Port Stanley: 13 Best Things to Do + Complete Beach Guide 2021
With summer heat now in full force, it’s time to head to the beach!
With so many popular beach towns in southwestern Ontario, you might be wondering how Port Stanley ranks among the crowd and what exactly there is to do in this hopping summer oasis.
Is Port Stanley Worth Visiting?
If you’re looking for a busy beach where the tourists flock and the sandy shoreline is just right, Port Stanley is where it’s at.
There’s no doubt that Port Stanley knows how to be an awesome beach town. With great waterfront restaurants and live entertainment, cute boutique shops, and a well-maintained, life-guarded beach, this beach destination is top notch for all the right reasons.
Port Stanley is our favourite Ontario beach and our go-to spot for summer vibes. Having spent numerous days here, we wanted to come up with a comprehensive guide to help you get the most out of your next trip to the sunny shore.
What is Port Stanley beach like?
If you’re looking for a quiet beach to rest in solitude, Port Stanley won’t make the top of your list.
Instead, if you’re the type of person who loves an energetic, bustling atmosphere, this is your spot. On a nice summer day, the entire town is packed with visitors!
Port Stanley Main Beach
Port Stanley Main beach is about half a kilometer long, with a wide, sandy shoreline. Even though it is crowded, the sand runs so far from shore that there’s plenty of space for everyone to find a spot to lounge.
The Main Beach is the most popular beachfront in Port Stanley, and it is the only lifeguarded section of beach.
Port Stanley Little Beach
Aside from the busy Main Beach, Port Stanley also has the lesser-known Little Beach, where the water is calmer, shallower, and often a bit warmer. Little Beach is a great spot for families with little kids who prefer less of a crowd (but it can still get busy).
To get to Little Beach from downtown Port Stanley, head towards the water on Main Street instead of heading towards the lift bridge. Little Beach is at the end of Main Street, which is opposite the Kettle Creek inlet to the Main Beach.
Though there could easily be thousands of people in Port Stanley in a day, there’s a good chance Little Beach will be on the radar of only a few, as it’s a considerable (1.5 km) walk from Main Beach.
Blue Flag Beach Status
Year after year, Port Stanley Main Beach has been awarded the Blue Flag Beach status. This is a designation awarded to beaches in Canada that meet high standards in terms of safety and services, water quality, and environmental education and management. With such high standards, Blue Flag Beaches are a telltale sign of a well-maintained beach.
As of 2021, the only other Blue Flag Beach along Lake Erie’s North Shore aside from Port Stanley is Port Burwell East Beach.
Of all of the Ontario Great Lakes, Lake Erie tends to have the warmest waters for swimming. It is both the shallowest and furthest south of the five Ontario Great Lakes. For this reason, Lake Erie’s beach towns tend to see big crowds even in early summer before the waters have had the chance to really warm up.
Are dogs allowed on the beach in Port Stanley?
Dogs are unfortunately not allowed on the beach in Port Stanley. They are certainly welcome downtown and along walkways.
13 Best Things to Do In & Around Port Stanley
After many trips to Port Stanley, we have come up with our own list of the top things to do in and around the area. Some of our suggestions are popular must-dos, and others are ones we have discovered on our own, even by accident!
We hope you enjoy our list!
Things to Do In Port Stanley
1. Swimming & Sun Bathing
The most popular thing to do in Port Stanley is by far swimming and lounging on the beach. With the wide, sandy shoreline, you can easily find a place to set up your umbrella and beach mats.
Keep in mind that the Main Beach is your busiest and largest beach, and that Little Beach (on the opposite side of Kettle Creek) offers a quieter and shallower beach, more suitable to small children.
Note: Because the beach will be packed on a hot, sunny day, remember to keep your eyes on your valuables, or better yet, plan to leave those at home or in the car.
2. Volleyball on the Beach
Looking for some fun outside the water? Thanks to owners of GT’s on the Beach, restaurant customers can drop in for a game of beach volleyball free of charge (when there’s not already a pre-booked league or tournament). The volleyball nets definitely attract a crowd, so consider joining the Port Stanley Volleyball Facebook group to plan ahead!
Note: Be sure to check regional restrictions on outdoor sports in advance if you plan on using the nets.
3. Water Sport Rentals
If hitting the waves at the shoreline isn’t enough to to suit your fancy, we recommend getting out on the water for real. Bridgeview Marina is your one-stop-shop for water sport rentals in Port Stanley.
