Between 1842 and 1844, the property that makes up Marion County was still a part of Alachua, Mosquito (Orange), and Hillsborough counties. Pioneers in Marion County came to the area for free land offered under the Armed Occupation Act during the 1840s. Six military roads converged on Fort King, making it an obvious meeting place.
Soon, a store, a post office, a courthouse, and a church sprang up near the fort. There were no homes, however, because a provision of the Armed Occupation Act outlawed any personal homes within two miles of the fort. As a result, log cabins were scattered throughout the dense nearby woods. Families wanting the protection of Fort King settled around a nearby spring as early as 1837. Today, that very spring flows through culverts under the Ocala Lincoln-Mercury parking lot just south of the downtown square.
Marion County is ideal for nature lovers and historians alike.Here are 20 reasons to discover Marion County today.
1. explore the arts
See this Appleton Museum exhibit that took two decades to achieve.
A tremendous source of culture that has brought Ocala rich art and fascinating artifacts, the Appleton Museum of Art will be having a special celebration this summer to highlight some of the exquisite items they have acquired over the last 20 years. Examples of all types of art and artifacts will be on display, showcasing objects acquired in each year that the Appleton has existed. This intriguing exhibit will highlight familiar as well as many unknown objects to the public that have been cared for behind the scenes for two decades. The exhibit runs from June 16 to Sept. 16. (352) 291-4455.
2. rainbow springs state park
Spend an afternoon surrounded by the sound of falling water.
The colorful gardens and relaxing waterfalls found at Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon are a cultural asset left over from when the spring was used as an area attraction. The grounds have been renovated and replanted with native species while preserving their historical significance. New nature trails have been constructed for visitors who want to exercise and see more natural Florida. The perfect place to enjoy a relaxing lunch, a picnic area at the spring includes tables, grills, and pavilions. Food concessions are available. Rainbow Springs is Florida’s fourth largest spring and is popular for swimming, snorkeling, canoeing, and kayaking. (352) 465-8555.
3. the science of science
The Discovery Science Center is entertainment for the whole family.
Through a variety of hands-on exhibits and educational programs, the DSOC challenges visitors to investigate their surroundings and the world of science. Upcoming events include a new season of Stroller Science, the Little Learners workshops for children ages four to seven, and a variety of other events and exhibits. Admission is just $2, and children under three are free. The center is located at 1211 SE 22nd Road. (352) 401-3900.
4. big daddy’s place!
Where to go when you feel the need for speed.
Two museums for the price of one! And not just any museums — these two will really get your blood running. The Don Garlits Museum of Classic Cars focuses on the old glorious years of classic cars, having one of the most unique collections of exceptional vintage cars, early Fords, hot rods, muscle cars, and even old gas pumps. The Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing has nearly 175 collectible, antique, and specialty race cars on display. Open daily from 9am-5pm. (352) 245-8661.
5. pamper yourself
Ocala’s Seven Sisters Inn is one of the state’s premier bed and breakfasts.
The Seven Sisters Historic Inn was recently chosen “Inn of the Month” by Country Inns Bed & Breakfast magazine. Located in the heart of the historic district in Ocala, this inn is beautifully decorated. Faux paintings and murals begin an artistic expedition starting with carved doors from Indonesia and reaching the four corners of the globe. World travelers can experience lighthouses of Cape Cod, a Safari Bengal room, gilded treasures and Egyptian artifacts, stone spa showers, a Sultan’s bed in mysterious India, imported French fabrics from Paris, and Zen-like harmony of the Orient. Jacuzzi, Victorian soaking tubs, spa showers, fireplaces, and heated towel bars are available in most rooms. Gourmet breakfast and afternoon tea is included. It’s like taking a mini-vacation in your own backyard. (352) 867-1170.
6. travel back in time
The Austin Carriage Museum is home to the largest privately held collection of carriages.
The Austin Carriage Museum houses over 150 diverse European and American carriages, as well as a unique assortment of horse related antiques. The museum consists of four climate controlled galleries that house the most comprehensive collection of carriages in the world — ranging from the simplest of American road carts to the most sophisticated of European stage carriages. Some highlights of the museum include horse drawn fire equipment, an antique replica of King Tut’s chariot, a chuck wagon, and the royal Dress Chariot that belonged to Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria. (352) 750-5500.
