For the longest, Tavares was just a quiet town, the county seat, where government workers and attorneys and such would show up in the morning and then leave in the evening. Then in 2006 they looked around, noticed 4,500-acre Lake Dora in their backyard, and a few smart people got some really good ideas. They worked with the Sunnyland Antique & Classic Boat Society to relocate the popular Antique Boat Show (March) away from Mount Dora, they began to host speedboat races (also March) and dragon boat races (April), and entrepreneurs arrived and opened waterfront restaurants where diners sit outside (or inside) – Ruby Street Grille, O’Keefe’s Irish Pub and Al’s Landing (which is actually three restaurants) – and enjoy lake breezes and sunshine. Notably, part of the Al's Landing complex is the new Lakeview Inn, a boutique hotel that opened this week.
You know what else? Tavares had the smarts to invest $8 million on a seaplane base and proclaim itself America’s Seaplane City. As I understand it, some smart people (maybe the same ones) realized there wasn’t a full-service seaplane base between Atlanta and Key West and so they created one. Come here on any weekend and you’ll see pilots landing their Cessnas, Gooses, SeaRays, Caravans, Twin Bees, and Cubs, grabbing a bite to eat at Al’s Lakeside Landing, checking in at the Woodlea House (affectionately called ‘The Nation’s Smallest Airport Terminal’), then flying off again. In adjacent Wooten Park, families are picnicking and kids are playing and splashing in the seaplane-themed Splash Park. The town also has seaplane training, ghost tours, boat tours, steam train rides, fishing tournaments, and more than a dozen major events annually.
The best thing about writing about off the beaten path Florida is that there’s so much of it, and sometimes I forget that I live right in the middle of it. So if you’re in my neighborhood, drop by Tavares. If your desire is to discover new off the beaten path destinations, the town is a great stop.