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Mount Dora, Florida

Enjoy some of the best antique shopping in Florida

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Timeless Keepsakes Downtown Mount Dora
© Dawn Henthorn, licensed to About.com
Summer is the "off" season for Mount Dora. Temperatures in the mid-90s make navigating the hilly terrain of downtown treacherous, but you can hardly tell that it is the off season by the hundreds of people that are strolling the streets. They have come to shop, as have I. While Mount Dora is known for its shopping — some say the best antique shopping in Florida — others point out its abundance of bed and breakfast inns. The combination of both make this area a popular choice with Floridians, both as a day trip and weekend getaway destination.

That isn't all that draws visitors to Mount Dora. The town hosts a variety of annual events, such as the Mount Dora Arts Festival. This popular event is ranked among the top art shows in the country, drawing about 300 artists and attracting over 150,000 people each February. Late last summer, Mount Dora Cool was introduced to the downtown area. Every third Thursday in the months of April through September, the downtown streets are closed late in the afternoon and live music and entertainment fill the air. Each Mount Dora Cool evening is themed — July 19 is Caribbean Nights, August 16 is 50's Night & Karaoke and September 20 is Hoedown Mount Dora. Most of the downtown merchants are open late for shoppers and strollers enjoying the evening.

Initially named after one of the town's pioneers' children — Royellou — the town was later named after its nearby lake — Lake Dora — with the "mount" probably referring to its high elevation (124 ft. according to the Florida Almanac). It's rolling hills, huge oaks and beautiful lakes provide a spectacular backdrop for its historic buildings and despite its growth over the last few years, Mount Dora has retained its small town feel.

Visitors to the area have a variety of activities to enjoy. Of course, antiquing ranks right up there at the top. Several quality shops are located in the historic downtown area, while a few blocks away the Village Antique Mall offers a wide selection of vintage treasures. Not too far away is one of Florida's largest (if not THE largest) antique and flea market — Renninger's Twin Markets. Renninger's offers a huge indoor and outdoor antique market, along with a farmer's and flea market. While Renninger's is open every weekend, it draws thousands of treasure-seekers to their Antique Extravaganzas and Fairs which are held several times during the year.

Those new to the area may enjoy one or more of the area tours. The Mount Dora Trolley offers narrated 50-minute tours exploring the town's historic neighborhoods. During the tour, learn little-known facts about the town's pioneers and heros. The trolley departs from the Lakeside Inn at 11:00 a.m. and 12:00, 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. weekdays and Saturday at 11:00 a.m. and hourly from 12:00 to 5:00 p.m. Some tours may be dropped during the off season and some tours are cancelled if not enough people show up, so you will want to plan on taking one of the first couple of tours of the day — either 11:00 a.m. or 12:00 noon. We were there on an off-season Saturday for the scheduled last tour at 2:00 p.m. and it did not run due to too few people showing up. It was disappointing, not to mention the lost time of waiting for something that didn't materialize.

The Inland Lakes Railway offers round-trip narrated tours from Mount Dora to nearby Tavares on a seasonal schedule. The trip takes just over an hour aboard a vintage rail car pulled by an 1942 locomotive. If you are a train fanatic you will undoubtedly enjoy this little jaunt to nowhere because you will find out as much history of the train itself as the surrounding area. Every Saturday they also offer a Pizza Hut Express where riders enjoy a pizza and soft drink during the tour. This popular Saturday night tour requires reservations and often sells out early.

Another choice is to step aboard The Captain Doolittle, a luxury pontoon boat docked at the Lakeside Inn, for a two-hour narrated eco-tour of the river, lakes and Dora Canal. This is a good choice for those with disabilities as the boat is wheelchair accessible. Also, new to the area are Segway tours that begin in downtown Mount Dora along the city's marina. You will ride the transport of the future past the Mount Dora Lighthouse and over to Palm Island Park before heading back into downtown and the historic Lakeside Inn.

If that isn't enough to interest you, consider a visit to the Ridgeback Winery, also located downtown. Step inside and you will be warmly welcomed and treated to a sample of their wine. Also consider the Mount Dora Center for the Arts and the Ice House Theatre. Both provide quality visual and performing art experiences throughout the year.

And finally, do consider including a visit to one of Mount Dora's wonderful parks in your plans. Downtown's Donnelly Park offers restroom facilities and a bit of shade when you want to take a break from shopping. The waterfront Grantham Park is within walking distance of downtown and Palm Island Park is a short drive away.

If you are planning to visit just for the day, the downtown merchants are now offering complimentary valet parking every Friday, Saturday and Sunday on non-event weekends. Simply follow the signs on 5th Avenue and Donnelly Street that direct you to the drop-off point in the middle of town. What a great idea!

If you decide to extend your visit to Mount Dora, you have your choice of lodging in several fine bed and breakfast inns or the 86-room historic Lakeside Inn.

The writer was not provided with complimentary tickets for the purpose of reviewing these services. While it has not influenced this article, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.

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