I’ve been an employee of the University of Florida for more than 21 years, and there are some really great resources on campus that I would describe as hidden gems. I’ll start with the UF/IFAS ones first!
- Natural Area Teaching Laboratory. This wilderness area is used for teaching classes in a lot of disciplines, but it includes nice nature trails, a boardwalk, and interpretive signage throughout. It is located south of the Phillips Center and west of Steinmetz Hall (Entomology and Nematology). It is free and open to the public. It is a good place to take a walk or to bring visitors or family to get outside with relatively short trails. It was a place I would take my kids after we went to the Florida Museum of Natural History for additional exercise–there is a trail boardwalk right between the Phillips Center and FLMNH!
- On Fridays from 9 am to 5 pm, UF’s Animal Sciences department runs the UF Meat Processing Center and you can buy beef and pork products which have been cut by UF students. It is how they learn to manage meat animals. It takes cash or check only, and it is located south of the Straughn Center on Shealy Drive (same road as the Vet School). Great steaks, sausage, and you can even order a whole pig sometimes. I had heard about this for years but hadn’t made the trek over there before working for IFAS. Shoppers take it seriously–there is a crowd for the fresh and frozen options.
- The Field and Fork Student Gardens are really gorgeous near the UF Bat Houses. Every night the bats come out to feed on insects and there is always a small crowd. It’s a truly UF experience that everyone should have. Kids (and adults) love it! The Field and Fork Student Gardens are used to teach classes and many of the items grown here go to the Alan and Cathy Hitchcock Field and Fork Pantry for UF students, faculty and staff to pick up.
- UF/IFAS Extension has its own bookstore: It’s out on Mowry Road. It sells great books, hats, coffee mugs, and other great things for yourself or others. I usually get some gifts there for the holidays. It also has a lot of UF/IFAS branded clothing for sale.
- For a quick lunch, the Fresh Food Company located by Broward Hall is an all you can eat dining hall. They always have several options and I usually take advantage of the items that I don’t want to buy myself–like, say, a bowl of Cocoa Puffs. What I like about it is that it is quick to get in and out and you can eat as healthily (or not) as you choose.
- UF’s Mail and Document Services is probably one of the best services on campus, which is open to the public. It is located on Radio Road and you can renew or get a passport done there; mail packages by USPS or UPS; buy stamps; and more. I typically go there when I need to ship packages and they even take passport photos. They have a print shop too. Trust me, this is a really wonderful service.
- The J. Wayne Reitz Union has an excellent game room and an arts and crafts center. The game room is located on the ground floor, near the hotel desk (yes, they have an on campus hotel too!). The game room has bowling, billiards, and more. You can go with your colleagues or your family! I brought my kids once and they helped out by putting bumpers in the gutters and giving us a stand to roll the ball from. The Arts and Crafts Center has pottery to make or paint and other craft activities.
- UF students pay a lot of activity and service fees to have wonderful recreational facilities. I am a paid member of the campus gyms as a staff member and I use the facility when students aren’t really there (as in, weekend mornings!). It is a spectacular gym and worth the membership. I use the Southwest Recreational Center but they have lots of other activities like group fitness classes and much more for members. The price is really low and it is payroll deductible.
- Gainesville’s RTS bus service is available for free to faculty and staff as well as students. I don’t use it as often as I should, but I do use it for my commute sometimes to/from campus. You can follow the bus in real time via GPS tracker on the app TransLoc rider, so you know exactly where it is. You just need to show a UF Gator 1 card and hop on.
- Finally, UF Surplus’ warehouse is quite the fascinating place to visit. You can view their items online or go see what they have over at the warehouse located on Radio Road. Items are available for UF departments and also eventually by auction to the public. Sometimes there is scientific equipment, or old computers, or furniture…but sometimes there is much more fun stuff. Also they have a Facebook page where they post entertaining options sometimes!
Where are your UF campus hidden gems?