This lakeside town 40 minutes from Orlando is full of homespun charm and out-of-towners seeking nostalgia.
Once a winter retreat for the likes of Presidents Coolidge and Eisenhower, Mount Dora today gets a fair share of visitors who come to walk the sidewalks of a town that’s as rich with history as the items in its various downtown antique stores. The history of the town is reflected in the architecture, which ranges from Gothic Queen Anne-style to Craftsman bungalows. Favorite pastimes among visitors and locals alike include boating, lawn bowling and antiquing. Take note, though: The city center shuts down at 5 p.m. sharp with the exception of a few pubs and restaurants.
Mount Dora Museum of Speed
An unexpected find in this small town, the museum showcases muscle cars and jazzy roadsters, as well as an American Bantam Woodie and couple of rare hearses—all beautifully restored. To complement the vehicles, owner Kerry Bogard has amassed a dizzying collection of vintage road signs, antique gas pumps, neon jukeboxes, midget race cars—even an actual 1940s Texaco gas station (right) built inside the museum. 206 N. Highland St. 352-385-0049; classicdreamcars.com
Mount Dora Brewing and the Rocking Rabbit Brewery
Owner Jeff Herbst launched this brewery a year ago after retiring from restoring antique furniture. His handcrafted beers feature names like Dora Drawdy Drool (a smooth brown ale named for an early settler) and Lake Dora Swamp Swill (the name says it all, quips Jeff) and are brewed on site using organic ingredients. On weekends, patrons fill the outdoor beer garden or dance to the music of the Brewery Boys, local musicians who play for (what else?) free beer. Jeff created the brewery’s logo (right) and mascot, a giant wooden rocking rabbit that welcomes visitors at the front door. 405 S. Highland St.; mountdorabrewing.com
Mount Dora History Museum
Hidden in a back alley, this 1923 building housed the city’s original firehouse and functioned as a jail until 1969. On display are items of the period, as well as the replica of a moonshine still. At the back are five claustrophobic concrete-block jail cells. On a hot summer night in the 1920s, resident George King was arrested and thrown in jail for disorderly conduct. The heat and humidity turned the concrete block into clay, and King dug his way out. He went home and refused to go back to jail, promising the judge he would return for his trial, which he did. 450 Royellou Lane. 352-383-0006; mountdorahistoricalsociety.com
Pak-Ratz Antiques/Two Old Timers Antiques
Antiquing seems to be the thing to do in Mount Dora, with shops in every direction. Two antique dealers whose tastes complement each other share this downtown shop. One side offers American and European furniture and accent pieces including period desks, sideboards, vintage lamps and rare clocks. The other features exotic Far East furnishings like a hand-carved wood cabinet from Singapore and wall decor from Thailand. 317 N. Donnelly St. 352-385-1990;
Noni Home and Bath
Airy and bright, the front of this shop carries personal care products such as Canus goat’s milk soap, Maja eau de toilette and Pacifica body butter in addition to mix-your-own bath salts (above) and fizzies for the tub. The back of the store is the “home” part, with leaf lamps from the Philippines, Chulucanas Peruvian pottery and telephone wire bowls made by Zulu weavers. 438 N. Donnelly St. 352-383-1242; nonihomeandbath.com
This scenic one-mile passage connects lakes Dora and Eustis. A two-hour cruise provides glimpses of wildlife, including herons, turtles, wood ducks and ospreys. Giant ancient cypress trees draped in Spanish moss line the waterway. Whether it’s real or myth, word is that some of the river scenes originally filmed in Africa for the 1951 classic, The African Queen, were re-shot on the Dora Canal. Picture Bogie and Kate as you cruise through. 352-434-8040;
The Duncan House
Only five miles from downtown, this bed & breakfast has an interesting Orlando connection. During the late 1920s, Buddy Ebsen—who was raised in Orlando—taught ballroom dancing lessons here with his father. Many years later, of course, Ebsen found fame on The Beverly Hillbillies and Barnaby Jones. 426 Lake Dora Drive, Tavares. 407-760-1518.; theduncanhouse.com
La Cremerie of Mount Dora
This place has everything a devoted coffeehouse patron could want: gourmet coffees and teas, freshly baked pastries and cookies, ice cream, and free Wi-Fi. The real draw, however, is the large collection of wickedly funny and irreverent greeting cards along the back wall. The wrap-around front porch (left) is a great place to end the day with a hot chocolate in hand. 100 N. Alexander St. 352-735-4663; lacremerieofmtdora.com
Population: 13,000 (approx.). Local landmark: 35-foot-tall lighthouse on Grantham Point. Best way to get around: Mount Dora Trolley, departing from the Chamber of Commerce. Nature walk: Palm Island Boardwalk, a quarter-mile forested trail that extends out onto Lake Dora. Be there: On Feb. 5-6 the town holds its 36th annual Arts Festival, with nearly 300 artists from around the world exhibiting.