Planning to sweep down to the Sunshine State? Be sure to book some time to explore all the best things to do in Ocala, Florida. Set in North Central Florida’s “Horse Country,” Ocala is a state gem that will take you away from beachgoing throngs and let you experience the area’s many attractions at your own pace.
In town, explore Ocala’s intriguing array of unique shops and historical and cultural attractions. Outside of the city, you’ll choose from a wealth of outdoor recreation options. Dip into crystal clear artesian springs, zip line through forested canyons, hike miles of winding trails, and take in the beauty of one of the largest pine forests in the world. And if you’re an equine lover, you’re bound to find your bliss on a trip to the “Horse Capital of the World.”
Ready to saddle up and figure out what to do in Ocala? Hit the trail with this complete guide to the best places to visit in Ocala, FL!
Best places to visit in Ocala, FL
Silver Springs State Park
Want to be immersed in natural beauty—on land and in water? Head to Silver Springs State Park, one of Central Florida’s top tourist attractions. Experience the “real Florida” at this stunning natural site, featuring one of the largest Artesian springs ever discovered in the world.
Explore the crystal-clear waters on the Silver Spring River by canoe, clear-bottom kayak, or paddleboard. Jump on board to enjoy the world-famous Glass Bottom Boat tour, showcasing the vibrant spring and its colorful aquatic life and vegetation. Bring your binoculars: Along the way, you’ll spot other inhabitants of this fascinating ecosystem, including gators, manatees, and turtles.
Back on dry land, hike miles of trails, or get the gang together for some playground fun. Ready for a break? Bring your friends and family to the picnic area of Silver Springs State Park, fire up the grill, and enjoy a fresh-air chow-down.
Marion County Museum of History and Archaeology
History buff or not, you’ll get in the zone at the amazing exhibits of the Marion County Museum of History and Archaeology. A combination research and teaching institution, the museum showcases 13,000 years of human history in Marion County, Florida.
Take your time to browse the rich array of exhibits, which include everything from fascinating Civil War artifacts to centuries-old Spanish glass.
The surrounding area was inhabited by Paleo-Indian civilizations as long as 14,000 years ago, making it a treasure trove for archaeological exploration. The current focus: the remains of the mission of Santa Lucia de Acuera was established by the Spanish in 1627.
Want to get your hands dirty and just possibly dig up some history? Visitors are welcome to join one of the museum’s experts in the field.
Ocala National Forest
Feeling the urge to get off the beaten path? Make Ocala National Forest your destination. Boasting over 80 square miles of beautiful recreational waterways and springs, Ocala National Forest is the second-largest national forest in Florida.
Ocala National Forest is one of the Sunshine State’s top destinations for outdoor enthusiasts. And it’s no wonder: the beautifully preserved sand pine scrub forest offers miles of biking and hiking trails.
And this site is alive with aquatic beauty. Take to the scenic walking trails that wind past Juniper Springs, Alexander Springs, Silver Glen Springs, and Salt Spring. Jump in whenever you feel the urge to cool off. Feel like heading to the lake? You’ll take your pick of over 600 of them in this natural paradise.
Want to get off your feet? Saddle up for a guided ride, or hop on an ATV. Be sure to pack your binoculars: Ocala National Forest is a haven for a fantastic array of birds and other wildlife, including black bears, alligators, deer, boars, and tortoises.
Don’t want to end your visit? Book a campsite for the night!
Fort King National Historic Park
Want to time travel? Put Fort King National Historic Park on your list of where to go in Ocala. Built in 1827, the fort was built as a military bastion for Florida’s Fourth Infantry at a time when tensions between white settlers and indigenous Seminole Indians ran high. Though it was eventually abandoned, much of the fort’s original building materials were preserved and reconstructed with as much historical accuracy as possible.
Experience history brought to life as you explore Fort King National Historic Park. Drop into the library and archaeological center to view a fascinating collection of artifacts and learn more about the fort’s past.
Take to the interpretive trail that stretches from the fort along Seep Spring and leads you into a lush ravine. Top off your visit to the Fort King National Historic Landmark by stretching out and taking in the natural beauty of the native flora and fauna.
Alexander Springs Recreational Area
Whether you’re a natural spring aficionado – or a wannabe – you won’t want to miss Alexander Springs Recreational Area. Nestled inside Ocala National Forest, this star among springs is renowned for its crystal-clear turquoise waters and scenic forests. Its constant temperature (a refreshing 72 degrees) and sandy bottom make it a family-friendly hit.
Whatever your outdoor interests, the Alexander Springs Recreation Area has you covered. It’s a perfect destination for swimming, scuba diving, hiking, biking, kayaking, canoeing, or fishing to your heart’s content. Hike the nature trails—including the Florida National Scenic Trail. Be sure to bring your camera to capture the beauty and stunning views around you.
Packed a lunch for the journey? Park yourself at a picnic table. If you want to stretch out your stay at Alexander Springs, stake out a spot in the campground for a night of camping under the stars.
If you’re craving a quiet haven on your trip, Sholom Park is one of the coolest places to go in Ocala. The name “Sholom” – the Hebrew word for peace – says it all. This privately owned park is open to the public. It was created to offer visitors a peaceful getaway from the hustle-and-bustle of Ocala.
