Blake Walsh

15 Free Things to Do in Ocala, FL

  • Published 2022/12/08

The city of Ocala, Florida, is home to hundreds of thoroughbred farms and training centers, which made the city the Horse Capital of the World in 2007.

It began in 1943 when Carl G. Rose established the first horse farm in Marion County, which Ocala is part of.

The city is the county seat of Marion County, with a population of 63,591 as of the 2020 census.

The name Ocala was from the historical Timucua village Ocale, located near the area.

In the Timucua language, Ocale means “Big Hammock.”

Today, the city is one of the Sunshine State’s major hubs in entertainment and tourist attractions, many of which are either inexpensive or free.

Because of its progressive economy, natural beauty, and balmy climate, the city has drawn many tourists over the years.

Here’s a round-up of the free things to do in Ocala, Florida.

Stroll around the Ocala Historic Downtown Square

A gazebo at Ocala Historic Downtown Square

H.J. Herrera /

Designated as a U.S. Historic District in 1984, the Ocala Historic Downtown Square is the district’s center.

The walkable center encompasses restaurants, shops, and boutiques with outdoor live music and many historic things to see.

It features a large paved octagon called the Square with a gazebo where concerts, community events, and other shows open to the public are held.

The district is also home to 172 acres of residential homes, which were built from the 1880s to the 1930s.

A trail at Ocala Historic Downtown Square

Luv24jmg, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Historic homes include the Queen Anne Revival style, Victorian architecture, and other buildings, including the 1939 Coca-Cola Building.

Many of these historic structures were added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Enjoy checking out these historic buildings and discover history by just walking around Ocala Historic Downtown Square.

Buildings at Ocala Historic Downtown Square

Luv24jmg, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

See Larger-Than-Life Sculptures at Tuscawilla Art Park

One of Ocala’s gems is Tuscawilla Art Park, where fresh air meets art.

Located in the historic Tuscawilla district, you can see all local and national artists’ masterpieces, from beautifully painted bridges to stunning sculptures.

Each piece has a marker with a QR code, which you can scan using your phone to get an audio description of the artwork.

Some of the artworks are permanent, while others are rotating, which makes it more exciting to visit each time.

There’s also a live botanical art you can check out.

The three-acre park also features a spacious playground for the kids, Lake Tuscawilla, a green space, and a tennis court.

Opened in 2016, Tuscawilla Art Park is located off Northeast 5th Street.

Cool Down at Citizen’s Circle Splash Pad

One of the most convenient ways to cool down in the middle of the humid weather in Ocala is to head out to Citizen’s Circle Splash Pad.

The kids will love this free-to-use feature at the plaza, which has shaded areas and picnic tables.

The splash pad is open to anyone who wants to beat the heat without having to spend a single red cent somewhere else.

There are also regular free live music concerts at the plaza.

Citizen’s Circle Splash Pad was established in 2012 on Osceola Avenue.

Join the Fun at First Friday Art Walk

Happening every first Friday of the month from September to May, the First Friday Art Walk is held at Ocala’s historic downtown.

An evening of festivities includes 30 art exhibits, live music performances, food and drinks, and a lot of fun.

It’s a free event that has drawn many locals and tourists to witness the inarguably exciting event for families and friends.

If you’re in the city during these months, join the fun and experience Ocala’s version of the First Friday Art Walk.

Feel free to snap some photos while enjoying the music and exploring the historic downtown.

Explore the Natural Areas at Ocala National Forest

Boardwalk at Ocala National Forest

Rafal Michal Gadomski /

Ocala has no problem keeping you close to nature with its preserved scenic natural areas, including the Ocala National Forest.

Water plays are the forest’s top activities, attracting many tourists from different parts of the world.

There are boat ramps in the forest if you have your kayak or canoe with you.

Other water activities include swimming, scuba diving, boating, fishing, snorkeling, and skiing, which are great year-round due to the city’s balmy climate.

The waters of Ocala National Forest

Miosotis_Jade /

Founded in 1908, Ocala National Forest is the oldest in the eastern United States; untamed, wild, and unique.

Dive into the immense beauty of the springs with crystal blue waters, or take the trails and explore the forest’s natural habitat.

You’ll also see occasional wildlife in the forest, which makes this trip worthwhile!

Canoeing at Ocala National Forest

Eric Poulin /

Catch a Free Movie Night via the After Dark in the Park Movie Series

The Ocala Recreation and Parks Department hosts a free movie night monthly called the After Dark in the Park Movie Series.

This free monthly activity is held at the different parks in the citysomething to check out when you’re around.

All you need is a portable chair or blanket while enjoying the movie.

Pack your snacks, or you can also choose to buy them at the concession stands.

Head to the After Dark in the Park Movie Series, get comfy, and enjoy the show!

Attend the Ocala Art Festival

Organized by the Fine Arts for Ocala (FAFO), the Ocala Art Festival is held on the fourth weekend of October each year.

The two-day festival showcases the artworks of more than 155 local and national artists in a series of displays in historic downtown Ocala.

Browse through the amazing artwork and enjoy the live music performances of local bands.

Kids can also join the crafts activities and participate in face painting.

The Ocala Art Festival was incorporated in 1972 by a group that aimed to promote and enhance fine arts through art education and activities.

You can visit the Fine Arts for Ocala office on Southwest 5th Street.

