York, Durham, and Headwaters
Just east of Toronto, York, Durham, and Headwaters is the Greenbelt, a charming area of farm fields and rolling green hills with historic brick-and-Victorian towns nestled in between. Make time for the region’s outstanding food, arts and culture, and retail therapy. If craft suds is your thing, drive one of the self-guided Brewery Discover Routes. Go for a cycle, horseback ride, or day hike — or in winter, cross-country ski. A favorite is the Ajax Waterfront Trail, a scenic stretch along Lake Ontario that extends all the way to Niagara-On-The-Lake.
York, just outside Toronto to the north, is all about attractions, browsing shops, and the arts. Check out the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and go shopping on Kleinberg’s historic main street. Other options include taking in a show at Flato Markham Theatre or ziplining at Treetop Trekking Stoufville. ClearWater Farms grows gorgeous produce and is a fun place to visit and pick up some picnic goodies. Sample the vintages and tour rustic-chic Holland Marsh Wineries, and visit Magnotta Winery’s flagship boutique, including an impressive art collection and outdoor patio. Another great stop is The Last Straw Distillery, makers of whiskey, rum, and Screech. Hike, snowshoe, or Nordic ski at eco-diverse Cold Creek Conservation Area. Stay, and dine, at the serene, Arthur Erickson–designed Kingbridge Centre in the pretty hills of King Township.
Durham is big on arts, culture, and heritage — including a historic railway in Uxbridge. You’ll also want to sample the thriving craft beer and cider scene. The Rural Routes & Dirty Boots self-driving tour along Route 4 is perfect during the fall for tastings and tours of local producers, and trying specialties along the lines of apple cider doughnuts. If want to learn the tricks of the trade, sign up for brew school. After you visit Ocala Orchards Farm Winery and the Port Perry Farmers’ Market, stop in at Old Flame Brewing Co. in Port Perry to meet your bearded host Mark Forderer, aka “Big Red.” Here, you’ll taste finely-crafted brews in the antique-filled 1884 carriage works, a handsome and spacious brick and wood building. Try the Brewer’s Plate of local charcuterie, cheeses, and beer butter tarts, paired with a flight.
In scenic Headwaters, you’ll find lots of outdoorsy things to try — hiking, horseback riding trails, golf — alongside plentiful roadside barns offering fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat and drink your way through it all. The Heatherlea Farm Shoppe offers pristine, locally grown seasonal produce, sustainably raised meats, craft goods, and from-scratch edibles. Come hungry, shop, and have lunch. Sample 60 artisan cheeses at Fromage in the quaint downtown and stroll the Saturday morning Orangeville Winter Farmers’ Market. Taste, tour, and dine at the lovely, sophisticated Spirit Tree Estate Cidery, an award winner in the postcard-perfect Caledon Hills. Try the wood-fired pizza and take home some local preserves. Check in to a suite at Best Western Orangeville Inn & Suites and check out at the full-service day spa with a massage, signature treatment, swim in the saltwater pool, and dip in the Jacuzzi. Another sure to be it destination opening in June 2017 in the area is the Grand Spirits Distillery. It’s set on the water in the rural Grand River Valley, a former raucous Prohibition-era hot spot for drinking and debauchery. Grand Spirits bills itself as Ontario’s newest maker of personally-crafted whiskies and gins. Go to one of the distillery’s speakeasy type events and bring home some bitters, cocktail shakers, or glassware as a memento.
You don’t want to miss Hamilton, about an hour’s drive southwest from Toronto. This former steel town and port city on the western shore of Lake Ontario is reinventing itself as a cultural hub. It’s trendy, but still authentic. Artists and creatives live, work, and play here, filling the galleries, recording studios, and film production offices. Join locals frequenting the busy cafes, bike share co-ops, and yoga classes. Visit the impressive public Art Gallery of Hamilton, the province’s third largest, or take in a performance at FirstOntario Centre. The two-day September Supercrawl is an art walk covering 16 blocks of music, art, fashion, crafts, and food. Get outside, too, to enjoy the green parks and forests of the Niagara Escarpment ridge, 100 waterfalls, and great hiking. Hamilton has Canada’s largest Botanical Gardens spanning 2,700 acres and a popular year-round farmers’ market. The dining scene? Inventive and up-and-coming. Try Lake Road Restaurant for new world Mediterranean, Born And Raised for wood-fired pizzas and pastas, Mezcal for a twist on Mexican, and nearby in Dundas, Quatrefoil for sophisticated French contemporary. Especially interesting are the food trucks — Jonny Blonde’s is a favorite.
If you’re looking for more, Ontario has plenty of great getaways from a weekend beach getaway, to a week of wine touring.
Plan your Toronto area vacation at the Ontario Travel website.