Hidden Gems

Staff Hidden Gem: Parks, Playgrounds and the Pastry Path

Guest blogger Rosa A. was born and raised in Sault Ste Marie, known to locals as “ the Soo” and proud of it. She currently lives in the beautiful Niagara Region and has been working as a travel counsellor for the past 20 years.

This summer she is enjoying parks, beaches, local farms, events and anything that deals with animals and dinosaurs with the kids


V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N in the summertime! Well it didn’t take long after school was over for my 4 and 6 year old to ask me “What are we doing today mommy?” Hmmm, so many possibilities in the Niagara Region but where to start? A popular question I get from parents here at the Travel Centre; “Is there anywhere to take my kids for free or inexpensive?” That got me thinking to try and enjoy the simple things in life like I did as a child and play, play, play outside!

One day when we were coming back from Hamilton I stopped at a Portuguese Bakery on James Street called Ola and picked up buns, chouriço, and yummy pasties de nata (custard tarts).  This would make for a tasty picnic! We stopped near Jordan at Charles Daley Park overlooking Lake Ontario.  This is a great park that wasn’t too busy, lots of picnic tables, washroom facilities, and a nice little beach and on Tuesday nights great entertainment in the band shell at 7pm.  The kids had some good old-fashioned fun and I was able to enjoy their giggles, summer breezes and spectacular scenery.  If you have never stopped by the Jordan, Vineland, Beamsville area, be sure to get off the highway next time and explore what it has to offer.  (www.twentyvalley.ca)

The heat is on…reminds me of a song!  Off to Safari Niagara in Stevensville to enjoy the animals, splash pad and awesome playground.  I am so glad they still have free parking and that you can bring in your own food.  First stop upon arrival was the Birds of Prey Presentation.  My kids are fascinated with any living thing… bugs, birds, animals, must be those TVO kids shows they watch.  They listened intently, raised their hands to answer questions and were able to see the birds up close.  My daughter now wants to be an animal rescuer in South America; luckily she said I can visit her there. 🙂 Next, we hopped on the tram (usually we walk but it was extremely hot that day) and that turned out to be relaxing and informative. We were there mid-week so I was able to find a table beside the water and splash around with them.  They were happy as clams and spent a couple of hours playing.  As many times as we’ve been there we still haven’t done it all. Next time, we will be sure to enjoy the paddle boats, fishing and flying a kite.  New this year is a ropes course that older kids might find exciting!

Another hidden gem that I recently discovered is Heartland Forest in Niagara Falls. This is an accessible hiking trail for adults and kids of all ages to appreciate the beauty of the Carolinian Forest.  Unfortunately, I was away during the Frog Fest Event but I will be sure to attend next year as I heard it was fantastic.  The Star Gazing event is something that sounds divine and I’ll be sure to try and get out to that event in the fall.  As an update, I just had someone come in to thank me for telling her about it, she had such a great day there yesterday! It’s always heart-warming when someone takes the time to return with their feedback.

If you love hiking we are fortunate to have many Conservation Areas in Niagara.  I attended the Hawk Watch in April at Beamer Memorial Conservation Area and the view from there is stupendous.  They had a Birds of Prey demonstration and other activities that were enjoyed by people of all ages.  Also, if you are looking for a place to enjoy the flora and fauna and do a bit of fishing in the trout pond then St. Johns is the place for you. This was the first conservation area in Niagara with wheelchair accessible facilities giving everyone the chance to explore the natural beauty in Niagara.

When was the last time you rode an old-fashioned carousel? Better yet, when was the last time you only paid five cents for it? Well in Port Dalhousie (north St. Catharines) near Lake Ontario you can enjoy the historic ride as many times as you would like without worrying about budget.  You can also enjoy a relaxing walk along the pier, splashing around on the beach or a great bite to eat at some of the restaurants.  This area is also where the famous Royal Canadian Henley Regatta takes place every August, an adrenaline rushing event not to miss.

I live in St. Catharines and there are so many things to do from hiking, cycling, segway tours, museums, 1812 sites, black history, wineries, culinary, fishing, boat tours, farmer’s markets, arts and entertainment that it may just be easier to come down and explore what the city and region has to offer.

It isn’t possible to talk about Niagara without mentioning the fruit belt.  I am on a personal mission this year to get to every farmer’s market and try new pastry shops.  I have already tried The Pie Plate, Niagara Home Bakery, and Willows so now on to new ones. I had wanted to try the Fruit Shack since they apparently have the best butter tarts.  I am not a big fan of raisons but the young lady assured me I won’t even notice.  Wow, they were soooooooooo good that I’ve been back twice since then. I have purchased fruit and some of their organic meat as well.  On that same road (Regional Road 55) I also stopped at the purple wagon and other stands to buy jam and fruit. Be sure to support all the local farmers we are lucky to have in our region and province!

The other day I went to The Pie Man in Thorold which is a British Home Style Bakery. Yummy!! From fruit pies, meat pies and other items I left with dinner and dessert. Across the street was On The Front Café so I scooted in there to take a look and will definitely be back for lunch. I had heard they sourced some of their ingredients from Ravine Vineyard so I am curious to taste their sandwiches.  In St. Catharines I have started hearing a lot about Rise Above on St. Paul Street.  My co-worker’s eyes lit up when she spoke about the doughnuts they sell so another place to add to my list.  Yes its tough research but I feel it has to be explored.

Next time you are planning a getaway to Niagara feel free to stop into the Ontario Travel Centre in St. Catharines or Niagara Falls and ask about places you haven’t experienced yet.  We also sell tickets at a discount for certain attractions and are happy to assist you with your travel plans anywhere in Ontario.  Happy vacationing everyone!

Enjoyed Rosa’s picks for your Niagara adventure? Watch for our next Staff Pick blog for more great insider travel tips.



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