I’m going to be honest. I don’t usually pay much attention to lists. They’re a dime a doze, often produced in a cubicle somewhere. No real research injected into them. And everyone has their own opinion; different strokes for different folks. If anything, lists are simply a means of entertainment to get people through the workday. Something that gives fans talking points at the bar.
But then this Athlon Sports number slid across the Internet and I couldn’t let it fly by unnoticed (yes, by posting on it I’m promoting the piece, but it’s going to get around no matter what; might as well address the bullshit). The publication enlisted the services of 12 “experts” to rank the SEC College Towns. Each first-place vote was worth one point and last-place votes 14 points (think golf: lower score, higher ranking).
Athlon’s Best SEC Towns
- Nashville, Tennessee
- Athens, Georgia
- Oxford, Mississippi
- Knoxville, Tennessee
- Baton Rouge, Louisiana
- Tuscaloosa, Alabama
- Auburn, Alabama
- Columbia, Missouri
- Lexington, Kentucky
- College Station, Texas
- Gainesville, Florida
- Fayetteville, Arkansas
- Columbia, South Carolina
- Starkville, Mississippi
I’ve spent time in these towns, lived and breathed the SEC since I stepped onto the University of Florida’s campus in 2003. If the Gators had a bye week, my friends and I would pack up and hit Athens, Tuscaloosa, Auburn, Columbia, Knoxville, or any other SEC locale to get a lay of the land.
And, before we get any further and you dismiss this as a homer post, Athens is the best college town in the country, in my opinion. Yes, I hate the Bulldogs, but I respect what Athens brings to the table. Put it on your bucket list. It’s well worth it.
Okay, back to the matter at hand. So when cruising down Athlon’s list I noticed something missing. I passed No. 1, No. 2 … No. 6 … No. 10 … and no Gainesville, Florida. It wasn’t until No. 11 that I found Hogtown. But that’s not where Athlon missed the mark. The ranking was fine. Each town offers something different. These are folks’ opinions; I can understand that. What I can’t understand is the reasoning behind it. Read below:
Unless you are an undergrad at the university, there isn’t a whole lot to the city of Gainesville. It’s really, really hot and humid most of the year and isn’t a beach city like many outside of the region believe. There is some good music and plenty of places to party. But from a standard of living perspective for adults, there isn’t a whole lot to sell about this town.
The individual who provided this has clearly never stepped foot in Gainesville. “There isn’t a whole lot to the city of Gainesville” couldn’t be further from the truth. A thriving technology movement that is providing massive growth to the community, budding microbrew scene, nightlife that expands well beyond Midtown, an incredible music scene, centralized location that provides short drives to both the East and West Coast (beaches), as well as Jacksonville, Tampa and Orlando – the list of what Gainesville has to offer goes on.
For instance, Baton Rouge gets a boost for being close to New Orleans (a 90-minute drive), but Gainesville gets knocked for not being a “beach city like many outside of the region believe.” Gainesville is an hour and 15 minute ride to St. Augustine, or as I like to call it, “Key West of North Florida” – beaches, water, tons of bars, great food, etc. Gainesville is also an hour to the Gulf Coast and 90 minutes to Orlando, Tampa and Jacksonville.
Another knock is “it’s really, really hot and humid most of the year.” Yes, the months of May, June, July, August, and most of September are scorchers, but Gainesville weather is very pleasant for a good amount of the year. Following are average monthly temperatures (notice Jan, Feb, March, April, October, November, December):
- January: 66 (high), 42 (low)
- February: 70, 45
- March: 75, 50
- April: 80, 55
- May: 87, 62
- June: 90, 69
- July: 91, 71
- August: 90, 72
- September: 87, 69
- October: 81, 60
- November: 74, 51
- December: 68, 44
When it is scorching hot, Gainesville is surrounded by some of the best collections of springs on the planet. Beyond that, there are all sorts of rivers to float and fish on.
If you’re into outdoor activities, there are few spots better than North Central Florida. Trails run throughout Paynes Prairie, which is home to tons of wildlife, including alligators, wild horses and buffalo. The university and community have done a fantastic job of harboring the surrounding nature. A short drive to the south is the Ocala National Forest and to the north is Osceola National Forest.
Heading back inside the city, Gainesville offers an impressive music scene, not just “some good music.” Bands to come out of Hogtown are: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Stephen Stills, Don Felder and Bernie Leadon of The Eagles, The Motels, Against Me!, Less Than Jake, Hot Water Music, John Vanderslice, Sister Hazel, Hundred Waters, and For Squirrels. In 2008, Gainesville was named the “Best Place to Start a Band in the United States” by Blender magazine. The annual punk rock music festival “The Fest” takes place in Gainesville every October. Music pioneer Bo Diddley also spent the later years of his life in the Gainesville area, and the downtown plaza is named after him.
National Geographic Adventure ranked Gainesville as one the the “best places to live and play” in the United States in 2007.
Cities Ranked and Rated pinned Gainesville as the No. 1 place to live in North America in 2007.
When it comes to “standard of living perspective for adults,” Gainesville has quickly grown into a hotspot for young professionals and startups. The technology movement has seeded the community downtown. Booming startup companies like SharpSpring, Shadow Health and Altavian are creating jobs and luring talent from around the country, and there are countless smaller ones beginning to make an impact. It has all resulted in a thriving and growing nightlife scene for adults. No, it’s not yet Austin, but a weekend spent in the city and you’ll feel the energy and growth happening right before you. Take a cruise around and you’ll notice the amount of construction going on. Gainesville is busting at the seams.
The beer scene is also turning into one of the best in the south. Microbrews like Swamp Head, First Magnitude, and Alligator Brewing are taking off. Swamp Head has even been recognized as one of the best in the state of Florida.
Going hand in hand with the beer scene has been the growth of the food truck industry in Gainesville.
I’ve had the opportunity to move elsewhere, but very few places in the country can offer the combination of talent, culture and affordable living prices that Gainesville does. Maybe that’s what makes Hogtown so great. It’s an oasis in a state full of crazy that is quietly growing into a monster.
When I started college in 2003, Athlon’s description could have been used. Students graduated and left for bigger places. But the technology movement has quickly changed the community. I just turned 30 and am surrounded by friends and acquaintances between the ages of 25 and 35 who are all running their own companies. It’s turned from a “college town” into a place for innovation. It’s quite impressive.
If you’re looking for a very intelligent community that is clean, safe, quickly growing and offers a ton outside of the university, Gainesville is a great place.
Here’s to hoping Athlon actually tries in the future. Do better.