I go to Florida sometimes for vacation. I actually really like Florida. It’s a weird place, it’s surreal. It’s so close but you feel like you’re in another world or on an island.Jemima Kirke
When you think of Florida, scaling a mountain does not come to mind. Florida is flat, or below flat, since part of South Florida sits below sea level. It is why owning a Gibbs Aquada is not considered a luxury item but a necessity. This is why gators walk down our streets in the middle of the day. This is the reason why you will never find a basement in Florida.
Nevertheless, even Florida can have a mountain. An actual mountain.
With an elevation of 2,208 feet above sea level, Mount Dora barely makes it as a mountain. And no, a hike to the top will not yield all inspiring views of Florida. But it’s still worth checking out.
Mount Dora was founded in the early 1800s, and with the abundance of natural freshwater lakes and crystal clear springs, it became a famous playground for the rich and notorious. During the Prohibition Era (1920 -1933), bootlegging, moonshining, and speakeasy were all the ragged, and most of the older buildings had a not-so-clean history. This little city was a favorite playground and resting stop for Al Capone and others; this little city had a wild side hidden away.
The town sits on Lake Dora.
I have been to this city a couple of times; my parents had initially thought of moving here after retirement (and before they discovered The Villages) because of its quaint feel and old homes. There are many Bed and Breakfast here, but to truly get a peek of Edwardian vacationing, the Lakeside Inn is where you want to stay. Built in 1883, this hotel has hosted many famous and notorious people throughout the years, and some still haunt the place.
Most of the time, we wander around the town, checking out the local business. There is a feel of an era gone by, with many of these shops in the old building.
After a quick stop at KaDee Kay, a gourmet kitchen store for those who love kitchen gadgets, we head to a local favorite, Maggie’s Attic.
This little shop, down an alley, is probably one of the best wine and beer stores I have ever been. Locally owned, it is an excellent place to stop and have a sip of wine before continuing with the shopping. The inside reminds you of someone’s basement, with its dark wood, leather couch, and fantastic selections of wines and beers.
Another favorite is Under the Cherry Blossom Tree, a store selling local artists. Look up, and you will see hundreds of pink tissue papers glued to the ceiling, to give the illusion of being under a cherry tree.
In one of the old hotels, local artist Amy Seller sells her paintings. She is usually there and loves to talk about her artwork.
Another point of interest is the Chamber of Commerce in the old train stations. Along with brochures about nearby attractions and what is going on. There are relics of the past, including a train schedule (trains came from New York once a week). Next to the Chamber is a small park. While we were visiting, hundreds of plastic flamingos were around the park in celebration of Breast Cancer Month. Each Flamingo had the name of someone with breast cancer from the community.
An old Victorian House sits on Donnelly Street. Once upon a time, it belonged to the Donnelly’s (one of the prominent families of Mount Dora), but now it serves as a Masonic Lodge. Unless you are a Mason, the chances of you going into the building are slim.
We usually eat at The Goblin Market, off Dora Drive, down one of the many alleys in Mount Dora. This restaurant is one of those hidden gems that you will miss if you do not know where it is. Hidden in an old house, this restaurant has been around for about 20 years and is owned by the same couple who started it. The inside looks like a cross between Harry Potter and Edgar Allen Poe. Before dinner, head upstairs to the lounge and enjoy a cocktail as you ponder over much-forgotten lore.
At night, the bars and restaurants have live music, and people are wondering around.
Mount Dora is one of these hidden gems that not many Floridians know about. But if you are searching for natural Florida or you are a history buff, this is one of the places you need to check out.