For families: Canatara beach
It’s not hard to see why families flock to this sandy beach just outside Sarnia at the tip of Lake Huron. One of 27 beaches in Canada to be awarded Blue Flag status for its commitment to water quality and environmental stewardship, Canatara Beach features a mile-long shoreline bordering waters deep turquoise.
A short walk west along the coast brings you to The Cove, a sheltered swimming hole where you can take a dip without fighting big waves, making it an ideal spot for the little ones. The beach is located in Canatara Park, home to a petting zoo, playgrounds, mini train, and other attractions that complete the ingredients for a day of ultimate family fun.
How to get there: Canatara Beach is about a three and a half hour drive west of Toronto along Highway 403 and is located near Sarnia.
For tropical atmospheres: Port Dover Beach
If you’re looking for a tropical-style beach, Port Dover is a safe bet. In the summer, palm trees line this stretch of smooth sand on the north shore of Lake Erie. The shallowest and southernmost of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie offers warm waters and gentle waves, further enhancing Port Dover’s Caribbean vibe.
This scenic beach also offers plenty of activities besides crunching in the sun: rent a paddle board, stroll along the pretty pier, watch the fishing boats return with their catch, or explore the pretty town center. Local restaurants serving lake-fresh perch and pike make a satisfying stop after a day in the sand.
How to get there: Follow Highway 403 west from Toronto, then from Hamilton head south on Highway 6 to Port Dover.
People-watching: Grand Bend Beach
Buzzy Grand Bend has just about everything: warm, shallow blue waters, beautiful sunsets and an exuberant vibe. Another Blue Flag beach bordering Lake Huron, Grand Bend’s 30 kilometers of shoreline welcomes throngs of visitors each summer.
The main beach is the center of the action, attracting visitors from all walks of life, from families to revelers. The lively vibe extends from the beach to Grand Bend’s Main Street, where you can sample the usual concessions like ice cream between dips in the lake. Don’t miss the Wednesday morning farmer’s market and be sure to walk along the boardwalk to admire the lighthouse and lake views.
How to get there: Drive west on Highway 401 before turning onto Highway 8. The drive takes approximately three hours.
For memorable landscapes: Dunes Beach
Skirting the sparkling waters of Lake Ontario in Sandbanks Provincial Park, the aptly named Dunes Beach is known for its incredibly scenic shifting sand dunes. Formed by glaciers more than 12,500 years ago, the towering dunes stretch for 12 kilometers and are billed as the largest bay-mouth dune barrier formation on the planet.
After some time on the sand, hit the nearby hiking trails, which offer more vantage points to admire the distinctive dune formations. Dunes Beach can get crowded, especially in the summer, so it’s best to book a day pass before you visit and arrive early.
How to get there: Dunes Beach is about three hours from Toronto, driving east along Highway 401 into Prince Edward County.
For a Secluded Getaway: Southampton Beach
For a quieter beach retreat, Southampton is as good as it gets. This four-kilometre beach on Lake Huron, northwest of Toronto, usually draws few people in the summer, which means there’s plenty of room to spread out. The beach itself is pleasantly sandy, but you’ll want to bring water shoes if you plan to wade through the rockier terrain offshore.
The boardwalk, which offers lovely views across the lake to Chantry Island and its Imperial Lighthouse, is perfect for long walks before cooling off in the water. Hop aboard one of the tour boats heading to the island, located about a kilometer from shore, and climb to the top of its 19th-century lighthouse.
How to get there: Southampton Beach can be reached in just over three hours via Highway 410.
For the reader
Get in the Great Lakes mood by listening to “Unsaled,” a podcast highlighting interesting stories and people related to the region. Hosted by journalist Allison Devereaux, who grew up on Lake Huron, the podcast’s back catalog covers everything from Great Lakes ghost stories to an interview with a TikToker that has earned over a million subscribers for its content. centered on the Great Lakes.