Summer is coming to an end and school is about to start, but with its nice weather, early fall may still be a good opportunity for a weekend getaway with the kids.
Having covered the East and West Coasts earlier this summer, I wanted to end my contributions to our Summer Travel in Canada series with a post on Prince Edward County (PEC), a destination closer to my home in Ontario.
If you’re from Ontario, you may know PEC for its wineries and as a popular destination for bachelorettes and romantic getaways. That was very much my impression before my husband surprised me with a weekend getaway there for my birthday.
While I was there, I realized it had so much more to offer and couldn’t wait to bring the kids back, and so we did.
Prince Edward County is a region in southern Ontario that sits on the coast of Lake Ontario, between Toronto and Ottawa. It is about 2.5 hours away from Toronto and three hours from Ottawa.
Known for its wineries, farms, small-town charm, farm-to-table restaurants, and sandy beaches, you can think of it as Niagara-on-the-Lake meets cottage country.
Because of its central location, PEC also makes for a convenient stop to break up a bigger road trip to Toronto, Ottawa, or Montreal, depending on where you’re coming from.
For us, we were heading to Montreal, so stopping in PEC made our otherwise six-hour journey much more tolerable and enjoyable for both us and our kids.
Staying within Prince Edward County during peak travel periods like summer, or even into fall this year, can be pricey.
There are no large chain hotels in the area, but rather boutique hotels, bed and breakfast lodging, vacation rentals, or campgrounds. Credit cards with fixed-value travel points will be your best friend here.
When my husband and I visited in late spring, we stayed at the Drake Motor Inn (sister property of the Drake Devonshire). It is a small property with only 12 rooms spread over two buildings conveniently situated in Wellington, the heart of PEC.
The place gives off a chic, modern vibe. We stayed in a Studio King Room which was nicely appointed. Every morning, scones and coffee were delivered outside our room for breakfast.
They have a fire pit and provide you with a small s’mores kit. There is a small patio and a couple of small common areas for lounging as well.
When we considered returning with our kids, we looked into booking The Flat, their room that can accommodate up to five guests, but the price was over $600 per night! Even though it was a nice property, it was rather lacking in family-friendly amenities, and so we looked elsewhere.
Airbnb and VRBO have some options but they also aren’t much cheaper during the summer. One of the most economical accommodation I found within Prince Edward County is Picton Harbour Inn. The hotel is located in downtown Picton, the largest town in PEC, right on the harbour.
A room with two double or queen beds next summer is going for under $200.
They also have a couple of suites that offer a kitchenette, dining area, and seating area that can accommodate up to six guests. The property is also available to book through Hotels.com (which has a commonly-overlooked rewards program of its own).
If you wish to stick with a Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors property and don’t mind driving 30–40 minutes out, then the town of Belleville provides some cheaper alternatives with decent award redemption options.
When returning with the kids, we went with the TownePlace Suites Belleville, a Marriott Bonvoy Category 3 hotel. The hotel is located beside a casino, but we didn’t notice any rowdy crowds or issues during our stay there.
We redeemed 20,000 Bonvoy points for a Studio Room with two queen beds, upgraded the day prior to check-in via chat to a One-Bedroom Suite with a queen bed and a sofa bed. The cash rate was $296 after taxes, which made for a decent redemption based on our current Points Valuations.
The room was traditional in decor and spacious with a kitchenette, a desk and sofa bed in the sitting area, and a separate bedroom with a queen bed.
TownePlace Suites properties offer a complimentary breakfast for all its guests. Breakfast was a combination of self-serve beverage and continental stations and a staff-serve buffet station for hot food.
They offered pre-packaged cereal, yogurt, muffins, eggs, and fruit, which made for great snacks for our kids while we were out for the day.
The hotel has a decent-sized indoor pool, hot tub, and gym. At the time we stayed, pool times had to be pre-booked with the front desk. There are also coin-operated laundry machines on the ground floor.
What To Do in Prince Edward County
There’s plenty to do in Prince Edward County for adults and kids alike. To keep everyone happy, my suggestion is to mix the wine, beer, and cider tastings with activities for the kids in-between.
Because the attractions and wineries in PEC can be quite spread out, choose one or two regions to focus on for a day, and then map out your activities accordingly. Some experiences are not offered daily and/or require booking, so plan ahead.
Many websites cover family-friendly experiences pre-COVID, but not many have provided an update during the pandemic. The rest of this post will give you an idea of what’s currently being offered.
Wineries and Breweries
There are plenty of wineries in PEC, but some are more family-friendly and have a more welcoming set-up for kids. Here are a few we tried that were great.
Sandbanks Winery. Although inside tastings are booked and not suitable for kids, outdoor tastings can be by walk-in and in a very casual setting. There are a bunch of Muskoka chairs and covered picnic tables set up and spaced apart so younger kids have some space to stretch their legs.
They also allow outside food, so it’s a great chance for kids to have their juice and snacks while you enjoy your tasting.
Huff Estates Winery. If your kids like pizza, then this is the winery for you. Alongside your tasting on their covered patio, you can order pizza from 11am–6pm daily (last order at 5:45pm).