Bridgeview Marina rents canoes, kayaks (single and tandem), paddle boats, and stand-up paddle boards (SUPs) for reasonable hourly costs.
As of summer 2021, Bridgeview’s rental costs are:
Canoes, Paddle Boats And Tandem Kayaks: $30/hr (+ tax)
Single Kayaks: $25/hr (+ tax)
Stand-Up Paddle Boards: $25/hr (+ tax)
With a beach as busy as Port Stanley, it is unfortunate that (at the time of writing this) there is only one place to rent water sport equipment, and that all rentals are non-motorized. Unfortunately, due to liability costs, other local rental companies were forced to close and jet skis can no longer be rented here.
4. Broderick’s Ice Cream
Broderick’s Ice Cream is the perfect way to cool off after a long day in the sun. After hitting up the beach, we suggest taking a stroll through the town of Port Stanley where you can’t miss Broderick’s (as there’s often a line outside!).
When we decided that what was behind the door must obviously worth the wait for so many, we discovered that indeed, we were correct. With nearly 40 ice cream flavours, sundaes, frozen yogurt, milkshakes, and smoothies, it’s quite likely that Broderick’s will become for you too, a place of fond memories and sweet dreams…
5. Port Stanley Pier & Lighthouse
An easy win for something free and enjoyable to do besides lounge on the beach is to take a stroll along the Port Stanley pier. While you cannot get to the lighthouse itself, the walk on the newly renovated pier is picturesque, offering great views of the Main Beach and of the open waters of Lake Erie.
We particularly enjoyed walking the pier out to the lighthouse with my parents, siblings and little nephews. Since the beaches aren’t a great spot for strollers, we found this was the perfect place to take a nice family walk.
The pier was closed for 17 years prior to its reopening in 2015, and the renovations that were done are exceptional. It is very well kept and has lots of benches along the way to encourage visitors to soak in the views.
6. Shop the Boutiques
For many, one of the highlights of visiting touristy towns is having the chance to shop for one-of-a-kind, artisan, or local items. Port Stanley has quite a few shops to browse, and most are located on Main Street, Colborne Street, or Bridge Street, which all intersect at the centre of the village.
If you walk from Main Beach to downtown you will need to cross the King George VI Lift Bridge. There’s a good chance you’ll encounter the bridge splitting to lift when a tall sailboat needs to get through. There’s no choice but to wait and watch, and people find witnessing the boats passing through both enjoyable and entertaining.
7. Port Stanley Terminal Rail
For a totally unique thing to do in Port Stanley, consider booking a ride on the Port Stanley Terminal Rail. This is Elgin County’s longest running tourist attraction, and it’s a well-oiled machine (pun intended)!
Round trip scenic and festive rides operate from July to December from the Port Stanley Terminal, at 309 Bridge St.
Admission starts at $15 for Adults and $9 for children, and rides range from 1-3 hours.
8. Port Stanley Festival Theatre
For people looking for an alternative to the beach scene, the Port Stanley Festival Theatre makes for a great reason to pay this village a visit. With multiple summer (and off-season) productions, youth programs, and an annual Playwright’s Festival, this theatre is alive and well, bringing a different crowd from the typical beach-goer.
Note: Due to the state of the world, be sure to check whether the Port Stanley Festival Theatre website to find out when it is open again for productions.
9. Port Elgin Bike Share
Looking for an alternate way to see the town? Hop on a bike and support the Ride Elgin Bike Share initiative!
All you have to do is download the dropbike app, scan your QR code and pay for a certain amount of time, ride, and then park it back at one of the four Port Stanley designated bike racks. Check out the Elgin County Tourism site for more info!
Things to Do Near Port Stanley
10. Shaw’s Ice Cream
Less than 10 minutes north of Port Stanley, on Sunset Drive (Hwy 4), you will find the beloved Shaw’s Ice Cream store. A long-time local thriving business, Shaw’s is not to be passed up.
It’s roadside location is on the way in to Port Stanley for tourists coming from most directions, and there is absolutely no doubt that it’s a regular stop for many. With it’s large sign and the only packed parking lot for kilometers, it’s pretty hard to miss. It is so worth the stop!
With dozens of unique and classic flavours made in house of 100% Canadian dairy, you will definitely find something to satisfy your sweet tooth after a long day at the beach.
Already ate ice cream at the beach? Then pick up a tub from Shaw’s to go. Believe us – you will not be disappointed!
11. St. Thomas Elevated Park
If you drive into Port Stanley by way of Sunset Drive (Hwy 4), you will likely notice the tall bridge just past the roundabout as you approach the town of St Thomas. It’s pretty hard to miss.
