Entertainment in Ocala, FloridaOcala, Florida prides itself on its All-American City image, its environmentally friendly approach to civic responsibilities and its major effort to spruce up its downtown area. Time and money have gone into renovations and historical preservation in an attempt to slow, stop or even reverse the business and cultural exodus to the suburbs. The city and its downtown is definitely back, but the county's uncontested fine arts mecca is just outside of the city limits.
The Appleton Museum of Art, a relatively new venue, is housed in an impeccable contemporary classic structure of marble and glass set among 34 wooded acres. It's approached via a long driveway with an elaborate yet classical ornamental pool. About 5,000 years of art history is represented in the works that grace its tasteful yet eclectic collection. The city donated the site, but the beautiful $12 million building and the collections housed within were first privately financed and then given to the foundation of Central Florida Community College by the Appleton family, originally from Chicago. Arthur Appleton owns Bridlewood, a 900-acre horse farm, in fashionable northwest Marion County. From ancient antiquities and Russian icons to West African art and contemporary paintings, the collection is impressive -- especially an original bronze cast, one of only 13, of Rodin's well-known sculpture, The Thinker. Next door to the museum is the Ocala Civic Theatre, which is considered one of the most significant and successful civic theaters in the State of Florida. Its productions are both highly acclaimed and very well attended, and altogether there are more than 70 performances each year at the theater.
Also worth a look and well-liked by archaeologically inclined locals, is the Native American and pre-Colombian burial ground nearby at the Crystal River State Archaeological Site. Its museum features discoveries going back as far as 200 B.C. Or visit one of the areas many horse farms that welcome the public who stop by and take a polite look about. Some will even allow drive-through tours and a few permit self-guided tours through selected parts of their properties. Visitors and newcomers will find this exercise both entertaining and enlightening. Annual events include Ocala's Brick City Day in March, Ma Barker Day in Ocklawaha in April, Reddick's Horse and Buggy Days in May and the Florida Blueberry Festival each June in Ocala. On the Fourth of July, Ocala celebrates God and Country Day. In August it's time for Ocalifest. Fall brings the Shriner's Rodeo and Parade to the county seat. October's big event is the Florida Horse and Agriculture Festival and the fabulous Ocala Art Show, a two-day event which is now considered one of the leading art shows in the State. November features Light Up Ocala and the Festival of Trees at the Appleton Museum, and in December the Chamber of Commerce puts on the Sunshine Christmas Parade. H.I.T.S. is a major horse show that attracts tens of thousands of visitors over a 30 day period in February - March.
Ocala itself offers stores in virtually every category -- clothing, furniture and appliances, office supplies and so forth, so you won't need to leave the area to shop unless you want something really hard to find. If antiques ring your bell, two of Florida's finest antique towns -- High Springs and Micanopy -- aren't very far away, but in truth there is now a collection of wonderful antique stores and boutique shops near the downtown square. Our Paddock Mall houses 100 stores and is the focal point for local shopping.