7. now playing!
The Ocala Drive-In movie theater is one of just six drive-ins left in the state.
With room for 550 cars, the Ocala Drive-In offers residents first-run double features from the comfort of their own cars. Pack the kids, the pillows, and the picnic basket and prepare for an evening of nostalgic fun. A recent addition to the Ocala Drive-In is in-car audio. Gone are the crackling speakers; instead, viewers tune into their car audio system to access the movie sounds. It’s worth the trip! The theater is located at 4850 South Pine Avenue and can be reached at (352) 629-1325.
8. what a croc!
Become immersed in the world of the planet’s largest crocodile at Silver Springs.
What was it like to the largest croc ever to roam the earth? What does it take to grow as big as a city bus? What was life like in the Sahara 110 million years ago? Dr. Paul Sereno and Project Exploration present The Science of SuperCroc, a hands-on exhibit that brings together Sarcosuchus (SuperCroc) and its dinosaurian foe, Suchomimus, for the first time in 110 million years. The Science of SuperCroc at Silver Springs immerses visitors in the ancient world of the planet’s largest crocodile, and explores the science of how this creature got so large — and how we know. June 1-August 26. Visit supercroc.org for details. (352) 236-2121
9. bottoms up!
Relaxation is key at the Martini Lounge.
The Copper Pot’s eagerly-awaited Martini Lounge is now open. The lounge is accessible from the restaurant or through a separate outside entrance. Warm and sensual, the onyx bar top and imported rice paper wall coverings invite relaxation and intimate conversation. Flights of martinis are available, perfect for when you want to try more than one of the 52 different flavors, but don’t want to indulge in multiple full-size drinks. The lounge is open from 10am-1am Monday through Saturday. (352) 369-3636.
10. preserving marion’s past
The Marion County Museum of History is filled with artifacts and information.
Located in the McPherson Governmental Complex, the Marion County Museum of History is filled with artifacts and information about not only Marion County’s history, but also the history of Florida. Items on display include an old loom, a round ladder, an antique canoe, stone artifacts, and much more. Each September the museum hosts Ocala’s Fort King Festival. Drop-in hours are Friday and Saturday between 10am-2pm. Call ahead to arrange weekday tours and visits. (352) 629-2773 or (352) 694-2529 after hours.
11. barrels of fun
The Southeastern Livestock Pavilion offers fun for the whole family.
Go watch some edgy horse riding at the Tour of Champions barrel racing at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion June 23-24. The Tour of Champions is composed of four races throughout the state and Ocala will be hosting the third competition. These cowboys and cowgirls are racing for money and points to win. All the horses running have won at least $300 in the past, so the animals are highly experienced. Pony rides will be available for the kids. Admission is free. Action begins at 10am both days. (941) 753-1137.
12. jumpin’ juniper
No paddling vacation is complete without a trip down Juniper Run.
The seven-mile canoe run from Juniper Springs is one of the best canoeing opportunities in Central Florida. The canopied creek winds through dense forests that seem untouched by man. When you go, you’re bound to spot several species of wading birds during the last half of the canoe run, where the creek is wide and bounded by cattails. With a bit of luck, you may even spot a bald eagle.
Canoes and kayaks are available for rent. (352) 625-3147 or (352) 625-2808.
13. read a good book
Meet with fellow book worms each month to share thoughts and ideas.
A fiction book club will meet the first Thursday of each month at the Chelsea Coffee Company, located at 3217 East Silver Springs Blvd. in Chelsea Square. The current selection, Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, will be discussed at the June 7 meeting. July’s featured book is Saving the World by Julia Alvarez. July’s meeting will take place on July 5. The book club meets at 5:30pm. (352) 351-5282.
14. ready, aim, fire!
Wayne’s World of Paintball is a great way to de-stress.
