Have you heard of Ontario’s Blue Coast?
I rarely travel overseas during the summer months. It’s true. Why travel abroad this time of year when there are so many beautiful places close to home? While I’m jetting off globally as much as possible most of the time, I love exploring my own backyard when the weather is at its best. I’m so grateful to live in Ontario, Canada, within driving distance of the Great Lakes (Justin and I also happen to live right next to one). One of the most picturesque freshwater lakes, Lake Huron, has a stretch of coastline called Ontario’s Blue Coast.
Within Ontario’s Blue Coast, which is part of Ontario’s Southwest, there are numerous adventures and reasons to visit. I travelled there on a girls getaway with three lovely travel blogging ladies. During our three-day trip to the towns of Sarnia, Grand Bend, and everywhere in between, we participated in a variety of activities. You can easily check off everything on this list over a long weekend.
Here are 10 reasons to visit Ontario’s Blue Coast this summer.
BLUE FLAG BEACHES
A Blue Flag beach is one that meets a strict set of criteria, with regards to safety, water quality, and environmental management. Of all the beaches in Canada, only 26 are designated as Blue Flag beaches. You can find two of these beaches right in Ontario’s Blue Coast. In fact, we visited both of them on our trip to Sarnia and Grand Bend.
Canatara Beach in Sarnia has some of the clearest waters I’ve ever seen. It’s also a quieter beach if you’re seeking a relaxing getaway. There’s about one kilometre of sandy beach, and the waters range between deep blue and turquoise on a sunny day. It was overcast and on the verge of rain when we visited, but the rain held off and we walked along the beach. Canatara Beach has a nearby park, ample free parking, a taco food truck, and water sport rentals (kayaks and stand-up paddle boards). Check out this Canatara Park cheat sheet for even more tips!
GRAND BEND BEACH
By contrast, Grand Bend beach is much busier than Canatara Beach, but you can still find your own quieter section of beach if that’s what you seek. There’s non-stop, action packed fun in Grand Bend. It’s perfect for a day at the beach, soaking up the sun, building sand castles, or splashing around in the waters of Lake Huron. The main beach area has a splash pad and playground for the kiddos. There’s easy access to lots of restaurants, cafes, and bars in town with plenty of activities (like escape rooms, miniature golf, and even axe throwing). Plus, the turquoise blue water looks straight out of the Caribbean. Here are even more tips and important information about the beach in Grand Bend.
Is it coffee you seek on your adventures? Me too! There’s no shortage of cute cafes on your journey along Ontario’s Blue Coast. Here are two of my favourites where you’ll find rich brews and tasty food.
BLACKWATER COFFEE CO
When you wake up in Sarnia (or arrive for the day), the first place you’ll want to head is Blackwater Coffee Co. The owner, Dave, has perfected the art of roasting beans for the last 25 years. There’s a roast for every palate as well as small bites of food (they have everything bagels as a vegan option). Their dark roast was smooth and rich without any bitterness. Try a plant-based milk option for lattes and cappuccinos.
Highway Girl, a finer food shop, is the place to truly find something for everyone. They cater to all diets and allergies, including vegan, raw, gluten-free…you name it! The owner has family members who have food allergies, and she knows how difficult it can be to eat at a restaurant. She decided to offer eats and treats for every diet. There’s a wide selection of vegan and raw desserts (think: an entire refrigerated unit) and sandwiches can be made vegan and gluten-free. This place is a total gem, and I encourage you to check it out for lunch, a treat, or a caffeinated beverage. I went away with one of their mini vegan chocolate cheesecakes, donuts, and some coffee.
TASTY CRAFT BEER
If you love beer, you’ve gotta try the brews over at Refined Fool Brewery in Sarnia. They now have two locations (one downtown and one midtown), but they humbly started out as backyard brewers. Over the years, they’ve created 97 different beers and have a large sampling to taste at their brewery. Pick four of them for a flight – I tried the Troll Toll (cream ale), Hipster Doofus (strawberry wheat beer), Pinky Brewster (raspberry wheat beer), and My Cousin Knows the Drummer (German wheat beer). They were super refreshing and I love the quirky beer names.
AN EMERGING WINE REGION
Traditionally, when we think about wine regions in Ontario, Niagara or Prince Edward County might spring to mind. However, the rural areas of Huron Shores make up Ontario’s newest emerging wine region. Alton Farms Estate Winery is the pioneer winery and vineyard, while Dark Horses Estate Winery offers a luxurious tasting room, restaurant, and banquet space.