Enjoy Stargazing at Jervey Gantt Park

When clear skies at night hover over Ocala, go out and take advantage of the open green space of Jervey Gantt Park to do stargazing.

Take a blanket, lie down, and enjoy the beautiful skies at night without worrying about anything.

The park is open even at night, so it’s a perfect spot for anyone who wants to do nothing but meet the sky’s stare.

Whether you’re going solo or with a group, stargazing is an easy but memorable thing to do at the park.

There’s also a reflection pond, beautiful cascading waterfalls, and a garden that adds to the park’s natural beauty.

The park was dedicated in 1984 and was named after Jervey Gantt for his contributions to the city’s local athletics.

You can find Jervey Gantt Park on Southeast 36 Avenue.

Discover History at Fort King

Exterior of Fort King

Sunshower Shots /

In 1827, soldiers and wagons flocked to the site now known as Fort King.

It was constructed as a barrier during the tensions between the Seminole people and the new settlers who fled to Florida for refuge.

Later in the 1830s, the fort became a military base and was named after Col. William King, the commander of the state’s Fourth Infantry.

Blockhouse at Fort King

Sunshower Shots /

Check out the museum’s artifacts, which tell the story of the past, and explore the base to see how life was back then.

Fort King was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.

History marker of Fort King

Ebyabe, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Enjoy a Picnic at Scott Springs Park

Simple life pleasures include a park walk and great food to share with friends and family.

Bring a delicious lunch at Scott Springs Park, which has picnic tables and grills for barbecue.

You can stay afloat while taking advantage of the park’s natural beauty.

There are bike and walking trails that you can also explore while the kids can freely run at the playground.

The natural spring at the park is a sight to behold!

Take the boardwalk to the grotto to see the breathtaking crystal-clear spring water surrounded by beautiful foliage.

Don’t forget to take photos for awesome memories to keep!

Visit Scott Springs Park at Southwest 24th Avenue.

Learn about Horse Heritage at the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders & Owners Association Museum & Gallery

Hailed as the Horse Capital of the World in 2007, Ocala prides itself in preserving horse heritage and culture.

To get a glimpse of the city’s history as the home to hundreds of thoroughbred farms, visit the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders & Owners Association Museum & Gallery.

The must-see items at the museum are Dr. Fager’s speeding ticket during his dirt mile run, Needles’ 1956 trophy, and all things equine.

The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders & Owners Association Museum & Gallery promotes and preserves the thoroughbred horse breeding industry in the Sunshine State.

It’s another gem to visit to see how the thoroughbred industry has helped shape the city today.

Founded in 1945, the establishment is on Southwest 60th Avenue.

Admire the Gorgeous Botanical Garden at Sholom Park

Pavilion at Sholom Park

Sunshower Shots /

With over 250 species of plants and trees, Sholom Park is another gem in town that deserves a spot on your Ocala travel itinerary.

The 44-acre park’s botanical garden features a garden walk, a pond, a rose garden, and a prairie area, among other things.

There are also paved trails that span over two miles to explore.

Trees at Sholom Park

Sunshower Shots /

Officially opened in 2004, the park was named after local developer Sidney Colen’s grandpa, Sholom.

You can find Sholom Park at Southwest 80th Avenue.

Take Line Dancing Courses at Silver Springs Shores Community Center

Whether or not line dancing is new to you, you can start learning the ropes of this dance genre at Silver Springs Shores Community Center.

There are many things to discover about line dancing in Ocala, from modern pop, country, and other genres.

If you’re up for it, take advantage of the free courses at the community center and test your dancing skills.

It’s a great pastime when you’re in town and a nice way to stretch your muscles.

Silver Springs Shores Community Center is located on Silver Road.

Go Mountain Biking at Santos Trails

If you’re into mountain biking, the best spot in Ocala is Santos Trails, which features more than 80 miles of single-track trails.

Its many wooden features and a Vortex freeride area makes your cycling journey more fun and exciting.

Kids can also enjoy biking at the track for small kids.

The trailhead has a bike wash area, restrooms, and picnic pavilions for resting and eating.

The Ocala Mountain Bike Association manages and maintains the Santos Trails.

It’s located on Southeast 80th Street off U.S. 441.

Other Things to Do Nearby

When you get past the borders, you’ll be surprised by the immense beauty of Ocala’s neighboring places.

These cities also offer beautiful attractions only a few minutes’ drive from Ocala.

Tour around the Crones’ Cradle Conserve

A 30-minute drive to Citra will take you to the Crones’ Cradle Conserve, a gorgeous farmstead that supplies restaurants and homes with fresh vegetables and herbs.

The 756-acre farm raises over 50 vegetables and over 25 herbs, which you can check out for free on weekends.

Every Saturday and Sunday, the farmstead offers a free farm tour to visitors.

See the locally grown vegetables and herbs and learn how they’re grown.

A farm store also sells produce, crafts, and other items.

Crones’ Cradle Conserve was established in 1986 on Northeast 217th Place.

Final Thoughts

Ocala’s majestic attractions and historical sites are enough reasons to visit the city and discover its unmatched beauty.

Whether you’re traveling solo or with family and friends, the city has a lot of exciting things in store for you.

Check out these free things to do in Ocala, Florida, and make unforgettable memories!

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