2 Day Trip in Ocala/Marion County, Florida: 10 Places To Eat, Play, Stay

Horses at The Canyons Zip Line and Adventure Park in Ocala, Florida

Welcome to the Horse Capital of the World, Ocala/Marion County in Florida! Did you know? Ocala’s popularity for raising horses is driven by the richness of phosphates in Marion County’s grounds. Phosphates bring nutrients and minerals to the horses that eat from its grounds, which makes the horses’ bones strong and perfect for equestrian events.

Note: This post was sponsored by Visit Florida. As usual, reviews and opinions are 100% entirely my own.

Blindfolded Horse at The Canyons Zip Line in Ocala, Florida
Horse with fly mask to protect the eyes from flies

Unlike the typical Florida vacation of beaches and theme parks, Ocala/Marion County brings classic Florida adventures with canyons, a national forest, horse farms and stables, and one of Florida’s oldest tourist attractions.

I explored Ocala/Marion County for two days, enjoying its nature charms and growing food scene, and I’m sharing them all here.

Downtown Gazebo in Ocala, Florida

This two-day itinerary will guide you to some of the best restaurants and things to do in Ocala and Marion County that makes it such a well-rounded destination for all ages!

10 Places To Eat, Play, Stay in Ocala/Marion County, Florida:


Big Lee’s – Serious About Barbecue

Website / Address: 3925 SE 45th Ct, Ocala, FL 34480

Start your day by having lunch at Big Lee’s Barbecue, a popular food trailer serving Southern smoked BBQ. Did you know? The name Big Lee is a tribute to owner Rashad Jones’ wife’s uncle, Leon (nicknamed Big Lee), who was the inspiration for Rashad to pursue his passion for BBQ after he saw Leon’s skills in the smoker.

BBQ Pit at Big Lee's Barbecue in Ocala, Florida

Try to arrive when they open at 11:30am, or even earlier, as there are normally lineups. Big Lee’s Barbecue was already popular among locals, then it got even bigger. In 2017, owner and pitmaster Rashad Jones won celebrity chef Guy Fieri show, “Guy’s Big Project”, in Food Network which had him hosting his own Food Network Show, “Eat Sleep BBQ”.

Big Lee's BBQ Owner Rashad Jones and Travelling Foodie Raymond Cua in Ocala, Florida
With Owner Rashad Jones

Big Lee’s Barbecue is most known for brisket, burnt ends and massive beef ribs. For the beef ribs, you really need to come early (or pre-order ahead). I arrived around 12:15pm and they were sold out already.

Brisket inside BBQ Pit at Big Lee's Barbecue in Ocala, Florida
Massive Spare Ribs at Big Lee's BBQ in Ocala, Florida

I LOVE briskets! This first started after a barbecue tour I did in Austin, Texas. After which, I’ve always been on the lookout for briskets. I always choose the moist part, and the one here were spot on: flavourful, fatty and moist. They use kiln-dried Central Florida oak wood to smoke the meats.

Brisket at Big Lee's Barbecue in Ocala, Florida

If you want to take it to the next level, get the burnt ends which are taken from the fattier part of the brisket and not a lot of BBQ joints offer them. I loved that their burnt ends are the dry version as I’ve always felt that the sauce took away from just enjoying the goodness of the meat.

Burnt Ends, Brisket, Chicken, Coleslow and Beans at Big Lee's BBQ in Ocala, Florida
On the table: – Brisket ($10.5) – half pound – Burnt Ends ($10.5) – half pound – Big Lee’s Lunch Box with Chicken, Baked Beans and Coleslaw ($14)

Silver Springs State Park

Website / Address: 5656 E Silver Springs Blvd, Silver Springs, FL 34488
Price: Walk-in Park Admission ($2), Glass Bottom Boat Tour ($11)

After lunch, head over to Silver Springs State Park, one of the most popular attractions in Ocala/Marion County. Did you know? This 150-acre state park was formerly a theme park called Silver Springs Nature Theme Park.

Glass Bottom Boats at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala, Marion County, Florida

The must-do activity here is the glass bottom boat tour which is one of Florida’s oldest attraction and a very unique experience. It was definitely a first time for me. You enter a boat and at the center is a long rectangular glass floor so riders can see underwater.

Underwater view from Glass Bottom Boat at Silver Spring State Park in Ocala, Florida

When you do the tour, it becomes evident why the springs is called Silver Springs. When the sun hits the cyprus trees under the water, it sparkles like silver.

Silver River at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala, Florida

During the tour, you’ll also get the opportunity to see some wildlife, usually alligators and birds. The guides are quick to point out animals as they see them.

