OCALA, Fla. – Summer is a great time to explore new attractions and family activities close to home.
The “Horse Capital of the World,” Ocala, is celebrating the anniversary of The World Equestrian Center opening.
The World Equestrian Center at 1750 Northwest 8th Avenue sits on more than 380 acres and is the largest equestrian complex in the country, offering indoor and outdoor arenas and venues.
But the WEC is no farm. It provides state-of-the-art equestrian facilities and arenas as well as shopping, dining and even a full-service spa.
The Equestrian Hotel sits at the center of the property, and it’s luxurious from the moment you walk into the lobby.
[ENTER TO WIN FREE STAYCATION AT THE WORLD EQUESTRIAN CENTER]
From the rooms to the restaurants there are chandeliers hanging from the ceilings and you can’t help but notice the fun portraits of animals covering the walls.
“We have a lot of fun amenities beyond just the horse show and competition which is fun to watch. We’ve got over 27 full-time shopping outlets here at the venue and we’ve got eight restaurants. Anything from quick-serve restaurants, grab-and-go or you can sit down and have a gourmet dinner,” said Justin Garner, WEC director of hospitality operations.
One of their fine-dining restaurants has an outdoor eating area that looks onto Grand Outdoor Arena. For those on a budget, you can access the outdoor arena seating area and walk the property for free.
“It’s a unique opportunity in Central Florida to come out and watch these shows live. It’s great entertainment,” Garner said. “We’ve got everything from barrel racing, Western Pleasure, Arabians. It’s an amazing facility.”
[PHOTO GALLERY: Flip through photos of everything the World Equestrian Center has to offer]
If you’re looking for a staycation, this may be a good option with things to do for the entire family. You can sit around the grand outdoor arena and watch the summer series that includes several weeks of horse competitions with riders from all over the world.
“These athletes, both the riders and horses, are amazing to watch especially out here under the lights in the grand arena. Free admission for this venue. We’ve got great food and beverage. It’s really a great night out, especially over the summer,” Garner said.
If you want to relax, you can head to the Calluna Spa which includes a full-service salon located inside the hotel.
For those steamy summer days, you can hang out by the pool or join the kids on the splash pad.
Speaking of kids, you can stop by the bakery for some fresh handmade treats and then visit Mr. Pickles and Sailor Bear Toy Shoppe.
“There’s a little bit of everything here and some unique items, like a 15-foot giraffe,” Garner said. “Kids don’t get that toy store experience. Everybody buys their things online, so when they were developing the hotel, they wanted to create a space where kids can be kids and where adults can be kids.”
How do you get the 15-foot giraffe home if you decide to buy it? We’re not sure. That may be a story for another day.