There a lot of fun things to do in Ocala, Florida! Both kids and adults will love the parks, museums, and restaurants that call Ocala home.

24+ Fun Things To Do In Ocala, Florida

Fun things to do in Ocala, Florida! Kids and adults will love the parks, museums, and restaurants that call Ocala home.

Where Is Ocala?

Located in Central Florida, the small city of Ocala is about 40 miles southeast of Gainesville and 80 miles northwest of Orlando. Right off of I-75, it’s really easy to get to. People often drive right past it, but it’s a city that we’ve grown to love and we feel more people should know about all of the fun things to do in and around the city.

What Is Ocala, Florida Best Known For?

Ocala is known for many things, including its nature and horses. Ocala is known as the “Horse Capital of the World”, as it was home to the first Thoroughbred horse farm in 1943. Today, it’s home to the World Equestrian Center, the largest equestrian center in the US, and the HITS horse show.

Ocala is also close to the very famous Silver Springs and the Ocala National Forest, in addition to some quirky little museums and sites, like the Drag Racing Hall of Fame.

Thanks to house sitting we’ve gotten to know Ocala well. We’ve house sat for the same wonderful family a few times now and it’s allowed us to “travel slow” and visit some of the top Ocala attractions as well as some hidden gems.

We fell in love with the city and we think you will too. So we’ve put together this huge list of things to do in Ocala. No matter your interests, I am confident you’ll find something in Ocala to love!

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The Best Things To Do In Ocala, Florida

While many lists of things to do in Ocala, FL include activities in nearby Gainesville as well, I tried to keep this list of things to actually IN Ocala, though some may require a short 10-20 minute drive. I also include a section below of things worth checking out in neighboring towns as well.

Ocala Visitors Center

After you finish reading this, you’ll have a really good idea of what to do in Ocala, but we still recommend stopping by the Ocala Visitors Center. The staff really knows their stuff and they are super helpful. We went in and ended up leaving with a ton of pamphlets and they recommended many of the attractions we list below.

Historic Downtown Ocala

Without question, one of the top things to do in Ocala is to visit historic Downtown Ocala. The square has a lovely gazebo and you always see people hanging out on benches or strolling along past the various restaurants that surround the square.

Historic Downtown Ocala also has a lot of public parking, most of which is free. You don’t see that very often, so it’s definitely something we appreciate.

Historic Downtown Ocala
Historic Downtown Ocala

Silver Springs State Park

If you’re looking for things to do in Ocala with kids, we definitely recommend visiting Silver Springs State Park. It’s one of the top Ocala attractions and is considered Florida’s first tourist attraction.

The springs are beautiful and clear and can best be seen by taking the park’s famous glass-bottom boat tour. You get to see wildlife and vegetation up close that way. And because of the water’s clarity, many classic movies and shows have been filmed at the springs. On the boat tour, you will also see leftover props that are still in the water from movies such as “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”

The park also has walking trails and even a campground where you can rent cabins. If you’d like to spend more time on the water, we recommend kayaking and paddle boarding. There’s a good chance you’ll see manatees too!

Kayaking in Silver Springs State Park

Sholom Park

When you visit Ocala, if you’re looking for a really beautiful and tranquil place to walk, meditate, or even contemplate life, we recommend visiting Sholom Park. We’ve been there multiple times and can’t wait to return.

The park is a private property, created by Sidney and Ina Colen. However, the park is free and was intentionally made so that everyone could come and find a peaceful place to reflect and enjoy their surroundings. Multiple trails are interconnected, weaving between magnificent tall trees and beautiful gardens.

visiting Sholom Park is one of the best things to do in Ocala
Sholom Park

Ocala National Forest

Because of its sheer size, there are a lot of things to do in Ocala National Forest. It’s the southernmost forest in the continental US and within its 387,000 acres it has over 600 lakes, rivers, and springs.

