09 May GTA Dining & Hiking Guide
Inspired by my recent move across the country, I decided to share with you all of my favourite spots to eat and hike in Ontario. I titled this blog GTA Dining & Hiking Guide but it became more of a ‘where I have eaten and hiked in Ontario that I loved so much that I wanted to share it with you’ guide.
WHAT I LOOK FOR
When I go out to eat I’m usually looking for something that will physically satisfy me while also pleasing my taste buds. I don’t go out of the way to find affordable places because my satisfaction and taste comes first but I would say that most of these places are very affordable.
If I’m eating at a restaurant or a cafe I want the environment to be cozy so that I can lounge and sit how I would like. I would say the comforts of cushioned booths are lacking in most vegan restaurants in this area, but it’s slowly improving. It’s also important to me that I feel welcomed and that I get to know the owners, manager, cooks, or server so that I can feel the energy they are putting into their community and food.
Some of these places offer meat and dairy options as well as vegan options. But the majority of these restaurants are 100% vegan. I also don’t enjoy eating refined sugar as it usually leaves me feeling worse than before I ate which is why I haven’t included many dessert places (except the places I will make exceptions for because it’s just so good).
I haven’t tried every vegan restaurant, but I would say I’ve tried a good majority of them in the GTA area and this is a list of my personal favourites. Remember that my taste preferences may be different from yours so explore and find which restaurants you like the best. I personally enjoy using the website Happy Cow to find new restaurants if I’m in an unfamiliar area.
When it comes to hiking I’m not particularly picky, it just feels nice to be outdoors. Remember that many of the places I recommend below are part of various Conservation authorities—when you pay for parking you are not simply paying to park on a piece of land, you are voting to keep the land preserved in a natural state.
Pho Dui Bo — 612 without baby corn
Mountain Grill — The staff of this restaurant are so sweet! My favourite dish is the Baigan Bharta which is an eggplant dish. I’ve tried a variation of this dish at many other restaurants and this one is the best I’ve ever tried. I always ask for it to be made vegan and it’s never been a problem. You can also get vegan Naan here, which is awesome!
Sall Sweet & Curry —The vegan lunch special is delicious. If you order the samosas be mindful that the dipping sauce has milk in it. They have a vegan chickpea flour and sugar sweet that is super delicious (even though it’s full of sugar it never leaves me feeling yucky).
Himalya —I’ve been going to this restaurant since I was a kid. They have THE BEST samosas I’ve ever tried. They are deep fried and usually a little spicy. I order a vegan Thali with roti (the naan is made with milk).
Pho Dui Bo —My go-to is the 612 with baby corn added and the 602 with extra peanut sauce. There are a few locations, but I find this location has the best quality and consistency with the food. They also always serve fresh tea (if you want water to drink you have to ask for it).
Bee’z Smootheez — Fresh and organic smoothies, juices, and snacks available for pick-up or delivery which made it super convenient to fill up if needed between teaching yoga classes in the area. Owner uses eco-friendly bio degradable cups and straws. Love this!
Waterfront/Beachfront Trail — This trail is beautiful! It’s a wide paved pathway that sits adjacent to the water. I typically enter from the Fruitland road entrance and follow it just before crossing the bridge to Burlington. Good for walking, biking, or rollerblading. Apparently this trail extends across all of Ontario. In the spring and fall this trail can be a hot spot for midges.
Bruce Trail — This trail extends more than 890km. The entrance for this trail is off of Dewitt road just before the train tracks. I recommend going in early summer, fall, or winter as the trail can be overrun by mosquitos in late summer. One side of this trail will lead you up to the train tracks from here (although you’re technically not allowed to walk along here since this is an active running train, so be careful where you’re walking).
On the front steps of Bee’z Smootheez home base with a Chocolate Orange smoothie (yes he does custom orders) and 5 maps of over 100 waterfalls in the Hamilton area. I managed to hike about 57 of them in one summer.
Democracy* — Can you say BEST CAULIFLOWER WINGS EVER?!? Yes they are that good. In the summer they open the garage door to get a breeze (or bring your pup—just make sure you’re at the edge along the street so they stay out of the restaurant).
