Want a fun, relaxing, sun-soaked Florida vacay without breaking your budget (or taking too much time away from the farm)? Ocala’s orientation in the almost exact center of the state means you’re never far from the beach, numerous theme parks, or ecotourism attractions. Check out our list of day trip destinations conveniently located to the Ocala area!

Gainesville

Approximate drive time: 35-45 minutes

Let’s start close to home, shall we? Gainesville sits only about 35 minutes north of Ocala proper, and is a great destination for Ocala locals looking for an afternoon adventure. There are plenty of biking and walking trails for those who like the outdoors, especially at the expansive Payne’s Prairie State Park. Gainesville also boasts the largest live oak tree in the state, housed at Cellon Oak Park. The Florida Museum of Natural History and the Harn Museum of Art are both located in Gainesville and both feature free admission. After a day of hiking or art-gazing (or shopping), refresh yourself at one of the city’s excellent craft breweries.

Dunnellon

Approximate drive time: 37 minutes

Head west on Highway 40 and you’ll find Dunnellon, a charming little town with plenty to offer. Grab a delicious lunch on the river at the locally beloved Blue Gator, or spend the day kayaking and swimming at Rainbow Springs State Park. There is also golfing, and hiking at Ross Prairie.

Orlando

Approximate drive time: 1 hour and 17 minutes

No Central Florida day trip list would be complete without Orlando. Home to innumerable theme parks, nightlife destinations, and amazing restaurants and bars, people from around the world flock to Orlando to experience Florida as it can be experienced nowhere else. Hit up your favorite individual park from Magic Kingdom to Islands of Adventure, or snag a park-hopper pass to experience as many as you can in one day. Embrace your adventurous side by zip lining at Gatorland, and take in a wondrous evening at La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil. The possibilities really are endless: indoor skydiving, water parks, dinner shows, and much more.

Cedar Key

Approximate drive time: 1 hour and 18 minutes

In Ocala, you’re not as far from the ocean as you think. Cedar Key has some of the best fishing the Gulf Coast has to offer, as well as kayaking and hiking along the coast. You can also charter boat tours of the Gulf if fishing isn’t your thing, explore the town’s burgeoning art community, and enjoy some fresh, local seafood.

St. Augustine

Approximate drive time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

St. Augustine is a must-see for anyone interested in our state’s colorful history. Also known as the Ancient City, St. Augustine is where the Spanish first landed in Florida and is the oldest continuously occupied city in the United States. It’s also home to Flagler College which was once the luxurious belle epoque Ponce de Leon hotel, built by the school’s namesake Henry Flagler. Immerse yourself in the rich history of Spanish Florida by visiting the Fountain of Youth (yes, the real one!), touring the Spanish Quarter, or visiting the Nombre de Dios Mission where Pedro Menendez first came ashore 251 years ago. You can also take an informative and relaxing trolley tour around all of the city’s major landmarks with Old Town Trolley. St. Augustine also features beautiful beaches, outlet shopping, and a wealth of award-winning restaurants.

Tampa

Approximate drive time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Tampa is famous for being one of Florida’s sunniest destinations. Soak up all that Vitamin D at Busch Gardens, a sprawling African-themed animal and roller coaster park, or hit the Riverwalk for an afternoon of family fun at the Florida Aquarium. Explore the Museum of Science and Industry and catch a movie at the IMAX, Or, if you’re more in the mood for an exciting night out, check out historic Ybor City, Florida’s Cuban-flavored answer to Louisiana’s French New Orleans.

Tarpon Springs

Approximate drive time: 1 hour and 47 minutes

This one is for the foodies. Tarpon Springs began as a colony of Greek immigrant sponge divers, and has blossomed into a thriving Florida tourist town with tons to offer. Hit up the sponge docks for an afternoon of shopping and, more importantly, eating: Dodecanese Blvd. boasts an amazing roster of Greek restaurants and bakeries so good you’ll head home still wanting more. You can also charter boat tours, visit during the area’s massive Epiphany celebration in early January, and plan a trip for the annual Greek festival that kicks off October 24th.

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