The first time I passed through Ocala, I barely noticed it other than stopping for a bite to eat at a fast food restaurant. If you’ve ever made the drive from Chicago to Orlando, you’ve passed it and you’ve also been so excited to get to Disney World that almost nothing else mattered.
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One of the first times that I really had to stop and pay attention to where we were while in Ocala was while we were making the big move to Tampa. We were running out of time to pick up our keys before the office closed and decided to stop for the night in Ocala.
The next morning, I thought hmmmm, it’s kind of an interesting town. It would still be years before I ever really explored what was in this town and nearby. It turns out that I really like a visit to Ocala every now and then.
Distance to Ocala from Tampa – about 100 miles (90 minutes)
Distance to Ocala from Orlando – about 85 miles (75 minutes)
My favorite things to do in Ocala, Florida.
- What you can look forward to at the Appleton Museum of Art:
- Free First Saturdays
- Appleton ArtSpace activity $5 for youth 6 – 17.
- Enter the Mobile Photography Contest & Exhibition coming soon.
- Permanent collections highlight art from Florida Artists, Equine Art, European, Pre-Columbian, Asian, African, Modern, & Maritime.
- Drawing in the galleries – self guided sessions with optional instruction and borrowed materials available. Drop-in anytime during the 2 hour sessions.
- 2021 Free Virtual Summer Art Camp for children and families.
- Free Youtube Teaching Tuesday videos.
It is definitely the glass bottom boat that you want to experience here. Don’t let that stop you from enjoying a picnic or one of the numerous activities that you can do here like geocaching, camping, hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, kayaking, birding, or paddling.
You can book your tour online for a 30 minute tour (Adults $12) or 90 minute extended tour (Adults $25) offered on weekends. See full schedule of fees here, admission to the park per vehicle of 2 – 8 people is $8.
Wondering what life was like in the 19th century? Then, you’ll like Cracker Village. It’s a replica of a pioneer settlement dating back to the 1890’s. The village buildings only open on tour days (the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month) if you want a tour.
One hour rentals start at $15 or from $30 for the day – canoes, kayaks, and paddle boards are available to explore the Silver Springs river.
5 Hiking trails from less than 1 mile to a 4.6 mile loop.
Abundant wildlife – armadillo, deer, fox, alligators, turtles, manatees, gopher tortoise, and even coyote, bobcats, and the Florida black bear occasionally make appearances.
Ice cream cones, floats, and home baked treats can be enjoyed at Paradise Treats.
Not much of a camper? You can rent a 2 Bedroom/1 Bath cabin with a kitchen, cooking utensils, and a screened in porch with rockers that will hold up to 6 people for around $110 + $7 reservation fee. The Florida State Parks Reservation system makes it very easy for you. Pick your park, dates, and select the type of rental to see which cabins are available.
5 Experiences That Might Surprise You
A tour of the Gypsy Gold Farm
The owners discovered an unknown breed of horse in 1996 called the Gypsy Vanner Horse. The horse was bred by British Gypsies that traveled the English countryside. The Gypsy Gold Farm is home to 16 of them and the tour can get you an up close educational visit with them.
Farm Tours of Ocala
Marion County is considered the Horse Capital of the World and on this tour, you get to see inside Ocala’s working farms. You’re transported privately with your guide in small groups to visit and get up close with 3 farms.
Big Cliff Canyon Zip Line Tour
Take on 9 zip line flights, 2 skywalk bridges, and 1 rappel through the forest and between cliffs. The longest zip will take you 1,100 feet across Gator Lake.
The Official Florida Flamingo Museum
You can visit the Guinness World Record holder of the largest collection of all things flamingo.
Juniper Prairie Wilderness and Springs
Set in the Ocala National Forest, lies a 100 ft wide freshwater spring surrounded by prairies, pine flatwoods, and marshes. Admission fees are $7 per person on weekdays and $10 per person on weekends. Also inside the Ocala National Forest lies Alexander Springs, Silver Glen Springs, Clearwater Lake, Mill Dam, & Wildcat Lake.
Plan your route with Roadtrippers.
More Worthwhile Stops Nearby
Always check the Fun 4 Ocala Kids calendar to find fun free events for when you’re going!
$8 Admission provides access to quarterly rotating exhibits on the 2nd floor, an interactive hallway, and animal displays.
A private botanical garden offering serenity and peace.
Rainbow Springs State Park
$2 per person admission gets you a beautiful walk through shady gardens and pass 3 man-made waterfalls. The trail overlooks the river and a phosphate pit. Access to paddling, snorkeling, tubing, and camping. Tube rentals are $20 each. See full list of amenities and fees here. Distance from Ocala is about 21 miles (25 minutes).
Cedar Lakes Woods & Gardens
$12 Adult admission to take a self-guided tour of the reclaimed quarry as a beautiful Japanese influenced garden with waterfalls and wildlife. Distance from Ocala is about 30 miles (40 minutes).
Where to Stay in Ocala
My favorite place to stay is the Hilton Ocala. If you go for the suite, you won’t be disappointed. Executive level stays provide complimentary breakfast, executive lounge access, evening snacks and honor bar. The best part is the unobstructed view from the top floors providing beautiful stunning sunsets.
Remember, Hilton Honors members with at least Gold status get continental breakfast, bottled water, free WiFi, and late checkout. Diamond status gets free premium WiFi, executive lounge access, bottled water, late checkout, and 48-hour room guarantee. Join today and start earning points towards your next free stay. Read all about earning a free stay.