The Prettiest Town in Florida

Category: Best Retirement Towns and States

July 17, 2012 — To the many for whom Florida is one big stereotype, the prettiest town in Florida might seem like an oxymoron. Perhaps more than any other state, Florida has its fair share of people with a low opinion of it. To its detractors, it is a place full of big bugs, dangerous snakes, high humidity, old people, flat terrain, and suburban sprawl. Not to say that all of those can’t be found in great abundance in the Sunshine State. But as this article about Mount Dora hopes to point out, it isn’t all the same.


Rolling into town
It didn’t hurt that we rolled into Mount Dora, Florida last winter very early on a Sunday morning. The sun was shining as we hit the central square and charming shopping district. Bicyclists in their multi-colored outfits were streaming by in small packs. Pet owners were taking their pooches out for a stroll, coffee cup in hand. It was a very good first impression for this growing community of just under 13,000.

The thing that immediately struck us about Mount Dora, of which we had heard many good things, was how pretty the place was. The road into town is curving, slightly hilly, and lined with Live Oaks dripping with Spanish Moss. Attractive Victorian homes grace the streets. In the center of town on 5th Avenue is the town square, Donnelly Park. The park has many attractions such as changing art exhibitions at its Donnelly Center. Across the street from the park is the Mount Dora Center for the Arts. The town’s new sculpture garden that graces the front of the Community Center, which faces the park.

Donnelly Avenue is the main shopping street, which also has a number of interesting restaurants. It also features numerous art galleries, as does the next parallel street, N. Baker Street.

So far, so good. Nice downtown, good shopping and restaurants, a central park, people out and about enjoying life. But wait – it gets better. Mount Dora, at one of the highest elevations in the State of Florida (184′) is also pretty much surrounded by large and pretty lakes. If you want to live on or near the water, or just have a waterside park to enjoy, this town in Central Florida is the place. Giant Lake Dora makes up most of the southwestern edge of Mount Dora, but it is by no means the only lake in town (e.g.; Lake Gertrude and Lake Beauclair among others). In fact if you walk just a few blocks from Donnelly Park you will arrive at Elizabeth Evans Park, a fairly large park enjoyed by many. Another very large park across town is the Lincoln Avenue Community Park.


Walking or biking further along the lake you will see the imposing Mount Dora Yacht Club set amidst beautiful homes. Nearby is the stately Lakeside Inn, which has hosted 2 U.S. Presidents (Calvin Coolidge and Dwight Eisenhower), along with Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. Further along are residential neighborhoods with quite interesting and somewhat affordable homes, many of which are on the water.

Culture aplenty
An Arts Center and Sculpture Garden in the center of town are a good start for any town hoping to attract art loving people. So are the many galleries sprinkled through the downtown. The Mount Dora Community Center hosts special musical performances every Thursday evening. There are occasional Art Strolls and an open air market on Sundays. The library hosts special events and movie nights in the park. Here is a link to the City of Mount Dora, “Someplace Special”, which has a useful calendar. The city has a reputation as being a great spot for people interested in antiques.

Where to Live, and How Much
A friend of ours recently visited Mount Dora and reported back that people tend to live in the general community more than selecting an active or 55+ community. We cannot verify that, although Topretirements does have 4 listings for active communities here (see below). The city does have many fine neighborhoods with an interesting stock of Victorian and other style homes. Many are on the lake with excellent views. The median price of a home in Mount Dora had risen to just under $160,000 in early 2012 (data from City-Data.com), after falling from the mid $200’s at the peak of the real estate boom in 2006.

Here are links to some of the active communities in Mount Dora:
Lakes of Mount Dora
Sullivan Ranch Villas
Summerbrook
Waterman Village

The area
Mount Dora is in north central Florida: its just north of Orlando, east of Leesburg, and southeast of Ocala. The climate is a bit warmer than northern Florida but not as consistently warm in January and February than places like Fort Myers or Boca Raton. The average January temperature is in the high 50s whereas the average July temperature is about 80. The area is formerly agricultural and dotted with lakes.

