“America’s Hometown”: A Trip To Mount Dora

Orlando , Expert View Column
“America’s Hometown”: A Trip To Mount Dora
By ATD’s Florida Experts, Susan and Simon Veness
It started as the tiny settlement of Royellou, with only sixteen families. It became Mount Dora in 1883, named for Dora Anne Drowdy, a hospitable early resident, and the fact that it’s 184 feet above sea level: a “mountain” in Floridian terms. Next in our series of “Small Town America” blogs, let’s pay a visit to self-proclaimed “America’s hometown.”

It takes less than an hour to reach this pretty little town from the Disney area. Simply head north on State Road 535 (you’ll find it at the corner of Apopka-Vineland, where the Ale House is, just beyond the Disney Springs entry into Walt Disney World), merge onto Highway 429, and keep going until you reach State Road 46. Head west on 46, turn right on North Highland St, left on E 5th Ave, right on N Grandview St, left again on E 7th Ave, go one block and you’re there. Easy!

Deciding what to do while you’re there is easy, too, if you’re armed with a list of the highlights. And that’s where we come in.

Festival City: Mount Dora is known to locals as “festival city” for (obviously) the monthly annual festivals it holds, and some of them are definitely worth making the drive. February’s big event is the Mount Dora Arts Festival (first weekend in Feb) with approximately 300 artists whose wares include everything from jewellery to metal garden art. Visiting in March? Try the nearly-as-big Spring Festival (third weekend in March). The end of April brings the Blueberry Festival; celebrate Fourth of July with Freedom on the Waterfront; the Seafood Festival arrives in August; the Fall Craft Fair takes place over the fourth weekend in October; and the fabulous Scottish Highlands Festival runs the 3rd weekend in November.

 

Mount Dora Christmas Pic

 

But the highlight of the year happens in December, when the town transforms into a twinkling holiday wonderland, Florida style, with Mount Dora Christmas. Tree lighting, Parade of Homes, Light Up Mount Dora, and snow in the park make this something extra-special. You can even ride The Polar Express, a real train that leaves neighbouring Tavares and heads straight to the North Pole.

Taking A Tour: The downtown area is pleasantly walkable, and you should certainly make time to stroll around, taking in the antique shops and local restaurants. Then, hop aboard the Mount Dora Trolley for one of their narrated Historic and Scenic tours. Along with insights into the town’s past, you’ll see elaborate historic homes, landmarks, Lake Dora, Lake Gertrude, and Mount Dora’s iconic lighthouse. The cost is $23, and the trolley is air conditioned in summer or heated in winter. Tour schedules vary, so be sure to check their Facebook page to see if it will be offered during your stay.

One of the town’s top highlights is the Mount Dora Boat Tour, which takes in Lake Dora and the Dora Canal. Premier Boat Tours have been operating on the lake since God was a boy. Tours depart from the dock just outside the historic Lakeside Inn, which is a great place to grab lunch before or after your tour (or bring your own picnic onboard). Then, it’s out to the lake, where you’re likely to see shore birds, bald eagles, turtles, and even gators. When you reach the Dora Canal, things get really interesting. It’s moody, it’s completely shaded, it’s very narrow, and there’s a good chance you’ll meet some of the locals, who often sit in their back gardens and watch the boats go by.

 

Mount Dora Boat Tour

 

Premier Boat Tours’ two large pontoon boats seat up to 22 passengers, and they run three two-hour tours daily, at 11am, 2pm, and sunset. You can even do a Fireworks cruise if you’re visiting on July 4, the United States’ Independence Day. Reservations are required, and the cost is $18 for daytime tours, $28 for the sunset tour.

Spending Money: Like Winter Park, much of Mount Dora’s shopping is of the boutique variety. There are more shops here than in Winter Park, though, with an emphasis on antique stores and arts-and-crafts outlets. In fact, the town is located along Florida’s Antique Trail, so that’s a good place to start.

Renninger’s Vintage Antique Centeris easily the largest in the area, set on 117 acres and boasting over 180 booths. You’ll find everything from baseball cards and duck decoys to gigantic stained glass windows and entire bedroom sets. There is an outdoor area of small “houses” that sell collectibles, and a big Flea Market with fruits, vegetables, and some serious oddities. It’s only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, so plan accordingly.

 

Mount Dora shopping

 

More modest, but in some ways more authentic, is the Village Antique Mall on N Highland Street, right in town. Look for pretty vintage jewellery or clothing, sterling silver serving pieces, or retro American items that are small enough to travel home in your suitcase.

Numerous speciality shops include Under the Cherry Blossoms (handmade items by local artists), Julianne’s Coastal Cottage (Key West style items), Olive Oil Company (every kind of olive oil you can think of, and some you can’t), and Papilo (nature-inspired gifts).

That “Something Different” Factor:

Setting aside great food, good beers, and shopping for Christmas gifts, our absolute favourite thing to do in Mount Dora is taking a Segway Tour. Central Florida Glides (formerlySegway of Central Florida) offers 1-hour tours past the town’s historic homes, along the lakeside and marina, out to the lighthouse, and across the raised boardwalk at Palm Island Park. True, this is a tour and you’re going to learn about the local history, flora, and fauna, but let’s be honest: the tour itself is by far secondary to the fun of riding a Segway. If you can stand unaided for an hour or two, you can ride one of these addictive contraptions, and we promise: you’ll resent having to walk once you’re done. They’re just that much fun!

 

Mount Dora Segway

 

If you’re more the water-sports type, try the zippy motorized two-person watercraft tours with CraigCat Tours and get up close and personal with Lake Dora and Dora Canal.

Where to Eat:

One Flight Up is a cute and quirky choice for a health-conscious lunch with bags of flavour, while Goblin Market is the subtly elegant, gorgeously appointed place for an excellent hand-crafted cocktail, succulent lunch and dinner options, and small plate dining. Pieces Rising is our number one choice for a delicious sit-down meal with a killer view. Time dinner so you can watch the sun set over Lake Dora. Missing a taste of home? Elegant tea house Windsor Rose serves high tea in style.

 

Eating in mount Dora

 

Check out Mount Dora’s Festival and Events calendar, point your hire car north, and enjoy a true break from the tourist experience. And be sure to tell us what gems you’ve discovered when you return by joining us on Attraction Tickets Direct’s discussion forums!

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Orlando , Expert View Column