View of lighthouse from the Port Dalhousie pier

7 Best Things to do in Port Dalhousie (Local’s Guide)

Port Dalhousie is easily one of my favourite places in Niagara. 

I grew up in the region and I’ve been visiting this area since I was a kid.

Now that I live 13 minutes from Port Dalhousie, I try to come here whenever I can—for dinner, to stroll along the pier, or to watch the sunset over Lake Ontario.

This little pocket of St. Catharines is best known for its lovely beach and antique carousel, but there’s so much more to see and do. 

The downtown core is full of beautifully preserved 19th-century buildings, waterfront walking trails, and fantastic restaurants. Plus, there’s always something fun going on here, especially during the summer months.

Whether you’re visiting for the day or planning a weekend getaway, here are some of the best things to do in Port Dalhousie, Ontario.

People walking on Port Dalhousie pier with a lighthouse in the background

1. Chill at Lakeside Park Beach

The top must-visit spot in Port Dalhousie? Lakeside Park. Situated on the shores of Lake Ontario, this park encompasses a large grassy area and Port Dalhousie’s main draw: a 1,500-foot stretch of sandy beach.

The beach itself is relatively spacious and lined with shady trees so you can find a spot in or out of the sun. There are volleyball nets, washrooms, and a concession building nearby selling snacks and drinks. 

It goes without saying, but Port Dalhousie gets very busy in the summer, especially on weekends. Be sure to arrive early if you want to grab a prime spot here for the day.

Beach and lighthouse in the distance, Port Dalhousie, Ontario

The beach is awesome during the day, but this is also one of the best places in Niagara to watch the sunset. Stick around past dusk so you don’t miss it.

Beyond the beach you’ll find plenty of picnic tables, a large pavilion, and playground equipment for kids.

Feel like taking a stroll? Head down the pier for panoramic views of the marina, the inner and outer lighthouses, and—if it’s a clear day—the Toronto skyline in the distance.

Parking: On-site paid parking with a three-hour time limit.

Amenities: Accessible washrooms, picnic tables, pavilion, volleyball nets, snack bar.

Swimming & water quality: This beach is monitored for bacteria levels and other safety concerns. Check beach water testing results before swimming in the lake.

People sitting on the beach at sunset at Lakeside Park Beach in Port Dalhousie

2. Ride a hundred-year-old carousel

Ask just about any Niagara local if they’ve been to the Lakeside Park Carousel, and the answer is likely yes. It’s basically a rite of passage if you grew up in the area.

Now, this isn’t just any old carousel—it’s a Charles I.D. Looff original, carved between 1898 and 1905 in Brooklyn, New York. Looff was a master carver who built over 40 carousels and several amusement parks, including the Santa Monica Pier in California.

In 1921, the carousel was moved from Scarborough, Ontario to its current location (it was purchased as an attraction for the amusement park that was in Port Dalhousie at the time).

Today, the Friends of the Carousel—a not-for-profit organization—oversee all maintenance and repairs to keep the carousel in pristine condition.

2024 is actually the Friends of the Carousel’s 25th Anniversary. To celebrate, they’re offering free rides on May 18—the official opening day for 2024.

Carousel hours of operation: 
Weekends only from May 18 to July 1 (11 a.m. – 8 p.m.)
Daily from July 1 to September 2 (11 a.m. – 8 p.m.)
Weekends only September 7 to October 14 (11 a.m. – 6 p.m.)

Cost: 5 cents per ride

Parking: Onsite paid parking

3. Eat at all the restaurants

Port Dalhousie has a top-notch restaurant scene. If you’re a foodie, you’ll love it here.

I have a separate post with the best places to eat in Port Dalhousie, so I’ll briefly touch on a few of my favourites here:

Patio Andaluz: Family-owned restaurant serving Spanish and Mexican dishes. I’m a big fan of their birria tacos and paella. They have a spacious and colourful outdoor patio as well.

KaiserHaus: European-inspired bistro and wine bar. Don’t miss their Sunday brunch specials and local wine selection.

El Chiringuito: Snack bar serving Mexican street food and gelato from Il Gelato di Carlotta—AKA the best gelato shop in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Castillo Shawarma: A delicious and budget-friendly option for lunch or dinner.

Tacos and Margarita, Patio Andaluz, Port Dalhousie

4. Browse independent shops & cafes

One store I always visit in Port Dalhousie? Thistle Bookshop and Cafe. I love an independent bookstore, and this one is owned by a family with ancestral ties to Scotland.

It’s no secret I’m a bit obsessed with all things Scottish. I lived abroad in Edinburgh for several years and it’s my favourite city in the world. But I won’t get into that topic because then I won’t shut up about Edinburgh.

