Lake and Sumter Style Magazine
2:25 pm EDT
Monday, August 10, 2020

Shining a light on Hidden Gems

Get out and explore some of the area’s lesser-known attractions.

Story: Victoria Schlabig, Theresa Campbell and James Combs

Even in the age of coronavirus, the desire to visit interesting places never fades. That said, it’d be wise to avoid people-packed destinations like theme parks and beaches. 

In Lake and Sumter counties, there are many fun-filled attractions slightly off the beaten path and tucked under the radar. All you have to do is dig a little deeper to reveal layers of fascinating places to experience and explore—all without those dreaded long lines. 

While the area has rightfully earned the reputation as a top bass-fishing destination, there’s so much more to do than fish. 

Here, you can sip on award-winning wine at Florida’s largest winery. You can board a converted school bus that looks like a monster truck and explore a 2,500-acre ranch. You can visit a farm that is home to a cougar, Florida panther and many more animals. You can visit a state park and take a narrated boat tour or see Florida’s second-oldest oak tree. You can ride a catamaran through the Dora Canal, which sportswriter Grantland Rice referred to as “the most beautiful mile of water in the world.” 

The opportunities are endless. See for yourself.


 

Nurture yourself in nature

Crooked River Preserve offers beautiful scenery.

Crooked River Preserve

11121 Lake Louisa Road, Clermont / 352.324.6141

In sprawling Clermont, nature is still alive and well at Crooked River Preserve, a 1.7-mile loop trail that takes hikers past longleaf pines, blueberry bushes and live oaks. The 64-acre preserve managed by the Lake County Water Authority also offers scenic views of Lake Louisa and a canoe launch for those who would rather paddle. 


Take a sip

Like a fine wine, Lakeridge Winery gets better with time. 

Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards

19239 U.S. Hwy. 27, Clermont / 352.394.8627 / lakeridgewinery.com

Situated among the rolling hills of south Lake County is Florida’s largest winery, where the morning sun shines bright, lighting up long rows of Muscadine grapes. Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards, which sits on 127 acres, attracts visitors from near and far who wish to sample and purchase the company’s award-winning wine. They also take tours inside Lakeridge’s dusty-brown, Mediterranean-style facility, allowing them to see the large stainless-steel tanks where wine is fermented and stored prior to bottling. 

On Aug. 15-16, Lakeridge is hosting its popular grape stomp. “It’s a unique experience for Central Florida residents and something they look forward to every year,” says Sam Cloward, event manager at Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards.


Play a new game

Mind Immersions allows you to experience virtual reality gaming.

Mind Immersions

2410 Hwy. 50 Suite B, Clermont / 407.559.1090 / mindimmersions.com

For anyone 40 and older, the mention of the word arcade conjures up images of a bustling room filled with games such as Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, electronic basketball, pinball machines and air hockey. 

Enter Mind Immersions and have your reality rocked. At this virtual reality arcade, you’re no longer playing games on a screen. You’re actually in the game. Grab your Bluetooth steering wheel, put on your headset goggles and test your driving skills in a simulated race. Twirl your six shooters and see if you can survive an Old West-style shootout. Use two pistols to knock down bloodthirsty zombies and see if you can save the world from a zombie apocalypse. 

Four private bays for solo gaming and a large battle arena make for an adrenaline-packed gaming experience. Neon light strips that run diagonally, up, and down provide an aesthetically pleasing futuristic vibe gamers wouldn’t find in arcades of yesterday.  


Feel the sweetness

Showcase of Citrus slices up fun for the entire family.

Showcase of Citrus

5010 U.S. Hwy. 27, Clermont
352.394.4377 / showcaseofcitrus.com

It’s fitting that a school bus takes visitors on an educational tour to learn about Florida citrus. Well, it is actually a modified school bus featuring monster truck tires. And that vehicle is one of the main draws to Showcase of Citrus, a roadside attraction situated on a 2,500-acre ranch where visitors can pick fruit, eat slushies made of natural orange juice and pet a variety of farm animals. 

During the Swamp Tour, guests hop aboard the 40-passenger converted school bus and ride around the property, which is filled with citrus groves, swampland and blueberry fields. A tour guide informs them about the 50 varieties of citrus that grow there. Be prepared to see exotic animals that call the ranch home, including two zebras, water buffalo and bison. One part of the tour goes directly through a swamp. 

Aside from the tour, visitors can feed corn and carrots to a variety of farm animals—a miniature horse, donkey, pigs, emu and sheep. There’s even a kangaroo. Between November and June, guests can pick ripe citrus that grows on the property. 

