Summer is the time of year when most people are booking their vacation time to enjoy the sunshine, but this doesn't have to mean visiting an international destination. Canadians looking to travel locally this summer can explore these quaint towns that thrive on summer tourism. For international travelers heading to Toronto this summer, rent a car and take a day trip (or spend a few days) in any of these destinations to experience the unique charm of small-town Ontario.
Elora, Ontario, is located in Wellington County and boasts gorgeous 19th-century limestone architecture. Elora is a picturesque small town that sits beside the Grand River and was called “Ontario’s most beautiful village” by Canadian artist A.J. Casson from the Group of Seven. A focal point of the village is the Elora Mill which backs onto the river and is an upscale wedding venue and spa. Visitors exploring Elora for a day can meander through the quiet streets, visit local boutique shops, eat at one of the many patios, and go hiking in the Elora Gorge.
Stratford is Ontario’s theater town, famous for hosting the Stratford Festival, where there is an impressive playbill of shows each season. This artsy small town is the hometown of musician Justin Bieber and is just over an hour away from Toronto, making it possible to visit on a day trip. There are plenty of quaint shops and delicious restaurants to try before heading to a theatre show.
Looking for a picturesque Canadian town to spend a summer day in? Paris, Ontario, might not have an Eiffel Tower, but it is called the Cobblestone Capital of Canada for its charming streets and traditional architecture. It’s located where the Nith River meets the Grand River and was named the “Prettiest Little Town in Canada” by Harrowsmith Magazine. Grab an ice cream at Paris Twisted Treats before strolling around the beautiful streets and taking some photographs of this small town.
Goderich is a coastal town in Huron County, Ontario. It looks out over the shores of Lake Huron, one of the five Great Lakes. Goderich boasts a quaint historic district and stunning views of the blue waters stretching out off the coast. The shocking blue hue of the water in Goderich is due to the salt content in the water since Goderich has a large salt mining industry. Some top things to do in Goderich include enjoying a scenic day at Goderich Main Beach, visiting the Goderich Lighthouse, or touring the Huron County Museum.
Perth, Ontario gets less attention from travelers than Perth in Western Australia, but it’s still a worthwhile travel destination when flying into Toronto. It takes about 3.5 hours to drive to Perth from Toronto, so it’s worth spending a night or two in this charming town en route to Ottawa. Perth has some lovely green spaces like Stewart Park and Perth Wildlife Reserve, but it also offers a chance to learn about the local history at McMartin House and the Perth Museum. Don’t miss the Mammoth Cheese, made from the milk of 10,000 cows.
5 South Hampton
South Hampton, Ontario, is an upscale small town in Bruce County on Lake Huron. It’s a stunning beach town that is perfect for exploring during the summer months, either as a day trip or on vacation. There are cottages for rent in the area and tons of local restaurants serving high-quality specialty dishes. For a taste of coastal life right here in Ontario, South Hampton is the place to be this summer.
4 Grand Bend
Grand Bend is one of the best beach towns in all of Canada, so it’s no wonder Ontarians flock to this beautiful destination from June-August each year. Grand Bend has a strong commitment to water safety and quality, ensuring visitors can swim at the beaches here anytime they visit. For this reason, Grand Bend’s Main Beach is 1 of 22 in the country to receive Blue Flag status for water safety.
Muskoka is Ontario’s cottage country, and there’s nothing like escaping the hustle and bustle of Toronto life for a rural getaway in Huntsville. This Ontario small town is home to Deerhurst Resort, a popular wedding venue and retreat destination in the heart of Muskoka. Alternatively, travelers can rent a cottage or Airbnb on lakes like Fairy Lake, Lake Vernon, or Fox Lake. Prepare to see some wildlife here, with deer, moose, black bears, and even wolves frequenting the area. Mosquitos are also fierce in these parts of the province, so be sure to pack some bug spray.
Cobourg is a tourist town located east of Toronto that is famous for its beach. MoneySense Magazine has called Cobourg in Northumberland County one of the best places to live in Canada multiple times, and the town has a vibrant downtown core that ensures visitors are never bored. Cobourg Beach is the town’s main attraction; it’s got a large boardwalk, several scenic picnic areas, and a splash pad for kids to play in.
Picton is a beautiful small town located in Prince Edward County in southeastern Ontario. It’s known for its many shops and historic architecture and for being the largest town in Prince Edward County. This area has wineries, craft breweries, and cideries that are open 12 months per year, so while summer is a fantastic time to visit for the good weather, this is a year-round Ontario destination for entertainment.