Ocala, Florida, is a city that's full of surprises.
Tucked away in the heart of the Sunshine State, it's a destination 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.
20 Things To Do In Ocala, Florida
Here is a list of 20 things you want to check out in Ocala, Florida. From natural sites to enthralling museums, there is something for everyone on this list.
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, witness the vibrant underwater life, or go camping on-site.
You can see more on the Silver Springs website.
Before exploring Silver Springs State Park, consider packing a reusable water bottle to stay hydrated as you enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Read more: Silver Springs State Park: A Visitor’s Guide
2. Downtown Ocala
Downtown Ocala is a delightful blend of historic charm and modern vibrancy. This area is a hub of activity, offering various dining options, boutique shops, art galleries, and cultural experiences.
Visitors can immerse themselves in the local culture by attending the First Friday Art Walk from September to May, where art and entertainment come alive.
The downtown market, wine tastings at Corkscrew winery, and performances at the Marion Theater add to the allure of this quaint city center.
Downtown Ocala transforms into a festive wonderland adorned with lights and decorations during the holiday season. Whether looking for a stroll, a taste of local cuisine, or a dive into the arts, Downtown Ocala promises a delightful experience for every visitor.
For more information on what to see and do in Downtown Ocala, visit the Ocala/Marion County website.
3. Silver River Activities
Silver River is a spring-fed river renowned for its shimmering waters, which gracefully connects to Silver Springs and the Ocklawaha River, offering a pristine natural environment.
While swimming is not permitted in the river, kayaking is the perfect way to connect with its scenic beauty intimately. Whether you bring your kayak or join a guided tour, paddling along the Silver River promises a tranquil and picturesque experience.
For those who prefer a more leisurely exploration, the park's famous glass-bottom boat tours offer a unique perspective of the vibrant underwater life in the crystal-clear springs.
The Silver River is a sanctuary for diverse wildlife, including occasional sightings of manatees, making each visit a potential encounter with these gentle giants of the waterways.
Don't forget to protect yourself from the sun with a reliable sunscreen while enjoying kayaking on the Silver River.
4. Silver River Museum
Discover Florida's ecological past and Marion County's rich heritage at the Silver River Museum. Located within Silver Springs State Park, this museum offers a journey through time with exhibits that span over 12,000 years.
The museum provides a hands-on learning experience for all ages, from prehistoric artifacts to rare Florida fossils.
A standout exhibit, “Dugout Canoes: Paddling through the Americas,” showcases the ancient art of indigenous canoe-making. Open on weekends from 10 AM to 4 PM, the museum charges a nominal $2 admission fee, inviting visitors to explore Florida's fascinating natural history. Children under 6 enjoy free entry.
For more details and events, visit the Silver River Museum's website.
5. Sholom Park
Sholom Park in Ocala, Florida, is a 44-acre oasis of tranquility designed to inspire inner peace. Established by Sidney and Ina Colen, the park is a harmonious blend of native plants and cultivated ornamentals, creating a resilient and picturesque landscape.
It's a haven for various bird species, making it an ideal spot for birdwatching enthusiasts.
The park features paved trails winding through open prairies and shaded areas lined with live oaks, hickories, and longleaf pines. Tribute benches are strategically placed throughout the park, offering spots for rest and reflection.
Open daily from 8 AM to 5 PM, starting October 1, 2024, including holidays, Sholom Park is free to the public. It hosts various events, concerts, and readings, aligning with its mission to provide a peaceful environment for contemplation and appreciation of nature.
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.
Founded by the legendary racer "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, this museum is a treasure trove of drag racing history, featuring over 140 vehicles, including the renowned Swamp Rat XXX car.
Open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM, the museum offers an array of exhibits that delve into the sport's evolution and milestones. Admission varies, with discounts for seniors, military, and students.
The museum is pet-friendly, so your furry companions can join the educational adventure.
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.
Make the most of your visit to Alexander Springs with your snorkeling gear, which is perfect for exploring the clear waters.
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 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.
Capture your adventure at The Canyons Zipline and Adventure Park with a GoPro camera, perfect for recording your exhilarating experience.
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.
It is a space for display and 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 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.
Listen in on 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 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.
This park is perfect for memorable family outings with its picturesque trails and well-maintained playgrounds. Enjoy a family picnic at Brick City Adventure Park with a portable picnic blanket.
15. Ocala's Downtown Square & Market
While Downtown Ocala was touched upon earlier, the Downtown Square & Market deserves its 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.
Stay safe on the Santos Bike Trail with a quality biking helmet.
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," visiting the World Equestrian Center is a must-see.
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 various 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. Petting Zoo Ocala
For a family-friendly adventure, visit Petting Zoo Ocala. Located at 11150 W Highway 40, this delightful zoo allows visitors to interact with various farm animals.
From playful goats and pigs to majestic horses and sheep, the zoo offers an engaging experience for all ages. Feed and pet animals like camels, llamas, and even monkeys in a safe and interactive environment.
The zoo's lush green setting provides a serene backdrop for a day of fun and learning. Open daily from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, it's a convenient stop for those exploring Ocala.
For more information, including admission details, visit the Petting Zoo Ocala website. This attraction promises an enjoyable and educational experience, making it a must-visit for families in Ocala.
Hotels in Ocala
After reading this article, I am sure you are jumping 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 a 20-minute 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 are provided daily, including waffles, pastries, and fruit.
Click here to book a stay at the Ocala Hilton.
This hotel offers a putting green lounge conveniently off Interstate 75. Arthur's Restaurant is an on-site spot to get your daily meals.
Lounge by the pool, play volleyball, or relax at the Starting Gate Lounge. Located close by is the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing.
Plan Your Ocala Adventure Today
Ocala, Florida, is an undiscovered gem with a lot to offer. This city has something for everyone, from exciting outdoor activities in Silver Springs State Park to Downtown Ocala's rich culture and history.
Whether you're into nature, or history, or just looking for a unique place to relax, Ocala is the perfect destination. You will surely have an unforgettable experience with its wide range of activities.
So why wait? Start planning your trip to Ocala today, and get ready to explore all the amazing things this city offers.