They don’t take reservations, but if you need to wait for a table, there is an outdoor sculpture garden next door where kids can meander around while you wait.
Waupoos Estates Winery. Before the pandemic, this winery had a petting zoo, which is now unfortunately closed. However, you can still walk up to the outdoor pens and see the farm animals. They also have a shop attached to the winery that serves gelato and sells chocolate and candy – what better way to bribe the kids?
Midtown Brewing Company. If beer’s your thing, then check out this brewery, which has a restaurant with indoor and outdoor dining that serves up kid-friendly finger foods and pizza.
Noble Beast Farms. This alpaca farm runs one-hour small group tours, where you can learn about and closely interact with their alpacas. The owners Paul and Nadia are friendly and great with kids.
They serve up a seasonal drink to start off the tour and ensure each visitor has sufficient time with the animals. Each child is given an alpaca to walk around with and feed. The alpacas are incredibly gentle and cuddly.
The tour costs $79 per adult and $49 per child older than 5. To cut down on the cost, I sent my husband to do some tastings while I stayed with the kids.
Millefleurs. This lavender and honey farm offers mead tastings but also early morning tours to see their lavender factory, introduce you to their bees and the practice of bee-hiving and how they make mead, their honey-wine.
Wellington Park. Right in downtown Wellington, this park is built up to be a wooden fortress.
Order some lunch from the Drake Devonshire or a snack from Piccolina Mercato, and enjoy it here while the kids can run free; both venues are located just down the street from the park and serve kid-friendly food options.
(If ordering from Drake, call beforehand to see if they do take-out, as sometimes they suspend the service if they are busy.)
The Old Greenhouse Ice Cream Shop. Finished at the park? Walk 10 minutes down the street to grab some ice cream from this shop. There is plenty of parking onsite and no shortage of ice cream flavours.
Slickers in Bloomfield. This local ice cream parlour is another a great choice, located on the way to or from Sandbanks Provincial Park.
Birdhouse City. Just outside of Picton you’ll find this “city” of more than 100 unique birdhouses that play host to a variety of local bird species and makes for a good location for some birdwatching.
Wellington Farmers’ Market. Open on Saturdays from 9am to 1pm only, this market makes for a quick stop to pick up some snacks and sample some local fare.
Curious Goat General Store. This farm stand sells local products, namely honey and beeswax products. It also runs a “Bees and Blooms” tour on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays, where you can learn all about bees, make lip balm, and have a sample of their honey.
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to book this during our visit, but it’s on our hit list the next time we return.
Carson’s Garden + Market. If your kids are into plants, then make a quick visit here. They sell a variety of plants, herbs, and succulents. Grab a container and a few succulents (for $5 each) and the store clerk can help you make our own terrarium.
They even threw in the soil, rocks, and decorative moss for free! And if you’re hungry, they have a food truck that specializes in loaded fresh-to-order burgers and sandwiches.
The Mustang. If your kids are older, then take them out to a drive-in movie. We didn’t get to experience it this time around as it would be past bedtime for our youngest, because movies start at sunset (so 8:30pm or later) and every night they offer a double feature.
There are three main beaches in Prince Edward Country. Keep in mind that entry to the provincial parks is free Mondays to Thursdays. It is recommended that you buy and reserve vehicle day entry passes prior to arrival. You can reserve them starting five days prior to your planned visit on the Ontario Parks website.
Wellington Beach. This is a smaller, quieter beach located right in downtown Wellington. Part of the reason it is less busy is because it charges $10 per person for entry. The beach is a little rockier than those of the nearby provincial parks, but if you want to avoid the crowds, then this beach is for you.
North Beach Provincial Park. Located on the west side of PEC, this sandy beach has crowds, but not as many as those at Sandbanks Provincial Park.
It has two beaches, one on its western side on Lake Ontario, and the other on the eastern side facing the enclosed North Bay. The enclosed beach has calmer and warmer waters. It has a reputation for being the best beach for toddlers.
Sandbanks Provincial Park. This is the busiest of the three beaches, but also the most picturesque. It actually is comprised of three beaches of its own: Sandbanks, Dunes, and Outlet Beach. We visited both the Sandbanks and Dunes beaches; Sandbanks has a prettier and cleaner shoreline.
Dunes Beach is on West Lake, which is quieter, but the shoreline often has seaweed and foam and is not as visually appealing as Sandbanks Beach.
The main appeal of this beach are the huge sand dunes just behind the beach with mounds of soft, velvety sand that is fun to run, jump, climb, and be buried in. Be sure not to miss this beach, as it’s quite unique and my kids actually ranked it as their top beach in the area.
It’s been an action-packed summer travelling coast to coast, but it’s nice to be reminded that local getaways can be just as fun and enjoyable. Prince Edward County may not have the dramatic landscapes of the east or west coasts, but it offers up a relaxing destination with plenty to be seen and discovered.
Many experiences and wineries are open into the fall, so a weekend getaway with the kids is still very much a possibility. If you’re thinking you may want to visit next summer, I would encourage you to look at making some speculative bookings for accommodations now, as they are already being booked up.
And as usual, if you have any great experiences to add, then please feel free to share in the comments below.