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Waterloo, Ontario City Guide

by Sabrina Smelko

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I spent my teen years and early twenties visiting my eldest sister who lives between Waterloo and Kitchener (AKA “KW” or “Tri-City” to locals), two side-by-side cities just an hour’s drive from me. Even now, in the summer months, my family and I buy a season’s pass to Aberfoyle, a massive outdoor antique market located just east of Waterloo, and try to make it on Sundays whenever I can.

Waterloo and its surrounding areas carry a lot of history, but they also continue to attract young people from near and far for its Universities (Wilfred Laurier and University of Waterloo) as well as the myriad tech companies it’s home to, from Blackberry to Google. Unassuming though it may be, if you’re ever in Southern Ontario and craving a break from the Toronto city hustle and bustle, a short day trip to Waterloo might be just what you need. Today, Jordana Garbati of White Cabana is joining us to share the best of what the region has to offer, from local eats and independent shops, to the best parks to laze around in and festivals to attend. –Sabrina

The region of Waterloo is about a one-hour drive west of Toronto, Ontario. Three main cities make up the region: Waterloo, Kitchener, and Cambridge. Each of these cities has a distinct flavor, but the three of them work together to make the region vibrant and dynamic.

Waterloo region may be most known for being the “Silicon Valley of the North,” or Ontario’s tech-hub. Not only is it home to two major Canadian universities (University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University), but the region houses tech giants including Blackberry, Google, Communitech, OpenText, and Desire 2 Learn.

The Waterloo region has deep German roots and a large population of Mennonites. These groups bring culture, interest, and heritage to the area, and the markets are definitely some of the best in southwestern Ontario.

I find that people are drawn to the region because of great dining options, tech jobs, farmers’ markets, culture, history, antiques, Oktoberfest (of course!), and, perhaps most recently, the architecture. The region has a thriving arts scene, and it’s obvious to many that the community is committed to making it the best that it can be.

I have lived and worked in Waterloo for almost two years, and I’ve definitely enjoyed exploring every bit of the region. While surrounded by amazing farmland, Waterloo and Kitchener have modern works of architecture that certainly warrant extended stares. The people here are some of the friendliest I have ever met, and I enjoy being part of the community.

In this city guide, I will share some of my favourite places to eat, drink, and shop, as well as a couple of recommendations for places to stay. Although there are three main cities in the region, they are very close to one another geographically. Uptown Waterloo and Downtown Kitchener actually share the same street (King St.) and are only about 10 minutes away from one another (from the center of each city). Cambridge is a bit farther away (about 20 minutes from Uptown Waterloo).


 

Waterloo

STAY

Waterloo Inn: While this is located slightly away from the downtown core, it’s a pleasant inn with friendly service.

Delta Hotel: Waterloo’s Delta hotel recently opened. The chain hotel has certainly brought another level of chic to the city center.

DO

If you’re here in July, the Jazz Fest is a great way to spend a weekend. The vibe is relaxed and fun.

The Clay and Glass Museum is a the perfect place to admire unique pieces of art. The museum shop is a must for unique handcrafted gifts.

Uptown Waterloo has two cinemas: Princess Cinemas and Princess Twin. These independently owned theatres show mainstream and independent films, and the show offerings change regularly.

For those looking for a peaceful place for a walk, picnic, or game of cricket, Waterloo Park is a must. The park is home to fields, a lake, a zoo, as well as heritage elements such as Abraham Erb’s original grist mill and Waterloo’s first schoolhouse.

The Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics (PI Institute) is an impressive architectural gem. The PI Institute draws in scholars and researchers from around the world and hosts a lecture series as well as a concert series.

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The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI Campus) was funded by Jim Balsillie (of BlackBerry fame), and it is yet another example of modern architecture in the city center. The garden courtyard is super sleek, as is the overall interior and exterior. The building was designed by KPMB and has received several design awards.

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SHOP

For those looking to shop for fashion, Uptown Waterloo has several stores of interest. For designer fashion, Sass carries brands such as DVF, Wildfox Couture, and Smythe. Erban Corner carries Canadian brands such as Comrags.

For men’s designer and modern fashion, a trip to Channers or Paul Puncher is sure to be successful. Channers carries brands like Canada Goose, Hugo Boss, and Lacoste. Paul Puncher is located in a converted train station and offers made-to-measure tailored suits.

