A love letter to air-conditioned activities

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Posted June 24, 2022 | By Sadie Fitzpatrick

Editor’s Note: Sadie Fitzpatrick uses this space to explore the character and quirks that make Ocala uniquely wonderful and occasionally irksome.

Ahh, summer. For many, it signifies a slowdown, a loosening of schedules and routines. It means later bedtimes, pruney fingers from hours spent in the pool, and trips to sleep-away camps.

In Ocala, summer also signifies never-ending, oppressive heat and humidity, a time when any outdoor activities are done in the wee morning hours or under the cover of evening darkness, if done at all. It is days spent unsticking our sweaty thighs from our chairs, spending June through August cocooned inside with our AC cranked up.

There is a summer slowdown in Ocala, but not because of those storied “lazy days of summer.” It’s just too hot to do much of anything—politics, events, living. As a city, we basically say, “Y’all come back out in September, we’ll see you then.” We retreat to our chilly, refrigerated refuges until the thermometer shows outdoor temperatures with an 8 at the beginning.

Though the weather outside is frightful during the summer, Ocala offers a wide array of indoor activities for all ages. As the parent of two active preschoolers, this is much appreciated as there are only so many hours of Paw Patrol we can watch in a day.

Below are some of my recommendations for indoor, air-conditioned entertainment for those both young and old:

  1. Catch a matinee movie at the historic Marion Theatre. Their Summer Kids Movie Series features a number of kids’ movie favorites and costs just $3 for children 12 and under, including a summer snack pack with juice, popcorn and gummies. For adults, enjoy their “Classics and Cocktails” summer series featuring the cinematic classic Some Like It Hot served with a delicious cocktail.
  2. Tap into your inner Picasso at the ArtSpace at the Appleton Museum of Art. Open year-round, this unique space engages children ages 4 and up (and adults!) in hands-on experiences through colorful activities to promote an understanding and appreciation for art. You can sketch a self-portrait like Van Gogh or Frida Kahlo or draw on a glass wall. Admission is free for children 5 and under, $5 for youths ages 5-17, and $10 for adults. Make sure to check out the museum’s permanent collections of over 24,000 works of art featuring Florida artists, equine artwork, and much more.
  3. On Wednesdays through July 27, children can listen to stories, play games, make crafts, and eat lunch as part of “Oceans of Possibilities” at the Marion County Library Headquarters. Subjects include mermaids, sea creatures, and pirates. For adults, local columnist Dave Schlenker will moderate a conversation with the mermaids who once worked at Silver Springs State Park and Paradise Park. This will take place at library headquarters, 2720 E. Silver Springs Blvd., on July 28 at 3 p.m. These events are free to attend.
  4. Sign up to take part in the Humane Society’s DogGone Good Reading Program. This program is open to children ages 6-13. They are invited to come read to a Humane Society of Marion County dog on select Saturday mornings at 11 a.m. Advance registration is required. There are a maximum of 12 children per session. A parent/guardian must accompany the child and stay at the shelter (in a separate area) while the child is reading. This is done to provide a comfortable place for the child to read with no outside criticism.
  5. Check out the creepy crawlies and traveling exhibits at the Discovery Center. Serving as Ocala’s local children’s museum, the Discovery Center is in Tuscawilla Park and houses amphibians and reptiles on its first floor while hosting a rotation of exhibits on its second floor. Children can participate in a variety of hands-on STEAM activities and science experiments to learn about the world around them. Children ages 3-17 and adults are $8 for admission. Children ages 2 and under are free.
  6. Cool off at the Lillian F. Bryant Splash Pad or the Citizens’ Circle Splash Pad. While these are outdoor activities, it’s a fantastic way for kids to cool off while playing in the water features. Find a spot in the shade and listen as your little ones shriek in delight as they play.

Stay cool out there, dear readers. I’ll see you outside in September.