Unveiling the Beautiful Treasures of Historic Downtown Mount Dora

Estimated read time 16 min read

When you’re a wanderer, the lure of the unknown beckons. I found myself recently cruising down the sun-drenched backroads of Central Florida to a new destination. With each mile traveled, the landscape morphs before your eyes, transforming into a lush, verdant tapestry that whispers of hidden treasures beyond. But nothing can prepare you for the mesmerizing experience that awaits in downtown Mount Dora—a destination that defies expectations and transports you to a world far removed from the typical Florida scene.

You’ll know when you reach the city limits of Mount Dora, and you’ll feel as though you’ve stumbled upon a well-kept secret, a whimsical oasis plucked straight from the pages of a beloved storybook. The quaint streets, lined with charming boutiques and historic architecture, paint a picture of timeless beauty.

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Unlike the typical beach towns that dot the Florida coastline, Mount Dora presents a unique experience that sets it apart. Within a compact area of historic blocks, you’ll discover a culinary scene that rivals the best of metropolitan cities. From cozy cafes serving up mouthwatering delicacies to elegant restaurants that delight even the most discerning palate, this town proves that exceptional dining knows no boundaries.

Let’s explore the nooks and crannies of this delightful haven, where time seems to stand still, and every street corner reveals a new story. Prepare to be enchanted, my friend, as downtown Mount Dora unveils its hidden treasures and leaves an indelible mark on your heart.

Where is Mount Dora?

Mt. Dora, Florida is in Lake County, Central Florida, in the United States. It is approximately 25 miles northwest of Orlando and around 30 miles northeast of Tavares.

You have various options for getting to Mount Dora:

By Air: The closest major airport is Orlando International Airport (MCO), which has a variety of domestic and international flights. To get to Mount Dora, you can rent a car or take a taxi, ride-sharing service, or shuttle from the airport.

By Car: Driving to Mount Dora is simple. Driving from Orlando, take the FL-408 W (East-West Expressway) westbound, then merge onto the FL-429 N (Apopka Expressway) towards Mount Dora. Continue on FL-429 N until it meets US-441 N, which will take you immediately into Mount Dora.

By Bus: Greyhound and other bus companies run routes from several cities to Mount Dora. Examine the bus schedules and routes to discover if there is a convenient choice near you.

When you arrive in Mount Dora, you can tour the town on foot, by car, or by bicycle. The downtown area is compact and easily walkable, making strolling about and discovering its attractive streets, shops, and restaurants a breeze.

Quaint Streets and Cobblestone Paths

Exploring the charm of downtown Mount Dora begins with its captivating past, interwoven with local legends and fascinating tales. While historical records may not precisely align with the whimsical narrative, it’s widely believed that the town owes its name to the gracious and welcoming Ms. Dora Ann Drawdy, a beloved figure who left an indelible mark on the region.

Legend has it that in the year 1846, Lake Dora was christened in honor of this hospitable soul, known for her warm heart and infectious smile. Then, in 1883, the town of Mount Dora emerged, drawing inspiration from the breathtaking plateau it gracefully rests upon. Standing at a lofty elevation of 184 feet above sea level, this enchanting town invites visitors to conquer its heights and proudly wear the badge of honor that says, “I climbed Mount Dora.”

As you delve deeper into the local gift shops, you’ll discover an array of treasures, including a shirt that playfully declares your triumphant ascent. It’s not just a shirt; it’s a testament to the whimsy and camaraderie that embody the spirit of this remarkable place.

5 Registered Historic Places in Mount Dora

Atlantic Coastline Depot – 341 Alexander Street

While the railway first opened in 1886, this building was constructed in 1915 and cost $8,223 to build. By 1950, the last passenger train had left Mount Dora, and freight was last shipped in 1973.  It was then leased by the Chamber of Commerce for $1 per year,  and although it was once renovated for more of a 70’s style conversion, much of it has been restored back to its 1915 looks.

mount dora train depot

Donnelly House – 535 Donnelly Street

A Queen Anne style house built in 1893 by John P. Donnelly, one of the founders of the local yacht club and the city’s first mayor in 1910. It is Steamboat Gothic/Queen Anne architecture, which is an extremely elaborate style that originated in the American South.

Lakeside Inn – 100 Alexander Street

The main original structure of Lakeside Inn Mount Dora was built in 1883, this historic hotel once welcomed its guests by rail at its backdoor. The 86 room complex features 5 buildings and an olympic sized pool facing the lake.

