In the 15+ years I have lived in Orlando, one place I have never spent a considerable amount of time is Ocala, a little over an hour north of my house. I have driven through Ocala many times via the interstate, but always while heading to other places like Atlanta or New Orleans.
I was presented with an opportunity to spend a weekend in the Ocala and Marion county area, with all of my activities planned for me by the Ocala Marion County Visitors and Convention Bureau. Yesterday I posted part 1 of the most awesome weekend in Ocala. After my jam packed day Saturday paddle boarding, horseback riding, and painting, I awoke on Sunday ready to explore the beauty of the Silver Springs State Park.
Mr. Beet and I were staying at the Holiday Inn Express and Suites Silver Springs, so it was literally a half mile from the hotel to the entrance of the state park. We arrived early to join a Florida Safari tour through the surrounding longleaf pine forest. The tour is free but is only offered on the first Sunday of every month. We explored the backcountry surrounding the springs with narration by one of the park rangers. For more information on the Florida Safari Tour click here.
We learned why prescribed burns are so important in forestland ecology, we learned about the history of the Silver Springs State Park, and we even spotted some of the wildlife. And though it is very hard to see in the picture above, the tree to the right has actually been split open by lightning.
Did you know that the burrow of a gopher turtle is also used for shelter by the Florida mouse and the gopher frog? What a nice guy to build a house for everyone!
The history of Silver Springs is so interesting. Since the mid 1800’s, the area was a privately owned theme park , complete with carnival style rides and glass bottom boats. The state of Florida took over the park’s operations in 2013 and removed all the rides, only keeping those iconic boats.
Admission to the park is only $2, with a ticket for the glass bottom boats being an additional $11. After our safari tour, we entered the park and headed straight to the Springside Restaurant for lunch. The menu features made to order items like burgers, chicken strips and sandwiches.
Mr. Beet ordered a Garden Veggie Wrap – lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions and cheese in a tortilla.
I had a gourmet turkey caprese sandwich with basil mayo. Both sandwiches were really good and not overpriced.
We walked over see the springs and watched the glass bottom boats giving tours as well as the many people on kayaks navigating through the springs. The springs are so clear you can see ‘clear’ down to the bottom.
I absolutely was smitten with this puppy out for an afternoon kayaking adventure with his Mom.
Mr. Beet and I had been set up with a kayak adventure of our own, and we were given one of their tandem glass bottom kayaks to take out for a spin. The glass bottom kayaks are brand new to the springs, and I am so glad we took one of those out.
As Mr. Beet paddled us down the Silver River, I snapped pictures of the wildlife. From the nesting turtles to the gators, there was something to see at every bend. We saw a total of six gators on our journey. Of the six, only one was actually in the water swimming – the other five were enjoying the sun on the banks of the river. A little scary even for this veteran Floridian.
Pictures just can’t do this experience justice, not even the best camera in the world could capture the beauty. I did put together a little video to showcase the advantage of renting one of the glass bottom kayaks. But again, the video can’t even begin to show off the natural beauty of the springs.
We spent about two hours enjoying the river and springs by kayak, we decided to let someone else do the driving. We boarded one of the famous glass bottom boats for the narrated 30-minute tour of the underwater world of the springs. (FYI- the park offers an extended 90-minute boat tour on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays for $25).
There is a lot of history in those springs. From the many movies filmed here to the debunking and truths of the rhesus monkeys that inhabit the park, the tour is informative, funny, and scenic.
There were plenty of gators to see again, a few underwater statues, and many tales to be told.
And though it may sound like we didn’t really do that much in the park, it was indeed a full day.
One last picture by the lucky horseshoe tree and we were out…
We were hungry again so we headed over to a place called Brooklyn’s Backyard, a few miles down the road from Silver Springs. The restaurant was a hidden gem, rather generic looking on the outside, but upon stepping inside, I felt like we were outside in someone’s backyard. Definitely spring for the campfire s’mores, served unconstructed with a mini firepot, ready for you to prepare and roast right at the table.
I loved everything about my weekend in Ocala. I had so many new experiences, adventures, and fun. Everything was in within a short driving distance of each other so we spent more time being able to enjoy the activities instead of sitting in a car and traffic. Something we don’t get to really enjoy too much in the big city. Plus I was so surprised by the wide variety of food options, and everything we ate was delicious.
Are you ready to start your own Ocala Marion County adventure? Start here –> Ocala Marion County Visitors and Convention Bureau
And please check out my part 1 of the Most Awesome Weekend in Ocala, FL here.
*This post is sponsored by the Ocala Marion County Visitors and Convention Bureau. I was provided with lodging, food, and activities in exchange for postings on social media and on BeautyandtheBeets.com. All opinions are my own. *