It sometimes feels like half the GTA flies north for the summer, spending their weekends in Muskoka, Haliburton or the Kawarthas. Far fewer realize that about an hour west of Toronto, there’s a city with all the small-town charm and natural beauty of cottage country.
Yes, we’re talking about Hamilton.
Long associated with its steel mills, Hamilton is more than just manufacturing, thanks in part to amalgamation. One of the former towns that makes up the city is Dundas, nestled at the base of the Niagara Escarpment. The heart of its downtown is King Street, which hosts Barely Bent and The Printed Word, two top-shelf bookstores. At the former, you’ll find all the standards at good prices: Agatha Christie, John Le Carré, Sue Grafton and the classics. The Printed Word is more specialized, focusing on poetry, philosophy, children’s books and rare finds. Despite its small footprint, you can easily lose a few hours browsing the shelves and picking out long-forgotten works.
Right between the bookstores, you’ll find one of the best coffee roasters in the province: Detour Coffee. The café attached to the roaster offers a range of tasty brunch options, including sandwiches made with bread from their “sister brand,” Dear Grain bakery. There’s not a wrong note on the menu, and don’t forget to buy some beans to take home!
Now it’s time to take your coffee and book for a walk. The Escarpment provides no end of great walking trails, including (as Hamiltonians love to point out) some stunning waterfalls. Webster Falls and Tew Falls are some of the best, particularly when you keep walking toward Dundas Peak – a fine spot to sit and read while looking down at the city.
After a long walk, it’s time to stock up on some cold ones. Hamilton is home to two of the best Ontario breweries: Collective Arts and Fairweather. Collective Arts looks as good as it tastes, with one taproom wall covered by their dozens of cans and bottles, each featuring gorgeous artwork. Their beer offerings seem limitless, including no fewer than 10 (!) IPAs. (If beer’s not your thing, that’s okay: Collective Arts now makes gin, too.)
Finally there’s Fairweather, a newer entrant into the craft beer scene. This is a smaller outfit, but its taproom is bright and charming and the beers are exciting and delicious. I recommend the sour blackcurrant stout, which is surprisingly refreshing.
If you didn’t spent too much time in the breweries, don’t miss Ancaster and Waterdown, two more towns that make up Hamilton. And if you want to take the long way home, check out Springridge Farms in Milton!