Travel Guide: A Girls’ Weekend in Lambton County
*By: Natalie Taylor*
Summer is meant for road trips and in Ontario, the number of regions to explore is endless. Places like Prince Edward County are getting a lot of traction so it was refreshing to explore the area of Lambton County for the first time.
Lambton County is Ontario’s Southwest Region, 2.5 hours west of Toronto and just northwest of London, Ontario. It is also known as Ontario’s Blue Coast, home to two Blue Flag Beaches; a world-renowned eco-certification for high water quality and safety standards.
Our group of four ladies explored the towns of Sarnia/Point Edward and Grand Bend in detail, spending one night in each location. It was a refreshing weekend away and an area I’d recommend whether you’re there for the weekend or en route to a pitstop to cross the border over to Detroit.
WHERE TO STAY
Holiday Inn Sarnia, Point Edward
Centrally located to the international Bluewater Bridges in the Village of Point Edward, the Holiday Inn is a reliable base for your girls’ getaway. Holiday Inn already has a good standard: great pools (both indoor and outdoor), solid wi-fi, and comfortable beds after a day of exploring. What really impressed me, however, was the variety and quality of food at breakfast. Mini pancakes that were too cute to eat; eggs benny, and a breakfast buffet to boot. It had me singing, “Hotel, Motel, Holiday Inn!”
Pine Dale Motor Inn, Grand Bend
In the age of the “boutique hotel,” it’s nice to see accommodations that stick to their roots; that don’t feel they need to conform to a certain style for a growing demographic. The Pine Dale Motor Inn isn’t fancy but it certainly is comfortable and the hospitality made me feel right at home. (I didn’t mind those chocolates and wine in the room. A nice touch!) In addition to being a short walk to Grand Bend’s famous beach (walking will be faster than driving in peak traffic), the hotel also boasts quick access to Pinery Provincial Park and its’ own walking trails and gardens. We loved hanging out at the pool and relaxing in the jacuzzi. Great for girl bonding time!
WHERE TO EAT
Mad Taco, Sarnia
It doesn’t get any better than tasting some Mexican Food from a bright orange food truck by the gorgeous shores of Canatara Beach. The food does NOT disappoint. Get a double order of the Hercules Tacos - the Greek inspired chicken soft taco topped with feta and black olives.
Alternate Grounds, Dockside; Sarnia, Point Edward
A five minute drive from the Holiday Inn, this casual eatery has a marina-side view that will make you want to linger over your meal. We ordered all. of. the. things. which is what is so great about this place: you can mix, match and share. I opted for their special: the breaded coconut shrimp- but on the menu, you can’t go wrong with their Florentine Flatbread (sautéed mushrooms, spinach, brie), chicken tinga tacos, or pierogis. Great service, great vibe.
Ice Cream Galore, Point Edward
This was a tasty pit stop and worth every lick of the salted caramel flavour. There are colourful murals on the wall for your ‘ice cream against the wall’ instagram snap in addition to rainbow coloured benches outside. The perfect place to sit while you indulge.
Midori Sushi Bar & Restaurant, Grand Bend
Amazing sushi in Grand Bend? Yes, it exists! To top it off, Midori’s patio is relaxed and sophisticated. A welcome respite from the beach crowds. They do not skimp on the portions here, either. I got the best of both worlds with the “Fab Four”: salmon, tuna, cucumber and avocado; for those that can’t choose between salmon or tuna. (You can also upgrade to get your maki with crunchy tempura bits.) For all things pink, you must order the lychee lemonade, which made our ladies’ lunch a little more girly!
Schoolhouse Restaurant, Grand Bend
Schoolhouse is the perfect mix of charming, historical ambiance and wholesome dishes of the brunch variety. Known as Grand Bend Public School from 1874, you’ll see nods to its pedagogical past from the Teacher’s Rules from the era framed on the walls, to bells and maps displayed on the shelves. I was really impressed by the menu options here from a page full of your classic brunch picks to sandwiches and salads on the other page. I was already full and not feeling at my best, so I opted for a small roasted beet salad (feta, apples, cranberries, lettuce) and it helped calm my nerves. The girls had hearty portions of Greek salad, Philly Cheesesteak, and a granola bowl; all fulfilled for the long drive back home; we also ordered large glasses of lemonade to quench the thirst, natch.
