When I think of Ocala, Florida two things come to mind: thoroughbred horses (Ocala is one of the major thoroughbred centers in the world) and John Travolta (he has a home there, complete with a 747 air strip). Now, given that there are no photographs of horses or Mr. Travolta, I’m questioning the practicality of my Ocala guide; however, what I do experience every time I take the trip up there from South Florida is a beautiful, traditionally southern topography. Located in Marion County, the northernmost county in central Florida, Ocala is where the old southern oaks begin to give way to the tropical palms.
To be honest, I don’t know much about the history of Ocala besides what I just read on its Wikipedia page, but I’ve been taking the trip up there twice a year for the past five years and it’s always a welcome break from the resort-filled beaches of South Florida. It’s a pretty rural area, although the town seems to be sprawling more and more every year. I think I even saw a Chipotle when I was up there this past October.
Ocala’s downtown is quaint and comfortable—what you’d expect from an old Southern town. Around the outskirts of the city is where I like to go. Old motels, service stations, drive-in theaters, and the Ocala National Forest line much of the area’s highways. The rural landscapes of the Ocala National Forest could be explored for weeks. The mildly hilly terrain is covered by dense pine forests and you’re liable to come across an orange grove, or a local farmer selling fruit or boiled peanuts out the back of their old Chevy. The rivers, lakes and natural springs scattered throughout the forest make for an oasis during the hot summer months.
Maybe next time I take the trip to Ocala, I’ll try to arrange a flight with Mr. Travolta and mingle with the thoroughbred elite, but I have a feeling I’ll keep revisiting those old country roads.
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Brian McSwain was born and raised in New Orleans, but currently resides in South Florida. While a psychology graduate student, he spends the time he should be using to study on photography. Find him on Tumblr at brianmcswainphotographs.tumblr.com, follow him on Instagram and see his work on Flickr.