Ours to Discover

Ours to Discover: Barrie

Sunshine and adventure on Lake Simcoe, Hugging the shore of Kempenfelt Bay, Barrie appeals to day-trippers who are seeking that happy balance between indoors and outdoors.

By Doug O'Neill Wheels.ca

Apr 1, 2022 5 min. read

Article was updated 2 months ago

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Barrie: About this series: Wheels wants to inspire you to explore. This series of day trips and longer drives highlight great experiences you can have in the province, and show you why Ontario is “Ours to Discover.”

According to Statistics Canada, Barrie is one of the fastest-growing cities in Canada. But you needn’t scrutinize population charts to appreciate the development this community on the western arm of Lake Simcoe is experiencing. It’s obvious from the ever-increasing activities available to day visitors and overnighters. As the population has swelled, so too have the art and cultural opportunities, and the diversity of cuisines served in local restaurants. One constant about Barrie that’s always been a crowd-pleaser: its robust portfolio of outdoor pursuits, which starts on the city’s revamped waterfront.

In the morning: Follow Highway 400 north to Barrie and take the Bayfield Street exit toward downtown. There’s plenty of roadside and municipal parking near Bayfield and Simcoe streets near the Kempenfelt Bay waterfront.

Make a beeline to Homestead Artisan Bakery, which specializes in long-ferment sourdough breads and baked goods. A helping of sourdough waffles – slathered with fresh berries, whipping cream, berry compote and maple syrup – will fuel you for the morning activities ahead.

After your hearty breakfast, head to Centennial Beach and Heritage Park (a few minutes away by foot) where you’ll have options to walk, rollerblade or cycle the seven-kilometre waterfront trail, go kayaking or canoeing, hop on a stand-up paddleboard, or let the kids have fun at the 13,000-square-foot inflatable waterpark. If you are interested, Born to Ride offers cycle rentals and guided tours of the area.

Retrieve your car for a five-minute drive to Arboretum Sunnidale Park and Living Walk. It is home to the Every Kid’s A Hero Inclusive Adventure Playground that empowers youngsters with mobility impairments or disabilities, as well as people with hearing and visual impairments, to enjoy outdoor recreation. You can also follow the interactive QR code-based tree walk, which prompts visitors to identify trees and other elements in the local ecosystem.

Downtown Barrie’s MacLaren Art Centre

Hop back in your car for a 10-minute jaunt over to Bayfield Street, and then north on Highway 26, which will take you to the Simcoe County Museum. It includes a collection of 16 heritage buildings, interactive displays and five indoor galleries chronicling local history. There’s even an outdoor ice-skating trail during winter.

Around noon: Pizzeria Italia has been serving traditional Italian food in Barrie since 1966. Its meatball sandwich is delicious, and, over the years, the kitchen hasn’t given in and dialled down the garlic intensity of its requisite Caesar salad.

After lunch, make time to visit the contemporary Canadian art collection at the MacLaren Art Centre across the street from the restaurant. Later, walk around the corner to the Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery to purchase a take-home six-pack of one of their award-winning craft brews.

After retrieving your car make a quick stop at Sigrid’s Café & Fine Bakery, which is run by the fourth generation of European-trained bakers. Take your pick of cookies, pastries, torts or poppy seed cake to enjoy during your 20-minute drive to your next stop.

In the afternoon: Hop back onto Highway 400 and drive north until you reach Horseshoe Valley Road and Horseshoe Valley Resort. This four-season venue offers a variety of winter activities (skiing, snow tubing, snowboarding and snowshoeing), as well as warmer-weather adventures (fat biking, hiking, off-road riding and tree-top trekking).
Horseshoe Valley Resort

Your last stop for the afternoon will resonate with anyone who’s watched an episode of “Antiques Road Show.” Road Show Antiques, just south of Barrie next to the 400 Market on Highway 400, is open daily. Browse its 32,000 square feet of antiques, collectibles, vintage and retro pieces. Making sure you have an empty car trunk will be handy for this day trip, because you will want to bring some of your finds home with you.

In the evening:  All that shopping will mean you’re ready for dinner. The Crazy Fox Bistro, a mainstay since 1986, is one of the finer casual dining options in Barrie. Appetizers range from flatbreads to Itsumo tuna, while main courses include pan-seared pickerel, duck confit, filet mignon and crab and lobster mezzaluna. Opt to sit on the patio during the warm months.

For your main event of the evening, you can sit back and watch horseracing at Georgian Downs on the outskirts of Barrie, or take in a performance at the Sadlon Arena, formerly the Barrie Molson Centre. Before the drive back to Toronto, consider stopping at the Common Good Café & Social House, where you can enjoy a cocktail (if you aren’t the designated driver) or coffee on the patio or in the lounge while listening to live music. The perfect end to a perfect day in Barrie.

COVID-19 need to know

Consult the provincial website (ontario.ca) for the most up-to-date information and contact individual businesses ahead of your trip

For the drive

Listen to “Barrie Uncovered: The Podcast Edition.” This arts and culture program features conversations with Barrie-based artists and entrepreneurs. Find it at barrieuncovered.ca.

TIMELINE: Drive guide

  • 8 a.m.Leave Toronto

Drive north on Hwy 400

  • 9 a.m. Homestead Artisan Bakery

  • 10 a.m.Centennial Park & Heritage Park

  • 11 a.m.Sunnidale Park Arboretum and Living Walk

  • 11:45 a.m. Simcoe County Museum

  • 12:45 a.m. Pizzeria Italia

  • 2 p.m.Horseshoe Valley Resort

  • 4:45 p.m.Road Show Antiques

  • 6 p.m.Crazy Fox Bistro

  • 7:30 p.m. Sadlon Arena or Georgian Downs

NOTE: Times are suggestions only