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Aruba, Jamaica, oooh I wanna take ya to… Southwestern Ontario! OK, so it doesn’t have the same ring to it. Since it’s unlikely we’re going south of the border anytime soon, there’s good news - you don’t have to go far to lay out in the sand and dip your toes in the water.
In less than an hour, you can be immersed in the beach vibes of two small towns known for their summer hospitality - Grand Bend and Port Stanley. Each with its own distinct atmosphere, you can visit these waterfront havens just for the day or spend a few nights and really soak up the beauty of an Ontario summer.
I grew up cottaging in Grand Bend. Strolling along “the strip” to grab a cotton candy ice cream cone from The Original Fast Eddie’s Ice Cream & Froyo and then watching the sun set from atop the tall blue slides… Grand Bend holds many happy memories of my childhood. (Sorry, the slides are gone!)
Located on Lake Huron and just shy of an hour from the city, this is a classic summer day trip for Londoners. Whether you’ve been visiting for years, or this is your first trip, you’ll enjoy the fusion of nostalgic charm with modern updates and old favourites with fresh, new offerings.
If you’re spending a bit of time in the area and not heading immediately for the beach, the first thing you’ll want to do is take a tour of the main street, fondly known as “the strip”. Scope the place out, loop down by the beach to see what the water is like and get a feel for what’s going on.
Planning a full day at the beach? You can take advantage of the long stretch of sand, lifeguard patrolled shores, sports activities, splash pad for the kiddos and other amenities directly located on the Blue Flag status Main Beach. You need only walk up the street a bit to hit bars, dining establishments and shops.
Want to stay downtown but looking for other ways to stay active? Why not challenge your travel mates to axe throwing or a game of mini putt?
If you need a caffeine fix, you’ll want to head over to Highway Girl. Traditional burgers and fries? It's Denny’s Drive-In you’ll want. Ice cream? Take your pick! But you should give Hawaiian shave ice a try from the Grand Bend Sweet Shoppe instead. Looking for romantic water-side dining? Head over to River Road and check out the art galleries before enjoying dinner on the patio overlooking the river at 71 Grille.
If you’re able to take a weekend or mid-week break, a stay at the Oakwood Resort offers a tranquil getaway. Enjoy the private beach, hit the links and indulge your taste buds.
And, Grand Bend isn’t ALL about the beach. Cyclists can ride along fantastic trails out to Pinery Provincial Park, families and racing aficionados will have a thrilling day at Grand Bend Motorplex, aspiring sommeliers will want to visit Dark Horse Estate Winery and movie lovers can enjoy a classic theatre experience at the Starlite Drive-In when the sun goes down.
One thing I know for sure - one day won’t be enough. Grand Bend will entice you back time and time again.
If it’s a more relaxed pace you’re seeking, then the village and beaches of Port Stanley are for you! Approximately 45 minutes from London - history, charm and of course, sandy beaches await.
Boasting Blue Flag status, Main Beach is where you’ll want to head for a livelier atmosphere. Located on Lake Erie, this sandy shoreline is great for all ages, and they even offer a beach wheelchair when lifeguards are on duty. When you’re in need of a break from the water, you can give beachside volleyball a try or walk along the boardwalk to the pier. And no trip to Port Stanley’s main beach can go without ordering French fries from Mackie’s and enjoying a drink at GT’s On The Beach.
If you’re visiting with family and younger children, Little Beach offers a more secluded, sandy swimming beach that’s great for kids to wade into. If you’re headed here, there’s ample parking and facilities, but you’ll need to pack a picnic as you’ll have to go a little farther to reach dining options.
Looking for small town charm but not wanting sand in your shoes? There’s plenty of other things to do away from the water. Grab an ice cream treat from Broderick’s or coffee from the Village Square Coffee House. Peruse boutique shops like the Chique Shack Boutique, Joshua and Company and Modern Maple. Indulge your creative side with a visit to the Boathouse Gallery at the Art Emporium to view and purchase works by local artists. Got a history or transportation buff in the family? Just outside of town you’ll find the Elgin County Railway Museum. Golfers can bring their clubs and play a round at The Bluffs Golf Club or Kettle Creek Golf and Country Club, and car or racing enthusiasts should check out nearby St. Thomas Dragway.
Port Stanley is a great place to escape to if you’ve only got the day, but if you can stay longer, check-in to Kettle Creek Inn, one of the many B&B’s like Telegraph House or rent a cottage for the week.
And when you’re headed back home, extend the fun a bit longer with a stop at Shaw’s for a family-owned, handmade ice cream experience.
Whatever beach mood you’re in, you’ll find an opportunity for rest, relaxation and plenty of fun in both of these lakeside destinations. It will come as no surprise that things will look a bit different than usual, even at the beach. Masks on when heading indoors and keeping to smaller family units and social groups in your bubble. Before you travel, check for any changes to regulations and please follow requests of individual business owners. We can keep each other safe and healthy and still enjoy the sunshine.
Whether you choose Grand Bend or Port Stanley, you’ll feel transported from urban and suburban life without needing your passport. Bermuda, Bahamas… they’re great too. But we’ve got a few slices of paradise right here close to home.
So, grab that beach ball, pack up the cooler and experience what lies just beyond your forest city.
Don't forget to practice these safety tips:
The Curated Suitcase specializes in custom itinerary creation and contributes annually to activities of social impact inspired by our client's travel experiences. Our mission is to assist clients in traveling to new destinations and returning to beloved places, helping them to approach their journey as a traveler not just a tourist, and seek authentic experiences where they can learn about the people, culture, history and wonders of the places they visit.
Travel has the ability to open your eyes, challenge your perceptions and beliefs, educate, and inspire. It provides experiences that take your breath away, and ones that motivate you to stand up for something and make your voice heard. Travel can and should change you. If we seek to understand the world, through experiencing the world, then we are poised to change the world.
Possible light snow (1–2 cm.) in the afternoon.
Windy in the evening and overnight.
Mostly cloudy throughout the day.
Mostly cloudy throughout the day.
Foggy in the morning.
Foggy in the evening and overnight.