Strong coffee, good books, homemade tacos, and craft beer. Oh, and maybe a cocktail and some live music too. As a travel writer, experiencing these little luxuries is a priority when I visit a new place. Yes, it’s a specific list, but Sudbury totally delivers. Originally an industry town (much of the world’s nickel ore comes from the mines here) the city is packed with both new and established spots to discover. Once you’ve paid your respects to the classic tourist spots (Instagramming the Big Nickel and saying hello to the tarantulas at Science North), I’ve got you covered on things to do in Sudbury. If you’re coming in early on the Canadian, hop off the train, grab a bus to downtown and head straight to Old Rock Coffee which opens at 7 am.
Art, Coffee and Books
Old Rock Coffee was on my to-do list for a couple of reasons. First was its cool mural by Sudbury artist Alexandra Berens-Firth, which was part of the city’s Up Here Festival. Second, I’d heard it has good coffee (it does!). Old Rock roasts its own beans and has a ton of options for espresso lovers (there’s even a S’Mores latte). From there you can stroll across the street to the grounds of the Sudbury Community Arena, and check out the new Stompin’ Tom Connors statue, whose song “Sudbury Saturday Night” was a tribute to the lives of the town’s hard rock miners.
Next on my list was a visit to a local bookstore, and Sudbury delivered: Bay Used Books is the largest bookstore in Northern Ontario. This family-owned place has been around since 1975 and has over a quarter million books. The stacks are well-lit, organized, and endless—manga, horror, poetry, plus a dedication section for French language titles. When travelling, I’m interested in learning about local authors, local publishers, and local history, which is how I ended up with a book from Sudbury publisher Latitude 46. The Winter Men by Cobalt-based author Brent Griffin is (are you ready?) a climate-change western set in the North. My other score was a copy of No Sleep ‘Till Sudbury by Brett Jensen—a crash course in what it was like growing up a metal fan in small-town Ontario. Head here for a good browse, and support a local cultural institution while you’re at it.
Bay Used Books, a Sudbury institution since 1975. Photo credit: Anne Bouffard
Eating Well in the Donovan
For a bite head to Bella Vita Cucina for traditional, no-frills Italian fare, or try Tucos Tacos, both located northwest of downtown. The Donovan neighborhood is one of the oldest in Sudbury and its residents are fiercely proud of it. “People look out for each other here and aren’t afraid to tell you exactly what they think,” explains Tucos owner and longtime Donovan resident Mark Browning. His restaurant, which took over a KFC branch – bringing local business back to Sudbury – is across the street from Browning’s other business, Cosmic Dave’s Vinyl Emporium. “I was hanging out in front of the record store with a buddy late one night and joked, wouldn’t it be cool to have a taco place there,” Browning says. Two years later, Tucos Tacos opened its doors. Everything is made from scratch. And everything is vegetarian. As a meat lover, you’ll have to trust me that the tacos are still delicious. The menu is constantly changing but if you get a chance, try the Buffalo Sauce Tempeh Tacos, the Phish Tacos, or the Mac & Cheese burrito. Kick back and enjoy your meal on the patio, or hole up inside under an original oil painting of actor Bill Murray—a wedding gift to the Browning and his wife Jess. For dessert, check out the couple’s third business venture: Beards Bakery + Coffee Bar which just opened down the street.
Get Your Beer On
Stack Brewing has been around since 2013 and while you’re likely to find its brew on tap all over the city. I recommend popping into the brewery’s retail store for a visit, where you can try the beers before buying a case or two. The staff are super knowledgeable and can offer you a taste of beers like Shatter Cone (a geological feature found in rock that’s been hit by a meteorite), Superstack ’72 (named after the city’s industrial chimney and the year it was completed), and their flagship cream ale Saturday Night (Sudburians do love their Stompin’ Tom Connors song). If you’re lucky, you’ll get a quick tour around the premises or catch a glimpse of head brewer Michael Guillemette.
Live Music on a Sudbury Saturday Night
In the evening (or late afternoon—you’re on vacation, after all) head to Speakeasy. This is a prohibition-style lounge where you’ll find live music, good food, and strong cocktails. Entrance is through the back door, of course. Once you’re inside (no secret password required) you can enjoy classic cocktails like a Negroni, Pimms Cup, or a Mary Pickford (for those on a budget: on Fridays, the cocktails are only five bucks between 5pm and 7pm).
From there, music fans will want to check out the iconic Townehouse Tavern, which has live music 363 days a year (with the exception of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). The building dates back to 1902 and is something of a landmark in the Canadian music scene. Play some pool, grab a burger, and enjoy the friendly mix of clientele. Other good bets for live music include Red Fang Tavern and metal fans should check out the newly licensed Asylum.
What Is, Something I Must Own?
At the end of each trip I take, I make sure to grab a little memento; something I can look at to remember my adventure. Once again, Sudbury delivers: what better way to commemorate your trip than a pin bearing the face of one of its most famous residents? Get your enameled Alex Trebek pin here.
What are you favourite things to do in Sudbury? Send us your comments below!