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Top 7 Things to do in Ocala Marion Florida

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Ocala and the surrounding Marion County is one of the most beautiful and off-the-beaten path parts of Florida.  What makes that ironic is Ocala was the original tourism draw for the state before Disney and the beaches rose to prominence, and for very good reason! It’s filled with natural beauty in the turquoise crystal-clear springs and beautiful Spanish moss lined oak trees.  Ocala has become a huge equestrian center, boasts a beautifully historic downtown square and will delight foodies too.  I originally was drawn to the area for the springs and was so glad that the awesome team at Explore Ocala helped with our itinerary to explore even more during our time in the area.

At just 75 minutes from Orlando and 45 minutes from Gainesville, Ocala should definitely be added to your next trip to Florida. From fascinating history, to great outdoor activities to a fun foodie scene, below is a list of top things to see and do on your next visit!

Paddle the beautiful Rainbow Springs

Rainbow Springs is one of the most popular state parks in Florida and is what put Ocala on my radar!  We spent an afternoon paddling from the beautiful KP Hole Park up river to the head where you can swim in the designated swimming area. Along the way, we saw turtles, tons of fish and beautiful birds. While it was a good workout going upstream, the sights and beauty of the river made it go by fairly quickly! We decided to take photos only on the way downstream so as not to lose our momentum.

If you visit during the summer months, you can rent an inner tube to float down the river and there’s a shuttle to bring you back to your car. 

They had excellent COVID procedures in place during our visit – plexiglass, masks, sanitizer available and a contactless kayak launch process.  Check out all the rental details here and more park information here!

Note: KP Hole Park kindly hosted our kayak rentals. All opinions are my own.

Visit Silver Springs State Park + Ride the Glass Bottom Boat

Silver Springs State Park is the first tourist attraction in Florida and people have been coming to this natural wonder since the 1820’s!  It’s the most idyllic state park we’ve been to – the trees have beautiful Spanish moss, there are rocking chairs facing the turquoise spring and you can even take a kayak rental out to further explore the blue springs. 

Fun Fact: Glass bottom boats have been operating here since the 1870’s and are another fun activity you can do! The guides provide helpful information on the area during the ride as well.

Read more about things to do in the park here!

Go Ziplining over a turquoise canyon at Zip the Canyons

Ziplining itself is a thrill. Add beautiful canyon rivers for scenery and you have a perfect afternoon outing for those up for an adventure! We joined The Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours for the Big Cliff Canyon Tour which includes 9 zip lines, 2 rope bridges and a rappel.  After an introduction and safety briefing, we took a short tram ride to our first practice zip line to make sure we were comfortable.  Their first priority is safety and we felt very comfortable the entire time.  Their second priority is making sure you have a great time and we were laughing the entire way.  

The ziplines build on each other so you start out on shorter ones and work up to longer and more exhilarating rides.  Along the way, there are water stations to keep you hydrated as the experience takes about 2 hours.  Definitely a highlight of our time in Ocala! 

In addition to ziplining, you can go horseback riding, kayaking in the river, wine tasting and mining for gems! Read more about the tour options here.  The team has implemented good COVID procedures as well in effort to keep guests safe.

Note: The Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours kindly hosted our visit, these opinions are my own.

Explore other freshwater Springs

The area has many beautiful freshwater spring spots and you could make a whole day or two just visiting them! Two springs that are on my list for next time are Juniper Springs and Silver Glen Springs.  They are both a shorter 30-40 min drive from downtown Ocala and look gorgeous!

Walk around downtown Ocala

Ocala is a very charming town with lots of history! We enjoyed walking around the old square to see the architecture, including a classic movie theatre from the 40’s!  Since we visited around the holidays, we were lucky to see the big Christmas tree in the town center.  There are cute shops, restaurants and coffee stops too. Read more here.

Visit a Horse Farm

Ocala was named the Horse Capital of the World in 2007 and is renowned for having the most horses in the US! Horses from this area have been in the Kentucky Derby and featured as Budweiser’s famous Clydesdales. If you love horses, make sure to visit one of the many local horse farms.  During the holidays, Grand View has special Christmas tours with beautiful lights some evenings!

Enjoy a delicious meal

From fresh seafood, to southern style cajun cooking to fun foodie choices like delicious street tacos, you have many dining options in Ocala-Marion! 

For the downtown Ocala area, I can personally recommend Sayulita Taqueria which is located near the main square.  They have a great outdoor eating space which we enjoyed and good COVID procedures in place.  Some other places on my list for next time are: Harry’s Seafood, Ivy on the Square and Brick City Southern Kitchen.

Near Rainbow Springs State Park, there are great seafood options.  Add Swampy’s Bar & Grill and The Blue Gator to your list.  They have outdoor patios on the river!

Have I missed any of your favorite spots in Ocala-Marion?  Add to the comments below!

For more Florida exploring, read my Miami guide here and check out how you can swim with Manatees in Crystal River here!

Happy Planning!

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