About this series: With COVID-19 restrictions expected to ease over the next few months, Wheels wants to inspire you to get ready to explore – but only when it is safe to do so. This series of daytrips and weekend drives highlights great experiences you can have in the province once conditions allow and show you why Ontario is “Ours to Discover” this summer and beyond.
Located just east of Toronto, where Highway 401 and Northumberland County Road 2 meet, Cobourg is just far enough removed from the GTA to maintain its small-town charm. Even with its beautiful swath of beach and an abundance of activities, Cobourg remains low key. Here is how to make the most of a day trip to this picturesque community on Lake Ontario.
In the morning: A fair number of people commute into Toronto from Cobourg, but this town holds its own as a destination. Hit the road at 8 a.m. so you can enjoy a full day’s worth of exploring. Get on Hwy 401 heading east and it will take you about 90 minutes to reach Cobourg. If you’re day tripping on a weekend, make a quick pit stop by taking RR 34 to the Courtice Flea Market, about an hour into your journey. You can buy everything from crystals to refurbished yard tools, but the best scores are in the secondhand furniture stalls, where you can find gems like retro picnic baskets. After, get back onto Hwy 401 and head for another 30 minutes to Cobourg.
Park on King Street and walk to the Cobourg Farmers Market (it is only open on Saturdays) in Rotary Harbourfront Park. One of the oldest in Ontario – it was established in 1839 – the market has a balanced mix of vendors selling fresh produce and ready-to-eat goods, including the award-winning Doo Doo’s Bakery butter tarts (snap them up before exploring as they sell out early), and beverages from small-batch breweries Rice Lake Hard Cider and William Street Beer Co. If you’re not visiting the Cobourg on a Saturday when the market is open, head to Burnham Family Farm Market instead for a great selection of local cheese, baked goods and produce.
Around noon: Drop your market purchases in the car before walking to The El. Once a tapas bar, the El’s new gastropub menu features comfort foods such as fried brussels sprouts and chicken wings, along with tacos and a paella generously filled with shrimp and chorizo. Save room for ice cream at Harbourfront Delights, where they have 24 flavours of soft serve, plus London Ice Cream Company favourites such as Toasted S’mores. Ice cream in hand, explore a few of the shops along King Street: you’ll find a treasure trove of toys and treats for your pets at All Creatures Great and Small, and outdoor-adventure toys for yourself at Green Canoe Outfitters.
In the afternoon: Take Division Street north to get to Legacy Vintage Building Materials and Antiques (open Wednesdays to Sundays until 4 p.m.). Regardless of whether you’re looking to buy a piece for your home, this historic warehouse—it’s formerly the site of the Canadian Pacific Railway Express Yard—offers a vast and fascinating range of vintage pieces, everything from bathtubs and doors to knobs and eclectic bric-a-brac, such as a taxidermied mongoose. It is well worth a visit even to just look around. Established in 1998, Legacy also provides prop rentals to numerous film and TV productions including “It,” “The Boys” and “Anne with an E.”
Next, choose your own adventure: From Monday to Friday, you can head to Victoria Park Beach if you’d like some rest and relaxation. Remember to bring some of the goodies you bought at the market earlier to nibble on. Alternatively, if you’re feeling like you’d rather keep moving, head for a hike. From Legacy Vintage head north on Division and onto County Road 45. This picturesque road winds its way northwest, with lush forest on either side of you. Park at the Woodland Trailhead and then make the easy 30-minute trek up to Lookout Mountain. At 356 metres above sea level, you’ll be rewarded with an impressive view of the forest below.
In the late afternoon: Take County Road 29 to Villa Conti Oak Heights Winery in Warkworth to enjoy a glass of wine before dinner. The rolling hills make for a beautiful pastoral backdrop to admire as you savour a sip from its wine menu. Be sure to visit the winery’s farm to say hello to the goats, llamas, bunnies, ducks, sheep and cows before you head out.
In the evening: Cobourg’s beachy vibes will have stirred up a craving for some Mediterranean. Take county roads 29 and 45 back to King Street for dinner at Corfu Grill. This Greek family restaurant serves juicy grilled souvlaki, delectably melty saganaki, and zesty tzatziki—and garlic breath won’t be a concern for the drive home since everyone will be in the same boat.
SIDEBAR: COVID-19 need to know
Cobourg is a part of Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge Health District (hkpr.ca) and is currently following provincial reopening guidelines. Some businesses or attractions may be closed or operating at reduced capacity. Contact individual businesses for details.
SIDEBAR: For the drive
The drive to Cobourg, with the less than inspiring scenery along Hwy 401, makes having something great to listen to essential. The 90-minute drive each way will fly by as you listen to “The Secret Diaries of Detective Murdoch.” This audio series is a 10-part companion to The CBC television show “Murdoch Mysteries” (Canada’s most watched drama), which is regularly filmed in Cobourg.
TIMELINE SIDEBAR: Drive Guide
- 8 a.m. Leave Toronto
- Drive east along Hwy. 401
- Turn north on RR 34
- Side trip: Courtice Flea Market
- 10:30 a.m. Cobourg Farmers Market
- Noon: Lunch at The El
- 1:30 p.m. Ice cream at Harbourfront Delights and shopping on King Street
- 2:15 p.m. Legacy Vintage Building Supplies and Antiques
- 3:30 Victoria Park Beach or Hike to Lookout Mountain
- 5 p.m. Villa Conti Oak Heights Winery
- 6:30 p.m. Corfu Grill
- 8 p.m. Drive back to Toronto
NOTE: Times are suggestions only