We love a good road trip. And when it means we can bring along our BFF (Best Furry Friend), Duchess — well, all the better. Now that this trip is in our rearview mirror, I can confidently write that one of our favourite Ontario drives to date was this adventure through southwestern Ontario.
To help you plan your own getaway to this part of Ontario — including Pelee Island, Canada’s southernmost shore — I’m mapping out the perfect itinerary. Great for dog-loving couples, families and even multigenerational vacations, you’ll be exploring Ontario’s Blue Coast, chasing waterfalls, watching jaw-dropping sunsets and eating all the good eats. And you’ll be doing it all the way down to the 42nd parallel — as far south as Barcelona — all while remaining in Canada.
We road-tripped to Ontario’s Southwest in style, testing out the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid. Positioned as the answer for long trips that demand comfort and space, we kept a close eye on gas mileage and noted the features that should put this at the top of any serious road-tripper’s short list when shopping for a new vehicle. This is a brand new vehicle to the Toyota family and after spending more than a week behind the wheel, I’m telling you that it’s so much more than just good looking.
Ontario drives: why road trip through southwestern Ontario?
Ontario’s Southwest has it all — for every kind of visitor. If the vibrant beach town vibes and ridiculous sunsets aren’t enough to whet your travel appetite, perhaps boat tours through crystal clear turquoise water, strolls through century’s old historic towns and forts, racing around Canada’s biggest concrete go-kart track, and wine flights at both ancient and modern vineyards will do the trick.
If all of that didn’t send you straight to a southwestern Ontario map to start plotting, might I mention a little something called the Sugarrito? It’s three scoops of ice cream and toppings wrapped inside a cotton candy burrito. And it’s worth the drive. (You’ll have to read on to see where to scoop up this little morsel of foodie heaven.)
Ontario drives: southwestern Ontario itinerary overview
We usually like to dedicate at least a week for our Ontario drives, but gave ourselves an extra day for this family road trip. However, I’m going to suggest adding at least one more night to the tail end of your southwestern Ontario itinerary so you can spend more time on Pelee Island. Make it two if you can. Twenty-four hours simply wasn’t enough, but it’s doable if that’s all you’ve got.
Here’s how the southwestern edition of this Ontario drives post shakes out:
- Day 1 — travel to Sarnia-Lambton (Ontario’s Blue Coast)
- Day 2 — Sarnia-Lambton
- Day 3 — from Sarnia-Lambton to Chatham-Kent
- Day 4 — Chatham-Kent
- Day 5 — from Chatham-Kent to Windsor-Essex
- Day 6 — Windsor-Essex
- Day 7 — from mainland Windsor-Essex to Pelee Island
- Day 8 — Pelee Island (this is where I recommend adding at least one, if not two or three, additional nights)
For each region, I’m going to suggest accommodations, restaurants, plus plenty of activities and attractions — maybe more than most people will be comfortable squeezing in. So pick and choose your favourites. What calls to you? If you’re a beach lover, centre an entire day around soaking in the sun and sand. History buff? Spend more time peeling back the layers of Historic Sandwich Town and Amherstburg. Don’t worry about missing out on my other suggestions; after all, there’s always next time.
Every place we stayed welcomes dogs, but I’ll note below if a restaurant or activity is a no-dog-affair so you can plan accordingly. Otherwise, assume everything listed is dog-friendly for well-behaved, friendly dogs whose owners keep them on-leash when required.
One thing’s for sure, though — a good road trip starts with being comfortable. We were able to customize the Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid to suit our needs perfectly. There was more than enough room for me and my kids (one of whom is the size of a full-grown man and the other is a very tall tween who is all legs), my mom and Duchess. Worried about having enough space for our luggage, we initially folded down two-thirds of the third row, but the Grand Highlander Hybrid’s trunk space is really impressive and we actually needed less room for bags than we thought, which meant Miss Q and Duchess were able to ride together for most of our trip.
Before we dive into this awesome itinerary, let me tell you my Top 6 reasons to choose a Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid if you’re a road-tripping kind of family:
- So much space — for you, your family, your pets and your stuff. Even larger families will be able to pack luggage, groceries and sports equipment into the trunk space because there’s lots of it behind the third row. Families with tall kids (or young adults who still want to hang out with their parents) will rejoice in the middle-row captain’s seats and the generous leg room in the third row.
- Great gas mileage — I’ll tell you later how little we spent during this approximately 1,600-kilometre road trip (make your guesses now!), and with three different drive modes from which to choose (Normal, Sport and Eco), you have options to find what works best for your adventures.
- Awesome safety features — Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 doesn’t mess around; rear-cross traffic alert, an outstanding panoramic view monitor, traffic jam assist and full-speed dynamic cruise control are all part of it. My two favourite things, though, were the road sign assist, which takes in road sign information and shares it on your dash (which meant I always knew the speed limit, even if I missed the sign myself) and the gentle guidance around curves as the vehicle monitored and followed lines on the road to keep it centred.
- All the cup holders — 13 of them to be exact!
- Plenty of tech-friendly stuff — like six USB-C ports, including two for third-row passengers; standard electrical outlets; the “Hey, Toyota” virtual assistant that could direct me to the closest gas station, turn on the air conditioning or help find directions even when we didn’t have a cellphone signal; wireless Apple CarPlay (or Android Auto) so you don’t have to constantly plug in your phone; a wireless charging pad, and so much more.
- Keyless entry points — like the kick-powered liftgate, which is immeasurably helpful when your hands are full and you need to open the trunk; and being able to keep the key fob in my purse meant that even with two handfuls of coffee cups, I could juggle them long enough to unlock the driver door just by standing nearby.
Ontario drives: see this southwestern Ontario trip in action!
To help plan your own trip, watch how our entire eight-day itinerary unfolded, with all of the best highlights from both Ontario’s Southwest and the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid:
Whether you treat this itinerary as one big trip if you live too far to break it up into smaller, separate weekend getaways in Ontario, or you’re close enough to turn this into a series of day trips, if you’ve got the Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid on your side, you’re in for a great ride.
Plan your Ontario drives with this southwestern Ontario map
It always helps me map out an efficient itinerary if I can plot my accommodations, restaurant short list and preferred activities and attractions visually — so I made you this handy map with pins for every single place I’ve mentioned in this Ontario drives post:
Ontario drives: Sarnia-Lambton
If you’re coming from the Greater Toronto Area like we did, make your way south towards Pelee Island by stopping in Sarnia-Lambton first. It’s the home of Ontario’s Blue Coast and you won’t want to miss gems like Point Edward. It also includes Oil Springs, Petrolia, Wyoming and Arkona — all of which are worth considering.
