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.
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.
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 multiples 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. 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 the Discovery 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. It’s the ideal size for freestyle exploring. We dare you to get lost. And the place never gets overly crowded. You’ll see art galleries, boutiques and 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.