The biggest natural springs in Ocala National Forest are Silver Glen Springs, Salt Springs, Juniper Springs, and Alexander Springs. These springs produce millions of gallons of beautiful crystal clear water daily that stay at a constant 72 degrees all year round.

Besides swimming, kayaking, and other water activities, the Ocala National Forest hiking trails are also very popular. We hiked a few of the trails and were impressed with the natural beauty we saw.

Ocala National Forest is also home to Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park. The award-winning author of The Yearling, and many other books, was inspired by her surroundings when living in the forest. You can take a tour of her impeccably preserved home and learn about her and her work.

Visiting Silver Glen Springs is one of the best things to do in Ocala FL
Silver Glen Springs
Lake George Trail inside Silver Glen Springs Recreation Area
Lake George Trail inside Silver Glen Springs Recreation Area
Spring Boils Trail inside Silver Glen Springs Recreation Area
Seeing water bubbling up through the sand from the Florida Aquifer was really cool
Rawlings used this typewriter to write The Yearling
Rawlings used this typewriter to write The Yearling

First Fridays In Ocala

One of the most popular Downtown Ocala events is First Fridays. As the name implies, this Ocala event takes place the first Friday of every month from September through May from 6 pm to 9 pm.

It’s free and takes place throughout Downtown Ocala. Local artists line the streets with their work, there are live musical performances, and there are family art activities. Many of the shops downtown stay open longer too, so it’s a great time to explore and support local small businesses.

First Fridays is one of the fun things to do in Ocala
First Fridays In Ocala

Ocala Painted Horse Statues

As you wander around Historic Downtown Ocala, or as you drive around the rest of the city, you may see a few painted horse statues. They are part of the Horse Fever Project, which helps support the Marion Cultural Alliance (MCA) and other charities. The project began in 2000 and to celebrate its 20th anniversary, 15 new horses were painted in 2020 for the Horse Fever 20/20 Anniversary Herd.

Many of the painted horses are now privately owned, but you can still see them sprinkled throughout Ocala. We were always on the lookout for them and in total we found 12.

Ocala Painted Horses
Ocala Painted Horses

The Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours

To really get your adrenaline pumping, head over to The Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours. They offer multiple zip line tours as well as horseback riding, wine and chocolate tours, and kayak tours. You can even search for real gems at their historic Zuber mine!

During our visit, we did the Big Cliff Canyon zip line tour which had nine zips. Omg, what an experience! First, the landscape is just incredible. You wouldn’t expect to find a canyon and cliffs in Florida, and yet there they are! As we zipped through the canyon and over lakes, the scenery took our breath away. Zipping through the canopy was also beautiful because the trees were so spectacularly green. Between zips, we stood in awe of the beauty all around us.

Our experience at The Canyons was also great because of our guides Michael and Marcus. They were fun and had so much energy! They were also constantly checking our gear and making sure we were comfortable and having a good time. And of course, the zips themselves were awesome! The zips got faster and longer as we went along and it really gets your heart racing.

Our tour took about 2.5 hours and at the end, you are handed a certificate and you have a chance to buy photos that are taken during the tour. We do recommend signing up for an earlier tour because it does get pretty hot, although there are water coolers placed between many of the zips.

Ziplining over a lake in Ocala
Ziplining in Ocala

Marion County Museum Of History And Archaeology

A great place to learn more about the area is the Marion County Museum of History and Archaeology. The exhibits in the museum cover over 13,000 years and they are broken down nicely into different sections. The exhibits are also changed frequently and are created by staff that are obviously very passionate about the area.

Inside the Marion County Museum of History and Archaeology
The exhibits tell what life was like in the area for early inhabitants

Appleton Museum Of Art

We absolutely loved the Appleton Museum of Art! Yes, it’s an art museum. But it’s so much more than that! It’s more of a cultural center that displays both art and artifacts from all over the world; there are over 18,000 pieces in their permanent collection.

Those interested in attending fun Ocala events should check out the museum’s calendar of events. The museum offers classes for all ages, special talks, and even concerts! There are also rotating exhibits throughout the year.