Alligator at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala, Florida

I liked how different this tour was. Whereas most boat tours pointed out things around you, this tour leveraged the glass bottom and mostly talked about things underwater. You will even see a rowboat brought by early Spanish settlers underwater.

It was interesting to learn that Silver Springs has been used in films like The Creature from the Black Lagoon (the guide will point out the 33-feet deep section where the creature lived), and even James Bond movie “I Spy”.

Underwater Statues at Silver Springs State Park in Marion County, Florida
Underwater Statues used for the James Bond movie, I Spy

You can also wander around the park. It doubles as a sculpture park with various art pieces around the park. Nature trails are also available for a leisurely walk.

Twisted Cyprus Tree at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala, Florida
Rare twisted Cyprus tree that twisted around the dock

Legend has it if you took a photo with the twisted Cyprus tree, it would bring you 5 years of good luck. That means you need to come back here every 5 years!

Travelling Foodie Raymond Cua standing next to Twisted Cyprus Tree
Selfie with the twisted Cyprus tree!

Holiday Inn Express & Suites Silver Springs

Website / Address: 5360 E Silver Springs Blvd, Silver Springs, FL 34488

Before dinner, check-in at Holiday Inn Express Silver Springs which is a few minutes drive from Silver Springs State Park. Here you can rest and freshen up, or even hit the gym or pool, before going to dinner. They provide complimentary water, coffee and tea in the lobby all day.

I enjoyed the King Bed Room with Spa Bath because it has the jacuzzi hot tub which I used before I going to sleep.

Bedroom at Holiday Inn Express Silver Springs in Ocala, Florida
Jacuzzi Hot Tab at Holiday Inn Express Silver Springs in Ocala, Florida

SKY Fine Dining

Website / Address: 3600 SW 38th Ave #6, Ocala, FL 34474

For dinner, head to SKY Fine Dining, one of the best restaurants in Ocala and Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon winner 10 years in a row to date, from 2010-2019! Located on the top floor of Holiday Inn & Suites Ocala Conference Center hotel, you can enjoy delicious Asian-inspired food with views of the city.

When you exit the elevator, you will be surprised with the interior of the restaurant as it is decked with Asian statues and symbols (Buddha, Chinese dragon, lucky cat, etc) in a relaxed yet intimate setting. I can honestly say that it was the first time I’ve seen a Holiday Inn have a restaurant like this.

For drinks, they have a variety of specialty cocktails made in-house but also a wide selection of spirits. I was very impressed to learn that they even carry the limited/rare whiskey selection including the discontinued Nikka Coffey Malt whiskey, which I love.

Roasted Pineapple Cocktail at SKY Fine Dining in Holiday Inn Express Ocala, Florida
Roasted Pineapple Cocktail ($9.99) – vanilla vodka, Licor 43, Malibu, pineapple juice, and sour finished with a cinnamon and sugar rim
Did you know? The Blanton’s, the Original Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey, stoppers are a collectible. These bottles are a collectible because there are 8 different stoppers with different horse and jockey. Each with a letter that would spell Blanton’s when collected.

For appetizers, a safe yet delicious choice is the calamari, which had a nice light breading that doesn’t take away from the squid.

Calamari at SKY Fine Dining in Ocala, Florida
Salt and Pepper Calamari ($12) – Calamari fried in our special seasoning and spicy Aioli

Chef Emil has done a great job incorporating Asian elements to the dishes. I was very impressed with their tuna bruschetta as they were able to take a traditional Italian dish and make a proper Asian twist to it.

Instead of the usual olive oil and salt, they’ve used edamame puree and sweet soy aioli. And the common tomato topping was replaced with an Asian mango salsa. What you get is a flavour explosion of sweet, salty, sour and umami.

Tuna Bruschetta at SKY Fine Dining in Ocala, Florida
Tuna Bruschetta ($14) – grilled, sliced ciabatta bread spread with an edamame purée and sweet soy aioli, topped with a slice of togarashi crusted seared Ahi tuna and Asian mango salsa

Be sure to also check out their Specials Menu which have things like Bacon Wrapper Scallops with a unique blueberry BBQ Sauce.

Bacon Wrapped Scallops at SKY Fine Dining in Ocala, Florida
Bacon Wrapped Scallops ($16) – Pan seared scallops wrapped in bacon and served with a blueberry BBQ sauce

Meat lovers would enjoy their steaks using U.S. Prime Beef. I enjoyed the Chef’s Cut New York Strip Steak which was perfectly cooked and came with a nice Asian twist of house specialty soy.