This elevated bridge was originally constructed as a single-track timber trestle back in 1872. It was reconstructed a few times since then, and in 2020 its transformation into the St Thomas Elevated Park was complete. Equipped with a multiuse trail and lined with flowerbeds, trees, park benches, art and large metal instruments, this park is accessible from parking on Centre Street, St Thomas, or at the Jumbo Memorial. The park only sits at a slight incline from parking, making it an accessible option for many.
At 850 meters long and 95 feet above ground, this park is one-of-a-kind, and makes for a unique addition to your day at the beach!
12. Historic Sparta & Steed & Co. Lavender Farm
A short 15 minute drive from Port Stanley rests the quaint, historic village of Sparta. Originally home to Quaker settlers in the 1800s, Sparta retains many old homes and offers visitors a chance to experience that old-time country feel.
13. Yarmouth Natural Heritage Area
Looking for a great place to get out and hike? In less than a 20 minute drive from Port Stanley, just past the town a Sparta you will find the beautiful nature oasis of Yarmouth Natural Heritage Area.
We stumbled upon this lush Carolinian forest while taking a country drive, and were pleasantly surprised. Yarmouth offers trails that follow Catfish Creek and that circle the marshy Herb Kebbel Wetland. We were amazed at how well marked the trails were, and how peaceful it was here.
While the trails were not busy, we definitely came across others taking advantage of this beautiful space. Visitors can swim in the creek, fish, or canoe or kayak either down Catfish Creek or in the large wetland pond.
There is a spot to leave your donation of $3 for access to the trails, and we definitely think it is worth a visit!
Where is Port Stanley?
Port Stanley is located along Elgin County’s Lake Erie North Shore. It is about a 40 minute drive south of London, 2 1/2 hours southwest of Toronto, or 2 hours northeast of Windsor. It is surrounded by the communities of Shedden, St Thomas, Aylmer and Sparta, Ontario.
Just east from Port Stanley along Lake Erie’s North Shore, you will also find Port Bruce and Port Burwell, two other popular beaches in Elgin County.
Parking in Port Stanley
On a really busy day (such as a holiday) parking in Port Stanley can be tricky. We have come for Canada Day fireworks and have had to circle parking lots before eventually backtracking to street parking a 15 minute walk from Main Beach.
That said, most of the time you can find parking in one of the municipal lots. The Municipality of Central Elgin has highlighted the municipal lots in a PDF on their site, which you can find here.
Municipal parking lots are enforced from May-September and are $4 per hour or $20 per day. Evenings are also free in the municipal lots.
There is also free street parking at various places throughout the town.
Port Stanley Restaurants & Patios
Like a good tourist town should, Port Stanley is ready to serve its visitors with lots of popular independent eateries.
Here are some of our favourites along with some of the most popular places to eat in town:
Best Beach Front Restaurants
1. GT’s on the Beach
When we come to Port Stanley, we can’t pass up the opportunity to sit on the awesome beachfront patio at GT’s on the Beach. To us, nothing says beach getaway more than this.
The menu is quite extensive, including favourite pub food appetizers, burgers, salads, fish and chips, tacos and more. They also have pretty well everything you could be looking for in a drink menu, including pina coladas, daquiris, an margaritas. Helllloooo summer!!
GT’s also manages the volleyball nets in front of their restaurant on the Main Beach. Access to the courts is complimentary to their customers and definitely adds to the lively atmosphere on the beach.
Kudos to GT’s owners Andy and Carol for their commitment to the Port Stanley community!
Craving a burger and some crispy fries to top off your beach day? Mackie’s has you covered!
Mackie’s is right in the heart of Main Beach and always draws a huge crowd. Regular Port Stanley beach goers often make a stop at Mackie’s part of their regular ritual when in town, and they’re most well known for their delicious fries and their Orangeade drink.
Mackie’s has a pretty noticeable appearance that makes it hard to miss. Just look for the big blue building with the orange sign and a steady stream of people flowing through the doors!
Favourite Fine Dining Restaurants
3. SoLo on Main
Upscale, charming, exquisite, and all around fantastic experience. These are the frequent reviews received by SoLo on Main.
Committed to local, fresh, and house-made ingredients, SoLo is always a favourite and always ready to impress. Their menu features seafood, classic entrees, and favourites from different cultures, as well as vegan and gluten free options, all with a fancy twist from Port Stanley raised Chef Lo.