Ontario drives: where to stay in Sarnia-Lambton
The Insignia Hotel in Sarnia, which is in Marriott’s Tribute Portfolio, is a dog-friendly property (see its pet policy here) that’s within easy walking distance to restaurants and beautiful Bayshore Park, plus the 16-kilometre Bluewater Bike Path along the St. Clair River, which feeds into Lake Huron.
There’s no better place to watch a sunset in Sarnia than from one of the park benches. And there’s no better sunset in Canada than a Lake Huron sunset.
Our suite was stunning — and huge. Every corner was ultra-clean and the decor was modern and minimalist, but comfortable. I especially loved having a Nespresso machine with a selection of pods in the room — it’s seriously the best pod-based coffeemaker out there, making java that rivals even our fancy at-home manual espresso machine. Plus, Frette robes are always a nice touch.
The hotel offers complimentary parking and is surrounded by grassy areas perfect for those early-morning dog walks. Breakfast isn’t included in your stay, but you can buy breakfast at Legacy Restaurant onsite if convenience is your priority. Your dog will have to stay in your room while you eat if it’s not patio weather, but if it’s nice and the patio is open, bring him or her along! The smoothies, although pricy, are excellent and make a great grab-and-go option if you don’t have time for a sit-down breakfast.
Sarnia & area restaurants
My suggestion, however, is to get out and explore the many restaurants in Sarnia and the surrounding area for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Note that this list — and the rest below — is alphabetical and not in order of any kind of preference.
Sarnia | website
We arrived the morning that this Sarnia Bay restaurant opened its lower patio, adding a lot more tables to its outdoor dining option. Overlooking dozens of boats with ducks circling below us, which fascinated Duchess to no end, breakfast here was a lovely experience topped off with a menu that delivered casual but great dishes. The potato latkes were exceptional!
Hopefully, AG Dockside — which, for some reason, stands for “Alternate Grounds” — will add some umbrellas to a few of these tables down the road.
Bad Dog Bar & Grill
Sarnia | website
With “Come. Sit. Stay.” adorning the restaurant’s exterior, we knew this would be a Duchess-approved eatery. Less than a two-minute walk from The Insignia Hotel, this place had about as many dogs on its patio as it did people! They even had booths with an open-air dining feel thanks to retractable door-window hybrids separating the indoors from the outdoors.
Bad Dog’s menu is extensive enough that it offers lots of variety, without being so huge that you wonder how they could possibly do it all well. We were there on a Friday night and the crowd was buzzing. It’s very much a fun bar vibe — but everyone stays seated at their tables. Service was AMAZING and the kitchen paced our food perfectly. Do yourself a favour and order the Firecracker Green Beans.
Black Gold Brewery
Petrolia | website
When it started to rain and all five of us, including Duchess, were ushered indoors to enjoy the rest of our snacks and drinks under Black Gold Brewery’s roof, we knew we had to include this ultra dog-friendly spot. Don’t like beer? No problem — the taproom here also produces a hard seltzer; I had mine made into a refreshingly light cocktail. There’s also juice, lemonade and iced tea for kids and non-drinkers.
My pepperette-loving kiddo was so stoked to see them on a menu and the other kid was deeply satisfied with the pretzel bites and dip.
Bluewater Bridge Fries
Point Edward | website
Sometimes you just need some chip-truck fries in your life. And the ones at Bluewater Bridge Fries — which is a chip truck in a parking lot that sits basically under the Bluewater Bridge — will not disappoint.
LOCAL Wyoming ON
Wyoming | website
On our way back to the hotel after spending time in Oil Springs and Petrolia one day, we passed through Wyoming and found this fabulous farm-to-table restaurant. You’ll want a reservation here because its hours are fairly limited and it gets pretty busy.
We really wanted to eat on its patio, which is dog-friendly, but after a particularly heavy rainfall, we would have needed a bunch of towels or blankets to put down on the picnic bench-style tables. But the menu was so enticing that we decided to grab it as takeout and enjoy it from the comfort of our hotel room. The Cajun Shrimp and and Lamb Burger are standouts.
Los Puntos Cantina
Point Edward | website
Sitting smack in the middle of Point Edward’s small but picturesque downtown strip, Los Puntos Cantina has excellent food — even if the speed of service means you’d better have some time on your side to enjoy it. When the complimentary chips and salsa arrived at our table, I knew we were in for a treat. Every single dish here was so fresh and flavourful. And so generously portioned that we couldn’t possibly finish everything we ordered.
My mother only drinks a couple of times a year, and those occasions are exclusively reserved for margaritas — so she’s a tough audience — and the frozen margarita tasted even better than it looked…and it looked damn good. Snaps for the Queso Fundido, Duck Tacos and Barbacoa Quesadillas, which will now be the bar by which I judge all future quesadillas.
Things to do in Sarnia & beyond
Although we were only in Sarnia-Lambton for about 48 hours, we were able to dip into a number of experiences that I can recommend.
Great Lakes Bicycle Co.
Point Edward | website
One of our favourite ways to explore a new area is by bike. Not only can you get from A to B a heck of a lot faster than on foot, you don’t need to keep parking and re-parking (even if it’s free, as most of southwestern Ontario proved to be). Great Lakes Bicycle will outfit you with a traditional Danish-style cruiser, which is an experience unto itself if you’ve never ridden one before; you have just two gears and you change between them with a bit of a half-braking motion using your pedals.
They had bikes that fit all of us nicely and adjusted each of them to customize our rides. Be sure to take your own helmets, and know that the owner has a large pet trailer available to attach to one of your bikes if you’d like to bring your dog along.
Sarnia | website
Getting out into that gorgeous blue water — the raison d’être for the Ontario’s Blue Coast moniker — is a must when you’re visiting Sarnia. I don’t care how you do it (by kayak, paddleboard or pontoon boat), just do it. Gordons WaterSports is an impressive outfit, right in Sarnia Bay, offering the latest equipment…and even a captain if you need one.
We had a blast heading out on the Sea-Doo Switch, which is like a pontoon-meets-speed boat that can handle up to nine guests. It starts at $369.99 for a two-hour rental — or about $20.50 an hour (plus tax) per person if you have a group of nine, with someone who’s comfortable driving. This is an awesome way to go under the Bluewater Bridge and skim the shoreline to gawk at the spectacular waterfront homes — most with their own private beaches. Oh, and your pup can totally come along.
Rock Glen Conservation Area
Arkona | website
This might be one of the easiest waterfall “hike” payoffs we’ve ever encountered. You simply park in the conservation area’s main lot after paying less than $5 for each person in your vehicle, and take a set of stairs up, then a longer set of steps down and voilà — waterfall. Shrouded in Carolinian Forest, Rock Glen Waterfall feels secluded despite its accessibility*.
