Florida Daytripper is a new series here at Magical DIStractions where we’ll venture beyond Walt Disney World Resort and the other theme park resorts in the Orlando area. We’ll visit easy-to-get-to destinations for those with access to a car who want to momentarily step away from Mickey Mouse, Harry Potter, and the hustle and bustle of International Drive.
For our first stop in this series, let’s explore Mount Dora, a quaint and picturesque town founded in the 1880s. It’s nestled on an actual hill, which to many of you may not mean much. But for us Florida folk who are used to being grounded at sea level, the fact this town is hillside makes it a draw in itself. Mount Dora is located approximately 45 minutes from the major theme parks (or 25 miles north of Orlando). It’s an easy drive where you’ll encounter little traffic.
Mount Dora evokes that quiet and comfortable Southern charm and hospitality of a lakefront community nestled amongst the gentle hills and orange groves of Central Florida. At an elevation of 184 feet above sea level, Mount Dora is Florida’s equivalent of a mountain top town. Whether you are looking for a respite from the pressures of life and seek solitude overlooking our beautiful vistas, or you desire active shopping and recreation to compliment our many festivals and community events, you can find it all in Mount Dora.
Outside of what you’ll experience at Magic Kingdom Park, Mount Dora is Florida’s true “Main Street, U.S.A.” A breath of fresh air from sprawling Orlando, Mount Dora is small and with its turn-of-the-century buildings (that’s considered old in Florida!), you’ll think you stepped out of a time machine. For those looking for unique shops, antiques, and great dining, Mount Dora is the perfect destination. And after a few days waiting in long attraction lines and managing crowds, a stop here is a great mental break that’ll recharge you for the rest of your vacation.
My pictures below are from April, and signs of spring were seen in the town’s beautiful parks, landscaping, and overflowing flower pots. The dry weather made it pleasant for strolling and dining al fresco. Next visit, I’ll be sure to either experience one of Mount Dora’s many festivals or see it decked out for the holidays.
Don’t mind my silly (but adorable) husband above. I just wanted to give you a glimpse of Donnelly Street, where you’ll find lots of neat shops and restaurants (that don’t require reservations 180 days in advance).
DIStracted Tip: Make a visit to Mount Dora in December. They go all out in decorating for the holiday season with over two million sparkling lights. The town gives The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios some stiff competition.
Above is a picture of my husband and I relaxing at the Lakeside Inn. This historic hotel, built in 1883, has seen many guests including celebrities, dignitaries, and even, President Coolidge. The grounds are beautifully landscaped and stretch out to the shoreline of Lake Dora. I recommend ordering a glass of cold lemonade to enjoy while sitting in a rocking chair on their oversized porch. Such a nice way to rest your tired feet after all those days in the theme parks!
There are plenty of lovely restaurants featuring outdoor seating in the heart of town. We had a lovely lunch at a French restaurant, Cecile’s French Corner. Their salads are almost too beautiful to eat and made for a perfect lunch.
Things to Do and Special Events When Visiting Mount Dora
- Cat Boat Tours
- Dora Canal Tour
- Hot Air Balloon Adventures
- Jones Brothers Air and Seaplane Adventures
- Mount Dora Taste of Our Town Tour
- Orange Blossom Cannonball Express
- Renninger’s Antique Extravaganza (January)
- Art Festival (February)
- Music Festival (February)
- Spring Collectibles & Craft Show (March)
- Sail Boat Regatta (April)
- Mount Dora Bicycle Festival (October)
- Craft Fair (October)
- Mount Dora Christmas (December)
And that’s just a sampling! For more information on other activities and events, including recommendations on dining and lodging, visit visitmountdora.com. As you can see, there’s a reason Smithsonian Magazine named Mount Dora as one of “America’s 20 Best Small Towns.”
Thanks for reading our first installment in the Florida Daytripper series. Next time, we’ll visit another charming town, Celebration, Florida.
For those of you who’ve taken day trips away from the major resorts and theme parks of Central Florida, where are some of your favorite destinations? Please share in the comments below, and perhaps we’ll feature them here in the future.