Ocala is a fast growing town that is not only home to many fine people, but has thousands of rolling acres dedicated to raising thoroughbred horses.
OCALA HAS ONE OF THE OLDEST FIRE DEPARTMENTS IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA
A fire known as the Great Fire occurred on Thanksgiving Day 1883, destroying five square blocks downtown. City leaders and Ocala residents then demanded that a first-rate fire department be formed. Fire bonds were sold the following year to raise the money needed to purchase equipment, and a city ordinance creating the establishment of fire department was passed in 1885.
Located less than 45 minutes northwest of the Villages of Citrus Hills, historic Ocala is one of our favorite places to visit.
Over 130 years old, this city is rich with history. Ocala's name comes from the extinct Timucuan Indians who called their village Ocali, commonly thought to mean "Big Hammock". Today, many of Ocala's streets have historical Indian names, while others have Spanish names from old land grants.
Breeding race horses in Ocala has a long history. It started slow, gained speed, produced world champions, stumbled badly, and recovered. Today, the Ocala thoroughbred business is a multi-billion dollar industry.
When you add in all of the fantastic local restaurants to choose from, one single day in Ocala may not be enough. But luckily it is close enough that you can visit as often as you like. Let’s dive in and take a closer look at some of the great attractions available right up the road in Ocala!
For the Horse Lovers
One of the first stops for any horse lover will have to be Gypsy Gold, where you can take a tour of the Gypsy Vanner Horse Breeding Farm. Tours are available Wednesday through Saturday and run from 10am to 12pm.
These two-hour tours start off with an hour-long discussion with Dennis Thompson, who is responsible for bringing this breed of horse to the country. That is followed with an hour-long walking tour where you will get to see every aspect of the breeding facility.
If seeing one facility isn’t enough, you will also want to check out Farm Tours of Ocala. This tour takes visitors to three different farms to get up close with several different breeds of horses.
But if the idea of walking through horse farms isn’t really your thing, you can also get your horse fix by signing up with Horse Country Carriage Co & Tours. This hour-long tour will take you past many different farms as you relax in a horse-drawn carriage.
For the History Buffs
If you are more interested in history than horses, you may have seen our individual articles on the Appleton Museum of Art and the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing. Both are excellent options for a unique glimpse at this area’s local history.
Another local museum that is completely dedicated to local history is the Marion County Museum of History and Archaeology. It will only take you a few hours to make it through this small museum, but if local history is your thing it’s definitely worth checking out.
A great way to cap off a history-filled day is by taking in a show at the Ocala Civic Theatre. There is always a wide range of shows scheduled to play here, but you can probably find something with a history theme to fit nicely with a day at the local museums.
When You Get Hungry
Whether you are in Ocala for the horses, the history, or the shopping, there is a good chance that whatever you are into is going to make you hungry. Don’t worry; there are great options for grabbing a bite to eat here too!
If you are looking for a quick lunch in-between tours or museums, you’ll want to check out Cafe Havana for wonderful Cuban food or Taco N Madre for Mexican.
But for those who have a little more time, options like The Braised Onion, Hardwood Smokehouse, and Horse & Hounds Restaurant are all good choices as well.
The beautiful thing about Ocala is that you could spend an entire day focused on horses, history, or shopping…and we’re still not even scratching the surface of all of the other fun things to see and do nearby.
We’re really just getting started, so enjoy exploring Ocala!