Going to Orlando? Don’t Miss Mount Dora!

Orlando , Expert View Column
A street of shops and restaurants with the sun setting in the distance
By AttractionTickets.com’s Florida Experts, Susan and Simon Veness
This pretty town is well worth your time on any Florida holiday

While it’s certainly true that Orlando has more than enough to keep visitors busy on any two or three-week holiday, it’s also worth highlighting some of the nearby towns and locations that are equally fun – and surprising – places to visit.

We’ve written about quite a few of them in the past, including the likes of Anna Maria Island, Daytona Beach and Winter Garden, but now we want to take you to somewhere new, albeit not far from Orlando itself. Mount Dora is a genuine small-town delight, in a unique location among the lakes and rolling hills of Lake County that provides a sharp contrast to the rather flat and topographically-challenged areas of most of Central Florida.

That hilly situation is surprise number one, but then you discover its real charms, with an enticing array of fine boutiques, antique shops, festivals, cafes and restaurants, all of which add to the authentic nature of this part of the Sunshine State and another pleasant surprise. Surprise No.3 is that the city of Mount Dora isn’t actually very far from the main tourist areas. It is just 36 miles north-west of downtown Orlando, 40 miles north of Walt Disney World Resort and 47 miles north of the busy holiday villa region of Champions Gate on main motorway I-4. It is relatively easy to find from that area, too, either north to Highway 19 via pretty Howey-in-the-Hills and turn right at Tavares, or, more simply (but slightly longer), via the toll 429 highway north to state road 453, and then along 453 straight into town.

You’ll know you have arrived as soon as you catch a glimpse of scenic Lake Dora, which is the primary geographic marker in this area hereabouts, linking Mount Dora to Tavares, and with lots of water activities.


A white and red striped lighthouse and palm trees in front of a lake


There is plenty of free street parking throughout the compact downtown core of the city, while there are also several restaurants with generous car parks. The downtown 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.

The main attractions of Mount Dora can be summed up in three categories, namely Shopping, Dining and Attractions, so let’s go through them one by one.



This is one aspect of the city that attracts locals and visitors alike, with a completely 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.


A quiet street lined with boutique shops and restaurants


As a complete one-off, you should definitely schedule your visit to include a chance to browse through Renninger’s Flea Market & Antique Center for a mind-boggling collection of arts, crafts, collectibles and antiques under one extensive roof and in a series of outdoor kiosks and tables. It is open on Fridays from 10am-4pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 9am-5pm.



If you think the shopping is enticing, just 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. You won’t find any of the chain or fast-food variety here, either. Instead, you can choose from the gourmet quality of 1921 Mount Dora to the authentic Cuban style of Copacabana Café for an adventure in delicious dining that you won’t find anywhere else in Central Florida.

The main downtown area is positively 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) and Back Porch Pizza Bar (great pizza but also poke bowls). All in all, there are more than 50 places to dine, and there’s even the British pub style (and grub) of the Magical Meat Boutique, including a Sunday carvery and regular Tea Parties.


A street with a sign pointing to multiple dining and shopping locations



While places like Renninger’s and the many restaurants are a major draw for visitors, there are some tempting other possibilities that help to make this small town a big hit. To start with, 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 Florida. It offers several bars and restaurants, with visitors always welcome, while it is also the place to discover Premier Boat Tours, with a series of attractive daily cruises on Lake Dora, including along the scenic Dora Canal.

Staying on the water, there’s 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 eyeful of this truly picturesque area, from the lakeside to the “peak” of Mount Dora – all of 183ft above sea level! Then there are the 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 seaplane overviews of the entire Mount Dora-Tavares area.


Two women waving at the camera from a small boat


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 bronze statue, so it’s quite safe to take that all-important selfie with him!


A bronze statue of an alligator on a grass bank


Don’t know where to start? Check in to the Mount Dora Chamber of Commerce visitor centre on Alexander Street. It is open Mon-Fri from 9am to 5pm.

Do you have a favourite offbeat place or small town in Central Florida? Tell us about it on the friendly Attraction Tickets Community Facebook page, on Twitter or Instagram.

Orlando , Expert View Column