Our Picks for Some of the Best Chills and Thrills of Autumn.
Pumpkins, Mega Maze and More
October 7th-November 5th
You know it’s fall when pumpkins start showing up everywhere, like in pumpkin spice in your coffee and on nearly every food surface (Yes, pumpkin spice pretzels do exist!) and in pumpkin patches all around Marion County.
One of the more unique pumpkin patches is actually a pumpkin house. You can find it as part of the Brown’s Fall Fest & Mega Maze at Brown & Brown Farms, 13940 Highway 301 in Oxford, south of Ocala. This year’s festival is bigger than ever, and the pumpkin house is a big attraction. The frame of the house is filled with gorgeous, plump orange pumpkins that can be “picked” on the spot.
“The pumpkins are for people to buy, and we replenish them,” explains Suzanne Gilbert, Director of Fun. “We also have a pumpkin patch that surrounds the house and pumpkins are available in our Country Store for purchase.”
The festival will offer a corn maze that spans more than 12 acres and features a large main maze with intriguing twists and turns and a smaller maze that’s a bit easier to navigate. Other attractions will include the Bee-line Express and the Grain Train, hayrides, jumping pillows, a corn pit, barnyard basketball, human foosball, giant slides, a spider web, giant yard games, duck races, a petting zoo and Tiny Town.
Special events include Uncle Willy’s Twilight Express, which will take guests on a train ride through the Field of Fright on Friday and Saturday nights, and Dazed In The Maze, which will allow adults to wander the maze to find free samples from local wineries and breweries hidden inside.
The festival runs 5-10pm Fridays, 10am-10pm Saturdays and noon-6pm Sundays from October 7th-November 5th. Various fees apply and some proceeds will support the Turkeys From Heaven nonprofit in Sumter County. There is no fee to visit Brown’s Country Store.
For details, go to brownandbrownfarms.com
Not So Spooky!
The Marion Therapeutic Riding Association historically hosts a Halloween event as well as a holiday market and car show after Thanksgiving. This year, the Not-so-Spooky Fall Festival will offer the best of both. The sensory-friendly event, set for 10am-3pm October 7th, at MTRA, 6850 SE 41st Court, Ocala, will offer trick or treating stations, horse poo bingo, prize drawings, a car show, face painting, horse painting and creative arts mask stations, games and more. Admission is free. Hayrides and a scavenger hunt will be available for a donation. There are fees for car show participants and vendors. MTRA events raise money to sponsor therapeutic horseback riding lessons for children and adults with physical, emotional and cognitive challenges. This year’s event will also support young adults aging out of foster care and transitioning into independent living with the Refuge of Hope Independent Living organization. To learn more, go to fb.com/mtraocala or bit.ly/mtra_florida
Feast On This
Who doesn’t love a good meal? And knowing that proceeds from your meal ticket will help stock the Interfaith Emergency Services food pantry to support local individuals and families, certainly sweetens the deal. You can do good and get your feed on at the Florida Feast on October 12th at 5:30pm at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion at 2232 Jacksonville Road, Ocala. The event needs a space that big to accommodate an anticipated 1,200 attendees, who will chow down on appetizers, free taps from a beer wagon, homemade sides and desserts, and barbecue favorites like fish, chicken, pork and beef. While you are noshing, you can check out some very cool silent auction and raffle items that include weekend stays at resorts, gift baskets, electronics and more. Individual tickets are $100 and table sponsorships are available. The event is hosted by the Marion County Roadbuilders Association. For tickets, go to iesmarion.org/floridafeast
JEEPS to the Rescue
The Ocala Jeep Club is a nonprofit organization whose members like to have fun while they raise money for local charities. Their signature event is Jeeptoberfest, which over the years has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help people in the community. This year’s event will take place October 13th-15th (open to the public on Saturday and Sunday) at the Florida Horse Park at 11008 South Highway 475, Ocala. Admission for spectators is $10 per carload—cash only—and a portion of those proceeds will be donated to local charities. Activities begin at 9am each day and a variety of vendors will be on hand. Jeeptoberfest is the oldest Jeep-only event in the southeast and has grown from a show-and-shine at Phillips Chrysler Jeep Dodge to more than 1,500 Jeeps participating on three levels of courses. To learn more, go to jeeptoberfest.com
Go Back In Time
If you drive Highway 441 between Ocala and Gainesville, you will travel through the historic town of McIntosh. Most days, it’s a quiet little place with shopping for antiques, outings on Orange Lake and shade cast by granddaddy oak trees that is perfect for a picnic at the community center. On one day of the year, however, more than 250 vendors show up, along with over 40,000 visitors, for the annual McIntosh 1890’s Festival. The event pays homage to the town’s founding. More than 60 structures in the 1-square-mile village are on the National Register of Historic Places. This year’s event is from 8am-4pm on October 14th. Admission is free. Attendees can expect a huge variety of offerings, ranging from vintage goods to modern art to handmade crafts and more. Vendors and community groups will offer refreshments and there will be entertainment. Proceeds benefit the nonprofit Friends of McIntosh and local organizations. From Ocala, go north on 441 for about 20 miles. For details, visit mcintosh1890sfestival.com
