nature outdoor adventure

Ocala: A Hidden Gem in North Central Florida

Nature and Outdoor Adventure

The Lure of Ocala’s Pristine Landscapes

Nestled in the heart of north central Florida’s scenic “horse country,” travelers to Ocala can stroll along picturesque paths that wind through oak trees adorned with Spanish moss. Additionally, visitors can explore miles of pristine nature, including the largest sand pine forest in the world, while canoeing down crystal-clear streams. The region’s freshwater streams, rolling hills, and clean air have also served as the backdrop for Hollywood movies, making Ocala and surrounding Marion County a destination not to be missed.

Silver Springs: Florida’s Original Attraction

Nearby Ocala is Silver Springs, a national landmark and nature theme park on 350 acres. Silver Springs is Florida’s “original attraction” and offers various activities for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts, such as glass-bottom boat tours, kayaking, and hiking.

Discovering Ocala’s Horse Country

When you venture away from the heart of Historic Downtown Ocala, you’ll come across a wealth of stunning horse farms that exude an air of grandeur and beauty. Some of these farms even offer tours and accommodations, allowing visitors to fully immerse themselves in the equine lifestyle. As the Horse Capital of the World™, Ocala is a destination not just for thoroughbred owners, but for anyone who has a love for horses, with plenty of equestrian events and activities to enjoy.

Culinary and Cultural Delights

A Variety of Dining Options

There are plenty of dining options in Ocala, ranging from upscale restaurants serving international cuisine to more affordable places offering satisfying and nourishing meals that everyone can appreciate. Whether you prefer local establishments or well-known chains, you’re sure to find something that suits your taste buds.

Historic Downtown Shopping and Boutiques

Go shopping and stroll the Historic Downtown Square in Ocala or visit nearby Belleview, Dunnellon, Reddick, and McIntosh to explore a variety of specialty shops and flea markets. Numerous boutiques, gift shops, and antique storefronts await your discovery.

First Friday Art Walk

The First Friday Art Walk in Historic Downtown Ocala takes place September through May. This free event features over 30 art displays, live entertainment, free family art activities, and extended shopping hours.

Recreational Activities and Attractions

Santos Trails: Off-Road Cycling Paradise

Part of the Cross Florida Greenway, the Santos Trail has roughly 20 miles of twisting tracks that range in challenge from Bunny to Speedway. With adrenaline-pumping rides on the Vortex trail and plenty of stretches for leisurely rides or hikes, the Santos Trails cater to all levels of outdoor enthusiasts.

Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing

Visit the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing to learn about the history of drag racing and view an impressive collection of dragsters, including several of Garlits’ record-setting “Swamp Rat” Top Fuel cars.

Dunnellon: Where Rivers Meet

Situated at the junction of the clear, spring-fed Rainbow River and the more challenging Withlacoochee River, Dunnellon is a paddler’s paradise, offering activities such as tubing, kayaking, and vigorous paddling expeditions.

Annual Events and Festivals

Boomtown Days

Held every April for more than 50 years, Boomtown Days celebrates Dunnellon’s history as a Florida boomtown due to the discovery of high-grade phosphate. This festival and street party features live music, cowboy entertainment, a kids’ zone, food and craft vendors, and more.

Two Rivers Music Festival & Food Truck Rally

Formerly called Jazz Up Dunnellon, the Two Rivers Music Festival & Food Truck Rally showcases an eclectic array of acts from various genres, as well as a bevy of food trucks serving up delicious offerings. This free event is hosted by the Dunnellon Chamber and Business Association.

McIntosh 1890s Festival

Every fall, visitors to the McIntosh 1890s Festival can enjoy Old Florida fun, live music, and over 280 vendors offering food, drink, arts, crafts, antiques, and more in a spacious park shaded by live oak trees.

Cattle Drive & Cowboy Roundup

The annual Cattle Drive & Cowboy Roundup in February pays homage to Ocala’s history as a cattle ranching hub. This free event features a cattle drive through downtown Ocala, live music, food vendors, cowboy demonstrations, and various family-friendly activities.

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