Located in Marion County, the "Horse Capital of the World," Ocala, Florida, has a population of just over 50,000. Full of parks, forests, and natural springs, Ocala prides itself on its beautiful environment. The city was named an All-American City by the National Civic League in 1995. Also in 1995 Money magazine named the Ocala area the fifth-most desirable place to live in the United States, and in 2008 it won a prestigious "5 Bloom" rating for excellence in the international Communities in Bloom competition.
ECONOMY AND INDUSTRIES
Ocala has a diverse economy. Nearly 30,000 workers are employed in the thoroughbred horse industry, a business that brings in nearly $1 billion annually. Manufacturing is also a large source of employment in the area, with products manufactured in the city ranging from fire rescue equipment to electronics and high-tech communications equipment. Another 21,000 Ocala workers are employed in service professions.
The government remains the top employer in Ocala. The top employers in the government are Marion County Public Schools, State of Florida, US Government, Marion County Board of County Commissioners, and City of Ocala. The major private sector employers are Munroe Regional Medical Center, Wal-Mart, Publix Supermarkets, Ocala Regional Medical Center & West Marion Community Hospital, and Taylor, Bean & Whitaker Mortgage Corporation. The major manufacturing and distribution employers are Emergency One Inc., Lockheed Martin, ClosetMaid, Cheney Brothers Inc. and Kmart Corporation. Ocala is also the headquarters of Emergency One, a worldwide designer and manufacturer of fire rescue vehicles.
Ocala's unemployment rate is a little over 4 percent.
NEIGHBORHOODS AND DISTRICTS
The city is served by the Ocala International Airport. Ocala Suntan offers bus transportation. It is also home to Central Florida Community College and Webster College.
The city has a population of over 50,000 people. There are about 21,000 houses and over 40 percent of the houses are occupied by renters.
The walkability of the city is excellent as most of the amenities are located within a mile's distance from the center of the city.
Ocala's residential neighborhoods include Marion Oaks, Silver Springs Shores, and West Ocala.
DID YOU KNOW?
Marion County is home to the greatest number of horses and ponies anywhere in the United States. It is an important national center of Thoroughbred breeding and training. The Ocala area hosts numerous equine competitions from riding to jumping and racing. The area has attracted numerous horse enthusiasts and is home to the Olympians David and Karen O'Connor, who have training facilities in the county. Ocala is also home to the cowboy Dan Daly, who has won multiple International Pro-Rodeo Association cowboy championships.
- Downtown Ocala: Downtown Ocala is a favorite shopping destination for residents and tourists alike. The area features more than 20 stores, all within walking distance of the town square. Offerings include specialty shops, galleries, and bistros.
- Horse and Carriage Tours: Visitors have the opportunity to take a horse-drawn carriage ride through scenic horse country. Carriage rides are also available for special events.
- E. C. Smith House: Included on the National Register of Historic Places, Ocala's E. C. Smith House is located on Northeast Eighth Avenue.
- Tuscawilla Park Historic District: The Tuscawilla Park Historic District is home to 37 historic Ocala buildings. The area, which encompasses 200 acres, is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a popular area for sightseers.
- Silver River State Park: Open from 8 a.m. to dusk year-round, Silver River State Park is a favorite Ocala recreational area. Located just east of the city, the park boasts miles of trails for hiking, running, walking, and biking. It is also home to the Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center. The center is operated by the Marion County School District but is also open to the public. The park offers visitors the chance to take a canoe ride on the river and also features picnic pavilions and playgrounds. Visitors interested in staying overnight in the park can take advantage of its campgrounds or rent one of its luxury cabins.
- Ocala National Forest: The Ocala National Forest contains 383,573 acres of land filled with trails, springs, and ecological sites. Numerous campsites are available throughout the forest, as are a number of designated recreation and hunting areas. Visitors can enjoy hiking and horseback-riding trails as well as fishing. The forest's Fore Lake Recreation Area is open year-round and features sandy beaches as well as opportunities for fishing and boating.
- Wild Waters Water Park: Located in nearby Silver Springs, Wild Waters Water Park includes a 450,000-gallon wave pool, a number of water slides, a "beach," a fun zone, and a children's zone. It is a favorite destination for family outings in the area.
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
- Appleton Museum of Art: Located on the campus of Central Florida Community College, the Appleton Museum of Art features numerous exhibitions from around the country. Previous exhibitions have included works by Winslow Homer, Thomas Hart Benton, and Judy Morris Lampert. The gallery is open Tuesday through Sunday. Patrons can browse the exhibitions and visit the gift shop.
- Central Florida Community College Theatre: The Central Florida Community College Theatre offers a series of diverse performances each season, including both full length-performances and evenings featuring one-act plays.
- Webber Center Gallery: The Webber Center Gallery is located on the campus of Central Florida Community College. Built to the specifications of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Services, the museum is able to qualify for many prestigious traveling exhibitions. It has also developed its own exhibitions with both national and regional themes. Visitors can tour the museum Tuesday through Saturday.
- Ocala Storytelling Festival: Ocala's Storytelling Festival draws together storytelling enthusiasts for a number of performances. Attendees can also browse recordings and other storytelling merchandise for sale.
- Fourth of July: Ocala celebrates the Fourth of July with races, a pageant, a parade, and a traditional fireworks display. The family-friendly celebration includes live music, crafts, and activities for children.
Ocala is served by the Ocala Star Banner, a daily newspaper with a circulation of roughly 45,000.
Radio stations broadcasting from Ocala include:
- WHIJ 88.1-FM
- WMFQ 92.9-FM
- WOGK 93.7-FM
- WMOP 900-AM
- WCFI 1290-AM
- WOCA 1370-AM
The city's television stations include:
- W07BP (Local)
- WOGX (FOX)
- W29AB (Local)
Institutions of higher education in Ocala include Central Florida Community College, which has an enrollment of approximately 7,000 students, and Rasmussen College (formerly Webster College). The University of Florida in Gainesville is just a 40-minute drive away.
The Ocala area is home to the Belleview Bulldogs, of the Florida Collegiate Summer League.