We didn’t have enough time to experience the conservation area’s 27 acres, filled with recreational trails plus a museum and playground. It’s safe to say that you could spend an entire day here during your southwestern Ontario visit and still want to come back for more. Dogs welcome!
Pro tips: Wear water-friendly shoes and a bathing suit under your clothes, plus some towels to protect your vehicle’s seats if you don’t pack a change of clothes. We didn’t realize there would be opportunities to swim at the waterfall, so Miss Q was ecstatic that I made her wear KEEN Seacamp II sandals, which can’t be beat for slip-proof climbing and protecting feet from rocks. Note that Widder Station in nearby Thedford is a close option for dinner if you’re too hungry to make it back to Sarnia; however, you will need to have fresh clothes — or simply don’t get soaking wet like we did enjoying the natural swimming holes.)
*By this, I mean how easy it is to find from the parking lot. It is not an accessible site should you require a stroller or mobility aid.
Oil Museum of Canada
Oil Springs | website
Who knew the world’s first petroleum company, North America’s first commercial oil, and Canada’s first oil and gas gushers were in Ontario? Designated a National Historic Site in 1925, you’ll find the first commercial oil well dug by James Miller Williams in 1858 on the Oil Museum of Canada’s grounds.
There’s plenty to see and read outside if you’re with your dog, all of which is free, or you can hand over a fiver to go inside — without your dog. This isn’t the most kid-friendly attraction aside from the virtual reality experience, which was a big hit with my 12 and 15 year olds, but the grounds can be covered fairly quickly if you want to say, “I’ve stood at the site of the world’s first petroleum company.”
Sarnia | website
Please note this is not dog-friendly, so someone will need to stay behind to keep your poochy-poo happy. But if you’ve got tweens and teens, they’ll LOVE spending a couple of hours at District Beta. Book a VR pod (or two) ahead of time since there are only a few of them, and keep it to 30 minutes if your kid isn’t used to wearing a VR headset.
There are loads of arcade games — including pinball! — and there are even two car-racing simulators, with manual-drive options and even a rumble as you skid and brake. District Beta is also fully licensed.
An interesting sidebar: you’d think the gas prices in Sarnia — with all of its refineries and a history so gas-rich that it has an entire town called Petrolia, for crying out loud — might be more favourable than elsewhere in southwestern Ontario. But, no. We encountered pretty much the same per-litre prices during our entire road trip (around $1.60-1.75 per litre), so I was delighted to be driving another hybrid vehicle from Toyota, which gives you that extra oomph when it comes to gas mileage.
Ontario drives: Chatham-Kent
After your stay in Sarnia-Lambton, it makes sense to pause in Chatham-Kent before pushing on towards Pelee Island. It’s only an hour’s drive from Sarnia to Chatham, but the Chatham-Kent region itself — with Wallaceburg to the north, Clearville to the east and Wheatley all the way to the south — comprises dozens of unique villages and communities within the region itself.
Ontario drives: where to stay in Chatham-Kent
We always enjoy staying at IHG Hotels — cue some of the best pillows in the hotel industry! The Holiday Inn Express & Suites Chatham South also happens to be right beside Cascades Casino, if that’s your sorta thing. As someone who is decidedly not a gambler, though, I assure you that I didn’t feel like I was at a “casino hotel” even once.
Parking is free and Holiday Inns are always dog-friendly (and cats are welcome, too! See the pet policy here). Breakfast is included and it’s a small hot and cold buffet with Grab & Go bags handy if you don’t have time to sit down. The coffee is good and piping hot, but there was only CoffeeMate available and I’m all about the cream so keep that in mind if coffee is also merely your conduit to cream as well.
We opted for two adjoining rooms here, and both were nicely appointed, super clean and boasted those delicious IHG pillows. (I didn’t even bring my own pillow in from the trunk of our 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid, knowing that I’d love the ones on my bed here. Yes, I frequently travel with my own pillow on road trips. Just search “pillow” in my search bar to see how often I write about pillows. I’m a pillow snob, OK?!)
My mom took Miss Q for a swim after dinner one night and they both said the onsite swimming pool was fantastic and very warm.
Chatham & area restaurants
When you’re thinking about all of the Ontario drives you can take in this great big province, if food is as important to your travels as it is to mine, you’ll be glad you decided to spend a couple of days in Chatham-Kent. Chatham is home to the best meals we had in southwestern Ontario.
Casa Bella by the Thames
Chatham | website
Please, please, please…even if you don’t have a dog or you’re not usually a patio kind of diner, book a table on the patio at Casa Bella. The landscaping is gorgeous, with flowers everywhere, and the sounds of trickling water are bested only by the delightful view of the Thames River.
Dinner was really great, with a seafood pasta cooked perfectly al dente and customized to our liking and a beef medallion dish for $34 that was heads and tails better than the USD$90 steak I had in New York City this summer (which you won’t read about in my Things to do with Teens in NYC post because it was merely good — not great). Miss Q is a pasta fanatic and said this one of the best pastas of her life, so there.
Centro Wood Fired Kitchen
Chatham | website
This place is special. I don’t write that lightly. Hands down our favourite meal and overall dining experience throughout our entire southwestern Ontario road trip, Centro Wood Fired Kitchen needs to be on your Chatham restaurant short list.
First of all, Duchess had more space here to call her own than we find on most patios and seeing her comfortable makes it easier for us to relax and enjoy our meals. Second, the atmosphere is friendly and casual while the food is elevated, thoughtful and interesting. Third, the service is outstanding — personable without too much lingering.
Everything was fabulous — from the Bang Bang Cauliflower (which even my cauli-loathing kid tried and liked), Wood-Fired Carrots (OH MY GOD) and creative Thai Duck Bowl to the Sous Vide Salmon, burger and pizza. One of the co-owners, Dominique, makes a different cheesecake special each week for dessert. I hesitated when I heard it was an Oreo cheesecake, expecting it to be too sweet, but since the rest of the meal had been so wonderful, we went for it. And, wow. It was an Oreo-crusted cheesecake with the most divine texture and three tart cherries on top that finished the flavour profile beautifully.
Crow City Coffee
Chatham | website
We’d planned to get breakfast goodies to go from Big Ricky’s Little Bake Shoppe, but it was sadly closed the day we were in town so we drove over to Crow City Coffee instead, which turned out to be a great move. My mocha and my Mom’s vanilla latté were both yummy and the scones are top notch.
Mariners Cone & Shake
Erieau | 825 Mariners Rd, Erieau, ON N0P 1N0 (519-627-5872)
Even if you don’t get an ice cream while you’re wandering through one of the cutest beach towns ever (and why wouldn’t you? Are you some kind of monster?), pop over to this downtown Erieau ice cream shop if only to read the fun “weather station” it has outside. Hilarious!
