With Canada Day weekend upon us, many of us are getting that familiar itch for a summer road trip. Pair that with months of quarantine and restrictions slowly easing up, and you’ve got the perfect storm for a spontaneous weekend road trip.
Travel restrictions don’t mean you can’t give yourself a great summer vacation this year. You don’t have to catch a plane or cross a border to have some unique, one-of-a-kind experiences.
As a video production company that makes a lot of local tourism content, we’ve had the opportunity to visit all sort of great places in Ontario.
These are our top five.
Chatham-Kent is the epitome of small town charm. Nestled on the shores of Lake Erie, it offers nature, entertainment, great food and unique amenities.
For starters, it’s home to one of the most unique hotels in Canada. The Retro Suites Hotel offers 45 unique theme guest rooms, including a log cabin suite, a Game Day suite, and a Paris suite. It’s a popular spot for weddings and events, so be sure to book well in advance.
The “retro” vibe of the town does not stop there. Known as the Classic Car Capital of Canada, you’ll find old school rides all over the town. One place of particular interest is RM Classic Cars, one of the country’s most famous classic car restorers. Due in part to RM’s success, the surrounding area is constantly hosting classic auto shows.
The most famous of these is Retrofest, an annual celebration of all things old school. Each June, Chatham Kent attracts thousands to this event that boasts vintage shopping, retro arcade games, costume contests, live music and of course, classic cars.
If you happen to miss Retrofest, you’re in no short supply of things to do.
Chatham-Kent is home to a fast-growing brewery, Sons of Kent, that pours unique blends and serves decadent comfort food.
If you’re looking for a bit more adventure, you can head down to Cascades Chatham Casino to place a few bets.
It also has a large lakeside greenspace, Tecumseh Park, that is home to events year-round, and Capitol Theatre, a performing arts centre that hosts live music, theatre and much more.
If you’re looking to get in touch with nature, you’re just a short drive away from Point Pelee National Park, that’s home to plenty of wildlife, pristine beaches and hiking trails and camping grounds.
This lakeside town has deep roots and is a must-visit spot for history buffs. The town was founded in 1878 but it was settled back in 1784. Home to an historic battle fort and navy yard, much of the history remains in the buildings, cobblestone streets and museums.
Fort Malden, which dates back to 1796, is completely intact and open to visitors daily. It also hosts re-enactments and special holiday events for adults and kids.
If you’re more of a live-in-the-now type, have no fear. A recent surge in popularity of the town has inspired breweries, great restaurants and shops to pop up in the downtown.
For dessert, grab an ice cream cone at Waterfront Ice Cream and head to the King’s Navy Yard Park for a stroll along the waterfront and great views of Lake Erie.
For the wine lovers, the award winning Sprucewood Shores Winery, Ontario’s only beachfront wintery, is a short drive away.
3. St Catharines
If you want a mix of amenities, big city feel and access to serene nature spots, St Catharines is the place to go.
Their downtown is home to a the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, a massive cultural complex house with a 775-seat concert hall, a 300-seat recital hall, a 210-seat dance/theatre venue, and a 187-seat film house.
Events range from comedy acts like Jerry Seinfeld to Cirque Le Roux to local and international plays and dance troupes. It is also home to the Niagara Symphony Orchestra and the Niagara Ballet.
Your dining and wining options are extensive, with many restaurants supporting local Green Belt farmers and wineries. You’re also within a short drive (with shuttle bus service offered) to some of the best wineries in the country including Henry of Pelham Estates and 13th Street Winery.
Just outside of the city, you’ll find one of our favourite sunset spots, Port Dalhousie. Its cinematic lighthouse makes for some beautiful photography and atmosphere.
A bit further out is Decew Falls. Its chain of rivers and waterfalls is the perfect place to spend a day recharging and exploring.
This tried and tested road trip destination still never disappoints. Its picturesque, historic and right in the middle of one of Canada’s most fertile growing regions.
Many know Niagara-on-the-lake for one thing in particular: wine. Niagara’s unique climate makes it a prime place to grow grapes, and because of that NOTL has established itself as one of the country’s few prime wine regions.
It’s home to big names like Jackson Triggs, Peller Estates and Inniskillin, but also dozens of smaller, lesser known (but equally as delicious) wineries like Stratus Vineyards, Konzelmann and Southbrook Organic vineyards.
The way in which you enjoy this wine is up to you. If you want to check out a few different wineries, shuttle buses operate regularly with pickups near all major hotels or you can join one of many bike tours that operate along paths connecting nearby wineries.
Even without making it to the vineyards themselves, you can try Niagara wines in many of the award-winning restaurants on the historic Queen Street. Many of these restaurants offer up locally sourced dishes featuring fresh Niagara corn, tomatoes, peaches and more.
For a different kind of sipping, you’ll want to check out the Prince of Wales Hotel for afternoon high tea. Their historic tearoom is adorned with original fixtures and Edwardian furniture that will take you back in time.
If history is what you’re seeking, you’ll want to take a stroll a bit further down Queen St and catch a glimpse of the blocks of beautifully restored houses, some dating back as far as the early 1800s.
History buffs will also appreciate the historic Fort George, a crucial fixture in the War of 1812.
For a rustic, rural escape, Plympton-Wyoming is a definite win. Its long country roads are speckled with roadside farmers stands and pick-your-own berry fields.
Along the shoreline of Lake Huron, the town is home to two conservation areas and a 5 acre park, all of which are host to sandy, swimmable beaches. The largest of the three, Highland Glen Conservation Area, is home to a boat launch that is a local favourite for boat and fishing enthusiasts.
After a long day in the sun, you can kick back at either the local winery or rustic brewery the town has to offer.
The Alton Farms Estate Winery is a day trip in and of itself. It offers wine tastings of its 20 or so varieties and does a chocolate pairing too. Their sprawling patio offers a refreshing place to unwind and take in some natural beauty (and often a cozy fire) and is equipped with ping pong tables and other family-friendly games.
You’re also welcome to explore their groomed trails on foot during the spring and summer months, and by cross-country ski during the winter.
What’s best? This winery is dog friendly.
For those more inclined to suds, Stonepicker Brewing Company is a mere stone’s throw away. This farmers brewery is housed in an old drive shed, converted to a cozy open concept brewery and seating area. Their patio overlooks crop fields and boasts a beautiful blush sunset on clear nights.
It might be harder to find accommodations in the town itself, but nearby Sarnia has plenty of lodging options.
This list includes a few of our fondest road gig memories. If we’ve missed a must-see Ontario destination, let us know in the comments.