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.
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.
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.
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.
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.