12 Best Things to Do Near Ocala

Horses on a Farm in Ocala, Florida
Horses on a Farm in Ocala, Florida | Photo Credit: Adobe Stock - Tsado
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Ocala, Florida, is a captivating city nestled in the heart of the Sunshine State, offering visitors an array of unique attractions and activities to explore. From the natural wonders of Silver Springs State Park to the rich equestrian heritage showcased at the World Equestrian Center, the area surrounding Ocala is brimming with exciting possibilities. Whether you’re a history buff eager to delve into the region’s past at the Fort King National Historic Landmark or an art enthusiast looking to admire the impressive collections at the Appleton Museum of Art, you’ll find plenty of fascinating things to do near Ocala. In this article, you’ll uncover 12 of the best attractions and experiences that showcase the diverse character and charm of this delightful region.

Table of Contents

1. Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing

Address: 13700 SW 16th Ave, Ocala, FL 34473

The Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing is a must-visit destination for automotive enthusiasts, housing an extensive collection of over 140 antique and drag racing vehicles across two expansive buildings. The museum showcases the iconic “Swamp Rat” series of dragsters from legendary racer Don Garlits, as well as cars from other drag racing icons such as Dean Moon, Shirley Muldowney, and Art Arfons. Visitors can explore the rich history and evolution of the sport through the numerous exhibits, memorabilia, photographs, and informative displays while also paying tribute to the individuals enshrined in the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, which is housed within the museum.

2. Appleton Museum of Art

Appleton Museum of Art, Ocala, Florida
Appleton Museum of Art, Ocala, Florida | Photo Credit: Wikimedia – Ebyabe

Address: 4333 E Silver Springs Blvd, Ocala, FL 34470

Operated by the College of Central Florida, the Appleton Museum of Art is a stunning two-story building set on 11 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds featuring a serene reflection pool. The museum boasts an impressive collection of over 24,000 works of art and artifacts from around the world, including pieces from America, Europe, South America, Asia, and Africa. Visitors can explore the diverse exhibits showcasing various cultures, time periods, and artistic styles, gaining a deeper appreciation for the richness and complexity of human creative expression. As a nod to the region’s strong equine culture, the Appleton Museum of Art also features a unique display of historic horse artwork and gear, providing a fascinating glimpse into the role of horses in art and society throughout history. With its extensive collection, stunning architecture, and tranquil surroundings, the Appleton Museum of Art offers a truly immersive and enriching experience for art lovers and curious visitors alike.

3. Sholom Park

Address: 7110 SW 80th Ave, Ocala, FL 34481

Sholom Park, a stunning 44-acre botanical garden, invites visitors to explore a diverse collection of over 250 plant and tree species along two miles of beautifully maintained nature trails. The park features enchanting themed gardens, including a vibrant rose garden, a colorful azalea garden, and a serene prairie space showcasing native wildflowers and grasses. As a haven for nature enthusiasts, gardening lovers, and those seeking a peaceful escape, Sholom Park offers a welcoming oasis that encourages visitors to reconnect with the natural world and appreciate the beauty of the botanical landscape.

4. Silver Springs State Park

Silver Springs State Park, Florida
Silver Springs State Park, Florida | Photo Credit: Violet Sky Adventures

Address: 5656 E Silver Springs Blvd, Silver Springs, FL 34488

Silver Springs State Park, a 4,000-acre natural wonder, is home to one of the largest springs in the country and a fascinating array of wildlife, including wild monkeys introduced by Captain Tooey in the 1930s to enhance his popular jungle cruise. The park’s nearly 5-mile Silver River, with its numerous spring heads, has captured the attention of Hollywood, serving as a filming location for notable movies such as Smokey and the Bandit III and Creature from the Black Lagoon. Visitors can explore the park’s rich history and underwater treasures, including sunken cypress trees, a Spanish rowboat, and a Native American canoe, through captivating glass-bottom boat tours.

5. World Equestrian Center

World Equestrian Center, Ocala, Florida
World Equestrian Center, Ocala, Florida | Photo Credit: Flickr – marada

Address: 1750 NW 80th Ave, Ocala, FL 34482

The World Equestrian Center is the largest equestrian facility in the United States, offering a wide range of amenities and attractions across its impressive 378-acre complex. With 23 outdoor arenas, six climate-controlled indoor arenas, and luxurious on-site accommodations, this state-of-the-art venue hosts high-profile equestrian competitions and events throughout the year, attracting top riders and horses worldwide. The World Equestrian Center not only caters to horse enthusiasts but also serves as a versatile destination for entertainment and relaxation, making it a must-visit location for anyone seeking an unforgettable experience.

6. Take a Horse Farm Tour

A visit to Ocala would be incomplete without exploring one of the city’s renowned horse farms. These farms offer a unique opportunity for visitors to immerse themselves in the world of equestrian culture, whether it’s through meeting experienced horse professionals, learning about the daily care and training of these magnificent animals, or embarking on a scenic horseback ride through the picturesque countryside. With a wide range of activities and experiences available, such as guided tours, riding lessons, and even hands-on interactions with the horses, Ocala’s horse farms provide a fascinating and exciting way to discover the rich equestrian heritage that defines this charming city.

