Lodging in Thunder Bay
July 31, 2012 1:17 PM   Subscribe

One night and one day Ontario: Thunder Bay. Where, oh where, to stay?

My boyfriend and I are heading to Thunder Bay on the weekend of Labor Day. We're going to be there just one night (getting into town around 6 on September 1st) and then we'll be moving on to our next stop mid-afternoon the next day.

We don't really have any plans at the moment. My boyfriend has never been to Canada - never been out of the country! - so whatever we do, I hope that there are lots of Mounties and people saying "eh" to live up to his lofty "foreign country" dreams...even though we'll literally just be driving a few hours up the road from my house.

It is up to me to find a place for us to stay. I don't know Thunder Bay at all, and online searching hasn't really given me any great ideas. Aside from gawking at "washrooms" instead of "restrooms" and working out currency conversion in our minds, we have no plans. Hope us, Mefi!

We're outdoorsy people in our 30's. We will be doing a lot of hiking on this trip. I've heard that there are amethyst mines up there, and I think that he'd be interested in that sort of thing. If we don't come up with any great ideas for activities in our half-day, I figure we'll just walk around town (look in little shops, maybe pop into a museum or something). BF likes trains and history. I like art and history.

We require clean lodging, although luxury is not necessary. Free, safe parking for the car is important. We will be doing a lot of hiking on this vacation, so comfortable is GOOD. If the hotel/b&b had a whirlpool in the room that would be double plus good. We don't care about frou frou like a white-tablecloth restaurant or mints on the pillows. I am more comfortable in a cabin in the woods than right in the middle of a downtown I am unfamiliar with...is Thunder Bay a friendly town or an urban wasteland?

Any thoughts? What say you, Metafilter?
posted by Elly Vortex to Travel & Transportation around Thunder Bay, ON (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know about lodging, but at a recent trip through Thunder Bay we stopped at The Hoito for pancakes and it was really great. Good food and a really neat atmosphere-- definitely a lot of locals, eh?
posted by bonheur at 1:24 PM on July 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I went to trusty Trip Advisor, and the number 1 recommended property in the area is: Days Inn.

Go figure.

If you're a B&B kind of person, here's their list.

Have fun!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:34 PM on July 31, 2012

Okay, something I can help with!

Thunder Bay isn't really a great...walking around...city. It's the amalgamation of two large towns, so it's pretty spread out, and doesn't really have a "focus" area for visitors. It's a bit of a wasteland, but a friendly one. :)

I'd recommend a few places for accommodations (parking is free virtually everywhere): the Valhalla Inn is nice, near the airport, and has safe parking. Likely more expensive, but not crazy-expensive. The Victoria Inn is cheaper and occasionally hit-and-miss, but I've always had good experiences there; staff are very friendly, rooms are fine.

If you're into history, you absolutely should go to Old Fort William. It's a great experience, with staff in character and in costume, telling stories from the 19th century development of the area. Very rustic, and a great activity.

Sleeping Giant Provincial Park has great hiking, if that's more your liking -- very picturesque. If I had my pick between the two, however, I'd do Fort William -- there may not be any mounties, but it's just about as historically Canadiana as you're going to find. Have fun!
posted by liquado at 2:04 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've spent time in Thunder Bay for work reasons a couple of times. It's a bit car/mall/chain restaurant dominated, but there are some good places -- I like Gargoyles. Sleeping Giant is fantastic for hiking, though for a shorter excursion, Mount McKay has a nice view of the lake and town and only takes a couple of hours, tops.

Can't help much with hotels, but all the big chains are there and are probably fine -- last work trip we stayed at the Travelodge Airlane, which was OK. Be prepared to need to drive to most stuff.
posted by irrelephant at 2:35 PM on July 31, 2012

We stayed at the Best Western "nor'Wester Resort Hotel" last year and it was nice, quiet and clean. It is a few miles out of town and has nice views from the rooms that face away from the highway. Some of the rooms have hot tubs. We had dinner once and breakfast once and the restaurant was not crowded either time.

Note there is another BW in town which does not look as nice and seems to have higher rates!
posted by soelo at 2:58 PM on July 31, 2012

Ooh, driving along Highway 61, you need to stop at Pizzeria Primavera 61 for the best pizza ever. I'd be willing to wager it's the best pizza in North America, including all the major cities, since a wood oven stove as smoky as theirs would be hard to come by. Only catch is - and it's a big one - is they have extremely limited hours and don't even stick to their posted ones. Calling ahead to schedule a pick up, before you leave home even, is a must. The location is their summer home and it's unpredictable when they'll fire up the stove.
posted by waterandrock at 3:53 PM on July 31, 2012

I grew up in Thunder Bay and my entire family still lives there, so I don't really stay in hotels but I'll call my dad and ask what he recommends. The standard family wedding situation is either at the Nor'Wester or the Valhalla - both are very nice (not sure about hot tubs in rooms, mostly too drunk to remember!).

You don't say where you're coming in from or going out to but both of those are on the Fort William side of town and easy to go to the Old Fort for the day, which is about the best bit of tourism you can get there and actually very cool. There is a lot of redevelopment going on at the harbour in the north part (Port Arthur) which might be nice for a stroll when you get in. There are a lot of hotels/motels around there but I tend to find the "downtown north" to be a bit seedy (as is the "downtown south") so I probably wouldn't stay there. But TBay is very small - you can easily drive from one side clear to the other in under 30 minutes - so don't let the hotel vs. destinations thing necessarily stop you.