For vintage fashion for ladies, two boutiques are worthwhile: Patina Vintage and Meow!. Each store has a very unique selection of vintage clothing items (including gloves, jewelry, hats, and shoes).

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Tadpole Shoppe in Uptown Waterloo is a convenient store to buy things for babies and kids.

For books, stop in to Words Worth Books. The selection is current and the staff is knowledgeable and friendly.

There are several art galleries in Uptown Waterloo. Paula White Diamond Art Gallery & Studio is certainly worth a visit as it carries modern and traditional works of art. The store is manageable and easy to access.

The city has some great flower shops, but Charmed is perhaps one of my favorites. It’s sweet, has a well-curated gift selection, and the arrangements are simply beautiful.

If you’re in the mood to renovate and include some salvaged items, Timeless Materials will inspire you. Since it is outside of the city center, you’ll need a car to access it (and to carry your salavage barn board back home, I guess).

EAT

Waterloo is small but mighty when it comes to food options. It’s certainly hard to narrow down the “must-eat” list to only a few restaurants.

Taco Farm has great decor, delicious in-house-made nachos, and perfect guacamole. Oh, and the tacos are consistently wonderful, too.

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Princess Café has hip decor and a welcoming atmosphere. It is a great place to grab a bite before or after a movie at the Princess Cinemas.

Vincenzo’s is a delightful grocery store that is similar to NYC’s Dean & Deluca. The food is fresh, the products are from around the world, and the displays are lovely. Do make a stop at the cheese counter. If you’re hungry, the made-to-order pizzas do not disappoint.

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As you’re making your way along King Street, stop in to Honey Bakeshop for a coffee, panini, macaron, or gelato. The atmosphere is modern and welcoming, and the sweet potato panini is delicious.

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For fine French pastries, stop in to Sablétine. It’s Waterloo’s little piece of France, and the tarts, homemade breads, and macarons are lovely.

Jane Bond is a great option for vegetarians (and non-vegetarians). It also hosts live music. The place is small and the crowd is friendly.

If you’re looking for a great burger, Ethel’s Lounge is the place to go. The vibe at this diner is low-key.

Morty’s Pub is the spot if you’re a fan of wings. The pub draws in the student and professional crowds. Everyone in the city knows (and loves) Morty’s.

DRINK

White-Cabana-DVLB-1 White-Cabana-DVLB-2 Death Valley’s Little Brother – known to everyone as DVLB – is a beautifully designed space that specializes in coffee and whiskey.

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White Rabbit is a recent addition to the King Street strip. It’s a small space, but it offers an excellent selection of cocktails.

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St. Jacobs

The village of St. Jacobs is a 7-minute drive from Uptown Waterloo. Here, you’ll find antique stores, a farmers’ market, independently owned restaurants, and some quaint shops.

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SHOP

Antiques: Market Road Antiques

Architectural antiques: Artefacts

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Classic corn husk brooms: Hamel Brooms

EAT

Jacob’s Grill

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DO

St. Jacobs farmers’ market

Learn the history and story of the Mennonite people

 

Kitchener

STAY

Walper Hotel. The Walper Hotel is currently closed for renovations, but when it reopens in Fall 2015, it’s sure to be hip, modern, and completely updated.

DO

Check out THEMUSEUM’s well-curated collection and exhibits any time of the year, great for kids and adults.

While Waterloo has the Princess Cinemas, Kitchener boasts the recently opened Apollo Cinema. It has been a crowd pleaser ever since it opened, playing current and old-school movies each week.

Victoria Park is a great place for a bike ride, a picnic, or some playground time if you have kids. It’s easily accessible, and it sometimes serves as the backdrop for art exhibits and concerts. The park is also home to The Boathouse, a restaurant and music house that is popular with the locals.

The Kitchener Blues Festival happens every August, drawing people from all over the region. It’s a must!

The Kitchener Rib Fest and Craft Beer Fest is held every July and people look forward to enjoying a delicious meal in the summer sunshine at this easygoing open-air festival.

In terms of architecture, a few buildings are worth noting. The façade of the University of Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy is covered in colorful printed flowers. The revamped warehouse that was once the old tannery now houses tech companies such as Google, Communitech, and Desire 2 Learn. Finally, the Breithaupt Block is currently under construction, but it will soon be home to a new Google headquarters.

