Road Trip: Exploring Ontario Southwest’s Blue Flag Beaches

As an alternative to hopping on a plane this summer, we visited some of Ontario Southwest’s Blue Flag beaches, beautiful stretches of sand, pristine marinas and colourful sunsets all within a few hours of Toronto.

At times it felt like we had been transported to some of the world’s most famous coasts (Cape Cod, Laguna Beach or Miami) as we jetted across the Great Lakes, sunned ourselves on white sand and enjoyed Ontario Southwest’s famous fresh Perch meals. Lake Huron is known worldwide for its breathtaking sunsets that paint the sky in oranges, pinks and reds while visitors try their best to capture it on camera.  We just had to take a road trip around the lake to soak it all in.

We discovered that Ontario has some seriously beautiful summer destinations that are perfect for a weekend escape from the city. But with beaches on our minds this season, we had to provide a round-up of our top three.

What exactly is a Blue Flag beach? The Blue Flag is a certification by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) that a beach, marina or sustainable boating tourism operator meets its stringent standards. Central to the ideals of the Blue Flag program is the aim of connecting the public with their surroundings and encouraging them to learn more about their environment.

Picture-perfect at the beach in Sarnia. Photo by Natalie Preddie Zamojc

Picture-perfect at the beach in Sarnia. Photo by Natalie Preddie Zamojc

Sarnia: Boating and Beach Life

Sarnia has a large boating community. With three marinas (two private, one public) and more than 1,500 slips, the area attracts summer boaters from both Canada and the United States. Sailboats, yachts, Sea-Doos and speedboats cruise down the St. Clair River to Lake Huron and along the crystal clear waters of the Canada/U.S. border.

In the summer, Sarnia hosts both the Motorboat Festival and the Tall Ships Festival, which attract boaters and non-boaters alike as ships speed across the sparkling lake. On the third weekend of August, all boats are banned from the St. Clair River and crowds arrive with inner tubes and life jackets for an annual float down the river under the Blue Water Bridge.

For those who spend the season with their yachts docked in a private marina, lazy summer days can be spent sailing from beach to beach along Lake Huron. A quick drop of the anchor and a swim into the beach makes for a perfect day on the water. Travel & Style’s favourite Sarnia beach is called Canatara Beach, which boasts 3,000 metres of shimmering white sand. The water is clear and sparkles shades of blue as it reaches out to an ocean-like horizon.

Don’t have a boat? Bridgeview Marina rents Pontoon boats for $380/per day. Skipper is optional.

Which yacht should we take in Grand Bend?  Photo by Natalie Preddie Zamojc

Which yacht should we take in Grand Bend? Photo by Natalie Preddie Zamojc

Grand Bend: Famous Beach and Million-Dollar Marina

Grand Bend is a famously beautiful beach often known for its outdoor stage, surf shops and the hoards of teenagers it attracts in the summer months. It’s easy to understand why when one sees the beautiful blue of the water, the stretches of sand and the Hampton-esque cottages that line the water. No one can deny its attraction.

However, a walk to the north end of the beach shows a different side of Grand Bend. A quiet canal lined with large and lavish cottages pours out to a less populated portion of the beach. Large yachts and sailboats sit in their slips alongside the private Grand Bend Yacht Club, in front of waterfront summer homes or at one of the canal’s most famous restaurants, Smackwater Jacks, a tap house that offers a perfect view of the orange and red sunset. Cottage and yacht dwellers are taxied up and down the water on smaller motorboats to avoid any excess noise.

Whether you fancy a day on the water with friends or prefer to people-watch from the lake, speedboat and Sea-Doo rentals are available by the hour or day at Xtreme Watersports located on the canal. They will also taxi you back to your boat, the yacht club or Smackwater Jacks.

Port Stanley had us thinking of Cape Cod. Photo by Natalie Preddie Zamojc

Port Stanley had us thinking of Cape Cod. Photo by Natalie Preddie Zamojc

Port Stanley: Quaint and Cozy Fishing Village

Port Stanley, a sleepy little village of 2,000 people, is located on Lake Erie. Previously known as a retirement town, the population is getting younger and, consequently, the area is seeing a rise in new restaurants, art galleries and events, as well as a resurgence of the older ones.

Initially, Port Stanley looks and feels like a coastal Massachusetts village with its small, quaint harbour alongside seven acres of clean, sandy beach. The charming Inn on the Harbour maintains this maritime feel with 16 cozy waterfront rooms and suites all within walking distance of stunning Little Beach, Big Beach, the local ice cream parlour and more.

Ontario Southwest has a big boating community alongside some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. With sunsets that take your breath away over the clearest of clear waters, stretches of white sandy beach and a community committed to maintaining the highest standard of beach life, Travel & Style is proud to call Ontario home.

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