Are you considering a trip to Ocala, Florida, and wondering what this beautiful city has to offer? Well, you're in the right place!
Ocala, located in the heart of the Sunshine State, is known for its rolling hills, pristine springs, and rich equestrian culture. Just 45 minutes from Gainesville and 75 minutes from Orlando, Ocala is a must-see on your next Florida trip. Whether you're interested in history, outdoor adventures, or trying new foods, here's a list of the top things to see and do on your next visit!
Ocala: A Brief Overview
Ocala is a bustling hub in Central Florida. It is surrounded by lush tropical vegetation and is not far from the coastlines. Ocala is famous for its horses, historic downtown, beautiful scenery, and other attractions. It was incorporated as a city in 1869 and is the 54th largest city in the state, with a population of over 63,000 people.
In the Timucua language, “Ocala” means “hammock.” Despite the fact that the city has grown and expanded from its original size, it retains the warmth and coziness you'd expect from a community named after a hammock.
People affectionately refer to Ocala as the “Horse Capital of the World” since it is famous for its thoroughbred horses. Ocala and Marion County have more horses than any other county in the country. Some of the most famous racehorses are bred here. Even if you aren't into professional horseback riding, Ocala provides a lot of beautiful trails and experiences for leisure horseback riding.
The city is also home to the well-known Ocala National Forest. There are numerous hiking paths, lakes, and rivers in this area. It's a great place to see manatees, which are fascinating sea creatures. Ocala's historic downtown district is known for its town square, which is home to restaurants, stores, and ancient theaters.
No matter how you like to travel, you'll find something fun in Ocala. Continue reading to learn about the fun and interesting things to do in Ocala, Florida.
When is the Best Time to Visit Ocala, Florida
The best time to visit Ocala, Florida, is during the late fall, winter, and early spring months. From November to April, the weather is generally mild and pleasant, with temperatures ranging from the 50s to 70s Fahrenheit (10-25°C). This time of year offers a comfortable climate for outdoor activities, exploring natural attractions, and enjoying the city's various events. In spring, everything comes back to life, and it's lovely to see all the plants and animals waking up. The days are warm, and the nights are comfortable.
Summer, from June to September, can be hot and humid, with temperatures often reaching the 90s Fahrenheit (32°C) and frequent afternoon showers. While summer is the wetter season, it's also when you can experience more vibrant greenery and blooming flowers. Keep in mind that outdoor activities may be more enjoyable in the mornings or evenings to avoid the peak heat.
Fall in Ocala/Marion County is fantastic! The temperatures start to cool down, making it a wonderful time to explore parks like the Ocala National Forest.
14 Fun and Interesting Things to Do in Ocala, Florida
So, are you ready to explore most of Ocala, Florida? Below are some of the best and most interesting things to do in Ocala, Florida.
1. Explore Silver Springs State Park
Location: 5656 E. Silver Springs Blvd, Silver Springs, FL 34488
Park Hours: Open daily from 8:00 am till the sun sets.
If there's one thing you must do in Ocala, it's visiting Silver Springs State Park! This park in Marion County is significant in Florida history since it was the state's first tourist attraction, beginning in the 1870s. The park was named after the crystal-clear natural spring that feeds into the Silver River. Silver Springs State Park is an aquamarine wonderland.
Numerous activities are available here, particularly on the water, but the best is going on a glass-bottom boat tour! You can go paddleboarding and kayaking, but they don't allow fishing and swimming. You can also explore the beautiful hiking trails, visit the museum, and go camping. There are picnic spots, a playground for kids, and a learning center to make your day even more enjoyable. Silver Springs State Park is ideal for those seeking adventure or relaxing in a beautiful setting.
2. Visit Ocala National Forest
If you want to see the true Florida wilderness, go to the Ocala National Forest. It is Florida's second-largest national forest. The Ocala National Forest is part of a large set of national parks, and together, they cover almost 1.2 million acres. These parks have 85,000 acres of unique federal wilderness and more than 500,000 acres of wetlands. There are also over 1,400 miles of trails to explore.
The forest is home to stunning blue springs and lakes, green foliage, winding rivers, and an abundance of wildlife. It has more than 600 lakes and rivers. You can spend a whole day in the water, doing things like paddleboarding, fishing, snorkeling, canoeing, or taking a boat ride. If you want to stay on land, you can go biking, horseback riding, hiking, riding an ATV, taking a scenic drive, or having a campfire with your friends. Hike the beautiful pathways that pass by Alexander Springs, Juniper Springs, Salt Springs, and Silver Glen Springs. You can buy a day pass for $5 and $50-60 for the entire season if you're a local.
3. Visit the Appleton Museum of Art
Location: 4333 E Silver Springs Blvd, Ocala, Florida
Open Hours: Tue – Sun: 10 am – 5 pm, Monday: Closed
If you love art and you're in Ocala, Florida, you should definitely visit the Appleton Museum of Art. It is located on the College of Central Florida, Ocala campus, and the building itself is spectacular. The huge 82,000-square-foot marble structure is designed in the classic Italian style. The building sits on 44 acres of beautiful grounds, which include a fountain, a reflecting pool, and an outdoor sculpture walk.
