Ocala is a hidden gem. Located in Central Florida close to major cities like Orlando and Gainesville, the City of Ocala can sometimes be overshadowed by them. However, from its charming and historic downtown to the abundant nature activities around the city, there are lots of things to do in Ocala, Florida.
There are so many things to do in Ocala, Florida that you can be confused and not sure what event or restaurant to visit first! You’ll have no trouble making the most of your Ocala vacation with a road map of everything highlighted for you.
Things to Do in Downtown Ocala
Ocala is located in Marion County and in the early 1840s, it was the very first town in the county. It has grown leaps and bounds since, but you can still see historic buildings and remnants of the past, especially in the city’s architecture. One of Florida’s original downtown centers, there are a handful of delicious Ocala restaurants centered around downtown Ocala’s historic Square. These include Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille, Mark’s Prime Steakhouse and Pi on Broadway.
There are also a variety of events and things to do in downtown Ocala each year. On the fourth weekend in October, the Ocala Art Festival comes to town. It’s full of fantastic art, food trucks, hands-on activities, artwork from Marion County Students, and beer and wine are also available. The event is two days long, which means double the fun; and artists come from all over the country to participate.
There is also the annual Harvest Fest Music and Food Truck Festival. It’s located at Tuscawilla Park, which is not far from downtown Ocala. Events in year’s past have featured live music and prominent artists. There will also be unique and mouthwatering fare from area food trucks.
The Brick City Beer and Wine Festival is also a big deal. It’s a fun-filled day of trying beer and wine from local breweries and wineries. Set among towering oak trees, there will be live music, too. The festival is also one of Ocala’s most popular events each year.
Silver Springs State Park
Ocala’s Silver Springs State Park is one of Florida’s most treasured natural attractions. In fact, many consider it Florida’s first tourist attraction. Dating back to the late 1800s, it’s not only one of the largest artesian springs that’s ever been discovered, but popular movies “Tarzan” and “Creature from the Black Lagoon” were also filmed there. Silver Springs State Park in Ocala is also known for its crystal clear water. The 30-minute glass bottom boat tour is definitely one of the things to do in Ocala, Florida you don’t want to miss. The glass-bottomed boat ride runs every 30-45 minutes, every day, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Silver Springs State Park features one of the last uninhabited spring-fed rivers in the Sunshine State and it is one of the largest springs in Florida. You can find the Spring Side of the park off of State Road 40.
You never know what you might see on the glass bottom boat tour. Some people have reported seeing props from old movies and a centuries-old North American dugout canoe. In addition to the boat tours, Silver Springs State Park also offers canoes, paddleboards, and kayaks for rent. If staying on land is more your style, there are hiking trails, too. Walk amongst towering trees and view Florida as it used to be. There’s a rumor that you might even see a monkey or two.
The park also features various exhibits that will give you a glimpse into Florida’s history and the natural wildlife in the area. If you get hungry, you can grab a bite at Spring Side Café or Paradise Treats. Dogs are allowed but must be kept on a leash. Also, swimming in the springs is prohibited.
Horse Riding in Ocala
Ocala is also known as one of the Horse Capitals of the World and many people visit here each year to attend tournaments or purchase thoroughbreds for races. If you opt to stay in the Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club, it is located near the World Equestrian Center, which is expected to open in 2020.
If you decide you love the luxury community so much, Golden Ocala residents have the opportunity to get a luxurious barn rental to care for their horses. Another option is to select to have a full board for staff care. Each barn also has a paddock for turnout.
Ocala is also a great place to visit and enjoy for the whole summer, and while you’re here you can take advantage of the equestrian atmosphere and learn how to ride a horse, or get more practice at it if you have some experience.
Where Can I Get Horse Riding Lessons in Ocala?
Horseback riding is one of the top things to do in Ocala, Florida, and there are a variety of places you can get lessons from:
- SilverStride Equestrian Center offers four, eight or 12 lessons a month. One private lesson is also available. Their phone number is 352.591.3042.
- Owl Hollow Farm has lesson options for all ages. Private and group lessons are available. If you’re staying for the whole summer, there is also a summer camp. Their phone number is 352.237.4132.
