Florida is one of the most versatile and varied states. From the coasts to the swamps, from the north to the south, from the man-made to natural attractions, Florida has a little something for everyone. When planning a trip to the Sunshine State, you might be searching for a hidden gem, a destination that doesn't get over-crowded or over-hyped, a place where you can truly take in the beauty of Florida. Well, search no further than the city of Ocala!
Why Should You Visit Ocala?
When thinking about Florida, most people's minds will drift to DisneyWorld, Key West, Miami or Tampa: the big-named, 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, 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.
9 Things To Do In Ocala, Florida
Here is a list of 9 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 is a Florida State Park on the Silver River, open from 8:00 am until sundown year-round. Since before the 1500s, Native Americans settled around the Silver River, an alluring, charming, life-giving spot. In 1985, the state bought the land and converted it to Silver Springs State Park in order to save it from development.
Silver Springs is a stunning and breathtaking natural landmark near Ocala. The Springs are crystal clear, and the trees loom overhead to an incredible effect. Famous glass-bottomed boat tours will take you over the waters, where you will be able to witness the fish and life and rushing water below.
Take a day trip, or consider camping on-site for a more intimate experience.
The cost of admission is only $2, but seeing these incredible sites is priceless. Click here to check out more information on the Silver Springs website.
2. Downtown Ocala
Downtown Ocala is a classic historic downtown, offering an array of eateries, bars, boutiques, and galleries. The variety is endless. The historic square is quaint, reminiscent of old America, and everything is within walking distance. If you have time to wander around, you might want to duck into the downtown market or stop at the Corkscrew winery for a tasting.
Stop in for a showing at the Marion Theater, or treat your eyes to local art at The Brick City Center for the Arts. If the pool is your thing, you may want to try Downtown Billiards.
The first Friday of every month, between September and May, is the First Friday Art Walk. From 6 to 9 p.m. you can check out art, live entertainment, and family activities all provided by local arts organizations. The best part: this event is totally free!
Or, if you'll be in Ocala around Christmas time, be sure to check out the Holiday lights which are strung to illuminate the town.
Whenever you come, you are sure to relish the quaint and charming city of Ocala.
3. Silver River Activities
On the crystalline, incredible Silver River, there is an abundance of things to do. Named for its silvery, slinky appearance, the river splits a lush green woodland area. The river is spring-fed, connected to Silver Springs and the Ocklawaha River, so the water is extremely fresh and clear.
Swimming is not currently permitted in the river, but consider kayaking to get an intimate glimpse of the scenery. Bring your own kayaks, or book a kayaking tour, where you can experience up close the breathtaking natural sites.
In 2018, five manatees were spotted hanging out in the Silver River. If you're in the area, you're definitely going to want to check out the river: you never know what you'll encounter.
4. Silver River Museum
Florida is full of natural history. Consider taking a trip to The Silver River Museum to learn about indigenous plants and peoples. The Education Center provides opportunities for hands-on learning. Visitors will be treated to an array of artifacts, all meant to teach them about the rich history of Marion County. Kids will love the hands-on style of learning, and adults will be entranced by the details of Florida's ecological past. The Museum aims to spread environmental awareness, teaching visitors about the land and helping every museum-goer to gain a deeper connection with the earth.
Check out the new exhibit “Dugout Canoes: Paddling through the Americas.” This one of a kind exhibit will showcase the craftsmanship of ancient indigenous cultures. Come see woodworking that is centuries old! This exhibit will also offer hands-on opportunities, like examining ancient wood through a microscope.
The Silver River Museum is open to the public on weekends, from 10 AM to 4 PM. Admission into the museum is $2. Click here to find out more about the Silver River Museum or to see their calendar of events.
