Ocala, located in Marion County, Florida, is called the Horse Capital of the World and throughout the county are various attractions, experiences, and sites paying homage to equines. And, I’m happy to discover the dog-friendly Ocala.
“Radcliff. We’re going to Silver Springs State Park and monkeys are going to hop on your back and ride you like a horse! Are you excited?” I said to my dog while driving to Ocala, Fla. I cannot speak for all single female dog owners but there are a few of us who speak to our canines as if they are our soulmates. His response was similar to that of the previous men in my life, a blank stare with his chocolate-brown eyes and silence.
Of course, my statement was ridiculous and I was only making conversation on the nearly three-hour drive from North Port to Ocala in Marion County. Monkeys, specifically the rhesus macaque monkeys in Ocala, can be nasty critters and interaction should be avoided. Still, a little part of me had hoped to spot one or two during my visit.
Dog-Friendly Ocala: Silver Springs State Park
Silver Springs State Park is considered to be Florida’s original tourist attraction and dates back to the 1820s. Adventurous visitors navigated boats through Silver River, which Silver Springs feeds, alongside cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss and admired the natural beauty.
About 50 years later in the 1870s, entrepreneur Phillip Morrell cut out the bottom of a rowboat and replaced it with a glass pane. He charged tourists to take a ride and peer into the 80-foot-deep Silver Springs from the comfort of a boat. This launched the beginning of glass bottom boat tours which continue today, mind you, the boats are now larger than rowboats.
Dogs are not allowed on the glass bottom boats of Silver Springs but behaved canines on leashes are welcome to walk some of the trails. My mongrel and I ambled along the springs and admired its clear water and the striking aqua color of the bottom. I spied fish, birds, kayakers and glass bottom boat tours enjoying the day. We walked through some of the gardens and found places to rest in the shade and had an enjoyable visit.
Note: The fourth Sunday of the month is the Pack Walk between 10 – 11:30 a.m. Join Silver Springs Park Rangers on a tour of the gardens with your canine. Or, meet a new one. Marion County Animal Services brings dogs from the shelter to give them a chance to be social and get exercise outside the shelter.
Dog-Friendly Ocala: Rainbow Springs State Park
Marion County’s other state park, Rainbow Springs, is recognized for its 72 degrees Fahrenheit water and the aquatic activities such as swimming, tubing, and snorkeling. It’s pet-friendly but not in the springs and swimming area. That’s a bit of a downer but we found a dog-friendly trail to wonder and admire beautiful botanicals, manmade waterfalls, and the view the stunning springs from a distance which has the same vibrant aqua color as Silver Springs State Park.
Dog-Friendly Ocala: Peace Park Labyrinth
The labyrinth in the Peace Park at the First Congregational United Church of Christ is dog-friendly and I envisioned a peaceful and magical bonding moment while walking hand and leash through the pathway. Radcliff has myasthenia gravis, a rare autoimmune disorder, and although he’s on medication, he does not do well in the Florida summer heat and humidity. About a third of the way into the circle, our experience was cut short when he decided to disregard the stone-lined pathway and made a beeline to the shade of a tree. It was probably for the best because as I tried to get him to budge, the skies soon opened with a downpour.
Dog-Friendly Downtown Ocala
Since Ocala is called the Horse Capital of the World, there are plenty of places to admire and horses or horse-themed sites including painted horse sculptures. These sculptures emerged from the 2001 public art project by the Marion Cultural Alliance called Horse Fever. Since then, more than 85 works were created and are enjoyed by visitors. My dog and I strolled through downtown Ocala to admire some of these stunning works.
Dog-Friendly Dining in Ocala
Several Ocala restaurants welcome dogs and two Radcliff and I enjoyed were Horse & Hounds Restaurant and Hungry Bear Drive-In.
Horse & Hounds Restaurant fits the horse-theme of Ocala and our server was very accommodating to us. We sat on the outdoor patio and she brought Radcliff a bowl of water and some dog treats, which he gobbled up. There were many delicious choices to choose off the British-American-fare menu and I enjoyed a fresh spinach salad and the ooey, gooey shepherds pie.
Since Hungry Bear Drive-In is, well, a drive-in (pull through) restaurant, I pulled up and chose a double cheese burger and onion rings. My meal was served with a Milkbone for Radcliff!
What About Those Monkeys in Silver Springs State Park?
The challenge of traveling with a dog is accepting he’s not welcomed everywhere and finding alternatives. This can include leaving him in the hotel room, finding a place to kennel him for the day, or finding dog-friendly attractions, which is what I did and resulted in experiences I probably would not have had otherwise.
As for the monkeys, I never saw them, however, it’s estimated about a thousand monkeys are in Marion County and beyond. They are not native to Florida and were introduced into Silver Springs State Park in the 1930s by a river cruise operator who thought they would enhance the experience. They were placed on an island but swam across the river and settled in the woods.
View additional photos of my trip to Ocala and Marion County on Flickr.
Nuts & Bolts About Visiting Ocala/Marina County
Ocala/Marion County Visitors and Convention Bureau
Silver Springs State Park
1425 NE 58th Avenue
Ocala, FL 34470
Admission: $8 per vehicle (2 – 8 people); $5 single occupant vehicle.
Rainbow Springs State Park
19158 SW 81st Place Road
Dunnellon, FL 34432
Headsprings Entrance: $2 per person, children under 6 free.
Labyrinth at First Congregational United Church of Christ
7171 SW Highway 200
Ocala, Fla. 34476
Dog-Friendly Hotels in Ocala
La Quinta Inn & Suites Ocala
3530 SW 36th Ave.
Ocala, Fla. 34474
Tel: (352) 861-1137
3600 SW 36th Ave.
Ocala, FL 34474
Tel: (352) 854-1400
Where to Eat in Ocala
Horse & Hounds Restaurant
6998 N. US Hwy 27
Ocala, Fla. 34482
Tel: (352) 620-2500
Outdoor dining is dog-friendly. They’ll bring a bowl of water and Radcliff was given some dog treats.
Hungry Bear Drive-In
420 SE Osceola Ave.
Ocala, Fla. 34471
Tel: (352) 732-3003
Drive-through serving hotdogs, hamburgers, and hot sandwiches. Upon seeing I had a dog as my copilot, they gave him a dog treat.
Additional Thoughts About Traveling with a Dog
If you’ll be traveling with your dog, remember, pick up after your pooch and make sure your best friend stays hydrated. My dog can’t keep up with me so go at your dog’s pace. Of course, make sure your dog is up to date on his rabies and other immunization shots and keep that paperwork with you.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to support this blog, my traveling habit, and my special-needs dog.