The College of Central Florida is hosting a Hispanic Heritage Festival in partnership with the Hispanic Business Council and with the support of the city of Ocala. The event will take place from 11am to 6pm October 14th at Citizens’ Circle, 151 S.E. Osceola Ave., Ocala. Visitors can enjoy free kid-friendly art activities, music, community resources and sale items from more than 40 booths, including Marion County Public Library, Early Learning Coalition, Chick-fil-A and many more. Food trucks will have meals and snacks for purchase. CF will have team members to answer questions about the admissions process, financial aid and more. To learn more, visit cf.edu/hhf
Howling Good Time
Kids and pets get in free for this event. Adults pay $5 admission. It’s the annual Howl-O-Ween Paw-ty fundraiser for the Humane Society of Marion County. On October 25th, from 5-7:30pm, the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion at 2232 Jacksonville Road will be filled with people and pets. The event will include a trunk or treat for the kids, vendors, games and costume contests for everyone. Each guest will receive a hot dog, drink and snack. To learn more, go to fb.com/events/604731595093633
The normally serene Sholom Park will come alive with activities during the Hapi Harvest Day event from 1-4pm on October 28th. The park is located near the On Top Of The World communities, at 7110 SW 80th Avenue, Ocala. The event is sponsored by the Horticultural Arts and Park Institute, Inc. The afternoon will feature a painted pumpkin hunt, trick or treating, food trucks and a Monster Mash Dance Party. Come in costume for a chance to win prizes. There will be interactive and educational trick-or-treat stations and live musical entertainment by the Ina A. Colen Academy Show Choir and country singer-songwriter Patrick Gibson. There is a $5 fee for parking. For more info, visit sholompark.org/events/hapi-harvest-day-2023
BAT’S EYE VIEW
It’s okay to go a little batty once in a while—especially near Halloween and when it’s time for the annual Florida Bat Festival.
The Lubee Bat Conservancy, in Alachua County, is the home to some of the world’s largest bats, several native species and “13 Rodrigues fruit bats that look like a cross between teddy bears and Ewoks.” During the organization’s 19th annual festival, on October 21st, visitors can check out the bats, renovated bat barns and new murals by Samm Wehman and Ari Uberti.
We asked conservancy director Brian Pope why people from the Ocala/Marion County area might want to travel to the festival.
“Bat Fest is one of the largest fall events in North Central Florida, and we have something for everyone. Of course, the main draw is the up-close viewing of our bats, including Malayan flying foxes who can reach a wingspan of 6-feet,” offers Pope. “No other zoological institution in the world has the diversity of bats represented at Lubee and guests have a unique opportunity to see our beautiful bats at a very close distance.”
Pope says the bats are active during the day and will be playing with toys, puzzles and other types of enrichment during the event.
“Festival attendees will get a rare glimpse into their social lives as they play and interact with each other,” Pope adds. “We want our guests to enjoy themselves and walk away with a better understanding of Lubee, bats and their ecological and economic importance to humans. If nothing else, we hope to change a few minds and have people who were a bit apprehensive about bats feel that they are to be appreciated.”
The festival will offer games, activities, crafts, a Kids Zone and educational presentations. There is a beer garden and food options, which can be enjoyed in Oak Hollow, a 33,000-square-foot shaded haven under granddaddy oak trees near the primary bat viewing area.
The Lubee Bat Conservancy is located at 1309 NW 192nd Avenue, Gainesville. The nonprofit is dedicated to saving bats and their habitats through research, conservation and education. Event proceeds help fund ongoing programs. Admission to the festival, which will run from 10am-5pm, ranges from $5 to $25.
To learn more and get tickets for the festival, go to lubee.org
The city of Ocala is calling all little ghouls and goblins, spooks and spirits, princesses and pirates to the annual Boo Bash. The celebration is from 5:30-7:30pm on October 31st, at the Mary Sue Rich Community Center at Reed Place, 1821 NW 21st Court, Ocala. It is a family-friendly indoor event with face-painting, creepy crafts, candy for children and more. It is free to attend. Learn more at ocalafl.gov/government/city-departments-i-z/recreation-parks/recreation/holidays
The Marion Cultural Alliance is known for its creative events. The inaugural Block pARTy from last year returns for a month-long run and kicks off with a VIP reception on November 3rd, from 5-7pm at the organization’s Brick City Center for the Arts at 23 SW Broadway Street, Ocala. This is a chance to see more than 100 12-inch by 12-inch “blocks” of art created by local and regional artists, designers and creators—and maybe even take one of the pieces home with you (after the exhibit closes, of course). The reception, with tickets from $50-$55, will offer an evening of art, music, tapas, and libations. Each VIP guest’s name will be placed in a drawing. Tickets will be drawn randomly and the guest can select the artwork of their choice. Following the VIP Reception, the gallery will open to the public from 7-9pm, coinciding with the city of Ocala’s First Friday Art Walk, and remaining paintings will be priced at $75 each. The paintings will remain on display throughout November. For additional information, visit mcaocala.org/event/mcas-block-party-on-broadway-fundraiser