They’re thunderous, icy cold, majestic, and magnificent. Niagara Falls should be on everyone’s travel bucket list. For over 12,000 years dating back to the end of the last glacial period, the water has roared over the falls in a breath-taking geological landscape. What makes them unforgettable is the amount of water plummeting over the crest line each minute. For a different twist on visiting the iconic destination, stay on the Canadian side.
With a good friend based in Cleveland, we road tripped to the United States side of Niagara Falls first.
The only boutique hotel in Niagara Falls on the Canada side is Sterling Inn and Spa. It’s a little oasis in a sea of touristy attractions. I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting to find such a gem of a place to stay at Niagara Falls. Each of the over-sized rooms has its own unique layout with a king size “Sterling Dream” bed, fireplace, wet bar, separate seating area, and extra-large bathroom with a rain-shower head steam shower and oversized jetted tub big enough for two. Niagara Falls is known as the “Honeymoon Capital of the World” after all! Red accents add a hint of sexiness to the dark wood and earth tones of the rooms. The building was a creamery for many years, including home to Bordens Dairy from 1930 to 1974. As you enter Sterling Inn, you do so at the base of a giant 3-story concrete milk bottle paying homage to the building’s creamery past.
We arrived at the hotel with just a few minutes to freshen up before our dinner reservations. We didn’t have to go far, just down to the basement to AG Inspired Cuisine, the restaurant’s award-winning restaurant. We relaxed in the red bar with a glass of Tawse Spark. The bartender recommended the sparkling wine that is a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot gris. Tawse is one of the Niagara area vineyards. It was a great introduction to Niagara region wines. It has notes of pie crust, crisp green apple, and citrus. Every great meal should start with bubbles!
Since the bartender did so well with the sparkling wine, we decided to go with his recommendation for a wine with dinner. Only producing 400 cases a year, Five Rows Craft Wine and the Lowery Vineyard is a small boutique winery. Our sauvignon blanc was delightfully complex with pineapple, bubble gum, grass, and gooseberry aromas then lemon, lime, and grilled pineapple on the palate. AG is a true farm-to-table experience as the chef uses classic French cooking techniques with local ingredients. The result is creative wine country cuisine like the AG Farm Broccoli Veouté with bourbon bacon jam and apple kohlrabi slaw or Juniper Dusted Loin of Venison with choucroute, sweet corn pudding, peach essence, and honey rainbow carrots. Try to save some room for the sinfully delicious desserts including Epp Farms Peach Semifredo with vanilla peach coulis, peach chip and milk crumb, Deconstructed Strawberry Shortcake with crumbled shortcake, cocoa nibs, meringue, and strawberry ice, or Andrew’s Hand Made Gelato. The “Field-to-Fork” section of the menu is seasonal and changes daily depending on what ingredients are available. If you’re there on a Friday or Saturday evening like we were, you get the added treat of live music. We went for a special tasting menu and had an amazing meal! I’d go back to Niagara Falls just to eat at AG.
To work off an amazing dinner we took a walk down Clifton Hill and were treated to some great people watching. It’s known as the “Street of Fun” with everything from a wax museum to glow in the dark mini golf to the Niagara Skywheel, a giant Ferris wheel 175 feet above the falls. At night, it’s a maze maneuvering through the families, sightseers, and attractions. Think of it as the moment to embrace the touristy craziness.
From there we walked down Fallsview Boulevard to experience the falls at night lit up with colored lights to enhance the thunderous roar of the water and spraying mist. It truly was magical looking at the falls illuminated with an array of colors. The Falls Illumination starts nightly at dusk year-round. To top off our evening was a six-minute fireworks display lighting up the night sky above Queen Victoria Park. That was a great way to end the day with a bang.
After a wonderful night’s sleep, we got to start the day with breakfast in bed. Pretty hard not to when its complimentary and includes French press coffee, fresh orange juice, hard boiled eggs, house made granola, freshly baked croissants with locally sourced handmade preserves, and yogurt. Take it up a notch and order mimosas for two.
After a relaxing early breakfast, we headed out to get on one of the early boats to get up close to the falls. Here’s the trick with doing the boat ride to see the falls – go 30 minutes before they open and you’ll get on the first or second boat of the day. You might want a light jacket under the poncho as it can get chilly on the boat with the spraying water. Decked out in our red ponchos (they’re blue on American side) off we went on the Hornblower.
The Voyage to the Falls Boat Tour that we did gives you the full mist experience. It’s a 20-minute ride to see the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and American Falls up close and personal. On the boat, you get a lower and wetter vantage point of the falls. We clamored to front of the boat so we could snag a spot on the rail to get kissed by the mist of the falls. The boat headed straight for Horseshoe Falls, the most expansive section of the falls on either side. I marveled at the rainbows in the mist, the thunderous roar of the crashing water, and the chill of the water as it touched my skin. Even with a poncho your face and arms may still get wet and yes the water is cold. At the base of the falls its louder than any concert you’ve gone to as the Niagara River plummets 173 feet over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls.
