Thirty miles northwest of Orlando is the charming lakefront village of Mount Dora, a hidden gem filled with antique shops, fine dining, unique shopping, bed and breakfasts, and beautiful scenery. Overlooking Lake Dora, at 184 ft. above sea level (not exactly a mountain), is a one-hundred plus year old historic village in the heart of Central Florida.
If you are looking for a place to relax after spending a few days at Disney World, or just explore a unique destination, this little known village will not disappoint.
Here are my 8 must do’s for your trip to Mount Dora:
1. The Historic Lakeside Inn
Built in 1883, The Lakeside Inn is the oldest continuously operating hotel in Florida. The grand Victorian hotel is surrounded by moss draped oak trees. Enjoy a stunning sunset by the lake or a morning coffee on the verandah lined with white rocking chairs. The Inn has hosted many prominent and historic guests including President Calvin Coolidge and his wife Grace, who vacationed here for a month in 1930. I highly recommend staying at the Lakeside Inn while visiting Mount Dora for its old Florida charm and central location to shops and restaurants.
2. The GateHouse Gift Gallery
Located at the Lakeside Inn, this appealing shop features pottery, jewelry, glass work and wood pieces crafted by local artists. You will also find a selection of books by regional authors. On occasion, you may have the opportunity to meet one of the featured artists as they present their work. During the cooler months, relax by the fire located between the Gallery and Inn. The owner, Stacy Martin, is friendly and welcoming and makes you feel right at home as you browse the gallery.
3. Home and Garden Treasures
This fun shop is a colorful mix of inspirational gifts and garden decor. From unique wall clocks, to garden swings and bird baths, Home and Garden Treasures is the perfect place to find just the right gift for that “hard to shop for” friend. Be sure to spend time browsing the inspirational signs and humorous napkins. It is difficult to leave this shop without a smile.
4. Checkered Moon
Step into this welcoming and contemporary store and you will feel like you are stepping into a spa. The fragrant candles, sea salt soaps, and coastal decor is a much needed retreat from the heat of the Florida summer. In addition to home goods, this is a great place for original baby gifts including clothing, books and toys. The owner, Sharon Crow, opened the original Checkered Moon in Champaign Illinois. After discovering Mount Dora, she decided that it was the perfect place for a sister store. This was my first visit to the store but I’ll be back for some of those amazing candles.
5. Maggie’s Attic Wine and Beer Cellar
A visit to Mount Dora is not complete without stopping in to Maggie’s Attic. A perfect place to meet locals, enjoy a glass of wine, and browse the large collection of wines and craft beer for sale. The casual, friendly atmosphere, cozy bar, and interesting people make it worth the visit. You may not want to leave. I had the pleasure of meeting several interesting people while enjoying a glass of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. The owner Stephanie, and her son, had lived in the area for many years and shared the history of Mount Dora. Richard, an RN from central Florida, teaches hikers, campers, and outdoorsmen, how to survive in the wilderness. I have an upcoming camping trip planned so I paid attention! Maggie’s Attic provides live entertainment on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. There are wine tastings the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month, as well as a beer tastings on the 2nd Saturday. You can also widen your horizons with Maggie’s Wine and Beer Clubs. Don’t miss this one!
6. Pisces Rising
Enjoy dinner overlooking Lake Dora as you watch the sun sink slowly into the water. Pisces Rising is a Fresh Florida Seafood and Steak House. The Florida cracker bungalow style restaurant (formerly a home), was built in the 1920’s. The lunch menu includes sandwiches, jambalaya, seafood, burgers, and salads. For dinner, choose from steaks, chicken, seafood, and pasta. Pisces Rising serves Sunday brunch 11a.m. to 2 p.m. with live music from noon to 3 p.m. I chose the Lobster Bisque, which was a bowl of creamy perfection, and the Berry Spinach Salad with a Blueberry Vinaigrette. Of course I saved room for dessert, blueberry cheese cake!
7. Rusty Anchor Boat Tours
Explore the Lake Dora Canal (Elfin River) on the Rusty Anchor pontoon. This 2 hour trip is a chance to catch a glimpse of birds, alligators, otters, eagles nests, 100-year-old Cypress trees, and fabulous homes. The cost is $27.50. Tours leave from the dock at 10 a.m. 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m.
Another option is the 1 hour Sunset Cruise ($20) or Dora Canal Lunch Tour, a 3 hour cruise stopping at restaurants by the water. Lunch is not provided. ($50). The tour is a relaxing way to spend time on the water, experience what makes this part of Florida unique, and enjoy the sunshine.
The Dora Canal links Lake Eustis and Lake Dora. The majestic cypress trees and wildlife make this one of the most scenic paddling trips in Florida. Kayaking is a perfect way to explore Florida by water as well as get some exercise. There are several options for paddling during your visit to Mount Dora.
Central Florida Nature Adventures provides guided eco tours on 5 different rivers. Reservations are required and tours vary based on level of difficulty.
Bring your own kayak. l have an inflatable kayak and love the flexibility of being able to transport my kayak anywhere that I travel, including checking it on an airplane. It is durable, comfortable and easily inflates in under 5 minutes. Inflatable kayaks can be purchased as a single, double, or triple.
Mount Dora has become one of my favorite places in Florida to relax and escape. This quaint village, in the middle of Nowhere, is still relatively unknown by tourists. It may be close in proximity to Orlando, but it’s worlds away from the hustle and bustle of the millions of visitors waiting in line at Disney World.