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Beyond Disney and the Orlando Theme Parks: Discover the Hidden Gems of Tavares and Mount Dora

Just 45 minutes northwest of Orlando, the charming towns of Tavares and Mount Dora offer a perfect blend of outdoor adventure, rich history, and vibrant local culture. Located just a short drive from each other, these twin gems provide a diverse array of activities and attractions that make them must-visit destinations. Whether you’re looking to kayak in Mount Dora or explore the historic streets of Tavares, there’s something for everyone. Here’s why you should add Tavares and Mount Dora to your travel list this year.

Kayaking the Dora Canal

Paddle Through Paradise: Kayak in Mount Dora and Tavares

One of the top reasons to visit Tavares and Mount Dora is the opportunity to kayak through some of Florida’s most picturesque waterways. The Harris Chain of Lakes and the Dora Canal are renowned for their serene beauty and abundant wildlife. Kayaking in Mount Dora offers a unique perspective on the area’s lush landscapes and beautiful waterways. You can paddle past cypress trees draped with Spanish moss, spot turtles sunning themselves on logs, and catch glimpses of herons and egrets fishing along the shore.

In Tavares, Adventure Outdoor Paddle provides guided eco tours and rentals that allow you to explore the Dora Canal, often referred to as “The Most Beautiful Mile of Water in the World.” This scenic waterway connects Lake Eustis to Lake Dora and offers a tranquil paddling experience amidst stunning natural beauty. The waterway is the most peaceful in the early morning hours during the week.

Seaplane taking off in Tavares

Discover Tavares: America’s Seaplane City

Just a short drive from Mount Dora, Tavares is known as America’s Seaplane City. This unique town is the perfect spot for aviation enthusiasts and adventure seekers alike. Head to Wooton Park to watch seaplanes take off and land on Lake Dora. If you’re feeling adventurous, book a seaplane ride with Jones Brother's Air & Seaplane Adventures for a thrilling aerial tour of the area.

Tavares also offers a variety of family-friendly attractions. Wooton Park is a beautiful spot for a picnic or a leisurely stroll, with stunning views of the water and surrounding landscape. The Tavares History Museum, located inside an old train station hub, provides an enriching experience with exhibits that delve into the town's past and the railway that brought the first visitors back in the late 1800's. Additionally, visit the nearby Lake County Museum for Arts, which showcases a diverse collection of contemporary artworks from local, regional, and national sources. The park often hosts community events, making it a lively spot to visit.

For a unique experience on the water, consider taking a cruise on the Dora Queen, a luxurious paddlewheel boat that offers scenic tours and dinner cruises on Lake Dora. Alternatively, you can join one of the Cruisin' Tikis tours, where you can relax on a floating tiki bar as your captain cruises you and your friends around Lake Dora.

Family photo with the Mount Dora lighthouse at sunset

Explore the Historic Charm of Mount Dora

After your kayak adventure, spend some time exploring the historic charm of Mount Dora. This quaint town is known for its beautifully preserved architecture, unique boutiques, and cozy cafes. Stroll down Donnelly Street and admire the charming storefronts and historic buildings. Don’t miss the Mount Dora Lighthouse, a picturesque landmark that offers great photo opportunities. Palm Island Park located nearby has a great short trail to explore along the water and is a beautiful spot to take in the views of the sunset.

Mount Dora is also home to a vibrant arts scene, with numerous galleries and studios showcasing the work of local artists. The Mount Dora Center for the Arts is a must-visit, featuring rotating exhibits and a variety of art classes.

Experience Local Flavor

Both Tavares and Mount Dora boast an impressive array of dining options that cater to every palate. In Mount Dora, enjoy a meal at one of the many restaurants in the downtown area. For a taste of vibrant Mexican cuisine, head to Fiesta Grande, one of our favorite spots, where you can indulge in delicious dishes and refreshing margaritas. Don’t miss out on the local craft beer scene at downtown Mount Dora’s breweries, Wolf Branch Brewing and Eden Abbey Brewing Community, where you can sample a variety of unique and flavorful brews.

In Tavares, you’ll find a variety of excellent dining and drinking establishments that complement your adventure. One of our favorite spots to paddle into is Fish Camp on Lake Eustis. This waterfront restaurant offers fresh seafood, southern comfort food, and stunning lakeside views that are perfect for relaxing in between your paddle.

For a casual, laid-back atmosphere, visit Puddle Jumpers, a beloved local spot known for its hearty American fare and views of seaplanes taking off and landing in Lake Dora. If you're a craft beer enthusiast, Bru Tap House in downtown Tavares is a must-visit. They offer a wide selection of local and regional brews, providing the perfect setting to unwind with friends.

To satisfy your sweet tooth, stop by Poppy's Ice Cream & Sweet Shop. This charming ice cream parlor serves a variety of homemade flavors that are sure to delight both kids and adults alike. Their bubble waffle creations are the talk of the town, and once you try them, you'll understand why. Sourcing their ice cream from a small, family-owned farm in Florida, Poppy's ensures each scoop is fresh and flavorful. You can truly taste the difference!

Group of paddlers enjoy lunch at Fish Camp on Lake Eustis
Poppy's Ice Cream bubble waffle creation

Our special packages, such as Paddle & Brew, Paddle & Grub, and Poppy's Sweet Paddle Adventure, provide the perfect way to experience the best of Tavares, combining adventure with culinary delights. These curated experiences emphasize the importance of supporting small businesses and fostering collaboration within our community.

By partnering with local restaurants and shops, we not only create unique and enjoyable experiences for our guests but also contribute to the growth and vibrancy of our town. Supporting small businesses helps preserve the character and charm of Tavares, ensuring that it remains a welcoming and dynamic destination for visitors. Our collaborative efforts with these local establishments make Tavares an even better place to visit, offering a diverse range of activities and dining options that highlight the best of what our town has to offer.

So, come paddle with us and discover the exceptional local flavors and warm hospitality that make Tavares and Mount Dora truly special. Together, we can create memorable experiences while supporting the heart of our community.

Plan Your Visit

With their close proximity and complementary attractions, Tavares and Mount Dora make for an unforgettable travel destination. Whether you’re paddling through the scenic waterways on a kayak in Mount Dora, exploring historic sites, or enjoying local cuisine, you’re sure to create lasting memories. These towns offer a unique blend of natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant local culture, making every visit an enriching experience.

From the tranquility of the Dora Canal to the bustling charm of downtown Mount Dora and the aviation excitement in Tavares, there's always something new and exciting to discover. The collaborative spirit of the local businesses enhances your visit, offering personalized and memorable experiences that showcase the heart and soul of these communities.

So why wait? Discover why these charming towns should be at the top of your travel list this year and create unforgettable memories that will keep you coming back for more!

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