North of Orlando you'll find one town after another leading towards Ocala National Forest and the grove-land of Florida. But before you officially get to redneckville, you might find yourself in Mount Dora. A town of 13 thousand residents and a few dozen elves around the month of December. My sister lives in the historic district of Mount Dora and our plan was to spend Thanksgiving with her and her fiance, then stay through the end of December. We reserved a spot at a KOA close to the town of Apopka and while our many visits to Mount Dora were wonderful, our site next to the railroad and busy 441 highway, was less than ideal.
On various travel sites and articles of The Best Places To Live and Best Kept Secret Towns and Where To Go In Florida, you'll find Mount Dora listed among them. The downtown area is a collection of gift shops, art galleries, B&B's, and restaurants. At the edge of town is Mount Dora Lake, where a picturesque lighthouse sits at the end of a long pier.
During our stay here we tried a few of the cafe's and restaurants, and here are our favorites.
1921 by Norman Van Aken
This one is first primarily because it was the very best food in town. Van Aken is a James Beard Award winning chef and open 1921nva to showcase the best in modern Florida cuisine. With Mount Dora being so close to Florida farmland and the ocean, the ingredients from the land and sea are extremely fresh and are prepared to highlight the individual flavors of each. The ceviche was light and full of local citrus, the fish tacos little bursts of lightly fried fish balls with a delicious 'Colonial' sauce, the burger was cooked to perfection, and every other dish was delightful. Even the dog treats were fancy - Jenga was stoked.
Situated with a view of the lake and boasting a large deck, complete with an outside bar, made this a regular stop for us during our stay. There was live music on multiple occasions and it offered a nice diversity of ways to enjoy the bar and restaurant. We chose this spot for lunch, for happy hour, and even for New Year's dinner. The outside seating allowed us to bring our pups along and each time we dined, we enjoyed the food and drink immensely.
But the real highlight of Mount Dora during our visit to the area wasn't the food, or the lake, or the many cute shops - it was the entire town for the holidays. Let me tell you, Mount Dora does the holidays right. In fact, they have an entire website dedicated to the events and activities you can participate in during the holidays. The weekend after Thanksgiving day is when the festivities start and they just don't quit until New Year's day. From a town lighting festival, to christmas light cruises, snow day in the park with real snow for sledding, and much, much more. While our intention was to enjoy the holidays with our family, our visit happily coincided with the best time of year to visit Mount Dora, a true Christmas town.