Ocala is home to several state parks and springs, such as Silver Springs State Park, Ocala National Forest, or Rainbow Springs State Park, which offer ample opportunity to swim, kayak, hike and explore.
Local restaurants include:
- Brooklyn’s Backyard: homemade and locally sourced (where possible) pizza, pasta, heros, wings, hamburgers, BBQ, seafood, desserts and more served in an eclectic, backyard atmosphere.
- Sonny’s BBQ: A Floridian BBQ staple since 1968; serving up traditional BBQ and classic sweet tea.
- Mesa de Notte: White-tablecloth Italian choice with a warm atmosphere for elevated cuisine, wine & cocktails.
- Mark’s Prime Steakhouse and Seafood: the finest beef, freshest seafood, premium wines served in a unique dining experience.
- PDQ: Fast casual food specializing in hand-battered chicken tenders, made-t0-order sandwiches, fresh cut fries, hand spun milkshakes and fresh salads.
Gainesville is home to the University of Florida, with easy access to the nationally renowned UF Health, the Hippodrome State Theater, the Florida Museum of Natural History, the Harn Museum of Art, and other cultural attractions. Sporting events are also a year-round popular activity, with the local Florida Gators taking top rankings in sports like football, basketball, gymnastics and softball.
Local area restaurants:
- Mi Apa: Low-key Latin spot with a patio serving Cuban sandwiches & classic dishes in modern digs.
- Dragonfly Sushi: Contemporary izakaya featuring tapas-style Japanese pub fare plus an assortment of sake.
- The Top: Hip, casual spot serving burgers, beer & modern American fare, with vegan & vegetarian options.
- Embers: High-end chophouse serves surf ‘n’ turf & a broad wine list with a full bar & outdoor seating.
- Satchel’s Pizza: Quirky cash-only institution featuring thin-crust pies, salads & calzones, plus outdoor seating.
- Paramount Grill: Classic space with understated decor serves Mediterranean-inspired cuisine such as sautéed shrimp.
Orlando is adventure central, being home to many theme parks and destination attractions. Popular parks include: Universal Orlando, Islands of Adventure (featuring the Wizarding World of Harry Potter), Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Sea World, and more. Orlando has more theme parks and entertainment attractions than anywhere else in the world.
Other Orlando attractions include education centers such as the University of Central Florida, Full Sail University, and the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy. Orland is also home to several sports teams including Orlando City SC (MLS – soccer), Orlando Pride (NWLS – soccer), Orlando Magic (NBA – basketball), Orlando Solar Bears (ECHL – ice hockey), Orlando Predators (AFL – arena football), and the Orlando Anarchy (WFA – football).
Daytona Beach, located on the east coast of the state, is easily accessible from Ocala, Florida. Historically known for its motorsports, Daytona is also renowned for its white sand beaches, tourism and noteworthy events held throughout the year.
The newly renovated and expanded Daytona International Speedway makes Daytona the NASCAR headquarters, and hosts famous races such as the Daytona 500 and the Coke Zero 400. Other popular annual events include the spring Bike Week, the fall Biketoberfest and winter 24 Hours of Daytona.
Tallahassee, the capital city of Florida, is known for its culture, natural attractions and sports. Located in the Floridian panhandle, it is just a few hours from Central Florida. The Capital City Amphitheater is one significant new addition to the cultural attractions available in the surrounding areas. Tallahassee is also known for its extensive trails, which can be explored via bike, canoes or foot. Other items of interest include Florida State University, home of the Seminoles.
Tampa, located on the western coast of Florida, is just an hour and a half south of Marion County, and is home to cultural attractions, annual events, and theme parks. Area attractions include Busch Gardens, Adventure Island, Airheads Trampoline Arena, Giraffe Ranch, and Safari Wilderness Ranch. Educational attractions include the University of South Florida, the Museum of Science and Industry, and the Tampa Bay History Center.
The Villages, just a half hour south of Ocala, has been ranked as the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the US several years running. This age-restricted community is home to golf courses, community centers, recreation centers, a polo stadium, softball fields, and workshops.
The area is also known for its diverse shopping, dining and natural attractions.
St. Augustine, located in the northeast corner of the state, is Florida’s oldest city. St. Augustine is known for its numerous cultural attractions, including historical sites such as: Fort Menendez, Fort Matanzas, Old Jail, the Spanish Military Hospital Museum, the Mission of Nombre de Dios, the Castillo de San Marcos, the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum, and the Lightner Museum.
Jacksonville, located in the northeastern corner of Florida (just above St. Augustine), is the largest city in the state. A thriving metropolitan city, Jacksonville is known for its dining, beaches, cultural activities and outdoor activities. Jacksonville is also home to several sports teams, including: the Jacksonville Jaguars (NFL – football), the Jacksonville Suns (SL – baseball), the Jacksonville Sharks (AFL – arena football), the Jacksonville Giants (ABA – basketball), the Jacksonville Axemen (USARL – rugby), and the Jacksonville Armada FC (NASL – soccer).
Local Area Springs & Parks
Silver Springs has been an Ocala landmark since the 1870s, when it became Florida’s first tourist attraction. Known to be one of the largest artesian springs in the world, you can tour the springs via the famous Glass Bottom Boats, which allow a crystal clear view of the water below.
- $8 per car (up to 8 people)
- $5 for single occupancy vehicle
- $4 launch fee per paddle craft
- $2 per person who walk or bicycle into the park.
Glass Bottom Boat Tours:
Boat tours run every 30-45 minutes from 10am to 4pm daily. Reservations are not necessary. Boat schedules subject to change due to weather and safety concerns.
- $11 per adult
- $10 for over 55 or under 17
- Children 5 and under ride free
Ocala National Forest, located adjacent to Ocala, Florida, is the world’s largest contiguous sand pine scrub forest. It’s also known to be the southernmost forest in the United States, containing over 600 lakes, rivers and springs.
Visitors can camp, swim, snorkel, dive and hike in the forest year-round.
Special Areas of Interest:
- Alexander Springs Recreation Area
- Salt Springs Recreation Area
- Mill Dam Recreation Area
- Doe Lake Recreation Area
- Alexander Run
- Clearwater Lake Recreation Area
- Lake Dorr Recreation Area
- Juniper Springs Recreation Area
- Lake Delancy West
- Juniper Run
- Silver Glen Springs Recreation Area
- Juniper Prairie Wilderness
- Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway
- Yearling Trail
- Fort Gates Ferry
Rainbow Springs State Park, Florida’s fourth largest spring, is popular for swimming, snorkeling, canoeing and kayaking. The park is open 8am to sundown, 365 days a year. The tube facilities are open on weekends only starting the first Saturday of April until Memorial Day weekend. From Memorial Day until Labor Day, the facilities are open seven days a week. After Labor Day weekend, the facilities remain open on weekends only through the month of September. The tube facilities are closed October through March.
- $2 per person at the headspring entrance
- $5 per vehicle (up to 8 people) at the tube entrance
- Children under 6 are free
- Tubing fee: $15 per person (includes tax, tube, and tram service)