What to do in Stratford

What to do in Stratford

48 Hours in Stratford

by Bruce Whitaker, Owner of Edison’s Inn

On a trip to any city, exploring off the beaten path is thrilling especially when coming across something totally unexpected. Travellers, however, are taking shorter trips, leaving less time for exploring, but they still want the very best experiences; yummy food, unique shops and memorable things to do. 48 Hours offers tips on getting you the very best that Stratford has to offer, without the hiccups.

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Stratford doesn’t have the typical small town sleepy vibe. It is bustling city, with its vitality being impacted by a lively arts and culture scene and, of course, by the Stratford Festival. It’s restaurants and retail stores are varied and creative. In what small town do you have the choice of three Thai restaurants? Additionally, the University of Waterloo has built its digital arts and design college in downtown Stratford, attracting a diverse student base. 

Here’s my take on the best 48 hours in Stratford. You can get to all of the recommended spots within a 10 minute walk from Edison’s.

FRIDAY

5:30 p.m. 

Bypass traffic jams by taking VIA Rail from Union Station in Toronto. Better yet, relax onboard and enjoy a beer or glass of wine on your trip.

8:00 p.m

Arrive in Stratford where you will be greeted and escorted to Edison’s Inn to freshen up and prepare for the night. Edison’s Inn is a recently renovated boutique hotel in the centre of town, owned by me. Thomas Edison lived in the hotel in 1863 when he took on his first job as station telegrapher. Unfortunately, he got fired for not communicating to two trains heading towards one another on the same track. We all make mistakes. Right?

The music room at Edison’s Inn in the middle downtown Stratford, overlooking Lake Victoria. Yeah, that is an art piece of Justin Bieber on the wall.

The music room at Edison’s Inn in the middle downtown Stratford, overlooking Lake Victoria. Yeah, that is an art piece of Justin Bieber on the wall.

Pazzo Pizzeria and Taverna, always tasty food and friendly service.

Pazzo Pizzeria and Taverna, always tasty food and friendly service.

8:30 p.m. 

Just down the street is Pazzo, your dinner headquarters for tonight. When I first moved to Stratford 10 years ago, this was the place to get a feel for the town. It has two restaurants; downstairs is a New York style pizzeria and upstairs, a gorgeously designed fine dining space focused on sustainable seafood including oysters, crab and lobster, and house made pastas. The Friday night pizzeria special is 1/2 priced build your own pizza with 35 toppings to choose from as well as $6 craft pints featuring rotating local breweries on tap. Larry and Jeff, the owners, pay to every attention and their friendly and attentive staff will ensure you have the best experience. Be sure to make a reservation before arriving in Stratford.

10:00 p.m. 

Arrive back to your room to find chocolates from Chocolate Barr’s and chilled beverages from Neob Lavender. Maybe take in a flick on Netflix or dance the night away to vinyl on the turntable.


SATURDAY

9:00 a.m 

Ever tried hot yoga? MODO Yoga is the place. It will definitely make you feel good all day long. A short 10 minute walk from Edison’s, Christa, the owner, will light up your day with her smile and guidance. If you would prefer regular yoga, try a class with Meredith at the Yoga Collective.

Sean's secret recipe for fresh buttermilk pancakes at Old Man and Son.

Sean's secret recipe for fresh buttermilk pancakes at Old Man and Son.

11:00 a.m. 

There are few things better than catching up on life with a friend at a local diner. My two favourites are Old Man and Son, a new hipster type diner, and Joe’s Diner, a traditional diner where you will find a true representation of Stratford. If diners are not your thing, you can’t go wrong at these restaurants; AO Pasta (Kris is the former chef at the well reputed Enoteca Sociale in Toronto), Sirkel Foods (down home country cooking), Mercer Kitchen + Beer Hall (a diverse menu including deep fried sushi) and York Street Kitchen (just like your Mom cooked). 

La Osa is playful yet chic, airy and filled with beautiful, nostalgic treasures.

La Osa is playful yet chic, airy and filled with beautiful, nostalgic treasures.

11:30 a.m. 