So anyways! Back to Port Dalhousie. 

Thistle Bookshop has indoor and outdoor seating, a great selection of books, coffee, and baked goods. It’s a lovely little place to linger for a while.

Another can’t-miss shop is 416 Coffee. Founded by a father and son duo, their ethos is all about ethically sourced coffees roasted to perfection (and they roast their own beans, so they know how to do just that).

Their staff are super friendly and knowledgeable, too. Essentially, you’re guaranteed a great cup of coffee here.

A few other stores you might want to check out are Eco-Chic 3R’s Boutique for sustainable and upcycled clothing, Endless Pawzabilities Pet Boutique, and Glitzy Jools & Antiques.

Person holding a cup of tea at Thistle Bookshop in Port Dalhousie

5. Walk along a waterfront trail

There are several scenic trails in Port Dalhousie.

The Harbour Walkway Trail is roughly three kilometres (1.86 miles)—perfect for a leisurely jaunt in the area. This trail starts in Lakeside Park and stretches along the Port Dalhousie harbour. 

Eventually, you’ll come to a pedestrian bridge (near Heywood Generating Station) which will take you to the east side of the harbour. If you continue on, you’ll pass Dalhousie Yacht Club and Port Dalhousie Pier Marina.

You can then walk along the east pier for up-close views of the inner and outer lighthouses.

While you’re walking this route, keep an eye out for plaques like the one pictured below. They highlight information about the Welland Canal and dive into the region’s history.

Welland Canal plaque in Port Dalhousie

Stretching over 3,600 kilometres (2,200 miles), the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail also passes through Port Dalhousie. It’s a mix of residential roads and off-road trails used by both hikers and cyclists. 

In St. Catharines, the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail connects the Port Dalhousie harbour, Sunset Beach, and Happy Rolph’s Animal Farm.

This St. Catharines trail map is helpful if you want to see the location of the Harbour Walkway Trail and the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail in Port Dalhousie.

St Catharines Waterfront Trail sign in Port Dalhousie

6. Check Out the Port Dalhousie Supper Market

Every Tuesday evening in the summer, Lakeside Park transforms into a buzzy hub of food, drinks, and live music.

Bring a chair or blanket, grab dinner from one of the food trucks, and get settled in for an evening of entertainment.

The market opens at 4 p.m. and live music starts around 5:00/5:30 p.m.

When: Every Tuesday starting June 18th, 2024

Where: Lakeside Park 

Time: 4 p.m. to sunset

Admission: Free

7. Local Festivals & Events

Along with the Supper Market, Port Dalhousie hosts a range of festivals and events throughout the year:

Royal Canadian Henley Regatta: This is one of the oldest and most prestigious rowing competitions in North America. Athletes from around the world come here every year to compete on Martindale Pond. There’s lots of things to do for spectators, too, including live music, food trucks, and firework displays.
Date: July 28 – August 4, 2024

Fan Festival: A free four-day outdoor festival taking place at Rennie Park during the 2024 World Rowing Championships. There will be food and beverage vendors, live entertainment, and a 50-foot ferris wheel.
Date: August 18 – 25, 2024

Port Dalhousie is hosting two major rowing events at the end of July and toward the middle/end of August in 2024. Be sure to plan accordingly if you’re visiting during these events.

Cicada Music and Arts Festival: An indie music festival that celebrates Canadian musicians, held on Henley Island.
Date: October 5 & 6, 2024

Locktoberfest: Get a little taste of Oktoberfest in Niagara at Lock Street Brewing Co. They go all out with German-style craft beer, Bavarian food, and polka and oompah bands in their outdoor beer garden.
Date: October 2024

Front side of Lock Street Brewery building in Port Dalhousie, Ontario

Where is Port Dalhousie?

Port Dalhousie is a community within the city of St. Catharines, Ontario. 

It’s 18 kilometres (or a 22-minute drive) from Niagara-on-the-Lake. From Toronto, Port Dalhousie is roughly a 1.5-hour drive.

Front of Budapest Bakeshop in Port Dalhousie, Ontario

Parking in Port Dalhousie

The Lakeside Park parking lot is the main parking area in Port Dalhousie.

From May 1 to September 30, the parking fee is $3 per hour with a three-hour time limit. Parking fees apply Monday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Between October 1 and April 30, parking is $1.75 per hour Monday to Friday.

There are a handful of free parking spots in front of Rennie Park. Jaycee Gardens Park also has free parking (it’s roughly a 15-minute walk from the downtown area of Port Dalhousie).

You can also try some of the side streets away from Main Street and the downtown core for free parking.

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