The museum houses more than 24,000 artworks! They display a wide range of genres and paintings from various eras, from ancient to contemporary. You'll see American, pre-Columbian, European, and African art here. They even include permanent collections of masterpieces by great artists such as Degas, Renoir, and Monet. Besides just looking at art, the Appleton Museum of Art offers workshops, art classes, and events. It's a gathering spot for the community.
4. Take a Tour of Gypsy Gold Horse Farm.
Location: 12501 8th Avenue, Ocala, Florida
Gypsy Gold Horse Farm is a must-see attraction in the “Horse Capital of the World,” Ocala. Cindy Thompson and Dennis visited England in 1995 and fell in love with the country's beautiful white and black horses. They brought sixteen of these horses to Florida and developed a new breed known as the Gypsy Vanner.
Now, Gypsy Gold Horse Farm is home to these unique and officially recognized horses. Mr. Dennis leads a walking tour of the farm every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at 10 am. You get up close and personal with these admirable horses during the tour. The farm itself is beautiful, with ancient trees draped with Spanish moss. The farm also provides private group tours, but you must book them beforehand. It's a fantastic place to learn about and enjoy these remarkable horses.
5. Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing
Location: 13700 SW 16th Avenue, Ocala, FL 34473
Open Hours: Mon-Sun, 9 am – 5 pm. Closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving
The Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing is a must-visit spot in Ocala for those who love drag racing. Don Glen Garlits, known as “Big Daddy,” is the founder of drag racing. Donald is a Tampa, Florida-based race car driver and engineer. He won 17 global championships and 144 national event titles during his forty-year career. He designed the Swamp Rat vehicle, which changed the sport of drag racing.
The museum was opened in 1984 and tells the story of drag racing through its impressive collection of 90 racing cars. The museum has many of Don's famous dragsters, racing antiques, classic cars, and even a gift shop. The museum even has the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. It's a fun place to learn about drag racing and see some unique cars.
6. Wander Through Sholom Park
Location: 7110 SW 80th Avenue, Ocala, FL 34481
If you're looking for a serene and peaceful escape in Ocala, head to Sholom Park! The park, whose name means “peace” in Hebrew, is a place for reflection and enjoying nature. The 44-acre park has botanical gardens, walking trails, and calm ponds. It's the perfect place for a leisurely stroll or a peaceful picnic.
As you wander through the park, you'll see 11 beautifully landscaped areas, including a butterfly garden, a ginger grade, a labyrinth, a formal garden, and an azalea trail. Connected paved paths make it easy to explore every corner of the park. The Enchanted Forest is a highlight, with a small paved trail leading to a stunning koi pond behind a canopy of trees. Sholom Park is free to enter and is open every day. Donations are welcome to help maintain and support the park.
7. Visit Fort King National Historic Landmark
Location: 3925 E Fort King Street, Ocala, FL, 34470
The town of Ocala, Florida, has a rich history, and the Fort King National Historic Landmark is an excellent spot to learn about it where you will step back in time. The 40-acre site was once the location of Fort King, a military post during the Second Seminole War. This was a long and costly conflict between the United States and the native inhabitants of Florida.
Fort King was incorporated into Marion County after the United States won the war. It served as the first county courthouse and the county seat. Today, it is a living history park where tourists can learn about life in the 19th century in this section of Florida. There is a Visitor's Center in the park where you can see a documentary and see historic artifacts. The park also has a trail through a wooded area with picnic tables and a Heritage Garden.
8. Go Ziplining at Canyon ZipLines and Canopy Tours
Location: 8045 NW Gainesville Rd, Ocala, Florida 34475, USA
Looking for interesting things to do in Ocala? Consider ziplining! It's a popular city pastime, and if you're not afraid of heights, it's a great way to spend the day. Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours provide a venue for this thrilling activity. Before the ride, you'll be given an orientation and outfitted with safety equipment. This adventure park boasts the fastest, longest, and highest zipline in Florida and the longest zip line over water in the United States. The park, which spans 100 acres, provides a beautiful backdrop of crystal-clear lakes, huge cliffs, tall oak trees, and canyons.
For those who want to stay closer to the ground, try rappelling down a cliff or challenge yourself on a rope bridge. If you enjoy horseback riding, you can tour the site on winding trails while enjoying panoramic views.
Check the official website for tour dates and ticket costs. It's an unforgettable adventure you won't want to miss!