5. Sholom Park
Sholom Park is an incredibly luscious and peaceful park, a 44-acre botanical garden. Designed to encourage park-goers to experience inner peace, Sholom Park is a destination for those wanting to take a pause from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Stroll through the park to get a good look at botanical life. Consider bringing a book, or a picnic. The park is perfect for a casual, meditative stroll. Alternatively, kids will enjoy the abundance of color and the adventurous, winding paths.
The park is open from 8 AM to 7 PM, 365 days a year. Sholom Park often hosts events, concerts and reading series, so be sure to check out the website's schedule when planning your visit. Click here for more information about Sholom Park.
6. Museum of Drag Racing
Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing is the perfect stop for any car aficionado. Cars from every era are on display, and visitors can walk through a vehicular history of the world. One building houses 50 antique cars, while another hosts 90 different racing cars. The entire museum is a tribute to the sport and art of drag racing. "Big Daddy" Don Garlits, the owner, is a legendary figure in the world of drag racing. His own car design innovations are so historically significant that his Swamp Rat XXX car is immortalized in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
Definitely a worthwhile visit for anyone with a passion for cars. The museum is open daily from 9 AM to 5 PM. Entry for adults costs $20, but students, seniors, and military veterans are permitted a discount. The Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing is located at 3700 SW 16th Ave, Ocala, Florida, just off Interstate 75.
Click here to check out more information about the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing on their website.
7. Alexander Springs
If you are looking to relax and have some water-side fun, consider spending a day at Alexander Springs. The sharp crystalline blue water will take your breath away. The water comes from springs and is incredibly refreshing, turning the area into a full-blown natural waterpark. The water is said to stay at a constant 72°F, always clear as glass. Looming over the spring water is a lush forest, full of maple trees, sweetgums, and cabbage palms that loom over in a luscious canopy.
Consider taking a day trip to Alexander Springs for some total rest and relaxation. Pack a picnic. Prepare to swim, float, sun-bathe, and have the time of your life. If you're feeling adventurous, snorkeling is a common activity and a great way to get up close and personal with the local marine life.
Nearby is the Ocala National Forest, where an array of activities can be done: swim, bike, camp, snorkel, fish, hike, ride horses, picnic, kayak, canoe. The forests are rich with vegetation, and you can witness all kinds of wild-life.
Click here to check out the Alexander Springs website for more information.
8. Fort King National Historic Park
If you are looking to travel back in time, check out Fort King National Historic Park. Fort King was formerly a United States military fort near Ocala. It got its name from Colonel William King, who commanded Florida's Fourth Infantry and was the first governor of the region.
The fort was built in 1827 during tensions between the United States and Florida Seminoles. Later, in 1844, the fort became a courthouse, and eventually, it was abandoned altogether. People pillaged the building for materials. Today, the site is preserved as a National Historic Landmark. In 2017, a reconstruction of the fort was built with historical precision.
Archeologists have discovered that the site was occupied by various indigenous cultures, from as early as 6,500 BC. Consider visiting Fort King to get a quick taste of history. The fort is open year-round, from 7 AM to 7 PM.
9. The Canyons Zipline and Adventure Park
In the mood for some real adventure? Consider zip-lining across the canyons. You will not only have the rush of your life, but you will be able to witness the incredible scenery that Ocala has to offer from a birds-eye view. Zoom over the sparkling blue waters, whiz through the green canopied forest, and see the beauty of Ocala from this one of a kind perspective. The Adventure Park offers four different kinds of zip-line tours. The Big Cliff Canyon is a 9 zip tour, while the Tree Top Express is 5 zips. They even offer a moonlit zip-line tour for those who are wild at heart.
Afraid of heights? Or zip-lining isn't your thing? Well, Adventure Park offers a vast cornucopia of alternative activities. You can go horseback riding, gem mining, or kayaking. They even offer a wine and chocolate tasting tour. Adventure Park is stocked with all kinds of activities. There truly is something for everyone.
Click here to check out the Canyons Zipline and Adventure Park website.
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 heart of the city. 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 minutes' drive away. Within a 10 minutes' 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.