The Ontario shores of Lake Huron stretch more than 300 kilometres from Sarnia to Tobermory. More than 25 beach communities and towns dot the coast, each with their own personality.
As children, my two sisters and I lived for the annual summer “family beach day” on Lake Huron, one of three Great Lakes we can flee to in Southern Ontario. I have sand-caked memories of sunny weekends and turquoise waters at the beaches of Port Elgin, Kincardine and Goderich, just three hours northwest of Toronto. Those days felt like they would never end – filled with epic sand castles, elaborate water games and diving through cresting waves.
For many years, I’ve returned to the soft sand beaches of my childhood to while away the day with a book, surrounded by the sounds of seagulls squabbling over French fries, waves lapping at the shore and music carried on the cool lake breeze.
While the beaches evolve from year to year because of weather and the latest exciting activities, one truth remains: a trip to the beach is still an effective time warp where it feels like the summer will never end.
Here’s a guide to get you to the Lake Huron beaches as quickly as possible. I suggest making it a long weekend – you’re going to need it.
Know where to stay
Last-minute accommodations can be a challenge in a beach town since people tend to book by the week, and in advance. Broaden your search to local motels, inns, bed-and-breakfasts or Airbnb. Better still, toss your tent in the car and book a site at one of five provincial parks located along the lake that offer camping. Dozens of private campgrounds and several conservation areas provide diverse options. Stay flexible and you will find something to suit your needs.
Provincial park campsites: www.ontarioparks.ca
Find your perfect beach
At the big beaches, be prepared to contend with crowded parking – arrive early to find your perfect spot in the sand. For quieter, more rugged beaches, check out Goderich, Bayfield, Port Albert or Southampton. Many of the smaller beaches have grills so you don’t need to leave the beach if you bring all your food. Also worth noting: Port Elgin, Goderich and Grand Bend have installed mobility mats to facilitate wheelchair access closer to the beach.
Don’t waste the evening
All beaches face west on Lake Huron to reward you with a National Geographic-ranked, spectacular sunset. Most evening activities are intended to maximize the sunset enjoyment and help you wind down after an active day.
Southampton: Every Friday night a bagpiper pipes down the sun at the flagpole on the beach.
Kincardine: Every Saturday at 8 p.m. in July and August, everyone is invited to join the Scottish Pipe Band for a parade on Queen Street.
Grand Bend: Pull in to the Starlite Drive-In for two movie screenings starting every night at dusk. Or, stay on the main beach for Summer Sunset Sounds, a free Sunday night concert in the amphitheater.
The Perseid meteor shower will be peaking around Aug. 11-13 this year. Every beach offers a perfectly dark sky to watch it unfold.
Stock up on snacks
Sure, you can grab some chips and carrot sticks from the grocery store, but why not fill your cooler with produce and prepared foods from local vendors.
Bayfield Farmers' Market: From steaks and prepared chicken satay ready for the grill, to fresh granola and bread, to local produce, wine and fresh roasted coffee beans, this small but mighty local market has what you need for a gourmet beach weekend. Every Friday 3-7 p.m. in the Town Square
Bourdan’s Red Cat Bakery: Get to the farm bakery location in Goderich early in the day for best selection of hearty sourdough bread, pastries and pretzels. Guaranteed, the oven will still be hot. Every Friday 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Kincardine Farmers Market: There is no shortage of local meat, produce, eggs, honey, and home baking at Dunsmoor Park. Every Saturday 9 a.m. to noon
Don’t miss these beach treats
The familiar smell of the beach concession stand is irresistible. Try these quick stops for a mid-day treat when you’ve worked up an appetite.
Sauble Beach: Casero Taco Bus is a relatively new addition but it already has a loyal following. The Mexican-inspired tacos are so flavourful you will place a second order.
Southampton: Gerry’s Fast Food is a beach-side institution for burgers, fries, onion rings and breaded pickles.
Port Elgin: Harbourlite Restaurant was the ice cream destination at the end of every family beach day in Port Elgin. You’ve got a few dozen flavours to choose from.
Port Albert: Visit the Port Albert General Store for quick, hand-made pizzas, sandwiches and produce. You’ll get a side of local news here too.
Enjoy some finer fare
When you have rinsed off the sand and are ready to enjoy what local chefs have to offer, the area still has you covered.
Kincardine: Tartan Tusk Pub and Eatery features local craft brew on tap, small plates for sharing and fresh local ingredients. Reservations recommended.
Bayfield: The Ashwood bourbon bar is a newly renovated destination restaurant with a well stocked bar. It’s in an old highway hotel, but not a stitch of old wood paneling in sight, Reservations recommended.
Goderich: Beach Street Station is in the historic Goderich train station. Enjoy the high ceilings indoors or the patio looking out on the lake.