Ocala, Florida is a city that's full of surprises.
Tucked away in the heart of the Sunshine State, it's a destination that's often overlooked by travelers seeking the typical Florida experience.
But those who take the time to explore Ocala are in for a treat.
With its stunning natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture, Ocala is a city that's just waiting to be discovered.
Whether you're an outdoor enthusiast, a history buff, or a foodie, Ocala has something for everyone.
With its irresistible charm and endless possibilities, Ocala is a must-visit destination for any traveler seeking a one-of-a-kind experience.
Why Should You Visit Ocala?
When thinking about Florida, people's minds will often drift to Disney World, Key West, Miami, or Tampa: the most popular bustling attractions.
Theme parks and big cities can be fun, but if you are looking for a hidden gem in a beautiful city that also showcases the natural wonders of Florida, you need to consider Ocala.
Ocala is a charming, lively city in central Florida. Located in horse country, Ocala is the perfect visit for any equestrian.
In the Timucua language, Ocala translates to "hammock." And though the city has grown from its original size, it still retains the coziness of that hammock town.
17 Things To Do In Ocala, Florida
Here is a list of 20 things you will want to check out in Ocala, Florida. From natural sites to enthralling museums, there is something for everyone on this list.
All of these activities are located near the city, and though some may require a car, they are well worth it.
1. Silver Springs State Park
Silver Springs State Park, open from 8:00 a.m. to sundown, is a breathtaking natural landmark on the Silver River near Ocala, with a history dating back to Native American settlements before the 1500s.
Acquired by the state in 1985 to prevent development, the park offers crystal clear springs overshadowed by towering trees.
Visitors can enjoy famous glass-bottomed boat tours witnessing the vibrant underwater life, or opt for camping on-site.
Admission is $2, with more details available on the Silver Springs website.
Read more: Silver Springs State Park: A Visitor’s Guide
2. Downtown Ocala
Downtown Ocala boasts a historic charm with a plethora of eateries, boutiques, and galleries, all within a walkable distance.
Visitors can explore the downtown market, sample wines at the Corkscrew winery, or catch a show at the Marion Theater.
Every first Friday, from September to May, the First Friday Art Walk lights up the evening with art and entertainment, free of charge.
During the holiday season, the city is adorned with festive lights. This quaint city promises a delightful experience for every visitor.
3. Silver River Activities
The Silver River, named for its shimmering appearance, offers a plethora of activities amidst lush woodlands.
This spring-fed river connects to Silver Springs and the Ocklawaha River, ensuring clear, fresh waters.
Although swimming is prohibited, kayaking provides an intimate view of the scenic beauty. Visitors can bring their own kayaks or join a guided tour.
Notably, in 2018, five manatees were spotted in the river.
4. Silver River Museum
The Silver River Museum in Florida offers a deep dive into the state's natural history and the rich heritage of Marion County.
With hands-on learning opportunities, visitors can explore a plethora of artifacts, gaining insights into Florida's ecological past.
A highlight exhibit, “Dugout Canoes: Paddling through the Americas,” showcases the ancient craftsmanship of indigenous cultures.
Open from 10 AM to 4 PM on weekends, the museum charges a nominal admission fee of $2. For more details and events, visit the Silver River Museum's website.
5. Sholom Park
Sholom Park, a serene 44-acre botanical garden, offers a tranquil escape from daily life and is designed to inspire inner peace.
Visitors can appreciate the diverse botanical life, enjoy picnics, and children can explore vibrant winding paths.
Open daily from 8 AM to 7 PM, the park frequently hosts events, concerts, and readings. Ensure to consult their website for upcoming activities and more details.
6. Museum of Drag Racing
The Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala showcases cars from every era, celebrating the art and history of drag racing.
Owned by legendary racer "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, whose Swamp Rat XXX car is in the Smithsonian, the museum has over 140 vehicles on display.
Open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM with special discounts for students, seniors, and veterans. Located at 3700 SW 16th Ave, just off Interstate 75.
7. Alexander Springs
Dive into the crystalline blue waters of Alexander Springs for a refreshing escape, maintained at a constant 72°F and surrounded by a verdant forest canopy.
This natural waterpark invites visitors to swim, snorkel, and sunbathe amidst the backdrop of the sprawling Ocala National Forest.
Engage in activities like hiking, kayaking, and witnessing diverse wildlife. For more details, visit the Alexander Springs website.
8. Fort King National Historic Park
If you want to travel back in time, check out Fort King National Historic Park.
Fort King was formerly a United States military fort near Ocala, named after Colonel William King.
Established in 1827 during tensions with the Florida Seminoles, it later became a courthouse before being abandoned.
Today, it's a National Historic Landmark, with archaeological evidence of indigenous cultures dating back to 6,500 BC.
9. The Canyons Zipline and Adventure Park
Are you in the mood for some real adventure?
Consider zip-lining across the canyons and immerse yourself in Ocala's breathtaking scenery from a bird's-eye view.
The Adventure Park offers diverse zip-line tours, including the exhilarating Big Cliff Canyon and Tree Top Express.
The park boasts horseback riding, gem mining, kayaking, and even wine and chocolate-tasting tours for those seeking alternatives.
There's truly an activity for everyone at this versatile destination.
10. Appleton Museum of Art
The Appleton Museum of Art, established in 1987, stands as a testament to Central Florida's commitment to cultural enrichment.
A must-visit for art enthusiasts, it showcases both European and American artworks.
With its vast galleries, the museum offers an eclectic collection of paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts.
Not only a space for display, but it also actively engages the community by regularly hosting art workshops, lectures, and film series, offering an enriching experience for visitors of all ages.