9. Visit Ocala Civic Theatre
Location: 4337 E Silver Springs Blvd, Ocala, FL 34470, United States
Looking for exciting things to do in Ocala, Florida? Visit the Ocala Civic Theatre! The Ocala Civic Theatre has been an important part of the community for almost 70 years. It is housed in the Appleton Cultural Center with the Appleton Museum, making it one of Florida's largest community theaters. This venue is a cultural and arts hub in central Florida, hosting musicals, concerts, plays, and other events. Every year, they put on twelve productions and even host touring shows.
But it's not just about entertainment— the theater also offers educational lectures and workshops. From 4 to 18 years old, children can learn about improvisation, movement, musical performance, and the technical aspects of presenting a theater show.
You can purchase tickets for a show online, at the theater box office, or on call. If you're a true theater fan, consider purchasing a season pass for a convenient and affordable way to enjoy the performances!
10. Reilly Arts Center
Location: 500 NE 9th Street, Ocala, FL 34470
The Reilly Arts Center, located in Downtown Ocala, offers an abundance of culture and art. It's a beautiful lavender-colored Art Deco building with around 700 seats. People can attend concerts, events, and all types of performances there. It is home to the Ocala Symphony Orchestra and has welcomed famous acts like Judy Collins and Billy Joel.
The Marion, a historic cinema within the theater, shows a variety of films and hosts performances ranging from rock to jazz and blues to classical. It's a great spot for a fun night out in Historic Downtown Ocala. You can eat at one of the fine restaurants before watching a movie or a live performance at the Reilly Arts Center.
Check their website for upcoming events and purchase tickets online.
11. Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center
Location: 1445 NE 58th Avenue, Ocala, FL 34470, United States
If you want to learn about Florida's nature, head to the Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center. It looks like a nature school located in Silver River State Park. Marion County Public Schools runs the museum to teach people about the nature around here. You can find it right at the entrance to the campground. You can even go outside and do fun stuff like canoeing and hiking to explore the forests and wetlands. This place is not just fun; it also teaches you interesting things about nature, animals, and the Seminole Indians who used to live here. They even have a real mastodon skeleton, and it's awesome!
During the week, it's closed because local school kids come to learn. But on the weekends, everyone can go. It only costs a few bucks to get in, and if you're six or younger, it's free!
12. Take Kids to Petting Zoo Ocala
Location: 11150 West Highway 40, Ocala, FL 34482
Petting Zoo Ocala is an excellent choice for families, especially kids. Here, they can meet and interact with different farm animals and pets, many of whom have been rescued and given a loving home. Mammals such as Terry, a ring-tailed lemur, and Bongo, a squirrel monkey, live at the refuge. There are also domestic and exotic animals like llamas, cattle, camels, goats, sheep, pigs, and even a wallaby. A few reptiles and friendly birds add to the diversity of the zoo. The zoo offers a hands-on experience for children, allowing them to feed, pet, and learn about the animals. It's an opportunity to learn about the importance of animal welfare.
Petting Zoo Ocala is also ideal for birthday parties and special occasions, with picnic spots available for visitors. It's a fun and affordable outing for people of all ages, with various animals to see and activities to enjoy.
13. Treat your Taste Buds with Brick City Food Tours
Brick City Food Tours in downtown Ocala is a great way to learn about the local food scene. Kaitlyn, the owner, will tell exciting stories about the town during the tour. For $75 per person, visitors can enjoy a tour, learn about the town's history, and sample delicious food. The tour includes savory bites and delicious desserts from local restaurants. It is an incredible way to see all the many types of food in this Florida town, and Kaitlyn is super excited about it!
Tours run on weekends in downtown Ocala. Make sure to book your spot early because they can fill up quickly. If you have any special requests for the tour time, just contact Kaitlyn. She'll help if she can!
14. Tour the Ocala Historic Downtown Square
Location: SE 1st Avenue, Ocala, FL 34471
Wrap up your Ocala adventure by exploring the vibrant Downtown Square, one of the top spots to visit in Ocala, FL. This area, designated as a United States Historic District in 1984, is surrounded by restaurants, boutiques, and shops. They create a strolling center with outdoor live music and diverse activities. The square is a broad paved octagon featuring a gazebo that hosts concerts, community events and shows.
The district spans 172 acres, comprising residential homes constructed between 1800 and 1920s and historical landmarks. Magnolia Avenue is famous for its locally owned boutiques and the Marion Theatre, a historic Art Deco-style cinema. The Tuscawilla Art Park, which features stunning sculptures, is also located in the region. Art lovers will enjoy the monthly First Friday Art Walk, which begins at the main square and takes you through downtown to numerous artworks and galleries.
So, that's our list of 14 fun and interesting things to do in Ocala, Florida! I hope this guide has been helpful for you to plan your visit and explore all the exciting activities the city offers. Whether you like outdoor adventures, exploring history, or just enjoying good food, Ocala has something for everyone. From the thrilling zip lines at Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours to the educational experience at the Silver River Museum, there are a lot of attractions to choose from.
So, what are you waiting for? Plan your trip to Ocala today! Don't forget to share your experience and favorite spots with us!
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.