ALTON FARMS ESTATE WINERY
In Plympton-Wyoming, Alton Farms Estate Winery was originally only a dream of owners, Marc and Anne Alton. There weren’t any wine growers in this area, but Marc knew that the setting would be perfect for producing delicious and flavourful wines. Nowadays, Alton Farms Estate Winery handcrafts 13 to 17 wines each year from six acres of vineyards. We chatted with the friendly and knowledgeable owners, and sampled wine and finger foods from a charcuterie board (they made a vegan one for me!). My favourite was the 2016 Aberarder White.
DARK HORSE ESTATE WINERY
The architecture and vineyards of Dark Horse Estate Winery will surely wow you! Sample wines at their elegant tasting room or enjoy them on the spacious patio overlooking the vineyards. As someone who tends to like white wines on the sweeter side, I really enjoyed their Late Harvest Vidal, but I also recommend that you sample their sparkling wine. If you’re feeling hungry, hop down to the Barrel Bistro downstairs (more on that shortly!).
IMMERSE YOURSELF IN NATURE
Looking for the perfect combination of wilderness and beach? Head to Pinery Provincial Park to explore the forest, nature, and 10km of beautiful sandy beaches. The park itself has an exceptional biodiversity of flora and fauna, including 800 vascular plants and 300 bird species. Among the Oak Savanna and Coastal Dune Ecosystems, there are opportunities for outdoor recreation all year long. You can camp here (book early for summer campsites), rent canoes and kayaks, go biking on a 14km trail, walk on 10 different trails, or simply savour the views. Of course, it happened to be pouring rain when we checked out Pinery Provincial Park, but the rain made our surroundings even more lush and green. Even though we couldn’t properly enjoy the beach, I checked out the views and will happily return on sunnier days.
Naturally, Ontario’s Blue Coast has a spectacular waterfront along Lake Huron, from Sarnia right up the coast to Grand Bend and beyond. The crystal clear waters range from deep blue to light turquoise. You won’t need to go all the way to the Caribbean for your taste of the tropics.
WATERFRONT PARK (POINT EDWARD)
In the small community of Point Edward that neighbours Sarnia, take a stroll at Waterfront Park beneath the Blue Water Bridge. Take a look across the water – yes, that’s Michigan directly across the way! Don’t leave without sampling “bridge fries” from the local fry truck.
GRAND BEND LIGHTHOUSE
For all of those lighthouse chasers out there, check out the Grand Bend lighthouse at the end of the pier. Watch the waves crash all around you, especially on a slightly stormy day. We even saw someone surfing among the swells. I highly recommend walking all over Grand Bend: by the pier and lighthouse, along the beach, and all over town.
There are water sports for all ages and interests in Grand Bend. From Sea-Doo watercraft rentals to Flyboarding and parasailing, you can try these thrilling activities for the first time on brilliant, blue waters. We opted for a slightly tamer boat ride with Xtreme Watersports to soak up the scenery. As the boat glides along, feel the wind in your hair and the sun in your face. Discover Grand Bend from new perspectives out on the water.
DELICIOUS VEGAN CUISINE
Did you know that Ontario’s Blue Coast is a vegan cuisine goldmine? I had no idea until I visited. While there aren’t a ton of specifically plant-based restaurants, there are options everywhere you look. I’ve found vegan restaurants popping up in Ontario’s Southwest (for instance, there are quite a few in London, like Plant Matter Kitchen). To read more beyond this guide, check out my Vegan Guide to Grand Bend. Sarnia vegan guide is coming soon!
Cafe Mexico in Sarnia offers tacos, brunch, coffee, and cocktails. Those are pretty much all of my favourite things. The restaurant owners share their love for Mexican culture, tradition, and hospitality through food and drink. On the menu, you’ll find two vegan tacos: the vegan chorizo and refried bean. There’s also nacho chips and pico de gallo or guacamole. I also ordered a refreshing and tasty Cosmopolitan.
