West of Orlando, the city of Clermont is in a hilly and water-rich part of Central Florida. Conditions around the city are just right for growing fruit, and for much of the 20th century the countryside was covered in citrus groves. Since the 1950s, the city’s symbol has been the Citrus Tower, a skyscraper celebrating Florida’s citrus industry.
Clermont is in Lake County, and that name is most definitely accurate. Almost one fifth of the county’s total area is made up of water.
The chain of lakes, with 17 waterbodies, are a uniting feature of Clermont’s cityscape. The vibrant and beautifully preserved downtown swoops to the shore of Lake Minneola.
You can ride a bike for miles along the lakeshore from here. If you’re up for an extended paddling trip, seven of the chain of lakes can be accessed along a blueway for paddlers.
1. Downtown Clermont
The hilly landscape and a lakeside setting give Clermont a wonderfully scenic downtown along W Montrose St. Not just picturesque, I love this district as a percolating center of daily life in the city.
Dotted with historic buildings, the district is full of mom and pop shops, especially between 7th and 8th St. All around there’s a selection of eateries, for everything from bubble tea, craft beer or coffee to burgers, Italian, Southern cuisine, or seafood.
For a reminder that downtown Clermont is an anchor for the community, there’s a colorful farmer’s market on Sunday mornings with more than 40 vendors.
Meanwhile, the First Friday of the month brings a fleet of food trucks to the city, and you sample from 25 different wines at the monthly Wine Stroll.
2. Waterfront Park
Downtown Clermont slopes down to the southern shore of Lake Minneola. So I found myself literally gravitating to this verdant park with a splendid view.
Waterfront Park is angled slightly to the west, so the whole place is bathed in gold late in the day. The lakeshore is trimmed with live oaks, and there’s a string of pavilions by the water.
One cherished facility here is the Champions Splash Park, with its colorful sprays and jets for kids. The paved trail by the water is part of the 13-mile South Lake Trail, which I’ll come to later in my list.
Waterfront Park’s largest pavilion is the setting for a year-round schedule of public events in Clermont. Surely the biggest is the Pig-on-the-Pond fall festival in mid-October, celebrated for more than 25 years now.
3. Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards
The largest premium winery in Florida is in the north of Clermont, welcoming visitors for tours and tastings.
The estate is on 127 undulating acres, planted mostly with Muscadine cultivars like Carlos, Noble and Welder. In fact, Lakeridge has made a name for developing high-quality wine from this grape.
There are tours every half-hour, seven days a week. On a visit you’ll get a fantastic view of the bucolic rolling vineyards. Then you can try Lakridge’s range, with flavor profiles from sweet to dry.
My tip is to come on a weekend afternoon. There’s a festive atmosphere on the vineyard green, with live entertainment, a food court and wine bar.
4. The Citrus Tower
I was in Clermont just in time for the reopening of this local icon. One of the first visitor attractions in the state, The Citrus Tower (1956) stands 226 feet over the surrounding landscape.
This is a tribute to Florida’s famous citrus fruit industry, which is still a big business, even if it has contracted recently. Seventy years ago, the tower rose from a landscape with citrus groves as far as the eye could see.
Those days are gone, and Central Florida has been transformed since the 1960s. All the same, it’s worth catching the elevator to the observation deck. From here you have a sublime view of the area, including Clermont’s glistening chain of lakes.
5. Palatlakaha River Park
Between Lake Susan and Lake Louisa there’s a small park on the watercourse that links the two lakes. This twists slowly through spectacular oak and bald cypress hammocks.
A loop, almost a mile long, gives you a sense of this habitat. There are also two fishing piers, a pavilion, a playground, and interpretive signs informing you about the ecosystem.
For many, the Palatlakaha River Park is a stepping stone on the Palatlakaha Run Blueway Trail. This is the longest of all the blueways in Lake County.
Launching a kayak here you’ll be able to reach seven different bodies of water. You can paddle in either direction along the Crooked River as the current is almost non-existent.
6. South Lake Trail
Downtown Clermont is hooked up to a paved trail system that is gradually making its way across Florida, from coast to coast.
For now, you can head into Greater Orlando from the eastern trailhead of the South Lake Trail, at Killarney Station. This connects with the West Orange Trail, taking you through Winter Garden, and its upscale downtown.
In Clermont the 13-mile South Lake Trail is a great way to see more of the Chain of Lakes from the land. The path bends around the entire lower half of the Lake Minneola shoreline, and then passes the smaller water bodies on the east side of town.
One part I’ll remember for a long time is the stretch of the Old County Rd 50, riding under live oaks and pines.
7. Clermont Historic Village Museum
There’s a window on Clermont’s past along the South Lake Trail, just west of Waterfront Park. The Clermont Historic Village Museum is made up of a cluster of old buildings, mostly relocated to the lakefront in the 2000s.
Each of these buildings have an intriguing story to tell. Take The Townsend House (c. 1895), home to Clermont’s first African American residents. Also fascinating is the Kern House (c. 1885), built by one of the city’s original 31 pioneers.
