We pulled into Mount Dora about 7:30 pm on Friday. The sun had already set and although it’s central Florida, there was a chill in the air. I’ve visited Mount Dora a couple of times in the past, but never in the winter. My sister-in-law described it best.
“It’s like living in a hallmark card!”
She was right. When you pull into town, you are greeted by thousands of twinkling lights in every color. I know most towns decorate for the holidays but this is much more than a few strings of lights wrapped around a welcome sign.
Every street, every park, every shop and restaurant has a display of lights and music. To give you a sense of the level of detail, the city starts decorating in October. My favorite was the downtown park with tiny white lights that seemed to drip from the giant oak trees.
However, the crowd favorite was clearly the Santa Claus Village created by a private citizen down by the boat docks on Lake Dora.
There were 3D angels with light blue wings and flowing white dresses hovering overhead. Tiny elves with packages covered the ground, while candy canes lined the streets of the Christmas village. And of course, Santa with his 8 tiny reindeer soared above it all.
Mount Dora is great any time of year, but it definitely is extra special over the holidays.
Where to stay in Mount Dora:
We stayed at the Grandview Bed and Breakfast, located on East 3rd Avenue for two reasons. First, it’s walking distance to downtown, so once you’re there, you’re there. You don’t have to worry about finding a parking spot, feeding a meter or wonder if you’re illegally parked (more on that later).
Second, the hospitality is insane. I honestly think that Gwendolyn (the proprietor) might be a witch. Not a bad witch. More like Hermione from Harry Potter, or Glinda from the Wizard of Oz. I don’t know how else she could provide the guest experience she does without spells.
You can see more details about the stay on my Google Review, which could all be proof points of her magical powers, but all you really have to do is get a taste of her 5-course, made from scratch breakfast and I’m sure you’d agree with me that clearly the woman has skills that are beyond this world.
What to do in Mount Dora:
After Gwendolyn’s breakfast, we walked downtown to do some shopping. Mount Dora has all the usual, quaint, locally owned stores that you’d find in most historic downtowns – gift shops, soap stores, kitchen gadgets and the like. But my favorite store was the Mount Dora Olive Oil company (because I am Italian, after all).
There’s a lady with short, curly white hair who works there (or maybe she is the owner, I didn’t ask, she didn’t say) but it is clear she loves her job. She knows everything about every type of oil and vinegar in the store and diligently explained the difference in flavors, cooking methods and offered recipe advice for pretty much every serious customer who walked through the door.
ALSO, they bottle any olive oil you buy right there and they have this cool torch they use to seal the containers shut. It reminds me of when you throw plastic into a campfire, but this doesn’t smell. So, even if you aren’t buying, I would go check it out.
That afternoon, we went on a boat tour, which left from Lake Dora. Once again, you can walk from town to the boat ramp, which is ideal since parking by the boat ramp looked like a nightmare. There’s actually two bout tour companies in town, and we went with the Rusty Anchor. They’ve been in business for 30 years, which doesn’t always equate to excellent service, but in this case, it did.
The biggest difference between the Rusty Anchor and their competitors are the boats themselves. Our boat had seating all around the sides of the boat, so every passenger had a view of the water, whereas the other boats had rows of seats like a bus, so if it’s a crowded boat ride, you could be stuck in the middle seat with nothing to stare at but the back of some old guy’s bald head (I mean, it is Florida).
You can bring libations on the boat as well, which makes the alligators seem bigger and the ride seem much more dangerous and exciting overall.
Although we didn’t make it this time around, two other must do activities are going to Blue Springs State Park to see the manatees (especially if you go in the spring) and walking the Palm Island boardwalk. It’s great in the summer because there’s a ton of foliage, which keeps you from passing out due to heat stroke…and that is super important since there’s a zillion alligators lurking along the banks, ready and waiting for someone to pass out from heat stroke.
Where to eat in Mount Dora:
On Friday night we went to Pisces Rising, which is a seafood restaurant, but all their food is good. In fact, I ordered the duck and it wasn’t a mistake. Our waitress said it was the most under-ordered item on the menu…probably because it is a seafood place, but I’ve seen more ducks in the water than flying around in the air, so I felt it was a more than appropriate order.
On Saturday night, the City put on a Children’s Christmas in the Park. There was a snow maker and sledding down this hill. Needless to say, the downtown area was PACKED. People were parking illegally down all these narrow little side roads, so it was no surprise when this woman rounded a corner and ran into one of the parked cars. Just another reason to stay at the Grandview and walk everywhere…
Anyways, on Saturday night, we headed to the Copacabana Cuban Restaurant for dinner. It’s got a huge patio outside and is a great place to people watch, especially on a busy weekend. If you go for drinks, get the mojito. If you go for dinner, get the yellow rice as your side instead of the white rice. It’s not extra, it’s just extra good.
So, that’s Mount Dora in 48 hours. If you haven’t been. Go. If you have been, go again. It’s that good.
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Thanks for reading!