Sometime last year, Anson and I started talking about visiting Tobermory. (For those who don’t know, Tobermory is a small town in the Northern Bruce Peninsula of Ontario!) Tobermory is home to some of the world’s best freshwater scuba diving and since Anson loves to dive, it had been on his radar for a while.
We decided to ask Anson’s family to come with us for a week and after a lot of cottage rental searching, googling and emailing, we planned a week in Tobermory in July (yes, this post is a lot late!). As we planned our menu, thought through all the little details, and added up the cost of the rental, plus the cost of food, I declared that I was never doing a week at a cottage again. I wasn’t sure that the general annoyance of having to cook your own meals, take your own linens and clean before you left would make for a fun week. I WAS WRONG.
Tobermory exceeded my expectations on every level. The weather, the beauty of nature and the quiet stillness were exactly what I didn’t know I needed for that week.
While there are endless things to do in Tobermory, I wanted to share some of our personal favourites. (Keep in mind that we had kids ranging from 2-15 years with us, so the 18km hike at Lion’s Head that my brother in law, Abe, and I thought would be a lot of fun didn’t make the cut of activities we tried!)
VISIT THE GROTTO
You must, must, must visit the Grotto in Tobermory. There are no questions about whether this needs to be on your list, so just plan it and plan it ahead because you have to reserve your parking spot via the Parks Canada website. Each reservation is good for four hours and you should go for the full four hours. We went for three hours and felt rushed, so take advantage of the time you have.
Proper footwear is important but not necessary. I wore running shoes and Anson wore flip-flops. My shoes got soaked, but Anson’s broke and he ended up walking back to the car barefoot. Tip: wear trail shoes so they hold up getting wet but also work on the trail and while climbing the rocks. Also, if you’re a mom, try to not freak out too much watching the kids on the rocks.
You can get to the actual Grotto by either hiking or swimming. Tip: hike directly to the top of the Grotto first so you don’t waste your time elsewhere! There are signs if you’re paying attention! Climb down into the cave and then from there, you can explore the area.
ENJOY SINGING SANDS BEACH
We were lucky enough to be staying off the same road as this beach and took advantage of the shallow water with the kids. I have honestly never seen water that stays so shallow for so long. I actually never got out deep enough to where I couldn’t stand and I must’ve walked a kilometre out.
The only disadvantage here is that you have to pay for parking as it’s a provincial park. If you plan it for the same day as you visit the Grotto, your parking pass will also work at Singing Sands. If not, be prepared to pay $11.25 for the day.
GO SCUBA DIVING
Anson and his sister, Hannah, did two dives while we were there. Anson has done extensive diving in Malta and has also been diving in Egypt, Jordan and St. Maarten; but this was his first-time freshwater diving. Tobermory is known for its shipwreck dives and clear water but there is only one dive shop in town. Sadly, this seems to be a disadvantage as the operators were not very friendly (they almost canceled their dive due to how rude the shop was over just some friendly questions about what dive sites to visit) and the price was a bit pricier than comparable dive shops around the world.
Another downside, the divers had to dress into their kits at the dive shop and then carry all the gear to the boat. This was new to both Anson and Hannah as no dive shop had ever asked them to carry rental gear and tanks to the boat (they’re heavy!) This left them sweaty and tired before the dives even began, but made the cool water extra refreshing at the dive site!
Diving the clear water, exploring the old wooden and fairly well preserved shipwrecks and taking in the history of it all was a highlight of the trip for them.
While Tobermory is a huge dive destination and should definitely be taken advantage of, I don’t think Anson or Hannah are eager to return simply for the diving. One time may be enough for them.
EXPLORE THE TOWN OF TOBERMORY
Who doesn’t love a tiny town with little local shops and restaurants?! We definitely enjoyed walking around and visiting the area.
We ate at The Fish and Chip Place (yes, it’s actually called that!) and enjoyed fresh, never frozen, fish and chips. They let you order a family meal which worked out perfect for us.
While we were there our waiter gave us a tip to go to Peninsula for ice cream rather than the popular Sweet Shop, so that’s what we did! Peninsula is cheaper and they give more ice cream so I call that a win!
CHOOSE THE RIGHT PLACE TO STAY
We had 10 people and it wasn’t easy to find a place large enough for all of us. We finally found Rugged Bay Cottage and it worked out perfect!
When you’re looking for a cottage in or near Tobermory, make sure you’re staying on the water. We spent a lot of time lounging on the dock, enjoying the kayaks, canoe, and paddle boat that were provided. The beach is rocky so next time I would definitely invest in some water shoes to avoid almost losing my flip flops while swimming, but other than that– no complaints.
We also were able to enjoy the firepit by the water. The fire ban was lifted just in time for us to enjoy some smores so we definitely took advantage of that. Tip: buy the $7 firewood instead of the $5 option! The cheap wood burned really fast and our fire was cut short that night! Also, pouring cooking oil on the wood first seemed to really do the trick to get the fire going quickly and easily.
MOST IMPORTANT TIP: PAUSE FOR A MINUTE
When I asked my extended family for some of their tips or favourite things, this was my favourite reply.
Don’t rush trying to go from one place to another–you miss the point
Take your time. Look around at the beauty of Tobermory and relax. If you go nowhere but the dock of your cottage, you’ve done enough as long as you have felt at peace and fully enjoyed your time.
ONE THING TO AVOID: TRYING TO DO A 2000 PIECE PUZZLE
Seriously, I actually love puzzles and when my brother and sister in law pulled out one they had brought to do, I was pretty excited. Sadly, even with all the hours we spent taking over the entire dining table, we didn’t get the puzzle finished. It was a bit of a disappointment because we were so close. Next time– 1,000 piece puzzle, it is!
Have you ever been to Tobermory? What are your favourite things to do?