Growing up, Ajax was always a fairly common name in my household as I played ringette and it was one of the many southern Ontario teams we’d come across. Mind you, any visit was to the inside of an arena and I didn’t see much else. Needless to say, I’m thrilled to have another opportunity to check out this fantastic lakeside destination just 90 minutes from Niagara and 40 minutes from downtown Toronto… on a good day. This area may be small but it has lots to offer so take a peek at these fun things to do in Ajax!
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History of Ajax
As you may (or may not) know, these lands we now know as Canada have been home to many Indigenous nations since time immemorial. Ajax may have been incorporated as a town in 1955 but long before that, the Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, Mississauga and Wendake Peoples have called these lands home. European settlers forever changed their ways of life and as such, began to form the communities we now see today.
For Ajax, that really didn’t begin until the mid-20th Century when the largest shell-filling plant in the British Commonwealth was located here. Providing supplies for the Allies during World War II, the area saw a huge influx of families as workers settled to support the troops. The community developed quickly and it needed a name so what better way than a friendly competition? This resulted in the name Ajax in honour of one of the three ships that defeated the German battleship Admiral Graf Spee at the Battle of the River Plate near Uruguay in 1939.
With the war behind them, many of the buildings were transformed by the University of Toronto, breathing new life into Ajax. The town has continued to grow since then while remembering where it came from. You’ll see constant nods to the crew and officers who served on the Ajax, Exeter and Achilles ships as well as preserved historical sites that protect the unique stories from long ago. To find out more, take a look at their website or check out the Town of Ajax Archives during your visit.
Fun Things to Do in Ajax
Not to be confused with the neighbouring town of Pickering, Ajax has plenty to offer those who visit. Combine great hiking trails, stellar views of Lake Ontario, plenty of great restaurants, adorable shops and more – I’d say you have the recipe for a fantastic Ontario day trip or weekend adventure!
Walk Along Ajax Waterfront Park
What you may not realize is that Ajax’s waterfront is absolutely gorgeous! Spend a morning or afternoon strolling along the walkways and boardwalks across Duffins Creek to Rotary Park and Lion’s Point. This is all part of the iconic Waterfront Trail that connects over one hundred communities along +2000 kilometres of this pathway!
Along the paved pathway, you’ll notice little icons like a minimalistic bird. These will direct you to points of interest such as the spot where the local ducks and geese love to hang out and splash in the waters of Lake Ontario. I was pleasantly surprised to discover this and I know it will certainly be a hit with the young ones!
Visit Veterans Point Gardens
If you’re walking along the waterfront in Ajax then chances are you’ll come across the Veteran’s Point Gardens. It’s no secret that Ajax is greatly tied to wartime history (the town is named after a battleship, after all) but Veteran’s Point Gardens is not to be missed. Spend some time reading the interpretive signage and learning about the Royal Canadian Air Force, Royal Canadian Army and important vessels such as the HMS Ajax.
INSIDER TIP: This is also a fantastic spot for sunrise so if you’re an early bird, head here and start your day with a brilliant display of colours during golden hour!
One important business that really shaped Ajax is Defence Industries Limited, a division of Canadian Industries Limited. With the company’s extensive experience in manufacturing and handling ammunition and explosives, DIL drew thousands of men and women, all looking to do their part to contribute to the war at hand. Dive into the full history at Veteran’s Point Gardens with the rolling waves of Lake Ontario as your ambiance.
Explore the Greenwood Conservation Area
On the northern outskirts of town, you’ll find a beautiful natural sanctuary known as the Greenwood Conservation Area. It offers over 7 kilometres of trails with a variety of skill levels. You’ll enjoy incredible views of Duffins Creek from the Bird Walk Trail. just follow the Meadow Trail to get to it. At the end of the Bird Walk, you’ll come to the Greenwood Pavilion and the start of the Duffins Trail. You’ll be able to get up close to the creek and enjoy the sights and sounds of the babbling brook. The Duffins Creek Trail is the most difficult trail in the Greenwood Conservation Area though it is quite tame if you’re used to hikes like The Bruce Trail!
If you’re visiting in the winter, you’ll definitely want to bring a pair of ice cleats or microspikes along. The trails can get slick and, take it from me, it’s not fun if you fall! However if there’s been some fresh snow, it’s a fantastic spot to go snowshoeing in Ontario. If you don’t have your own pair of snowshoes, consider getting yourself a pair or rent some from the town using this form!
Meander Around Pickering Village
You would never guess you’re in Ajax as you are transported to a European wonderland upon stepping into Pickering Village! Not to be confused with the City of Pickering just next door to Ajax, it was once an original Quaker Settlement dating back to the 1800s. The crossroads of Old Kingston Road and Church Street feature a number of unique buildings boasting beautiful European-style architecture that will remind you of old towns in Germany.