SHOP

Living Fresh Flower Studio and School, which is around the corner from the Walper Hotel, is the place to go for floral arrangements.

The Kitchener Market has fresh, locally produced meats, cheeses, produce, and breads.

EAT

Golden Hearth Bakery is an absolute must for any local or visitor. The croissants and pain au chocolat are unlike any other that I’ve tried outside of France. If the only reason you come to the region is to buy a croissant, I will completely understand! They are simply the best.

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Public Kitchen & Bar is away from the downtown core, but is certainly worth the 5-minute drive. This tapas and oyster house is lively and hip, but the place is small and gets full quickly, so reservations are recommended.

Holy Guacamole is a local favorite that serves up fresh, fast Tex-Mex food.

If you’re a fan of cheese, then you’re going to enjoy Cheeses Murphy, a Kitchener restaurant that specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches.

Gilt Restaurant offers unique food pairings for lunch, dinner, and brunch. The modern, bright space is inviting, and the food is presented beautifully. It is also a great place for a pre-dinner cocktail in the lounge area.

 

Cambridge

Downtown Cambridge is a quick drive from Kitchener. The center of the city is full of rustic heritage buildings.

STAY

Langdon Hall consistently receives excellent reviews from the media. It’s a classic top-notch facility that has gorgeous rooms and a beautiful spa and restaurant.

SHOP

For design enthusiasts, three places that should be seen are:

Willow House is a great destination for unique furnishings and reputable design advice.

Southworks Antiques is pitched as Canada’s largest antique mall. Be sure you budget enough time for shopping here!

Cornerstone is full of luxurious home furnishings and accessories. The store is well-curated and beautifully styled.

EAT

Cambridge Mill has a beautifully classic dining facility overlooking the water. Go here to celebrate a special occasion.

Suggested For You

Comments

  • So lovely to see my hometown profiled here. I’m living in Toronto nowadays and I pine for the markets of KW! Both the Kitchener Market and St. Jacobs are wonderful and are miles ahead in terms of freshness and price to anything available in TO. Definitely recommend taking the trip to enjoy what the area has to offer :)

  • I’m from Cambridge, but often enjoy going to Kitchener/Waterloo for dining and shopping!

    I highly recommend Pyrus cafe for vegans and vegetarians. Also, Out of the Past has a lot of great clothes both new and old. There is so much to do in the Tri-City area.

    And I agree, we do have a huge artist community that is constantly growing! I love that about it here.

  • Love this guide Jordana! It wonderfully captures how different each of the Tri-Cities are! I’ve been living in the region for about 15 years and have always been so happy that we decided to raise our boys here. There is so much more space than our old condo in Mississauga and the schools are top notch! The Universities are great and they hold a lot of public events. In August we are going to the University of Waterloo for the Perseid Stargazing Party! Few other things to add are eating at TWH Social in Downtown Kitchener (my fav place to eat before seeing a movie at the Apollo!) and staying at the newly renovated Crowne Plaza (which is perfectly located for Oktoberfesting!). Shop at The Art of Home in Galt/Cambridge, and eating or attending a cooking class at The Culinary Studio on Belmont in Waterloo. So happy to see our little city added as a city guide. I love living here and I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

  • You missed one of the best things about Cambridge! Reid’s Chocolates has been family owned and handmaking truffles, chocolates and treats. for ages. They make the best quality products and every kid there grows up with chocolate bunnies and Santas and pumpkins. I make sure to pop in every time I visit family and stock up!

  • Thanks for the great guide, Jordana! You’ve definitely hit on my favourites in KW, especially Golden Hearth’s croissants and pain au chocolat. My personal favourites are their lemon twists and fresh fruit danish…mmmm. One place you did miss, however, is Classic Indian at 150 Wissler Road in Waterloo. It’s a great little Indian restaurant tucked away in a strip mall. Fabulous onion bhaji. :)

  • I just moved back to KW after a 5 year absence. It’s becoming a very hip community with a lot to offer.

