Ocala is a small town in Central Florida full of beautiful weeping willows and oak trees. Known as the horse capital of the world, most of the horses racing in the Kentucky Derby are grown here. At first glance it may seem that there’s not much to do.. Au contraire! There is plenty to do here for the patient traveler
1. Ride the glass bottom boat – Silver springs
This park was one of Florida’s first tourist attractions. The primary attraction here is the glass bottom boat ride, around the Silver river. One can spot the wildlife that thrives around the river above water as well as underwater. The feeling when you peer down the boat and see the origin of the spring is indescribable.The presence of the native american artifacts resting below the water take you back to a time when they traveled the waters in a canoe. Apart from this there are options for renting kayaks and paddle boards. Don’t miss the horseshoe shaped palm tree which brings you 5 years of good luck when you take a picture with it. The deck is a nice place to relax, with old fashioned ice cream shops and hot dog stands.
2. Go fishing in Crystal river
Located 40 miles from ocala it takes about an hour to reach there. Pete’s pier stands tall in the distance as you take your boat out. We were lucky enough to spend tine there with our friends and got to drive a motor boat in the gulf of Mexico. For those who want to kick back and relax they can just drift around taking a nap or read a book or throw in a fishing line and spend the day in leisure. The best part is to be able to explore the by lanes of the river on the banks of which there are many quaint houses.
3. Kayak in the 3 sisters spring :
If you’re like me and you can’t swim but still seem to be attracted to watersports, this definitely is for you. The calm waters of the spring are perfect for kayaking beginners. Kayaks are available for rent and the price varies according to the number of hours as well as if it is a single or double kayak . Apart from kayaks people can also rent paddleboards and in some areas we are allowed to swim. This spring is one of the favorite haunts of the beautiful manatees, especially in the winter time.
4. Homosassa state park:
Right next to the 3 sisters spring is the Homosassa state park. Home to 3 resident manatees, bobcats, alligators, Lu the hippopotamus, nurse sharks, rescued birds of prey,migratory birds, white tailed deer, jackals, etc it is an interesting place to visit. There is a floating observatory to get close to the manatees and the visitors can observe then during their feeding time.
5. Appleton museum :
The Appleton museum of art is located in Ocala and is governed by the college of central Florida. It houses art from all over the world and includes modern art as well and some very interesting sculptures made of metal and other recyclable products. The display on the ground floor keeps changing and I was lucky enough to see a lot of contemporary art when I visited the second time. They have a lovely store near the exit which sells a lot of souvenirs, my favorite being a bird whistle.
downtown ocala during christmas
6. Art walk
Starting September every year, the first Friday of the month is observed as the art walk in downtown ocala. This series of events continues till the month of May and is an opportunity for the local artists to showcase their talents and also for the people of the town to enjoy interacting with them. The art walk is held in the history district in downtown ocala. It is a great way to start the weekend with great food and music
7. Giving a hoot-Owl sanctuary:
This sanctuary is owned by a native American and his partner who to me are real life heroes. Their sanctuary started with one owl ‘ Hobo’who had lost his mate and was nearly dead when they found him. They nurtured him back to health and slowly they had wounded and rescued animals being dropped off at their doorstep to be taken care of. They have truly opened their doors to these helpless creatures and continue their good work. Its definitely worth visiting. They also undertake educational talks at schools and other events.
8. EARS-endangered animal rescue sanctuary
Located in citra-florida this sanctuary was started in 2001 and is home to many rescued and previously abused animals. At EARS you can catch a glimpse of the rare liger, many tigers, a black bear couple and super naughty capuchin monkeys. This organization is completely non profit and is run primarily on donations. You should drop by if you’re in or around ocala.
9. Shalom park-
Another non profit botanical garden that is a must visit in Ocala. The park is beautiful with so many winding paved paths to walk on, water bodies, meadows and woodlands, its hard to believe you’re not walking through a wood from long ago. This place is perfect to meditate, sketch/paint or just lie on your back and enjoy a book.
10. Gainesville :
The university town of Gainesville is ‘the’place to be if you are in party mode. Home to the prestigious University of Florida, there is always something fun happening here. Apart from that devil’s millhopper geological state park which has a charming native american legend associated with it and the butterfly museum are definitely worth checking out.
I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions about other places to visit in and near Ocala.