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3 Hidden Gems of Gainesville

1. Sweetwater Organic Coffee Company

1331 South Main Street

Ever wonder about that curious Quonset hut-looking building just south of Depot Park on Main Street? Prefab steel huts, which were produced by the thousands during World War II and sold to the public after the war, aren’t all that unusual to see in the semi-industrial Depot Park area. But this one is especially eye-catching with its white-washed walls and clutch of tropical vegetation framing the front door.

Is it a miniature airport hangar? An intergalactic trading post?

Our curiosity was further piqued when we learned that the repurposed white hut is the headquarters of Sweetwater Organic Coffee, one of our favorite organic coffee roasters in Gainesville. The South Main Street location is where the fast-growing company roasts their coffee for distribution to restaurants, cafes, and grocery stores in Florida and beyond.

Sweetwater Organic has fair-trade partnerships with growers throughout Latin America, Ethiopia, Laos, and Sumatra, and their growers’ methods are certified USDA-Organic. Oh, and their coffee is pretty damn good. You can buy the beans at Ward’s or enjoy a cup at these first-rate Gainesville cafes and eateries:

  • Curia on the Drag
  • Karma Cream
  • Halo Potato Donuts

The company cultivates especially strong partnerships with women-owned businesses in Florida and throughout the Southeast. They recently put together a list of the 40 women-owned businesses serving Sweetwater and empowering farmers in the region.

The wholesale operation is not open to the public per se, but the folks at Sweetwater would likely be happy to give you a tour of the facilities if you asked nicely.

2. Sequential Artists Workshop (SAW)

Located right across from Sweetwater Organic Coffee on South Main, The Sequential Artists Workshop offers a variety of classes for students of graphic novels, comic books, and other visual storytelling forms. The school has been around since 2011, when New York Times-bestselling graphic memoirist Tom Hart and his partner Leela Corman left New York for Gainesville to set up an affordable alternative to traditional art school and the hassles of big city life.

SAW’s year-long intensive program gives serious comic and graphic arts nerds the opportunity to dive deep into the form’s history while sharpening their visual communication skills. Weeklong workshops are open to all levels of interest and skill and are a great way to turn your visual storytelling ideas into reality in a nurturing environment. SAW boasts a faculty of accomplished comic and graphic artists from around the country and the world. All classes are all offered on a sliding scale basis.

Early this year SAW moved from its truly hidden location behind a warehouse in Porters Community to the more visible South Main Street spot. SAW frequently holds exhibits of student work, so stop by to see what kind of work your potential creative collaborators are getting up to. They also play host to regular drawing meet ups and, beginning in March of this year, Friday Night Comics Readings that are free and open to the public. Check their Facebook for upcoming events.

A big ole pile o’ comics made by students of Sequential Artists Workshop in Gainesville
Photo credit: Karen Green | Flickr:

3. Buddhist Sculpture Park

2120 SE 15th Street

If you’ve lived in Gainesville for a while you’ve probably driven by the Tu Viện A Nan Buddhist Temple and Sculpture Park on SE 15th Street countless times on your way to the Gainesville-Hawthorne trail entry at Boulware Springs Park. The next time you’re headed that way, hang a right on SE 22nd Avenue and check out the monumental Buddha sculptures housed on the temple grounds.

The sculptures, ranging in size from 20 to 50 feet tall, were made by hand and shipped from Vietnam. To give you a sense of just how massive these sculptures are, the one depicting a young Buddha experiencing enlightenment stands atop a solid granite globe weighing 32,000 pounds. That’s the equivalent of 32 grand pianos.

The Tu Viện A Nan temple has been serving Gainesville’s Vietnamese Buddhist community since it was constructed in 2010. Open to visitors between the hours of 7am and 7pm, the sculpture park is screened from the road by trees and offers visitors a shaded stroll around the monuments with ledges for sitting and reflecting. There is no entry cost, but donation boxes are posted near the monuments. Buddhist visitors will often leave offerings, such as citrus, flowers and candles to the Buddha and his protectors. Regardless of your faith, the monumental stoneworks at the Tu Viện A Nan temple are a marvel of large-scale devotional art, not to be missed.

“There is no way to happiness – happiness is the way.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

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