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10 Reasons to Visit Ontario’s Blue Coast This Summer

10 Reasons to Visit Ontario's Blue Coast This Summer

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.

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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.

Running towards Canatara Beach in Sarnia, Ontario, Ontario's Blue Coast, Lake Huron.

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

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!

Canatara Beach and Park, Ontario's Blue Coast. Sarnia, Ontario. Crystal clear waters of Lake Huron.
Girls getaway, ladies running towards the beach. Canatara Beach, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.
Balancing on a beam out to the crystal clear waters of Canatara Beach. Blue flag beach in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

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.

Caribbean blue waters at Grand Bend, Ontario. Blue flag beach at Ontario's Blue Coast. Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada.
Grand Bend Beach. Stunning turquoise waters. Sandy beach in Grand Bend, Ontario.

Cozy Cafes

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.

Blackwater Coffee Co, Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.
Lauren enjoying a cup of coffee and bagel at Blackwater Coffee Co in Sarnia, Ontario.

Highway Girl

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.

Highway Girl in Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada. Vegan and gluten-free lunch and desserts.
Vegan donuts from Highway Girl in Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada.

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.

Refined Fool Brewing Co in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Colourful wall mural in the midtown brewery.
Beer flight at Refined Fool Brewing Co in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

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-WyomingAlton 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.

Sampling wine at Alton Farms Estate Winery, Ontario's newest emerging wine region at Huron Shores.
Alton Farms Estate Winery. Wine and vegan charcuterie board. Ontario's newest emerging wine region. Plympton-Wyoming, Ontario.

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!).

Dark Horse Estate Winery, Huron Shores, Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada. White wine sampler.
Strolling the vineyards at Dark Horse Estate Winery in Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada. Emerging wine region of Ontario's Blue Coast.

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.

Rainy day at Pinery Provincial Park on Lake Huron, Ontario, Canada.
Pinery Provincial Park boardwalk to Lake Huron on a rainy day.

Stunning Waterfront

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.

Blue Water Bridge and waterfront in Point Edward, Ontario, Canada
Bridge Fries, a must when you visit Sarnia and Point Edward, Ontario.

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.

Grand Bend lighthouse at the end of the pier during a stormy day with many crashing waves.

Water Sports

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.

Xtreme Watersports in Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada. Go for a boat ride on Ontario's Blue Coast.
Boat ride in Grand Bend, Ontario on a little raft behind the speedboat.

Delicious Vegan Food

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

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.

Vegan eats at Mexico in Sarnia. Nacho chips, pico de gallo, vegan tacos.
Cafe Mexico in Sarnia. Mixing a 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.

Vegan food at Match Eatery and Public House at the Gateway Casino Point Edward, Ontario.
Toasted Veggie Sandwich at Match Eatery. Point Edward / Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.

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.

Greens Organic Cafe in Sarnia, Ontario. Vegan restaurant in Sarnia.
Food from Greens Organic Cafe in Sarnia, Ontario. Pina colada smoothie, walnut taco wrap, peanut butter cookie. Vegan.

Barrel Bistro

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.

Vegan crepe at Barrel Bistro in Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada.

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!

Baked Veggie Wrap at Smackwater Jack's in Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada. Vegan menu offering.
Cocktails at Smackwater Jack's Taphouse in Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada. Fuzzy peach cocktail.

Midori Sushi

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.

Miso soup, edamame, margarita at Midori Sushi in Grand Bend, Ontario.. Vegan options.
Cucumber rolls, sweet potato rolls, edamame, vegan food at Midori Sushi in Grand Bend, Ontario.

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!

My suite at Oakwood Resort in Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada. Ontario's Blue Coast.
Indoor pool at Oakwood Resort in Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada.
Hammocks and Muskoka chairs at Oakwood Resort in Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada.
Tofu Scramble at Oakwood Resort. Breakfast in Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada. Vegan.
Buffet breakfast at Oakwood Resort in Grand Bend, Ontario, Canada.
Private entrance to the beach in Grand Bend from Oakwood Resort.

Electrifying Sunsets

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.

Dramatic sky in Grand Bend, stormy sunset sky. Ontario's Blue Coast, Canada.

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.

Grand Bend Sunset

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!).

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Thank you so much to Ontario’s Southwest and Ontario’s Blue Coast for hosting my stay. 

Have you heard about or visited Ontario’s Blue Coast before? What surprised you the most?

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Monday 29th of July 2019

Love Grand Bend! I totally agree with your recommendations!


Monday 29th of July 2019

Excellent! I'm glad you feel the same! :)


Wednesday 8th of August 2018

I will never forget how excited your face was when you were presented all the amaze vegan options! This was such a fab trip and I'm soooo thrilled we had a chance to experience it together. xoxo

Jon Ferraro

Wednesday 8th of August 2018

Hello Lauren,

Seems like an amazing place, I'm planning to visit Canada next summer. Won't miss Blue Coast.


Linda Wilson

Tuesday 7th of August 2018

Well done! I was raised in Sarnia, and returned to Ontario to retire near Bayfield. You made everwhere look so enticing. Planning a staycation soon.


Wednesday 8th of August 2018

Amazing! Definitely plan a staycation - that sounds like so much fun! I never knew Sarnia was such an awesome place until I visited :)


Friday 3rd of August 2018

Loved our getaway! Still can't get over how gorgeous the beaches are.

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