Witherspoon Lodge – 1410 N. Clayton Street

The Witherspoon Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, No. 111, is one of Florida’s oldest African American lodges. Established in 1898, it follows the tradition of Prince Hall, a prominent figure in opposing racial oppression during Colonial New England. Witherspoon Lodge has played a vital role in supporting community organizations and providing assistance and shelter. It served as a schoolhouse and temporary assembly place for churches during significant times in Mount Dora’s history. The Masons, known as the world’s largest fraternal organization, are dedicated to community service, mutual aid, and fostering free thought.

Mount Dora’s Historic District

The town’s original 1884 plan of a conventional grid system has only been minimally changed and is a well preserved collection of residential, commercial, educational, governmental, and religious buildings with over 500 contributing architectural resources.  These include a historic school, library, theater, community buildings, and numerous homes. There are some displays of Classic Revival, Colonial Revival, Gothic Revival, Italian Renaissance, Mediterranean Revival, Prairie, and Queen Anne architectural styles.

Historic Downtown Mount Dora Map

Waterfront Views and Lakeside Park

As you embark on your lakeside adventure, a world of scenic respite awaits, beckoning you to immerse yourself in its tranquil beauty. From enchanting boat rides to delectable waterfront dining, let me unveil the myriad of ways to indulge in the mesmerizing vistas that Lake Dora has to offer.

  1. Sail Away on a Scenic Boat Ride with Premier Boat Tours from the docks at Lakeside Inn.
  2. Savor Culinary Delights with a View. Treat your taste buds at one of the waterfront restaurants from the front porch of Lakeside Inn or nearby Pisces Rising.
  3. Stroll along the winding path of the Lakeside Park.
  4. Enjoy a sunset serenade by land or boat.
  5. Keep an eye out for lakeside festivities on weekends and during the holidays.
  6. Take a segway tour with Segway of Central Florida.

Outstanding Dining and Culinary Delights

Prepare your taste buds for an unforgettable culinary journey through Mount Dora, where dining options abound with flavor and creativity. From refined establishments to cozy hidden gems, the town boasts a vibrant food scene that will leave you craving more.

Start your day off right with a hearty breakfast at Cody’s on 4th. Indulge in their mouth watering dishes, from tasty breakfast sandwiches to perfectly cooked quiches, all served with a side of warm hospitality and a steaming cup of freshly brewed coffee or a delicious assortment of teas.

For a delightful pastry or a scrumptious sweet treat, Alyson A Bake Shop is a must-visit. Their delectable creations, ranging from delicious scones to flaky pastries, will tempt even the most disciplined of palates.

When it’s time for lunch or dinner, prepare to be amazed by the culinary prowess of 1921 Mount Dora and The Goblin Market. 1921 offers an elegant dining experience, where every bite tells a story of creativity and sophistication. Their carefully crafted menu showcases the finest ingredients and innovative flavor combinations, resulting in a culinary masterpiece that will leave you speechless. Their service is impeccable, teeming with knowledge on both wine pairings and the delicate construction of each dish.

The Goblin Market, on the other hand, immerses you in a whimsical ambiance reminiscent of a fairy tale. Here, you’ll discover a menu that celebrates culinary diversity and bold flavors. From fresh seafood delicacies to perfectly grilled steaks, each dish is a harmonious symphony of taste and presentation.

Craving international flavors? Look no further than Melo Arepas, where the authentic tastes of Venezuela come alive. Bite into their flavorful arepas, stuffed with a variety of mouthwatering fillings, and transport your senses to the streets of Caracas.

For a unique and refreshing experience, visit Magic Tea Market. Dive into a world of exotic teas and herbal infusions that awaken your senses and soothe your soul. Sip on their carefully curated blends, each steeped with care.

Satisfy your sushi cravings with a visit to Wave Sushi, where the artistry of sushi-making takes center stage. Delight in their expertly crafted rolls, made with the freshest ingredients and showcasing the skill of their sushi chefs, as they come highly recommended by the locals.

Lastly, ascend to culinary heights at One Flight Up. This rooftop gem offers breathtaking views of the town while you savor delectable dishes and sip on handcrafted cocktails. Let the ambiance and flavors transport you to a higher level of dining pleasure.

one flight up terrace view

Mount Dora’s dining scene is a true gastronomic adventure, offering an array of tastes, atmospheres, and culinary experiences that will exceed your expectations. So, come hungry and prepare to be blown away by the sheer goodness and variety that this wonderful town has to offer.

