Mount Dora: Florida’s Victorian Getaway
This charming little town with massive oak trees draped in Spanish moss, quaint Victorian cottages, a big beautiful lake and a Main Street is right out of Disney. Add a constant stream of festivals and events, and you have a great place for a weekend getaway.
My favorite reason to go is Renninger’s Antique Center for one of their thrice-yearly Extravaganzas, held in Nov., Jan. and Feb., when the hilly field is filled with tables of treasures and trash. There’s a year-round weekend flea and farmers market and special fairs showcasing such fun items as steampunk collectibles, guitars and cars, vintage RVs and gardenware.
Art and Culture
After an afternoon unsuccessfully searching for the perfect chandelier for under 50 bucks, I headed to Donnelly Street, Mount Dora’s main drag. The small downtown is filled with galleries, an olive oil and spice shop, restaurants and Piglet’s Pantry, the town’s longtime dog bakery. Around the corner on 4th Avenue is the Modernism Museum, currently featuring the Esherick to Nakashima installation that tracks the origins of Modernism and the American Studio Arts Movement.
Across the street is the new 1921 by Norman Van Aken, in a converted home built nearly 100 years ago. Van Aken sources locally and seasonally – we spotted Florida shrimp, Zellwood corn, Titusville spiny lobster and rock shrimp, and grilled Ponce Inlet barrelfish on the menu. It was happy hour, and the cocktails were sparkling and the beer-battered fish tacos delicious.
Among the lodging options are the historic Lakeside Inn, built in 1883, and the last of the Grand Victorian-era hotels in Central Florida. Bungalows and cottages have been converted into B&Bs, including the 1887 Farnsworth House and the pet-friendly Tremain Street Cottages.
The next morning breakfast options were both British, serving full English breakfasts: the delightfully named Magical Meat Boutique and the dainty Windsor Rose Tea Room. It was a beautiful day to check out the wildlife on an eco-boat tour with Premier Boat Tours. Pontoon boats depart from the Lakeside Inn dock for a two-hour tour down the Dora Canal and Lake Dora, a tranquil trip with great bird viewing – bald eagle nests, gators, turtles and old cypress stands.
You can also take seaplane rides over the area and across the lake to the town of Tavares. I decided to drive, taking old 441 around the lake, and heading south on 19, stopping at the Yalaha Bakery on Lake Harris. Weekend afternoons at this favorite German bakery spill outdoors with bratwurst, music and BBQ, but the pretzel rolls take my vote. Nearby is Blue Bayou Farm, selling blueberries in season, pies year round and blueberry moonshine, brandy and whiskey made at their Yalaha Bootlegging Co.
Passing through pastoral Howey-in-the-Hills and Astatula on the way back to Mount Dora, I picked up some Zellwood sweet corn at Long & Scott Farm – they close in June, and reopen in the fall, hosting a popular corn maze in October.
After a long country drive, it’s good to get back to the little cottage in Mount Dora and wander over to Pisces Rising, a casual restaurant in a 1920s bungalow, to watch the sunset over Lake Dora and enjoy this placid piece of Americana.
What to do in Mount Dora
Mount Dora Blueberry Festival, April 29-30
This young festival celebrates blueberries, replacing citrus in many groves throughout Central Florida, with a blueberry pancake breakfast, wine and craft beer, desserts, plants and other vendors.
Mount Dora Seafood Festival, Aug 26-27
Another new festival, this family-friendly event at Elizabeth Evans Park ends summer with everything from crab cake to jerk fish and gator on a stick, plus local beer and blueberry wine.