7. Tuscawilla Park & Discovery Center

Address: 829 NE Sanchez Ave, Ocala, FL 34470

Tuscawilla Park, located in the heart of Ocala, is a popular destination known for its picturesque lake, which is home to a charming array of ducks. However, the park’s crown jewel is the Discovery Center, a state-of-the-art facility that offers visitors an immersive and engaging experience in the world of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics). The Discovery Center features a wide range of hands-on displays and interactive exhibits designed to spark curiosity and inspire learning in visitors of all ages. From exploring the principles of physics and chemistry to discovering the wonders of the natural world, the Discovery Center provides a fun and educational environment for the whole family. In addition to its permanent exhibits, the center also hosts a variety of classes and workshops throughout the year, allowing visitors to delve deeper into specific topics and develop new skills in a supportive and engaging setting.

8. Fort King National Historic Landmark

Fort King Historic Landmark, Ocala, Florida
Fort King Historic Landmark, Ocala, Florida | Photo Credit: Adobe Stock – Sunshower Shots

Address: 3925 E Fort King St, Ocala, FL 34470

Fort King was built in 1827 and named after Colonel William King, the first governor of the western province of Florida and the commander of the state’s 4th Infantry. The fort played a crucial role as a military base during the Seminole Wars and was one of the first European settlements in the region. After Marion County was established in 1844, Fort King also served as a courthouse, highlighting its significance in the area’s early history. Today, the fort has been meticulously reconstructed to resemble its appearance over 200 years ago, offering visitors a glimpse into the past and a chance to learn about the pivotal events that shaped the development of Ocala and its surrounding communities.

9. Scott Springs Park

Address: 2825 SW 24th Ave, Ocala, FL 34471

Visitors to this scenic 22-acre park can enjoy a leisurely stroll around the picturesque pond, taking in the beauty of the natural surroundings and observing the diverse wildlife that calls the area home. While swimming in the pond is not permitted, Scott Springs Park offers a unique opportunity to explore fascinating caves and appreciate the tranquility of the environment. Whether you’re looking for a peaceful picnic spot, a chance to connect with nature, or simply a place to unwind and escape the hustle and bustle of daily life, this park provides a serene setting for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.

10. Bradford – Ma Barker House

Ma Barker House, Ocklawaha, Florida
Ma Barker House, Ocklawaha, Florida | Photo Credit: Wikimedia – TheGoodspeeds

Address: 13279 SE 115th Ave, Ocklawaha, FL 32179

The Ma Barker House, a 2,100-square-foot home built in 1930, boasts a fascinating history that has left an indelible mark on the area. Originally located on a different part of the lake, the house was recently moved to its current spot overlooking Lake Weir, the fifth-largest lake in Florida, to ensure its preservation. In late 1934, the seemingly kind Mrs. T.C. “Kate” Blackburn approached the owner, Carson Bradford, seeking to rent the house for a short period with her sons. Although the house had never been rented before, Mr. Bradford reluctantly agreed, and Kate paid in advance for the entire season. However, two months after moving in, on January 16, 1935, the house became the scene of a dramatic six-hour battle between FBI agents and the occupants, revealing that “Kate” was actually the notorious gangster Ma Barker. The intense shootout ended with the deaths of Ma Barker and her son Fred, forever cementing the house’s place in local lore and attracting curious visitors eager to learn more about this gripping chapter in American history. The house can only be seen by making reservations.

11. Marion County Museum of History and Archaeology

Marion County Museum of History and Archaeology, Ocala, Florida
Marion County Museum of History and Archaeology, Ocala, Florida | Photo Credit: Wikimedia – Ebyabe

Address: 307 SE 26th Terrace, Ocala, FL 34471

This museum not only documents the diverse history of Marion County but also showcases an array of engaging exhibits that are regularly updated, ensuring that there is always something new and exciting to discover. The Marion County Museum of History and Archaeology collection provides a comprehensive overview of the region’s cultural heritage, from ancient archaeological finds to more recent historical artifacts. Whether you’re a history buff, a curious visitor, or simply looking to deepen your understanding of Ocala’s roots, the Marion County Museum of History and Archaeology is an excellent place to explore and learn, offering a captivating journey through time that is both educational and entertaining.

12. Jumbolair Aviation Estates

Jumboair Aviation Estates, Ocala, Florida
Jumboair Aviation Estates, Florida | Photo Credit: Violet Sky Adventures

Address: 8400 NE Jacksonville Rd, Ocala, FL 34479

Jumbolair Aviation Estates, an exclusive gated community, is off-limits to visitors, but the exterior of the park still manages to captivate passersby. This upscale neighborhood is home to several notable individuals, including the renowned actor John Travolta. Many of the homes have their own airplane hangers and roadways that are connected to runways. The aviation theme of Jumbolair is evident even from the outside, piquing the curiosity of those who catch a glimpse of this fascinating enclave.

Conclusion

From the picturesque gardens of Sholom Park to the hands-on exhibits at the Discovery Center in Tuscawilla Park, Ocala and its surrounding areas offer a wealth of attractions and activities that cater to various interests. Visitors can immerse themselves in the region’s history at the Marion County Museum of History and Archaeology, explore the great outdoors at one of the many state parks, or experience the thrill of the equestrian lifestyle at the renowned horse farms. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or cultural enrichment, these 12 best things to do near Ocala provide an engaging and memorable experience for all. Plan your visit to this charming Florida city and prepare to be captivated by the unique blend of natural beauty, historical significance, and modern-day attractions that define Ocala and its surrounding communities.

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