healthcare
- Arts Scene
- Popular Music Scene
- Parks and Nature
- Employment Opportunities
- Year-Round Sunshine and Moderate Winters
- Fun Day-Trip Options
1. Affordable Living and Housing
Living costs in the city are generally very affordable, especially when compared with other cities in Florida.
Despite the housing market being competitive and prices being on the rise in recent times, homes are still relatively inexpensive compared to other parts of the state.
There's a large rental sector with plenty of relatively affordable options, though prices have been increasing dramatically recently. Many of the rentals are aimed primarily at students, who often have different needs and standards than the general population.
While transportation is relatively cheap, healthcare and utilities are less affordable. Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU) have a virtual monopoly and its policies are always a topic of political discussion in the city.
Defenders of GRU point to things like their achievements in areas like solar power, with the city being number five in the world in solar installed per capita. Gainesville beats out not just everywhere else in the U.S., but also Japan, France, and China.
Restaurants in the city are typically very affordable, thanks to the large student population, which has a tendency to pull prices downwards.
2. The University of Florida
There's no doubt much of Gainesville's vibrancy comes both directly and indirectly from the university.
It pulls in large amounts of talent from around the country and the world and brings in local financial investment and employment.
Read More from WanderWisdom
The student population provides the city with youthful energy, local businesses, and a spirit of innovation. Larger scale entertainment and leisure events within the city simply couldn't happen without them.
Educational opportunities are generally excellent within the city. Besides the university, there are other schools like Santa Fe College, and they're rated well overall.
As with most college towns, the environment is generally cosmopolitan, and, if you like an intelligent conversation, plenty of highly-educated folks are around to socialize with.
3. Quality Healthcare
While I mentioned earlier that Gainesville is not a particularly cheap place for healthcare, there is no doubting the high quality and depth of care that's available.
UF/Shands and North Florida both provide excellent facilities and patients travel from surrounding areas for treatment. Older people often choose the city as a place to retire—in part because of the quality of healthcare.
4. Arts Scene
The city's educational establishments, including the College of the Arts and Santa Fe College, draw in fine artists from both the nation and internationally to teach and study. Many end up settling in the city.
The city also has the Dance Alive National Ballet, The Gainesville Orchestra, and the Gainesville Civic Chorus for the more musically minded.
At the heart of the city's downtown is the Hippodrome Theatre, an impressive building built in the early 1970s that consists of Palladium classical revival architecture and six carved Corinthian limestone columns. Here you can see plays, watch independent films, and experience the art gallery.
For fans of the performing arts, there's also the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre and Gainesville Community Playhouse.
Thanks mainly to the University of Florida, Gainesville boasts a range of excellent intercollegiate athletic teams and outstanding sporting facilities for both expert and amateur enthusiasts. There's a wide range of sports, including football, soccer, basketball, hiking, golf, rowing, auto racing, and more.
There are opportunities for experiencing high-quality sporting events as a spectator, such as seeing the Florida Gators college football team play at the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (nicknamed "The Swamp").
The university offers an intercollegiate sports program that's the envy of most universities, earning the title of "Best College Athletics in America" for 2021 from the Niche college rankings.
Recreational sports facilities are also first rate in Gainesville, including the less formal pursuits like hiking, running, biking and equestrian riding. There are plenty of tennis courts and golf courses, both public and private, as well as excellent opportunities for rowing and watersports locally.
6. Popular Music Scene
Gainesville has had a thriving music scene for many years. Its most famous native musician was Tom Petty, who was born and raised in the city. Don Felder, the guitar player for the Eagles, also used to play local venues back in the day.
The city had a particularly vibrant punk and alternative scene in the 1990s, fueled in part at the time by smaller, alternative venues such as Alan Bushnell's Hardback. There's also a giant annual punk rock festival, or "the Fest", at the end of each October.
Although some of the old punk venues have since disappeared, Gainesville still has a lot of live music venues for a city of its size. These include the Heartwood Soundstage, which opened in 2017, the High Dive, a vibrant downtown location, and the Bull, which provides a more intimate setting for performers and audiences.
There is also Bo Diddley Plaza, an outdoor venue downtown where music and other events are staged, including free Friday night concerts.
7. Parks and Nature
There are numerous parks and natural areas to explore within Gainesville and the surrounding area.
- Public parks with leisure facilities such as Depot Park or Tom Petty Park.
- There are some excellent state parks great for walking, picnicking, or cycling. There's Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park, the San Felasco Hammock Preserve, Paynes Prairie, and the Alfred A. Ring Park.
- The University of Florida has Lake Alice, which is great for alligator spotting and the Butterfly Rainforest.
- There are numerous natural springs in the areas around the city, as well as opportunities for outdoor pursuits, such as kayaking.
8. Employment Opportunities
Traditionally, three big employers provide much of the jobs and career opportunities in Gainesville. These are the University of Florida, the City of Gainesville, and the Gainesville Regional Utilities (GRU).
The city is also a great place for startups with dozens of organizations that provide support. According to the Alachua County Startup Database, there are currently over 160 high growth enterprises.
That said, while there is work available in the city for those with the right qualifications and experience, there's a large pool of students and college-educated residents, which creates a competitive environment for some jobs and pulls down wages.
9. Year-Round Sunshine and Moderate Winters
Those from colder climes will appreciate the clement weather. While the summer months in Gainesville can be uncomfortably humid, everything else is good news. It's sunny all year round and it never really gets ice cold or snows, even at the height of winter, though the temperature can substantially dip at night.
Tropical storms are always a possibility wherever you are in Florida, but being located so far inland, it's unlikely you'll ever be hit by a serious hurricane in Gainesville.
The benign weather means that you can play outdoor sports all year round, as well as plan and attend events outdoors without worrying too much about the weather. In the summertime, there are often rain storms in the afternoon, but the mornings and evenings are generally sunny.
10. Fun Day-Trip Options
For those who are willing to travel outside the city, there are multiple fun places to visit within a couple of hours or so drive from Gainesville.
The historic city of St. Augustine is just over an hour's drive away on the Atlantic coast. On the Gulf side, the quiet island community of Cedar Key, famous for its natural beauty and seafood, is worth a visit.
Florida's most populous city Jacksonville is just over an hour to the northeast and a great place for events and international flights (Gainesville Airport is small and offers only domestic travel). The area around Jacksonville also hosts some fun and interesting places, such as Amelia Island.
Farther afield, Orlando and Tampa aren't too far to drive to, though you will perhaps want to stay overnight.
© 2022 Paul Goodman