By  Mike Miller  Updated November 20, 2023

Ocala, Florida is a busy city south of Gainesville and north of The Villages Florida. It is the seat of government of Marion County.

The city has a population of about 61,810 but it's in the middle of Marion County with 378,613 people.

Ocala Florida Horse Statue DowntownHorse Statue in Front of Ocala City Hall


The town takes its name from Ocali, a major center of the Timucua Indians in the 1600's.  The name in the Indian language means "big hammock".

Not long after Florida became a territory in 1821, the U.S. Army built Fort King near what is now Ocala. The fort was one of many in Florida to protect white settlers from the Seminole Indians.

Modern day Ocala, established in 1846, grew up around Fort King.

The railroad came through Ocala in 1881, and the town began to boom. The boom was slowed down, however, when most of downtown Ocala burned down in 1883.

Most of the downtown buildings were replaced with brick buildings and Ocala became known by many in the state as "The Brick City".

Silver Springs Ocala FloridaSilver Springs with its Glass Bottomed Boats

Citrus was the biggest industry in the area until the freezes of 1894 and 1895 wiped out nearly all of the groves.

As Florida began to grow in the years after World War Two, Ocala became a well known tourist destination.

Some of the local attractions included nearby Silver Springs, one of the earliest tourist destinations in Florida.  Silver Springs is now owned by the state as Silver Springs State Park.

Some other earliest tourist attractions were Wild Waters Water Park and Six Gun Territory

Carl Rose and HorsesCarl Rose and Horses

In the modern era of Ocala history, Carl Rose developed the first farm for thoroughbred horses, Rosemere Farm, during World War Two on acreage along State Road 200.

Rose was a road builder, and noted during earlier visits that the limestone that underlies much of the area helps provide nutrients that help build strong and fast horses.

Gornil, one of Rosemere's first horses, won a race at Miami Tropical Park. It was the first thoroughbred raised in Florida to win a major race.

Soon after this, other thoroughbred operations began to show up in central Florida.

Marion Hotel now known as Sovereign BuildingMarion Hotel now known as Sovereign Building

A landmark that still dominates the Ocala skyline is the Sovereign Building.  It began its life in 1927 as the Marion Hotel. 

It is currently used as an office building as in on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.


These days the rolling hills around Ocala are known as prime territory for raising thoroughbred horses.

Needles, Winner of the 1956 Kentucky DerbyNeedles, Winner of the 1956 Kentucky Derby

Ocala is now internationally famous for its thoroughbreds. in 1956 Needles became the first Florida raised horse to win the Kentucky Derby. 

Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978.

Ocala, Florida Cottage

These successes have helped the area around Ocala become one of the biggest thoroughbred centers in the world.

There are almost one thousand thoroughbred farms and another few hundred horse farms devoted to other breeds.

The World Equestrian Center is a facility in Ocala located on 378 acres.  It includes arenas for equestrian events as well as first class stables for horses.  It has set aside another 300 acres for future expansion.  It has a very busy schedule and numerous shopping opportunities for horse lovers.  

Ocala and Marion County have been among the fastest growing places in the United States since the 1970's. A lot of the growth is due to the attraction of the area as a good place to retire.

The Villages Florida and the developments along State Road 200 are now home to thousands of retirees.

An Ocala rival to The Villages is the modern planned development of On Top Of The World west of the city.

Ocala Florida Office BuildingOcala, Florida Office Building

Ocala has done an excellent job preserving historic buildings and residences in its downtown area. Several structures are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Horse Statue in Downtown Ocala

Many of the beautiful old Victorian homes are in the tree shaded neighborhoods along East Fort King Street.

Equestrian statues are a focal point of the downtown area.  You will see many beautiful horse statues.

The city is on the edge of the Ocala National Forest, the second largest of all national forests in Florida.

Some other worthwhile places to visit in this small city include the Appleton Museum of Art, the College of Central Florida, and the Paddock Mall.


Appleton Museum of Art, 4333 E Silver Springs Blvd, Ocala, FL 34470, (352) 291-4455. One of the best cultural spots in Ocala, the Museum of Art showcases both modern and classic pieces across several different areas of the art world. Populated by a mix of European, American, Asian, African, and contemporary art, it's a place where visitors can spend hours lost in thought and admiration. The architectural excellence of the building itself enhances the overall experience, promising a rich and heartening visit.

Silver Springs State Park, 5656 E Silver Springs Blvd, Ocala FL 34470, (352) 261-5840. This is where nature truly shines in Ocala. Beyond the iconic glass-bottom boat tours that reveal underwater wildlife in the crystal-clear springs, the park has beautiful hiking trails and picnic spots. A great place to explore, you'll enjoy reconnecting with Florida's authentic flora and fauna.

Ocala National Forest, 40929 State Road 19, Ocala, FL 34470, (352) 669-3153. If the state park isn't enough, you have an entire national forest waiting for exploration just outside the city. Ocala National Forest offers abundant wildlife sightings, pristine springs for swimming, and hundreds of miles of walking and biking trails. It's a perfect getaway for those who love the outdoors.

Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing, 13700 SW 16th AVE, Ocala, FL 34473, (352) 245-8661. A trip to this museum is an excellent way to spend an afternoon. Whether you're a petrolhead or just interested in the history of drag racing, there's plenty to admire among the 300+ race cars on display.

Gypsy Gold Horse Farm, 12501 SW 8th Ave, Ocala, FL 34473, (352) 307-3777. You can't visit Ocala, the 'Horse Capital of the World', without seeing some thoroughbred horses. And what better way to do so than to tour the Gypsy Gold Horse Farm? Here, you'll see stunningly beautiful and unique Gypsy Vanner breed horses, first originated by the Gypsies of Great Britain.

Brick City Adventure Park, 1211 SE 22nd Rd, Ocala, FL 34471, (352) 671-8560. There's a 'something for everyone' type of environment at Brick City Adventure Park. Disc golf, walking trails, picnic pavilions, fishing, and so many other exciting things await you. And you wouldn't want to miss out on their equestrian events, which are both fascinating and thrilling.

Market Street at Heath Brook, 4414 SW College Rd #952, Ocala, FL 34474, (352) 237-6871. Experience shopping and dining in a lively setting. This shopping area houses an array of retail stores alongside a mixture of delightful restaurants. Whether you're looking for a unique gift or a delectable meal, you're sure to find it here.

Ocala Civic Theatre, 4337 E Silver Springs Blvd, Ocala, FL 34470, (352) 236-2274. Experience insightful, entertaining performances at the Ocala Civic Theatre. Known for well-crafted plays and musicals, the theatre contributes significantly to Ocala's cultural scene.

Ocala Downtown Square, historic downtown, Ocala, FL 34470. Spend time exploring Ocala Downtown Square, an epitome of Ocala's cultural heritage. Enjoy its array of quaint shops, savory restaurants, and historical sites. It's certainly worth a stop to enjoy the local flavor of this city at a designated National Register Historic District.

Ocala Ghost Walks & Historical Tours, 56 SE 1st Avenue, Ocala, FL 34471, (352) 690-7933. For a bit of the extraordinary, embark on the Ocala Ghost Walks. Discover fascinating stories of spirits and strange happenings across this historic city. It's definitely a distinctive experience, not for the faint-hearted.

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