4. Kettle Creek Inn & Restaurant
Named after the creek that runs through town, Kettle Creek Inn & Restaurant is easily a favourite for frequent Port Stanley visitors.
Kettle Creek offers a variety of seafood, classic, vegetarian, and gluten free options. It also always features locally-caught Lake Erie pickerel. Dining is available in the beautiful indoor restaurant or on the quaint outdoor garden patio.
Considering staying the night? The Kettle Creek Inn also offers beautiful suites at affordable rates.
5. The Windjammer Inn
With beautiful brunch and dinner menus, The Windjammer Inn is proud to serve seasonal, local fine dishes, including locally caught seafood.
The atmosphere is quaint, as the Windjammer Inn and Restaurant is an old home that has been renovated to mix the modern with traditional. Seating is also available on the outdoor patio (the front porch!).
Regulars call the Windjammer a hidden gem of Port Stanley and rave about the friendly customer service.
Popular Pub Food Restaurants
6. Two Forks
Looking for classic bar food but with a few extra doses of class? Then look no further than Two Forks in downtown Port Stanley for a unique touch to your classic Canadian favourites.
If you’re looking for a relaxing drink then you’ll also be happy to explore their extensive bar menu.
Two Forks has a beautiful outdoor patio tucked away with shady trees, which is perfect for those hot summer days!
7. Pierside Pub
Every time we come to Port Stanley we walk by the Pierside Pub and it is always packed!
What seems to draw the crowds the most is its lively atmosphere, as there is often live music on the outdoor patio. It is also close to the Main Beach, and provides a different bar atmosphere to what you will find at GT’s on the Beach.
If you’re looking for a friendly, small-town bar, consider making a stop at Pierside Pub.
Hotels, Inns, and Cottages in Port Stanley
Being the tourist town that Port Stanley is, there are numerous options to places to stay the night. Here are some of the inns and hotels with a history of positive customer feedback:
Classy, romantic and historic, the Kettle Creek Inn offers exceptional accommodations on its quaint grounds. Kettle Creek Inn is a member of Ontario’s Finest Hotels, Inns & Spas, and is a popular choice for a peaceful and memorable night by the water. Enjoy the beloved Kettle Creek Inn Restaurant on site.
A cozy, quaint and affordable stay in a historic home near Main Beach. With hospitable hosts and a great restaurant on site for breakfast, the Windjammer Inn is an excellent choice for a romantic stay in town.
Romantic Victorian Inn located steps from downtown and along the Kettle Creek harbour. All rooms have King sized beds and an en-suite bathroom. Perfect for a special night out. Breakfast offered in the on-site restaurant.
Reasonable nightly rates with full breakfast included. Spacious rooms that come with air conditioning and fridges. Located right next to the Buccaneer Restaurant and just steps from Port Stanley Main Beach.
Cozy, romantic rooms offering a beautiful harbourfront view. Each room offers unique decor and large windows to enjoy the view and natural light. For guests with mobility concerns, request a main level room. Larger groups may also consider renting Alma Villa, Inn on the Harbour’s renovated historic home offering a beautiful lakefront view.
Quiet, comfortable and peaceful Bed & Breakfast just outside of downtown Port Stanley. Multiple rooms available, with beautiful grounds and spacious common area.
Camping Near Port Stanley
While there are no official camp sites in Port Stanley, there are many great camping locations within a short drive. Here are a few to explore:
Kettle Creek Conservation Area in St Thomas
Dalewood Conservation Area in St Thomas
Springwater Conservation Area in Aylmer
Port Bruce Provincial Park in Port Bruce
Bee Line Parks (RV Park) in Port Bruce
Port Burwell Provincial Park in Port Burwell
Other Beaches Near Port Stanley
Situated on the Lake Erie North Shore, Port Stanley is not far from some other well known beach towns.
Port Bruce and Port Bruce Provincial Park are a short 20 minute drive east of Port Stanley.
Another 20 minute drive east of Port Bruce is Port Burwell and Port Burwell Provincial Park.
Still further east you will find Long Point Provincial Park, Turkey Point Provincial Park and many other beach towns as you continue east on the north shore. Each offers something unique and is worthy of a visit.
Our Wrap Up: Complete Guide to Port Stanley
With so many great beaches along the Lake Erie North Shore, it’s worth doing your research to find the beach that best suits your liking!
We hope that this comprehensive overview of the best things to do and what to expect in Port Stanley will get you excited and ready to spend a day on the town and in the water this summer and beyond!