Carriage Rides and Historic Tours

A must-do experience unique to Mount Dora is the horseless electric carriage. Embrace modern comforts on a journey through the town’s scenic streets in the elegance and grace of a vintage-style electric carriage.  

You won’t miss the clip clop of hooves as you sit comfortably, free from distractions, with only a whisper-quiet hum of the electric carriage. This eco-friendly option is a great start to your visit as you get familiar with the town’s highlights while minimizing your carbon footprint.

This carriage ride embodies the town’s commitment to preserving its heritage while embracing innovation and sustainability, reminding us that it can be done.  It is a beautifully symbiotic marriage of the past and the future.

You can also check out Mount Dora Ghost Tours, where you’ll listen to spooky tales and hear about entertaining paranormal experiences on a ghostly spirited pub crawl.

Shopping Opportunities in Downtown Mount Dora

Uncover a world of treasures in downtown Mount Dora’s vibrant shopping scene. Begin your journey at Renninger’s Twin Market, a renowned flea market brimming with antique gems and collectible treasures. Find unique, one-of-a-kind jewelry at Gold in Art Jewelers, and embrace your personal style with fashionable finds at Timeless Trends. Discover outdoor gear and more at Walk in the Woods, and create a cozy haven with gifts and decor from Cozy Nest. Find serenity and sage at My Peaceful Treasures or delight the little ones at Valerie’s Garden. Let the inviting streets of Mount Dora guide you to unforgettable shopping experiences filled with joy and discovery.

Local Events and Festivals in Downtown Mount Dora

Mount Dora hosts many special events throughout the year, including Art in the Alley every second Friday of the month. 

  • Annual Scottish Highland Festival in February
  • Annual Spring Festival of Arts and Crafts in March
  • Annual Sail Boat Regatta in March
  • Annual Earth Day Festival in April
  • Annual Blueberry Festival in April
  • Annual Taste & Craft Beer Fest in May
  • Freedom on the Waterfront in July
  • Annual Bicycle Festival in October
  • Annual Craft Fair in October
  • Annual Plant & Garden Fair in November
  • New Year’s Eve Block Party with Fireworks

Warm and Friendly People of Mount Dora

Prepare to be enchanted by the heartwarming stories that weave through the very fabric of Mount Dora, as locals proudly share their journey of growing up, venturing out into the world, and returning to their beloved hometown. This recurring and revitalizing theme adds a touch of magic to the community, as their passion and innovative spirit infuse new life into the town’s landscape.

In a city where nostalgia and progress coexist, you’ll meet residents who have not only rekindled their roots but also brought back a treasure trove of new ideas, enterprises, and talents. Their love for their hometown is contagious, and they are ready to welcome you to experience the best that Mount Dora has to offer.

Get ready for unforgettable encounters and vibrant experiences as we share our most cherished memories of mingling with the locals at Handlebar, 1921 Mount Dora, The Goblin Market, and the Magical Meat Boutique. These exceptional establishments not only offer incredible culinary delights but also serve as lively hubs where the town’s spirited community gathers.

Immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of Handlebar, where the energy is infectious and the drinks flow freely. Strike up conversations with locals, swap stories, and let the lively ambiance set the stage for an unforgettable night. Try the ingenious creations of the owner by indulging in the seasonal menus.

Step into the enchanting realm of the Magical Meat Boutique, where British pub enthusiasts find solace in the flavors of delectable British fare. Immerse yourself in lively conversations with passionate locals. To top it off, let the captivating melodies of live musical entertainment transport you to a world of pure delight.

These encounters with locals, their tales, and their endeavors attest to Mount Dora’s friendly attitude, which fosters a strong sense of community. It’s an invitation to not only enjoy the town’s charms, but also to connect with the town’s heart and spirit.

So, come with an open heart and an adventurous spirit as you embrace the genuine warmth of the locals and allow their tales to become a part of your own Mount Dora journey. Prepare to be swept up in a tapestry of community pride, innovation, and heartfelt connections that will leave an indelible mark on your experience in this delightful town.