The Bottom Line
Pluses of living in Mount Dora
It’s a very pretty place with a strong arts presence. There are numerous lakes and parks. Interesting places to live. Florida has no state income tax. Mount Dora is considered a tourist destination, which helps the shops and restaurants, but might upset locals who resent the intrusion.

The negatives
Central Florida is not on the coast, if that is what you are looking for. Doesn’t have the warm winters found in southern Florida, which is not so great for snowbirds. Mount Dora seems to have a higher than average property tax for Florida – the average tax paid in 2009 was just over $2100. The median age is 48 (compared to Florida median of 41), so the population does tend toward gray. Crime rate is about average, although violent crime is low.

For further reference:
Our review of Mount Dora
City of Mount Dora
Wikipedia on Mount Dora
Mount Dora Chamber of Commerce

Comments? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Perhaps you have a town that you think it is the prettiest or most charming in Florida. If so, please let us know. Have you been to Mount Dora, or better yet, live there? Please share your perspective in the Comments section below.

Posted by John Brady on July 17th, 2012

24 Comments »

  1. Drove through this past winter when we spent about 10 days scoping out areas in Florida. It was very pretty; very different than you’d expect for a Florida town. Also like Grenelefe Golf and Tennis Resort area in Haines City and the Melbourn Beach area down A-1A. Each was totally different, but nice in it’s own way.

    by Krotzmc — July 18, 2012

  2. We’ve visited Mt. Dora too and have about the same view as you do. We are snowbirds and visited there a couple of years ago and just loved it. Our priority is to locate along the coast; so we probably will never locate there. But frequent visits are certainly in order. Very industrious and ‘old Florida’, just what the doctor ordered!

    by Dave — July 18, 2012

  3. You are right on the money! I lived in mt. Dora for 13 years,worked for the city as its first recreation director and loved the New England feel,boating and access to the larger cities.
    The winter months are filled with antique shows,boat races and famous arts and crafts exhibits.
    Wonderful people and a wonderful town.

    by Beth O'Connor — July 18, 2012

  4. We are snowbirds who bought a home in Mt. Dora last year for the exact reasons you state. There is always something going on downtown even into the late evening. It’s teeming with “southern style,” and the winters are wonderful for those who like a little chill in the air for a change. Our community is comprised of large rolling hills, kind of reminiscent of Virginia or New England. Tons and tons of antique stores and shows, and wonderful, wonderful people. We love it there, and most certainly happy we made our decision to purchase.

    by Carolyn — July 18, 2012

  5. We livied in Mount Dora for five years. We lived in a condo a few blocks from city center/lake front. Mount Dora will always have a special place in our hearts. We became envolved in Mount Dora activities and served on city boards including historic preservation and the library. We volunteered at the Chamber of Commerce. Mount Dora back in the late 1990s got lots of national publicity and dreamy articles mainly because of a developer who wanted to sell houses. It drew many people to visit and as their dream retirement place. Mount Dora has lots of festivals, arts, crafts, antique cars etc. These draw thousands of people who all want to park and be right in the city center. Parking is a problem during these 3 day events and for residents like us the events became a nuisance and year after year were repetitious. Lots of restaurants. They used to offer family friendly mels for the locals but not any more. You need to bring a thick wallet and overlook a lot in these places. We found the city to be segragated with minorities more or less restricted to one quadrant of the city. Shopping is quite limited in the city and real shopping is quite a drive. We found medical care and availability of of specialists quite limited and had to drive to Leesburg for care. Now they have a hospital and not sure what the overall medical availability is right in the city. Mount Dora is a pretty place, somewhat isolated and there appear to be many empty stores and restaurants. Everything seems to change hands every few years. We relocated from Mount Dora to a city twice its size with everything we needed and wanted within the city. We were able to afford a place on the lake when we moved. Places with even a hint of water view were way out of site in Mount Dora. We enjoy returning several times a year. Quite frankly we feel there are better choices with lots more to offer and greater convenience in other places in central Florida. Suggest you visit several times and take a very serious look before hyou decide to retire in Mount Dora.