Inside the Appleton Museum of Art
Love these artifacts!

Silver River Museum

Located in a different section of Silver Springs State Park is the Silver River Museum. The $2 entry fee applies for both the park and museum, just keep your receipt. And you will have to drive from one to the other since the entrance to the museum is different than the main entrance to the park.

The museum is open to the public on weekends and consists of various exhibits about the natural history of the area. Outside, there are also recreations of a pioneer settlement and segregation-era African-American one-room schoolhouse.

Inside the Silver River Museum
Inside the Silver River Museum

Fort King National Historic Landmark

History buffs should visit Fort King National Historic Park. Fort King played a pivotal role during the Second Seminole War. It was here that famous Seminole Osceola took his first major stand against the U.S. Army.

Visitors will now see a recreation of the second Fort King that was originally built in 1837. There is also a visitors center, interpretive trail, and picnic facilities.

Fort King National Historic Landmark
Fort King National Historic Landmark

Official Florida Flamingo Museum

There are a few free things to do in Ocala, but visiting the Official Florida Flamingo Museum is probably the quirkiest! Cindy Dunlow has loved and collected flamingo-related items since she was a child. A few years ago, she actually broke the Guinness World Record for most flamingo items!

Currently, she was over 1200 flamingo-related items and you can see them all inside her custom frame shop, Cindy Dunlow Frames. It’s amazing how many things there are with flamingos. We even saw flamingo toilet paper! We had the pleasure of meeting Cindy the day that we stopped in and she was so sweet and told us all about her collection.

Vicky and Cindy inside the Official Florida Flamingo Museum
Vicky and Cindy inside the Official Florida Flamingo Museum

Tuscawilla Art Park

Another of the things to do in Ocala with kids that we recommend is a visit to Tuscawilla Art Park. The three-acre park was created in cooperation with local artists and groups so that people of all ages could enjoy it.

The grounds have public art, gardens, and walkways that meander throughout the park. There is also a stage where concerts and other cultural events regularly take place. Tuscawilla Art Park is also a popular place to conduct photo shoots.

Tuscawilla Art Park
Tuscawilla Art Park

Ocala Skatepark

Just north of Tuscawilla Art Park is the Ocala Skatepark, another fun place to take the kiddos. We saw plenty of kids on skateboards and bikes and even families playing football on the grass next to the skatepark.

Ocala Skatepark
Ocala Skatepark

Veterans Memorial Park

The Veterans Memorial Park in Ocala is a lovely way to recognize the ultimate sacrifice many have paid for this country. Made of over 5,000 bricks, the memorial also has plaques and benches that tell the history of all wars, conflicts, and battles beginning with the Indian Wars in 1628.

Veterans Memorial Park in Ocala
Veterans Memorial Park

Ocala Scenic Drives

The area surrounding Ocala is pretty impressive but some of the most scenic drives in Ocala are south of the city along State Highway 475. We spent an afternoon driving south along this route, looping east towards the city of Belleview, and then back north towards Ocala.

We pulled the car over by ranches to look at horses up close and stopped to take photos of the trees creating what looked like a tunnel over the road. It was a great way to explore the area and see a different side of the city.

getting close to horses is one of the most fun things to do in Ocala FL
Hi cutie!!
Ocala Scenic Drives along State Highway 475
So pretty!

Santos Trailhead

While on the south side of the city, we recommend visiting the Santos Trailhead. Mountain biking in Ocala is very popular and there are over 80 miles of bike trails at Santos. Even if you don’t have a bike, though, you can still enjoy the park. There are both hiking trails and a paved multi-use path.

Mark hiking along Santos Trailhead
Mark hiking along Santos Trailhead
Santos Trailhead also has a paved path
Santos Trailhead also has a paved path

Ocala In December

We’ve been to Ocala multiple times now and each visit has been at different times of the year. However, being in Ocala in December is especially fun and festive.