Steak on Grill at SKY Fine Dining in Ocala, Florida
New York Strip Steak at SKY Fine Dining in Ocala, Florida
Chef’s Cut New York Strip Steak ($34) – 12 oz center cut strip loin steak smartly seasoned with salt and pepper, served with house specialty soy, shallots, cilantro, chili and butter sauce. Served with crispy asparagus and garlic mashed potatoes

One thing about Marion County is they are known for producing blueberries so you’ll fine the use of blueberries in their cuisine quite popular.

You’ll definitely want to try Pan Seared Citrus Scallops, which I found to be their most creative fusion dish. Perfectly seared scallops drizzled with sweet coconut sauce. It comes with the blueberry jasmine rice where the rice was cooked with fresh blueberry juice, which gives it that purple color. The blueberry jasmine rice was very interesting and unique as you really taste the blueberry!

Pan Seared Scallops at SKY Fine Dining in Ocala, Florida
Pan Seared Citrus Scallops ($36) – pan seared sea scallops drizzled with sweet coconut sauce and served with blueberry jasmine rice and sauteed julienne vegetables

You must try the bread pudding here. I’ve had a lot of bread puddings, and this was the best one I’ve had to date. They use croissants instead of regular bread, and the result was mind-blowing!

Bread Pudding at SKY Fine Dining in Ocala, Florida
White Chocolate Bread Pudding ($9) – Homemade bread pudding served over a hot orange rum sauce and a side of whipped cream and berries

After dinner, head back to the hotel, relax on the jacuzzi hot tub and have a good sleep.


Symmetry Coffee & Crepes

Website / Address: 108 N Magnolia Ave STE 102, Ocala, FL 34475

Start your second day by heading to Downtown Ocala to Symmetry Coffee & Crepes, a local gourmet cafe specializing in locally roasted coffees and crepes.

Avocado Toast at Symmetry Coffee Crepes in Ocala, Florida
Avocado Toast ($5) with Fried Egg ($0.5)

This spot is perfect for coffee lovers. They have a wide variety of beans from all over the world. They roast their owns beans – you can even see their roastery in the cafe. They use the Slayer machine for their espresso drinks.

They also have a Slow Bar with 6 different Manual Brewing Options: Chemex, V-60, Aeropress, Kalita Wave, French Press and Syphon. You can see at the counter which beans you can choose like Agua De Dios, Yul/Papua New Guinea and Ethiopia Yirgacheffe.

Aeropress at Symmetry Coffee Crepes in Ocala, Florida
Aeropress Coffee ($4.60)

I’m glad they specialize in crepes because I prefer crepes over pancakes. Their crepe menu is build-your-own where you choose your batter (sweet, savoury, gluten-free), toppings, drizzle and up to 5 fillings from a wide variety of vegetable, protein, fruit, egg, cheese and sweet options.

One thing to note about their sweet crepe is the texture is more on the crispy than the moist chewy. I highly recommend the crepe I built which I dub the Travelling Foodie Crepe. Let me know what you think of it!

Breakfast Crepe at Symmetry Coffee Crepes in Ocala, Florida
Sweet Crepe Batter ($4.75) with avocado ($1.5), bacon ($1), sausage ($1), fried egg ($0.5), smoked gouda ($0.5)

The Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours

Website / Address: 8045 NW Gainesville Rd, Ocala, FL 34475
Price: $45

After breakfast, take the Taste of History Tour at The Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours, one of Ocala’s unique things to do. Did you know? It’s rare to find canyons in Florida because the state is pretty flat. But here, you’ll find rocky cliffs and caves, and blue lakes surrounded by tall trees.

This 1.5-hour tour gets you on the “Mine-N-Wine” wagon to explore the The Canyons’ 100-acre park while learning about the park’s history, zip line and nature facts, and enjoying a tasting of local wines.

The Canyons at The Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours in Ocala, Florida
Enjoy breathtaking views of The Canyons

During the tour, you’ll get to choose between tasting wines from Island Grove or chocolates from Peterbrooke Chocolatiers.

For the wine tasting, I got to sample four different wines: Blueberry Moscato, Kinda Dry Blueberry, Sorta Sweet Blueberry and the Sunshine State Berry Sangria. I love the use of blueberries since it is so popular in Marion County.

I’ve had blueberry wines once before and enjoyed it a lot. It was no different this time. I loved the Sunshine State Berry Sangria the most, and the Blueberry Moscato second. You have to try them!

