Beat the heat with a family getaway in Ocala, Florida’s Marion County. Discover classic Florida charm in this unforgettable destination, where you can spend the dog days of summer swimming in refreshing, natural spring waters or saddling up for an exhilarating outdoor adventure.
Best of all, Ocala isn’t super touristy, yet still friendly to visitors, offering fewer crowds but still plenty of activities. And if your family still wanted a theme park experience you’re only about an hour north of Orlando.
Top Things to Do on a Family Getaway to Ocala, Florida:
Horse Carriage Ride
Take a scenic carriage ride through the heart of horse country with Horse Country Carriage Company Tours. Enjoy this horse and carriage ride with the whole family as you learn about what makes Ocala the Horse Capital of the WorldTM.
TIP: Be sure and take along some carrots to feed the horses (they love treats!) and you’ll be able to pet and see the other horses and animals on the farm. You might want to bring cat treats too, because my boys were obsessed with the sweet cats and kittens that live there too.
5400 NW 110th Ave
Ocala, FL 34482
Swimming at Rainbow Springs State Park
Cool down in the springs that Florida is famous for and explore one of the two Florida State Parks located in Ocala/Marion County. Rainbow Springs is known for its crystal clear springs that you can swim in or walk along the paved trails throughout the park that lead to cascading waterfalls. The water is so clear you don’t even need goggles to see the fish swimming around you, which is quite amazing.
TIP: bring a pool noodle because the water is very deep and you’ll get tired of treading. Floats are NOT allowed. Also, be prepared, the water is a cool 72 degrees. However, after walking from the parking lot in the late afternoon, the refreshing temperatures were extremely rewarding.
19158 81 Place Road
Dunnellon, FL 34432
Go Aboard a Glass Bottom Boat at Silver Springs State Park
Get a one-of-a-kind look at the natural beauty and underwater scenery of Silver Springs! Their famous glass bottom boat rides are one of Florida’s oldest attraction and showcase everything from Native American artifacts to a rowboat brought by early Spanish settlers to abandoned props from old Hollywood productions. You might even spot in the trees some of the rhesus monkeys that were brought to the park in the early 20th century. This park was a treat for all of us.
Open from 8 a.m. to dusk. Park admittance includes the Glass Bottom Boat ride. Children under 6 are free. Unfortunately, we didn’t give ourselves enough time to explore the different trails at this park, so will need to go back soon.
TIP: there is a colorful Angel art wall that’s great to pose in front of for Instagram photos.
5656 E Silver Springs Blvd
Silver Springs, FL 34488
Hands-on Fun at the Discovery Science Center
Explore the wonders of the tropical rainforest and learning how butterfly farming and other green industries and are helping conservation efforts. With hands-on activities, exhibits and interactive ways for kids to get involved. Our boys were even able to get up close and touch a snake. Best for kids 10 and under.
701 NE Sanchez Ave
Ocala, FL 34470
Walk Around Tuscawilla Park
Right outside the Discovery Science Center is a beautiful playground and historic park that is over 100-years-old. Our boys had a great time running around the different play areas and best of all, it’s free! We also took a walk along the pond to view the different art installations along the way and the many ducks waddling around.
Explore History at Silver River Museum
For older kids, this history and nature museum and education center showcases the Silver Springs area and the many artifacts found throughout the years. See arrowheads, pre-historic bones, and cool memorabilia from Silver Springs from when it was a Florida attraction. After the museum, visit the Cracker settlement on site to see how the pioneers lived once upon a time in Florida.
1445 NE 58th Ave
Ocala, FL 34470
Play at Monkey Madness
If it’s raining or too hot out, kids will love running around the indoor bounce houses and playgrounds at Monkey Madness. It is also in the same shopping center as Brooklyn’s Backyard restaurant, so you can tire the kiddos out here first before dinner.
2023 E Silver Springs Blvd
Ocala, FL 34470
Start your Engines at Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing
This unique museum chronicles the history and the sport of drag racing and how Don Garlits is known as the Father of Drag Racing. See cool displays showing the races over the years. There is an entire building dedicated to a classic car collection with just under 300 cars on display between the two building museum.
