THREE SMALL TOWNS ARE SURE TO PLEASE EVERYONE
Florida vacation! People flock to Florida each winter to escape the cold, enjoy a few rounds of golf, head to the beach, and visit Disney. But there is so much more to Florida.
There is no shortage of charming small towns in Florida. From outdoor activities to bustling main streets, we’ve picked three of our favorites: Fort Pierce / Vero Beach, with mile-long gorgeous beaches, ideal for surfing, diving, snorkeling, or just playing in the surf.
Deland, filled with history from the Stetson Mansion to Deland’s Naval Air Station and Museum. Deland is also home to two natural springs, DeLeon Spring and Blue Springs State Parks. Take some time and immerse yourself in nature, and discover Deland’s natural side.
Mount Dora offers a selection of incredible adventures from catboat tours, to discovering a slice of old Florida, a culinary scene that will have you salivating for more, and a fun downtown filled with unique and fun shopping.
These three small towns are sure to please everyone. Are you ready to discover the other side of Florida?
Fort Pierce and Vero Beach
Fort Pierce is located on the Treasure Coast. The treasure in Fort Pierce is the beaches – 22 miles of gorgeous golden sand beaches. The coast also offers some of the best Florida surfing.
The best spot for surfing is Fort Pierce Inlet State Park, on North Hutchinson Island. Walking down to the beach on a path of coquina shells, you can hear the roar of the waves crashing onshore. The smell of salt air assails your nostrils. Crossing the dunes, you are met with a breathtaking view of sea oats and wildflowers. Surfers come from across the East Coast of the United States to surf Fort Pierce.
A few miles down A1A, the coastal road that traverses Florida, and that musician Jimmy Buffett sang about, you’ll come to Avalon State Park. Dr. Beach has included Avalon State Park on his “Best Beaches” list for several years.
Sea Oats sway in the soft breeze as you walk down the wooden walkway that gives way to a vast expanse of golden beach that seems to go for miles and miles.
Right off this coast in 1715, a fleet of Spanish treasure galleons sank when a sudden hurricane tossed them upon the hidden reefs just offshore. Walk the beach after a storm, and you may find your own Spanish treasure! Better yet, don your dive gear and go searching for treasure.
The reefs lying just offshore bring a treasure of another kind – lobster! Florida slipper lobster is not the spiny lobster. Only the tail of the slipper lobster is edible. But the meat is tender and slightly sweet. Lobster season is split between two dates – mini-season is always the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday of July and the full lobster season runs eight months, August 6 to March 31.
Of course, those same reefs will yield up a plethora of other fish and mammals, making it a great place to snorkel and dive. There are also wrecks scattered along the coast that you can also tackle.
Where to Stay & Play in Fort Pierce / Vero Beach
The Kimpton, Vero Beach
The Kimpton, Vero Beach is just a short drive from Fort Pierce, and it is one of Travel+Leisure’s Top 10 Resort Hotels in Florida. Located on Ocean Drive in Vero Beach, you are within walking distance of the best boutiques in the area, unique restaurants, and more.
Perched beachside, you can walk right out of the hotel and onto the beach. Lounge in a beach chair, or relax by the heated oceanfront pool. You have two onsite restaurants that offer superb cuisine.
The hotel’s spa, The White Orchid, offers a full range of spa services, including body treatments, facials, and nail treatments.
Costa D’Este Resort
Costa D’Este Resort is also located directly on the beach. This resort offers a fitness center, yoga classes, a spa, and dining. But with the beach so close, you’ll love sitting beachside with a good beach read and relaxing or enjoying the beautiful blue water.
Explore the Craft Beer and Wine Scene
Craft beer is exploding everywhere, and Fort Pierce and Vero Beach are no exception.
Summer Crush Winery
Start your exploration at Summer Crush Winery, known as “Florida’s Original Sun & Surf Winery Experience.”
