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Mount Dora: 12 things I love about this delightful town

Mount Dora might as well be called Mount Dorable – it’s that cute. 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 overlooks Lake Dora and spreads out over rolling hills under a canopy of live oak trees that have been loved and cherished by residents for years. 

But is there a “mount” in Mount Dora? Why yes: The elevation peaks at 184 feet.

mount dora mount dora downtown Mount Dora: 12 things I love about this delightful town
Mount Dora’s downtown is full of historic buildings restored and turned into shops, galleries and restaurants. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Mount Dora has been attracting visitors for more than 130 years. The first hotel opened in 1883 and later became the Lakeside Inn. Early visitors arrived by train, which first reached Mount Dora in 1887.

Today, Mount Dora is a town of 13,000 people that attracts return visitors with a series of popular festivals and events. (Here’s more on Mount Dora festivals. If you’re planning a visit, you might want to catch one of the festivals or, actually, avoid it, because of the crowds and lack of parking.)

I’ve visited Mount Dora over the years, and have found new things to love every time I visit. Here are my top 12 favorite things.

Mount Dora is full of historic buildings but the 1893 Donnelly House takes the cake. (Yes, the ornate Queen Anne house does look a little wedding-cake-like.) (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Mount Dora is full of historic buildings but the 1893 Donnelly House takes the cake. (Yes, the ornate Queen Anne house does look a little like a wedding-cake.) (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

1. Lake Dora’s historic buildings

The Lake Dora historic district has dozens of well-preserved and carefully tended buildings, both residential and commercial, that give the town character. You can enjoy them as you stroll through the very walkable downtown Mount Dora or you can take a more official tour. There are several options for Mount Dora tours:

The Chamber of Commerce, located at 341 Alexander St. offers a free brochure with a self-guided walking tour of the historic district. Weekend visitors take note: They are open Monday to Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The same information is available on a free app, Distrx, which we used and enjoyed. (I like that it’s location-aware, so you can just look up a building when you’re near it.)

The Mount Dora Trolley offers a one-hour historic tour twice a day four days a week. Mount Dora Transit offers 30 to 40 minute tours by golf cart. The chamber can also give you the phone number of a private tour guide.

mount dora Mount dora lakeside inn Mount Dora: 12 things I love about this delightful town
The Lakeside Inn in Mount Dora opened in 1883, and it’s the oldest continuously operated hotel in Florida. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

2. The historic Lakeside Inn in Mount Dora

With its big porch, fireplace in the lobby and rocking chairs overlooking the lake, this inn looks like it could be in New England. It’s a grand place, where President Calvin Coolidge and his wife stayed for more than a month in the winter of 1930.

When it first opened in the Victorian era, Central Florida was a popular winter destination for activities like bird watching, fishing and picnics. Over the years, the inn had fallen into serious disrepair. New owners bought it and started restoration work in 2011. There are 90 rooms, a bar and restaurant.

I stayed here years ago during it’s decline, and I love seeing how beautiful the old Lakeside Inn looks today!

Old Joe honors a famous alligator of bygone days. You'll find his bronze statue along the path along the lake as you approach Palm Island Boardwalk. (Photo: David Blasco)
Old Joe honors a famous alligator of bygone days. You’ll find his bronze statue on the lakeside path to Palm Island Boardwalk. (Photo: David Blasco)

3. Old Joe, the alligator (statue)

A 15-foot bronze alligator along the lakefront pathway near the Palm Island Boardwalk commemorates the “largest, fiercest alligator in the lake” at the turn of the 20th Century, when he was a highlight on boat tours.

Today, Old Joe is a popular photo opportunity on whose back kids love to sit. I also love that a large and very much alive alligator, perhaps Joe’s descendent, was in residence daily on the pier at the Lakeside Inn during our November, 2021, visit. The pier is closed because of hurricane damage, so guests can admire him from a safe distance.

4. Renninger’s Flea and Farmer’s Market

For people into collectibles and antiques, the big “extraganza” weekends at Renninger’s are the only reason to visit Mount Dora. Extravaganzas, which bring in additional vendors and products, are held in November, January and February.

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. We didn’t buy a thing, but loved seeing old-time items.

Renninger’s also has smaller special events, including a swap meet for guitars, cars and cycles and variety of special weekends — military shows, Civil War re-enactments, pow wows, Steampunk gathering, garden shows and more.

There is beautiful kayaking in many places near Mount Dora. This is Blackwater Creek, a tributary of the Wekiva River and is located about a half hour from Mount Dora. (Photo: David Blasco)
There is beautiful kayaking in many places near Mount Dora. This is Blackwater Creek, a tributary of the Wekiva River and is located about a half hour from Mount Dora. (Photo: David Blasco)

5. Kayaking near Mount Dora

Another thing I love about Mount Dora is the abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities in the region.

A favorite short kayak paddle is the nearby Dora Canal. It’s only a one-mile canal linking Lake Dora and Lake Eustis, but some think it’s one of the most beautiful miles you’ll ever experience. Here’s more about paddling the Dora Canal.

