Nestled on the eastern shore of Lake Dora is a lovable little city, with a cozy downtown made for strolling.
Dating back to the 1880s, Mount Dora gets its name from the plateau that it sits on, and has earned the nickname, Festival City.
I’d say this is a pretty accurate monniker, as the spring and fall months bring a succession of events attended by thousands of people. The star is surely October’s Mount Dora Craft Fair, with some 400 vendors on the downtown streets.
Lake Dora adds to the city’s charm, with an inland lighthouse, magnificent sunsets on the water, and a lineup of tour companies waiting to show you around on a cruise.
1. Downtown Mount Dora
If you’re like me and love nothing more than strolling quaint old streets, and letting your sense of curiosity be your guide, you’ll be smitten with downtown Mount Dora.
As lively as it is picturesque, the downtown area is filled with intriguing little shops, specializing in anything from olive oil to dog treats, pottery, spices, homemade candy, home design and more.
The dining scene is equally eclectic, spanning the globe with Thai, hearty pub fare, pizza, Cuban, Floridian specialties, Mexican, sushi, or dainty afternoon teas.
My perfect time to be here is on a Sunday morning when the Village Market has more than 50 vendors. And, as I’ll show in this article, there’s almost always a public event imbuing downtown Mount Dora with extra excitement.
2. Grantham Point Park (Lighthouse Park)
Mount Dora is home to one of the only freshwater lighthouses in Florida. Watching over the Port of Mount Dora, this 35-foot structure is perhaps a little younger than it looks.
The Mount Dora Lighthouse was built in 1988, but is already an emblem for the city. The beacon has a 750-watt photocell, powering a blue pulsator aiding navigation on Lake Dora at night
The walk to the lighthouse is a treat, taking in sweeping lakefront views, and the Mount Dora Marina, full of life all day.
Then you’ll head out to Grantham Point, where the lighthouse sits surrounded by benches, palms, and widescreen views of the lake. My tip is to be here late in the day, when the views are sublime.
3. Modernism Museum Mount Dora
This super museum in downtown Mount Dora is devoted to contemporary applied arts. The Modernism Museum has a sensational collection, with works by Etore Sottsass and the Memphis group, Wendell Castle, Wharton Esherick, and George Nakashima.
Exhibitions pay tribute to artists who “found new expressive possibilities in the field of functional objects.”
At the time of my visit the exhibition was Space Oddities: The Sequel. This featured the largest display of Memphis furniture ever shown in an American museum.
There were upwards of 75 pieces, many of which come from the personal collection of pop icon David Bowie, who was an avid fan of the group and collected some 400 works in secret.
4. Lake Dora Boat Tours
Visiting Mount Dora you’ll be itching to head out onto the lake, and will have a few options for boat tours.
First there’s Rusty Anchor, owned by a fourth-generation native Floridian. With comfortable wheelchair-accessible boats, this company offers cruises of the lake and the wildlife-rich Dora Canal.
If speed is what you’re craving, I’d opt for CatBoat Adventure Tours. Departing the Mount Dora Boating Center & Marina you’ll head out on a two-hour tour on a high-speed two-person catamaran.
This is a guided experience, with narration describing local wildlife and sights like the Tavares Seaplane Base.
Finally, Premier Boat Tours provides sedate pontoon tours, taking in the magnificent Dora Canal. There are also sunset tours if you book later in the day.
5. Trimble Park
Another stunning outdoor space, Trimble Park is on an isthmus between Lake Beauclair and Lake Carlton.
In the care of Orange County, this is a cherished spot for tent and RV camping, with a large boat ramp and docks on Lake Carlton.
I think it’s also an awesome place just to come for a walk, with some old-growth live oaks and bald cypresses lending drama to the scene.
You can reach the shores of Lake Carlton via a boardwalk, with stellar views and a lot of nearby wildlife, including alligators.
The picnic grove is something special too, with passive live oaks that have giant strands of Spanish moss pouring from their branches.
6. Mount Dora Craft Fair
For more than 40 years, Mount Dora’s quaint downtown streets have hosted a massive craft fair. This is the city’s premier event, with national acclaim, and close to 400 exhibitors from around the country.
In fact, when I compiled this list, it had recently been awarded the #1 spot in Sunshine Artist Magazine’s ranking of their all-time favorite events.
The fair is a showcase of handcrafted items that you just won’t find elsewhere. I’m talking, clothing, paintings, sculpture, glass, woodcarving, leather, jewelry, and much, much more.
Fantastic festival food, and wine, beer and cocktails are available throughout the weekend, while there’s a shuttle service from the eastern edge of the city.
7. Palm Island Boardwalk
Fronting the lake, south of downtown Mount Dora you can enter this scenic preserve at the end of Liberty Ave.
The Palm Island Boardwalk takes you into eight acres of unblemished nature, growing impressive cabbage palms, live oaks and cypresses.