The Hearty Hooligan – Pizza pockets, punkaroos, chilli cheese fries, Simpson’s themed desserts, and more. Every 90’s child dreams come true.
Café Oranje — This is a cute cafe to stop in at if you’re walking among the shops on King St. in the summer for a refreshing real iced tea and vegan dessert.
Sagarmatha Curry Palace — They have a whole page of vegan curry options. Need I say more?
The Limin’ Coconut — Delicious traditional Caribbean food. Lot’s of vegan options available for catering.
Pokeh — This spot has two locations (one downtown in the Hamilton Farmers Market and one up the mountain on Concession St). Both serve super fresh and delicious poke bowls. I get the only vegan option, the Green Bowl, with avocado, macadamia nuts, wakame, and nori strips. Personally, l typically bring my bowl home because the seating is very limited.
Nations Fresh Food — This is technically a multi-cultural grocery store, but it also serves hot food. There are many dairy and meat-free meal options and desserts like giant sesame balls with lotus seed paste inside (that’s what sold me). If you’re looking for fresh jackfruit or other produce you can’t find at other grocers in the area this is the place to go.
Planted in Hamilton — The aesthetic of this space is very inviting and intuitively designed. Plus there are sooooo many options. Each time I visit this restaurant I try something new.
Planted in Hamilton — BBQ Pulled Jackfruit Sandwich and Chickpea Bites
Gage Park Greenhouse — Okay so this isn’t hiking, but it’s a beautiful (free) place full of greenery. It’s especially wonderful in the winter to go inside and feel as if you’re in the tropics. I haven’t been to the new one but it looks as if it has at least doubled in size.
Dundurn Stairs and Chedoke Radial Rail Trail (Bruce Trail) — There are many sets of stairs across the escarpment but these are my favourite because of how immersed in the forest they are. They connect to the rail trail. The trail runs a very large distance in which you can see waterfalls and bridges so make sure to check a map about which entrance you want to use if you’re looking to just hike the trail.
Up the mountain (on the escarpment) in Hamilton there are some great trails, especially Albion Falls. My mom used to take my sister and I with our dog when we were young. I remember being completely terrified of the off trail hiking expeditions she led us on but I’m grateful for those experiences now. I still remember the first time we saw Albion Falls, I think I was about 5 or 6 years old as we climbed up over a rock looking across the span of the escarpment with the sun shining down the water glistened—we named it Gods’ waterfall. Sadly it was gated off because of people climbing the actual Falls so I’m not sure if you are still able to hike here at all. There’s also the Binbrook Conservation Area which I love (I’m biased since I grew up near here) but it’s a great place to go and rent a canoe or kayak. On Tyneside Road there is a short trail that backs onto the man made lake of the conservation area.
In my opinion the food scene in Ancaster could really use some improvement. I would love if there were more independently owned restaurants with authentic foods, especially with vegan options.
Ancaster is full of amazing hiking trails. The current design of the land is really beautifully and thoughtfully done compared to most cities. You can find so many trails connecting through residential areas that lead you into the middle of a forest (which is also why I so often got lost on these adventures).
Canterbury (and little Canterbury) Falls, Sherman Falls, Mill Falls, Tiffany Falls, and more — This area extending into Dundas is filled with a plethora of falls.
Spring Valley Trail — Connecting from Jerseyville road this will lead you into a huge area of connecting trails. I find this to be a good place for off leash walks (especially as you get deeper into the forest where less people are) although it isn’t marked as an off leash system.
B.Love Conscious Eatery — The vegan hot chocolate is to die for. Everything is made with real, whole ingredients. It’s a good lunch spot because the hours are shorter than most places. Plus, the owner is super knowledgeable about raw/vegan foods—you can taste and feel it as you consume the food prepared.
Dundas is full of amazing hiking spots! Most of the parking is paid parking unless you start from the bottom (residential area). Some of the trails connect to one another.
Tew’s Falls, Borer’s Falls, Spencer Gorge, Webster Falls — For the waterfall hunters.
Dundas Peak — This is my personal favourite trail in Dundas (it’s a loop that takes less than an hour). Be mindful if you’re visiting in the Winter or Spring because it can be slippery and most areas are ungated to preserve the land.