Now that your tummy is full, its time to check out the local downtown shops. Here are just a few of my favourites: The Green Room (a curated department store with items that you didn’t realize you needed), Meet your Maker (an eclectic mix of nifty gifts made by local artists), La Osa (jewelry designed by Pamela, the owner, and a mix of vintage and designer clothing that will make you stand out), Watson’s Bazaar (two floors of kitchen items), Gruv (contemporary men’s and women’s clothing), Fanfare Books (an old style bookstore with an original wood floor), MacLeod’s Scottish Shop (Harris Tweed jackets, caps, tartan blankets, scarves and ties), Book Stage (where Bernard will find you a treasure), and there is a fantastic selection of women’s fashion boutiques that my female friends rave about. For men, there is Gatsby’s and Gruv. 

1:30 p.m.

Grab a healthy smoothie from The Pulp juice-bar and join a road trip. Stratford Road Trips offers over 70 unique trips to the unique beauty surrounding Stratford including the quaint towns of Elora, Bayfield and St Marys, or try antiquing, yoga on the beach, mountain biking, hiking and foraging, wake boarding, escape from the Goderich Jail and so much more. Trips leave in the early afternoon ensuring you will be back in time for cocktail hour.  In the winter, go tubing down the slopes and afterwards warm up at Junction 56, a small distillery producing locally made gin, vodka and even moonshine (un-aged whisky). For beer lovers, right next door is Jobsite, the newest craft brewery in Stratford. Try their pizza, a local hit, and a paddle of their finely crafted beers.

Stratford Road Trips guides groups of fun loving tourists and adventurous locals into the gorgeous outdoors surrounding Stratford.

Stratford Road Trips guides groups of fun loving tourists and adventurous locals into the gorgeous outdoors surrounding Stratford.

5:30 p.m. 

Take a pre-dinner stroll around town. Start at the Cenotaph, designed by renowned artist Walter Allward, which he designed before going to France to create the Canadian National Vimy Memorial. The handsome figures, chiseled abs and all, are symbolic of the forces of darkness and the forces of good. As you continue on the roughly 5 km route around the beautiful Lake Victoria, you will discover Stratford’s swans, lovingly guarded and raised here since 1918, and Tommy Patterson Island, worth checking out, a beautiful oasis in the middle of the city. For an alternate view of the lake you can board a boat at Avon Boat Tours, just behind Edison’s. It’s not a guided tour, but the captain is eager to answer your questions and the music is totally relaxing. Another option is to bike to the TJ Dolan Natural Area and through the historic Avondale Cemetery. Bike rentals are available at Totally Spoke’d, just across the road from Edison’s. 

6:30 p.m. 

Happy hour! If you like beer, downtown Stratford is where you will find Black Swan and Herald Haus. Black Swan was founded by a local science teacher and a music teacher. My personal favourite is their EPA. Herald Haus is the newest addition to our local craft beer scene and is located in a renovated printing and newspaper office. Their dark beer is to die for. If you prefer cocktails, Okazu will tempt you with creative choices including their coconut mojito and roasted pineapple oldie. Or if you are looking for the relaxed atmosphere of a pub, then you won’t go wrong at Bentley’s where you will likely be served by one of the family members.

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8:00 p.m. 

Take a 5 minute stroll through our charming historical downtown to get to Keystone Alley for dinner. The food is so good that you will appreciate the feeling well after the meal. If it is a warm night, ask to sit on the patio, try one of their own brews and make sure to say hi to Francis, a passionate server who will give you the lowdown on Stratford. The owners, Anthony and Kim, met far away in Africa. After five years in Nunavut, they set up their home in Stratford.

10:00 p.m. 

The nicest man you will ever meet in Stratford is likely Rob Wigan. His first restaurant purchase in town was Molly Bloom’s which he still owns. SIN BURLESQUE Erotic Cabaret is often on the event calendar and is a lot of fun. Revival House is a revitalized historic Church space, but there are no sermons here, instead, this is the place to go for the best live music, DJ’s and dance floor. An eclectic mix of performers from Loreena McKennitt to Willey P. Bennett, from the nine piece reggae band the Human Rights to Hawksley Workman. The range of music is wide including funk, reggae, 70’s, rap, country, jazz and pop.

