Cool springs, pine forests, horse farms. If that trifecta sounds like your kind of thing, you’ll love Ocala. Ocala is the crown jewel of lightly developed Marion County, Florida. And for all its outdoor attractions, Ocala also features a walkable town center bustling with shops, restaurants and galleries.
What’s It Like Living in Ocala?
Ocala is 40 miles south of Gainesville in neighboring Marion County. If you’re not familiar with the region, Marion County is the heart of North Florida’s horse country. Daytona Beach and Orlando are both equidistant from Ocala, about a 90-minute drive to the east and southwest, respectively.
Ocala is a quintessential Southern town, with a quaint country feel and lots of room to stretch out. Think live oaks dripping with Spanish moss, roadside farmer’s markets, and country lanes dotted with horse pastures.
Ocala is a safe place to live and raise a family. The town ranked the 4th safest place in the entire country, according to the latest U.S. News & World Report. Being tucked into the middle of the state, you don’t have to worry so much about hurricanes as in other parts of Florida.
The secret is out about Ocala. Home sales increased by 19.7% last year, making Ocala the 6th fastest-growing place in the U.S. Many of the out-of-towners who’ve chosen to call Ocala home are drawn to the warm weather, affordable new home construction, the quaint small town feel and the availability of land.
What to Do in Ocala
Riding Lessons at the World Equestrian Center
The training ground for Kentucky Derby winners, Ocala is known far and wide for its equestrian culture. The World Equestrian Center of Ocala is the largest complex of its kind in the U.S. In addition to its well-attended horse and dog shows, the complex features a spa, a couple of great restaurants, and, during the holiday season, an ice skating rink and gift shop for the kids.
Glass-bottom Boat Tours at Silver Springs
Ocala also boasts some of the most iconic sites for inland boating in the state. Glass bottom boat tours are available at Silver Springs, one of Florida’s first tourist attractions. Silver Springs's famous boat tours offer spectators up-close-and-personal encounters with underwater wildlife–without getting wet!
For the more adventurous types, canoeing, kayaking, bicycling, and camping are popular activities at Silver Springs. The state park’s 500 acres and waterways provide habitat for a variety of wildlife.Frequent sightings include deer, foxes, armadillos, and gopher tortoises. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of a coyote, a bobcat, or even a Florida black bear (just don’t get too close). Bird life is plentiful, and the river is home to alligators, turtles, and manatees.
Dinner and a Movie in Historic Downtown Ocala
You might be surprised to learn that not far from all this bucolic scenery and wildlife is a bustling town center. Historic downtown Ocala is a quaint and walkable downtown anchored by a Southern-style gazebo. Stately 19th-century brick buildings house shops that have been around for generations. Live music and delicious dining opportunities are two of the main draws to the downtown area.
Like many Southern towns, Ocala’s historic district branches out into majestic oak-shaded residential streets lined with stately homes. Ocala has a clutch of historic Victorians around the town square, but you can also find new construction homes owing to the building boom Marion County is currently experiencing.
The Arts in Ocala
The Reilly Arts Center is Ocala’s downtown destination for live entertainment of all kinds. The 705-seat venue is home to the Ocala Symphony Orchestra, which programs an eclectic assortment of concerts. It’s also a popular spot for meetings and parties.
The iconic Marion Theatre is pictured on the top of this guide, screens everything from just-released documentaries to 90s cult classics. Tickets are cheap and offer a nice selection of snacks, drinks, and cocktails.
The Ocala Civic Theater is home to the Marion Players and is always a fun time. The intimate setting makes every seat in the house the best seat in the house.
Off the Beaten Path
Housed in a strip mall, Cindy Dunlow’s Flamingo Museum boasts the largest collection of flamingo-related items in the world. You can take home an iconic lawn flamingo, but most of the 800+ items in Cindy’s collection are NSF (not for sale)!
Not for the Faint of Heart
The Canyons Zip Line and Adventure Park offers adventurous up-close-and-personal tours of Marion County’s lush topography. Their Treetop Express Zip Line consists of five zip lines. The first two zips are low and slow, and the others get higher, faster, and longer, stretching to 1,150 feet across and 155 feet above the canyon floor. The last zip of the tour takes you high over Gator Lake at an incredible speed. Zipline tours cost between $45 and $70 per adult and usually sell out, so it’s best to book in advance.
The ambiance, food, and service here are all top-notch at this Michelin-starred French fine dining fixture. Regulars rave about the duck a l’orange and the short ribs. Definitely worth paying ($$$) a visit for a special night out.
If fine dining isn’t your thing, or if you’re just in the mood for a heaping plate of delicious down-home cooking, Pop’s is the place for you. Stop in on a Friday or Saturday for their old-fashioned seafood boil. You can get a ribeye steak for breakfast. The staff are friendly as can be.
The Corkscrew is an intimate, cozy place to enjoy a flight of wine and nibble on some choice cheeses. They also host hands-on wine and beer-making classes and will ferment your homemade hooch for you in their facilities until it’s ready to drink.
Infinite Ale Works is a great little brewery specializing in Belgian-inspired beers. They offer a wide variety of craft beers on tap as well as a cider or two. The bar is family-friendly, too, with board games and a giant Jenga set to keep the kids occupied.
Public School Zones in Ocala
The Marion County School District has its headquarters in Ocala. Here are a few of Ocala’s top-rated schools for each age group.
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At Rabell Realty Group, we believe that each and every home purchase, sale, and lease is unique and deserves a skilled touch. Located in Haile Plantation’s Haile Village Center, we’re a small, local real estate firm focused on providing our customers with consistent and outstanding real estate service.
We’re honored to be recognized as the Best Real Estate Agency in Gainesville in 2022 by the Gainesville Award Program. Each year, the awards go to small businesses that have achieved exceptional success in their local community and business category and are helping make the Gainesville area a great place to live, work, and play.