Something for Everyone

From sun-dappled afternoons spent sipping wine to action-packed nights at the blackjack table, Ontario has all the ingredients for a perfect summer getaway.
Planning a getaway with family and friends can feel like negotiating a Middle East peace deal. Everyone has his or her own idea of the perfect vacation. Some insist on a Vegas-style blitz of gambling, nightlife and top-shelf entertainment, preferably in a spot where the hotel offers every amenity imaginable. Others demand a traditional beach holiday. Foodies crave “culinary experiences” far above and beyond the three squares a day that satisfy everyone else. And then there are the outdoorsy types who really want to get away from it all and commune with nature in a bucolic setting.

The solution? A trip to Lake Erie’s North Shore.

Southern Ontario has casinos, wineries, beaches and birding locations to keep everyone in a discerning group with diverse interests occupied for days on end. 

Casinos & Entertainment

Gamers looking to try their luck have three full-service casino options in Canada’s Lake Erie region. Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island chief executive officer Gordon Orr describes Caesars Windsor (, 800-991-7777) as “Canada’s largest casino-resort complex.” The massive property boasts 100,000 square feet of gaming — slots, table games such as baccarat, craps and roulette, a 24-hour poker room — as well as 100,000 square feet of convention and meeting space, two hotel towers with a combined 758 guest rooms, seven restaurants (including Caesar’s signature Nero’s Steakhouse), a spa, fitness center and indoor pool. The 5,000-seat Colosseum books headliners such as Celine Dion, Billy Joel, Bruno Mars, Reba McIntire, Chris Rock, Don Rickles — “the list is endless,” Orr marvels. And the property’s location on the Detroit River provides pleasing views of the Detroit skyline and easy access to the Windsor Sculpture Park (, 519-253-1812), which showcases 30-plus large-scale contemporary works by world-renowned artists.

Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara Falls (, 888-325-5788) advertises its 200,000-square-foot gaming floor as one of the world’s largest, its poker room as “the largest and most popular in Ontario.” There’s also over a dozen restaurants. Although the 1,500-seat Avalon Theatre is smaller than the Colosseum, the acts that have played there — Ringo Starr, Jay Leno, Keith Urban, Diana Ross — are just as impressive. The resort hotel has 374 guest rooms with amazing views of the falls and the city skyline, a spa, fitness center, indoor pool and some 30 shops and boutiques selling everything from clothing and accessories to hot sauce and Christmas decor. Locals generally prefer the nearby Casino Niagara (, 888-325-5788), which has 1,300-plus slot and video poker machines, over 30 table games and a 12-table poker room as well as three restaurants and a bar.



The proliferation of wineries on or near the Lake Erie shore is testament to a microclimate and soils that provide some of the best grape-growing conditions in the world. Some two dozen are located in and around Niagara-on-the-Lake, a picture-postcard town just a short drive from Niagara Falls. (A winery map is available at

Ryan Moran, senior manager of marketing for the Niagara Parks Commission, singles out the likes of Reif Estate Winery (, 905-468-9463), Riverview Cellars Estate Winery (, 905-262-0636) and Inniskillin (, 888-466-4754), all located just off the Niagara Parkway. The road follows the Niagara River for 35 miles from Fort Erie to Niagara-on-the-Lake.

“It’s a gorgeous drive the entire way,” Moran raves, adding that the wineries are near nature-trail systems, botanical gardens, restaurants and other attractions. “They’re a part of this broader, tourism-travel experience.”

 At the other end of the lake, Essex County boasts a growing cluster of 16 wineries connected by the Lake Erie North Shore Wine Route, a map of which is available at Orr notes that a good number are conveniently located across the street or down the road from one another.

“Pelee Island Winery in Kingsville is the most well-known and the biggest producer of wine in the region,” he says, adding that the establishment (, 519-733-6551) also operates a pavilion on its namesake Pelee Island.

But Orr also singles out Viewpointe Estate Winery in Harrow (, 866-372-8439) for the spectacular views from its lakefront location and Mastronardi Estate Winery in Kingsville (, 519-733-9463) for its sangria. A $10 CAD “wine passport” is available at that entitles the bearer to free tastings, discounted food-and-wine pairings, gifts with purchase and more at participating Essex County wineries.

The winemaking industry also has taken root in Norfolk County, where fields once planted with tobacco are being used to grow grapes and fruit at seven locations.

“They’re part of an emerging wine region that’s relatively new in southern Ontario,” says Norfolk County manager of tourism Clark Hoskin. “Ten years ago, none of these wineries existed.”

The best known is Burning Kiln Winery in St. Williams (, 519- 586-9858). The operation is located in a repurposed tobacco-pack barn where winemakers employ the ancient appassimento method of winemaking, a technique in which grapes are partially dried before fermentation to produce a deeper-colored, fuller-flavored wine. But instead of drying grapes on mats or slated crates, they use tobacco-drying kilns.

