Road trips out of Toronto
Pack the Car: Three Unexpected Road Trips Out of Toronto
Words— Jillian Vieira
Given our must-savour, blink-and-you-miss-it summers, getting in a car and heading out of town is an annual bucket list item. The well-travelled routes—looking at you, Niagara and Prince Edward County—will always be there, but if you’re at peak “been there, done that” with the jam-packed touristy spots, here we propose three road trips from Toronto with fun times-filled itineraries.
Does a sub-one hour ride down the QEW count as a road trip? Maybe not, but with its gritty charm and growing Toronto expat community (i.e. plenty of city-approved stops), the Hammer has all the makings of a one-of-a-kind weekend jaunt.
The hipster hotel craze hasn’t made it to Steeltown just yet, but what the city lacks in boutique lodgings, it makes up for in mid-century modern Airbnbs. The Bellwether House brings cozy, chill vibes with its sun-drenched rooms, while the Bayfront Apartment, with its plant-filled space and harbour views, has that easy California aesthetic in spades.
Sunny mornings are made for the Insta bait-y terrazzo countertops at popular James St café Synonym. Their all-day vegetarian brunch menu—think watermelon radish-flecked avo toast and a tofu-pastrami Reuben—really hit the spot ahead of a long day. For authentic hand-pulled noodles, check out Noodle Me, a no-frills plaza eatery with hearty portions of hot soup. And to satisfy weekend-long snacking, it’s worth picking up a Roma Slab: a meat- and cheese-less bread pizza that’s been a Hamilton mainstay for over six decades. Sure, it looks too big to finish, but you never know when a hankering for pizza might strike.
Head-exploding fact: Hamilton is home to more than 100 waterfalls within its city limits. Some even call it the “Waterfall Capital of the World”—seriously. Our pick is Smokey Hollow, a ten-metre beauty that’s nestled in the super lush Bruce Trail. Prepare for a moderate hike along a bubbling creek to catch the views. If responsible retail therapy is more your thing, head to The Pale Blue Dot, an eco-boutique curating the best in sustainable housewares and personal care. Their selection of hand-selected antiques in the basement comes with very favourable, out-of-Toronto pricing. An ideal night out in Hamilton starts and ends at Sous Bas. Expect a living room dance party mood, one of the reasons up-and-coming DJs are calling it the best club in the province.
Sauble Beach, Ont.
Powdery white sand on the world’s second-largest freshwater beach? Yup, this dream escape is all yours in Ontario. Sauble Beach, part of the picturesque Bruce Peninsula, is a meeting of small-town charm and cozy cottage appeal. Oh, and did we mention its less than three hours from the city?
While we await PEC’s hugely popular June Motel to open up a similarly twee roadside lodge in Sauble next spring, the bountiful cottage scene is your next best bet. Amabel Beach House earns gold stars for its newly renovated airy design and dreamy fire pit fit for you and six friends, but if you’re looking for something a little more rustic, try Fern Haven for size where the authentic countryside interiors—hello, wood-panelled walls—bring a ton of nostalgia.
Two tantalizing words you want to hear after an afternoon in the sun: taco truck. Or, in the case of Casero, a double-decker taco bus. The Mexican to-go spot practically kisses the beach, so you can nosh on all the classics while taking in the legendary Lake Huron sunset. Stock your fridge with flaky scones, over 50 (!) cheeses and artisanal pantry goods at The Milk Maid in Owen Sound, or stay in town for a proper bit of fish and chips at Lord Elgin. The crispy, super-light halibut is a local fave.
Follow the shores of Lake Huron north for a day trip up to Tobermory, home to the kinds of turquoise waters you only see in the Caribbean. Flowerpot Island, named for the geological sea stacks that inhabit its waters, is a breezy boat ride away and rife with hiking and swimming opportunities. In the evening, stock up on snacks and head to the Hanover Drive-In for a double feature under the stars—you’ll quickly remember the joys of building a blanket fort in the back seat.
Ithaca, New York
You’ll need your passport for this one, but in about the time it takes to get to Ottawa, you’ll have reached upstate New York’s answer to the Niagara region. Home to Cornell University, Ithaca has the quaintness of a rural college town (hello, whimsical national park scene), but a bounty of natural vineyards and award-winning restos for the hopping.
Listen, we’re not against pitching an old-school A-frame tent to get closer to nature. But the glamping game in upstate New York has gotten so good (and so luxurious) that it’s hard to deny the upgrade. At Firelight Camps, expect hotel amenities (hot showers, continental breakfast and USB ports for charging) with your secluded and sprawling safari-esque tent. If the indoors are more your thing, book at this Cayuga Lake cottage, a quirky, dollhouse-like dwelling with two porches and all the modern fixings.
Getting a spot at one of FLX Table’s 14-person seatings requires some advance planning, but their seasonal, fixed five-course meal served dinner-party style is entirely worth the forethought. (Hot tip: keep your eyes peeled on the restaurant’s Instagram for super last-minute seat openings.) If you’re hoping for something more low-key, try downtown Ithaca’s Hawi Ethiopian Cuisine. Their traditional injera bread and stewed offerings are just the ticket for every type of eater—just be prepared for a utensil-less experience. And we can’t forget about the next level independent grocers that dot the upstate. Places like The Piggery, with its locally raised charcuterie and all the accoutrements, are an epic picnic in the making.
If you do one open-air activity in Ithaca, make a trip to Watkins Glen State Park. The cavernous canyons and otherworldly waterfalls along the Gorge Loop are worth wading through the crowds. Be sure to pack a pair of unfussy, non-slip shoes—those steps (and puddles) mean business. With a nearly 4-km hike under your belt, weave through the spindly Finger Lakes, stopping in at one of more than 100 vineyards in the region. Our picks: Bloomer Creek, known for its lo-fi winemaking; Sheldrake Point, a dessert wine destination; and the Pinot Noir-rich, Heart & Hands. This loop around Cayuga Lake will take a couple of hours, giving everyone in the car a chance to sip and DD swap.