Central Florida / Festivals / Historic

Mount Dora: Eight big weekend festivals plus year-round charm

The lighthouse along the lake in historic Mount Dora, near Orlando.

The lighthouse along the lake in historic Mount Dora, near Orlando.

Mount Dora might as well be called Mount Dorable – its popularity has led to a lot of cuteness.  Its downtown and historic district have been restored, landscaped and beautified to maximize the inherent charm of this small town 40 minutes northwest of Orlando

Mount Dora is situated among hills and old oak trees overlooking the lovely Lake Dora. There are restored Victorian houses along brick streets and it actually is built on a “mount” by Florida standards—184 feet above sea level.

The Lakeside Inn is a grand old hotel with a porch full of rocking chairs and beautiful view of Lake Dora.

The Lakeside Inn is a grand old hotel with a porch full of rocking chairs, a beautiful view of Lake Dora and several historic buildings, including this one at the entrance to the complex.

Some might have preferred the less perfect Mount Dora of a few decades ago, but there’s no use pining for it. Mount Dora is still a good base for exploring one of the best areas of Florida for outdoor activities. And Mount Dora is a terrific destination for festival-goers and antique-lovers, with the sprawling Renninger’s Antique Center and its three-times-a-year Antique Extravaganzas.

The historic Donnelly House in Mount Dora.

The historic Donnelly House in Mount Dora.

Downtown Mount Dora is lined with shops and cafes.

Downtown Mount Dora is lined with shops and cafes.

Mount Dora was a winter resort at the end of the 19th Century, when tourists arrived by train. Today, visitors can ride a historic steam train, the Orange Blossom Cannonball, one of several ways Mount Dora celebrates its heritage.

But the biggest draw to Mount Dora is its schedule of arts, crafts and antique festivals. There are other smaller weekend celebrations, too, but the busiest weekends and biggest draws are these eight, according to city officials:

  • Oct. 5-8, 2017. The 42nd Annual Bicycle Festival, which attracts 1,000 cyclists. Here are details from Florida Rambler.
  • Oct. 28-29, 2017. The 33rd Annual Craft Fair. This is a juried event that attracts top crafters from around the country. It also draws 200,000 visitors.
  • Nov. 11-12, 2017. Plant & Garden Festival. There are garden tours the same weekend. Information 352-729-2170.
  • Nov. 17-19, 2017. Renninger’s Antique Extravaganza. The final major antique event of the year.
  • December. The annual Christmas lights festival. As if Mount Dora isn’t pretty enough, the city gets decorated with two million lights. They flip the switch Nov. 25, the Saturday after Thanksgiving and there are a series of holiday events on the next weekend, Dec. 1, 2 and 3, 2017: the Christmas Walk, a holiday street party from 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 1, a holiday parade during the day and lighted boat parade at night on Dec. 2. You also can tour six of Mount Dora’s most gracious homes, decorated for the holidays on Dec. 2-3. (Tickets are $15 at Mount Dora Center for the Arts, 138 E. Fifth Ave, Mount Dora.)

2018 Mount Dora festivals

  • Jan 19-21 2018. Renninger’s Antique Extravaganza. More than 1,500 antique dealers converge on Mount Dora for this huge indoor and outdoor show with more than 800 booths. The admission price says it all: $10 on Friday, when you can scoop up the best stuff; $6 Saturday; and then $4 Sunday. The event is repeated three times a year, the third weekend of November, January and February.
  • Feb. 3-4, 2018. The 42nd Annual Arts Festival spreads out throughout the downtown, attracting 285 artists and thousands of visitors.
  • Feb. 16-18, 2018. Renninger’s Antique Extravaganza returns for a second winter weekend, with the same abundance of antiques and curiosities, dealers and customers. That weekend is also the Mount Dora Music Festival.
  • April 7-8, 2018. The state’s oldest, the 64th annual Sailboat Regatta.

 

At Renninger's Antique Center, in Mount Dora near Orlando.

One of the booths at Renninger’s Antique Center, in Mount Dora near Orlando.

The boardwalk at Palm Island Park. (Photo courtesy Jared422_0 via Flickr.)

The boardwalk at Palm Island Park. (Photo courtesy Jared422_0 via Flickr.)

It’s nice to visit on other weekends, too, when it’s less crowded. Mount Dora is a walkable town, full of restaurants and shops and interesting architecture.  It’s a great place to explore on foot or by bike (if you don’t mind a few hills.)

Along the lake, be sure to stroll along the boardwalk at Palm Island Park, which offers views over Lake Dora, curtains of Spanish moss hanging from the lakeside cypress trees and good opportunities to spot birds and gators. From the park, you’ll see a 35-foot-high red-and-white lighthouse along the lakefront and you’ll probably assume it’s historic. Nope; it’s cute, but it was built in 1988.

Just to the south of the city is a beautiful county park for picnics or camping — Trimble Park, located on a peninsula between two small lakes.

One of the most popular activities in Mount Dora any weekend is Renninger’s Flea Market and Antique Center. The antique center is in a large building and has 200 booths with everything from vintage made-in-Hawaii Hawaiian shirts to jewelry, furniture and collectibles. On weekends, an adjoining marketplace is a flea market and farmer’s market that draws lots of vendors and visitors.

In addition to the three big Extravaganza weekends, Renninger’s has smaller special events, including a swap meet for guitars, cars and cycles every second Sunday and wide variety of special weekends — military shows, Civil War re-enactments, pow wows, Steampunk gathering, garden shows and more.

