We have been in Central Florida for a few years now and there are still certain things about New England that I miss tremendously. For instance, I miss the idea of walking around friendly little towns lined with quaint shops and unique eateries. So, when I heard that Mount Dora had that New England kind of feel to it, I knew I had to visit at one point. It took some time, but I finally got up there to explore this very much talked about town they call “Someplace Special.”
What to See and Do in Mount Dora, Florida
Mount Dora actually holds quite a bit of New England influence in its history. As we walked around town and read some of the signs, we saw references to Connecticut and Maine, as well as Pennsylvania (though PA is not a New England down – it is still considered Northeast to some). It was heartwarming to a transplanted New Englander like myself. It felt like I had left Florida for a short time to visit “home.”
I have to be honest. One day in Mount Dora just does not suffice. However, it was enough to whet our appetite and create an excitement about returning. As noted above, the town is actually nicknamed, “Someplace Special,” and we think it was pretty obvious why. The people there were sweet, kind and courteous, and we felt quite welcome as we walked in and out of shops exploring. There is more to do than we expected and we found exploring the town both educational and entertaining.
Check out some of the things that we did during our short time there.
The Shops in Mount Dora
There are so many cute and quaint little shops lining Donnelly Street and its off-shoots. We walked in and out of alley ways browsing through as many of these stores as we could. The majority of them showcase the handiwork of local artisans, keeping that small business vibe and energy alive. We saw jewelry, glassware, woodwork projects and more. The talent there is immense and, had I been let loose on my own, I likely could have spent a fortune.
There are a good handful of bakeries, too. No sweet tooth will go dissatisfied. We stopped at one right as it opened ~ Le Petit Sweet – and grabbed a quick treat to enjoy. The ambiance of the venue was elegant and we watched as the baker worked diligently in the back. We ordered the carrot cake bundt and a puffed pastry treat ~ both were tremendously fresh and delicious. Yum!
Restaurants in Mount Dora
There are a number of places to dine in town and I’m going to have to go back to try a few that intrigued me. There is one called One Flight Up, located on the second floor of a two story building on Donnelly Street, that had a menu that was quite tantalizing. I also heard from a friend that there is a restaurant that serves some amazing Cuban food! Talk about tempting!!
However, having done a little research ahead of time, I already knew where I wanted to go this particular trip.
Being that we were visiting in October, the entire goal for me was to experience autumn in this quaint little town. While exploring on-line, I found a charming restaurant called The Goblin Market. I mean, October ~ Halloween ~ Goblins ~ it seemed like a no-brainer to me and, when I brought it up to Hubby, he was fully on board.
The Goblin Market
This award-winning eatery is not a place located right there on the main road. In fact, had I not seen it on-line, I don’t know that we would have found it during our excursion. Thank God for Google Maps!!
As we walked up to the two story restaurant, we noticed that the walkway is lined with gravestones, skeletons and signs with morbid references. It wasn’t frightening ~ it was more intriguing, to be honest. Above the narrow entrance into the venue sits a giant black cat whose head moves back and forth every few seconds or so. Inside (they offer both indoor and outdoor seating), the lights are dimmed and the walls are lined with bookshelves stacked with a variety of reading material.
The room in which we were seated is home to various relics and artifacts strategically scattered throughout the room. It gives off just enough of an eerie feeling to make it almost romantic. I know – sounds odd, but it’s true.
Interestingly, the website for the restaurant does not speak to its “haunting” elements. Rather, it highlights its romantic atmosphere and esteemed reputation within the community and beyond.
It’s like Halloween on the daily there.
The Goblin Market opened in 1996, which is ironically the year Hubby and I got married. Our server, Tony, has been working at The Goblin Market for 13 of those 24 years and was a tremendous source of information when we asked questions about the menu and the venue.
The menu was captivating! Yes, that is exactly what I meant to say. Captivating. There wasn’t a single thing on that menu I didn’t want to try (okay, with the exception of the Florida Snapper – just not my cup of tea). Hubby and I knew, however, that we would be sampling here and there around town, so we decided to share a soup and a sandwich. It was a toss up between the BBQ Burger, the Irish Cheddar Burger and The Goblin Club (which I thought would have been just so appropriate).
We settled on the Irish Whisky Onion Soup and the Irish Cheddar Burger.
Tony told us that it would be the best onion soup we’ve ever had and he was pretty close! I have one other one in mind that was just a bit better, but this was a close second. Nonetheless, this soup had an Irish Whiskey broth that gave it a flavor that was unforgettable ~ absolutely delicious ~ and the combination of mozzarella and swiss cheeses along homemade crouton complemented each bite we took. You could see a healthy sprinkling of thyme inside the cup, as well.
The burger was thick, juicy and cooked to perfection. It had Applewood bacon on it, as well as cheddar cheese, but the primary flavor punch came from the sweet onion jam. It was the perfect combination. Not to mention those beer-battered french fries were light, crispy and some of the best fries I’ve ever had (and I’m not a huge fan of steak fries, to be honest).
No, we did not leave the venue without having dessert. I mean, Tony made it impossible for me to NOT want dessert once he mentioned what our options were. The first thing that came out of his mouth was my ultimate favorite treat ~ crème brûlée!!! This was a rich vanilla bean crème brûlée with a dollop of homemade whipped cream on the side and a fresh sliced strawberry.
In ~ Heaven (oh, wait…that almost sounds ironic considering the restaurant theme!)
The Water’s Edge
In addition to the above, one of the other highlights Mount Dora has to offer is the view. Situated right there on Lake Dora, the town offers boat tours and more throughout the year. During the holidays, there is even a Christmas Boat Tour that I’m hoping to experience at some point!!!
There are a variety of little parks near the water, as well ~ great places to sit, feed the birds (which we saw many Seniors doing), and and take in the fresh air.
Before we left, though, I had to see the lighthouse over in Grantham Point Park. Sometimes referred to as “Lighthouse Park,” the 35 foot iconic figure serves as Florida’s only inland navigation aid. As dusk settles in, a blue pulsing light guides all boaters navigating the waters of Lake Dora. The brick and stucco lighthouse was dedicated in March 1988, making it only 32 years old.
What we didn’t get to do this time, but hope to in the future
- Explore the The Palm Island Nature Preserve
- Take a Catboat tour
- Try a Segway Tour
What YOU might be interested in checking out
- Consider something new with Jones Bros Seaplane Adventures (though it’s doubtful I would do this…but Hubby and others might enjoy this option).
- Ghost Tours
Mount Dora Festivals and Events
Mount Dora is well known for its festivals and events. From craft shows and the Founder’s festivals to blueberry, seafood, bicycle and Scottish Highland festivals, the beautiful setting and near perfect weather provide tremendous conditions for visitors year round.
Does Mount Dora pique your interest?
As noted above, I have wanted to visit this little town since I first heard it existed. As the situation surrounding Covid-19 improves and we get back to normal crowds, I look forward to attending some of the well known festivals held there and experience more of that kindness and sweet spirit that the people have. It’s going to be a definite repeat adventure for me and I can’t wait to bring you more of the unique qualities and characteristics this town shares with its visitors.
Until then, put this one on your Central Florida bucket list. In addition, consider staying a night or two in one of the bed and breakfasts. There is plenty to eat, plenty to see, and plenty to enjoy in Mount Dora, Florida.
Pssst – before you go, check out my fun Instagram Reel of our day trip to Mount Dora!!! Just click on that link and it will take you right there!!
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