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A Daytrip to Mount Dora, Florida

My family was blessed with a sense of adventure. When Disney World opened, it wasn’t so long after that my mother packed up everything, (and, most likely, a kitchen sink) and zipped us kids down on Delta and Braniff to see the only thing they offered.

The Magic Kingdom.

And, remember, that was before there was an interweb, folks. That means she took a risk to get our happy butts down here to Central Florida.  We might not have had fun at all.

It’s with that sense of adventure that I was brought up with, and it was also with that sense of adventure that I arrived to Central Florida. At one point, I had sixty-three applications floating in and out of mailboxes throughout the area. With such much up in the air, we elected to go where the first true and worth it job came into view.

Ever throw a dart at a map? Sorta like that.

It’s surprising how well Lake County life suits my Better Half and myself.  During our days in Colorado, we loved day trips up and down the Front Range finding the wonders of small towns such as Old Colorado City, Manitou Springs, Estes Park, and Fairplay. There’d be an ice cream shoppe (always spelled that way in such places), a cute cafe or three, and antique stores.

And there was Mount Dora. When I arrived for an interview, I felt like hadn’t left. The town is older than most of Orlando, and isn’t surrounded by the edifice and creation of the Parks. Instead, you have tiny shop fronts offering souvenirs of a different sort. There’s no synergy here, there’s nothing to promote, no movie currently in the theater.

Photo Cred:

Photo Cred:

Mount Dora is one of those little finds to which adjectives like “quaint” and “quiet” were developed for. A decent hour’s drive from Disney World, it’s a world unto itself. In fact, when the tourists arrive to the attractions, most of the locals head to places like Mount Dora. It’s truly a locals-only-kinda-place that you might just fall in love with!  Parking, even when there’s just a few people there, can be yucky. Yes, it’s that small.

But so worth it.

On the outskirts of the town, you will find the famed antique and flea market, Renninger’s.

You probably have something similar in any rural area, but the difference is that this one is one of the largest I, myself, have ever encountered. I find it’s great for my ongoing need for cheap sunglasses (they keep getting hurled off of rides), phone cases (why pay full price?), and the greatest kitsch this side of the local thrift store.  There’s a ton of fair food, too, if you’re into that as well. You never know what you’ll find and suddenly need-all at a decent price!  But it’s only partially indoors. A good portion is outside and it can get warm. There’s also an antique portion that’s terrific for furniture finds-but most on vacation aren’t looking for a vanity or stand-alone-mirror.

Another fun find is Ashley’s Flags and Sports Shoppe (look, there it is! That “shoppe” word!) right on the main drag through Mount Dora, Donnelly street. She just moved her great little shop to expand her inventory. The theme is sports, but I find it has so much more crowded into the corners that you will always find a little something worthwhile. I’ve found thematic holiday flags, local postcards, and mugs galore for all those fans of whatnot on your various holiday lists.

I usually encourage folks to visit this terrific hamlet during lunch hours. And there are some great picks for decent food. My personal favorites? If I want cuban sandwiches, I like to hit up Copacabana Cuban Cafe-especially the patio.

They have my favorite fried plantains!  Around the corner, and from Colorado as well, is Fiesta Grande for Mexican delights-also with a patio. Up the street from downtown (it can be a hot walk midday, but oh-so-worth the garlic knots) is another favorite, PizzAmore.  With their new location, it feels like we are in the family kitchen while someone is making lunch. It’s awesome! But it also means the food is served pretty quickly.  Don’t burn your tongue off. Pace yourself.

For desserts, I have three places I like to head towards. Scoops has Hershey’s Ice Cream

and a seating area next to the main walking area, so people watching is a hoot when you get your peanut butter cup milkshake malted. Cupcake Delights is profound; it’ll take you three and half hours to decide what noshes you need to satisfy your sweet tooth. My personal favorite is the cookie dough, by the way, should you head over there. And they, too, have a terrific, enclosed seating area, should you need to sit and watch passerby.

Lastly, coffee is the name of the game-so head up to One Flight Up. This isn’t instant

coffee, this is the kind of coffee where you can sit and mull for a bit.  What’s also cool? The restaurant incorporates various rooms draped with couches and pillows, so it’s great to sit and catch up.  Follow up with the perfectly placed balcony overlooking the main drag. It’s where I do a good chunk of writing; they have free wifi as well.

Of course, shopping is entertainment onto itself, and Mount Dora is no slouch for browsing.  They just opened The Spice and Tea Exchange, so no more trekking up to St. Augustine or Disney Springs nee Downtown Disney for my creative fixin’s.  Also, since Lake County is sadly devoid of bookstores (and a source for another column), there’s a cute little Barrel of Books and Games, filled with used paperbacks.  If you have a pet, you

have to stop into Piglet’s Pantry for dog and pet related baked goods that are all homemade. And, of course, to search out every kind of item with your favorite breed’s picture on it!  I like to stop into Mount Dora Olive Oil Company and treat myself to a vial of fresh olive oil for cooking. Yes, there are free samples-and all of them are good. The employees are great chefs as well, so that can be a bit intimidating. Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m just browsing,” unless, of course, you really are cooking up something wonderful!  Then call me, of course!

I’m rambling, I see it now, so my love for the place and the desperate need to get it all down on paper is shining through. In the end, if you’ve taken the Plunge and want to experience a bit of Florida before theme parks ruled the planet, you might wish to take a brief visit to this shining star in Central Florida. I know I’m happy I’ve found the place and I don’t plan on leaving soon, if I can avoid it!

Joe Triggs-Smith

Joe Triggs-Smith

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