Birds and Beaches

For those who passionately define the word “flight” as the soaring of birds instead of a series of wine samples, southwestern Ontario is nothing short of paradise. The premiere birding spot is Point Pelee near Leamington, a portion of which is included in Point Pelee National Park (, 519-322-2365).

The southernmost tip of mainland Canada, with its lush Carolinian forest and wetlands, and Lake Erie islands provide an ideal migratory path over Lake Erie and the Great Lakes region, according to Jeanine Lassaline-Berglund, Leamington’s economic development officer. More than 370 species of birds have been spotted on Point Pelee and nearby sites such as the Hillman Marsh Conservation Area in Leamington (, 519-776-5209), Wheatley Provincial Park in Wheatley (, 519-825-4659) and Holiday Beach Migration Observatory in Amherstburg (, 519-736-3772). Holiday Beach has been ranked the top hawk-watching site in Canada by Audubon Magazine and the third-best in North America. A whopping 39 species of warblers were recorded in the park alone during a single spring migration.

Lassaline-Berglund says visitors can observe birds from the park’s walking and biking trails and its beaches. “You could literally walk your way around Point Pelee just by walking on the beach,” she says.

Long Point Beach (, 519-586-2133), is on another major migratory route. Hoskin explains that the only way to reach the actual tip of the sand spit and its lighthouse is by boat. Long Point Tours (, 226-567-5414) and Long Point EcoAdventures (, 877-743-8687), both in Turkey Point, offer tours. But the park’s campground and most of Long Point Beach are easily accessible by car.

A number of other provincial parks allow visitors to combine birding and beaching. Haldimand County senior economic development officer Lidy Romanuk mentions Rock Point Provincial Park near Dunnville (, 905- 774-6642) and its bird-banding station. Chatham-Kent tourism manager Patricia Peters singles out Rondeau Provincial Park in Morpeth (, 519-674-1750), known in part for the tundra swans that descend upon it in the spring by the thousands — if Rondeau Bay has thawed, that is. “There are so many that the bay becomes white with tundra swans,” she says.

The coastal towns offer a range of more traditional beach-vacation experiences. Hoskin describes Port Dover ( as a fishing port where the local restaurants’ Lake Erie perch and pickerel dinners are as popular as the tidy stretch of sand. The town, which also has a summer theater and several shops, literally roars to life on the rare Friday the 13th during the summer, a date when thousands of motorcyclists converge on the town. The event turns Port Dover into what Jim Hudson, executive director of the Southwest Ontario Tourism Corp., calls “a mini Sturgis, S.D.”

 “The last major one we had, there were probably 30,000 motorcycles that came — and then there’s all the people who just come to look at them,” Hoskin says. “So the town of 9,000 people swells to about 150,000 in one day — and then they all disappear.”

Elgin County marketing and communications coordinator Katherine Thompson describes Port Burwell ( as a quiet town with restaurants serving Lake Erie fish, a 19th-century lighthouse and World War II submarine open for tours. Visitors can lounge on the public beach as well as the one at Port Burwell Provincial Park (, 519-874-4691). Thompson points out that Port Burwell is one of the provincial parks that maintains a designated “dog beach” — in this case, at an end of the one used by humans.

But the most popular beach destination along the north coast of Lake Erie is nearby Port Stanley ( The primary draw is a main beach lined with restaurants and food trucks. Thompson says beachgoers can rent stand-up paddleboards and kayaks, and even enjoy a massage, right on the sand. The more secluded Little Beach is nearby. “It’s very popular with families with young kids just because the beach area is small — you can see where your kids are all the time, and it’s not quite as busy as the main beach,” Thompson says.

Hudson adds that Port Stanley’s Blue Flag “eco-label” — a designation awarded by the Copenhagen, Denmark-based nonprofit Foundation for Environmental Education to beaches and marinas that adhere to strict criteria governing water quality, environmental management, safety, etc. — appeals to parents. “They know they can go there and be safe and be clean,” he says. “They don’t have to worry about things like toxic blue-green algae, all that other kind of stuff.”



Bayside BrewPub. The pub, in the same converted hotel that houses the Bayside Brewing Co. and tasting room, has the microbrewery’s flagship Long Pond Lager and Bayside Light on tap, along with offerings from other craft breweries and a menu that includes appetizers, salads, entrees such a maple-drizzled grilled salmon, burgers and wood-fired pizzas. The patios are a good place to watch the activity on Rondeau Bay. Erieau,, 519-676-8888

Erie Beach Hotel. The restaurant is famous for breaded-and-baked perch served with a chunk of celery bread, homemade desserts and salads/sides such as pickled pumpkin. Port Dover,, 519-583-1391

GT’s Beach Bar & Grill. The beachfront hotspot, open May to September, actually topped a 2013 CNN best-beach-bar Facebook poll. Patrons, some right off the beach in their bathing suits, crowd into the place to order burgers, sweet potato fries, fish tacos, and, of course, cold, fruity drinks. Port Stanley,, 519- 782-4555.