The beautiful 44-acre botanical garden was designed to enhance the natural wooded landscape with more than 100 native plant species. Take your time to view them as you meander the paved trail winding en route through Sholom Park. Marvel at the majestic mature oaks and savor the scent of longleaf pine trees. Visit the koi pond, where the fish jump out of the water to feed.
Relax on one of the park’s many benches. Rest, reflect, and leave feeling refreshed.
Appleton Museum of Art
Art lovers will want to put the Appleton Museum of Art at the top of their list of things to see & do in Ocala. Set on the College of Central Florida’s Ocala campus, the building itself is a sight to behold. The stunning 82,000 square-foot marble structure, built in a classical Italian architectural style, presides over a lush 44 acres of grounds, an outdoor sculpture walk, a fountain, and a reflecting pool.
But of course, you’ll want to head inside to view the star attractions. The Appleton Museum of Art houses five (count ’em!) permanent collections.
Allow plenty of time to explore this vast collection of 24,000 pieces of art and artifacts originating in five different continents. The museum also features a two-tier exhibition hall for both traveling exhibits and works by Florida artists.
The Appleton Museum of Art offers a wide variety of instructional and educational classes, workshops, and special events, making it a community-friendly hub throughout the year. Check your calendar!
Gypsy Gold Horse Farm
It only makes sense that the “Horse Capital of the World” is home to one of the most intriguing equine brands in the world. Legend has it that the Gypsy Vanner horses were introduced by gypsies in the British Isles generations ago (hence the name).
Whatever their past, they’re very much a presence in North America at the Gypsy Gold Horse Farm, thanks to owners Dennis and Cindy Thompson.
An Ocala visitor magnet, these beautiful horses are known for their unique black-and-white coloring, flowing manes, feathered hocks, and friendly nature.
Drop into the Gypsy Gold Horse Farm to meet them in person, and learn about their fascinating history straight from the owners.
Take a walking tour of the farm, meet the residents, and enjoy a (nearly) hands-on experience by feeding them a carrot treat. (And take a one-of-a-kind selfie with one of these beauties!)
Silver River Museum
Looking for a family-friendly destination that’s both entertaining and educational? Pack up the kids and head down to the Silver River Museum for an experience that’s bound to engage you, whatever your age.
Set in the Silver Springs State Park in Ocala, Florida, the museum works closely with the Florida Park Service to provide programming that highlights both the cultural and natural history of the region.
Weekdays are devoted to school groups, while weekends are wide open to the general public. Explore the museum’s exhibits to gain fascinating insights into local flora and fauna, as well as the area’s rich indigenous history.
Step into the pioneer village for a glimpse into the past. A collection of historic and replica structures portray life as it was lived in the early 1800s.
View the settler cabins, a one-room schoolhouse, sugar cane mill, blacksmith shop, wood-fired pottery kiln, and a replica Seminole Indian camp. It’s history brought to life!
Withlacoochee State Forest
Got an appetite for the great outdoors? Don’t miss Withlacoochee State Forest. It may not be as well-known as some of the Sunshine State’s other treed preserves, but, in fact, it’s Florida’s third-largest state forest. Much of it is dedicated to wildlife and environmental preservation, making it a nature lover’s paradise.
Withlacoochee State Forest features nearly 50 miles of trails, much of it paved. It’s easy to navigate – even if you’re pushing a stroller!
Choose your mode of transport: experience Withlacoochee State Forest’s natural beauty hiking, biking, or on a horseback ride. Or pick up a paddle and explore the waterways by canoe.
This rare sandhill ecosystem is home to many of the state’s rare and endangered plants and animals. Bring your binoculars for sightings of everything from Cooley’s Waterwillows to Red-cockaded Woodpeckers.
Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours
Ready to get your adrenaline pumping? Plan to soar at Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours. The park is home to the fastest, highest, and longest zip line in Florida—and the longest zip line over water in the U.S.!
This 100-acre adventure park features a breathtaking setting of massive cliffs, crystal-clear lakes, towering old-growth oak trees, and awesome canyons. Strap yourself in for a flight through limestone canyons and get a thrilling bird’s eye view of this stunning natural setting.
Want to stay closer to the ground? Test your balance on a rope bridge, or try rappelling down a cliffside. Want some equine companionship? No problem: This is the horse capital of the world after all! Explore this one-of-a-kind site while horseback riding, weaving along winding trails to take in a panoramic view.
Check the availability of tours and prices for tickets on the official site.
Ocala Civic Theatre
Want to sample the local culture? Catch a show at the Ocala Civic Theatre. Housed in the Appleton Cultural Center, this is one of the largest community theatres in the Sunshine State.
Also known as the Appleton Civic Theater, this often-overlooked gem is actually among the top-rated 20 theaters in the U.S. Every season it stages a bevy of live, professional-quality productions and tours the U.S. In addition, it hosts several touring companies. On the theater’s performing menu: live music, comedies, dramas, and musicals.