Island Grove Blueberry Moscato at The Canyons Zip Line in Ocala, Florida
Tour Guide Ben serving the Island Grove Blueberry Moscato
Island Grove Sunshine Berry Sangria at The Canyons Zip Line in Ocala, Florida
Island Grove Sunshine State Berry Sangria – My favourite!

The Canyons used to be a limestone quarry back in 1915 so you’ll see remnants of its history during the tour.

Limestone Cart at The Canyons Zip Line Adventure Park in Ocala, Florida
Limestone Cart. Did you know? The lines used to pull the cart is the same as the lines used for zip lines. The lines can take up to 26000 lbs of weight
Wrecked Door at The Canyons Zip Line in Ocala, Florida

We also visited two caves. With how much is unexplored in The Canyons, the staff still uncovers places by spelunking.

One cave is unofficially called “Steven Tyler’s Mouth”. You can probably see why below.

Cave at The Canyons Zip Line Adventure Park in Ocala, Florida
“Steven Tyler’s Mouth” cave

Being the Horse Capital of the World, you can’t not see horses. You’ll get to visit a stable as part of the tour where you can pet some horses. Similarly, The Canyons offers horseback riding tours as well.

Horseback Riding Tour at The Canyons Zip Line in Ocala, Florida

With Zip Line in its name, you won’t miss seeing zip lines. In fact, The Canyons Zip Line has the fastest, the highest, and the longest zip lines in Florida! You’ll be able to see all this during the tour. Similarly, you can do a zip line tour for that adrenaline rush along The Canyons.

Guy Zip Lining at The Canyons Zip Line in Ocala, Florida
The Lookout platform lets you watch people zip lining along the Speed Trap zip line (the bottom line) which is the fastest zip line in Florida at 55mph max.

Sayulita Taqueria

Website / Address: 2823-057-002, Ocala, FL 34470

For lunch, head back to Ocala’s Historic Downtown Square for Sayulita Taqueria (or “Say Taco”), a new Mexican restaurant that opened in September 2018. Did you know? The restaurant name comes from a small surfing village, Sayulita, in Mexico.

Be prepared to wait as this place quickly became a local favourite. In fact, one local told me she ate here at least twice a week.

Dipped Chip on Queso at Sayulita Taqueria in Ocala, Florida

Sayulita Taqueria has a dining room, a bar at the back, and a nice patio outside with a trailer, which is the best area to take photos.

A staple to order in Mexican restaurants is chips, and it’ss usually tough to decide which dip to get. Sayulita Taqueria has got you covered with their Tres Amigos which comes with all three dips!

Chips at Sayulita Taqueria in Ocala, Florida
Tres Amigos ($6.5) – Chips with salsa, guacamole and queso trio

As a taqueria, you definitely have to order the tacos here which comes with your choice of flour or homemade corn tortilla. I enjoyed the taco selection which is less traditional yet still delicious. They even have a taco inside a bag of Doritos!

The Avocado Taco was a delicious bite with crispy avocado and rich crema.

The Cowboy Taco was a meaty goodness of marinated steak and apple smoked bacon. Be sure to squeeze some lime further enhance the taste!

The Mahi Mahi Taco had a fresh tasting crispy mahi that goes well with the chili-lime spice. I recommend removing some of the pickled cabbage to get more out of the mahi.

Three Tacos at Sayulita Taqueria in Ocala, Marion County, Florida
On the table from bottom to top (all with homemade corn tortilla): 1. Avocado Taco ($4) – crispy avocado, sweet chili, pickled cabbage, sesame seeds, crema 2. Mahi Mahi Taco ($4.50) – crispy mahi, crema, pickled cabbage, avocado, chili-lime spice 3. Cowboy Taco ($4) – marinated steak, apple smoked bacon, fajita cheese, cilantro

Other than tacos, they also offer salads + bowls, quesadillas and Mexican desserts.

Burrito Bowl at Sayulita Taqueria in Ocala, Florida
Burrito Bowl ($6) – seasoned rice, black beans, crema, salsa, cotija. Add chicken ($1)

Tuscawilla Art Park

Address: 213 NE 5th St, Ocala, FL 34470

After lunch, take a stroll along Tuscawilla Art Park, a 102-year-old park that has become residence to a variety of artwork and sculpture. The City of Ocala promotes cultural arts by utilizing public spaces as exhibit spaces to artists.

Navigator Sculpture at Tuscawilla Art Park in Ocala, Marion County, Florida
Navigator by Mike Hansel

The most iconic sculpture in the park is that of headless Marie and Jean sitting on a bench. The original version of the sculpture wasn’t headless but vandals struck and took off the head. Instead of hiding the sculpture from the public, it’s there to remind people to take care of public art for all to enjoy.

