Yes, it’s true and we had no idea either! We were totally taken aback at just how lovely, how quaint, how Southern and how unique Ocala really is! I can’t believe that I’ve lived here in Florida almost my whole life and I never made the drive to visit such a hidden Florida jewel.
Our wedding was set for Saturday morning so after our meeting with our bride Friday evening, we set out to explore before heading to our hotel for the night. Enamored with the venue for our wedding, we walked around the historic district whose perfectly manicured lawns adorned beautifully restored historic homes with character, personality and colorful history.
Naples is relatively new and the historic district in Naples certainly has a different look and feel than the historic district in Ocala. I found that the beauty of Ocala is the kiss of Southern style abundant everywhere. Beautiful old and sinewy Oak trees, covered in Spanish moss elegantly sway in the cool air here. They are so romantic and really transform the scene tremendously. I’ve seen some of these trees around Naples as well. A good friend of mine has a backyard full of them, right here in Naples.
Back to Ocala, the roads follow rolling hills. A quick drive out and you are in pastureland. The greenest velvety grass covers the hills that roll, one after the other. Beautiful horses, of all colors and shapes dot the landscape. It’s a horse lover’s paradise. And after a bit of time in Ocala, you can see that the city revolves around horses. We came to find out that Ocala is considered a serious center for thoroughbreds that began in the 1940’s, calling itself the horse capital of the world! Several Kentucky Derby winners have come out of Ocala and the penchant for anything horse here is strong!
Unfortunately, and as it is with the rest of the world, the future of the industry there is in question. Urban sprawl is threatening to take away the rolling pastures, which the horses require. Apparently, Marion County is becoming very popular, land prices are going up, and developers are flocking in. The city has offered no incentives for farmers to hold on to their land and continue to raise horses. So, what’s to keep farmers in the area when a developer offers them a lot of money? It’s sad really but just another example of what’s wrong with this world.
On a lighter note, since Ali has fallen in love with riding, Ocala took on a new significance to us. We will be visiting Ocala much more now and keeping an eye out for horses. She’s already mentioned (more than once I might add) that she wishes she had her own horse. If she’s serious about, we would certainly do our best to accommodate her wishes and Ocala seems like a great place to learn all about the sport and the animals.
So, if you are looking for a wonderful place to visit, see some different scenery and look at some magnificent horses, definitely check out Ocala!
And a very special thank you to Karla Fountain, of Karla Fountain Photography in Orlando. She referred us to Jennifer and Claude, the bride and groom we photographed in Ocala (teasers very soon)! Thanks for getting us up to Ocala!
And what blogtrip post wouldn’t be complete without eye candy? Here they are!
Here are a few of our favorite shots of the magnificent trees we encountered while on our journey.
What would a blogpost be without a little flare love?
This was the most incredible tree I have ever seen! It sat directly next to the house and must have been 10 feet wide at the base! What an incredible tree. It’s about 75 years old!
These are some of the trees that grace the front yard.
Working our way to downtown square, we couldn’t resist grabbing some detail shots along the way.
Grabbed this shot of a tiny toddler folding chair in this entrance way.
There are some totally cool and unique stores here. These are just a couple of the windows that caught our eyes.
A bit of architectural detail.
I absolutely love this shot. Perfect backdrop for a portrait, too!
This is the fabulous little gem of a theatre, called the Marion Theatre. This beautiful art deco structure was built September 11, 1941. It closed in the mid-1970’s as a movie theatre and stood empty for 13 years. The exterior is in its original state and looks absolutely fantastic. The interior has been restored to a nostalgic 1940’s style and feel. Visit the Marion’s history page here if you’d like to learn more about the theatre.
If you’d like to take a look at how the Marion theater looked like during its grand opening in 1941, take a look at this link! The Marion Theatre opened on September 11th, 1941, with a seating capacity of 800. “Aloma of the South Seas”, starring Dorothy Lamour was the feature!
Four of the loveliest hand-painted horses adorn the downtown square. This one was our favorite because of the butterfly on his face. We immediately thought of Ali, who loves butterflies and horses. If you’d like to see a whole bunch of images of painted horses all throughout Ocala, make sure to visit this link!
Last but certainly not least, this little gem caught our eyes the moment we passed it. It’s Ocala’s own, Rockiversity, The Music School! I love the Jimi Hendrix mural on the wall. We definitely wanted to stop in and visit, but it wasn’t open during our trip. Check their site out here! They have a great mission to teach music to all ages in a fun and creative way!