Riverside Ice Cream
Chatham | website
Four words: drive-thru ice cream! And it’s really rather nice ice cream to boot, with more flavours on its menu than you can imagine (including interesting ones like banana cream pie, Grammy’s cupboard and unicorn toots). If you’re gonna get ice cream at only one place in Chatham-Kent, make it Riverside Ice Cream.
Rondeau Joe’s Pub & Eatery
Morpeth | website
If you’re spending time at Rondeau Provincial Park and you don’t pack a picnic lunch, the best option is Rondeau Joe’s. You get the immediate feeling that this place is kind of an institution — a local favourite. And it’s easy to see why; the food is straightforward and good, and it’s hard to beat dining near boats. There are even some tables under an awning, making this extra dog-friendly since we’re normally SOL if it’s raining and we have Duchess with us.
The Smelt & Perch Platter was very nice, even if it was on the smaller side for a $30 dish. And remember: if you order the shrimp, the fish just beyond the patio will be ecstatic if you toss in your tails!
The Sugar Shack
Wallaceburg | website
More ice cream? ALWAYS. There’s nothing that screams road-trip-with-kids more than ice cream stops. I’m just here to ensure you’re prepared. And so ye shall be if you find yourself drifting through Wallaceburg. The Sugar Shack is small inside but has a nice back patio with umbrellas. Sadly, I noticed too late that Dole Whips are on the menu here!
Union Block Bakery
Dresden | website
I’m not even a sandwich gal and I’m telling you: go get a sandwich from Union Block Bakery. Maybe I’m not a sandwich gal because most of them don’t taste like Union Block’s. Because holy smokes — those are the things sandwich dreams are made of. The egg salad was my favourite, and, like, I will never again pass through this part of southwestern Ontario without stopping at Union Block Bakery for one of its sandwiches. You can even order half a sandwich. But don’t. Trust me. Make sure you grab a dessert or two, too. The coconut cream tart was like a miniature pie and it was *chef’s kiss.*
Things to do in Chatham & beyond
If any of your Ontario drives bring you this close to Lake Erie and you don’t spend time in Lake Erie, you’re doing it all wrong. And nobody wants you to vacation poorly, so make sure you add at least one Lake Erie-centric activity to your southwestern Ontario itinerary.
Erieau Beach & downtown
Erieau | website
We could have easily spent all day discovering Erieau and I’d return in a heartbeat to spend more time in this unexpectedly wonderful beach town. When you think of Lake Erie beaches, you’re probably more familiar with the likes of Port Stanley. But for something a little lesser known and just as charming, Erieau is the ticket.
It’s a small fishing village in a peninsula, making the water some of the warmest in Lake Erie. There’s a quaint, tree-lined downtown core with a few shops and even a microbrewery. Perfect strangers were smiling and friendly, like something out of a Hallmark movie. Parking was surprisingly easy to find — and free.
There’s also the Erieau Boulevard Trail, which begins in the heart of Erieau and extends a kilometre, connecting to the longer Erie Shore Trail.
Water entry at Erieau Beach is pretty sandy, though you and your kids will be more comfortable with water shoes. There’s also a fantastic park with play structures that even my 12.5 year old enjoyed.
Your dog is welcome everywhere in Erieau — including all of the shops we visited and the beach — but there’s no off-leash area here like there is at Rondeau Provincial Park, which I’ve included below for that reason. Overall, Erieau Beach earned very enthusiastic thumbs up all around.
Josiah Henson Museum of African-Canadian History
Dresden | website
Dresden, Ontario, is an important part of the Underground Railroad story thanks to Reverend Josiah Henson. After escaping enslavement, Henson became an Underground Railroad conductor and ultimately rescued 118 people. This five-acre site has an interpretive centre, three historical buildings, a smokehouse, a sawmill and two cemeteries that have all been brilliantly conserved to help us learn more about this early Black settlement while emancipation in the USA had yet to be realized.
Although your kids may moan and groan when you try to take them to museums and historical sites, there’s no greater gifts we can give them than empathy and learning. That journey can start or continue here. Your dog is welcome on the grounds outside — just not in buildings, so come with at least one other friend or family member.
Mitchell’s Bay Wharf
Mitchell’s Bay | Mitchell’s Bay, ON N0P 1L0
Aside from another spot to go swimming, this time in Lake St. Clair instead of Lake Erie, Mitchell’s Bay is where the locals told us to go for Chatham-Kent’s best sunset. Even though it was a pretty cloudy evening, we were still treated to a candy-coloured night sky. I can only imagine how breathtaking it would be on a clear day. Kids can while away the golden hour in the little park at Mitchell’s Bay Wharf and you can even join them on the swings, which offer an ideal view of the lake.
Rondeau Provincial Park
Morpeth | website
We only visited the dog-friendly beach at Rondeau Provincial Park, so I can’t speak for the rest of the 11 kilometres of beachfront that you’ll find here, but the main draw is certainly being able to swim and play fetch with your doggo sans leash — and you can also expect to meet a handful or more of other doggy friends while you’re here, which is the best part. Human beachgoers will find it quite rocky underfoot and uncomfortable without thick-soled water shoes; your dog, on the other hand, won’t care one iota.
The long, tree-studded drive from the main gate to the dog beach is really peaceful. We actually opened the Grand Highlander Hybrid’s panoramic moonroof as we drove through here to take in as much nature as we could in every direction — and it was glorious!
The Licker Store
Dresden | website
Yes, it’s called The Licker Store. And, yes, I wanted to take Duchess here based solely on its clever name. Fortunately, it also turned out to be a great little shop and we got some really affordable treats for Duchess that seemed to rank among her all-time favourites, such as a $3 bag of dried liver pieces and a $6 beef esophagus that lasted so long we got one whole dinner and a breakfast out of it while she focused on devouring it.
Wallaceburg Farmers’ Market
Wallaceburg | website
Should you be passing through Wallaceburg on a Saturday morning, see if your date aligns with this farmers’ market, which operates out of a parking lot every second Saturday from June through October.
You’ll find all the usual market things, like local meat and produce, maple syrup and other artisan goods. What I need you to look for are the Parks Blueberries butter tarts. The come from about half an hour east of Wallaceburg from a little town called Bothwell; more than just a blueberry farm, Parks Blueberries also has its own bakery. And these butter tarts would be award-winning if they landed in a judge’s mouth. I take my butter tarts very seriously, so do yourself a favour and hunt these down!
Ontario drives: Windsor-Essex
When you think of Windsor, what comes to mind? Maybe it made you think of Windsor Castle and the Queen (er, King…) of England; if you grew up in Oshawa like I did, it’d probably be General Motors. Made up of the City of Windsor, Essex County (and its seven municipalities) plus Pelee Island, it’s home to the Ambassador Bridge — a privately owned international suspension bridge connecting Windsor to Detroit that crosses the Detroit River — and shares the westernmost part of Lake Erie to the south and Lake St. Clair to the north.
