Saturday I spent almost the entire day in downtown Ocala, and it was an absolute blast! If you are not familiar with my quaint hometown, it is a mid-sized central-Florida city known for retirement communities and thoroughbred horses. It is the self-proclaimed ‘Horse Capital of the World’ and the horse industry is actually a 2 BILLION dollar industry here– crazy, huh?!
Because of its abundance of elderly snow-birds and agriculture, Ocala has not always been the most hoppin’ town. In fact, growing up, we usually called it “Slow-cala.” So another goal of my next few months here and what I hope to reflect upon in this blog, is to seek out adventure in Ocala! I may have lived here for 18 of my 22 years, but that doesn’t mean I have done it all! Here are some of my highlights from almost an entire Saturday spent downtown!
6:30 AM — Run with Old and New Friends
A friend from high school, Emily, is training for a half marathon that is a week after the one I am training for! This is a awesome opportunity to get to run with her and catch up after not seeing each other for FOUR years (that feels like so long when you’ve only been alive for 22!). Emily and some of her friends do a run on Saturday starting at the Starbucks that is located on our downtown square. I joined them for a 6.2 mile run this morning and it was a ton of fun!
We ran on roads I have run before numerous times, but it is a wonder how running with new people can help make old routes feel brand new! We chatted for the first mile before we all realized our lungs were feeling the cold air and we should probably focus on breathing, haha! We finished the run strong and enjoyed post-race Refresher drinks at Starbucks! Emily took an artsy pic of our drinks, then we proceeded to chat, laugh, and catch up for about an hour– it was a glorious morning!!
10 AM — Art Fest with the very best!
After the run I went home and got cleaned up, then met up with my best friend Kelsey to go downtown to the Fine Art for Ocala (FAFO) Art Festival. It is a yearly festival that draws artists from all over to showcase and sell their work! I used to LOVE going to FAFO as a kid, but have been unable to go for the last 4 years because of being away at Florida State University. Needless to say, I was SO stoked to go again! We saw so many different mediums of art– photographs printed on metal, pencil drawings that looked way too real, vibrant portraits of jazz/blues/iconic artists painted on salvaged wood, etc! Here are a few things that caught my eye:
I really enjoy looking at art, but it is often WAY too expensive to buy. I was hoping one of my favorite artists would be at the show and planned to splurge on something of hers if the opportunity arose (this might be the last time I can attend FAFO after all!). Unfortunately, that artist was not present so I started looking for something else to catch my eye…then we stumbled upon a booth of freshwater pearl jewelry and I was caught! I RARELY wear jewelry, and if I do, it is pearl earrings because pearl is my birthstone (June!) I fell in love with this bracelet, that was an INCREDIBLE price, and decided I would love to have a piece of art, a piece of home, that I can WEAR. So here it is:
After we left the festival, Kels and I were in the mood for some new, local food. We asked Siri to help us out and she suggested Cafe Havana, a perfect pick because Kelsey and I have a tradition of eating Cuban food together! It is an awesome, family owned restaurant on Magnolia Ave. in Ocala and it was a delicious lunch! I was able to save half my sandwich and eat it for dinner– which always makes me an even bigger fan of a restaurant! 🙂 I definitely recommend Cafe Havana!
8:00-9:30 PM — Downtown Historic GHOST Tour!
Something on my bucket list to do in Ocala before I leave was to take a tour of historic downtown Ocala and all of its Victorian homes. When I was Googling for tours the other day, the only thing I could find was ghost tours! I asked Kelsey if she would be up for it and the two of us and her boyfriend, Chip, decided to give it a go! We left from a tattoo parlor (suitable) at 8 PM to hear about the spooky secrets of downtown Ocala.
What I really enjoyed about the tour was hearing some of the history of the homes and buildings. For example, one home was owned by two brothers who effectively eradicated yellow fever from Ocala in the 1800s! Another home was owned by the first mayor of Ocala, Mayor Dunn. They also told us creepy stuff about public hangings and executioners, but we won’t get in to that. 😉
The home above was Mayor Dunn’s and now serves as a restaurant and shop. There is talk of a female ghost who hangs out here, and different “occurrences” of stuff falling over without anyone around. All the talk of ghosts and spirits definitely put us in the Halloween mood!
Over all it was just a fun, cheap, and unique experience! It was nice to take a walk on a cool, fall evening and get to hear some of the stories and history. Don’t worry– I’m not anymore afraid of ghosts tonight than I was before. 😉
9:30PM — Late Night Chocolate
As we were walking back to the car after the tour, we noticed a chocolate shop downtown none of us had been to before! We all said “we should go there sometime!” until we noticed they were open until 10pm! We stopped in and Chip got some ice cream while Kelsey got a MEGA chocolate peanut butter cup! I had a bite and it was AWESOME! Fun and SWEET way to end an incredible day!
I have to say, I had quite a day in downtown “Slowcala”! It’s so fun to see what new things I can do in this city that feels so old!
Any Ocalans have suggestions for other things to do?
Have you done any new things in your hometown or current city recently?
From my heart to yours,