Each year, thousands of visitors from all over the world flock to Florida Southern College in Lakeland – and not necessarily to attend classes. The draw for these visitors? The campus itself.
Even if you know little about architecture, it’s hard not to be impressed by the college’s 12 structures that constitute the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed architecture on any one site, anywhere in the world.
This collection includes numerous buildings, the one-of-a-kind, 160-foot-wide Water Dome and 1.5 miles of covered walkways, all designed by America’s most revered architect. Take a walking tour with knowledgeable guides to learn about Wright’s vision for the campus. Or pick up a brochure for a self-guided walk at the college’s Frank Lloyd Wright Visitor Center or near the Water Dome.
Florida Southern College is just one of several Florida institutions of higher learning that proudly house some of the state’s most fascinating visitor attractions, from museums and artwork to historical treasures and performing arts venues.
Get back to nature when you go back to school at the University of West Florida’s main campus – a 1,600-acre nature preserve in Pensacola. The half-mile Edward Ball Nature Trail Boardwalk winds through a hardwood swamp, offering glimpses of native wildlife along the way. History buffs will want to check out Historic Pensacola Village (located downtown), 22 historic properties managed by the university (10 are open to the public). Or check out artifacts that university archaeologists have unearthed at the on-campus Margaret Jane Smith Archaeology Institute.
A few of Florida’s best museums are housed at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Among the exhibits at The Florida Museum of Natural History is the amazing Butterfly Rainforest. The university’s Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art – home to Claude Monet’s Champ d’Avoine – is one of the largest university art museums in the southeastern United States. At the Phillips Center, UF Performing Arts offers Broadway shows, operas and concerts; past performers include Tony Bennett, Bill Cosby and the Bolshoi Ballet. For a list of upcoming shows, visit www.performingarts.ufl.edu.
At Florida State University in Tallahassee, follow the Legacy Walk and take a historical tour of the campus focusing in part on architecture and sculpture. Other FSU claims to cultural fame are its Museum of Fine Arts, four campus theaters and its nationally renowned College of Music, which offers more than 500 concerts a year, most of them free.
The University of North Florida in Jacksonville is home to a wildlife sanctuary offering three nature trails for hiking – the Goldenrod Trail, Blueberry Trail and the Red Maple Boardwalk. The university’s Distinguished Voices Lecture Series, which is free and open to the public, has brought all kinds of speakers to campus, including Dan Rather and Jane Goodall. Catch a performance at the Fine Arts Center’s Lazzara Performance Hall, home to the second-largest stage in Jacksonville, or peruse exhibits by regional and national artists at the University Gallery.
Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach has several historic buildings, including the home and gravesite of Mary McLeod Bethune, the world-renowned educator, social advocate and civil and human rights leader who founded the university. There’s also a statue of Bethune outside the university’s Performing Arts Center. It’s surrounded by a meditation garden with plaques inscribed with parts of Bethune’s well-known writing, Last Will and Testament.
Put on your thinking cap and visit Rollins College in Winter Park, where notable North American writers come to campus each February for Winter with the Writers, a series of readings and master classes. In addition, the college’s newest undertaking is the Winter Park Institute, which will offer concerts, lectures and book readings by visiting artists, scholars and authors. You also can catch a play or dance performance at the college’s Annie Russell Theatre, or explore the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, known for housing Florida’s oldest collection of paintings, sculpture and decorative arts.
On the Orlando campus of the University of Central Florida, stargazers can find the largest telescope in Florida still regularly open to the public. At UCF’s Robinson Observatory, you can view the night sky one night a week (either Wednesday or Thursday) during academic semesters. Shows and special events on campus at the UCF Arena include the popular Movies on the Plaza free outdoor series. Attend performances at the award-winning UCF Conservatory Theatre. UCF’s music department offers free concerts all year by its symphony, jazz and concert bands and wind ensemble.
Starting in November, the public can enjoy 50 nights of music, lights and ice at "Light Up UCF," featuring ice skating, dazzling light shows and an outdoor holiday film festival. Outdoorsy types can explore three miles of scenic nature trails throughout UCF's wooded natural lands or flick a disc on the 18-hole disc golf course.
Take a stroll through the Botanical Gardens on campus at the University of South Florida in Tampa. The seven-acre site blooms with fruit trees, orchids, an herb and scent garden and many more plants and natural habitats. The university features notable speakers – Olympic Gold Winning gymnast Shawn Johnson and Discovery Channel’s 'Mythbusters' Tory and Grant, celebrity chef Duff Goldman and Martin Luther King III, for instance – as part of its University Lectures Series. View fastbook.cvpa.usf.edu/fbonline/calendar.asp for a listing of all the concerts and plays scheduled at the school, as well as exhibits planned at USF’s Contemporary Art Museum.
Ringling College of Art and Design in Sarasota lays claim to the premier gallery for contemporary visual arts in Sarasota. The Selby Gallery presents exhibitions by nationally and internationally known artists, designers, illustrators and photographers, as well as the artwork of the college’s faculty and students. Artist lectures and other events also are routinely held at the gallery. Like the art exhibits, these events are free and open to the public, but non-members have to pay for entrance into the gardens.
For countless cultural opportunities, head to the University of Miami in Coral Gables. Check out the spectacular outdoor sculpture garden as well as the Lowe Art Museum – considered greater Miami’s primary art museum. Festival Miami, UM’s renowned annual music festival featuring concerts and master classes with guest artists, will celebrate its 29th year this fall. Other on-campus options include free movies and jazz concerts held on the Foote University Green, an architecture center, the largest private collection of Cuban artifacts outside of Cuba at the Richter Library, shows at the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre and films at the Bill Cosford Cinema. Visit www.miami.edu/umpresents for a complete list.