13700 SW 16th Ave
Ocala, FL 34473
What to Eat with the Family in Ocala:
Honestly, we spent most of our family getaway in Ocala eating, lol. I wasn’t prepared for the variety of food available and high-quality eats.
The Blue Gator Tiki Bar & Restaurant
This lively indoor/outdoor restaurant is located on the banks of the Wilaid-backee River with views of fishing boats going by. Try a mouthwatering basket of grouper or gator bites, snapper, peel-and-eat shrimp, scallops and even frog legs, or enjoy their delicious sandwiches, salads, and wings. The gator bites and frog legs make for a fun travel story and are surprisingly tasty too! There is also live music on the weekends. This place has a real vacation vibe, and is perfect before or after a springs trip.
12189 S Williams Street
Dunnellon, FL 34432
Located in an easily overlooked strip mall, this is really a unique find! Surprisingly, Brooklyn’s Backyard isn’t as metropolitan as the name implies. In fact, take all the things you love about outdoor dining and bring it inside, and that’s Brooklyn’s Backyard. The whole family will enjoy dining on retro patio furniture under the glow of market lights strung across the indoor restaurant. The bar has a tiki look and serves up local brews on draft and a yummy S’Mores martini that is pure chocolate sin in a glass.
With a variety of appetizers, award-winning wings, pizzas, and a variety of really cool, upscale burgers – this menu will suit everyone in the family. Our boys enjoyed a pasta dish, fried cheese curds and some of our pizza. Save room for dessert, because the kids will LOVE making campfire S’mores right there at the dinner table. How cool is that? Oh, and live music too!
2019 E Silver Springs Blvd
Ocala, FL 34470
I know, another blue name, but also a great find just across from Brooklyn’s Backyard. This locally owned and operated bistro style pizzeria offers an array of fresh Italian appetizers, rustic Panini sandwiches, and gourmet pizzas that the whole family can enjoy. With a casual dining atmosphere and dining both indoors and out, each member of the family will enjoy this local favorite. Their mushroom pizza was delish. The service is excellent and they also provided raw pizza dough for our boys to play with at the table before their food arrived.
2130 E Silver Springs Blvd
Ocala, FL 34470.
This large authentic Italian restaurant offers something for the whole family. The atmosphere is casual with great food at great prices too. Full-service menu with beer, wine, and spirits as well.
10401 SE Us Highway 441
Belleview, Florida 34420
What do you get when you mix a little Cajun food with a little Cuban food, and combine it with some Southern sides? The Mojo Grill – where delicious food and a flair for rhythm and blues come together in a lively setting. Start with the warm spinach dip or the award-winning Cuban sandwich. Live music is usually playing, and see if your kids can spot Animal from The Muppets hanging from the ceiling near the upside down drum set.
Enjoy lakefront dining on beautiful Lake Weir as you feast on comfort Southern cooking inspired by both Florida and Louisiana cuisine.
15790 SE 134th Avenue
Weirsdale, FL 32195
Where to Stay for a Family Getaway in Ocala:
Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites Ocala Conference Center
This IHG property is a top rated full-service hotel in Ocala according to Trip Advisor. Located just off I-75 the location was convenient. Rooms were newly remodeled, parking is free, there is an outdoor pool and the lobby is spacious.
TIP: Be sure and book a room package that includes breakfast in the lobby. It’s how we started our day each morning before setting off on the different family activities to do in Ocala.
We are already planning a trip back to Ocala next summer!
Looking to explore more of Florida with the family? Check out this FAMILY GUIDE TO VERO BEACH FLORIDA
Disclosure: Consideration provided by brands mentioned in this post.
A mom of twin preschool boys, Tara often travels with her family utilizing local advice and insider tips along the way. From popular hot spots & secret entrances, to off-the-beaten-path restaurants & sights, Tara likes to be “in the know” when she travels. You can read more about her adventures over on her lifestyle and parenting blog, When Tara Met Blog and follow along at @TaraMetBlog.