Home to the legendary Stratford Shakespeare Festival, the quaint city of Stratford, Ontario shines with idyllic riverside walks, intriguing culinary creations and outdoor music shows.
For anyone passionate about the arts, nature, local food, oh-so-friendly Canadians and kid-friendly activities, Stratford is the perfect destination for couples or families. Nestled west of Kitchener, and around 90 minutes from Toronto, Stratford has become the go-to spot for theatre lovers, thanks to the iconic Stratford Shakespeare Festival.
This past weekend I enjoyed some stunning musical theatre at the Festival. On a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, my girlfriend and I took in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown based on the classic Peanuts characters. Peppered with smart humour and cheeky songs, the musical got my toes tapping and I was once again transported to the cartoonish world of Charlie, Lucy, Schroeder and Snoopy. While it's targeted for children, the show could also appeal to adults, especially those of us who grew up reading Peanut comic strips.
Courtesy Stratford Shakespeare Festival
A scene from You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival
The evening gave us the impressively produced 42nd Street, a Broadway musical about Broadway. The story looks at how a new show is fraught with drama before its big debut, when newcomer Peggy Sawyer finds herself as a star in one of the country's most anticipated productions. I can't gush enough about the catchy tunes (such as "We're in the Money") and the glittery costumes that made more than one jaw finds its way to the floor. And the tap dancing...I have never seen such incredible complicated tap on stage, and the Stratford actors made it look effortless. Definitely a show I'd like to see again.
Beyond high-quality theatre, Stratford is a relaxing friendly city you'll want to enjoy for more than 24 hours.We were lucky enough to take more than a few riverside walks along the famous Avon River, where swans and ducks frolicked as if they were old high-school buddies. Paddle boats and canoes coursed down the river, while families found shaded areas for picnics. The weather was perfect for Lakeside Drive strolls.
A swan enjoying the Avon River in Stratford, Ontario
On Sunday, a Greek-rock band offered a free show to tourists and residents, and they set up right by the river on what is called Musicbarge. Eating a chocolate mint ice cream while listening to free music was an ideal way to spend a summer Sunday afternoon.
In Stratford, Ontario, the MusicBarge hosts outdoor summer concerts
Stratford, known more recently as the hometown of pop star Justin Bieber, woos newcomers with some impressive shops, such as the toy store Family & Company. Name a toy and the store likely offers it. I picked up a few Mad Libs books, which I always found fantastically nostalgic. We also visited a few rare-book stores but didn't find anything too noteworthy.
Restaurants line downtown's main Ontario Street, and the popular but tiny Down the Street soon became our favourite. Green coconut curry with vegetables was some of the best I've tasted, and seared ahi sided with an avocado puree ignited the taste buds wonderfully.
We couldn't resist trying Boomers Gourmet Fries, known for appearing on The Food Network's You Gotta Eat Here! They specialize in fries, and not just the ho-hum hand-cut kind. Poutine is their house specialty so I gave it a whirl and even the small was too much for me. It was delicious but not better than some of Montreal's poutine outlets. My girlfriend bought the black bean fries, and Boomers didn't skimp on the beans, loading the fries so heavily with the stuff we could barely see any potato. Tasty but even the small was too much for her.
I previously wrote about a dessert we enjoyed, the chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick. Suffice to say you need a good appetite to get through this experiment from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, but it's well worth it once you find your way to the crust section of this cake-stick creation. The sugar rush is impressively long-lasting.
In Stratford, Ontario, near the Festival Theatre, a statue of Shakespeare overlooks the front garden
Some of you might wonder why we didn't check out any Shakespeare productions at Stratford. After all, the Bard's presence is everywhere in the city, from his plays on stage at Festival Theatre to the paraphenialia you can purchase at almost any store. Let's just say I've been there, done that at Stratford, and musical theatre felt a bit more...summery. And it didn't disappoint, and neither did the city itself. The people were welcoming, the restaurants featured tasty dishes and we promised ourselves we'll soon return to this Ontario treasure.