“We have people who come from as far away as England and Brazil,” says Jojo Pretto, manager. “They love going fruit picking, riding the monster truck, and eating our delicious creamsicles and slushies.” 


Make yourself at home

Tour the historic Baker House that was built in 1890.

Baker House

6106 C.R. 44A, Wildwood / 352.461.0134

The stately Baker House is a beautiful gem on five acres where Spanish moss dangles from ancient oak trees. It was the home of David Hume Baker, a state senator from Kentucky. David and his wife Mary moved to Florida in 1886 to benefit from “Orange Fever,” a term given to Florida’s booming citrus industry at the time. David built the two-story home in 1890. Five generations of the Baker family lived in the home until it was donated to the City of Wildwood in September 2012. Since then, volunteers have maintained the home and raised money for restoration projects. In November 2019, the city decided to hold more events at the home and began offering tours. 


Get down on the farm

Uncle Donald’s Farm features interesting animals. 

Uncle Donald’s Farm

2713 Lake Griffin Road, Lady Lake 

352.753.2882 / uncledonaldsfarm.com

Uncle Donald’s Farm is a picturesque farm for families to enjoy being outdoors to see goats, several species of Florida tortoises, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, deer, a cougar, a panther, and other animals up close. It is open 10am to 3pm Thursdays through Saturdays. 

“People love seeing the animals, and our hayrides are popular, too, even in the heat. People love going on the hayride around the pasture and seeing cows come up,” says Donna Morris, who owns the farm with her two sisters, Jeanette and Beth Morris. “You can hand-feed the cows; it’s a fun country experience.” 

Admission ($10 plus tax or free for children ages 2 and younger) includes a farm animal encounter, walk through the wildlife area, hayride and use of the picnic area. You may feed many of the farm animals with feed purchased at the farm. The farm has group rates for field trips and birthday parties. 


Plow into history

See restored tractors at Paquette’s.

Paquette’s Historical Farmall Tractor 

615 S. Whitney Road, Leesburg / 352.728.3588

Paquette’s is dedicated to preserving International Harvester farm equipment. Open to the public since 2010, it is home to more than 200 restored IH tractors, farm implements and memorabilia, some dating back to the 1920s. The museum hosts many events, including a Tractor Show & Pull. The campus has a show barn for entertainment and weddings. 


Just park it

Lake Griffin State Park offers hiking, camping and boat rides.

Lake Griffin State Park

3089 U.S. Hwy. 441, Fruitland Park / 352.360.6760

Who knew that natural wonders could be so close to a bustling highway? Such is the case at Lake Griffin State Park. 

For starters, Lake Griffin State Park is home to Florida’s second-oldest oak tree, estimated to be between 300 and 500 years old. The tree is home to several species of birds, and historians speculate the tree may have been a landmark for Timucua Native Americans who frequented the area before settlement. 

Two trails give hikers an up-close view of Florida’s natural habitats, including swamp and sandhill terrain. Along the way, visitors may see racoons, bobcats, squirrels, opossum, and hawks. 

Other popular attractions include a guided pontoon boat tour of Dead River Marsh, a tributary of Lake Griffin, during the fall to spring months. It’s as educational as it is fun because guides share interesting facts about Florida’s flora and fauna. Kayak and canoe rentals also are available Thursdays to Sundays. Single kayaks cost $10 per hour, and canoes and double kayaks cost $12 per hour.

A 40-site campground allows visitors to stay a few nights, while picnic tables and a playground are available for families. 


See the great outdoors

An abundance of activities await at Lake Norris Conservation Area.

Lake Norris Conservation Area

22437 Orange Blossom Lane, Eustis / 352.343.3777

Lake Norris Conservation Area in Eustis is sure to delight every lover of nature and animals. The area is home to Florida black bears and a number of different birds, and hosts one of the Florida’s largest populations of ospreys, also known as “sea hawks,” which can have a wingspan up to 70 inches. Alligators, gopher tortoises and various types of snakes have also been spotted. You can also hike, fish, bicycle or rent a canoe, all while photographing and enjoying the nature surrounding you.


Do whatever floats your boat

Catamarans take adventurous people through the famous Dora Canal.