11. Ocala National Forest
Explore the southernmost forest in the United States, a vast expanse of biodiversity and serene landscapes.
Ocala National Forest offers over 600 lakes, rivers, and springs, making it a water enthusiast's paradise.
Whether you're into bird watching, hiking, or fishing, this forest is a sanctuary for nature lovers, providing countless opportunities to connect with the environment.
Discover the beautiful trails that weave through the forest, and don't forget to take a dip in the refreshing waters of Juniper Springs or Salt Springs.
12. Gypsy Gold Horse Farm
Home to the first Gypsy Vanner Horses brought to America; the Gypsy Gold Horse Farm is not just a farm but a living testament to the allure of these magnificent creatures.
Delve into the captivating tales of how these horses were once the favored choice of the Romani people of Great Britain.
The farm offers tours that dive into the history and mystery of these beautiful animals, intertwining folklore with fact.
Experience the magic of these horses firsthand, witness their grace and strength, and learn about their intriguing journey to the United States.
13. Historic Ocala Preservation Society (HOPS)
Dive deep into Ocala's architectural and historical heritage by visiting some of the city's oldest and most preserved buildings.
Founded with the mission to protect and celebrate Ocala's rich history, HOPS ensures that the city's past is not forgotten.
Their dedicated efforts have saved numerous landmarks from demolition.
HOPS often hosts guided walking tours, allowing visitors to appreciate the city's architectural gems and understand the stories behind them.
14. Brick City Adventure Park
Nestled in the heart of Ocala, Brick City Adventure Park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
Equipped with various amenities, the park invites visitors for picnics, fishing excursions, and exhilarating water sports.
Additionally, children can enjoy the climbing wall and splash pad, making it a delightful experience for them.
With its picturesque trails and well-maintained playgrounds, this park is perfect for memorable family outings.
15. Ocala's Downtown Square & Market
While Downtown Ocala was touched upon earlier, the Downtown Square & Market deserves its own spotlight.
Nestled in the heart of Ocala, this bustling market springs to life every Saturday.
It's a vibrant spot where locals and visitors can pick up fresh produce, artisanal goods, and unique crafts.
Beyond shopping, the atmosphere is enhanced with live music performances, making it a lively hub of activity.
And for those with an appetite, a range of food trucks serves delicious bites, ensuring a fulfilling visit.
16. The Insomniac Theatre Company
For theater lovers, the Insomniac Theatre Company offers a selection of contemporary and classic plays.
Nestled in the heart of downtown Ocala, this theater provides an immersive experience that draws the audience into every act.
Known for its intimate setting and powerful performances, it frequently hosts workshops and community events, fostering a deep connection with the local art scene.
It's a treat for anyone looking to experience the essence of Ocala's performing arts.
17. Santos Bike Trail
Whether you're a seasoned mountain biker or just looking for a scenic ride, the Santos Bike Trail offers a range of paths for all skill levels.
@jasonlimmtb Fun day in the woods with @ariariarialc and some great help from @shianlyrivera of #SantosBikeShop! #sgbikers #SantosTrail #santacruzsg #mtbsg ♬ Absolutely Anything (feat. Or3o) - CG5
Navigate through dense forests, open fields, and challenging terrains as you enjoy one of Florida's premier biking destinations.
Along the way, you'll encounter picturesque viewpoints, perfect for a mid-ride break or photo opportunity.
Additionally, the trail is well-maintained and marked, ensuring a safe experience for riders of all ages.
18. Ocala's Chocolate & Confections
A treat for the sweet tooth! This local gem offers handmade chocolates and candies, making it a must-visit for those looking to indulge.
Each creation tells a story of craftsmanship and passion, blending traditional techniques with innovative flavors.
From truffles to pralines, there's something for every chocolate lover, ensuring a delightful sensory journey with every bite.
19. The World Equestrian Center
Given Ocala's reputation as the "Horse Capital of the World," a visit to the World Equestrian Center is a must.
This state-of-the-art facility, spread over acres of pristine land, not only hosts national and international equestrian competitions but also offers a glimpse into the world of elite horse training and care.
Various events cater to a wide range of equestrian interests from dressage to show jumping.
Even if you're not a horse enthusiast, the events' grandeur, the riders' elegance, and the animals' beauty make it a spectacle worth witnessing.
20. The Ocala Wine Experience
For those looking to unwind and indulge, The Ocala Wine Experience is a delightful haven.
Located in the historic downtown area, this establishment offers an extensive selection of wines from around the world.
Visitors can partake in wine tastings, enjoy cheese platters, and even indulge in gourmet chocolates.
With its cozy ambiance and occasional live music, it's the perfect spot to relax after a day of exploring the city.
Hotels in Ocala
After reading this article, I am sure you are jumping to get to Ocala, Florida. Here are some fabulous places to stay in the area.
The Howard Johnson
Click here to book a stay at the Howard Johnson in Ocala, just four miles north of the city's heart.
Complete with a stunning pool, cabanas, and golf course. All rooms offer cable TV and free Wi-Fi connection.
The aforementioned Silver River State Park is only 20 minutes drive away. Within a 10-minute' drive, guests can attend the I-75 Super Flea Market or check out a movie at the Ocala Gran Prix.
The Thunderbird Cafe is an on-site restaurant open for breakfast and dinner. Continental breakfasts, including waffles, pastries, and fruit, are provided daily.
Click here to book a stay at the Ocala Hilton.
This hotel offers a putting green cocktail lounge and is located conveniently off Interstate 75. Arthur's Restaurant is an on-site spot to get your daily meals.
Lounge by the pool, play volleyball, or snag a drink at the Starting Gate Lounge, and located close by is the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing.
We hope you liked our roundup of great things to do in Ocala, Florida. Start planning your trip today!