ROAD MAP REQUIRED FOR LAKE COUNTY ATTRACTIONS
There is plenty to see and do in Lake County, Fla. World-class water skiing and golf, quaint bed and breakfast inns, antique shops, national parks and much more. Although the activities and attractions may be off the beaten path, finding them is well worth the time.
NATIONAL PRESIDENTS HALL OF FAME
A piece of Washington, D.C., resides in the countryside of Lake County. Housed at the National Presidents Hall of Fame in Clermont are White House displays that span 200 years and a 60-foot miniature replica of the White House, which has been viewed by 45 million people worldwide, including presidents, royalty and first ladies. The Guinness Book of World Records now features it as the world's largest dollhouse.
Visitors can peek into the rooms and grounds of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., where one inch of the model is equal to one foot of the full-scale White House, as it looks today. From the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden to the Lincoln Bedroom and Oval Office, the White House in miniature is impressive for its beauty and the richness of detail that creator John Zweifel has so faithfully and lovingly captured.
Every item exhibits a craftsmanship of exceptional quality and is a tribute to the White House's unique charm and all that the House of State represents, including tiny working televisions, hand-carved chairs and tables, crystal chandeliers, portraits exactly like those on the White House's walls, and miniature carpets that reproduce the originals stitch-by-stitch. So fine is the detail that it can take up to five hours to change a light bulb the size of a grain of rice.
In addition to the miniature White House exhibit, the Hall of Fame's Presidential Library and Gallery houses 42 wax presidential figures, a collection of first ladies' gowns, a presidential gallery of memorabilia, oval office displays and many of the Jackie Kennedy auction items. The museum is located in Clermont at 123 N. U.S. Highway 27, near the corner of U.S. 27 and S.R. 50, next to the Citrus Tower. For further information, call (352) 394-2836.
LAKERIDGE WINERY & VINEYARDS
Florida is not the first place one thinks of when winemaking is mentioned, but 35 acres of grapevines thrive along the rolling hills of Clermont, home of the Lakeridge Winery & Vineyards, one of only three wineries in Florida. On top of one hill is a large, Mediterranean style building, where free winery tours, wine tasting, retail wine sales, customized packaging, gift baskets and other wine accessories are offered. The vineyard has become a favorite spot on the Lake County map for visitors. Beyond the obvious business of grape-growing and wine-making, the winery also conducts a series of weekend community events, including the annual Harvest Festival, Jazz at the Winery, Winefest and Taste of the Goodlife.
Florida was actually growing native grapes before monks introduced them to California. Only native hybrids and Muscadine can be grown in the Florida climate, and the vineyard cultivates Florida hybrids such as Stover, Suwannee, Blanc du Bois and Miss Blanc. Muscadines include Noble, Carlos, Welder and Magnolia.
The annual harvests are in June/July for hybrids and in August for Muscadines. In celebration, the winery hosts the annual August Stomp, featuring grape stomping, live music, food and wine. The winery then initiates an eight-month process of crushing, pressing, pumping, filtering and fermenting the juice of the grapes until it's ready for bottling. The winery can produce up to 1,250 cases of wine per day. For additional information, call (800) 768-WINE.
UNCLE DONALD'S FARM
Open for more than 13 years, family owned Uncle Donald's Farm in Lady Lake is a showcase for clean, country living. Guests enjoy hayrides and petting and feeding the farm animals, as well as learning about the endangered and native species in the farm's refuge. One of the most interesting parts of the farm is the birds of prey exhibit. Providing a sanctuary for injured and orphaned birds and animals, the family treats and releases any that can be restored to health and still live safely in the wilderness. Those that can't be released become part of the farm. "We have never had a bear, but we've had just about everything else," said Donna Morris, one of the owners.
"Everything else" includes a Florida panther, owls, eagles, vultures, peregrine falcons, skunks, fox, bobcats, deer and even a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Albert Einswine. The Morris family has a special interest in breeding American minor breeds -- old breeds of farm animals that are seldom seen today. Native Florida sheep and pilgrim geese are two of the minor breeds that visitors can see.
The farm hosts holiday activities throughout the year, such as an Easter Egg Hunt, Fourth of July Animal Parade, Fall Fun Night and a Living Nativity.
To get to the farm from the Orlando area, take U.S. 441 or U.S. 27 north to Leesburg and U.S. 441/27 north to Lady Lake. Continue through Lady Lake over the overpass. One mile north of the overpass, turn right onto Griffin Ave. at the traffic light. The farm is 2 1/10 miles on the left. For more information, call (352) 753-2882.
AUSTIN CARRIAGE MUSEUM
In the far northern part of Lake County is an equestrian resort with a twist…it features an antique horse-drawn carriage museum. Visitors to Continental Acres Equine Resort in Weirsdale can view more than 75 carriages from the late 1800s and early 1900s, the zenith of the carriage driving era.
The pleasure driving carriages on display at the Austin Carriage Museum include the simplest to the most sophisticated and were driven by the common man and the aristocrat. Most are American carriages but a few are European. The collection, one of only a dozen or so U.S. collections open to the public, features carriages that were the predecessors to the modern-day cab, the station wagon automobile and the racing sulky. Also featured are a medicine carriage, a U.S. mail cart, and a large hunting wagon with a dog compartment.
One carriage, circa 1890, was used by MGM studios in movies made in the 1930s; and another carriage, the Tour Neau Sociable, is one of only three made in the U.S. left intact. The latest addition to the collection is an 1800s replica western style stagecoach that can be pulled by six horses. Visitors can enjoy viewing the western era coach and driver's clothing that resemble those seen in the John Wayne movie "Stagecoach."
The Austin Carriage Museum also displays a rare Austrian Gala Harness and features a reference library with books about carriages and driving.
Resort and carriage museum owner Gloria Austin, a board member of the Carriage Association of America, drives all the carriages in her collection either for demonstrations or in world-class competitions. Austin was named the 1998 North American Champion in coaching class, where the driver hauls approximately eight or nine passengers, and four-in-hand class, where the driver hauls between two and four passengers. In each class, drivers use a four-horse hitch to pull the coach.
The resort hosts an annual two-day carriage festival in December that features demonstrations of carriage driving, a carriage parade and museum tours.
Individual and group tours of the museum and resort are available Monday through Friday by appointment. The resort is located at 3000 Marion County Road in Weirsdale. Call the museum at (352) 750-5500 to schedule a tour.
Lake County is an off-the-beaten-path destination less than one hour from Central Florida's famous attractions…but light-years away. Quaint inns, graceful rolling hills, clean lakes, preservation areas and a family friendly atmosphere attract visitors looking for Florida the way it used to be, and the way it is today in Lake County.
For a free Lake County vacation guide, visitors can call (800) 430-LAKE.
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