    The Cambridge guide is too short to do the city justice! Maybe a Cambridge local can help fill it in. Monigram in Cambridge is an incredible coffee shop run by amazing baristas, Monica and Graham. It’s fresh pour over coffee that takes several minutes to make. A co-worker took me by last time we were in Cambridge and Graham told us about where our coffee was from (a women’s co-op in Africa where women are paid first, an unusual practice there) while he made it. It was the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had :)

    In terms of architecture, the recently opened Kitchener Public Library is incredibly beautiful. It almost makes up for the loss of the Carnegie library in 1962. Check it out:
    http://lga-ap.com/project/featured/kpl

    There’s also a lot of cool consignment stores around town. Twice is Nice in Waterloo, Luster and Oak, and StylFrugal in Kitchener all have eclectic selections.

    • I second Monigram in Cambridge! It’s a cozy little shop with earthy and artsy décor. Try the syphon coffee too – it takes a bit of time, but it’s quite the interesting show (it looks a bit like a coffee science experiment to be honest)! Carly, I’m looking forward to going again on our next trip from Waterloo to Cambridge!

  • There are a few food spots in Kitchener that you missed out on:
    The Belmont- lovely bistro with one of the best chefs in the region.
    GoGo Mart- super fresh, super delicious healthy grab and go spot in DT Kitchener.
    The Yeti- hip cafe across from the Kitchener market with great music and killer sandwiches.
    East African Cafe-for something truly unique and flavorful, this place serves things you’ll likely never make at home.

  • Thanks for the guide! Born and raised in Kitchener, I spent a 4-year stint in Toronto before moving back and don’t regret a second of it. The region as really become so much more exciting and downtown Kitchener is changing every day. While your guide mostly only deals with the city centres, it’s a good overview for those visiting or newcomers.

    I could go on for days with recommendations for K-W restaurants and annual events, but I’ll add the Lancaster Smoke House to Kitchener eats if you’re a fan of meat! It’s become very popular lately but worth the wait (prices have increased recently, so be prepared for that as well). I’ll add Ennio’s for an eat in Kitchener AND Waterloo – my favourite since childhood. Homemade and delicious sauce and pasta (two locations).

    Thanks!

  • What a great tour of our region, thanks Jordana! I would add two of my favs, the Arabesque Cafe on Victoria Street in Kitchener (https://www.facebook.com/arabesquefamilyrestaurant) and Masala Bay in downtown Waterloo (http://masalabay.com/) to your guide. And as a fellow retro fashion aficionado I definitely recommend a visit to the new Fashion History Museum in Hespeler Village (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fashion-History-Museum/157656584284209)
    You have inspired some great tips from other fans too. Nicely done!

  • Wonderful to see such a positive article about our region! Don’t forget, that we have the luxury of a world-class concert hall – Centre in the Square – which features the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony as well as a variety of touring shows and artists.

  • So amazing to see my home town highlighted here! One more place to add is Delirium in Uptown Waterloo which has amazing vintage inspired dresses and skirts and the staff there are absolutely fantastic!

  • Hi Jordana, This is a great article that hits many local faves. A few little updates to the info you included.

    Sadly, Imbibe has recently closed [hopefully temporarily https://www.facebook.com/imbibefoodanddrink?fref=ts https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/imbibe-relocation-fund#/story ] and the Kitchener location of Cheeses Murphy is also no more. They haven’t updated their website to reflect this [http://cheesesmurphy.com/ ] , but the Kitchener location has been papered up and a sign indicates that it is gone. They still serve out of the Princess Cafe in Waterloo.

    Feel free to delete after reading/modifying, and thanks!

  • Great article, and so glad to see smaller spots like Public get a nod! One of my favourite Kitchener boutiques is Gloss – currently closing its doors to move to a new Kitchener home, but the owner and her staff are helpful and knowledgeable, and it’s nice to pick something up knowing you can’t buy it en masse at the mall. ;)

  • I just moved back to KW after 11 years in Toronto this past year. I lived here while in University but being back as an adult the city has a different vibe. Plus it has blossomed as a tech community. Everything is a bit more low key which I love but I have so much to explore! I am looking forward to trying out Fork & Cork Grill this week a new restaurant from a chef who worked at Buca. Great feature on our city!

  • Hi, I got really excited when I saw that a region I live in was featured on DS.
    I moved to Cambridge from Toronto 3 year ago and have not looked back. There are so many wonderfully delicious things to do here!
    Although I love the guide you put together, there are a few important places in Cambridge that are of note:

    SHOPPING:

    The Brave Brown Bag is proudly made here in Cambridge http://bravebrownbag.com/
    Cambridge has an exceptional textile history and this little gem is a great place to get your fabric fix ! http://www.lensmill.com/Cambridge.htm
    Millpond bookstore is full of fabulous books and records, the staff are very knowledgeable and always give great recommendation.