Ontario drives: where to stay in Windsor-Essex
Next time we visit, I’d like to stay in Leamington and check out Point Pelee National Park, which is the southernmost point of mainland Canada. For our first stay in this part of Ontario’s Southwest, however, we wanted to be right in Windsor. Like all of the other hotels I’ve suggested in this post, the Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Windsor is an affordable, dog-friendly lodging choice in a convenient location. With free parking, free WiFi, an onsite pool and a decent breakfast included with your stay — again with no real cream for coffee, though — there’s a lot to like about this property. (I even liked the pillows.) Your dog or cat (see the pet policy here) does, however, need to remain with you at all times — which means no heading out for breakfast all together and leaving your pup behind even for 15 minutes.
The rooms were spacious, cheery, clean and bright, and felt like they had been given a recent facelift. There’s a new subdivision at the back of the hotel, which makes for a much nicer morning walk than heading out the front doors and being faced with highway-like traffic. One thing to keep in mind is that because of the median in the road, you can only turn right out of the hotel’s front driveway and when you’re returning later in the day, your GPS will likely send you past the hotel to turn around at a traffic “loop.” Don’t be alarmed.
Windsor & area restaurants
Windsor is a major city, so you’ll find all of the national chain restaurants and fast-food joints — but we try to avoid those when we’re travelling so we can eat food that provides a better sense of place.
Amherstburg | website
Really good pizza and the best garlic bread knots I’ve ever eaten, which is saying a lot because the former champion ribbon belonged to Buca in Toronto — a fancy, shmancy Italian restaurant with prices to match. If the commute was shorter, I’d go out of my way for these bread knots. Portions are absolutely massive here, so sharing’s a must.
The dog-friendly patio has a nice amount of space for your BFF to get cozy and enjoy its own lunch or dinner while you have yours.
Bull & Barrel Urban Salloon
Windsor | website
What this restaurant lacks in location, it makes up for in delicious barbecue. It’s on a very busy main road in what seems to be a section of downtown Windsor that’s a reinvigoration-in-process. Some of the nearby shops and restaurants are still boarded up and there’s a real cross-section of foot traffic that sidles along the patio.
The Bull & Barrel’s patio is fantastic, expansive and fun thanks to some onsite cornhole! My Caesar was expertly seasoned and my kids went absolutely bananas for the Pretzel Poutine. I also can’t say enough about the pulled pork with apple slaw.
Caffeine & Co.
Amherstburg | website
We fell in love with Amherstburg and Caffeine & Co. certainly helped. It’s an Instagram-worthy café from top to bottom and both inside and out, but it’s not all about looks. The beverage selections had all the usual suspects, of course, but also some inventive ones. I went for an Earl Grey Matcha Latté, trying to pair those flavours in my mind before committing. But I’m glad I did, because it was very nice.
The patio is so dog-friendly that you can expect a staff member to proactively bring a bowl of water to your table before you even have a chance to ask. Caffeine & Co. is the kind of place you could spend hours people-watching — and its lunch menu looked great, too.
Jack’s Gastropub (now called The Goose Kitchen + Bar)
Kingsville | website
Housed it a big, old Victorian home that’s been converted to both a restaurant and a series of rooms for rent, Jack’s also has a BIG dog-friendly patio with plenty of umbrellas if you find yourself there on a sunny day. In our case, rain was incoming and both the server and kitchen did a phenomenal job of getting our orders out to us promptly and bringing takeout containers when the first drops started to fall.
When you order something that’s been on the menu for nearly 35 years, your foodie-senses start a-tingling. And the cornflake-encrusted artichokes smothered in Parmesan cheese and a lemon dill cream were everything I was hoping they’d be — and more. It was one of the best things I ate on this trip and if you’re weirded out by artichokes, I’m telling you to go for it anyway.
Kingsville | website
“Where can I get a great cup of coffee after we get off the ferry in Kingsville?” I asked one of the owners at The Wandering Dog Inn on Pelee Island. It was a one-word answer: “Joe.” And so that’s exactly where I went to fuel up on caffeine before our long drive back to the GTA. The interior is eclectic but in a design-forward way — my favourite feature being a gigantic picture of the Mona Lisa holding a coffee cup. Even the to-go cups are fabulous; perhaps only bright yellow lids could make them better.
Attached to a hotel with an exterior that makes you do a double-take and immediately make an “I need to stay there one day” log in your brain, it’s the kind of coffee shop that’s so coffee-centric that you won’t mind one bit spending $6 on your caramel macchiato.
The Parlour Ice Cream Co.
Windsor | website
This is where ice cream photo moments come alive! Every corner of Parlour Ice Cream is covered in YOLO chalk board mantras that help you forget you’re about to spend $8.25 on sugar. Because why? YOLO!
Although this isn’t the home of the OG cotton candy ice cream burrito that went social media viral several years ago (that was in Sarnia, BTW, and I know this because I went to high school with the founder’s then-wife), this is the home of the Sugarrito, which is worthy of its own fame. Three healthy scoops of ice cream in a cotton candy pocket plus a sprinkling of Nerds candy, per Miss Q’s direction, and our custom Sugarrito was born. Meant solely for only the most devoted sweet-tooths.
Twigg’s Bar & Grill
Emeryville | website
Despite its two patios, Twigg’s is sadly not dog-friendly. It is, however, takeout-friendly and you can enjoy your meal in a covered pavilion at Centennial Park in Belle River, which is a whole one-minute drive away. (The park is also less than 30 seconds from a gas station if it’s time for you to fuel up. Driving a hybrid vehicle like the Toyota Grand Highlander helps improve your gas mileage and that means you’ll fill the tank less often. When you’re embarking on Ontario drives like this one, covering around 1,600 kilometres, you’ll be delighted when you spend $198 and change in gas from start to finish like we did! Curious how that compares to a similar road trip we did last summer with the Toyota Sienna Hybrid? Check out my Vancouver to Whistler road trip post.)
Twigg’s food is sort of pub fusion — standard fare with a twist; but it also has basics like burgers. It’s not expensive and portions are good. The pulled pork wontons were especially awesome.
Windsor | website
Shake Shack is slowly but surely making its way to Canada, but it’ll have some stiff competition if it tries to edge out Whamburg in Windsor. These smash burgers on potato buns are not only a great dupe for the Shake Shack classic, my 15-year-old burger aficionado declared Whamburg was the better of the two. (Quite a statement considering Shake Shack was his No. 1 smash burger choice before this.)