Places to stay in Mount Dora

Tremain Cottages in Mount Dora, near Orlando.

Tremain Cottages in Mount Dora, near Orlando.

There are at least a dozen bed and breakfasts, at least nine groups of cottages and more than a dozen hotels in and around Mount Dora. For more information, call the Mount Dora Chamber of Commerce at 352-383-2165, or visit their web site at mountdora.com for lodging information.

We stayed at Tremain Street Cottages, moderately priced (under $100 a night even in season) and an easy, picturesque walk from downtown and many restaurants

For a comprehensive list of lodgings in Mount Dora, go to this link: Hotels in Mount Dora,. (Sponsored)

Best camping near Mount Dora

Trimble Park (Orange County), 5802 Trimble Park Road, Mount Dora, FL 32757. This 71-acre park sits beside Lake Beauclaire and has 15 grassy campsites shaded by oak trees. Each site has a 30-amp electric hookup, as well as picnic tables, grill and fire rings. There are no sewer hookups, but a dump station is nearby. Also on site are rest rooms, showers a boat ramp and a playground. Campsites are $23 per night with discounts for seniors and Orange County residents. Call 352-383-1993 for reservations up to 45 days in advance. The park is three miles from Mount Dora. Visit the web site: Orange County Parks

Kelly Park/Rock Springs Park (Orange County), 400 E. Kelly Park Road, Apopka, FL 32712. The focal point of this 245-acre park is Rock Spring, but the campground is one of our favorites. There are 26 campsites, and every one of them is spacious, clean and well-shaded. There is a centrally located restroom with showers, and each site has a fire ring, grill, table, water and electric. No sewer hookups, but a dump station is nearby. Call the park office at 407-889-4179 for reservations up to 45 days in advance. This park is 12 miles from Mount Dora. Read the related Florida Rambler article: Best Camping Near Orland0: Kelly Park hideaway

Wekiwa Springs State Park (Florida State Park), 1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka, FL 32712. This beautiful state park has its own spring, which merges with Rock Spring Run to form the Wekiva River. An easy 16-mile drive through Apopka to Mount Dora makes it convenient. There are 60 campsites with water and electric hookups, a fire ring with grill and a picnic table. A dump station is on the premises, and there are two restrooms with showers. Pets are allowed. Reservations can be made online at ReserveAmerica. Read the related Florida Rambler article: Wekiva River Basin: A wild and scenic adventure

Lake Griffin State Park. (Florida State Park) 3089 US 441, Fruitland Park, FL 34731. Fishing for bass is the big attraction at this 500-acre oak-covered oasis. The shady full-facility campground features 40 well-buffered sites with electric, picnic table and campfire grills. No sewer hookups, but a dump station is available. Showers, restrooms and laundry facility are in the center of the campground. Pets are allowed. There is a boat ramp, and canoe rentals are available.  Campsites are $18 per night, including water and electric. Book your campsite online up to 11 months in advance through ReserveAmerica. The park is 21 miles from Mount Dora, near Leesburg. Visit the Florida State Parks web site for more information.

Alexander Springs Recreation Area. (Ocala National Forest), 49525 County Road 445, Altoona, FL. If you are lucky enough to get a campsite here, you will find one of the most pristine sub-tropical environments you may ever experience. This campground is located in Ocala National Forest and worth a few extra (25) miles travel to Mount Dora. There are 66 paved and shady sites, but amenities are limited. There are no electric or sewer hookups, but there are restrooms with showers and a dump station on site. Pets are allowed. The sites are very reasonable $21 per night and reservations can be made by calling 877-444-6777, or you can book online at Recreation.gov www.recreation.gov. For more information, visit the Ocala National Park web site.

Resources for planning a visit to Mount Dora:

 

Things to do near Mount Dora

This region is full of state parks, state and national forests and hiking, biking and kayak trails. Here are a few of our favorites:

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7 Comments

  1. Hello Bonnie: After 21 years, the Mount Dora Plant & Garden Fair has moved — to the second weekend in Nov., Nov. 12 & 13 this year, and to Donnelly Park in the center of town. Thanks for passing this on.

  2. Pingback: Mount Dora Bicycle Festival 2016: Oct. 7-9 | CAAM Events

  3. Ralph Gilliam says:

    Very nice article on Mt Dora,my favorite community next to my town of Union City, TN. I love to spend part of each winter there–eating,shopping,seeing the sights of Central Fl., and playing tennis with a great group of people.

  4. Next to Mt.Dora is Tavares which also has many festivals. Antique wood Boat Show, Dragon Boat races, Car shows, Christmas Light up with parade, Train rides, and last but not least It is the Sea Plane City. Lots of unique restaurants

  5. We’re sorry that you didn’t mention the Mount Dora Plant & Garden Fair, now in its 21st year, making it the fourth in longevity. We have some of Florida’s most prestigious growers, along with what’s new and exciting for the garden and the patio.

  6. What a wonderful article! Thank you so much for reminding us, locals, of how blessed we are to live in such a charming town. I truly enjoyed reading your article. In addition, thank you so much for staying with us and thank you for mentioning us in your article. We are so happy to read that you enjoyed your stay. Have a fantastic holiday season and we hope to serve you again in the near future.

  7. For the best source of information about Mount Dora including the most up-to-date event calendars please visit http://www.WhatToDoinMountDora.com.

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