Crooks Hollow — This historic walk is a short (1.5k) trail with other trails that you can continue on at various areas of the road.
Bliss Kitchen Front Counter
Bliss Kitchen — I used to love going here for brunch. Since updating their look (and it looks so cute inside!) the menu has changed. The last time I was there the quality of the food didn’t feel the same, but if you’re into superfoods I would recommend stopping in to try one of their many smoothies, lattes, or desserts.
I haven’t done much hiking in Waterdown but I would love to visit Smokey Hollow Waterfall.
Boon Burger Cafe — This is a franchise but most of their locations are throughout Ontario. I really love how passionate the owner is at this shop (you can really feel that energy in the environment)! My go-to is the bacun cheeze burger or the Greek pizza.
Tamp Coffee Co. — This trendy coffee shop has two locations just a few blocks from each other. It’s a good space to do some work while enjoying a vegan turmeric or matcha latte (of course they also have coffee and tea). Sometimes they have really delicious specials like Chaga apple cider.
Healthy Planet — This is not a restaurant, but I had to include it because I love this place and I regularly stop here for snacks when I’m in the Burlington area (it’s also franchised with most locations throughout Ontario). It’s one of the best health food supplement stores I’ve ever been to.
Lettuce Love Cafe — I used to work at this cafe and absolutely loooovvveedd the Reuben sandwich, pancakes (on the weekend), nachos, burrito bowl, and power bowl. After switching ownership some of the dishes changed (in ways that I’m now allergic to) so if I go I either get the nachos or Reuben sandwich.
Mount Nemo Conservation Area — This is a beautiful trail with various lookout points. You can also do rock climbing here.
Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) — There are various locations of the RBG (like Hamilton) that provide all sorts of adventures through beautiful flower patches, educational herb gardens, and lots of hiking trails.
Rattlesnake Point Conservation Area — This is technically in Milton but it’s so worth the drive.
Central Park Labyrinth — This is also not a hiking trail (it’s located in a park) but I do think that visiting a labyrinth can be a good way to get outside and connect back to yourself. There are actually many labyrinths throughout Ontario, the ones in Brighton, Oakville, Leamington, Campbellcroft, Johnstown, and Barrie look the most natural.
There are over 380 listings on Happy Cow for vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Toronto. I haven’t made a huge dent in this list, which is why this is called the GTA dining & hiking guide but I have tried over a dozen of them. Plus, most non-vegan restaurants in Toronto have vegan options. As you will notice, I didn’t pick any item in particular from these menus because all of the dishes I have tried have been so good. I would love to try Planta and Thrive Organic Kitchen & Café.
Live Organic Food Bar — I wish I could eat this food on the daily. It’s so fresh I always leave feeling amazing.
The Hogtown Vegan — If you’re in the mood for a variety of vegan comfort foods this is the place to go.
Fresh Restaurants — The owner’s passion for creating delicious meals from scratch come through on the large selection of creative menu items which tantalize my tastebuds. I still haven’t made it to the newest location on Front Street but I look forward to it because of the seating (plus it’s across from a dog park, that seems like a perk to me—yay for food and dogs).
Doomie’s — This restaurant was a vegan pop up restaurant. It has moved to Vegandale Brewery which I have not ventured out to yet. Bring your appetite because everything on the menu is rich, creamy, and satisfying.
The Big Carrot — This is an organic marketplace that offers groceries as well as a fresh food bar and an attached juice bar.
Scarborough Bluffs — When I saw the Scarborough Bluffs I was actually seeing them from a distance on a private beach part of the housing area in the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. I would love to explore the trails here.
Raw Aura — This intimate restaurant offers a selective menu of raw food dishes. I took my Nana to this place and she didn’t know it wasn’t meat in the pasta.
I haven’t done much hiking in this area but I wanted to share a spot neighbouring Mississauga that I love.
Etobicoke Valley Dog Park – This is one of the largest off-leash parks in Ontario. It’s very preserved in comparison to any other dog park I’ve been to with real trails, streams, and wildlife.
