A three-hour drive northwest through Ontario’s farm country to the shores of Lake Huron in Canada.
Centuries ago, the undulating hills off the endlessly beautiful Lake Huron coastline were cultivated by the Attawandaron Indians, who grew beans, tobacco, corn and squash. Come summer, they were the only tribe in what is now Canada to go naked. The fertile lands of Huron County still contain that mix of hardworking agriculture and a certain summery hedonism. Tractors and hay bales abound on the field-lined roads, but get to Lake Huron and you’ll find relaxed locals living on boats and Toronto escapees enjoying their weekend cottages to the max. They’re all intent on experiencing Ontario’s “suncoast,” with its dramatic cloud formations and sunsets over the oceanic lake every night.
The county seat of Goderich is famously tidy and attractive — Peace Bridge border guards don’t hesitate to advise Americans that it’s Canada’s prettiest town. Goderich’s heart is its town square, an octagon of practical-yet-appealing businesses surrounding the old courthouse. The square’s park-like green space hosts a big farmers market on Saturdays and a handcrafted local flea market on Sundays. Streets radiate from there out to Goderich’s numerous beaches and trails, which include a long shoreline boardwalk and a converted rail bridge that soars over the Maitland River and connects to several hiking paths along the bluffs. A few miles down the coast, the village of Bayfield has a more offbeat vibe, liable to host businesses and events like a juicery, a sushi bar and an annual Volkswagen van festival along its sweet main street.
Where to stay
Cameron’s Cove B&B — The interior of this modest tan ranch a few blocks from Goderich’s square was recently renovated for a beachy feel, all blue, white and sand. It’s now got three bedrooms; a breakfast of fruit, pastries and savories; and lots of patio chairs and a hammock for lounging in the well-gardened backyard.
For uniqueness, try — a sailboat managed by Peter Keightley, consummate Airbnb host and chef-owner of the Bayfield restaurant Drift. Staying on one of Keightley’s yachts, docked at the Harbour Lights Marina in Bayfield, feels like snugly camping on the water. The marina has a friendly, communal vibe, with boat owners inviting visitors for sundowners at the elaborate gazebos and minibars they’ve erected in front of their slips.
Things to do
Menesetung Bridge Trail — Just a little ways up from Goderich’s beaches is this reclaimed rail line, taking its name from the Chippewa word for the Maitland River it crosses. Today’s rustic, easy-to-stroll timber bridge yields views of the town’s graceful homes and a golf course on one side, and its port infrastructure and Lake Huron on the other, with geese, chipmunks and wildflowers in sight along the way.
Reuben R. Sallows Gallery — There’s none dedicated to Nobel Prize winner and Huron County native Alice Munro yet, but among Goderich’s informative little museums is this gallery of works an early Canadian photographer who came to Goderich as a young man. Sallows’ pastoral scenes of early-20th-century Ontario life — from washing sheep to cutting lake ice — are poignant.
Places to eat
Cait’s Cafe — This fresh community-klatching spot is where the locals gather for morning croissants, a selection of more than a dozen teas and Cait’s cold brew, sweetened with almond milk and maple syrup — all while surrounded by sleek copper panels and big prints of Huron skies. In the afternoon, sip an Ontario wine at one of its aqua sidewalk tables.
Square Brew — While Goderich arrived only recently to the craft-beer scene, this brewery (opened by milllennials Alex Menary and Kelsea Liotta in summer 2017) filled a valuable niche, serving flavorful lagers on a walnut bar that Menary planed himself. While food selection is limited to salty-gourmet snacks like charcuterie and truffle chips, Square is also a good spot to play, whether by tossing beanbags or joining in a Sunday yoga session followed by beer.
Spots to shop
Fincher’s — The venerable Fincher’s, open since 1956, seems to offer every book, card or game an Ontarian could want, from tractor sets for kids to Farmer’s Almanacs for adults. For the visitor, its two levels sell souvenirs like postcards and guidebooks to Ontario’s Cottage Country.
Makers Mercantile — This hip little space in what appears to be a darling old stone cottage showcases handmade works by area artisans. Expect throw pillows, plant hangers, canvas totes, knitted wraps, wooden board games and lots more keepsakes, plus edibles like stews, kimchi and vegan truffles.