CatBoat Adventure Tours

148 Charles Ave., Mount Dora / 352.325.1442

Grab a friend and hop on one of CatBoat Adventure Tours’s 2-person catamarans. Expert tour guides will lead you through Lake Dora and the Dora Jungle Canal, where you will see wildlife in the 2,000 year-old cypress tree-lined waterway and hear about the history of the area in a 2-hour tour. The tour begins at Mount Dora Boating Center & Marina near downtown Mount Dora, where you can shop before your tour. The Dora Canal has been called “The Most Beautiful Mile of Water in the World,” according to CatBoat Tours’ website. As you and your partner power your catamarans at high speed across Lake Dora, you will see nature at its finest and learn interesting history before pedaling into Lake Eustis. The fully-narrated tours are also available through Lake Beauclair and Lake Carlton during sunset hours. 


Go up the river with a paddle

Adventure Outdoor Paddle offers paddleboarding. 

Adventure Outdoor Paddle

210 E. Ruby Street, Tavares / 352.317.5012

Adventure Outdoor Paddle visitors enjoy tours of the Dora Canal, one of the most scenic routes on the Harris Chain of Lakes, all while paddleboarding. Kayaks are also available for rent, or you can sign up for one of the locals’ favorite tours, “Paddle and Bru,” which combines
paddling and craft beers. 


Go artsy

Beautiful art exhibits are prominently displayed at the Modernism Museum. 

Modernism Museum

145 E. 4th Ave. Mount Dora / 352.385.0034

Along with featured exhibits, Mount Dora’s Modernism Museum also hosts a number of events, both musical and art-related. Events scheduled for earlier this year have been postponed due to COVID-19, including “Dine and Learn, – a lesson in visual literacy and understanding art” presented by UCF professor Robert Reedy, who “shares how a bridge is built between contemporary artwork and the viewer.” The event is a discussion that allows art viewers to better appreciate and comprehend the messages within artwork. Another postponed event is a performance by Per Danielsson, a jazz pianist, composer, arranger, writer and educator from Stockholm, Sweden. The current exhibit at the museum is “The Ultimate David Bowie Memphis Collection,” which includes objects from the estate of David Bowie. The exhibition includes over 75 examples of Memphis objects, many from Bowie’s private collection. Past exhibits have included artwork by Wharton Esherick and Wendell Castle, both of whom saw the potential for beauty in functional objects and who create furniture sculptures. 


Other Attractions

Presidents Hall of Fame

See life-size wax figures of former presidents, as well as a miniature replica of the White House. The Presidents Hall of Fame is temporarily closed. Check website for re-opening information.

123 U.S. Hwy. 27, Clermont / 352.394-2836 / thepresidentshalloffame.com

 

Lake Louisa State Park

This park offers it all, from hiking and horseback riding
 to swimming and camping.

7305 U.S. Hwy. 27, Clermont / 352.503.4489 /lakelouisastatepark.com 

 

Southern Hill Farms

Pick blueberries and peaches. 

16651 Schofield Road, Clermont / 407.986.5806 / southernhillfarms.com

 

Citrus Tower

Enjoy a birdseye view of the Clermont landscape from
atop the 226-foot tall tower.

141 S. U.S. Hwy. 27, Clermont / 352.394.4061 / citrustower.com

 

Lake David Park

Enjoy a picturesque view of Lake David and see a variety of wildlife. 

450 S. Lake Ave., Groveland / 352.429.2141

groveland-fl.gov/facilities/facility/details/lake-david-park-6

 

Webster Westside Flea Market

Find great deals on furniture, musical instruments, electronics, pet supplies and much more. Mondays, 7am-1pm. Sundays beginning in November. See website for special events. 

516 NW 3rd St., Webster / 352.793.9877 / websterwestsidefleamarket.com 

 

Dade Battlefield Historic State Park

See where the first battle of the Second Seminole War took place.

7200 County Road 603, Bushnell / 352.793.4781 /
floridastateparks.org/dade-battlefield-historic-state-park

 

Venetian Gardens Park

Get wet in the splash pad, walk over wooden bridges, and enjoy gorgeous views of Lake Harris.

109 E. Dixie St., Leesburg / 352.728.9886 / leesburgflorida.gov

 

Lake County Museum of Art

See changing fine art exhibits and enroll in art classes
for children and adults.

213 W Ruby Street, Tavares / 352.483.2900

 

Lake Harris Lodge

Take advantage of fine dining and rustic accommodations
on Lake Harris.

11924 Lane Park Road, Tavares / 518.582.8333

 

Discovery Gardens

Marvel at the beautiful flora and fauna in a well-designed
botanical garden.

1951 Woodlea Road, Tavares / 352.343.4101

 

Jones Brothers Seaplanes

Enjoy the exhilarating feeling of taking off from and
landing on the water.

210 E Ruby Street, Tavares / 352.508.1800


 

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