Ocala is a city in north central Florida, where you’ll find horses and loads of outdoor fun. Ocala is located in Marion County, which is known as the World’s Horse Capital. Among the beautiful rolling hills and freshwater streams in Ocala, you’ll find plenty of nature theme parks and adventures waiting to be had!
In Ocala, you can visit horse farms, explore museums, visit historical sites, and so much more. Thanks to the year-round sunny Florida weather, Ocala is a great place to visit any time of year, but I personally love to visit at the end of winter or the beginning of spring, when the weather is absolutely perfect.
No matter when you go to Ocala, you’re sure to have an amazing time. Here are 14 things to do in Ocala that you’re gong to love.
SILVER SPRINGS STATE PARK
If you only do one thing in Ocala, it should be making a visit to Silver Springs State Park! This park in Marion County is really important to Florida’s history, as it was the Sunshine State’s very first tourist attraction, established in the 1870s.
Since its opening, it’s seen traffic from visitors every year and has even been the set of some popular movies, including James Bond and many Tarzan films. But why is it so popular?
Silver Springs is the oldest artesian springs in the world, draining into the Silver River. There is so much to do here on the water, but the best is going on a glass bottom boat tour! You’ll also enjoy checking out one of the many gorgeous hiking trails, kayaking, camping, checking out the museum, and more! If you love the outdoors, you’ll love Silver Springs State Park. A visit here is one of the best things to do in Ocala.
APPLETON MUSEUM OF ART
The Appleton Museum of Art is an art museum and leading cultural center located within the College of Central Florida. It houses more than 24,000 artifacts showcasing something for everyone, whether you like old European art, contemporary art, or old African artifacts.
Aside from showcasing various exhibits, the museum also puts on plenty of really neat events! Check their calendar for the next artist talk, workshop, or live music event. No matter what form of art you like, you’ll find it at the Appleton Museum of Art.
THE CANYONS ZIP LINE AND ADVENTURE PARK
If you love to get your heart racing and adrenaline pumping, you have to make a visit to The Canyons Zip Line and Adventure Park! This park sits on two canyons and four lakes, and there are so many different adventures to choose from.
Try all five zip lining courses, such as the Treetop Express or Big Cliff Canyon tour, for a bird’s eye view like no other! If you’re visiting Ocala, FL during a full moon, you can even go ziplining under the stars!
There are many other unique and fun tours for the entire family will enjoy at this adventure park, such as a horseback riding tour, wine and chocolate tour, kayaking tours, gem mining tours, and more.
The Silver River is a 7-mile-long river located in Marion County that is perfect for both adventure and relaxation.
The artesian springs at Silver River State Park feed into the Silver River, which empties into the Ocklawaha River. It flows really slowly and is a no wake zone.
The Silver River is surrounded by some of the most beautiful and unique wilderness areas in Florida. Spend the entire day floating down the river on a canoe or kayak, enjoying the stunning scenery, peaceful sounds of nature, and wildlife above and below.
Watch for sea turtles swimming below you, alligators resting on the banks of the river, birds enjoying the sunshine, and the native Florida plants around you. Spend a day floating down the river with the whole family, pack a picnic, and enjoy a perfect day in the sunshine.
FORT KING NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE
The 40-acre Fort King National Historic Site is a site worth visiting.
An attack on Fort King by the Seminole Tribe in 1834 marked the beginning of the Second Seminole War and remained significant throughout the 7-year war that followed. The U.S. lost that war, and Fort King had been used and abandoned a few times throughout history, until the Seminoles relocated and Fort King was turned into a historical site.
You can visit this area today to see the fort’s ruins and learn more about the historical significance of it.
DON GARLITS MUSEUM OF DRAG RACING AND INTERNATIONAL DRAG RACING HALL OF FAME
Donald Glen Garlits is a race car driver and mechanical engineer from Tampa, Florida. He is considered the father of drag racing and played a very significant role in the sport.
The Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing has been a longtime attraction in Ocala, FL. Opening in 1984, it showcases the history of the sport of drag racing and also houses the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame. Housing nearly 100 different drag racing cars, a visit to this museum is every racer’s dream.
Be sure to plan a few hours to stop by during your trip to Marion County. You won’t want to miss it!
SILVER RIVER MUSEUM AND ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION CENTER
The Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center is a nature museum located in Silver River State Park. It is an educational program led by Marion County Public Schools meant to educate the public on the natural history of the area. It is located right at the entrance to the campground.