Wayne’s World of Paintball is a blast, boasting three speed ball courses, two fire bases, a South American coastal village with 26 colorful huts and a hacienda, a bridge over water with sentry tower and adjacent buildings, and much more. Walk-on days are every Saturday and Sunday (unless otherwise noted on the calendar of events). Field opens at 9:30am; first game at 10am. Last game begins at approximately 4:30pm.
Upcoming events include Free-For-All-Days on June 3 and 17. Paintball Summer Camp June 18-22 and July 23-27 and Friday Night Under the Lights June 1 and 15. Visit waynes-world.com for a complete listing of events and rules. (352) 401-1801.
15. a must-see museum
The Silver River Museum is one of Marion County’s hidden gems.
The Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center is located within the Silver River State Park. Visitors learn about the cultural and natural history of Marion County, and the importance of protecting and conserving cultural and natural resources. Recent additions include a second wing to the museum, a lunch pavilion, a research library, a late 1800’s Pioneer “Cracker” Settlement, and a circa 1930 one-room schoolhouse used by African-American students during segregation. In June and July, the museum is open to the public Tuesday through Friday from 10am-4pm. (352) 236-5401.
16. ride the santos trail
Get some exercise while enjoying the natural beauty of Ocala.
The Santos Bike Trail is a portion of the 110-mile Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, which stretches from the Gulf of Mexico to the St. Johns River. The Santos trailhead draws riders from all over the state and country to experience what many call the best bike trails in Florida. Bordered by the asphalt of a major highway and subdivision roads, this former limestone quarry has taken shape as one of Florida’s more popular off-road destinations. A combination of single- and double-track makes a series of loops swirling over 15 miles through a forest of hardwoods and pines. (850) 245-2052.
17. go antiquing in mcintosh
Find unexpected treasures in this quaint Marion County town.
What better place to go antiquing than in a town infused with history? Dating back to the 1800s, McIntosh is a charming, turn-of-the century village located on the shores of Orange Lake. This city is a source for several antiques stores like Fibonacci Sequence Antiques (352) 591-0433, which offers Victorian furniture, art glass, and silver. Another example is Winters Past (352) 591-1455, which sells vintage and costume jewelry from Victorian to collectable Bakelite. McIntosh is located just north of Ocala off Hwy. 441.
18. wanna go for a ride?
Take a relaxing carriage ride through Ocala’s meandering horse farms.
Ocala is famous for its stunning horse country, yet it’s hard for busy Ocalans to take the time to appreciate it. What better way than taking an hour-long horse-drawn trolley or carriage ride through some of Marion County’s finest horse farms. Make it a romantic ride for two, or bring along family and friends to share in the fun. Group tours and packages are available from Ocala Carriage & Tours. (352) 867-8717.
19. shop ‘til you drop
Dunnellon’s shopping district offers something for everyone.
The city’s historic village features Grumbles House Antiques & Specialty Shops where visitors can browse through a variety of antiques, collectables, vintage jewelry, and apparel. The nearby Parker House Shops of Dunnellon feature everything an avid crafter could want. Stores such as the Stitch Niche, the Book Nook, Pet Bark’tique, Creations by Clovis, and Cottonbelle Quilts offer great gifts, crafts supplies, and home items.
Following a long day of shopping, stop by the Front Porch Restaurant & Pie Shop for a relaxing, tasty meal. A small, family-owned restaurant, the Front Porch is a great place for families and friends to reconnect and chat. (352) 489-4708.
20. what’s my line?
This improv comedy show will leave you in stitches!
Second Thought Improv, The Marion Theatre’s resident improv comedy troupe, is now appearing in two weekly shows at the Marion Theatre’s temporary location at The Marion Cultural Alliance’s Brick City Center for the Arts. Enjoy a variety of random story lines, mismatched props, and zany themes. Shows are held Saturdays at 7 and 9pm. (352) 622-1247, themariontheatre.org.
county by county
A Three-Part Series
This trio of summer articles highlights special events and unique tourism opportunities in our neighboring counties. With its abundance of natural beauty and distinctive destinations, Marion County is a melting pot of unique recreational activities. What’s next? Our editors discover Alachua County in July. Stay tuned!
To learn more about these 20 items in Marion County or additional recreational opportunities, log on to ocala.com and click on visitor’s center.