The Colonial Hotel, Grand Bend
What I love about small towns are the non-fussiness of their establishments. Though not on our itinerary, The Colonial —Grand Bend’s oldest family-run hotel and restaurant—is known as one of the best brunches in town. The decor is old and wooden; the waitress, a stand-by and no nonsense; and the eggs benny (what you get here on Sundays) is the stand-by. I wouldn’t change a thing.
WHERE TO DRINK
Alton Estates Winery, Sarnia
This family owned farm and winery is proving that there is a wine region beyond Niagara and Prince Edward County. Marc and Ann Alton make the wine *by hand.* We certainly reaped the rewards of their hard work; stretching out our lunch by sipping their 2015 Marechal Foch Rose on their brand new patio.
Dark Horse Winery, Grand Bend
If you like palatial estates and rosé (see the theme, here?) then this is the winery for you. Our group fell in love with the grounds and setting here. Though not open for tours on Saturdays, you can do tastings at the bar and what I love is that they have themes for their $5 flights.
On a hot summer day, the light and aromatic flight seemed appropriate. We tried their Unapolgetically Brash White; Divine Riesling (winner!); and Brilliant Rosé. I’m also a fan of their Wine Lover’s Mix Flight (this is perfect for a day date with your significant other). That flight consists of their Methode Cuve close aromatic sparkling wine; One Horse Town Chardonnay; and Valegro Meritage.
Speaking of love, if you’re looking to get married around Grand Bend or in the Lake Huron area, this is a beautiful reception venue. For the girlfriends, it’s the patio with the large fireplace and cozy couches that are perfect for those hour long chats, vino in hand.
In fact, two girlfriends were doing exactly that, while we took in the surroundings (aka instagrammed our little hearts out prop-styling accessories and rosé).
WHAT TO DO
Hit the Beach!
Lambton County is home to two of Ontario’s Blue Flag beaches (they are designated based on the strict quality and cleanliness of the water and amenities). The beach at Canatara Park felt like a hidden secret on the shores of Lake Huron. The wind was high and the waves were crashing when we there but I liked the romance of that; and many were still in the water, close to the shore.
Grand Bend Beach is the star player of the beaches around Lake Huron. It is crowded here on weekends but if you go early and can nab a spot on the sand (bring your beach umbrella and blanket), it is a prime location for people watching. That said, there are two sides to Grand Bend; one less frequented than the other, if you’re looking for some quiet time.
Go Parasailing, Grand Bend
I have only ever thought of parasailing as an activity to do in the Caribbean and felt transported to my time in St. Maarten while at Grand Bend- going out on the boat via Grand Bend Parasail. One of their boat drivers is even from the Cayman Islands! A thousand feet up, you can’t help but be astounded by crystal clear blues of Lake Huron. The waters can be choppy even on a calm day, so be prepared and don’t eat the biggest breakfast. (Lesson learned!) It was a good laugh, witnessing the squeals of those who tried parasailing for the first time.
How lucky were we to get a private tour at the Oakwood Resort? We explored their grounds on golf carts and went over to their exclusive beach to be privy to magic hour! The sunset at Grand Bend has been boasted as one of the top sunsets in the world, comparable to those in Hawaii and Kenya.
It was a magical moment to see nature take its course and create a sky filled with orange hues; a girl in a matching shirt watched the waves and the brightness of the sky fade into the dark. Note: If you’re feeling thirsty, the caesars at Dave’s pub and Grill are on point!
Take in a Festival
Music Festivals are du rigeur in Lambton County in the summer and our gaggle of gals experienced one of the region’s biggest parties: The Bluewater Borderfest.
A mix of rock and country bands played and I have to say I never considered myself a fan of country music but Frankie Ballard converted me! He really got the crowd going with his honky tonk and had us singing “Sunshine and Whiskey” and “Helluva Life” throughout the weekend.
Add it to your road trip playlist!