The museum is mostly used as an environmental education center for schoolchildren, but is open to the public on the weekends. Stop by for free to learn more about the natural history of Florida, and how to protect and conserve its natural resources. It provides a unique and hands-on experience that you don’t want to miss!
GYPSY GOLD HORSE FARM
Ocala, Florida is known as the World’s Horse Capital, so it’s only right that you visit a horse farm while you’re in town. The Gypsy Gold Horse Farm isn’t just any horse farm. It showcases Gypsy Vanner Horses, some of the most colorful and majestic horses you’ll ever see.
This stunning 40-acre farm and cultural center contains the first Gypsy Vanner horses that came to the United States from Great Britain in the 90s, as well as thousands more. Whenever you visit for a tour, plan about 2-3 hours. You’ll first sit through a talk, where you’ll learn all about the history of the Gypsy Vanner horses, as well as the history of horses in Ocala, FL and the surrounding Marion County.
WITHLACOOCHEE STATE FOREST
If you’re a lover of the outdoors, you must plan a visit to Withlacoochee State Forest during your visit to Marion County! It’s located just 40 minutes south of Ocala, and is the second largest state forest in Florida.
Even though it attracts more than a million visitors each year, there is plenty of room for activities. The forest is spread across more than 155,000 acres of land and packed full of things to do. The Withlacoochee River flows through the land, offering visitors the chance to go kayaking, canoeing, biking, camping, and so much more.
After a full day on the water or weekend in the woods, be sure to stop by the town of Brooksville afterwards to check out the breweries and distilleries.
OCALA NATIONAL FOREST
Ocala may not be by the ocean, but there’s certainly no shortage of water, beaches, and fun to be had. The Ocala National Forest is one of Ocala’s main attractions, featuring more than 600 lakes and rivers for visitors to enjoy.
Spend a day out on the water snorkeling, paddle boarding, fishing, canoeing, boating, or find a cool spring to swim in. When you’re not in the water, enjoy going hiking, biking, taking a scenic drive, riding an ATV, or having a campfire with your friends.
KANAPAHA BOTANICAL GARDENS
The Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is a massive, 68-acre non-profit stunning garden located on Lake Kanapaha in Marion County’s Gainesville, Florida.
There are 24 unique gardens located along a 1.5-mile paved walkway showcasing all different kinds of flowers and plants, including Florida’s largest display of bamboo and the state’s largest herb garden. The pathway is wheelchair-accessible and dogs are allowed on a leash.
There are picnic tables and gazebos throughout the garden so you can enjoy lunch or a snack along the way. The best time to visit the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens is in the summertime, as that is when the flowers offer the most color, though visiting at any time of year is absolutely breathtaking!
The Gardens also host many events throughout the year, including the Spring Garden Festival. Be sure to check the calendar of events to see what’s coming up.
OCALA CIVIC THEATRE
If you love the performing arts, you absolutely must plan a visit to the Ocala Civic Theatre during your trip to Ocala! It is not only one of the largest community theatres in Florida, but all of the United States, and its shows are not to be missed.
The casts of professional performers have captivated many throughout the course of the theater’s 70+ years in business, and is sure to keep you entertained no matter what show you attend.
If you’re looking for a peaceful but beautiful botanical garden to visit, be sure to stop by Shalom Park during your visit to Ocala. This 44-acre non-profit park features more than 250 different species of plants and trees.
Aside from its gorgeous scenery, Sholom Park is meant to help visitors find peace and tranquility. It offers a meditation walk, seating areas, and you’ll find plaques throughout the park with encouraging, thought-provoking sayings.
Sholom Park is truly a little slice of heaven, and a sweet escape into nature where you can find some peace, tranquility, and possibly even the answers you are seeking.
JUNIPER SPRINGS RECREATION AREA
The Juniper Springs Recreation Area is the perfect place to spend the day. At this popular recreation area, which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, features swimming, camping, boating, hiking trails, and more.
At Juniper Springs, you’ll find hundreds of natural springs — from tiny ones to massive ones. There is a beautiful, crystal-clear pool here that’s filled with spring water. The pool is shallow on one end, but deep enough to jump into on the other end.
For hikers, the 1,500-mile Florida National Scenic Trail passes through here, and many backpackers use this area as a stopover. For those who are looking for a hike that’s a little less involved, there’s also a 0.8-mile Juniper Run Nature Trail, that’s perfect for families.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO FLORIDA
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WHERE TO STAY IN OCALA
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