We’ve already mentioned how much we love historic Downtown Ocala, but during the holiday season, the square is lit up beautifully with lights and a giant Christmas tree. Nightlife in Ocala revolves around downtown, and it seems everyone is out enjoying the lights and atmosphere.

Another of the Ocala events that we recommend is the annual Christmas Parade. The whole city turns out for it (and people from around the county), lining the parade route with chairs and blankets hours before it even starts. There are a lot of floats and the parade lasts just over an hour and a half.

Also in December, Fort King does their annual recreation of a battle that took place at the fort between Seminole Indians and the US Army in December of 1835. Everyone is dressed in period clothing and besides the reenactment, there are also demonstrations and vendors.

Historic Downtown Ocala in December
Historic Downtown Ocala in December
We saw Santa at the Ocala Christmas Parade
We saw Santa at the Ocala Christmas Parade!
Fort King battle recreation
Fort King battle recreation

Ocala Civic Theatre

Those who are at all interested in the performing arts must check out the Ocala Civic Theater. The theater puts on 12 productions per year and they also host many visiting productions, including musicals, drama, and live theater.

In addition, they offer courses and programs for the local community in hopes of keeping theater thriving in Central FL.

Gypsy Gold Horse Farm

Take advantage of being in the “Horse Capital of the World” with a visit to the Gyspy Gold Horse Farm. The founders, Dennis and Cindy, imported the first Gypsy Vanner horses to the United States from the UK in 1995. Today, Gypsy Gold is one of the most recognized horse farms in the country.

While they continue to breed and sell these gorgeous horses, they also offer regular tours where you can learn about the history of the breed before meeting a few horses. They also offer photoshoot sessions, if you’re looking for a unique Instagram pic!

Florida Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association Museum and Gallery

Horse lovers will enjoy checking out this small museum that showcases the history of thoroughbred horses in Ocala. Over 75% of the state’s thoroughbred farms are located right in Marion County! At the museum, you’ll see memorabilia from Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown winners and learn more about the industry that helped turn Ocala into the “Horse Capital of the World”.

Grand Oaks Resort & Museum

The former Florida Carriage & Car Museum is now the Grand Oaks Resort & Museum. However, you’ll still be able to find collectible carriages and cars on display and learn more about the history and business of collectible vehicles.

Don Garlits Museum Of Drag Racing

Any car lover will want to make a pit stop at this museum. In addition to being home to the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame and teaching about the history of drag racing, the museum also has 300+ cars on display, including one of the largest displays of Ford cars.

Things To Do Near Ocala

Aside from everything in town, we also found a ton of things to do near Ocala in Central Florida. They were day trips and easy to get to. Because we were taking care of a pet during our house sit in Ocala, we couldn’t be gone for more than a day.

Here are a few places very close to Ocala that are worth checking out (but check the post linked above for lots more):

Kanapaha Botanical Gardens

There are many botanical gardens in Florida but Kanapaha in Gainsville is one particularly worth visiting. They have over 24 different gardens and a 1 1/2 mile paved walkway with many shaded areas. It’s a great spot for families or those with mobility issues and the gardens themselves are stunning.

Withlacoochee State Forest

Florida’s 3rd largest state forest, Withlacoochee State Forest is located between Tampa and Ocala. It’s a HUGE forest, stretching over 155,000 acres, so don’t plan to see it all in a day!

There are 50 miles of trails, mostly paved, that will take you through nature to explore and other outdoor recreation opportunities. Just be sure to stop into the visitor’s center first to get a lay of the land before heading out.

Cavallo Winery, Farm, and Market

Great for the whole family, Cavallo offers a year-round market where you can get produce that is mostly organic and local to Citrus County. They also have a boutique store that offers guests eco-friendly bath & body merchandise, unique household items, honey products, baked goods, fresh bread, olive oils and vinegars, and jams and jellies.

For a fun outdoor experience, pick your own blueberries when they are in season during April and May. Cavallo also has a winery (one of the best wineries on the east coast!) where they make wine out of their blueberries. They produce 20,000 bottles of wine, and after sampling five of them, we can tell you that they are delicious.

