With its art crawls, lovingly restored historic buildings turned boutiques and bakeshops, and recent celebrity endorsements (film director Guillermo del Toro raved about the bookstores), Hamilton’s quiet cool is a refreshing detour.
If you’d like to spend your urban getaway like a local, hitting the top eat streets and shopping districts, here is your guide to the highlights of Hamilton’s most interesting ‘hoods:
Ottawa Street North
Known as the Design District, this is a neighbourhood best described as eclectic – where else could you combine antique hunting with noshing on locally famous waffles? Those celebrated waffles are found at Cannon Coffee Co., a recommended brunch pick where you can indulge in waffle sandwiches that are the perfect fuel for treasure hunting in the antique shops that dot the street. Down a flight of steps at Antique Avenue you’ll find a treasure trove of Eames chairs, mid-century modern furniture, and 70s signage. Add to your finds at Millionaire’s Daughter or Stardust Records, all great choices if you’re looking to indulge your love of secondhand. End your day with some sustenance at Hambugr or Canada’s first vegan-focused Boon Burger. If your tastes tend to Italian fare, you won’t go wrong at Café Limoncello.
James Street North
As this neighbourhood has evolved over the last few years it has truly come to embody the slogan “Art is the new Steel.” For many, the James Street North Art Crawl on the second Friday of every month is one of the best times to visit, and the chance to purchase a one-of-a-kind handmade item in a gallery, studio or store, or as you stroll the sidewalks filled with artisans and visual artists. But any time is a good time to explore the many artists’ galleries and co-operatives and the various independent retailers along this stretch.
This seven block district extends from Wilson to Murray Street. With its diversity of buildings, activities and people, the area is a real hub for shopping, galleries, and restaurants. For clothing, seek out unisex boutique O’s Clothes with labels like Fjallraven, Brixton and Penfield, and Pomp & Ceremony, or White Elephant, a clothing and lifestyle store focused on handmade and small-batch jewelry, accessories and gifts. Browse the eclectic mix of giftables, statement pieces and housewares at Pretty Grit, and don’t miss local favourite The Pale Blue Dot for antique and sustainable wares running the gamut of old and new.
Foodies will find their mecca here at The Hamilton Farmers’ Market, one of the largest and oldest in Canada and home of Canada’s first poke bar, Pokeh. Take a coffee break at Saint James Espresso Bar & Eatery or Mulberry Coffee House, where you can enjoy a gluten-free donut while sitting amongst local artwork. If you have a sweet tooth, drop in to Chocolat on James for treats like chocolate-covered gummy bears and truffles. Two great restaurant choices are The Burnt Tongue, a soup shop that has evolved to offering what is, to many, the best craft burger in Hamilton; and Saltlick Smokehouse, where the table decides together what meats will be served and can choose from unique menu items like Korean beef ribs and crispy pork belly nuggets.
Locke Street South
Another Hamilton neighbourhood that has seen a recent evolution, this street in the southwest of the city has turned from a quiet strip into a bustling area dotted with bars, cafes and on-trend home retailers.
Lulu & Lavigne Home Studio offers an inspirational mix of new and vintage home décor and lifestyle accessories, while The Local Life is a permanent place for local makers to display their products and home to Small Batch Soap’s first retail location. Take a shopping break at Brown Dog Coffee, known for apple fritters from a family recipe, or Democracy Coffee House, an industrial-chic vegan café where a deliberate lack of wi-fi contributes to great conversation.
If you’re looking for a meal, established local favourites include NaRoma Pizzeria with its Roman style pies, Mattson & Co. for elegant surroundings, and Brux House for craft beer and cider along with great starters and mains. Perhaps the neighbourhood’s busiest homegrown restaurant is well-loved Earth to Table Bread Bar, serving up pizzas and burgers with an upmarket, slow-food sensibility and commitment to eating local.
Best known for its proximity to McMaster University, this area is also home to 80+ shops and restaurants including a number of not-to-be-missed spots. This vibrant, historic neighbourhood village is best explored by a trip down King Street West. Highlights in this ‘hood are eats at Delirious Burger Company, treats at Walker’s Chocolates, and desserts and live music at The Bean Bar. Shoppers will want to check out Mixed Media for art supplies and reading materials, Casual Gourmet for kitchenware, Take Note for stationery, and Dakota Mae for womenswear. Head to the outskirts of Westdale and you’ll find Fairweather Brewing with its taproom and bottle shop, as well the nature trails of Cootes Paradise.