Nothing pairs better with a delicious meal than a beautiful outdoor setting. In Ocala/Marion County, you’ll find a variety of options for dining al fresco, from courtyards to picturesque waterfront vistas. No matter the cuisine or time of day, this is one place you’re sure to enjoy the setting as much as the meal.
Dine in the Open Air
Outdoor dining is a popular option in Historic Downtown Ocala. Overlooking Ocala’s town square, Mark’s Prime Steakhouse has a lovely covered patio ideal for a fine al fresco meal.
O’Malley’s Alley & Oyster Bar has an outdoor space where you can enjoy oysters or a burger while listening to live music.
A block off Downtown Ocala’s main square, Sayulita Taqueria provides a large courtyard strung with lights where you can enjoy their delicious street-style tacos and margaritas.
Enjoy the Waterfront
Ocala/Marion County is home to two great beach bars on Lake Weir. Founded in 1926, Gator Joe’s Beach Bar & Grill, boasts a Key West vibe and island-inspired cuisine. On the south side of the lake, you’ll find Eaton’s Beach Sandbar & Grill, a restaurant specializing in “Florisiana” cuisine complete with a boardwalk, dock, boat slips, and an ample beach area for relaxing and playing.
On the western side of the county, you’ll find two riverfront spots, just a short drive (or paddle) apart. On the banks of the spring-fed Rainbow River, Swampy’s Bar & Grille looks like it was airlifted in from the Louisiana Bayou, which is evident in its Cajun-focused menu.
On the banks of the Withlacoochee River, the Blue Gator Tiki Bar & Restaurant has a spacious wooden outdoor deck overlooking the water. The Blue Gator offers several boat slips, and is best known for its fresh seafood baskets.
Take It Away!
Because Ocala/Marion County has so many large state, national and local parks, some folks prefer to grab some food and find their own spot to picnic outdoors—and local restaurants are always on their A-game when it comes to takeout.
Piesanos gets high marks for its stone-fired pizzas. For barbecue, Big Lee’s—Serious About Barbecue (featured on Food Network) has both a brick-and-mortar location and a mobile fleet. For something lighter, Stella’s Modern Pantry — a block off the Ocala town square — offers creative sandwiches, salads and flatbreads with plenty of vegetarian options.
Three miles southwest of downtown, you’ll find The Gathering Cafe, with a vast menu of breakfasts, paninis, soups, salads and more. This light and airy place is across the street from 22-acre Scott Springs Park, a fantastic spot for a picnic.
Need something quick to appease your sweet tooth? Betty Cakes in Ocala sells scrumptious cookies, cake by the slice and other sweet treats. Another option is Magnolia Bakery, open since 1946. And of course there’s the old standby: ice cream. For that, don’t miss Scoops Ice Cream Parlor or Ocala’s Chocolates and Confections.
With beautiful surroundings and scenic vistas, Ocala/Marion County makes dining an experience to remember.
- by Erin Byers Murray