Exploring Clermont and the Citrus Tower
Visit the Citrus Tower in Clermont
Growing up in Winter Garden, back then a sleepy and comfortable suburb outside of Orlando, I was very aware of the equally quaint and quiet city of Clermont next door.
In the past twenty years, as Winter Garden’s downtown has emerged as a hub of activity for locals, Clermont has grown tremendously in terms of the people who live there, from 10,000 residents to over 36,000 since the year I graduated, but hasn’t entirely kept pace with things for its residents to enjoy, until more recently. It’s exciting to see locals investing money back into the downtown area as well as one of Florida’s first attractions.
I took a Saturday afternoon to explore some familiar spots along with local businesses I hadn't had a chance to visit yet. I wanted to know what downtown Clermont had to offer its residents and visitors.
The Citrus Tower is one of Florida’s oldest attractions, dating back pre-Disney days when the surroundings were nothing but citrus groves. If you grew up deep in the Westside, you surely could smell the sweet orange blossom scent that took over the city. Even though I didn’t live too far from this local landmark growing up, I never went to visit the observation deck.
A young local couple now owns and operates the tower, and they are trying to create a more well-rounded experience for locals and visitors. Scott and Heather Homan have been tweaking the offerings inside the Citrus Tower to make it a family-friendly attraction and a community space.
When you enter the bottom of the tower, Mountaineer Coffee now has a bar where you can purchase drinks and snacks, and they also sell the tickets for entrance up into the tower. On my visit, people were sitting with laptops working and others conversing just like in any other coffee shop. This one just happened to be located at the bottom of an old Florida landmark.
Tickets up to the tower are $10 for adults and $6 for kids, and you can stay in the observation deck for as long as you like. At 22 stories high, you get a full panoramic view of Central Florida. We could easily see the skyline of downtown Orlando, and I’m pretty sure we spotted the I-4 eyesore in Altamonte.
For the most part, we had the observation deck to ourselves to sit and sip our coffee, identify landmarks, look for our houses (of course we couldn’t see them), and just take in a view that you don’t get to enjoy anywhere else. The observation does have wi-fi, so if you felt the need to go up there and work for inspiration, you could do so.
Heather and Scott are planning on renting out the deck for events as well.
After you’ve enjoyed views from the observation deck, your visit continues down below. Back down on the ground level, there is the Tower Arcade and Lounge filled with retro 80’s and 90’s games. Right now the charge for unlimited play of the arcade games is $5. There is also a bar in the space with cocktails and beer. In the back, you’ll find their “weirder things” corner that has it’s own Strangers Things living room complete with a very nostalgic couch and Atari to play.
Thanks to the mixed experience in the tower, and hopefully, a restaurant taking over another space on the ground level, it allows for you to enjoy the tower and other activities that can fill an afternoon without costing too much.
As I was searching for places to eat in downtown Clermont, I came across a brewery that had a lot of pictures of sushi. I was highly intrigued, as you usually don’t find these two combinations under one roof, so we decided to see how that panned out.
Clermont Brewing is a full-scale restaurant that also brews local craft beers. On the menu, you’ll find not just sushi, but wood-oven pizzas, salads, and some other pub-like fare.
Out of the two breweries we visited, Clermont Brewing won best local brew by the beer drinkers in the group. If you aren’t a beer drinker, they have a plentiful cocktail menu.
What we tried:
Garden of Eden Cocktail - Absolut Vodka, St. Germain Elderflower, lime juice, and cucumber. ($12)
West Coast IPA ($6)
Diablo Pizza - Handcrafted spicy tomato sauce, Mozzarella, hand-cut Sopressa salami and Pepperoni, peppadews, and basil. ($16)
Blondie Pizza - Mozzarella, lemon ricotta, goat cheese, prosciutto, baby lemon arugula salad, roasted garlic and Parmesan cheese. ($18)
Everybody Wants Some Sushi Roll - Deep fried crab rangoon roll topped with eel sauce, sweet chili sauce, and fried wonton strips. ($12)
Outside of the somewhat high prices for the pizzas, we thoroughly enjoyed our meals (including the sushi) and had great service. It was a very casual and comfortable atmosphere.
Suncreek Brewing was our second stop, and it felt like a miniature version of the Plant Street Market in Winter Garden. Beyond the brewery, which you can view from the seating atop the brew pit, they have a few familiar food vendors inside the space. Michael Ali’s Coal Fired Pizza, Mac’d Out, and Savoree all have a bit of real estate inside the building. Since we had just eaten, we didn't spend as much time at Suncreek, but it was full of locals enjoying their afternoons.
Energy Lab is just a few steps away from Suncreek Brewing, so although our wanderings had left us quite stuffed, we had to check it out. Now that I've experienced what lies beyond the Epcot-like exterior, I would highly suggest all coffee lovers go here immediately.
AJ, the Master Barista of the cafe, greeted us and enthusiastically, yet humbly showcased his coffee knowledge as he guided us through the menu. AJ competes in Coffee Masters™ tournaments and takes his skill as a barista very seriously. We ended staying there after finishing our drinks to watch him create the next order.
I tried the Cherry Blush Espresso shot, and for someone who rarely drinks a single shot of espresso for fear of how my stomach will react I can say it was so smooth and stripped of the acid that usually causes me to suffer. I tried some of the other drinks that AJ made, and as a group of coffee lovers, we were all blown away by how perfect our drinks were.
In all my coffee adventures, I've never come across a place so unassuming while being a real hidden gem. Even thought it’s a solid half-hour drive from where I live, I will absolutely be going back to the Energy Lab whenever I can.
There is another new option for coffee in Clermont over at the non-profit cafe The Outpouring. They focus on local efforts to assist families in need but also help in International relief in Malawi. Their team has developed relationships within the communities there continue to strive to make a positive impact that you can see on their Instagram page.
On my visit, I was able to get an iced vanilla lavender latte with a lid that required no straw.
We enjoyed hospitable service, and the shop has plenty of seating and even a child play area in the back.
It goes without saying that no trip to Clermont is complete without visiting Donut King before you go home.
I visited all of these establishments personally and paid for all meals, drinks, activities. No business asked me to feature them, nor did any business pay me to feature them. Support your local businesses!
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