Summer Crush is a family-owned winery that is handcrafting award-winning muscadine and fruit wines. Owned by the Roberts family, Summer Crush embodies Florida’s spirit – sun, sand, and sea.
From Summer Crush Winery, wander over to downtown Fort Pierce, and hit Pierced Cider Works. Pierced is the very first cidery on Florida’s Treasure Coast. Housed in a historic single-family home built in 1901, Pierced Cidery is a community gathering spot; whether you are a visitor or a local, you’ll feel at home at Pierced Cidery. They have a great outdoor space, and they welcome pets. Food trucks are on site, so come, relax, bring your pet, sip some cider, grab a bite, and kick back and take in the sites, as local musicians provide the background music.
Sailfish opened their first brewery in the historic 1901 home that Pierced Cider now occupies. In 2017 the operation relocated to downtown.
The crew of Sailfish loves their town and love great brewing beer in their downtown neighborhood. They also have a pizza kitchen onsite offering appetizers, yummy flatbreads, and incredible pizza.
Sailfish has 22 brews on tap, so there is something for every discerning beer enthusiast at Sailfish Brewing.
Islamorada Beer Company
Islamorada got its start in Islamorada in the Florida Keys, and that is the inspiration that drives all of their beer creations. The goal for the brewery is to make quality local craft beer that complements the Keys life.
American Icon Brewery
Located in the historic diesel plant building in Vero Beach, American Icon Brewery is the growing Vero Beach Arts Village center. American Icon has an onsite restaurant offering both indoor and outdoor seating.
Walking Tree Brewery
Walking Tree Brewery is one you don’t want to miss! They offer various traditional brews, but the community culture that Walking Tree has cultivated and nourished is the standout.
Many ask where their name, Walking Tree comes from. Florida is filled with Mangrove trees, and they are unique. Their root system thrives both on land and in the water. They are continually expanding their growth, so they are known as the walking trees.
That is the foundational cornerstone of Walking Tree Brewery is to create unforgettable beer, but they will never forget their community, which is where their roots are.
In 2018 Walking Tree won Gold for Babycakes Oatmeal Stout, silver for Barnacled Manatee Barleywine, and bronze for Straw Hat Blonde Ale in Florida’s Best Beer Championship.
DeLand holds a special spot in the heart of this writer. It weaves a magic that lingers in your soul long after you have returned home. Here you’ll find some of Florida’s most unique attractions.
John Stetson, the famed hatmaker, discovered DeLand and promptly chose the area for his winter retreat. Florida’s first luxury home, and in 1886, was the grandest home ever built in Florida.
The Stetson mansion was the setting for many lavish soirees for locals and the rich and famous of the Gilded Age, including Henry Flager and others.
The home is one of the smaller mansions of its time. Stetson’s wife Elizabeth, who was much younger than John Stetson, was not a fan of Florida or the area. She convinced him to scale down the mansion to a mere 10,000 square feet on two acres of land, including gardens, gazebos, fountains, patios, and pool.
Today, the home has been renovated and is open to the public for tours.
Top Seven Things To Do in DeLand
DeLand Mural Walk
Stroll through historic downtown DeLand in search of murals that are scattered throughout the historic area. The DeLand Mural Walk will take you through the history of the area.
St. Johns River Eco Tours
Discover the history of the river, the stories of the river, and of course, the incredible nature on their two-hour nature tour with St. Johns River Eco Tours.
DeLand Naval Air Station & Museum
The DeLand Naval Air Station Museum is small, but it is overflowing with memorabilia! Constructed in the 1920s as a municipal airport, when World War II came, the US Navy transformed it into the DeLand Naval Air Station. Today the museum has static displays of WWII-era planes, complete with nose art and historical artifacts.
Ever wondered what it is like to skydive? World-renowned Skydive DeLand is the perfect place to experience a tandem jump. This is definitely for adrenaline junkies!
Blue Spring State Park
A visit to Blue Spring is a definite must-do on any visit to the DeLand area! During the winter months, mid-November through March, Blue Spring is closed for all water activities, including swimming, snorkeling, diving, tubing, canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding.
