Is Gainesville, FL the Most Vegan-Friendly City You’ve Never Heard Of?

Located in north-central Florida, the swamp known as Gainesville offers vegans more than wildlife and football.


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What’s great about Gainesville, FL is the community. Just 90 miles south of the state line, the city offers plenty of nature-filled excursions, college students who are ready to engage in thoughtful discussions on campus or downtown, and the chance to root for the locals’ favorite football team. However, the most impressive part of Gainesville has always been the food scene. Not only can guests chomp down on locally made tempeh at many restaurants in town but the variety of dishes and flavors—including desserts—keeps Gainesville at the top of the list of the most veg-friendly cities in the country.

See some stuff
Several conservancies and wildlife centers call North Central Florida home, including Morningside Nature Center, Lubee Bat Conservancy, and Carson Springs Wildlife Foundation. If you prefer your nature a little more natural, visit Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, which features eight trails with options for hiking and biking. As you make your way through the popular La Chua Trail, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see wild bison, horses, snakes, alligators, and several species of birds. The trail begins by overlapping the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail, a cyclist’s dream with 16 miles of paved path flanked by classic Florida scenery. Next, a boardwalk takes you along the Alachua Sink, where alligators and turtles are easily spotted on the banks. Once you cross the fence at the end of the boardwalk, you’re in open prairie until you reach a 50-foot observation tower with 360-degree views. During summer, you might prefer to spend your time in nature at one of the 20 nearby freshwater springs that stay a crisp 72 degrees year-round. While North Central Florida can cool quite a bit in winter, from May to September, you’ll find that taking a dip in the springs provides the best relief from the scorching sun.

Support your scene
Recently, Gainesville has become a growing community of forward-thinking professionals who prefer farmers’ markets and yoga studios. The region also draws top speakers and performers from across the country and from our own backyard. Musical acts such as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Against Me!, and Sister Hazel got their starts in Gainesville, while The Hippodrome, Bo Diddley Plaza, and the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts host musical and cultural events throughout the year, with several smaller venues participating in The Fest, an annual rock music festival. If you’re looking for family-friendly fun, check out the Florida Museum of Natural History and connected butterfly garden, as well as the adjacent Harn Museum of Art.

Gainesville grub
With so much to do in Gainesville, don’t forget to try all the great grub the town has to offer. From the commercialized west side of Gainesville to the local flair closer to the university and into downtown, you’ll find a variety of vegan options, including locally-made tempeh, the Beyond Burger, and the Impossible Burger. At nearly every coffee shop, including the chains, you’ll be met with milk alternatives, and many local places offer vegan pastries such as doughnuts at Pop-A-Top, cinnamon rolls at Karma Cream, banana bread at Coffee Culture, and freshly toasted and buttered bagels at Maude’s Classic Cafe. For lunch, you’ll find curry tofu and Caribbean seitan-steak sandwiches at Reggae Shack, vegan shawarma at Sababba, falafel at Gyro Plus, and comfort food at Southern Charm Kitchen. You might also consider a late lunch or early dinner at Boca Fiesta to try the house-made vegan queso, southwestern TVP, or tempeh tacos and burritos. Before you call it day, you can’t leave Gainesville without trying The Top. In the heart of downtown, the eatery’s eclectic menu includes a Buffalo tempeh appetizer, vegan Caesar salad, and a vegan black-bean patty for substitution into any sandwich or burger. The Top also has brunch on Sundays with vegan French toast made from banana bread.

Lauren Keys is a writer, editor, and dessert-addict from Florida who, along with her husband, has been vegan for nearly 10 years.