Marie and Jean Sculpture at Tuscawilla Art Park in Ocala, Florida
Marie and Jean by Canadian artist Amel Chamandy
Heron Sculpture at Tuscawilla Art Park in Ocala, Florida
Heron by Aspen Olmstead

Appleton Museum of Art

Website / Address: 4333 E Silver Springs Blvd, Ocala, FL 34470

Continue honing your artistic side by heading to Appleton Museum of Art (AMA), a 81,610 sq-ft museum that opened in 1987 as a gift from Arthur Appleton to Ocala.

Statue outside the Appleton Museum in Ocala, Florida

Accredited by the American Alliance of Museums in 2013, the Appleton Museum houses about 18,000 objects in permanent collections including American, Asian, African, Contemporary, European and pre-Columbian art and artifacts.

Renaissance Male Figure at Appleton Museum in Ocala, Florida
The Thinker at Appleton Museum of Art in Ocala, Florida
The Thinker by Auguste Rodin
Superhero Poster at Appleton Museum in Ocala, Florida

Aside from permanent collections, the museum also hosts a series of travelling exhibits curated by Patricia Tomlinson, Appleton Museum’s Curator of Exhibitions.

During my visit, the current exhibit was Familiar Beauty: Drawings by Vicki Jones. Vicki Jones is a local Central Florida artist specializing in graphite pencil drawings.

Vicki Jones at Appleton Museum in Ocala, Florida
Vicki beside her favourite work: Sumter County Sunrise. This graphite pencil drawing is based on a photograph her sister took. Her sister was very supportive of her art.
Woman in a chair drawing by Vicki Jones at Appleton Museum in Ocala, Florida
Based on a photograph, the Woman in a Chair is the oldest drawing Vicki has made.

La Cuisine French Restaurant

Website / Address: 48 SW 1st Ave, Ocala, FL 34471

End your trip by having a meal at another one of Ocala’s best restaurants, La Cuisine, in historic downtown, opened by husband-and-wife team Patrice and Elodie Perron. Did you know? Executive Chef Patrice was born and raised in Lyon where he worked under the direct tutelage of Chef Josef Viola at Daniel & Denise.

La Cuisine has been Florida Trend’s Golden Spoon winner for 9 years to date, from 2011-2019. It’s clear why, once you dine here – authentic French food made perfectly in-house with traditional techniques, fresh produce and ingredients.

Let’s start with this seared foie gras which was mouth-wateringly good. I love when restaurants place some sort of carb under the foie gras to soak up the fatty goodness.

Seared Foie Gras at La Cuisine Restaurant in Ocala, Florida
Seared Foie Gras ($19) – seared duck liver served with a homemade gingerbread and fresh fruit coulis

A signature dish at La Cuisine is the Grouper Meuniere, with its fresh tasting grouper with a soft crispy bite. The simple lemon butter sauce helped highlight the grouper even further.

Grouper Meuniere at La Cuisine Restaurant in Ocala, Florida
Grouper Meuniere ($MP) – wild caught grouper filet, lightly breaded, seared and served with lemon brown butter

The rack of lamb was perfectly cooked so it’s juicy and tears of the bone. It was so good as-is with the herb and dijon mustard crust that I honestly didn’t use much of the demi glace sauce for it. What I did instead what use the sauce for the white truffle mashed potato that came with it.

Rack of Lamb at La Cuisine in Ocala, Florida
Grass Fed Spring Rack of Lamb ($36) – herb and dijon mustard crusted rack of lamb with a demi glace sauce

Hope this two-day travel guide to Ocala/Marion County gives you an idea on things to do and where to eat and stay in Ocala, Florida! Which places should I visit next time I’m back? Let me know in the comments below, or message me on Instagram, @TravellinFoodie!


How to spend two days in Ocala, Florida including 10 best things to do, restaurants and accommodations: Big Lee's BBQ, Silver Springs State Park, SKY Fine Dining, Appleton Museum, Canyons Zip Line.

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5 thoughts on “2 Day Trip in Ocala/Marion County, Florida: 10 Places To Eat, Play, Stay

  1. You have to go to Stella’s next time! The most charming shop with amazing pastries, awesome wine selection, crepes, and other yummy food.

  2. Go to The Bubble Bar (boba tea shop) off the downtown square. They have an amazing back deck and wonderful teas!!!

    1. Ohhh that’s interesting! I drink a lot of bubble tea (boba) so I’m very curious to see how it compares to the original ones.

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