I’m not a pop drinker so I usually choose bottled water when I order a combo, but was intrigued by Whamburg’s Nitro Lemonade — a nitro-infused pink lemonade that had only the slightest fizz and was actually nice and tart rather than sugary sweet.
Pro tip: Whamburg is actually on the University of Windsor campus, and with a student special every Wednesday, you’ll want to hit it up any other day of the week.
Things to do in Windsor & beyond
I had no idea that parts of Windsor-Essex was so freaking beautiful. After spending time in Amherstburg, I want to retire there — it’s that amazing. There’s so, so, so much to do in this part of southwestern Ontario that you could easily plan one of your Ontario drives just to this region.
Big Time Entertainment
Windsor | website
Definitely not for your dog — but your human offspring will LOVE this place. It’s Vegas for kids; bright lights, arcade games galore, black-lit go-karting, a 7D immersive ride, laser tag and something called “fowling.” It’s bowling…with a football! And we were gobsmackingly terrible at it, but with a strange-but-delicious marshmallow cocktail in my hand (yep, it’s licensed, too), we failed over and over and over again…and it was hilarious.
I strongly recommend the $50 Extreme Pass for each person in your group. It gets you four attractions and 100 credits to use on all of the games. I ended up buying some more credits but we really didn’t need them; we were just having so much fun. Attractions available with the pass include Dark Ride (that’s the 7D experience and it’s really fun), Laser Tag (always a blast), Glo Golf (we didn’t try it, but I’m sure it’s similar to one we’ve done in Niagara Falls and you should all wear black light-friendly clothing to amp up your participation) and Go-Karting (which we thought was fun, but the track is small compared to Warp Drive Race Park, noted below, so do this first and it’ll be more impressive). We stayed nearly three hours and the time went by in a flash.
Canadian Aviation Museum
Windsor | website
Had I known ahead of time that we could have booked a flight experience in a vintage airplane, that’s what I’d be writing about right now. You even get half of your money back as a tax receipt! Alas, there was no one available to take me on-the-fly (see what I did there?), so we stuck with the general tour. Unlike a “normal” museum, the Canadian Aviation Museum is actually a fully operational hangar. You can book a private tour for your family and the best part is that you can bring your dog in with you! (Just remember that any messes are yours to clean up.)
If you have kids who are interested in aviation, history and war archives, this has to be on your itinerary. Even my kids who aren’t particularly keen on any of these things enjoyed seeing the old planes and walking right inside the cockpit of the Avro Lancaster FM212 — a Royal Air Force bomber that’s currently being restored onsite.
Fort Malden National Historic Site
Amherstburg | website
Fort Malden, Fort Malden, Fort Malden. No matter what else you do with your kids in Windsor-Essex, make sure you visit Ford Malden National Historic Site. Like I just mentioned, my kids aren’t really history buffs; but they loved Fort Malden. And that’s because not only can you get a tour by someone in period clothing who helps take an ordinary fort tour to the next level, this place offers anything but an “ordinary fort tour.” Without question, this is the most kid-friendly fort I’ve ever experienced anywhere in the world (and I’ve been to a few.)
Even if you don’t go the guided route, there are several hands-on stations throughout the fort with costumed interpreters where you and your kids can tap into what life would have been like in the barracks in 18030s Upper Canada. Your dog can even join you for most of it, save for a few of the buildings.
My kids got to try making a very bland bread-cracker hybrid that the soldiers ate, watched blacksmithing up close and tried branding a piece of wood, and listened eagerly to 200-year-old stories. The musket demonstration was one of the best I’ve seen because the “soldier” actually explained how to load the gun, conditions that may prevent it from firing, why it would be used and so on — all before putting on a musket-firing show.
Amherstburg | website
I mean, I’m moving here one day so what shall I tell you about my future residence other than I fell instantly in love? A short walk from the south gate of Fort Malden, you’ll find storybook waterfront heritage homes (some from the 1700s!) adorned with exquisite landscaping, a picturesque downtown filled with marvelous shops, cafés and murals. It’s simply one of the prettiest communities through which I’ve ever strolled.
And stroll along the main drag, you must. It’ll make you long for bygone days when communities felt personable and safe. Make sure you find Gordon House; built in 1798 and rumoured to be haunted, it’s the oldest house in Amherstburg. Once home to a general and later used as an infirmary, these days it’s where you’ll find the local tourist office.
Don’t be fooled, though — there’s more to Historic Amherstburg’s downtown scene when you step off of Dalhousie Street (which is somehow not named “Main Street” as you’d expect based on every other small town, ever).
There’s the Amherstburg Navy Yard facing the Detroit River, which once enjoyed a British Naval presence, where they constructed and repaired different vessels. Go south to and head east on Murray St. and pop into both Vintage & Vinyl and Pink Pisces. Going north on Ramsay St. will take you towards The Panetteria with its colourful mural on the side of the building (we regrettably had no time to pop into this gorgeous bakery) before turning west on Richmond St., where you’ll find the independent River Bookshop — whose building also has a photo-worthy mural of its own — plus White Woods Home, where I found some great gifts and a #YUMazing hazelnut syrup for our at-home espresso station, along with Evelyn’s Candy House, which feels like a boutique candy shop you’d find in New York City.
Historic Sandwich Town
Windsor | website
On our way from Windsor proper to Amherstburg, we passed through the Historic Sandwich Town arch and it felt like we’d stepped back in time. Widely considered one of Ontario’s most historically significant settlements, the drive through Old Sandwich Towne alone is worth behaving like a Sunday Driver. If you don’t have time to explore on foot, you’ll want to slow down to take in Sandwich Street. Established in 1797, some of the area’s most significant historical buildings — the Duff-Baby mansion, Mackenzie Hall and the Sandwich Post Office — have been restored for your viewing pleasure.
I was driving so you’ll have to watch the YouTube video of our southwestern Ontario vacation to see more of Historic Sandwich Town.
Warp Drive Race Park
Windsor | website
Open from May ’til September, Warp Drive Race Park has one of the largest outdoor concrete go-kart racing tracks in Canada — and they’ve got go-karts that have enough oomph to get you around it several times. There’s even a junior race track for littles. One word of advice: purchase at least 30 minutes of driving time ($40 per person) because it goes by fast. We loved that Warp Drive tracked our lap times so we could see who went fastest!
Your BFF is welcome on the grounds adjacent to the track and there are places to sit there, too, but if all of the adults want to go-kart, you’ll have to work out who takes turns with the dog.
Windsor Sculpture Park
Windsor | website
Whether you have 20 minutes or two hours, the Windsor Sculpture Park is free, with free parking, and super-duper dog-friendly. I can’t think of a better dog walk than one like this where you can take in an international bridge as well as some art along the way. There are more than 30 large-scale sculptures throughout this five-kilometre open-air gallery that lines the Detroit River.
