December 11, 2023

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

Home to the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University, the cities of Kitchener and Waterloo have a youthful energy thanks to their large student population. Affectionately known as the K-W or K-Dub, these twin communities host the world’s largest Oktoberfest outside of Munich each fall, but you’ll feel the German influences all year. From antique markets to locally focused restaurants, Kitchener-Waterloo also knows how to embrace the best of all things homegrown and homemade. Here’s your plan for a one-day escape in the area.

In the morning: Leave Toronto around 8 a.m., driving west on Highway 401. It’s just over an hour’s ride to your first stop, The Yeti Cafe, an artsy breakfast spot featuring playfully named dishes, like the Sasquatch, an artisan bun topped with avocado, cheddar, tomato, slaw and greens with aioli. Choose to sit on this homey cafe’s heated patio and fuel up for you day of exploring with a cup of house-roasted coffee along with the Pregnant Cowgirl, an organic multi-grain bagel with bacon, a fried egg and cheese.

The Pregnant Cowgirl at The Yeti Cafe is a popular breakfast sandwich.

If you’re making this road trip with your kids, don’t miss TheMuseum in Kitchener, which highlights hands-on activities related to the arts, science and technology. Its five floors feature interactive permanent and rotating exhibitions, including a virtual graffiti wall and a stop-motion animation studio.

Adults may find the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery is more their cup of tea. It is the only art gallery in the country devoted to contemporary works of ceramic, enamel and glass. Its shop is an excellent spot to pick up handmade pieces by artists from across Canada.

The gift shop at the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery features works by artists from across the country.

You should also head to the Kitchener Market and experience its vibe. Vendors have been selling fresh produce, meat, and dairy at this market for more than 150 years. There’s often live entertainment and other programming taking place, and its busy Saturday farmers’ market includes food stalls and artisan vendors. For lunch, the Caribbean Kitchen, in the market’s food hall, is a must for jerk chicken roti or an oxtail platter with rice and beans.

The Kitchener Market has a great local vibe and is full of vendors selling fresh produce, meat, and dairy products. It is also home to a food hall.

In the afternoon: Next up is shopping in St. Jacobs, a walkable village found just north of Waterloo with a large Old Order Mennonite population. It’s not uncommon to see horse-drawn buggies clip-clopping down streets teeming with shops dedicated to decor, clothing, and artisans’ wares such as pottery and quilts. Don’t miss Market Road Antiques, a sprawling shop featuring more than 100 vendors selling vintage furniture, jewelry and other collectibles.

If you have time to squeeze in a photo opportunity, drive 12 kilometres northwest of St. Jacobs to the hamlet of West Montrose. There you can strike your best pose in front of the Kissing Bridge, one of the few remaining wooden covered bridges in Canada.

After a few hours of shopping, it’s time to discover Kitchener-Waterloo’s creative side by following the Art Fresco Table Trail, a series of colourful picnic tables in outdoor areas around the region. Be sure to swing by the table found at Four All Ice Cream Scoop Shop, where you can also grab a waffle cone topped with small-batch ice cream made from local Guernsey cows’ milk. It also offers plant-based alternatives like sorbets for dairy-free folks.

If you prefer a guided walk, you can sign up for the murals and outdoor gallery excursion with Stroll Walking Tours. If art isn’t your thing, Stroll also has tours that explore other elements of Kitchener-Waterloo’s history and culture, including one dedicated to the region’s earliest Black settlers.

In the evening: For dinner, you can’t go wrong with the locally driven menu at S&V Uptown. Formerly known as Swine & Vine, the restaurant recently rebranded, expanded its culinary offerings and moved into stylish new digs on King Street. Notable chef Jonathan Gushue, who previously helmed the kitchen at Langdon Hall in Cambridge, is now S&V’s culinary director and has designed a menu filled with delicious and surprising dishes. Start with the caramelized calves’ tongue with salsa verde before tucking into braised pork ragu with saffron pasta sheets.

End your evening by catching a performance of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, one of Canada’s leading orchestras. It puts on an array of pop, baroque, classical and family-friendly concerts at various venues around the region. Finally, pick up a ramen kit from local noodle shop Crafty Ramen — which offers all the essentials needed to make restaurant-quality ramen at home (including house-made Ontario wheat noodles) — to take back with you to Toronto.

COVID-19 need to know

Kitchener-Waterloo is following Ontario’s provincial COVID-19 guidelines. Some local businesses may request that visitors wear masks. Contact individual businesses ahead of your trip to find out how they’re currently operating.

For the drive

Kitchener-Waterloo has a remarkable history tied to blues music. The city is the home of the massive annual Kitchener Blues Festival and has hosted performers such as Buddy Guy and Koko Taylor. Get a feel for the soundtrack to the city by listening to the music of Mel Brown, a famed American-born blues guitarist and singer who called Kitchener home for the last three decades of his life.

Drive guide

Drive west on Hwy 401

Take exit ON-8 for Kitchener-Waterloo

  • 11 a.m. TheMuseum or Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery
  • 12:30 p.m. Kitchener Market
  • 2 p.m. St. Jacobs and the Kissing Bridge
  • 4 p.m. Art Fresco Table Trail
  • 8 p.m. Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony

  • 10 p.m. Drive back to Toronto

Note: Times are suggestions onlyThe writer was hosted by some of the featured businesses, which did not review or approve this article before print.


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