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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.