    by David M. Lane — July 19, 2012

  6. David M. Lane, are you willing to share the name of the community to which you located and were able to afford a house on a lake?

    by Linda — July 19, 2012

  7. Meant to say “relocated.”

    Note to site manager: it is annoying not to be able to fix a mistake after a posting is published. The print is so small, one does not always see the error at first.

    by Linda — July 19, 2012

  8. David — Do you mnd sharing the name of the city ot which to relocated?

    by Elaine — July 19, 2012

  9. Reply to Linda and Elaine. After 5 years of living in Mount Dora we relocated to Winter Haven FL about an hour and 15 minutes south. It is between Orlando and Tampa and an hour from either coast. We live in a 1400 sqft. condo overlooking Lake Spring. We are in the smallest sized unit. Some units are 3 br/2ba with up to 1700 sqft. It has 2 br and 2 ba large livingroom/dining room with a good sized kitchen. We have a solarium with very large windows with lake view. We are on the 4th floor. There are 79 units, The place is gated, has a large pool, tennis courts and extensive green lawns with large shade trees as well as palms. We can walk to grocery and drug stores. a half block from our gate is a 9 acre city park with walking trails, exercise equipment, picnic gazebo. The 500 bed hospital is 7 minutes drive away, excellent places for medical care with all specialities represented. Downtown is the new state of the art library, lots of places to eat etc. Winter Haven has excellent community theatre, lots of recreation and liesure programs available for little or no cost. Polk State College is here with lots of offerings and it is growing. Convenient to everything north, south east and west. AMTRAK station in town with 2 trains north and 2 trains south each day. Lots of places to eat that you can afford to eat in. We are homesteaded. Our total taxes are $600.00/yr. Maintenance fee for our condo unit is $235.00/mo. and that includes all water/sewer, cable tv, pool heated year round. Full time maintenace technician. You can take a look at other condos here on the web: http://www.condo.com and type in Winter Haven, FL and many will appear with pictures and info. Winter Haven has 50 lakes within the city limits. Lots of homes with lakeside living including single family homes if you think you need it and all the work that goes with single family home living. You can get a full color booklet on Winter Haven and maybe a copy of recent Homes and Land magazine by calling the Winter Haven chamber of commerce or looking them up on the web. Don’t get us wrong, Mount Dora is a fine place. It just didn’t offer what we needed and we could have some much more here in Winter Haven culturally and living wise for a lot less money. Now, if you want and can afford to spend more we have homes here that are in the six figures as well. Check Winter Haven out.

    by David M. Lane — July 19, 2012

  10. I probably should have mentioned the name of the condominium complex is Lakeridge Condominiums. You can look for it on condo.com.

    by David M. Lane — July 19, 2012

  11. Thanks, David, for providing more information.

    by Linda — July 20, 2012

  12. Mount Dory sounded so wonderful, so I checked for some more information on
    Sperling’s best places to live. Unfortunately, that site says that violent crime and non violent are both very high. Also, the average July temperature was 10 degrees higher! Who is right? I live in New Jersey and our average July temperature is in the mid to high 80’s.

    by Anne-Marie McCarthy — July 20, 2012

  13. Mount Dora and Winter Haven are both cute towns, with lots to offer. Another suggestion that is on the water: St. Augustine. Although it is touristy, it has a lot to offer (history, college town, restaurants, galleries), and it’s very walkable – considered a “Walker’s Paradise” with a WalkScore (www.walkscore.com) of 92.

    Jan Cullinane,
    The Single Woman’s Guide to Retirement
    The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life

    by Jan Cullinane — July 21, 2012

  14. FYI — Consumer Beware: Online sites that offer details regarding a community or city via zipcode are simple search engines that pull data from unverified resources. The BEST is to follow a source like John Brady’s where actual consumers present personal experiences, or at least you have someone like John Brady who actually offers a verified, researched report.