Nearby Attractions and Outdoor Activities

Explore these exciting attractions and activities near Mount Dora for a truly memorable experience:

  • Take a seaplane ride or witness the thrilling sight of seaplanes at PuddleJumpers in Tavares, just across Lake Dora.
  • Cool off and have a blast at Wooten Park, where you’ll find a splash pad and playground for endless fun.
  • Head to Summerall Park for a relaxing fishing session or a delightful cookout with friends and family.
  • Cruise along Lake Dora aboard a floating tiki bar, enjoying the scenic views and a refreshing drink in hand. (Cruisin Tikis)
  • Discover inspiration for your garden at Discovery Gardens, an enchanting part of the UF Extension office.
  • Immerse yourself in nature by walking the 2-mile loop trail at Tavares Nature Park, surrounded by serene landscapes.
  • Uncover the rich history of Lake County at the Lake County Historical Museum, where fascinating exhibits await.
  • Indulge in the unique experience of Hayride Happy Hour every Thursday at Far Reach Ranch and enjoy the range of seasonal picking available.
  • Embark on a New Orleans-style paddlewheel boat adventure aboard the Dora Queen, exploring Lake Dora in style.
  • Make the most of the outdoors with the Lake County Interactive Trail Finder, offering a variety of activities like walking, cycling, boating, and bird-watching.

These exciting activities near Mount Dora guarantee endless fun and exploration for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike.

Choosing a Historic Inn or Private Cottage For Your Visit

Now that you’re eagerly anticipating your visit to Mount Dora, the question of where to stay becomes the next part of your planning process. As you weigh your options, envision the experience you wish for, and let me guide you through the choice between a historic inn or a private cottage.

Choosing between a historic inn and a private cottage for your accommodation offers distinct experiences and benefits. Here are the key differences to consider:

Ambiance: With well-preserved architecture, antique furnishings, and a sense of rich history, historic inns frequently have a pleasant and nostalgic air. Private cottages, on the other hand, provide a more intimate and secluded setting, making for a cozy and private hideaway.

Amenities: Historic inns often provide concierge services, on-site dining options, common rooms for socializing, and, in certain cases, spa facilities or recreational activities. Private cottages, while more self-contained, may provide amenities like private gardens, fully equipped kitchens, and personal outdoor spaces.

Interaction: Staying at a historic inn allows for socializing and mingling with other guests, fostering a sense of community and providing an opportunity to meet fellow travelers. Private cottages, on the other hand, provide a more private experience, ideal for individuals looking for privacy and a calm retreat.

Service: Historic inns often come with dedicated staff members who provide personalized service, offering recommendations, assistance, and ensuring your needs are taken care of during your stay. Private cottages typically offer a more self-sufficient experience, allowing you to have a greater sense of independence.

Flexibility: Private cottages offer greater flexibility in terms of space and privacy, allowing you to have your own dedicated living areas, bedrooms, and kitchen facilities. Historic inns provide a more structured and communal setting, with common areas and shared spaces.

Mount Dora’s Historic Inns:

Magnolia Inn B & B – a highly-rated,1926 Mediterranean estate 2 blocks from downtown.

Grandview Bed And Breakfast Mount Dora – the historic William Watt House, built in 1906 with a saltwater pool and original windmill. (WIlliam Watt is credited with inventing corrugated cardboard for packing his oranges.)

The Heirloom Estate has the best of both worlds with its air-conditioned rooms in the 1887 estate or the private carriage house, several blocks from downtown.

Mount Dora Historic Inn 

Lakeside Inn 

You’ll find plenty of options for private cottages and rentals in Mount Dora, many with rave reviews on TripAdvisor.

For modern hotel/inn options, there’s the Hampton Inn and the Adora Inn.  

Final Thoughts

Mount Dora is the perfect lakeside getaway that you didn’t know you needed. This lovely town, just a short distance from the bustling city of Orlando, offers a calm escape and a refreshing change of pace. Immerse yourself in the tranquil atmosphere where gorgeous waterfront vistas and cobblestone walks urge you to explore. Indulge in the outstanding dining scene, where culinary delights rival those of the big city. 

Mount Dora is the perfect destination to unwind and savor the finer things in life, providing a quiet and fulfilling conclusion to your theme park adventures. So, venture off the beaten path, and let Mount Dora’s allure captivate your senses, leaving you with memories that will linger long after you’ve bid farewell to this enchanting lakeside paradise.

Happy Wandering Historic Downtown Mount Dora!

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