Why You Should Give Mount Dora a Visit
When it comes to the towns and cities around Orlando, there are at least a dozen that are well worth a day-trip to explore, including Altamonte Springs, Clermont and Winter Garden, all of which we have featured here on the Debbie’s Villas blog in the past.
But one that really sticks out as a true original is Mount Dora, and we thought it was long overdue to offer a handy guide as to why this charming destination should be on the radar for your next Orlando holiday.
To start with, Mount Dora’s unique location among the lakes and rolling hills of Lake County provides a sharp contrast to the rather flat areas of Central Florida.
Its situation is surprise number one, but then you discover its real charms, with a huge array of fine boutiques, antique shops, festivals, cafes and restaurants, all of which provide a unique catalogue of charisma, even by Florida’s high standards.
Where is Mount Dora?
The city of Mount Dora is located 36 miles north-west of downtown Orlando, 40 miles north of Walt Disney World and 47 miles north of our villas at ChampionsGate.
It is also easy to find from the Highway 27 area. Either head north to Highway 19, then continue north on 19 through pretty Howey-in-the-Hills, turn right at Tavares, and Mount Dora is the next major town. Or, more simply (but slightly longer), take the toll 429 highway north to 453, and then follow 453 straight into the city.
You’ll know you have arrived as soon as you glimpse Lake Dora, which is the key scenic feature hereabouts, linking Mount Dora to Tavares, and with lots of water activities.
Once there, you will find plenty of free street parking, and several restaurants with generous car parks. The compact downtown area is centred on Alexander and North Donnelly streets, which intersect with 3rd, 4th and 5th avenues.
It mainly consists of just six city blocks, but the surrounding residential areas are also well worth touring, as is the historic Lakeside Inn and the Tremain Street road to Gilbert Park and Palm Island Park.
Mount Dora shopping
This is one aspect of the city that attracts locals and visitors alike, with a highly original array of antique shops and one-off boutiques that avoid looking like obvious tourist territory and instead provide genuinely intriguing browsing.
Choose from one-off choices likes Julianne’s Coastal Cottage, Black Swan Mercantile and Checkered Moon, as well as specialists such as Mount Dora Olive Oil Company and Lulu’s Gifts of Mount Dora.
You’ll also find The Spice & Tea Exchange, Yada Yada Pottery and The Wine Cellars of Mount Dora offering that “something different” factor alongside more mainstream outlets.
And you shouldn’t miss Renninger’s Flea Market & Antique Center for a mind-boggling collection of arts, crafts, collectibles and antiques under one extensive roof (Fridays from 10am-4pm, and Saturday and Sunday 9am-5pm).
Mount Dora dining
If you think the shopping is eye-catching, wait until you discover the completely original line-up of cafes and restaurants, which is just one more reason why this small community is so popular.
From the genuine gourmet quality of 1921 Mount Dora to the authentic Cuban style of Copacabana Café, this is an adventure in delicious dining, the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else in Central Florida.
The main downtown area is chock-full of tempting choices, and several also offer fabulous views of Lake Dora, while others have the laid-back pavement café vibe that Winter Park and Winter Garden do so well.
Our favourites include the seafood-centric Pisces Rising, the wildly eclectic décor of Goblin Market (with equally compelling food), Back Porch Pizza Bar (great pizza but also poke bowls) and the barbecue brilliance of Sully’s Smokehouse.
All in all, there are more than 50 places to dine, with hardly a chain restaurant in sight, and there’s even the British pub style (and grub) of the Magical Meat Boutique.
Mount Dora attractions
While the restaurants and places like Renninger’s are a major draw for visitors, there are also several other possibilities that make help to make this small town a big hit.
There is plenty of history here, and you can find a good chunk of it at The Lakeside Inn, which was built in 1883 and is the oldest operating hotel in the Sunshine State. It offers several bars and restaurants and visitors are welcome. It is also the place to discover Premier Boat Tours, with a series of hugely attractive cruises on Lake Dora, including the scenic Dora Canal.
Staying on the water, there is also the you-drive excitement of CatBoat Adventure Tours, as well as the best way to go sightseeing in the area, with Glide Adventure Tours on their signature Segway personal transporters. It’s the ideal chance to get an eye-full of this truly picturesque area, from the lakeside to the “peak” of Mount Dora – all of 183ft above sea level!
There are also Mount Dora Ghost Tours (including a Haunted Pub Crawl), and the real high-flying opportunity offered by the Jones Brothers Air & Seaplane Adventures in Tavares, with thrilling overviews of the entire Mount Dora-Tavares area.
It all adds up to a scintillating slate of unique sights, sounds and tastes that have no equal in this part of Florida.
Oh, and don’t forget to say ‘Hello’ to Old Joe, the 15ft alligator just outside Gilbert Park. Old Joe was a real gator, but has been immortalised here in a metal statue, so it’s quite safe to take that all-important selfie with him!
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