- Ocala Equestrian Academy offers private lessons for an hour with one of their school’s horses. In addition to riding, the one-hour lesson also includes caring for the horse and grooming. Their phone number is 352.817.8020.
Whether you’re an experienced horseback rider, or you’re just starting out, Ocala is an ideal place to experience an equestrian escape (and not just because it’s the Horse Capital of the World). Gallop and run through rolling hills and open fields, or journey through the city’s trails lined with oak trees and other types of beautiful Florida foliage. Experience Old Florida the way it’s meant to be experienced.
Horseback Riding Ocala, FL
- Ocala National Forest: Trails in the Ocala National Forest include the 100-Mile Horse Trail and Lake, Alachua Marion (LAM) Trail, which stretches from Doe Lake to Eureka. Please note that a negative Coggins test with proof is a must-have for all riders. The 100-Mile Horse Trail is made up of the 40-mile Flatwoods Trail, 20-mile Baptist Lake Trail and 40-mile Prairie Trail. The LAM Trail will take you north-south through the Big Scrub. From Doe Lake to the town of Eureka, the trail spans 34 miles and it runs along the Ocklawaha River. The Doe Lake Recreation Area is worth a visit as you can see a classic historically restored 1930’s Civilian Conservation Corps dining hall. There is also a bathhouse with showers, as well as hitching posts. If you want to camp with your horse, keep in mind that you must be a member of the group renting the group recreation area. With the exception of hunting season, primitive camping is allowed along the trail.
- Cactus Jack Trail Rides: They offer guided horseback trail riding for people six years and older, families, and large groups of up to 30 riders. The best part is that riding experience is not necessary. Long pants are preferred and Cactus Jack Trail Rides furnishes bottle holders on the saddles as well as The trail runs along The Greenway and includes rides along The Landbridge, which begins at the Landbridge Trailhead. One of 40 trailheads, The Landbridge is a part of the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway and The Greenway is also a wildlife corridor and the first in the Sunshine State to have a “land bridge” go over the main interstate. It’s unique because both hikers and wildlife can be seen using it as a crossing.
- The Canyons Horseback Trail Rides: Ride through the beautiful Ocala woods on Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tour’s 100-acre property. You’ll see scenic vistas including shimmering lakes. There are also a variety of other things to do at Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tour. Have you ever wanted to try zip lining? Now is your chance! There are a variety of zipline tours to choose from.
Ocala is also a cultural hub and if you’re a fan of museums, there are a variety of things to do in Ocala, Florida. Be sure to check out the Appleton Museum of Art, Silver River Museum and the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing.
- The Appleton Museum of Art: This Ocala museum is a favorite among locals and visitors. It houses a permanent collection of nearly 18,000 works from all different types of styles. It’s home to temporary exhibits throughout the year. The museum is housed in the Appleton Cultural Center, which is also home to the Ocala Civic Theatre. It features six art galleries and a whole lot of cultural enrichment. There is also an art library and an art workshop.
- Silver Springs River Museum: Located within Silver Springs State Park, the museum is open on weekends when school is in session as it is a program of the Marion County Public School System. Throughout the year, there are also numerous educational events. With advance notice, the public can access the research library. The museum is also home to the Ocala Country Days Festival. It celebrates Florida’s history and gives visitors a glimpse into Old Florida. There will be music, storytellers and historical reenactments.
- Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing: If you are a fan of drag racing or an adrenaline seeker, the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing is a must-see. Garlits is known as the “King of the Dragsters.” Check out his numerous accomplishments and milestones at the museum today!
Book Your Ocala Vacation Rental Today
Now that you have the ultimate guide for things to do in Ocala, Florida, you’re ready for your next visit. There are more events in the summer and fall months, but the good thing about Central Florida is that the weather is perfect all year round. Whether you’re visiting Ocala and its majestic rolling green hills to ride horses (or learn how to), visit downtown Ocala, or Silver Springs State Park and take in the area’s natural beauty.
Royal Shell has some of the best Ocala vacation rental accommodations around. Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club sets the standard for luxury in Ocala and offers guests a relaxing and rejuvenating vacation. Give us a call today to secure your stay at Golden Ocala, or check out our website to learn more.