    (Unverified search engines simply exist to generate revenue through advertising for profit. The source is not consumer focused but profit gain.)

    by Neil S. Schuster — July 22, 2012

  15. Jan Cullinane made an excellent point. Those interested in relocating to an unfamiliar area should consider going to the web and determining the walkability of the street they are considering. In retirement walking is wonderful exercise and you will probably have more time to walk. People often downsize to one vehicle so being able to help yourself on foot can be a big factor. You can go to http://www.walkscore.com and type in the proposed address and tailor made walkscore for that location will appear plus a list of places and distances and a map charting those places appears. Try it you will be pleasantly surprised!

    by David M. Lane — July 22, 2012

  16. […] the Comments section below. (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle ||[]).push({}); For further reading Prettiest Town in Florida Classic Old Florida Towns College Towns Make for a Great Retirement 5 Big Reasons Why Small Towns […]

    by » Where Are the Prettiest Places to Retire? - Topretirements — October 28, 2014

  17. My husband and i are artists and writers. We live in Lake Mary, FL, which we believe is one of the best kept secrets in FL. Mt. Dora is 30 minutes away, and we visit frequently. We are 30 minutes from Daytona’s beaches, 25 minutes from unlimited amenities in Orlando and 45 minutes from Disney. The designated bike trails in Lake Mary are the safest and most diverse that we have found anywhere! Seminole College is nearby for classes, and The Gateway Center for the Arts, in DeBarry offers art classes plays, musical events and more. So far we have not found another area that would lure us away from this paradise!…..Debby Gould

    by Debby Gould — June 7, 2015

  18. To Debby Gould – CIA & NSA will be visiting you shortly for giving away the “best kept secrets” in Fl.

    LOL / Enjoy you life and “mums” the word.

    by Robert — June 8, 2015

  19. We just recently moved to Ocala, Fla. and bought a beautiful home in a 55 and over community called On Top of the World. This place is so nice and close to everything. If you want quiet, clean well taken care of this is the place to look.

    by susan teed — June 8, 2015

  20. To Debbie Gould: Do you live in a 55 plus community in Lake Mary, and if so, would you mind giving the name. Thanks.

    by judy — June 8, 2015

  21. Susan

    My wife and I will be visiting On Top of the World in August when we vacation in Florida. I’ve seen on their site the price of homes is reasonable but the HOA fees can run as high as $500/mo which is as bad as paying $6K annually for the taxes in my home state of NJ. Do you pay high HOA fees.

    Thanks

    by Mike M — June 9, 2015

  22. to Mike M: I visited On Top of the World last fall. The price of the homes is reasonable because you do not own the land. I don’t recall what the association fees were. I just decided that area was not for me. I wanted to be on the water.

    by Linda — June 9, 2015

  23. We visited On Top of the World last year. They have several very attractive floor plans. There are some old, ugly, poorly maintained areas that are adjacent to their new developments. We were not impressed with Ocala. We liked Mt. Dora. We are focusing on the Northern Atlantic Coast, Amelia Island; Fernandina Beach; Flagler and Ormond Beaches.

    by Richard — June 11, 2015

  24. Hi Susan,
    Susan,
    I am glad that you are happy; however, we have had a considerably different experience. We had a retirement home built at On Top of the World (OTOW) a few years ago–a move that we now regret. The model homes are impressive, but contain many expensive upgrades (in fact, several of the features at the new Stonebridge models are not even available from the builder). Additions of 20-40% to the base price for a nicely finished home at OTOW are typical. Once we signed a contract, trying to work with the builder was extremely frustrating and unproductive. We have had numerous problems with our new house that have not been covered by the “warranty”. The community is OK, but there are better (and less expensive) retirement communities in this part of FL. I tell my friends to check out other local developments and talk to a local relator about alternative retirement communities in the Ocala area. The OTOW HOA charges high monthly fees and is a authoritarian abomination (they WILL take care of you). The builder has a monopoly on the water, sewer service and media (cable, internet, etc.) available in the community and the charges are high for these services.

    by Horace — June 12, 2015

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