Glass-bottom boats, thoroughbred horse farms and world-class golf with a backdrop of gently rolling hills sums up Ocala succinctly. With its large Victorian homes in meticulously maintained neighborhoods and a small population of only 46,943 or so, Ocala presents itself as a peaceful and charming retreat with resort activities, fine dining and gracious accommodations. Low-rise buildings neatly line the streets, dappled with the shady patterns cast by palm trees overhead which foreshadow the canopy woven of subtropical foliage in Ocala National Forest, to which small-city Ocala serves as gateway.
While Ocala may have a modest downtown stretch of streets equipped with requisite restaurants, pubs and shops, what usually draws visitors to these parts are the sights slightly farther afield. East of the center find the big area theme park, Silver Springs, and associated water park,Wild Waters, good for a day of wildlife and water-oriented fun (glass-bottom boat tours here are particularly popular). For animal sightings in a more natural environment (think eagles, alligators, bear and sundry) steer straight on for the state's southernmost national forest, Ocala National Forest, known for its abundant flora (and fauna) and its spectacularly clear springs, the latter popular with swimmers, snorkelers, divers and assorted paddlers. Campgrounds dot the 400,000 acre expanse of forest, as do boater-friendly lakes, and there are miles of trail suitable for hikers (including a segment of the Florida Trail), bikers and equestrians.
Ocala is located just a few miles west of the Ocklawaha Visitor Center by the westernmost entrance to Ocala National Forest. Orlando is to the southeast and Gainesville is to the northwest.