If you’re not into kayaking, there are several mororized boat tours on Lake Dora that include the Mount Dora canal.

There are so many other kayak opportunities too. We brought our canoe and paddled to Lake Norris and on Blackwater Creek, pristine, wild and exquisitely beautiful waterways nearby. Here’s our story on Lake Norris and Blackwater Creek.

Also close are the beautiful Wekiva River and Rock Creek Run.

mount dora Mount dora palm island Mount Dora: 12 things I love about this delightful town
The Palm Island Park boardwalk in Mount Dora is a beautiful walk along the lakefront and offers good bird watching. (Photo: David Blasco)

6. Palm Island Park boardwalk

Visitors who cluster around the main business district might miss it, but if you keep walking along the lake beyond the Lakeside Inn and the marina, you will eventually reach lovely Palm Island Park with a quarter-mile-long boardwalk that 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.

mount dora mount dora biking Mount Dora: 12 things I love about this delightful town
Bicycling is popular on country roads around Mount Dora. We found Lakeshore Drive between Mount Dora and Tavares to have minimal traffic and beautiful views. (Photo: David Blasco)

7. Biking around Mount Dora

Mount Dora is a popular biking destination with a fall bicycling festival that attracts a thousand cyclists to pedal on the scenic country roads. There isn’t a paved bike path in Mount Dora, but we recommend riding a beautiful two-lane road with light traffic that hugs the shoreline of Lake Dora, Lakeshore Drive. Starting from West 11th Avenue downtown, you ride west and catch Lakeshore Drive, which continues for six beautiful miles to Tavares. This road has excellent lake views, towering oak trees and beautiful homes and gardens to view.

We actually bicycled the whole 17-mile-long “Lake Loop Novice Ride,” which includes Lakeshore Drive, but did not find the rest of the loop comfortable and traffic-free enough to recommend to all. (I am sure experienced road cyclists would have no problem.)

mount dora mount dora restaurant 1921 Mount Dora: 12 things I love about this delightful town
Built in 1921 to be a doctor’s home and office, this 100-year-old building is now a popular restaurant called 1921. We enjoyed happy hour here. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

8. Mount Dora restaurants

For a town of 13,000, Mount Dora has a lot of good options for dining. For sunset, the big patio at Pisces Rising, 239 W. 4th Ave., has the terrific views. We particularly enjoyed happy hour at 1921, located at 142 E. Fourth Ave., a restaurant in a beautifully renovated 1921 building once home and office for the town doctor. You can’t beat the clam chowder at Tony’s Clam Chowder Seafood Restaurant, 622 N. Donnelly St.

Several of the bars and restaurants have live music on weekends.

mount dora tavares seaplanes Mount Dora: 12 things I love about this delightful town
Tavares is 15 minutes from Mount Dora and also overlooks Lake Dora. Its lakefront has beautiful parks, walkways and playgrounds, but the most unique thing is the seaplane base. (Photo: David Blasco)

9. Visiting two nearby towns: Tavares and Eustis

Mount Dora, Tavares and Eustis are each 20 minutes apart and have been called “the golden triangle.” Each has a historic downtown (Mount Dora’s is the most extensive) and beautiful lakefronts.

We bicycled to Tavares, whose lakefront parks and walkways are scenic and impressive. We love the seaplane base in Tavares. Along the shoreline, you can see seaplanes come and go and even book a seaplane ride.

Eustis is also a historic town on a lake and is 15 minutes from Mount Dora. It holds a monthly Classic Car Cruise Show on the fourth Saturday of the month. (Photo: David Blasco)
Eustis is also a historic town on a lake and is 15 minutes from Mount Dora. It holds a monthly Classic Car Cruise Show on the fourth Saturday of the month. (Photo: David Blasco)

We visited Eustis for its monthly Classic Car Cruise Show, which is from 4 to 8 p.m. on the fourth Saturday or each month. It offers hot rods, muscle cars and classic American cars, clearly the pride and joy of the owners who are there to answer questions.

mount dora mount dora lawn bowling Mount Dora: 12 things I love about this delightful town
The fact that Mount Dora has been able to keep its lawn bowling club and facility going for more than 90 years tells you something about the town. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

10. Lawn bowling? Yes.

I had to admit, I didn’t realize lawn bowling was even a thing. But here in Mount Dora, I stumbled on one of the largest “Bowls USA affiliated clubs,” founded in 1928 with 14 “rinks,” which attracts lawn bowlers internationally. The lawn bowling facility is large green expanse located close to the Lakeside Inn near the marina.

How is lawn bowling played? A cousin of bocce, lawn bowling uses a ball that is round in one direction and elliptical in the other, so that it curves when you roll it.

mount dora farmers market mount dora Mount Dora: 12 things I love about this delightful town
It’s fun to browse and snack your way through the Mount Dora Village Market every Sunday morning. (We bought really good smoked fish dip.) (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

11. The farmer’s market (and all the festivals)

Every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., vendors at the Mount Dora Village Market fill the Sunset Park area with booths of interesting produce and products. That’s just the beginning of the outdoor festivals and events that make Mount Dora lively.