I would love to visit David Feed Farm Sunflower Fields in Caledon.
Rise Above — I love this place. It’s good for brunch, lunch, or dinner. I particularly enjoy the kale Cesar salad and wedges. They also occasionally update their menu which is fun. Don’t miss the beet burger! Weekends can be a particularly busy time, so reservations might be a good idea or hang out in the few chairs up front and read a book from the bookshelf while you wait.
Bella Noella’s — Vegan pizza and dipping sauce options. The slices are huge! Yum. My favourite so far had sweet potato and chips on it.
Beechwood Doughnuts — You know these doughnuts are good when it’s the only place that I will ever pick a favourite flavour that doesn’t include chocolate—rosewater lavender and birthday cake. I suggest going early on in the day as once they are sold out they close. I also recommend ordering a variety and taking a bite of each (since they are all delicious) until you’ve reached your maximum sugar quota. If they ever have a Boston cream doughnut you better let me know!
The Lemon Tree — Spanakopita! I haven’t been able to find this anywhere else. Who else was obsessed with spinach cheese pies? Now you have a place to go if you are looking for a vegan version. They also have a variety of other delicious foods.
Decew Falls — This trail starts off with a relatively smooth path along the edge of a cliff then you climb down rocks (with the assistance of a rope). There is a wooden swing over the water that would be great for pictures. To get to the falls you have to walk along the edge of the bank. Once you reach them it’s so worth it! But I recommend wearing a bathing suit under your clothes and water shoes.
If you keep driving towards Niagara Falls I’ve heard there are some great trails but I’m not sure where. Comment below if you know.
The Vegan Hippie Chick — BEST. VEGAN. QUICHES.
Sweet Greens — A great place for lunch on the go. It’s an organic food market, juice bar, and cafe. Most of the food options are vegetarian, but there are great vegan options like the samosas (that are giant) and some of the wraps without cheese. Definitely order some wheat grass shots while you’re here (the best I’ve ever had—they really are sweet here).
If you keep driving through Hagersville you can end up at some pretty beautiful beaches along Lake Erie such as Port Dover, Turkey Point, and Long Point.
I would love to check out Cafe Pyrus.
Famoso Neapolitan Pizzeria — Beautiful environment with the most gorgeous pizza oven I’ve ever seen. Best authentic pizza place (thin crisp crust with fresh ingredients). Vegan options available. Plus, while searching for the link I just found out there are locations here in Calgary—can’t wait!
Vincenzo’s — A specialty food market with deli counters to order pasta or bean salads. Plus, they have a counter to order custom made pizzas with vegan and gluten-free options.
Masala Bay — The aroma in this restaurant is intense! Serving a variety of Indian dishes with vegan options in beautiful authentic dishes (with candle warmers—I love little touches like this!)
Plant Matter Kitchen — Grilled Cheese Special with Wedges and Scoville Burger with Caesar Salad
When I’m in the mood for comfort food I’d like to check out V Food Spot. The Root Cellar also looks like an interesting place with vegan options.
Globally Local — Vegan fast food with menu options that remind me of a mix of the best of Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s. If you want the true drive-thru fast food experience, visit the Highbury location.
Plant Matter Kitchen — This place is always crazy busy, especially on a weekend, so I recommend making a reservation if you’re planning to go on a Saturday or Sunday. The owner is super sweet and knowledgeable about the benefits of what plants and herbs can do in the body. Everything is delicious, but I highly recommend the Scoville burger. The tortillas are all home-made and they are the best things I have ever eaten. Plus they have a small outdoor dining area in the summer months. The staff have always been super friendly about bringing Hugo a plate of kale stems and a water dish to join me while I eat.
Curley Brewing Company — Great vegan place to bring non-vegans to hang out. There are a few board games for fellow board game addicts. The pretzel bagel is delicious.
There are a lot of beautiful parks and paved trails through residential areas in London. I would love to visit the Steed & Company lavender field just outside of London. You can also visit Port Stanley which is a beautiful beach just under an hour from London.
If you liked this guide save it to your Pinterest boards for future reference and share it. Comment below with your favourite places to eat and hike (anywhere in the world).