City of Ocala
Modern Charm in Classic Florida
Travel in any direction from Historic Downtown Ocala and you’ll encounter lush, stately horse farms, some of which offer tours and even lodging. The Horse Capital of the World™ is not just for owners of thoroughbreds — it’s a haven for horse lovers to indulge in their passion. You can mount up and enjoy a trail ride (one tour puts you on a horse while it swims through a river); take an old-time carriage tour; and visit Florida Horse Park, a 500-acre facility that presents more than 250 equestrian events a year. You can take in elegant horse jumping competitions or simply pull over to the side of the road and view horses grazing in the grass. Everywhere you look in and around Ocala there’s something you can do that involves horses!
Just a 10-minute drive from the thriving culinary and cultural scenes in Historic Downtown Ocala, you’ll find a vanishing slice of Americana. Ocala Drive-In, which first opened in 1948, was refurbished and reopened in 2011. Starting at sundown, the huge screen shows first-run double features at family-friendly prices. Groups spread out on lawn chairs or hang out in their vehicles, and get theater-quality sound from a FM radio station. A concession building has a generous array of offerings. Ocala Drive-In shows movies seven nights a week.
Every year in February, honest-to-goodness cowboys atop horses drive cattle through Downtown Ocala all the way to Tuscawilla Park, a distance of some 1.5 miles. This free event pays homage to Ocala’s history — while the area is widely known as the Horse Capital of the World™, it was once heavy with cattle ranches. People line the streets to watch this livestock parade. Live music, food vendors, cowboy demonstrations, pony and mechanical bull rides, a petting zoo and other activities round out this lively event. Everyone is encouraged to dress up in cowboy garb, so put on your 10-gallon hat and enjoy the day, partner!
Silver Springs’ signature glass bottom boats — which provide visitors a terrific view of crystal-clear waters, plant and animal life — date all the way back to the late 1870s. That makes Silver Springs the oldest commercial tourist attraction in Florida. The Silver River runs through the entire park, and its pristine waters are ideal for kayaking and paddleboarding. There’s so much more to do than just enjoy the water, though: hiking, biking and birding; camping; a visit to Cracker Village, a replica of a 19th Century pioneer settlement; a stop at the Silver River Museum & Environmental Center; and even a nice meal at an on-site restaurant. These 5,000 acres of outdoor fun are located six miles east of Historic Downtown Ocala.
This arty party takes place September through May in Historic Downtown Ocala. The free event features more than 30 art displays, along with live entertainment, free family art activities and extended shopping hours. The Art Walk takes place near the city’s top eateries and drinkeries. Feel free to continue your fun into the night and enjoy all that Downtown has to offer.
Ocala is proud of its arts scene and goes to great lengths to showcase public art on view, as well as an array of arts-oriented activities and competitions throughout the year. A good place to start is Tuscawilla Art Park, an outdoor gallery on a sprawling expanse of green featuring an array of sculptures, including an archway that incorporates 22 whimsical faces into its stone walls. Don’t miss this place — it’s fairly new, and regarded as one of the city’s best kept secrets. You’ll encounter smaller pieces of public art throughout Ocala, adding delightful moments to your walkable adventure. Top tip for all you Instagrammers: Make sure to snap a picture with the brightly painted horse in the Ocala Downtown Square.