To many Floridians, Ocala is synonymous with rolling countryside and horses, but there’s a surprising variety of activities for families involving the arts, natural history, and sports as well. On your next free day, pack up the kids and check out our these five fun family-friendly activities in Ocala.
Animal lovers, history buffs, and amateur anthropologists alike will enjoy a visit to Ocala's Gypsy Gold Farm with its 40 lush acres with paddocks, moss-draped oaks, hilltop views, and, of course, the gorgeous Gypsy Vanner horses that the farm’s founders, Dennis and Cindy Thompson, brought from overseas and had recognized as a breed. In fact, Dennis himself leads the farm's 2-hour tours, which take place Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday mornings at 10:00 a.m. Your family will get to meet these unique horses, learn about the founder's unique British gypsy culture, and interact and take pictures with mares, stallions, and adorable foals.
The Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing is a sight to see for drag racing fans and vehicle enthusiasts with nearly 300 exquisite race cars spread out between two buildings. Founder “Big Daddy” Don Garlits is nicknamed King of the Dragsters, and his Swamp Rat XXX is enshrined in the Smithsonian Museum of American History. Housing enough metal to make the most hardened aficionado swoon, the museum is also home to the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame where your family can learn about some of the greatest drivers, promoters, and officials in the drag racing business. You can walk through the museum and see everything for yourself, but private tours are also available.
If you’ve ever been on a glass-bottom boat ride and considered yourself on the cutting edge of tourism, think again. Glass-bottomed boats have been sailing at Silver Springs State Park for a century now, and you can experience the history by taking a tour of the park on one of these vessels. Tours run 30 to 45 minutes from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily. In addition to seeing the natural beauty underwater, the boat ride is a great way to learn about the history of Florida’s first tourist attraction, which was also the location where Tarzan, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the TV show Sea Hunt were shot. The park is open from 8:00 a.m. to sunset every day with a $2 admission, so you can go to Silver Springs any time for a fun, affordable family outing.
If you’re looking for a place where you and your family can "get away from it all," head to Sholom Park, created by Clearwater-based developer Sidney Colen. The park is designed to be sustained with minimal natural resources because the kind of plants chosen were meant to naturally thrive in North Central Florida. There are 11 specific, beautiful areas in the park including a formal garden, labyrinth, olive tree promenade, ginger garden, enchanted forest, and a pergebo (pergola and gazebo hybrid) trail. The park is open every day free of charge with the hope that visitors will meditate, reflect, and find peace and respite from their daily lives.
For art lovers, the College of Central Florida’s Appleton Museum of Art is a treasure trove housed in a contemporary, award-winning design with Italian travertine. The museum boasts an extensive, diverse collection of European, American, Asian, African, Islamic, Contemporary, and Pre-Columbian art in the permanent exhibits. Upcoming exhibitions include Rembrandt and the Jews: The Berger Print Collection, On the Edge of the Florida Frontier, and a mobile photography exhibition. Make plans to visit next month with your family as soon as renovations are complete in January!
Both fun and educational, these five family-friendly activities in Ocala have something for everyone in your family.
Cover photo courtesy of Adobe Stock Images