Last Updated on April 23, 2024

Recently, my hubby and son went on a “boys’ trip,” so I decided to go on a staycation. The small town of MountDora, 35 minutes north of Orlando, met my criteria: close to home, relaxing atmosphere, nature activities, shopping and interesting dining.

This compact, hilly town perched on Lake Dora is lined with historic homes, antique shops and restaurants. I’ve visited Mount Dora often and always vowed to come back and stay overnight to explore everything it has to offer.

Making good on my promise, I checked into the Lakeside Inn. This cluster of low, yellow buildings with white trim spills down the grassy lawn to the edge of the lake. It’s tucked just off the main street making it a great location for my solo retreat.

History of the Lakeside Inn

With over 140 years of history, the Lakeside Inn is Florida’s oldest continuously operating hotel. When it opened in 1883, the inn drew northerners seeking leisure in a sunny, warm climate. Central Florida, with hundreds of lakes, birds and fishing holes became a popular destination.

Adventurous travelers from the East Coast arrived by steamship, landing in Jacksonville and eventually making their way through the small canals to Lake Dora. It could take up to a week to travel from New York to Mount Dora, a journey reserved for those who had both time and money.

When Henry Flagler’s East Coast Railway opened in 1912, travelers headed further down the coast to Key West. As a result, hotels in Lake County closed one by one. The historic Lakeside Inn is the last remaining Victorian Era inn in Central Florida.

Accommodations and Amenities

Lakeside Inn pool and lake view in Mount Dora, FL.
Lakeside Inn pool and lake view in Mount Dora, FL. Photo by Kirsten Harrington.

The Inn sports 90 rooms and suites, most in two-story buildings. (Of note: there is no elevator). Victorian-style furniture, tiled tubs, and doors with glass knobs and real keys give a historic feel to the property.

My room on the second floor overlooking the lake had ample space, including a large closet. Though I was only staying for one night, unlike earlier guests through the years who stayed for a while after such a long journey.

The Lakeside Inn is a lovely place to relax. You won’t find a work desk or glitzy minibar, the carpets are well-traveled in spots and the wooden floors creak. I loved the wall photos of the steamships that brought the first visitors to the area, and sitting in the lobby by the fireplace. The character of the inn and the hospitality of the staff made me feel instantly comfortable, even as a solo traveler.

There’s a swimming pool overlooking the lake and lawn games and porch swings for old-fashioned entertainment. A small sandy area near the lake keeps kids entertained, though I spent most of my time relaxing in an Adirondack chair just drinking in the view.

Dining at the Lakeside Inn

The inn offers several dining options. The Verandah, with its expansive front porch, is especially popular during lunch. The Beauclaire Dining Room offers a relaxed yet elegant setting with circular windows looking into the garden.

Tremaine’s Tavern, with warm wood accents and live entertainment, is the gathering spot for cocktails. The Waterside Bar, next to the pool, is open on weekends, weather permitting.

The town of Mount Dora also has dozens of restaurants.

Pisces Rising is popular for its lakeside location, where I treated myself to a seafood salad and a glass of wine on the patio. The Goblin Market,with its romantic courtyard and book-lined dining room is another one of my favorites.

Exploring Mount Dora

Olde Mount Dora Carriage Ride.
Olde Mount Dora Carriage Ride. Photo by Kirsten Harrington.

Shortly after arriving, I set off on a carriage ride – sans horse. My driver from Old Mount Dora Carriage Company navigated our electric vehicle around town while I listened to a 35-minute recording about the history of the area. I enjoyed “the clean and green” ride past the historic sites and the Mount Dora Lighthouse.

After getting my bearings on the tour, I walked into town for a cold raspberry lemonade. Barrel of Books and Games lured me in for browsing, and I had to stop at Mount Dora Confectionery. Having the time to pop into and out of shops on a whim and buy a few candies for myself felt like a true vacation.

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

The inn is located less than a 10-minute walk from Palm Island Park. In the afternoon, I explored the ½-mile wooden boardwalk that winds through the park. You don’t have to look far in Florida to find alligators, and sure enough, there were several greeting me at the entrance to the park. (Some of them were even real).

Whether you choose the sandy trail that parallels the boardwalk or stay on the wooden path, the park offers an immersive nature experience. Bald eagles, red-bellied woodpeckers, turtles and white ibis kept me company while I walked.

Savoring the Sunset at the Lakeside Inn

The inn is perfectly positioned for sunsets. The only dilemma is whether to watch it from a rocker on the front porch – with a cocktail in hand – at the bar or on the dock. I wanted to be on the water, so I sat under the gazebo at the edge of the lake as the colors changed in the sky.

Antiquing in Mount Dora

Waking to stormy weather the next morning, I dodged raindrops on my way to Cody’s on 4th. After a light breakfast, I headed back to the inn and checked out.

Mount Dora is well known for antiquing, and the rain was a perfect excuse for some treasure hunting before heading home. The Village Antique Mallon the edge of town made for an easy stop.

Not wanting my solo staycation to end, I took the long way home. Farmside stands beckoned with honey and fresh produce. I stopped for a slice of chocolate cake at a German bakery and then stopped at a small farm to pick a pound of blueberries.

This lovely solo trip got me thinking that I should take myself on vacation more often.

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