Skip to Content

The Best Things to Do in Penetanguishene: Come Explore This Historic Small Town!

Penetanguishene, Ontario is a small town with a big name—and a lot of history. Wrapped around a quiet harbour on Southeastern Georgian Bay about two hours north of Toronto, it’s a blend of Indigenous, French, and English cultures. Visitors looking for things to do in Penetanguishene (also known as Penetang) will find waterfront walks, sunset cruises and plenty of opportunities to go back in time. Ultimate Ontario contributor Liisa Ladouceur grew up there and offers this visitors’ guide!

The Discover Harbour Ship in Penetanguishene, Ontario
The Discover Harbour Ship in Penetanguishene, Ontario. Photo Credit: Discovery Harbour

Penetanguishene is one of the oldest settlements in Ontario – with inhabitants dating as far back as 800 AD, attracting the first explorers in the early 1600s, and incorporated in 1882. It’s also one of Ontario’s “designated” Franco-Ontarian communities – you may see bilingual signs and services here. 

When I was growing up there, we were told the name was a Huron word meaning “land of the white rolling sands.” There were a lot of things we weren’t taught – like that Huron was a name given to the Indigenous Wendat peoples by early French settlers. Today, there is much more acknowledgement of the original inhabitants of this land, while the town continues to celebrate its francophone heritage.

To find Penetanguishene, you simply drive north of Barrie on Highway 93 (which on old maps may still be called Penetanguishene Road) and keep going until you hit water. You’ll pass through the neighbouring town of Midland, drive past two angel statues at the town limits, and then be treated to a lovely view of Georgian Bay at the top of Main Street before descending to the harbour, where the road ends.

With a population of just 9,500, Penetanguishene has retained its authentic small-town self. It’s the kind of place you’ll find a thrift store named (unironically) “Dis and Dat Bargoons.” While popular with boaters, cottagers and military buffs, it’s not particularly touristy. So if you’re the type who prefers fewer crowds or a slower pace, it’s a perfect day trip.

Here are my top picks of interesting things to do in Penetanguishene.

What to Do in Penetanguishene on Your Next Visit

Explore the Town’s Naval and Military History at Discovery Harbour

Discovery Harbour, Penetanguishene.
Discovery Harbour, Penetanguishene. Photo Credit: Discovery Harbour

Discovery Harbour is one of the most popular things to do in Penetanguishene – a recreated historic attraction on the waterfront site of an actual British naval base in use during the War of 1812.

The picturesque attraction just a few minutes’ drive from Main Street offers restored heritage buildings, the remains of a 19th-century cemetery, an interpretative centre housing the remnants of H.M.S. Tecumseth (built in 1814), and a replica of the Tall Ship the HMS Bee, which sits in the water. A gift shop sells some crafts by local Indigenous artisans.

Open 7 days a week from May to September. Ghost Tours and an Escape Room are available Saturday evenings in July and August and there’s a Pirate’s Day for kids in summer, too.

Get Out on the Water on a Cruise

A cruise boat in Penetanguishene
A Penetang cruise boat, ready and waiting. Photo Credit: Liisa Ladouceur

Penetanguishene was built around water so if you have a chance to get out on a boat, it’s one of the most memorable ways to explore the area. 

Landmark Cruises offers three-hour cruises around the Penetanguishene and Midland areas as well as the 30,000 Islands including Beausoleil Island aboard the Georgian Legacy, a 90-foot, double-decker vessel. In summer months choose from lunch, afternoon, or sunset cruises, many with live entertainment. In October, take a Fall Colours Cruise for a different perspective on Ontario’s peak beauty.

To rent your own boat or arrange a private cruise for a small group check with Diverse Boat Rentals and Tours.

Catch a Play at King’s Wharf Theatre

King’s Wharf Theatre has become one of the most exciting things to do in Penetanguishene, for locals and visitors alike. 

This 371-seat theatre is on the site of Discovery Harbour and offers popular musicals and other light-hearted theatre produced by Dayton Entertainment. The summer season is a highlight of the town’s cultural calendar.

Eat at the Dock Lunch

Dock Lunch in Penetanguishene
World Famous Dock Lunch (right beside the Dockside Ice Cream Parlour). Photo Credit: Liisa Ladouceur

“The World’s Famous Dock Lunch” opened in 1957 and has been serving up diner food year-round to everyone who comes through Penetanguishene ever since. They also make a great Greek Salad and have ice cream. This is a no-fuss place with limited indoor seating but lots of picnic tables with waterfront views outside.

Other food and drink options in Penetanguishene include the friendly family restaurant Phil’s, fine dining at Pier 21 and the Irish pub Flynn’s, which often has entertainment at night.

Take a Walk Through Rotary Champlain Wendat Park

The long waterfront of Penetanguishene is now a place to stroll amongst nature and learn more about the town’s history through local art.

A large sculpture of two men meeting commemorates the arrival of explorer Samuel de Champlain to the shores of Penetanguishene in August of 1615, where he encountered Chief Aenon of the Wendat. Aeonon is seen presenting a Wampum belt to Champlain. Additional artworks honour notable residents of English, French, Indigenous and Mêtis heritage. Reading the plaques gives a very good overview of the town’s 400-year history. 

The park also has a splash pad, amphitheatre, playground and fishing dock, pavilion, swimming beach, skateboard park, basketball and beach volleyball courts, dog park, accessible washrooms and free parking! 

Visit a Historic Church

Catholics will likely marvel at the grandeur of St. Ann’s, a stone church which looms large over the town. Built in the late 1800s, it continues to offer mass in French and English. Visitors are welcome to check out the stained glass, paintings and stations of the cross sculptures inside. 

St. James-on-the-Lines Anglican Church is a small wood-clad frame church designed in the Greek Revival style and constructed between 1836-40. The cemetery contains the remains of many early settlers and British military men.

Stay Overnight in a Haunted House

The Beck House is one of the original great homes of Penetanguishene, built in a Queen Anne Revival style in 1885 for Carl Beck, a wealthy lumber magnate. Today it’s operated as a BnB. Not only is this one of the only places to stay overnight in the town….it’s purportedly haunted! Enter if you dare!

Seasonal Activities in Penetanguishene

Experience a Halloween Haunt

In October, Pumpkinferno is Penetanguishene’s annual Halloween haunt, when Discovery Harbour is transformed by thousands of creatively lit (artificially) pumpkins into a spooky family-friendly night out. There are escape rooms, live performers, and even a “coffin ride.”

Have Fun at Winterama

The oldest running winter carnival in Ontario, Winterama is definitely the best reason to visit Penetanguishene in February. Kids especially enjoy the cardboard box sled races, Main Street parade, and games set up down at the dock. There are also fireworks, lumberjack demonstrations, ice skating and ice fishing, Indigenous dancing, French-language entertainment and more.  The treat to eat is some traditional pea soup.

What Else Should You Do in This Historic Simcoe County Town?

The Penetang Sign
The Penetanguishene Sign. Photo Credit: Liisa Ladouceur

There aren’t too many places to swim in Penetanguishene left, but the 5-acre Huronia Park has the basics and nice views.

Have you ever done karaoke on a boat? The Georgian Queen is docked in Penetanguishene Harbour and runs as a live entertainment venue with pub nights, dancing lessons and more. 

The Centennial Museum is a repository for the town’s archives that’s open to the public. If you’ve wanted to see what life was like in a small town in the late 1800s, this is it!

I hope you’ve found this list of things to do in Penetanguishene to be helpful when planning your next road trip or boat trip through Ontario.