Ocala is a city in Central Florida, located about 45 minutes by car south of Gainesville, along Interstate 75, which bisects the United States from Michigan to Florida. Ocala has a population of about 57 thousand, with another 1/4 of a million residents living in the surrounding suburbs and unincorporated areas. Ocala is located near the lands called Ocale or Ocali by the Timucua Native Americans of the 16th century. The name means “Big Hammock” in the Timucua language.
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In the 20th century, Ocala became a tourist destination, thanks in part to attractions that included Six Gun Territory, Wild Waters, and the Silver Springs nature theme park. All of these were opened in Silver Springs, Florida – which is a 10-minute drive in your rental car northeast of Ocala – and the nature theme park that shares that town's name is 350 acres of natural beauty at the headwaters of the Silver River artesian spring formation!
Ocala's tourism was also boosted by rapid growth from the 1970's through the turn of the century, as the openings of Interstate 75 (which connects Florida to Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan) and Disney World, which is located about 70 miles southeast of Ocala. Meanwhile, Ocala (and Marion County as a whole) became a retirement home community, mostly south of downtown Ocala, in neighborhoods like the SR 200 corridor and The Villages. The population in Marion County erupted with a 150% growth increase from 1975 to 2000!