I was especially interested in the WWII Quonset Hut, with uniforms, equipment, documents and newspaper clippings from the conflict.
8. Presidents Hall of Fame
I have a soft spot for nostalgic roadside attractions, and there’s an awesome one in Clermont. Once called a national treasure by Ronald Regan, the Presidents Hall of Fame has been around since 1964.
As a partner for the Florida Citrus Tower, this attraction was initially a wax museum, depicting all 36 presidents (up to Nixon).
Later, in the 1970s an enormous scale model of the White House became a new centerpiece for the museum
Though it still includes wax replicas, the collections are more diverse now. There are heaps of interesting artifacts, from official presidential china to authentic correspondence, and campaign memorabilia.
9. Lake Louisa State Park
At more than 4,300 acres, Lake Louisa State Park is a natural wonderland for outdoor recreation, spreading out from the south shore of Lake Louisa.
Composed mainly of bald cypress, live oaks and saw palmettos, the park is a place for people to get away from the crowds.
There are more than 20 miles of trails for hiking, and another 16 miles of equestrian trails. Something that impressed me was the amount of guided experiences available.
You can take trail rides, eco tours, and guided tours on Segways. Something I highly recommend is the guided paddling trip around the lake shore, passing the immense buttress roots of the bald cypresses here.
If you prefer something self-navigated, bicycles, canoes and kayaks can all be rented.
10. Showcase of Citrus
On 2,500 acres, this farm is my go-to for anyone who wants to see what Clermont’s countryside looked like at the height of the citrus industry.
The Showcase of Citrus was established in 1989, and cultivates more than 50 varieties of citrus fruit. November through May you can come along for U-Pick oranges, limes, lemons, grapefruit and more, right from the tree.
For a bit more action, you can take a monster truck tour across the state. Out here you’ll be confronted by the strange sight of watusi, zebras, and water buffalo grazing on the property.
Finally, The Old Time Country Store has stacks of homemade and locally sourced products, from jellies to honey, fruit wines, BBQ sauces, and soaps. Here you can buy animal feed to give to the farm’s goats, pigs, and chickens.
There’s also a rotating lineup of food trucks, with something different each day.
11. Southern Hill Farms
You can get in tune with Clermont’s rustic side at another agritourism attraction on the outskirts of the city.
In season, Southern Hill Farms opens its fields up for U-Pick. The dominant crop is blueberries, accounting for more than a third of the property.
Blueberry season is around late March to early May, but there’s something ready to pick at various times in fall, winter or spring.
This might be pumpkins, zinnias and sunflowers in Fall. During this season there’s also a fall festival with bounce houses, hayrides, and delicious fair food.
Winter means strawberries and a bounty of vegetables, while peaches—my favorite—are ready to pick in spring.
12. Clermont Performing Arts Center
In the same modern complex as the city’s recreation center there’s a performing arts venue with two stages.
The Signature Series Theater seats more than 1,000, and hosts the big performances during the season. This is the largest auditorium in Lake County, with excellent sound and lighting.
When I was in town, a slew of talented tribute acts were lined up, covering the likes of Chicago and The Carpenters.
For smaller-scale shows, you’ve got the Black Box Theater. This space has been set up to feel like a downtown comedy club, welcoming improv shows and renowned touring stand-up comedians.
13. Legends Golf and Country Club
I don’t think it’s a surprise that Florida has some of the best golf in the country. All the same, if you’re looking for hilly courses, the Sunshine State may not be the place for you.
In that regard, Legends Golf And Country Club in Clermont breaks the mold. This undulating par-72 championship course has elevation changes as dramatic as 300 feet.
At various points on my round here I could see for miles over a big swath of Central Florida. These are extraordinary at #5, a downhill dogleg par-4.
Still, in true Florida style the course is laced with testing water hazards. One is a beautiful koi pond at #9, for a moment of relaxation halfway through the course.
14. The Crooked Spoon Gastropub
The chef-owner of The Crooked Spoon Gastropub on Citrus Tower Boulevard Clermont is a Florida transplant who originally hails from New Jersey.
Starting out in 2011 with one of Central Florida’s first food trucks, he’s a true believer that dining should be a memorable experience.
A few years later, The Crooked Spoon Gastropub opened in the shadow of the historic Citrus Tower. This spot serves a variety of traditional pub classics, with modern and Florida-specific twists.
I have to say, I was blown away by the meatloaf, which has a BBQ glaze. Also, make sure you order the bleu cheese kettle chips as an appetizer.
15. Sky Zone Trampoline Park
For an exhilarating and calorie burning entertainment option, this trampoline park chain can keep teens occupied for hours.
In addition to its massive spread of trampolines, Sky Zone park offers tons of other safe and fun activities.
When I brought my kids here I saw dodgeball, a free-style jump area, a foam pit, a free-climb wall, a Ninja Warrior course, a roller beam, and a boulder ball challenge.
Things can get frantic in these areas, and that’s a good thing. But it’s also good to know that there’s a designated area to work off some of that inexhaustible energy.
This place has a few weekly programs, like Glow, when the whole place turns into a kind of high-energy family nightclub.