Ocala, Florida is one of the major thoroughbred breeding centers in the world, one of only four such facilities. Ocala became one of the first towns in Marion County in Florida in the early 1800s. Located in northern Florida, the last census reported approximately 63,500 people making it the 54th most populated city in Florida. It has over over 400 thoroughbred farms, and was named the Horse Capital of the World in 2007. Many of Ocala’s unspoiled natural beauty has been used in Hollywood movies. Notable places to see are Silver Springs State Park, World Equestrian Center, Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center, and the Petting Zoo Ocala. You can find all sorts of nature adventures from hiking to kayaking or even interesting museums, shopping or dining. It is definitely worth a day trip for a visit. But we are going to touch on the following attractions:
- Silver Springs State Park
- World Equestrian Center
- Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing
- Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center
- Petting Zoo Ocala
Silver Springs State Park
Silver Springs State Park is home to one of America’s clearest, largest natural springs. Here you can rent glass bottom boats, canoes, kayaks, paddleboards, or camp, hike, dine or shop as well. In the 1820s, adventurous travelers made their way here after the annexation of Florida, and it soon became a hub for shipping and cargo, a commercial distribution center for Central Florida. Soon, steamships were traveling up the Silver River and Ocklawaha River, moving crops and supplies, leading to the rise of plantations growing vegetables, tobacco, and oranges along the river. Right after the Civil War, steamboats started giving tours to Silver Springs, with it becoming the “must see” location. After the creation of the glass bottom boat by Jones and Morrell in the 1870’s, then the start of glass bottom boat tours began. In the 1930s, Hollywood took an interest in Silver Springs, filming several films there, such as Rebel Without a Cause and 6 Tarzan movies there. 2013 saw the Florida Park Service taking over Silver Springs, working hard to preserve the the cultural and environmental resources of the 4,000 acres of the park area.
World Equestrian Center
Since Ocala is so well known for its thoroughbred breeding, we must discuss horses at some point. World Equestrian Center is well known for its two premier equestrian and interdisciplinary event venues, located in Ocala, Florida and Wilmington, Ohio. Offering an “unparalleled” experience for exhibitors, spectators, vendors, sponsors, and retailers, it is built upon three core values: quality,class, and distinction. In Ocala, this 378-acre state-of-the-art arena and lodgings facility houses the largest equestrian center in the United States. There are an additional 300 acres set aside for expansion in the future. They have convention centers, arenas, social events, a chapel, expo centers, stables, a veterinary center, shows, and sponsor the WEC World Cup. Spectators are welcome to view shows, as they are free to the public. Spectators are encouraged to visit the vendors at the Equestrian Center, enjoy the fine dining and shopping.
Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing
The Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing opened in 1984 to chronicle the history of the sport of drag racing. Some 90 cars are featured here. They offer individual prices from $10-$22 and group prices, as well. They are also pet friendly, if on a leash or in a stroller. You can order a brick on the Walk of Fame, which connects the museum and the Hall of Fame monument. Many people order these in honor or memory of loved ones. You can also arrange to have an autograph signed by Don, himself, sent back to you for a range of prices, depending on the type of autograph you want. All proceeds go back to the museum for development and education. There is the Swamp Rat Gallery, which goes through the history of drag racing, including Don’s own personal history in the sport. They hold miscellaneous events there, as well. For car or racing enthusiasts, this is a must see attraction.
Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center
The Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center is a program of Marion County Schools. It is located within the Silver Springs State Park and works closely with the Florida State Park Service. It serves school groups during Monday thru Friday and is closed to the public then. However, it is open to the public on weekends and encourages people to come visit or see one of the special education events during the year. In 1987, the Christa McAullife Fellowship was awarded to science teacher, Guy Marwick to research the development of a museum and educational research center working within the school systems. At first, there was only the main gallery and classrooms. But now there are exhibit halls, a lunch pavilion, a research library, a collection of pioneer “cracker” cabins, a one room schoolhouse used by African Amerian students during segregation, and a wood-fired pottery kiln. Visitors learn about the cultural and natural history of Florida hands-on and the importance of conserving and protecting the natural and cultural resources. Admission is $2 a person, children 6 & under are free.
Petting Zoo Ocala
Petting Zoo Ocala offers visitors a chance for them to meet not only farm and wild animals, but also exotic animals. They offer pony rides, camel rides, and train rides. They also have a covered picnic pavilion for your enjoyment. With over 40 years experience, they are dedicated to the care and and training of their animals. Most of their animals are rescued or unwanted. They are USDA certified and comply with all state and federal regulations regarding insurance, health, care, and well-being of the animals. They offer Nativity animal rentals, camel ride rentals, low cost animal vaccination clinics, and events such as Christmas At The Zoo. Petting Zoo Ocala Animal Encounters include close up encounters for kids and adults. Kids interact with ferrets, snake, hedgehog, iguana, or bearded dragon; $5 per person per animal. Adults interact with Coatimundi or racoon: $10 per person per animal, or squirrel monkey; $20 per person per animal. General Admission costs are $10-14 depending on age, under 2 years old are free.
Ocala, Florida has a wide variety of things to do, places to visit, things to see. So many, in fact, that we couldn’t go over them all here. This article touches on one of the horse attractions in the World Equestrian Center to state parks to drag racing. If you enjoy nature, history, or sports with horses or cars, then Ocala is the place for you. It is a small town with a lot of punch, and definitely a must see visit next time you visit Stuart, St Augustine, or even, Kissimmee. Until then, Happy Vacationing!
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