Gainesville offers fun for students of all ages

Usually, a fall road trip to Gainesville involves a visit to the Swamp for a football game involving the mighty Florida Gators.

But the Gators aren't so mighty this year, and the stadium on the University of Florida campus was quiet when I was in town this past weekend to visit my adult son. It was strange to hang out on University Avenue without the mayhem of a college football game, but it offered another angle on the lovely college town.

There was lunch at the not-to-be-missed Burrito Brothers Taco Co. (, on its shaded patio tucked behind the Presbyterian Student Center on University Avenue. It enhanced the laid-back mood inspired by the commute from Central Florida, along my favorite route across State Road 40 in the Ocala National Forest, then around Ocala on State Road 326 to Interstate 75.

In town, there was a stroll across the UF campus, including a side trip inside the football stadium to watch some future Gators doing drills in what looked to be a holiday youth sports camp. There were plenty of youngsters running around outside the O'Connell Center, too.

It reminded us of the days when our family would make the trek to the Florida Museum of Natural History, another kid-friendly perennial on the UF campus.

This holiday season, the museum offers a program of themed crafts and activities to keep young minds occupied. Upcoming programs include "Swamp Life" on Dec. 28, "Fossils and Prehistoric Beasts" on Dec. 29, and "Sharks and Ocean Life" on Dec. 30.

Students should dress for outdoor activities and all-day students should bring a sack lunch. Pre-registration is required. A half-day session is $27 for members, $30 for non-members. A full-day session is $45 for members, $50 for non-members.

Visit to register online. Drop-off for morning and full-day sessions is 8 to 8:30 a.m., with afternoon sessions starting between 12:30 and 1 p.m.

There's also time to catch the museum's current exhibit, CSI: Crime Scene Insects, which runs through Jan. 17. It explores forensic entomology, teaching visitors through hands-on activities how maggots, flies and beetles help solve crimes.

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