Time to get on the Pelee Island ferry!
Whether you plan to spend 24 hours on Pelee Island — the southernmost populated point in Canada — or several days, you should expect to discover that a big part of Pelee Island’s magic is in its ability to force you to disconnect. Literally. Not least of which is because there are few spots on the island where you’ll have a strong cellphone signal.
THIS IS A GOOD THING.
It’s so rare to find oneself so far off of the mobile grid that this was the first time I’ve ever seen the “SOS” icon on my iPhone. And it was great — no notifications, no distractions. It’ll allow you to be fully present as you take in this 42-square-kilometre island. But don’t worry…if you truly need to use your cellphone, the signal was good near Stone House 1891, which also happens to be home to the tour information centre, Pelee Island Adventures, the golf cart rentals and a great restaurant with the best patio for seeing spectacular sunsets.
Fun Ontario drives that take you to the Pelee Island ferry
This is one of those Ontario drives that requires crossing a large body of water to complete. Welcome to the Pelee Island Ferry.
Reservations are required to ride Pelee Island Ferries, even if you’re just walking on. There are four terminals: Kingsville, Ontario; Leamington, Ontario; Pelee Island, Ontario; and Sandusky, Ohio. The schedule changes depending on the month, so pay careful attention to that before you book. Just because you arrive from one terminal doesn’t mean you have to do the same return leg; in fact, you could continue on to Sandusky if you want to do an international ferry crossing! There are no price breaks for round-trip tickets.
In stark contrast to our ferry experience in British Columbia last summer, the Pelee Island Ferry had significantly less sticker shock. For one adult, one senior, two kids and our Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid SUV, it was just $37.75 one way.
We took the Pelee Islander II from Kingsville to the Pelee Island dock and it was a relaxing trip. There’s food and drink for purchase onboard or you can bring your own, and Duchess loved meeting all of the other dogs.
Pets are allowed, provided they’re leashed for the entire journey. There’s a covered spot at the back of the ferry that’s almost “fenced in,” and there are buckets of water to which your dog is welcome during the 1.5-hour transfer, but we found the best spot was on the port side where there were only a few rows of seating. In front of the first row, there’s a big space where we could lay out Duchess’s mat, some food and water, and attach her leash to a ladder.
Important notes: the Pelee Island ferry operates from April through December. Check-in is a minimum of one hour ahead of time, so be sure to factor that into your southwestern Ontario itinerary. If you’re walking on or bringing your bike, keep in mind that — on occasion — weather conditions may cause your ferry to change course on its way from Pelee Island back to mainland Ontario. You might intend to disembark in Kingsville and find yourself in Leamington if the wind doesn’t co-operate. Ferry crossings in general are also weather-dependent and do face cancellations; although rare, this is something to keep in mind as you plan — especially since your own cancellations must be made at least five days ahead of time. During our own crossings, technical difficulties aboard the Pelee Islander II meant that some vehicles had to back on or off of the ferry, while others (like us) got to drive on normally and do a three-point turn to get off.
Pelee Island accommodations
The reason I’m imploring you to add more than just one night on Pelee Island is because some well-earned downtime at The Wandering Dog Inn should be required vacationing. There’s a quietness here that is typical of how we felt in nearly every corner of Pelee Island and my only regret is that our stay was too short.
This is Canada’s most-southern inn and there isn’t a drop of cellphone service to be found. What you will find, however, are gracious hosts, pretty flowers, a cactus garden, a fire pit surrounded by Muskoka chairs where you can meet other guests each night amidst crackling embers, and a bountiful breakfast included each morning of your stay (with excellent coffee, I might add). There’s even a bike rack if you rode here from the ferry dock.
Originally two farmhouses belonging to a couple of Ohio merchants, beginning in 1883, what’s now The Wandering Dog Inn was also a hunting lodge before it turned into a bed and breakfast. Its current owners are a 30-something Canadian wife and her American husband, both of whom we enjoyed chatting with to learn more about the property and their story.
There’s just one pet-friendly suite (see the pet policy here) — and your family will love it. It’s got two large bedrooms (one with a king bed and the other with two doubles), a kitchenette, shared washroom, nice living space and spacious screened-in porch. There are some card and board games, too. It maintains a rustic coziness while still offering modern comforts. I did need to fetch my own pillow, though.
Pelee Island restaurants
With only 24 hours on our side, we didn’t get to too many of Pelee Island’s restaurants, so I hope to add to this list after a future visit.
Pelee Island Winery Pavilion
SW Pelee Island | website
Though the menu at Pelee Island’s only operational winery is small, it complements the main attraction nicely. Nosh on light snacks, wood-fired pizza and charcuterie from the Deli Hut while enjoying a wine flight in the outdoor wine garden — surrounded by vineyards. There’s lots of seating and no reservations are required. Duchess was allowed to join us at our covered table and someone even brought her a water bowl.
Pelee Island Winery’s wine list is shockingly big. I had no idea before this visit that it produced so many varietals and brands — including LOLA. Red, white, rosé, sparkling and icewine. It’s all here. And I loved that there’s virtually no wine that’s off-limits for the flights so you really can try-before-you-buy. I admit that I’m typically not a fan of Ontario wine; now I realize, I’ve just been drinking stuff from the wrong parallel.
I loved the Vinedressers Cabernet Sauvignon, J.S. Hamilton Red VQA (a Shiraz, Malbec and Petit Verdot blend) and the LOLA Nero Red Sparkling. The Cabernet Franc Icewine blew me away. Some bottles are priced as low as $10 if you decide to purchase wine onsite.
Stone House 1891
SW Pelee Island | website
We need to return to Stone House 1891 when a chef is in the house. By pure fluke, our dinner reservation (and, yes, you definitely need one) fell on a night when even the back-up chef wasn’t available. It had never happened before and I doubt it will ever happen again. Mad props to the kitchen and serving staff who did their best to go on with the show, limiting the menu to make it more manageable and bringing out dishes as quickly as they could considering the expert pacing of a chef was missing.
This is an award-winning restaurant and I suspect, under normal circumstances, we would have been wowed. What we did have was good and I’m willing to recommend it based on even our chef-less experience, if that tells you anything. What I won’t do is recommend specific dishes; I really need a do-over for that and will update this entry once that happens.
Be sure to request patio seating with a great lake view because there may be no better place to watch the sunset. It was magnificent.
Pelee Island Coneheads
SW Pelee Island | website
While this little ice cream hut wasn’t open when we passed by, I’m so dedicated to your kids’ ice cream stops that I’m including it anyway. You’re welcome.
Things to do on Pelee Island
Did you know that more than half of the USA’s 50 states are north of Pelee Island — and that even includes parts of California?