Where To Eat And Drink In Ocala

It’s hard to narrow down the best places to eat in Ocala because there are so many good restaurants and bars in town! There are obviously a lot around Downtown Ocala, but throughout the city there are great food options.

For great Southern cooking, we recommend Brick City Southern Kitchen & Whiskey Bar; we had the Shrimp & Grits and they were amazing. For BBQ we recommend Big Lee’s Food Truck. Vicky freely admits to not caring much for BBQ, even after eating in Kansas City, but the Brisket Stuffed Mac-N-Cheese is something she still dreams about.

If you’re a wine lover, we recommend Katya Vineyards. They have a tasting room in Downtown Ocala and they offer wine tastings for $15 and an incredible menu created by Chef Tony Deras. For beer lovers, we recommend the brewery Infinite Ale Works. They have 34 craft beers and ciders on tap and you can purchase a flight of four Infinite Ale Works Brews for $10. We think it’s one of the best breweries in Florida.

Shrimp & Grits from Brick City Southern Kitchen
Shrimp & Grits from Brick City Southern Kitchen
Brisket Stuffed Mac-N-Cheese from Big Lee's
Brisket Stuffed Mac-N-Cheese from Big Lee’s
Wine tasting at Katya Vineyards in Downtown Ocala FL
Wine tasting at Katya Vineyards
Beer flight at Infinite Ale Works
Beer flight at Infinite Ale Works

Hotels In Ocala

As we mentioned earlier, we were house sitting while in Ocala so we didn’t have to stay in any hotels. There are plenty to choose from though; some close to downtown and others right off of I-75. We recommend checking the hotel rates below.

Final Thoughts On Fun Things To Do In Ocala

We know Central Florida often gets overlooked, or people head straight to Disney World and then leave. But in reality, there are a lot of fun things to do in Ocala and the surrounding area. Beautiful parks, fascinating museums, fun outdoor activities, entertaining nightlife, and mouthwatering restaurants. Ocala is a city that has something for everyone.

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Fun things to do in Ocala, Florida! Kids and adults will love the parks, museums, and restaurants that call Ocala home.

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  1. Glad to hear you enjoy staying here.

  2. Aye, it was indeed a fantastic time in December to explore Ocala. I did not expect so many places to go or things to do in Ocala. Thank you and Buddy for showing me some of your favorite and exploring new ones with me. The Ocala museums all enhanced the experience by enriching my knowledge of the area, especially the Seminole Wars which I didn’t know too much about. Being able to visit Fort King during the reenactment was the highlight of my “history lesson”.

    We certainly have a greater appreciation for Ocala now than before. I look forward to visiting Ocala again with you two.

  3. We camped for many weeks in Ocala but didn’t know about all these places except for the Marion County market. Should have seen all these things you recommend.

    1. If you ever camp there again, you’ll have a ton of things to do! 🙂

  4. After reading your post, I have to agree that Ocala seems like a hidden gem, and more travelers along that I-75 corridor should stop for a visit. In particular, Silver Springs State Park looks gorgeous for kayaking and all the food and drinks you’ve highlighted look so tempting. As I have many friends and family living in Florida, I’m so glad you’ve put Ocala on my radar!

  5. the beer flight at infinite is definitely worth it, one of the best I’ve sampled in town. And the horse statues are must for any visitor – definitely the hot spot for instagram pics. 😉 great list – hey we’re headed down to Orlando in late august… do you have a recommends list for that? Cheer.s Len.

  6. I loved reading about your experience in Ocala, Florida. Your descriptions really made it come alive for me. Happy travels!

    1. Thank you! We’re so glad you you enjoyed it! 🙂

  7. Heather c. says:

    Shalom Park is still my favorite. But this is a wonderful guide to Ocala.

    1. It is a lovely park! And thank you, so glad you enjoyed it! 🙂

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