Jack’s Gastropub Inn. The attractions at this eatery, featured on Food Network’s “You Gotta Eat Here,” include great burgers, over two dozen craft beers, the onsite microbrewery Banded Goose Brewing — and a trio of well-appointed guest rooms., 519-733-6900

Queenston Heights Restaurant. The Niagara Parks Commission offering, located at the foot of War of 1812 heritage site Brock’s Monument, is known for its Sunday brunches and breathtaking views of the Niagara River and local vineyards. Open May through mid-October. Queenston,, 905-262-4274

Rino’s Kitchen & Ale House. The eatery, in a historic old inn, bills its fare as “comfort food with local flair.” The dinner menu at press time included Asian-inspired, slow-cooked pulled pork over savory waffles with sour cream and maple syrup, linguini in a red wine-braised rabbit tomato sauce, vegan shepherd’s pie and oxtail stew. Windsor,, 519-962-8843

Sunflower Café. Digging into a piece of the café’s carrot cake made a National Post list of “10 Things You Need to Do Before You Die.” One diner says the cream-cheese frosting alone makes it worth the trip. Selkirk, 905-776-1585

Taco Tony. It’s just one of the many good Mexican restaurants in Leamington, an outgrowth of the agricultural area’s large offshore-worker population. The modest location belies the quality and popularity of the food. Leamington, 519-326-0110

The Gallery Restaurant. The menu consists of a mix of Mediterranean and American dishes, some from proprietors Tony and Ana Peixe’s native Portugal. The patio has two ponds with fish, turtles and aquatic plants. Leamington, 519-322-2399.

Twisted Lemon Restaurant & Flavour Junkies. Former Toronto Star travel editor Jim Byers declared the Twisted Lemon the “best Ontario restaurant” in December 2014. He rhapsodized about the short ribs. But entrées have run the gamut from a strip-loin steak dry-aged 60 days to stuffed rack of lamb to duck tacos to kangaroo. Cayuga,, 905-772-6636



July 3-5
Windsor Fork & Cork Festival
Approximately 20 booths occupied by restaurants, food-truck operators, wineries and more serve up samples of their finest at this celebration of the local culinary scene while patrons enjoy live entertainment. The whole thing is staged against the backdrop of the Detroit skyline. Admission $10 CAD a day/$20 CAD for a weekend pass. Riverfront Festival Plaza, Windsor,

July 18-19
Le Tour de Norfolk
The recreational ride takes several hundred cyclists — some from as far away as Toronto and New York State — through picturesque Norfolk County., 519-582-1900.

July 25
Hagersville Rocks
The name of this second-annual event is a misnomer of sorts — the acts are actually a mix of rock and country. This year’s lineup includes Tim Hicks and Alan Doyle, formerly of Great Big Sea. General admission tickets $49.50 CAD. Grant Kett Memorial Ballpark, Hagersville,

July 26
Motown Memories
One of the biggest of the festivals hosted by family-owned Quai du Vin Estate Winery features an afternoon of Motown tribute acts on the winery grounds. Tickets $25 CAD in advance, $30 CAD at the gate. St. Thomas,, 519-775-2216

Aug. 1
Art of the Boulevard
Over 100 artists working in everything from acrylics, watercolors and oils to beach glass display their works along the tree-lined Erieau Boulevard between Lake Erie and Rondeau Bay in Erieau. 
Artist demonstrations, live music and a home and cottage tour complete the event. Erieau,

Aug. 7-9
Kingsville Folk Music Festival
Over 20,000 folkies flocked to the inaugural fest in 2014, drawn by more than 30 acts on multiple stages. This year’s lineup is just as big. Single-day passes $35-$55 CAD/weekend passes $80-$90 CAD. Lakeside Park, Kingsville,, 519-997-7777

Aug. 14-16
Leamington Tomato Festival
The annual event, famous for its tomato stomp, is a big one in an area that identifies itself as the Tomato Capital of Canada. Other activities include a beauty pageant, parade, custom-car show, fish fry, pancake breakfast and firefighters water-barrel competition. Seacliff Park, Leamington,, 519-326-2878

Aug. 22-23
Dunnville Grand Cycling Tour
This new ride offers cyclists a choice of routes that take them through Haldimand County and along a portion of a waterfront trail that continues from Windsor to the Quebec border. Two-day registration $85 CAD/one-day registration $45 CAD.  Dunnville,, 905-741-2229

Sept. 12-13 and 19-20
Festival of Hawks
Birders will enjoy live raptor shows, banding demonstrations, workshops, hikes and the opportunity to adopt a hawk. Holiday Beach Migration Observatory, Amherstburg,, 519- 736-3772.