With its stately old-growth trees, quaint brick-lined streets and spectacular homes, Winter Park is reminiscent of an old New England town without the accompanying wintertime blues. This charming city, located north of Orlando, is best known for its upscale shopping, fine dining and popular art festivals. The Park Avenue shopping district is lined with well-known luxury retailers - earning the nickname "Orlando's Rodeo Drive."
Shopping also extends to antiques in Mount Dora, voted "Best Antiquing in the State" by Florida Monthly reader poll. The small town environment of Mount Dora caters to antique enthusiasts from across the state, country and internationally. Shops in and around the downtown area are full of nostalgic items, valuable antiques and collectibles, and even estate jewelry. Outdoor cafes, gourmet restaurants, galleries, wineries and Bed and Breakfast Inns grace the downtown area.
DeLand is located in Central East Florida, nestled between the abundant waters of the St. Johns River to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. One of a handful of unique rivers in the United States to run south to north, the waters of the St. Johns River serve as a dramatic backdrop to the plentiful historical, cultural and educational heritage found in downtown DeLand.
Adding historic significance to this great small city is Rollins College, the oldest college in Florida and one of the nation's most celebrated liberal arts schools. Founded in 1885 by New England Congregationalists, the college has produced Rhodes, Fulbright, Goldwater and Truman Scholars. Rollins College also sets the tone for the city's vibrant arts scene as the home of the Annie Russell Theatre and the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, (407) 646-2000.
The pride of Winter Park's arts and cultural community is the Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art, (407) 645-5311, home to the world's most comprehensive collection of works by Louis Comfort Tiffany, including his 1893 Chapel, as well as objects and architectural elements from his home, Laurelton Hall. The museum also features original paintings, fine antique furniture and other works from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Visitors to the Albin Polasek Museum and Sculpture Gardens, (407) 647-6294, enjoy touring the former home of this internationally-known sculptor, which houses many works from his collection. No visit is complete without a leisurely stroll through beautiful sculpture garden bordering magnificent Lake Osceola.
In typical New England fashion, the opulent residences of Winter Park are often secluded and hidden from public view. However, a scenic boat tour offers views of various mansions from the lakes and canals of the gracious and historic city of Winter Park.
Mount Dora's first name was Royellou, named after the three children – Roy, Ella and Louis – of the first postmaster R.C. Tremain. The name changed to Mount Dora in 1883. The town was renamed after the lake, with the "mount" referring to the city's site on a plateau 184 feet above sea level.
Treasures from the past abound in Mount Dora and nowhere more so than at Renninger's, (352) 383-8393, the largest antiques marketplace in the southeast. Renninger's is a true Mount Dora landmark and is open every weekend. The Mount Dora Center for the Arts, (352) 383-0880, features a beautiful art gallery with works by local, regional and national artists plus special exhibits throughout the year, a sculpture garden and an arts resource library in addition to other galleries that compliment the downtown area. Housed in a circa-1923 city jail, the Mount Dora History Museum, (352) 383-0006, depicts the history of Mount Dora and even includes one of the original jail cells.
As the Mount Dora area boasts 1,400 lakes, water sports as well as beautiful water views are plentiful. Boaters navigate through the Dora Canal to cross from Lake Dora to Lake Eustis, onward through the Harris chain-of-lakes, to the St. Johns River and even to the Atlantic Ocean.
There are many parks and recreation areas to choose from in this gracious community, including the Palm Island Park, Grantham Point, and Donnelly Park, (352) 383-2165. Palm Island Park offers a 1,700-foot boardwalk and visitors frequently spy a bald eagle gracefully gliding overhead. Grantham Point, adjacent to Palm Island Park, sports a boat ramp and the only freshwater lighthouse in the state. Donnelly Park serves as the cornerstone of Mount Dora's community life. Since 1924, this park has offered free concerts, special events and festivities.
While the Mayaca Indians were the first to make this scenic area their home, DeLand was originally founded in 1876 by Henry A. DeLand who later created the DeLand Academy in 1883. Today, this institution is known as Stetson University, (386) 822-7000, the oldest private educational facility in Florida.
Downtown DeLand combines the best of the old with the new, of generations past with the excitement of thriving business and a vital arts community. Along Main Street, visitors experience a fine selection of specialty and antique shops, eating establishments and outdoor cafés and bistros providing an authentic, southern historic atmosphere.
Other points of interest within the area are the many cultural and heritage museums, including the African American Museum of the Arts, 386-736-4004, Museum of Art, 386-734-4371, Gillespie Museum of Minerals (closes in the summer when students are away), 386-822-7330, the DeLand Memorial Hospital Museum, 386-740-6813, and the DeLand Naval Air Station Museum, 386-738-4149. The African American Museum of the Arts provides distinct artifacts and paintings on display while the Museum of Florida Art integrates exhibitions, collections and educational programs to create an inviting and enriching experience for children and visitors of all ages. The most unique of the area's cultural offerings, the Gillespie Museum of Minerals showcases an outstanding mineral collection with fluorescent displays, Florida minerals and fossils and precious and semi-precious gemstones. The museum also features a Plate Techtonics and Volcanism exhibit. Housing eight galleries and exhibits, the DeLand Memorial Hospital Museum offers unique historical artifacts and memorabilia. A rare look into naval history, the DeLand Naval Air Station Museum provides historical exhibits and a maritime shop.
The Stetson Mansion is another must-see. Built in 1886 for famed hat maker and philanthropist John B. Stetson, this winter retreat is the only richly detailed "Gilded Age" mansion built in Florida. The eclectic and unusual architectural design also includes a variety of complicated interior carvings, 16 patterns of the nation's most rare and intricate parquet wood floors and 10,000 panes of original leaded glass windows. Even if the house was empty, the details are captivating.
From quaint restaurants and cafés to renowned concerts at Elizabeth Hall at Stetson University and unique festivals throughout the town, downtown DeLand offers distinct southern charm with all the amenities of a larger city.