The vineyards, beaches and quietude of nature is calling. And with just 10,000 acres to explore, you really can get to all of the main attractions on Pelee Island if you plan to stay just one night. But don’t. Stay longer. Haven’t I made that clear?!
One grateful note: dog owners will rejoice in Pelee Island’s lack of ticks and you can thank the wild turkeys for that. We didn’t find a single one on Duchess, despite roaming through several trails with tall grass. When I asked a local about this, he told me it’s because the turkeys eat them!
Now let’s dig in to all of the fun you can throw down, even if you only spend one night on Pelee Island like we did.
Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserve
Southern Pelee Island | website
This shallow-sand, limestone plain in the Great Lakes lowlands is home to several provincially rare plants and species, including the prickly pear cactus and giant swallowtail butterfly. There’s a tiny parking lot here, which is better than the Lighthouse parking I’ll get to in a moment. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to walk the entire trail here, which was mostly flat and well-cleared, save for some roots you’ll want to watch out for (not very mobility aid-friendly).
The sound of birds alone made me want to stand in stillness, close my eyes and just bathe in nature.
There are interpretive stops along the way to learn about various species and ecological features, but as a “non-operating” provincial park, don’t expect any facilities — including toilets. The next time we come to Pelee Island, I’m starting here and taking the trail all the way to the sandy point, if only to say that I’ve stood on the most southern tip of Canada.
Pelee Island Adventures
SW Pelee Island | website
Whether you walk onto the Pelee Island Ferry or bring your vehicle, renting a golf cart is a fun way to get around the island. Almost immediately off the dock, Pelee Island Adventures is located at the Stone House 1891 building. If you have a dog with you, I suggest renting the 6-seater golf cart; otherwise, your dog has to be held in the back seat of a 4-seater, which isn’t comfortable for anyone. With the 6-seater, you can fold down the back seat where your dog can sit or lie down. Bring your own bluetooth speaker to amp up your ride!
If you’re interested in a quick, 20-minute get-your-bearings kind of introduction to Pelee Island, the Arrive/Revive Stone House 1981 Tour & Tasting is a fine option. Short enough that if you have kids with you, they won’t hate you for dragging them on a tour with information that’s truthfully only going to interest adults — and they’ll get chocolate in lieu of the craft beer tasting, so there’s that — and inexpensive enough that you won’t feel like you wasted money on your kids’ newly found disdain for you. My Mom and I, however, loved learning about this hand-built stone house that dates back to Prohibition, which has been everything from a liquor store to a jail before its restaurant days.
Pelee Island Lighthouse
NE Pelee Island | website
This is a short walk through Lighthouse Point Provincial Nature Reserve — I won’t even call it a hike — with a great payoff. If you have a few hours to spare, bring a beach umbrella, bathing suits, towels and a picnic. Built in 1833, the Pelee Island Lighthouse is the second-oldest Canadian lighthouse on Lake Erie. Restored in 2000, the lighthouse is easy to find. Parking, however, is a bit of a different story! Don’t make my mistake and drive all the way to the Lighthouse Point Provincial Nature Reserve entrance; instead, set your GPS to take you to the Pelee Island Lighthouse parking pin I added to the map above. Then, park as tightly to the road as you can.
Black fly warnings, mercifully, didn’t come true for us. But you might want to add bug spray to your day pack just in case. We went right after breakfast and were clearly the first ones through the trail that morning because we had to walk with our arms outstretched and waving the spiderweb dance (IYKYK). But you can’t beat walking out of a forest trail onto a secluded beach with a lighthouse at the end of the split.
Like Fish Point, this is a non-operating park, so there are no onsite facilities.
Pelee Island Winery
SW Pelee Island | website
Something magical happens along the 42nd parallel when it comes to wine, and that’s what makes Pelee Island’s wine scene so exciting.
Tours are $20 per person and include a fantastic overview of the winery, its history and legacy, plus a wine tasting and a Pelee Island Winery tasting glass. But you don’t need to book a tour to enjoy everything the Pavilion has to offer — including an antique European grape press in the middle of the pavilion that’ll help you appreciate the evolution of winemaking. There’s no fee to come in and just look around.
Duchess was allowed to join us for our tour, though we didn’t go into the movie theatre so I can’t confirm if dogs are allowed in all indoor spaces. but they’re definitely welcome in most of the Pavilion.
NE Pelee Island | website
The Mission Hall Project took shape in 2015 and is an ongoing effort to rebuild an old church and honour the land on which it sits. Salvaging what they could, the vision was years and an army of volunteers in the making. Even the church’s iconic gothic arch was rebuilt by hand. The design includes partial walls, allowing visitors to feel at once part of the structure and part of the landscape.
NW Pelee Island | website
Founded in 1866, Vin Villa is widely considered one of the most historically significant viticultural sites in North America — if not the most important. As Canada’s first commercial winery, Vin Villa offers a unique glimpse into early winemaking. A guided tour is essential since you can’t get past the gates protecting the site without one.
Our tour guide was outstanding and his stories were fascinating, taking us back to the 1800s when the Vin Villa won the coveted Bronze Medallion at the 1878 World’s Fair in Paris, France, when North American wine first became part of the world stage. We learned that the vintners brought an expert from Champagne to Pelee Island to teach them how to make the bubbly stuff (what now must be called sparkling wine when it’s produced outside of Champagne itself), making Vin Villa the first place in Canada to produce champagne.
Heading down to the restored wine cellar was the real treat, though, and if you saw my Instagram Stories from this trip, you can hear my very audible gasp as the big iron doors swung open, revealing this 150-year-old space that features a 32-foot-long iron chandelier resembling grapevines. (That’s a whole story unto itself.)
Vin Villa tours also include a replica World’s Fair medallion keepsake and an opportunity to taste Vin Villa-branded wine that’s being produced again for the first time in many, many years. This is the only place you can purchase a bottle to take home, too.
Thoughts on the 2024 Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid for Ontario drives
Our Ontario drives are nothing short of comfortable and cost effective when we do them in spacious hybrid vehicles — and this southwestern Ontario trip all the way to Pelee Island was no different. We realized great gas mileage and loved so many of the smart, comfortable and customizable features this vehicle offered. The new Toyota Safety Sense 3.0 was especially impressive at — literally — every turn.
If you have suggestions for more accommodations, restaurants, activities and attractions in these parts of Ontario’s Southwest — or even new Ontario drives — feel free to add them to the comments to give other readers more to consider. Happy road-tripping!
DISCLAIMER: I was compensated for this Ontario drives post. However, all opinions and suggestions are my own and have not been influenced in any way. For more information about the Toyota Grand Highlander Hybrid, visit Toyota Canada; and to learn more about this part of the province, visit Ontario’s Southwest’s website.