This Idyllic Town in Canada Has Water So Clear, It Looks Like the Caribbean

It also has a fantastic, refurbished, '70s-chic motel.

Sign over the beach "welcome to sauble beach" at sunset in Florida
Photo:

Kelly Dawson

I didn’t exactly know where we were, and that was the best part. Last June, my friend Katlyn and I arrived in Toronto from separate ends of America, reuniting for the first time since 2018. But an hour after landing in Ontario’s capital, we were surrounded by verdant rolling fields, twisting and turning down two-lane roads toward some place called Sauble Beach. It felt as if the city disappeared as quickly as our friendship regained its rhythm.

About a year prior, I wrote about two friends who fixed up a midcentury outpost on the shores of Lake Huron, which Netflix had documented in a series called Motel Makeover. The owners and I kept in touch after the article was published, and they asked if I’d like to visit with a pal once summer returned. There was only one person I hoped could make it: Katlyn. Since we met in Prague as college students, Katlyn and I bonded over the best three words in the travel dictionary: “Sure, why not?” It’s how Krakow, Vienna, Joshua Tree, and Vermont ended up in our rearview mirror, and how a quiet Canadian coastal town stretched out in front of us. 

We were excited to see the refurbished 1970s-meets-Instagram design of The June Motel in person — it was a bit of a celebrity. But after two years of forced predictability, we also craved the simple thrill of novelty. Katlyn and I had a vague understanding of where we were going, but almost no point of reference beyond my story and the show. To us, Canada screamed spontaneity. 

When we arrived in Sauble Beach from Toronto, a nearly three-hour journey, it was approaching midnight. The A-framed lobby at the front of the property was empty except for an employee waiting for us to appear, and she smiled and poured us coups of rosé as soon as we checked in. “It almost feels like I’m back in California,” I said as we looked around. The lobby’s bright white walls and warm wood ceiling enclosed a blush-toned coffee bar and shop on one end and a sitting area on the other, complete with a longboard leaning next to a rounded leather couch. “Well, the weather isn’t exactly Californian,” said our friend behind the desk with a laugh.

As we made our way outside, one of the owners and her friends beckoned us to join them around a fire beside the gated pool. There was wine and tea and bundled ingredients for s’mores, plus blankets as a wink to how far north we actually were. Katlyn took her time roasting a marshmallow as I promptly bit into mine, and we told one another stories under the stars like we were kids at camp. Once our glasses were empty and we realized how late it was, Katlyn and I walked toward the property’s back building, the motel. Our room could be reached through a sliding glass door overlooking the pool, and its walls were aglow with a neon pink sign that proclaimed “good vibes only.”

Writer standing in front of coral, ocean themed mural and an image of breakfast at The Drake Hotel

Kelly Dawson

In the morning, an oatmeal-and-fruit breakfast was waiting for us at the door as we left to drive an hour to Tobermory. Fields whirled past our windows yet again, with Bob Seger and Paul McCartney filling the air, until this small harbor town came into view. We were in Tobermory to do the one thing on our trip that was planned: a tour of 19th-century shipwrecks on a glass-bottomed boat sailing toward Flowerpot Island, which was named for the curious V-shape rock formations scattered along its coast. The centuries-old ships were clearly visible beyond an equally historic lighthouse that had tried to warn them, and instead their mistakes were preserved in icy-cold water that was vibrantly blue and effortlessly transparent. Katlyn and I couldn’t believe our eyes. 

“Are we in Canada, or the Caribbean?” we said to each other, despite wearing sweaters and hats. It was much warmer on land, and we spent time walking through town, eating a lunch of fish and chips, and stopping for ice cream. In a bookstore, there was a map of the Bruce Trail, which we just so happened to be on. It covers 500 miles between Tobermory and Niagara Falls — its website calls the trail "Canada’s oldest and longest marked footpath."

Tubermory water and houses along the shore and the exterior of motel in Sauble Beach, Florida

Kelly Dawson

“We could do the whole trail, if we wanted,” I said to Katlyn, knowing that wasn’t a request as much as a prediction. Niagara Falls was less than two hours from Toronto, and well, we were already there. A couple of days later, that’s where we headed. Spontaneity, anyone? 

Upon our return to Sauble Beach, we went to its namesake sand and surf at sunset and later got an alfresco dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Heydays. The town hadn’t fully come alive for the season during our stay in late spring, but we were still satisfied with what the motel had to offer — including more rounds of s’mores, our own hammock, and lounge chairs by the pool. The Wellness Refinery and Amicis Coffee Bar are casual breakfast spots nearby for a bite in the morning, and Diary Queen is just down the street if you get a Blizzard craving.

We took off for Toronto after a weekend in Sauble Beach, stopping again in small towns along the way until we landed at the Drake Hotel and immersed ourselves in the more familiar buzz of a city. But our slow pace at the June Motel, and our sure-why-not road trip across the Bruce Trail to Niagara Falls was exactly what we needed. Even if we barely knew where we were the whole time, we were rediscovering ourselves. 

Kelly Dawson is a writer, editor, and media consultant. Follow her on Instagram.

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