Checkout the Revival House for the best dace floor in town.

Checkout the Revival House for the best dace floor in town.

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SUNDAY

8:30 a.m. 

For those who need to get back home to catch up on some office work or to get organized before the week starts, a VIA train leaves at 8:30 a.m. Just let Edison’s know and you will be shuttled to the train station. 

9:00 a.m. 

Stratford loves it’s independent cafes and you can’t go wrong in your choice as Edison’s, Balzac’s and Revel each have outstanding coffee, tea, local juice and outstanding baked treats. At Edison’s, wife and husband team Buffy and Greg focus on tasty, healthy food with a menu that is mostly plant based and with baked goods that are grain, dairy and refined sugar-free. Choose from avocado toast with salmon and poached egg to a wide range of muffins. I love the gluten-free lemon raspberry muffins. Edison’s is a very cozy, sophisticated, and well-designed cafe.

10:00 a.m. 

A new addition to York Street, two doors down from Edison’s, is Illume Spa (opening March 1st, 2019). Elsa, the millennial owner, formerly managed the popular Spa on Albert. Now she gets to let her creative juices flow in her very own space. Illume will offer manicures, pedicures, massage and a salt spa. When you are finished your treatment, you immediately enter into the beautiful greenery bordering the river.

Elsa would love to take care of you at her brand new spa, Illume Spa..

Elsa would love to take care of you at her brand new spa, Illume Spa..

11:30 a.m. 

The Slow Food Farmer’s Market features Perth County's best locally produced food, drink and crafts. The market runs every Sunday in Market Square, just south of the City Hall. In the winter, it is inside at nearby Festival Marketplace. Come out for hot coffee/cider, product demos, music and good clean food that you can take home with you. 

12:30 p.m. 

Brunch at Foster’s. A recent local guest remarked: “Would highly recommend going there for breakfast brunch. The food is terrific and the staff are very friendly and attentive. The menu has lots of great options. We had the crab and salmon benedict.  Also ordered the Huevos Rancheros which was yummy. Better than your average greasy spoon and reasonable prices. Would go back!”

2:00 p.m. 

The arts scene is alive and well in Stratford. On weekends, I usually take a gallery walking tour starting off with Agora Gallery (a recent photography exhibit portrayed the immigrant path to the USA from El Salvador), Shane Norrie (a well-established ceramic artist, and abstract painter), and Gallery Stratford, our public art gallery located in the historic waterworks building, offers exhibitions and classes year-round. For the best in emerging local art check out the most inspiring Claire and the York Lane Art Collective. If your taste runs to the more traditional, a visit to the home and studio of Gerard Brender à Brandis is inspiring and educational. Gerard has been practicing the art of wood engraving for over fifty years. Books are always part of his offering, some being printed on hand-made paper on his 1865 Albion press and then bound in the studio, others featuring commercially produced reproductions of the artist's engravings.

Gallery Stratford offers wide ranging exhibits and fun art classes.

Gallery Stratford offers wide ranging exhibits and fun art classes.

4:00 p.m. 

Since 1983, the Stratford Chefs School has been the only culinary institute in Canada that is operated by working restaurant professionals. This is your chance to sharpen your cooking skills. The school offers short classes called Trade Secrets including ‘coffee and donuts,' ‘sourdough bread,' ‘making pasta,' ‘homestyle hearty Irish meal,' ‘the dutch oven,' ‘how to sharpen knives,' ‘Indian cuisine’ and ‘Gnocchi’. Or, you might want to take a dip in the Lion’s Community Pool, just across the dam from Edison’s Inn.

7:00 p.m. 

Don’t get fooled by the name Pizza Bistro. Yes, Steve and his crew offer mouth watering pizza, but his real passion is Greek food. Steve loves cooking food from his home country including lamb stew, moussaka, calamari, Greek salad, meze and, of course, baklava. 

8:45 p.m. 

The train is about to board. Yes, it’s time to say ‘until next time, Stratford.’ We hope you had a fabulous time in our fair town. You are always welcome to come back. 

‘Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as ever so on the road.’