More than 500 years ago, explorer John Cabot landed on the Bonavista Peninsula, which juts out from the eastern edge of Newfoundland. Today, the site of Cabot’s landing is known as Bonavista, a small town with a population of about 3,500 people, surrounded by gorgeous, rugged scenery and several other picturesque, even-smaller outports.
Aside from its history and picturesque surroundings, Bonavista stands out in another important way: unlike many other small, coastal towns in Newfoundland and Labrador, this particular spot is experiencing a business boom. And an increasing number of both locals and tourists are spending time in and around the town — which is just a three-hour drive from St. John’s — because of its growing culinary and cultural scene.
Thanks to both its existing history and its new businesses, Bonavista is quickly becoming a must-see destination in Newfoundland. Here’s just a taste of what it has to offer:
Drink up at Port Rexton Brewery
The craft beer craze was late to arrive to Newfoundland and Labrador, a province where beer loyalties are difficult to break. But locals are all for it now that Newfoundland breweries are launching, and Port Rexton Brewery is popular not only with Bonavista’s locals, but also with some of the best chefs in St. John’s. Located about 35 minutes from town, visitors can sample beer from eight rotating taps and take home growlers. Then, they can sop it all up with something from the Oh My Cheeses food truck just outside.
The Saltbox homes
The long-established community of Bonavista is full of charming saltbox homes, but over the years, many of them began to fall due to neglect. Bonavista Living has started buying these dilapidated homes to renovate them with historically appropriate materials and designs. Some of these homes have become businesses in the town’s Church Street main strip; others have been purchased privately. But they’re all gorgeous, and you can get a taste of the town’s past by stopping to have a look.
Walk along Church Street
Bonavista’s Church Street is the centre of a lot of activity in the town, thanks to an influx of new shops and restaurants. East Coast Glow, for instance, makes bath and beauty products right in their shop, using local ingredients like iceberg water, dandelion and seaweed. Sweet Rock also uses locally-sourced ingredients like strawberries and blueberries to make homemade ice cream. After spending an afternoon exploring Bonavista’s historic and revitalized downtown, stop in at The Boreal Diner for dinner made from fresh, seasonal ingredients. The menu changes with the availability of the ingredients — right now you’ll find chanterelle toast (it might even be better than avocado toast!), fresh greens, and seafood just plucked from the sea. And in late August, catch the Church Street Festival, featuring food, art, hiking and a mummers parade.
See the great outdoors
There’s also plenty for nature lovers to do in and around Bonavista. Bonavista Adventure Tours offers hikes, walking tours, berry picking and puffin watching. The stunning Skerwink Trail is well-marked with signage, and features stairs and boardwalks throughout just in case hiking isn’t your thing. You can then go to see the puffins on a boat tour, or you might get lucky and catch sight of icebergs floating south from Iceberg Alley, or the whales that migrate around the island every summer.
Take in some art
You can take one-day workshops in printmaking, drawing or painting at Mill Road Studio in Port Rexton, where you can get inspired by the surrounding scenery. Or if theatre’s your thing, Rising Tide Theatre in Trinity (a 45-minute drive from Bonavista) features dinner theatre and plays throughout the summer. Musicians and comedians also stop by to perform at the historic Garrick Theatre in Bonavista. And until September 17, you can check out the Bonavista Biennale, a month-long contemporary art festival taking place all around the peninsula.
Learn about history
Given that Bonavista was the landing spot for John Cabot, the entire peninsula is steeped in history. Random Passage offers an immersive experience that lets visitors journey through life in Newfoundland’s past. You can also take a walking tour in Trinity to get an overview of what the area has to offer, or head to one of Trinity Historical Society‘s sites for an afternoon. If you’re up for a short, eight-minute drive from Bonavista, Elliston bills itself as the root cellar capital of the world, and many of them are still in use. The Cape Bonavista Lighthouse is another historic site that was built in 1843, where you can get great views of the surrounding ocean.
Although Bonavista might be a small town, it’s practically the beating heart of rural Newfoundland. So it’s definitely worth a look on your next trip out east.