The Many Wonderful Ways You Can Dine Outdoors in Ocala/Marion County
People enjoy dining outdoors around the world, but Florida’s wonderful weather lets you do it year-round. As a result, Ocala/Marion County offers a variety of options for eating outside, from courtyard style settings on a square to waterfront eating on lakes and rivers. Unforgettable outdoor dining — whether under sun, shade or stars — is available all over our destination. Here are a few different ways to do it.
Dine Al Fresco
Most restaurants in Historic Downtown Ocala make outdoor dining available. Some offer a street-side cafe setting, others feature big courtyards or covered areas. Overlooking Ocala’s town square, Mark’s Prime Steakhouse has a lovely covered section ideal for a fine al fresco meal. For a place on the Square that’s livelier, O’Malley’s Alley & Oyster Bar has an outdoor space in the back where you can enjoy oysters or a burger while listening to live music.
Looking for a place with a larger outdoor space? Don’t let Sayulita Taqueria’s small storefront fool you. A block off downtown Ocala’s main square, this fun gathering place has a large courtyard strung with lights and populated with picnic tables. Named after a small surfing village in Mexico, Sayulita’s menu is universally praised and features street-style tacos and margaritas that come 10 different ways.
Also near the Square is BankStreet Patio Bar. The massive place offers an area protected from direct sunlight by shade sails, along with a sea of small tables, picnic tables and benches. This restaurant/hangout touts its “locally sourced, healthy food” — and its clientele can’t say enough about it. One Yelp reviewer wrote, “if it had a water view you'd think you were at a resort!”
On the Waterfront
Believe it or not, Ocala/Marion County is home to some great beach bars. Lake Weir, in the southern part of the county, features two big ones with sandy white beaches like those on the coast. Founded in 1926, Gator Joe’s Beach Bar & Grill, boasts a Key West vibe serving tasty island inspired cuisine, with a large section that juts out over the water for a beautiful view.
On the south side of the lake, you’ll find Eaton’s Beach Sandbar & Grill, a complex that includes a restaurant specializing in “Florisiana” cuisine, a more causal Steam Shack on the lower level, a boardwalk that takes you straight out to the lake, a dock, boat slips, and an ample beach area for relaxing and playing. The fun doesn’t stop with your meal though—kayaks, paddle boards, paddle boats, jet skis and pontoon boats are available to rent!
Our other waterfront restaurants are located on local rivers. On the western side of the county, you’ll find two that are just a short drive (or paddle) apart. On the banks of the beautiful, spring-fed Rainbow River, Swampy’s Bar & Grille looks like it was airlifted in from the Louisiana Bayou, which is evident in its Cajun-focused menu. Swampy’s has a large, partially covered deck and umbrella-shaded picnic tables.
On the banks of the Withlacoochee River, which connects to the Rainbow, the Blue Gator Tiki Bar & Restaurant has a spacious wooden outdoor deck overlooking the water. The Blue Gator offers several boat slips, and is best known for its seafood baskets. Both of these places make great stops for hungry and thirsty kayakers or tubers after a day on the river.
Take It To-Go!
Because Ocala/Marion County has so many large state, national and local parks, some folks prefer to grab some food and find their own spot to picnic outdoors. This means that local restaurants are always on their A-game when it comes to takeout. Here are a few of our suggestions from a range of cuisines.
What’s easier to take away than pizza? Piesanos gets extremely high marks for its stone-fired pies. The brand has two locations in Ocala, so you’re never too far from a great pizza.
How about some barbeque? Featured on Food Network, Big Lee’s—Serious About Barbecue has both a fixed location at 3925 SE 45th Court, Ocala, and also offers opportunities to grab their grub at locales around town through their mobile fleet. Check out the mobileweekly schedule.
Three miles southwest of downtown, you’ll find The Gathering Cafe, a newer restaurant/coffee shop with a vast menu that includes breakfast, paninis, soups, salads and more. This light and airy place is across the street from 22-acreScott Springs Park, a fantastic spot for a picnic.
Down in Belleview, there’s BD Bean’s Coffee Co., which is a whole lot more than a coffee shop. The restaurant offers omelets, soups, salads and more, as well as an enticing array of hot and cold caffeinated drinks.
If all you want to do is grab something sweet to go, no problem! Betty Cakes in Ocala is a bakery/cafe that sells fancy cakes to order, scrumptious cookies, cake by the slice and other sweet treats. Another option, about a mile north of Ocala’s town square, is Magnolia Bakery, open since 1946. The place bills itself as an Italian bakery, so you’ll find delicious crusty Italian bread to go along with cannolis, biscottis and other treats. And of course there’s that old takeout standby that you’ve got to eat right away: ice cream. For that, Scoops Ice Cream Parlor or Ocala’s Chocolates and Confections are tasty options.
Thanks to our beautiful surroundings and scenic vistas, Ocala/Marion County makes dining outdoors even better than you can imagine. So get outside and enjoy an unforgettable meal — in an unforgettable destination — soon!