Mount Dora, less than 30 miles from downtown Orlando, seems a world away from the crowds gathered at Disney World. The small historic lakefront town, in the heart of the rolling hills of Central Florida, was once a popular winter destination for Northerners in the early twentieth century.
I’d heard of Mount Dora, as it’s known for having one of the largest gatherings of antique and collectible dealers in Florida, but I had never visited until my husband and I participated in a Porsche Rally that was being held in the historic town. There was an invasion of sorts when close to a hundred or more Porsches descended on this antique loving town for a weekend of fun. Lying on the shores of beautiful Lake Dora, it is part of the Harris Chain of Lakes that cover 50,000 acres in the rolling hill country of Central Florida between Ocala and Orlando. While less than an hour away from Orlando and Disney World, Mount Dora feels like it is more than a world away from one of the fastest growing metropolitans regions in the US.
Over the course of two days, we traveled the picturesque two lane roads that connect Mount Dora with the nearby towns of Eustis, Tavares and beyond enjoying the beautiful scenery. The area feels very different from the oceanside town on the Atlantic where we now reside. I loved its rolling hills, large lakes, Spanish moss draped oak trees, flowering magnolias and old homes that have been carefully preserved that line the pretty streets.
Even if you aren’t planning to stay in Mount Dora and only want to make a day trip from Orlando, you must stop by the historic Lakeside Inn. Built in 1883, it is the last remaining Victorian era hotel in Central Florida and longest continuing running hotel in the state. The inn is located right on the shores of Lake Dora and is the centerpiece of the historic downtown. President Calvin Coolidge and the First Lady, Dwight Eisenhower, Thomas Edison and Henry Ford all stayed at the hotel. If the weather is nice, I suggest planning a visit to the inn around sunset. Try to get a rocking chair on the broad front porch, order a cocktail and enjoy the gorgeous setting and great sunset views in the late afternoon. Just remember, everyone staying at the hotel will be trying to do the same thing.
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The hotel itself is a step back in time and if you want to stay there keep in mind that it is an old historic hotel. We decided to stay at the hotel because it was hosting all the Porsche events but I did my research before making my reservations. I would suggest you read reviews as I did (50% good and 50% bad) and then make up your own mind. Some of the rooms have undergone renovations but others haven’t so I requested and got an updated room. After staying at many bed and breakfasts over the years and once living in a home built in 1730 , I knew what to expect. The floor and stairs creak, the windows are old, there are no elevators, rooms can be small as was the television, there’s no mini bar or coffee machine in the room and the bathroom was dated. What mattered was that everything was clean, the A/C worked well and the bed was comfortable. Come with the right expectations and you will enjoy your stay but if you are expecting a modern hotel, the inn is probably not the place to stay. If that is the case, there are a variety of bed and breakfast inns and other hotels to choose from.
What I can tell you is that you simply can’t be in a better location, the setting is beautiful and the views out over the lake are gorgeous. The hotel was sold out for the Porsche event but the staff was friendly and accommodating. We enjoyed cocktails on the porch each evening and southern style biscuit breakfasts on the porch each morning. Unless we were participating in a driving event, we walked from our hotel to all the antique and vintage shops, boutiques, art galleries and restaurants in historic downtown area.
The town is full of outdoor cafes, cozy wine bars and excellent restaurants. We had a delicious meal at one of the towns most charming restaurants, the Goblin Market. It has three small book lined dining rooms as well as a lovely bar and lounge.
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For lunch another day, we ate at Pisces Rising. The 1918 bungalow overlooking the lake still has portions of its original dining and living room. The main dining area and outside deck are modern additions to the old house. The restaurant tries to source most of its ingredients from local farms and purveyors. I would say that the food served was a blend of Floridian and Caribbean style cooking and was very good.
Known for its antique markets, annual art festival, craft fair, plant and garden show and many other special events including classic car shows, Mount Dora is a charming town where you can keep busy for a day or two . Oh and did I mention it is call the “Bass Capital of the World” for those who enjoy being out on a lake and fishing?
When the crowds of Orlando becomes too much for you, I suggest you make a day trip to Mount Dora. While you might be disappointed that there is no mountain in this quaint town, it has an elevation of 184 feet and might feel like a mountain in our mostly flat state of Florida. Whether enjoying one of the simple pleasures of a small town such as having a biscuit breakfast on a shady front porch or sitting on the porch in a rocker as the sun sets over the lake or perhaps going for a lazy stroll down the historic Main Street, Mount Dora is a charming Old Florida town that I think you might enjoy visiting.