Ontario, “yours to discover”. I never really understood what that meant as a kid, whenever I’d see it on an Ontario license plate. It’s shameful to admit that I was raised and live in Toronto, and I will plan trips all around the world, but have never taken time to explore my own backyard! I was surprised to see just how much there is to discover within less than a 3-hr. drive from Toronto.
I went on a little road trip with some girlfriends to Ontario’s Southwest, specifically Sarnia & Point Edward and Grand Bend. We visited several places along Ontario’s Blue Coast – the stretch of Lake Huron’s shoreline in Southwestern Ontario between Sarnia and Grand Bend that boasts a number of Blue Flag Beaches, among other attractions. If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen my fun stories and #GirlsTripOSW posts, or you can take a look at my Instagram story highlights for Ontario’s Southwest in my Instagram bio. We experienced so much during our 3 days in the area, including lots of good food, drinks, and activities that I want to share with you. So, here are 12 things you can see and do in Ontario’s Southwest and Ontario’s Blue Coast, for yourself:
1. Grand Bend Beach
I’m a beach bum at heart, so Grand Bend Beach was the absolute highlight of the trip for me. The water is so turquoise, you’ll think you’re in the Caribbean. So, instead of setting your sights on that resort getaway outside of Canada, look no further than Grand Bend! Grand Bend Beach was awarded a Blue Flag in 2010 – a certification given to select beaches around the world that have excellent water quality and meet high safety, environmental, and sustainability standards.
Photo opps abound at the pier, with its iconic lighthouse at the end. Be sure to arrive early for photos, unless you’re okay with having lots of people in your shot! Grand Bend Beach is well-outfitted with amenities for the public, like a boardwalk, washrooms, change rooms, and outdoor showers. It’s also perfect for families, with a playground and big splash pad for kids.
Are you the adventurous type? You can do lots of water sports here too, like parasailing, jet skiing, and boat riding. We got out on a boat ride with Xtreme Water Sports and had a blast!
And if all of that isn’t reason enough, Grand Bend is also known for its fiery red sunsets. I was told that the sunsets here are amongst the best in the world (right up there with Greece, believe it or not!). Catch the sunset from the beach or on a patio, like at Smackwater Jack’s Taphouse, which has a good selection of cocktails, large plates, and loaded nachos!
2. Stroll along Main Street in Grand Bend
Grand Bend is a great place to surf in Ontario, so it’s not surprising that its Main Street feels a bit like a surfing town. Apart from surf shops and other boutique stores, there are lots of bars, restaurants, and even ice cream shops along the main strip.
We had a fantastic meal and yummy cocktails at Midori Sushi, which is closer to the top of the strip. It has a large dining room, comfortable back patio that’s perfect for people watching, and an outdoor bar/deck area with the cutest swings.
Another place to check out, which is just off the top of Main Street is Highway Girl. This adorable shop and café specializes in vegan, gluten-free, organic and healthy eats, pressed juices, ethically sourced coffee and products; and it’s the only one of its kind in this area.
3. Canatara Beach
Canatara Beach is another Blue Flag beach in Ontario. Even on an overcast day, like the day we visited, the water was remarkably clear!
4. Visit Pinery Provincial Park
Pinery Provincial Park spans more than 6,300 acres and is a must-visit when in Ontario’s Southwest and Ontario’s Blue Coast. It has lots of walking and hiking trails, several beach areas, and camping grounds (including Yurt camping!). We didn’t get to spend much time on its 10 km stretch of beach because of the rain, but make this a priority when you go.
5. Check out Alton Farms Estate Winery, the first winery along Huron Shores
Marc & Anne Alton started their winery, Alton Farms Estate Winery, over 12 years ago and are known as the pioneer winemakers in this region. Their dedication to the craft of winemaking is apparent, and their hard work helped lead to recognition by the VQA of the new Huron Shores wine region along Ontario’s Blue Coast. Try their Egremont Red and Aberarder wines, which are made from grapes indigenous to the region.
6. Visit Dark Horse Estate Winery, the largest winery along Huron Shores
Dark Horse Estate Winery is simply majestic! Set atop of over 20 acres of land, you’ll want to spend ample time here. Also in the new Huron Shores wine region, Dark Horse Estate Winery has a large tasting room and beautiful vineyard.
It’s a popular event venue, with weddings filling the vineyard ballroom and cellar reception hall almost every weekend. It also has a barrel cellar in the basement for more intimate events.
After sampling their wines, be sure to dine on a fantastic meal at Barrel Bistro, a family-run fine dining restaurant in the basement that has first rate chefs. Lucky for us, they began serving brunch on the day we visited. Try their Eggs Benny, which has braised ham hock and leeks, and is to die for!
7. Grab some tacos and cocktails at Café Mexico in Sarnia
When in or near Sarnia, my recommendation is to beeline straight for Café Mexico! My favourite meal on our trip, they serve up some pretty tasty Mexican fare and awesome craft cocktails. Apart from great food and drink, the space is super aesthetically pleasing and the service is friendly (shout out to Cilas, our waiter).
8. Hang out at the Blue Water Bridge
No trip to Sarnia is complete without spending some time at the Blue Water Bridge. This landmark is on top of the St. Clair River, linking Sarnia and Port Huron, Michigan. Aside from a river stroll, most people come here to sample the famous “bridge fries” from Albert’s, which is like a rite of passage.
9. Have a flight of craft beer at Refined Fool Brewery Co.
The result of a bunch of ‘backyard brewers’ getting together to form their own microbrewery, Refined Fool Brewery Co. is the place to get craft beer in Sarnia. Go to either of their 2 locations to have a flight of craft beers with funny names, like “Carp and Tunnel Syndrome”, “Pinky Brewster”, or “Hipster Doofus”.
10. Get caffeinated at Blackwater Coffee Co.
Originally from Toronto, owner, Dave Duguay, has been roasting coffee beans for about 30 years. He set up shop at Blackwater Coffee Company along Christina St. in Sarnia, and has been caffeinating residents since 2010. Despite his down-to-earth personality and demeanour, he has exceptionally high standards for his coffees and lattes (all of which must be served with beautiful latte art).
11. Drop some cash or dine at the Casino
Technically located in Point Edward (a separate village adjacent to Sarnia) and right next to the St. Clair River, Gateway Casinos is the place to go to drop or make some dough.
Whether or not gambling is your thing, MATCH Eatery & Public House is a friendly gastropub with a variety of options for food and drink and satisfying portions.
12. Play golf or overnight at Oakwood Resort
The only golf resort (and resort, in general) in Grand Bend, Oakwood Resort has kept some families coming back for decades. Owned by Dave Scatcherd (of the Labatt family), it’s a rustic property with cottages and suites, a large spa, indoor pool, tennis courts, and an 18-hole golf course. There are 2 bars and a dining room on-site, which serves a good breakfast. But, our favourite part was the private beach that’s easily accessible from the property.
Next time you’re planning a mini getaway outside of Toronto, take some time to explore Sarnia and Grand Bend. We had a blast on this trip, and I can’t wait to be back!