Explore Historic Downtown Ocala
Florida has enjoyed a major resurgence of quaint, walkable downtowns — and Ocala offers a shining example. Just three miles east of I-75, Historic Downtown Ocala is a terrific way to spend a day — or even a few — when visiting Marion County.
The county offers some of Central Florida’s most appealing opportunities to ride horses, paddle kayaks, hike or bike beautiful trails, cool off in crystal clear springs and more. But when it’s time for some farm-to-table dining, a craft beer, a little live music, and some shopping and culture, Downtown Ocala has you covered. It’s all here — and then some.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Historic Ocala is its easy walkability. So many things to do, see, eat and drink within a few square blocks. Downtown Ocala has an actual town square — a large paved octagon with a starburst design surrounded by trees and grass, with a historic gazebo that doubles as a stage for live performances.
WALK OF CHAMPIONS
Discover the history behind some of Ocala/Marion County's most famous horses by following along with the Walk of Champions plaques in Historic Downtown Ocala and make the experience interactive by downloading the OcalaMarion Travel Guide App.
24 bronze plaques are in two sidewalk blocks near the historic downtown Ocala square that each honors equine champions connected to Marion County. Known as the Horse Capital of the World®, Ocala/Marion County is home to incredible horses and ponies of all shapes and sizes. And we mean that—from thoroughbred champions to welsh ponies and award winning miniature horses.
The bronze plaques include the name of a famous horse, a brief highlight on the horses’ significance and the top awards achieved. The App dives deeper into the horses’ history. When users navigate to the Walk of Champions in the App, there is a map of downtown, with two different blocks of dots that represent the locations of the bronze plaques. Each dot opens up a story about a specific horse connected to the area, photos and information about the horses and additional awards.
Thoroughbred horses connected to the area are honored on the plaques on the sidewalk block of South Magnolia Ave, adjacent to Mark’s Prime Steakhouse. Champions of various breeds that are not thoroughbreds, can be found recognized on plaques on the sidewalk block of SE Broadway St adjacent to the Hilton Garden Inn hotel.
An eclectic group of eateries surrounds the Square — among them are Mark’s Prime for steak and seafood, Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille, The Lodge Brick City Craft Pub & Eatery and Brick City Southern Kitchen & Whiskey Bar for barbecue. For a truly fine dining experience, Katya Vineyards sits on the north side of the square and offers a decadent menu that changes regularly. For a great outdoor experience, District Bar & Kitchen is a two story restaurant with a rooftop bar overlooking the downtown that is just one block west of the square.
The Beginnings of Brick City
Brick City. That’s Ocala’s nickname, and here’s why: In 1846, Ocala was appointed the county seat of newly formed Marion County. By the late 1850s, the town was one of the leading social and business centers in Florida. The Civil War all but destroyed commerce in Ocala and the population dwindled to around 200. After nearly two decades of growth, the town center was virtually destroyed by fire on Thanksgiving Day, 1883. In rebuilding, brick and other fire-resistant materials were used instead of lumber. Thus, Brick City.
As a nod to the town’s nickname, one block of Magnolia Avenue just south of the Square is paved with brick. Stroll down Magnolia and you’ll encounter multiple locally owned boutiques; Ivy on the Square, an elegant, Southern-style restaurant; and the Marion Theatre, a charming, 70-year-old art deco movie emporium. Right next to the theatre and great for the whole family, Mellow Mushroom is a delicious pizza spot with a fun and funky vibe. Continue on and you’ll run into a couple of quirky, colorful thrift stores — Tumbleweed of Ocala and The White Elephant.
Beer lovers would do well to keep strolling for a couple more blocks and sidle up to the bar at Infinite Ale Works, one of Florida’s destination microbreweries. In 2018, its West Floridian quadruple ale was named the Number 1 beer in the state at the Florida Beer Competition.
Wander & Explore Downtown Ocala
You can venture virtually any direction from the Square and find cool stuff. A little more than a half-mile north is Tuscawilla Art Park, a vast expanse of green dotted with large sculptures and, a bit farther, Tuscawilla Park, with more lush grass, tennis courts, a kids playground, and lovely Lake Tuscawilla. At the north end of the park is the 700-seat Reilly Arts Center, the city’s hub for theater and live music (and the home of the Ocala Symphony Orchestra). Tuscawilla Park is also home to theDiscovery Center, an intimate children’s museum offering educational workshops, classes, and rotating exhibits.
You can certainly map out your walking tour through Historic Downtown Ocala, but we suggest you just wander, as it’s the ideal size for freestyle exploring. You’ll see art galleries, boutiques and even more restaurants. And finally, what would any respectable historic downtown be without a farmer’s market? Ocala Downtown Market, a quarter-mile south of the Square, takes place on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and features locally grown produce, hand-made crafts, plants, a playground for kids and all the other stuff a weekly outdoor market should have.
Make sure to plan a day/night excursion to laid-back Historic Downtown Ocala — it’s a must during your Marion County stay.