A trip to Ocala and Marion County includes a variety of activities for visitors to enjoy. The area’s natural resources attract eco-tourists ready to explore and become captivated with the area’s breathtaking natural scenery.
One of those treasures is Silver Springs State Park located just a few miles east of Ocala. If you have ever watched a Tarzan movie, Silver Springs was the location for the jungle scenes. The area was the backdrop for other television and movie scenes including The Creature from the Black Lagoon and Sea Hunt.
Today, visitors can still take a glass-bottom boat ride along the Silver River to witness the constant flow of water from the first magnitude headspring. The water temperature remains at an average of 72 degrees all year. The park, on the National Natural Landmark registry since 1971, is open year round.
Silver Springs State Park sits on the western edge of the Ocala National Forest. The forest encompasses most of the eastern portion of Marion County. Plan a day exploring the many hiking trails or kayaking area lakes and rivers. A brief glimpse of wildlife is commonplace in the forest from alligators catching a nap in the sun, to a deer or a Florida Black Bear.
Other interesting things to do in Ocala include:
- Rainbow River State Park – go tubing with the family down the Rainbow River.
- Fort King National Historic Landmark – marking the site of the fort used by the Army during the Seminole War prior to Ocala becoming a city.
- Appleton Museum of Art – built by the late Arthur I. Appleton, a local horse farm owner who was an art enthusiast with an extensive art collection.
- Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing – off I-75 near Belleview features the drag racing history of Don “Big Daddy” Garltis who holds 17 world titles in the sport.
Entertainment and Shopping in the Region
The region plays host to a number of festivals during the year, many celebrating Ocala’s heritage and the arts. The Ocala Fine Arts Festival (FAFO) is a popular fall attraction.
Annual events in the area include the Ocala Christmas Parade along Silver Springs Boulevard, Light Up Ocala on the Downtown Square and the Historic Ocala Preservation (HOPS) Holiday Home Tour. The homes featured are in the Ocala Historic District and the Tuscawilla Historic District.
Entertainment venues in Ocala are diverse and include:
- Marion Theatre – a historic building featuring first run movies in downtown Ocala.
- Ocala Civic Theatre – a community theatre offering live stage productions
- Reilly Arts Center – a multi-use venue showcasing live entertainment
- Bonkerz Comedy Club – located at Ocala Breeders Sales features comics from around the country.
Get a little retail therapy in while you’re here. Find some of the nation’s top retailers at Market Street at Heath Brook and Paddock Mall, named in honor of the area’s equestrian roots. A number of unique shops are located in downtown Ocala including Greiner’s of Ocala and Her Kloset at Greiner’s, Shannon Roth Collection – Olivia Co. & Kids, Agapanthus and Ivy On the Square Boutique.
Ocala is also centrally located near a number of other attractions in the state including Disney World and Universal Studios, which are both in Orlando. In addition to Orlando, the area is also within close proximity to Tampa and Jacksonville.
The University of Florida, home of the Gators, is a 30-minute drive north in Gainesville. Gator football season is a big deal in this part of the state as Ocala typically houses the visiting team and their fans.