Here’s a Florida Rambler story on the major festivals in Mount Dora.

mount dora mabel norris reese Mount Dora: 12 things I love about this delightful town
My favorite plaque in Mount Dora (and there are many) honors a very brave, crusading journalist. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

12. All the plaques honoring and commemorating people

Mount Dora is a civic-minded place and everywhere there are plaques commemorating people who helped protect the trees or worked to found a community theater. 

My favorite, though, is a new statue installed in September 2012 in Sunset Park of Mabel Norris Reese, editor and owner of the Mount Dora Topic newspaper. Reese investigated Lake County Sheriff Willis McCall in the 1950s when his department wrongly accused four young black men of raping a white woman in a case that became known as “The Groveland Four.” Reese was eventually driven out of town after a cross was burned on her lawn, bombs were set in her home and her dog was poisoned. She continued her crusading journalism after moving to Daytona Beach.

mount dora mount dora sunset Mount Dora: 12 things I love about this delightful town
Mount Dora faces west over the lake, making it a perfect place to watch a sunset. This is the public dock. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

I said I’d offer 12 things I love about Mount Dora, but actually there are more: I love it for the sunsets over Lake Dora, all the birds you see on the lake (including bald eagles), the big Christmas light display in December, and “Boathouse Row,” a few blocks of boathouses converted into cottages perched over the water along Lake Dora Road. (Start at the restaurant Pisces Rising, cross the railroad tracks, and stroll down Lake Dora Road.)

I could go on, but you get the idea: There is a lot to love about this little town.

Where to stay in Mount Dora

Mount Dora has a half dozen well regarded bed and breakfast inns, as well as the Lakeside Inn, all located in the walkable downtown area. In addition, Airbnb and VRBO vacation rentals offer some nice options. (We stayed in a terrific vacation rental overlooking the lake in a boathouse on Boathouse Row. We also have stayed at a cottage in this group, which was moderately priced and an easy, picturesque walk from downtown.)

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

More help planning a visit to Lake Dora

Mount Dora Chamber of Commerce

Renninger’s Antique Center

Mount Dora event schedule

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:

Kayak Blackwater Creek and Lake Norris, splendid waterways near Mount Dora

The West Orange Trail for bicycling on safe, paved rail-trail.

Winter Garden and the historic Edgewater Hotel as a base.

Kelly Park and Rock Springs Park

Blue Spring State Park

Ocala National Forest

Kayaking the Dora Canal

Notes from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning a trip, especially to areas hard hit by hurricanes.

This page may include affiliate links from which we earn modest commissions if a purchase is made. Most links are courtesy links for the benefit of readers and earn nothing.

This article is property of FloridaRambler.com, protected by U.S. Copyright Law. Re-publication without written permission is against the law.


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Sheila Heil

Sunday 28th of August 2022

Visited in Oct. 21, it was awful. streets were so narrow, every place was expensive and packed. Very crowded. then they had craft shows up and down every street, literally no place to park. We book a boat ride, paid for it and couldn’t go because we couldn’t park anywhere. Also booked a haunted walk, but again couldn’t park anywhere. We had no idea there would be a craft show that weekend but couldn’t do that because all streets were blocked off.

Bonnie Gross

Monday 29th of August 2022

Thanks, Sheila, for sharing your experience. I will add to my story a warning to check whether there is a major festival in town, because they draw big crowds and really change the experience. People love the festivals and the craft fair is one of the biggest.

M. Campbell

Thursday 3rd of February 2022

Mount Dora has a reputation for being known as, The Festival City... because there's almost always something going on here. This weekend is the Big Mount Dora Craft Fair...hundreds of vendors, next weekend, Feb 12th is a monthly event (I co-produce) Plaid in the Park, a Scottish/Celtic gathering with vendors, music and bagpipes and the weekend after that is the Mount Dora Highland Festival and Games..

All that in February! Yes come to Mount Dora, enjoy our restaurants, shops , scenery and our events. Mount Dora truly is Someplace Special.

Lilliam Gonzalez

Saturday 1st of January 2022

After reading this,Mount Dora is going to be my next trip.

Barbara Mikin

Sunday 26th of December 2021

I'd like to keep up with your views of Mt Dora?Can I????? Barbara Mikin

Bonnie Gross

Sunday 26th of December 2021

While we don't always write about Mount Dora, I have signed you up for our monthly newsletter, from which you can unsubscribe at any time. Thanks!

Oline Cogdill

Monday 6th of December 2021

Loved your story on Mount Dora I used to go there a lot, sometimes by myself, as it was such a charming town. I would always stay at the Lakeside Inn. But about 10 or 8 years ago, I had a terrible experience. The woman who checked us in was rude. The room smelled. I asked for a suite but it was an uninviting Jack and Jill suite. The air conditional leaked in the closet. The main dining room that had always been nice was closed. Our breakfast on the porch was nice. When I complained--which I never do--they were rude. This was one of my favorite places. Glad to know the new owners are fixing it up.

Your article makes me want to go back.

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