But this is the ideal time to see the manatees or sea cows, hike the trails and search for birds, and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the park.
During the summer months, the spring gets crowded, so get there early, rent a tube, and take a cooling float down the spring, walk back up to the starting point and do it again! You’re sure to spot fish and birds as you float leisurely down the run.
Wings Of The West Mural Trail
Wings of the West takes you on a journey to discover the best of West Volusia. At each “flight stop,” take a photo with the wings for your memory book. The Wings of the West Trail will serve to whet your appetite to come back and discover more of West Volusia!
Where To Eat & Drink In DeLand
DeLand is filled with incredible cuisine. From the normal to the unusual, you’ll find it here.
Beer, Mead, Wine
Persimmon Hollow Brewing is pet-friendly and family-friendly. Started by best friends and brewers Andy and Robbie, their dream was to open a craft brewery right in the heart of downtown. This duo believes that craft beer should be fun, a little weird, and each glass a work of art.
Hyderhead Brewery is the new kid on the brewery block, but they are making a splash. Jeffrey Hyder has had a fascination with his great “Grampa Gill” from an early age.
You see, Grandpa Gill got into a few escapades with his moonshine. In 2009 Jeffrey began researching the family’s brewing history, and Hyderhead was born. You’ll see lots of little touches that harken back to Hyder’s Scottish roots….but you’ll have to visit to discover them for yourself.
Odd Elixer Meadworks has created quite a niche for itself in DeLand. Mead is the oldest fermented beverage in history and was created from honey. Odd Elixer crafts their mead using only locally sourced honey and is made right in the Abbey Bar.
The Elusive Grape has quickly become one of our favorite places to just hang out in DeLand. They have both inside and outside seating, and they are dog friendly (do you see a trend here? DeLand is very pet-friendly.)
At The Elusive Grape, it’s all about community. Whether you are coming in for the first time or are a local, you’ll sense the community feels as soon as you walk in the door. Grab a glass (or a bottle of wine to share), find a spot to relax, and enjoy a bite to eat and relax as you sip and socialize.
The Cool Craft Trail is the newest offering in West Volusia. The trail encompasses beer, wine, mead, and coffee. Who knows, you might discover a new favorite on the Cool Craft Trail!
Where To Stay In DeLand
There are lots of lodging options in the area, but here are our top three choices.
The Artisan Downtown
The Artisan has been a vital part of DeLand’s history since it opened in the 1920s as the DeLand Hotel.
This boutique hotel is located within walking distance of downtown. This is an all-suite hotel, with spacious, bright rooms, with have a touch of old but are chic and luxurious.
Holiday Inn and Suites
Holiday Inn and Suites Deland South is one of DeLand’s newest offerings. It is located away from the historic downtown, but it is just a short drive to get back to downtown. The rooms are fresh, nicely decorated, and clean. They are an excellent alternative for families.
Because DeLand is a college town, home to Stetson University, plan your visit in advance during the school year.
Mount Dora is a picturesque small town on the edge of Lake Dora. The hamlet was established in 1880 and filled with history, mouth-watering cuisine, and southern hospitality.
Best Activities In Mount Dora
For adrenaline junkies, what could be better than skimming the wavetops at breakneck speed in search of adventure? CatBoat Adventures delivers all that and more! We took the Dora Canal tour with CatBoat Adventures and had an absolute ball! However, fair warning you, this is by no means a dry adventure – you WILL get wet!
CatBoat Adventures offers a selection of tours, lasting from 1 ½ hours to 2 ½ hours. You are guaranteed to have a fun, safe, once-in-a-lifetime experience!
A more sedate way to explore historic Mount Dora is on a SegWay.
Glide Adventure Tours will uncover some of Mount Dora’s hidden gems.