The Sleeping Giant park is really lovely but I do think possibly too far to go for just half a day. The Hoito is a must, but your morning is a Sunday and it will be PACKED, so allow for waiting in line (maybe an hour or more). Get the pancakes and marvel at the ridiculous efficiency of the waitresses. Here's the itinerary I'd do there with the time you have given:

Arrive 6pm - check into hotel (let's say the Vahalla), drive up to Hillcrest Park. It gives you a great view of the city and the harbourfront and the Sleeping Giant. Maybe stroll harbour. Go to dinner (my suggestion: Caribou).

Next morning - Up early, breakfast at the Hoito, then down to the Old Fort. Maybe, if you have time, a stroll around Boulevard Lake is nice.

The Thunder Bay Art Gallery is the big art museum there (I actually don't know about others, but fair warning: I haven't actually lived there fulltime for 20 years though I'm back a few times a year). The historical museum is the Thunder Bay Historical Museum.
posted by marylynn at 4:20 PM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Old Fort William is very cool.
posted by Area Man at 4:30 PM on July 31, 2012

Just talked to my mom, she confirmed that the Airlane (Travelodge) would be good - it's across from the Valhalla and rates might be slightly less. She also informed me that the Prince Arthur Hotel which is downtown north right by the harbourfront has been redone and has a nice restaurant. It would make for a more historical choice.

Finally, I cannot believe I forgot about the McVickar Manor B&B! It's also northside and right near my favourite building in all of TBay: Maudsley Court (when I am rich and old I hope to buy it, restore it to former glory and live there with a retinue of eccentric elderly artist types. I recently got a behind-the-scenes tour and about DIED just so I could haunt it forever).

My mother has no ideas about hottubs (they are "unsanitary" to her).

Thunder Bay is very friendly but not really like the sort of cute little town you might be thinking (though it could be it's just economically too depressed) - it's very sprawly. And I've never seen a red-coated Mountie outside of official events.
posted by marylynn at 4:38 PM on July 31, 2012

Thunder Bay is my hometown, feel free to Memail me with any questions for stuff to do. Its a great city, but I go along the lines of describing parts of it as a urban wasteland. Its actually two cities that grew up separately then combined in the 1970's. So we have two downtowns, with a concrete jungle in between. That being said, I think its a great city (although I may be biased). I much prefer downtown Port Arthur (near the marina) to Fort William. There's more places to go look around, you can go walk around the Marina and check out the Hoito (its a local favorite and A MUST STOP. Have the finnish pancakes. You won't regret it.)

We also have a local dessert called persians (look around for the Persian man stores, there's tons). Basically a donut with about an inch of strawberry icing on top. In terms of museums, there's the Thunder Bay art gallery (never been, no idea how good it is). For historical experiences, nothing beats Old Fort William (officially known as the Fort William Historical park). Its an reenactment of the fur trading post there by the Hudson Bay Company prior to 1815. Amazing place, one of my favorite places in Canada and favorite memories growing up. Mount McKay has some good hiking, I would suggest doing the morning at the Fort then heading over to Mount McKay for a nice day trip. The Caribou is awesome, as well as the Aurora Grille in downtown Port Arthur (I prefer the Aurora but both are great)

Have to catch a plane, will add more later. Have a great trip!
posted by snowysoul at 5:11 PM on July 31, 2012

Everyone else in this thread is right. Thunder Bay has three main attractions:

1. Old Fort William
2. Finnish food (the Hoito)
3. Italian food (at the Italian Hall, at the Calabria, at Primavera)

You like whirlpools? How about trying Kangas Sauna for another relaxing body-heating experience.

West of town, you have Kakabeka Falls, which is not far from the Fort, and maybe a nice stop for a picnic. Going the other way you have Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, which is beautiful and a great spot to camp, but quite a long distance away.

Since you are hikers, I must point out the Pass Lake Trestle, which is a huge decommissioned CN rail trestle that is now open to hikers. I grew up right next to it and explored it a lot as a lad. It's pretty awesome!
posted by Sauce Trough at 11:26 PM on July 31, 2012

my alert spouse has pointed out that the Calabria appears to be defunct. alas. the pizza there was super delicious back in the day.
posted by Sauce Trough at 11:31 PM on July 31, 2012

Cannot believe I forgot to mention persians! I'll hand in my Choklit Moose* the next time I'm in town. Pro Tip: If you call the Persian Man store ahead of time they'll put some aside for you and you can specify that they don't put the icing on them but put it on the side. Makes it easier to travel with them AND when you arrive at your destination you can prepare them thusly: cut them in half horizontally (like a hamburger bun), then fry them lightly in butter in a skillet. Then put the icing on the inside, like a sandwich.**

* Yes, I'm super old.
** Yes, I had stoner friends.
posted by marylynn at 10:15 AM on August 1, 2012

Y'all are great. Thanks so much!
posted by Elly Vortex at 12:51 PM on August 2, 2012

Just to follow up, in case Future People have the same questions I did:

We stayed at the Valhalla Inn. It was nice enough, but I still thought I paid too much for the quality. I ordered room service but the food wasn't great. :-/ Soggy sandwich, way too expensive. The bathroom had acoustic tile ceilings which I HATE (I always imagine things crawling around above acoustic tile) and the water pressure was crap.

However, it was a clean room for a night. It was quiet.

We went to Old Fort William and enjoyed it quite a bit. We're history buffs so this was totally our thing. We also went down to the harbor and wandered around.
posted by Elly Vortex at 6:58 AM on September 5, 2012

« Older Authors like Ian McEwan?   |   New Ipad & Iphone 4S charging voltages Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.