    EAT:

    City Cafe and Bakery in a must visit in Cambridge, the baked goods are made in house and are to die, it’s the only place I know that has no cash register and works on an honor system.
    http://www.tripadvisor.ca/Restaurant_Review-g154985-d4924526-Reviews-City_Cafe_Bakery-Cambridge_Region_of_Waterloo_Ontario.html

    SEE:

    A new addition to the City is the Fashion Museum which is a must, located downtown Hespler ! http://fashionhistorymuseum.com/

    Thanks again for featuring this fabulous part of the Ontario Canada

  • Thank you so much for mentioning THEMUSEUM in this blog! We’re glad to see ourselves as one of Kitchener-Waterloo’s go-to attractions. There are a couple slight updates we noticed, though. Our name is spelled THEMUSEUM — one word, uppercase. The aforementioned restaurant attached to us, Imbibe, has also since closed. THEMUSEUM will be announcing our new food and beverage partner in the next few weeks!

  • Well! I nearly fell off my chair to see a Waterloo city guide on DS.
    Having lived here close to 30 years, I am getting ready to move on. This article and the comments have successfully highlighted many of the dining and shopping options. What has been impacted by the rapid development in Waterloo, are the green spaces and city scapes. If you are heading this way, you might stop in Guelph for some other great dining options and a truly wonderful visit to the University of Guelph’s huge and natural arboretum.

    • Oh no…we don’t want anyone falling off their chairs, Linda! It sounds like you held on long enough to read the guide. Thank you!
      Guelph is another lovely city that is worth visiting. It, too, has a lot to offer residents and visitors.

  • You missed us! And we are right under Patina vintage!

    We are your destination for all things ‘Green Beauty’ – brands that are hard to come by – unless you are in Toronto – like: Ilia, Vapour, Odactie, Fig + Yarrow … and sooo much more!

    We love stocking niche artisan lines and many of our accessories are scouted through etsy! We love the jewelry by Spark & Thistle and are proud to carry it!

    Come in – we smell lovely and look really pretty :)

  • Hi Ladies!
    Thanks so much for mentioning us – Paula White-Diamond Art Gallery + Design Studio!! We love where we live, and even more we love the wonderful clients who we work with on a daily basis. They are what makes living and working in KW such a pleasure!!
    Stop by the gallery anytime, and we are happy to help with all of your art and design needs!! We have something for every style and budget.
    Inspire Your Space!

  • Next time you are in town you will have to come and visit our little pastry shop on Roger st. We are one of only 5 chocolate makers in all of Ontario actually making chocolate from the cacao bean. We founded golden hearth and in the spirit of croissants we open our door to the public on Saturdays and fill our little shop with fresh made pastries, tartes and ofcourse our locally made chocolate.

  • Update:

    Kitchener:
    1. Imbibe at The Museum has now closed.
    2. B has opened at The Museum (http://www.bhere.ca/themuseum/).
    3. The Berlin restaurant has received quite a bit of press and it should open in December 2015 (http://www.theberlinkw.ca/). Pierogi will be a hot item on the menu.
    4. Berlin Bicycle Cafe will also open in December 2015. Grab a bike and a coffee! (http://www.berlinbicyclecafe.com/)

    Waterloo:
    1. Settlement Co. cafe is now open in Waterloo (http://settlementco.ca/)

  • Some additions from a local…

    SHOP
    – Truth Beauty Co in uptown Waterloo sells natural skincare, makeup and various other fun items! Jen is an absolute doll and her store is amazing.
    – Gifted which is located in Waterloo has a whole host of adorable gifts and housewares
    – Cocoon Apothecary produces the most gorgeous clean skincare products

    EAT/DRINK
    – I third Yeti Cafe…it’s quirky, delicious and has a great vibe. Love their “pregnant” sammies!
    – Pure JBK has amazing acai bowls and grain bowls
    – A Matter of Taste makes the best lattes
    – Thrive offers amazing vegan eats. The peanut salad is absolutely unbelievable as are their daily curry specials
    – Ambrosia Pastry Co has lovely sweets (try the liege waffles!)
    – New to the KW core is Good Vibes Juice Co which has some really funky juice blends!

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