Next, we cruised over to the American Falls at 181-feet high with a crest elevation 508-feet wide. Of the three, Bridal Veil Falls is the smallest. The experience is breathtaking as more than 700,000 gallons of water per second can pour over Niagara Falls, making it the most water sent over falls in comparison to other waterfalls around the world.
Driving along River Road, you follow the course of the Niagara River as it flows north to Lake Ontario. Within 10 minutes, you are out of the touristy Niagara Falls area and into a world of rolling hills, beautiful farms and orchards, vineyards, and beautiful homes.
We stopped at Walker’s Country Market, a quaint roadside stand. From peaches to raspberries, there was a bounty of fresh produce. The family owned and operated farm market has been around since the 1930s. You can load up on picnic delights like tart cherries, plump table grapes, and juicy nectarines and apricots. They have a huge selection of jams, jellies, and preserves, along with a mouthwatering selection of homemade baked goods, sandwiches, sweet and savory treats, and gourmet gift items. We gave in and went for one of the mini fresh fruit pies and of course stocked up on a few goodies to enjoy on our road trip. The pie was OMG good and worth every single calorie!
At the end of the Niagara Parkway is Niagara-on-the-Lake. Often described as the prettiest town in Ontario, Niagara-on-the-Lake lives up to its reputation. It is a well-preserved 19th-century village right in the center of Ontario’s wine region. There are about 250 bed and breakfasts in this town that gets about 2 and a half million visitors a year.
In Niagara-on-the-Lake, we ate at Shaw Café, a European-style café serving up light fare and Niagara wines. Of course, we had to continue partaking in local wine and started with a bottle of Creekside Sauvignon Blanc. We were doing a light lunch out on the patio, since we had already had dessert at Walker’s Country Market. Nibbling on bruschetta and cheese plate and sipping wine on a beautiful sunny day was delightful. The bruschetta is a savory blend of tomatoes, feta, red onions, apricots, and mixed herbs on garlic buttered crostinis. The cheese plate is aged cheddar, smoked gouda, brie, fruilano, and oka cheese with poached pear compote and sweet onion marmalade. Both of the appetizers pair beautifully with the Creekside Sauv Blanc. We struck up conversations with others dining next to us, including a couple from Toronto just married the night before. We were lucky to snag a table near the water fountain and in the shadow of a statue of George Bernard Shaw, renowned playwright and literary genius who was also the inspiration for the Shaw Festival, a world-class theatre festival running April to October in the town. I could have easily sat there all afternoon.
After lunch we strolled through town, dipping in and out of shops. They have a plethora of antique, specialty, wine, clothing, home décor, and unique gift shops. My favorite was the Niagara Apothecary, a museum restoration of an 1869 pharmacy. From health tonics to antique medical equipment, it’s filled with artifacts from the 1800s and early 1900s.
After exploring the city, we drove around to Lake Ontario’s shoreline to try to see Toronto across the lake. We climbed on the rocks at Ryerson Park and took in the scenic view of sailboats racing across the water as the waves crashed on the rocks. It’s only a 90-minute drive between Toronto and Niagara-on-the-Lake. While enjoying the picturesque setting, I was already dreaming about my next trip to explore Toronto, go wine tasting, and relaxing for a couple of days in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Creekside Winery will definitely be one of my stops. The winery boasts one of the oldest and largest underground barrel cellars in the Niagara region. Plus, their covered deck would be a blissful place to sip wine, eat light bites (including BBQ!), and take in the panoramic view of the vineyards.
We did make one stop for a tasting in the area’s picturesque wine region. We decided on Tawse Winery since that was our first local Canadian wine we tried the night before during dinner at AG Inspired Cuisine. Tawse is a family-owned organic and biodynamic winery. It was voted Canada’s Winery of the Year in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2016. I’m not normally a chardonnay fan, but during the tasting decided to give theirs a try. I liked it so much I bought a bottle. It was the crisp minerality with notes of nectarine, ripe peach, toasted nuts, along with flavors of vanilla and white grapefruit on the palate that grab me. I grabbed a glass and enjoyed it out on a picnic table taking in the view of the vineyards.
As the sun starts to set, we had to head back to Cleveland but if you can take more time – stay in a B&B in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Or, head back to Sterling Inn and maybe sneak in a massage or soak in your jetted tub, indulge in another night of fine dining at AG Inspired Cuisine, and then drift off to dream in a blissful night’s rest only to be awaken by the arrival of breakfast in bed again. As the smell of French press coffee fills the room, plan your day to explore the Niagara region which hopefully includes a stop at a winery or two. Cheers to Canada on their 150th!