With Glide Adventure Tours, you’ll have a chance to see Mount Dora’s natural side up close and personal as you slowly traverse the boardwalk promenade at Palm Island Park. You’ll see anhingas, cormorants, ospreys, alligators, and more as you glide underneath the shade of ancient cypress draped in Spanish moss.
Stop by the Mount Dora Area Chamber of Commerce and pick up a walking map of Mount Dora. Mount Dora’s historic downtown is easily walkable, and as you walk, you may discover a new gift or three in one of the many downtown boutiques.
For a unique tour, try a seaplane adventure with Jones Brothers Air and Sea Adventures. As you soar high above the Harris Chain of Lakes, you’ll gain a new perspective of the area. This is our favorite way to explore a new place – there is nothing better than taxiing across the water and then soaring up in the clouds.
Uncover Mount Dora’s Food Scene
Mount Dora has a surprisingly eclectic and delicious foodie scene. No matter if you lean toward simple comfort food or upscale cuisine, Mount Dora covers it all.
The Goblin Market
Hidden on a side street in historic downtown, the Goblin Market is easy to miss. Goblin Market is a staple in Mount Dora.
They offer an extensive cocktail menu with some old favorites with a unique twist. The Sticky Pig is an old fashioned crafted with applewood bacon-washed Old Forester bourbon, fennel-Madeira molasses, and angostura bitters. The New York Sour features Old Forester rye, lemon, simple syrup, egg white, and topped with a Malbec float.
Each item on their dinner menu is locally and regionally sourced, using fresh ingredients, and individually prepared.
I am a big fan of crab soup, so Goblin’s Blue Crab Soup piqued my interest. This is a new twist on an old Southern coastal favorite. They’ve elevated the dish with the addition of wild mushrooms, leeks, sherry, and fresh tomato. The Irish Whiskey Onion Soup is creamy and delicious, but the addition of Irish whiskey elevates this soup favorite to a new level.
Fifth Avenue Streatery
Elevated Southern comfort food is how I would describe the offerings at Fifth Avenue Streatery. Fifth Avenue Streatery is all outside dining under the trees. Some of the favorites from Fifth Avenue Streatery include their Devilish Eggs, which are hard-boiled eggs with stuffing, lightly breaded and then fried, served with a side of their house-made Remi sauce – absolutely delicious! Their crab cakes are just simply jumbo lump crab meat that is succulent and sweet, and then grilled and served with a Caprese salad that is a unique twist on the traditional Caprese. My tastebuds were so happy!
Located in a traditional Florida cracker style home dating back to the roaring 20s, the restaurant is perched on a hill overlooking Lake Dora. What better place to celebrate the sunset than dining al fresco and to toast the setting sun with a delightful glass of wine? Serving up a tasty selection of locally and regionally sourced delightful cuisine, Pisces Rising is one of our Mount Dora favorites!
Luxury Lodging in Mount Dora
One of Mount Dora’s delightful B&Bs, Heron Cay is such a special place! We had an immediate rapport with Margie, the hostess and innkeeper of Heron Cay. Margie, Jim, and I spent time chatting about our favorite island destination – the Bahamas, specifically the Abacos.
It turns out that Margie and Randy spent a lot of time exploring the Bahamas and fell in love with the islands and her people just as we have. The Abaco Suite at Heron Cay intimately reflects their love of these unique islands.
With only eight suites, each one uniquely decorated, Heron Cay is luxuriously intimate and perfect for a romantic getaway.
Breakfast at Heron Cay is sumptuous, and you won’t leave hungry! Margie creates two egg choices each morning, accompanied by breakfast sausage and fruit, and your fill of coffee. Heron Cay was the perfect complement to our time in Mount Dora!
These small towns are jam-packed with adventures that will become treasured memories for years to come. Are you ready to discover the other side of Florida?
Written by Betsi Hill
Photography courtesy of Jim Hill
Visit West Volusia and The Mount Dora Area Chamber of Commerce hosted my visit, including all activities. All opinions remain our own.
Due to changing advisories, please check local travel guidelines before visiting.