MATCH EATERY & PUBLIC HOUSE
Located right at the Gateway Casino Point Edward, Match Eatery & Public House is a modern pub with a contemporary twist. Dine on their patio with views of the St. Clair River or watch sporting events at the bar. The Big Toasted Veggie Sandwich was hearty and delicious, with roasted beets, portobello mushrooms, and hummus. Leave off the cheese and the onion ring (but add crispy onions!) to make it vegan. I also asked for some vegan nachos which was no problem at all. While the restaurant doesn’t have vegan cheese, they artfully arranged a number of toppings around the nacho chips for a yummy feast.
GREENS ORGANIC CAFE
Greens Organic Cafe is the only vegan and plant-based restaurant in Sarnia with food that everyone will adore. They have a rotating menu of bowls, wraps, burgers, pasta, tacos, and more. I had a raw walnut taco wrap with spiced walnut filling, cashew sour cream, avocado, onion, and veggies. Also, I couldn’t resist ordering a pina colada smoothie and a peanut butter cookie for dessert. In addition to the tantalizing menu, you’ll find a range of vegan products in their fridge and a variety of desserts.
I was so touched that the chef at Barrel Bistro went to the trouble of preparing a thoughtful vegan meal for me. As it turns out, the chef will always accommodate any dietary preferences or restrictions of their guests. Nestled beneath Dark Horse Estate Winery, the Barrel Bistro restaurant is a beautiful space beside the winery’s barrel room. We visited for brunch, and I was surprised with a multigrain vegan crepe with local fruit simmered in Vidal ice wine, topped with cashew Chantilly cream.
SMACKWATER JACK’S TAPHOUSE
There’s a vegan option right on the regular menu at Smackwater Jack’s Taphouse. This restaurant overlooks a small harbour in Grand Bend, Ontario. It’s a great place to watch the sunset while enjoying a yummy meal or drink on the patio. I couldn’t resist the Fuzzy Peach cocktail (yes, topped with a fuzzy peach candy!). The Baked Veggie Wrap was stuffed with jasmine rice, black beans, roasted red pepper hummus, tomatoes, corn, and spinach. Yum!
Who knew there was a sushi restaurant at this beach town? Midori Sushi is right on the main strip in Grand Bend. Definitely grab a seat on the patio during the summer months, or you can even enjoy a meal and a drink from the swing set up by the outdoor bar. The vegan options are clearly marked on the menu. There were too many yummy meals on the menu that made it difficult to choose. I settled on a miso soup, edamame with garlic and lime, cucumber rolls, and sweet potato rolls. To make my lunch complete, I added a lime frozen margarita, the perfect summer beverage.
LUXURY RESORT STAY
Right on the beach, Oakwood Resort is a luxurious accommodation and golf course in Grand Bend where you absolutely need to stay. Between its private beach, golf course, and therapeutic spa, you’ll have a quiet and relaxing place all day and night. The suites are reminiscent of northern cabins with their own private balconies and fireplaces.
The hotel grounds are beautifully landscaped, there’s a full service spa with an indoor pool, and there are even hammocks for swaying in the breeze. At breakfast, there’s a massive buffet with lots of options, and the chef even whipped up a tofu scramble for me. After a day at the beach, Oakwood Resort is the ultimate retreat for an unforgettable vacation. Click here to check out more reviews from fellow travellers, too!
Grand Bend and Ontario’s Blue Coast are home to some of this most spectacular sunsets ever. The sun’s beach points perfectly in a westerly direction, and the sunset rivals any tropical one I’ve seen. Unfortunately, as it rained during our overnight stay in Grand Bend, we didn’t get to see the iconic sunset. However, the skies were quite dramatic that evening.
However, I’ll show you a picture of what you can expect from a Grand Bend sunset. I’ve witnessed them in the past, and it’s worth the overnight trip alone.
Photo Credit: Kiril Rusev
Those are my 10 reasons to visit Ontario’s Blue Shores, including Sarnia, Grand Bend, and everywhere in between. Naturally, there are so many reasons to travel to Ontario’s Southwest this summer or all year long. I always look forward to exploring more of my own backyard, and can’t wait to return (perhaps with Justin in tow next time!).
Check out more photos from my adventures around Ontario’s Southwest! Click here to see my entire travel photo album of Ontario’s Blue Coast.
Thank you so much to Ontario’s Southwest and Ontario’s Blue Coast for hosting my stay. Thank you to my lovely travel buddies, Solmaz of The Curious Creature, Diana of Diana’s Healthy Living, and Krystle of Dine and Fash for snapping so many wonderful photos of me. To check out more photos and stories, search for #GirlsTripOSW on social media.
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