Ocala is the horse capital of the world, yes—but it is also home to a vibrant arts and cultural scene. Whether you’re looking for an action-packed weekend of museum hopping, or prefer to sprinkle in a bit of culture between horse shows, Ocala offers something for everyone. And of course, the horse capital is brimming with equestrian art—keep an eye out for the amazing life-size horse sculptures on display throughout town, which are commissioned by benefactors to support the local arts.
From museums and galleries to theater and music, you’ll have no shortage of options to choose from in Ocala, and we’ve highlighted some of our favorites below. While you’re in town, reserve your overnight accommodations at the Equus Inn, which is conveniently located near all of Ocala’s cultural hotspots. We’ve even got some equine art of our own to share, with custom murals on display in each of our guest rooms!
Ocala has numerous acclaimed museums that capture the rich history and culture of the region. For those looking to immerse themselves in the arts, the two museums worth visiting are Appleton Museum of Art and the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association Museum and Gallery.
Established in 1987 by the heir of Appleton Electric Company, the Appleton Museum of Art at the College of Central Florida is the crown jewel of Ocala’s arts scene. The building and grounds are striking on their own, with the 81,000 square foot Italian travertine marble building set on a 44-acre property that features an interior courtyard and garden, sculpture walk, and fountain. One step inside and you’ll further marvel at the museum’s awe-inspiring permanent collection and two-story exhibition hall.
The permanent collection, home to both classical and contemporary art, comprises over 18,000 pieces. Floridian artwork is a highlight of the collection, as supporting local artists is important to the museum’s mission. Equine art is another area of focus, with this particular collection spanning over 3,000 years. Exhibitions at the Appleton rotate on a regular basis, in order to share a diversity of topics, artists, and mediums with visitors. Current exhibitions explore the artistic legacy of museum founder Arthur I. Appleton, memories and inspiration from African American art, and the art of adventure.
Before your visit, be sure to check the museum’s website for the latest information on the exhibitions that are currently on display, as well as any classes or workshops. And, if you’re visiting Ocala over the weekend, keep in mind that the first Saturday of the month offers free admissions to visitors!
The Florida Thoroughbred Breeders’ and Owners’ Association features beautiful equestrian art, as well as trophies won by Ocala’s legendary thoroughbreds. Gallery highlights include an extensive display of original equestrian art, not to mention the trophy of the first Kentucky Derby Winner from Florida. Admission is complimentary through a charitable donation to the organization.
Art in Downtown Ocala
Ocala boasts a vibrant downtown, with numerous art galleries and public art displays, all of which have made this area the cultural hub of the city. A fun—and free!—way to experience arts and culture in Ocala is through the city’s self-guided Public Art Tour, which highlights various art and sculptures, many of which are downtown.
Located just north of town square, the Tuscawilla Art Park is a must-see stop on the city’s Public Art Tour. Set on a sprawling green, this outdoor gallery features numerous sculptures, pathways, and botanical plants, making it a lovely destination for a walk or a picnic. Keep an eye out for the markers near each sculpture and scan the QR code to learn more.
When you’re finished at the Tuscawilla Art Park, we suggest taking a stroll into historic downtown to peruse a few of the local galleries. NOMA is a fine arts gallery on North Magnolia Avenue, which embraces visual, performance, and applied arts, and also offers lectures, workshops, and classes for all ages. The gallery has several exciting exhibits lined up for the spring and summer, including its First Annual Summer Show (June 25-July 15).
Another gallery worth exploring is the Brick City Center for the Arts. This gallery features a new exhibit by a local artist every 30 days. It is also home to the Marion Cultural Alliance, which champions artists and arts organizations in Ocala. In fact, a portion of each sale at Brick City for the Arts benefits the MCA.
The Art Walk, organized on the first Friday of the month (September – May), brings all of these downtown elements together into a memorable evening of local art displays, live entertainment, family activities, and extended shopping hours. Start your evening at Brick City Center for the Arts, which hosts an opening reception and artist meet and greet at 5pm, and then head to the Ocala town square for a map outlining all of the local artists displaying their work throughout town. Follow #OcalaArtWalk for the latest updates.
Music & Theater
There are also many opportunities to engage with the performing arts while in Ocala, including live theater and music.
The Reilly Arts Center, located in Tuscawilla Park, is home to the Ocala Symphony Orchestra. Due to COVID, the Orchestra has replaced its usual line-up of large concerts, with a calendar of flexible and unique performances. This includes trios and quartets playing outside in the community, as well as performances for a limited audience. Tickets for these shows typically go on sale within 45 days of the concert, so bookmark the calendar for the latest offering. The Orchestra is hoping to resume its normal schedule with the 46th anniversary season, which will begin in November 2021 and include six concerts.
The Levitt AMP Ocala Music Series is another great opportunity for enjoying live music while in town. Organized at Webb Field at the MLK Jr. Recreation Complex, this free concert series includes ten concerts, beginning on April 16th. If you’re planning to attend, bring a chair or blanket to settle in on the grass, and make a night out of it by grabbing dinner or something sweet from one of the food trucks available on-site.
Ocala Civic Theatre is a must for any theater buffs coming to town. Recognized as one of the top national community theaters, it offers more than twelve fully-staged productions each season. OCT is currently open with COVID precautions, with a robust line-up planned for the spring and summer.
When coming to Ocala to experience arts and culture, look no further than the Equus Inn for your overnight accommodations. Our hotel is located within 15 minutes of everything highlighted in this article, making it a convenient home base for sightseeing.
Better yet, we offer newly renovated rooms, as well as various on-site amenities for you to enjoy in between museums, concerts, and galleries. Book your room directly through us to guarantee the best available rate, and put that extra savings toward a show at Ocala Civic Theatre or a new work of art to add to your personal collection!
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