Got the urge to tread the boards or work behind the scenes? Check out the theater’s programs and courses that’ll help you polish your skills in everything from improvisation to musical performance.
Ocala Historic District
Want to get a glimpse into Ocala’s past? Be sure to carve out time to visit the Ocala Historic District. Its Gothic Victorian architecture and moss-draped oak trees have a distinctly Old South flavor—and will make you feel that you’ve stepped into another era.
Check out the Historic District Downtown Square and you’ll step right back into the present day. This is the lively centerpiece of the downtown area and a popular gathering place for concerts and events like First Friday Art Walks, featuring live musical performances and family art activities.
Browse the Ocala Downtown Market, and check out a great selection of shopping, dining, and nightlife spots.
Looking for the perfect way to end your day? One of the city’s top experiences is to hop into a horse-drawn carriage for an after-dark tour of the historic downtown lights.
Want to get an up-close view of Central Florida’s irresistible wilderness? Hit the Belleview-Santos Trail to get a megadose of the Sunshine State’s natural wonders. Set just outside Ocala, this outdoor destination offers a fantastic cross-section of landscapes.
The five-mile loop winds its way through ecosystems ranging from rare scrub pine forests to cypress tree swamps – and the fascinating range of plant and wildlife species that inhabit them. Take to the trail on foot or horseback. And pack your wheels: This is a hotspot for mountain bikers of all skill levels, offering everything from packed sand trails to rocky climbs to smooth paved paths.
Worked up an appetite? Head to one of the site’s picnic tables to refresh and refuel. If you’re up for a longer stay, stake out a spot at the nearby Santos campsite and call it a night.
Rainbow Springs State Park
Want to chill out in a beautiful, family-friendly landscape that dates back millions of years? Punch Rainbow Springs State Park into the GPS and get set for a one-of-a-kind experience.
Set just west of Ocala, this 1,000-acre park’s star attraction is its natural spring. “Chill” is the word, because the spring’s temperature remains at a just-right temperature of 72 degrees year-round. It’s always a perfect time to swim, tube, snorkel, or paddle in the crystal-clear water.
Want to stay on the dry side? Explore the park’s playgrounds, gardens, and interpretive exhibits. Lounge on the beach at the Headsprings. Stroll through the woods and take in the park’s mossy hammocks, rolling hills, and man-made waterfalls.
Worked up an appetite? Head to one of the park’s concession stands for a snack, ice cream, or soft drink.
Hoggetowne Medieval Faire
Up for a bout of Olde Tyme family-friendly feasting and gaming? Then you’ll want to avail yourself of the pleasures of the Hoggetowne Medieval Faire. Featuring a large cast of knights and ladies, this Central Florida fan favorite has been bringing a medieval village to life for over three decades.
Step back in time and take your pick from a generous buffet of old-world attractions. Cheer the jousting knights, browse the medieval marketplace where hundreds of artisans display their wares, watch a battle on the “living chessboard,” experience some old-world rides and games, and feast on food fit for royalty.
Families will love to visit the many entertainment sites to witness full-flight falconry, thrilling aerial acrobatics, and mesmerizing old-world magic. Gypsy dancers, jugglers, and knife throwers keep the energy levels high as they fill the Hoggetown streets.
Infinite Ale Works
Looking for a break from sightseeing? One of the best things to do in Ocala is to grab a pint of craft beer at Infinite Ale Works. Located in the historic downtown, this Belgian-inspired craft brewery explores the entire gamut of flavors, from pale ales to witbiers.
Pull up a chair at the downtown taproom to taste traditional yet creative brews like the potent West Floridian Belgian Abbey-Style Quadruple Ale, the well-balanced Apeiron Belgian-Style IPA, or the easy-drinking Trails American-Belgo Style Pale Ale.
Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille
Built up an appetite while exploring downtown? Get a taste of New Orleans in Florida at the unexpected Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille. One of the most popular places to eat & drink in Ocala, this popular restaurant & bar fuses the tastiest Cajun, Creole, and Southern flavors for a taste experience like none other in the landlocked city.
Start off the evening with shareable favorites like Louisiana Fondeaux and Harry’s Signature Crab Cakes. Save room for delicious signature entrees like jambalaya, chicken & shrimp creole, and shrimp-n-grits.
Want to save some money at one of Ocala’s favorite restaurants? Harry’s Seafood Bar & Grille offers a daily happy hour from 2 pm to 7 pm, featuring special pricing on draft beer, cocktails, and house wine.
Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing
Gear heads visiting Ocala can’t miss out on visiting one of the most unique museums in the United States: the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing. Open since 1984, the museum takes a journey through the entire history of the death-defying motorsport of drag racing, with a little something for everyone.
Add the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing into your trip plans to dazzle at the two incredible main collections of vehicles. In the Drag Race building, marvel at the massive collection of racing cars. Or slide into the Antique Car section to have a gander at the stunning collection of several dozen antique cars.
While visiting the museum, be sure to pop into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame to pay tribute to the legends of the sport. If you’re visiting Ocala in the spring, you may even be able to catch a Hall of Fame induction ceremony in nearby Gainesville!
Admission to the museum is $20, with half-price tickets available to children under 12.