Given the location, I don’t need to tell you that the Palm Island Boardwalk is glorious at sunset. A lengthy section of the boardwalk pushes out onto the lake, with marvelous views and nature-spotting opportunities.
You’ll also find a set of picnic pavilions, so this is a wonderful place to idle on a warm day.
8. Sonnentag Theatre at the Ice House
When I was in town, this community theater was in its 76th season. The Icehouse Players were founded in 1948 and got their name from their first venue, at the converted former Mount Dora Ice Company building.
The group moved into their current 270-seat home in 1958 on land donated by the city. The Sonnentag Theatre at the Icehouse was renovated in 2011, and is the hotspot for live entertainment in Mount Dora.
July through June, performances come thick and fast, with six productions a year, running for several weeks at a time. I was here for the charming Grumpy Old Men: The Musical, adapted from the 1993 Lemmon/Matthau/Ann-Margret movie.
9. Mount Dora History Museum
Dating back to 1923, the city’s first firehouse and jail have been turned into a museum run by the local historical society.
The Mount Dora History Museum is focussed on the city’s early days, between the 1880s and 1930s. Newly renovated when I came by, this attraction is a pocket-sized treat, packed with absorbing exhibits.
You can find out about citrus farming, the railroads, jail life for prisoners, firefighting, and the lifestyles of wealthy turn-of-the-century residents, with an exquisite display of dresses.
If you take part in a tour you’ll learn how a group of three prisoners managed to escape from the jail by bending the bars.
10. Renningers Mount Dora
This local business is best described as part antique mall, part flea market, and part farmers’ market. Renningers is a beloved shopping destination unlike any other you’ll find in town.
The flea and farmer’s market portions are open every Saturday and Sunday from 8 AM until 4 PM, and the antique center is open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Renningers hosts a variety of special events throughout the year as well. They include swap meets, car shows, antique fairs, and live entertainment, and it’s also a Salvation Army donation site.
I love the location, on more than 100 acres of rolling countryside, with stately oaks and two large buildings for indoor shopping.
11. Mount Dora Spring Festival of Arts and Crafts
The year I visited this event, it had just been named among the Top 50 Classic/Contemporary Craft Festivals in America, by Sunshine Artist.
Set downtown, the Mount Dora Spring Festival of Arts and Crafts takes place on the third weekend of March.
The festival goes back more than a quarter of a century now, and has close to 250 exhibitors. If you love hunting for unique handcrafted pieces, from jewelry to pottery, there’s no better time to be in Mount Dora.
Naturally, downtown gets pretty crowded during the festival, but you can beat the traffic with the help of shuttles at the corner of Lincoln and Highland St.
12. Donnelly House
Mount Dora’s most distinguished residence is a Queen Anne-style house, built for the first mayor, John P. Donnelly in 1893.
This fronts the namesake park, which is named for Donnelly’s wife Annie, and was sold to the city in 1923.
Now a Masonic Lodge, the Donnelly House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, and is worth checking out if you’re passing by.
You can enter this building for special experiences via Mount Dora Ghost Tours. You’ll spend 2 ½ hours in this elegant but spooky Gothic residence searching for paranormal anomalies while learning about the Donnellys and the Freemasons.
13. Long & Scott Farms
A survivor from the area’s once burgeoning agriculture, Long & Scott Farms dates back to 1963.
Using sustainable, bio-friendly practices this farm has trademarked its own Zellwood Sweet Corn, but also grows kale, cabbage, Kirby pickling cucumbers, and a variety of other healthy crops.
Now into its sixth generation, Long & Scott Farms opens up to the public every fall with a variety of family attractions. The year I came, there were two corn mazes, a tree maze, a mist maze, a rock maze, and a rope maze.
To go with these was play equipment, from a jumping pillow to a zip line to the spectacular 60-foot super slide.
14. Sydonie Mansion
A few minutes south of Mount Dora you can visit the winter home of the Pittsburgh steel industrialist James L. Laughlin. Sydonie was initially built in 1883 and then was given a complete Mediterranean Revival redesign in 1903.
In those days this was one of the most significant residences in Florida, covering 22,000 square feet, and with more than 40 homes.
In the early 20th century the house commanded 9,000 acres of grounds, with exotic plants, citrus groves, a bowling alley, and sculptures.
Today Sydonie is available as a wedding venue, but you can also visit for a 75-minute guided walking tour. These take place mid-July through October and feature thrilling historical titbits.
15. Mount Dora Blueberry Festival
Yet another event to keep in mind, Mount Dora hosts a Blueberry Festival at Donnelly Park in late April.
This was launched in the early 2010s, but was stronger than ever when I wrote this list. The celebration includes a slew of craft vendors, live entertainment, great food, and lots of kid-centered activities.
Of course, antioxidant-packed blueberries are the stars of the show. Visitors line up for fresh-picked berries, as well as pies, muffins, jams, and more.
My tip is to get here early to enjoy the old-fashioned blueberry pancake breakfast. Tickets get you a stack of three blueberry pancakes, with butter and blueberry syrup.