It’s a beautiful spot where old meets new as these buildings that date back to the 1800s now house local businesses, restaurants and pubs. While it was a little too chilly during my visit, the courtyard is a fantastic spot to enjoy dinner or some ice cream in the summer months in the heart of the square. Some spots to pop into include the Village Laine Yarn Cafe and Odyssey Books. Pop by Bean & Basked to try one of their red coffees and go for a meander down Old Kingston Road during your visit to Ajax!
Sip Some Spirits at The Durham Distillery
Did you know that Durham Region’s very first distillery is right here in the heart of Ajax? I had no idea until I visited! What was once the old fire hall is now home to The Durham Distillery where you can indulge in their award-winning whiskey, vodka and gin. They focus heavily on utilizing local ingredients while they craft their spirits and no artificial flavourings are ever used. For example, their Strawberry Fields Gin uses strawberries grown by the students at the Durham College Whitby Campus! So you know that the flavour profiles found in these spirits will be top quality.
The Durham Distillery also prides themselves on giving back to the community and it’s been a part of the business plan since day one. The aforementioned Strawberry Fields Gin goes back to the college with a portion supporting student bursaries. $2 from every bottle of their Wheat Kings Vodka is given to the Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research. As for their Firehouse Spirits line, a portion of the profits support First Responder causes throughout Durham Region such as Camp Molly, an organization that introduces young women aged 15-18 to firefighting. Do some good and support local in numerous ways by grabbing a bottle to add to your home collection!
Hunt for Public Art
You’ll find a number of statues and murals scattered throughout town, some of which speak to the history of Ajax while others add pops of colour to the neighbourhood. Snap a photo with the gorgeous mural pictured above at the entrance to Pickering Village. Admire the intricate details of the statue at Pat Bayly Square in honour of the Ajax Bomber Girls. Check out the metal sculpture by acclaimed artist Ron Baird that looks like an anchor outside the Ajax Town Hall. And there’s plenty more where that came from so take a peek at the full list here!
Enjoy a Flight at Falcon Brewing
For almost 6 years now, Falcon Brewing Company has been serving freshly delicious beer to the community since 2017. This brewery is unique in that they utilize their products to showcase the fascinating history of the Town of Ajax. Take a moment to admire their beer label and you’ll get a glimpse into the old days. One such brew is their Munition IPA, a nod to the peak days of Defence Industries Limited which employed over 9000 people with the majority being women – aka the Ajax “Bomb Girls”. Enjoy a pint or try a selection of whatever ten beers they have on tap with a flight. If you have a chance to try their sweet tart cherry lager, do it.
If you’re wondering what to do in Ajax this weekend, Falcon Brewing always has something going on. There is no shortage of live music, board and card game nights and karaoke. You can certainly find some fun so be sure to add them to your Ajax itinerary!
Skate at Pat Bayly Square
It’s no secret that I love how more and more outdoor skating rinks and trails are appearing each year. While Pat Bayly Square isn’t the biggest, it’s still wonderful to see it so lively on a chilly winter night! Pop into the warming centre and strap on your skates for a few laps around the rink. It’s a great activity for families as you can easily keep a close eye on the young ones and there are a number of balance aids to help those learning to skate. This is definitely one of the top things to do in Ajax in winter and an easy way to get outside more in York Durham Headwaters!
SOMETHING TO NOTE: Weather conditions can cause Pat Bayly Square to shut down if the temperatures are too warm. It’s best to call 365-885-3848 to ensure it’s open before heading there.
Sample Some Lattes at Goldies Cafe & Eatery
After a morning or afternoon skate, you might be looking for a spot to warm up. Luckily Goldies Cafe is right across the street from Pat Bayly Square! Snag a table and get cozy with one of their latte flights. That’s right, you can enjoy a flight of four different flavoured lattes from their list of twelve options. I couldn’t resist trying a few! My favours of choice were salted caramel, toffee nut, marshmallow and, of course, pumpkin spice. And yes, pumpkin spice is meant for every season, not just fall. Goldies Cafe also has mimosa flights which sound like the perfect way to enjoy a little girls’ date!
If you’re feeling peckish, they also have a great breakfast and lunch menu to choose from. You can enjoy breakfast sandwiches, waffles, French toast, a variety of flatbreads, salads, sandwiches, soups… you get the idea. Make sure to check out their daily special which includes a choice of side when it’s a sandwich or wrap for just $10!
Grab a Bite at These Ajax Restaurants
It’s important to keep yourself fuelled when you’re out exploring! There are a plethora of stellar restaurants in Ajax, however I can say for certain that these eats will satisfy your hunger as they’re tried and tested by yours truly.
Portly Piper Pub
The Portly Piper may look the part but this is certainly not your average pub! Priding itself as the place to be for all things sports, they really aren’t wrong. The Portly Piper has a 120 inch video wall where they air all the games and matches you can think of from hockey to international soccer to fighting championships.
Even if you’re not a big sportsball fan, The Portly Piper Pub should be on your list of Ajax Restaurants. They have an extensive menu with all your pub favourites but also Irish eats, more pastas than you can shake a stick at, seafood dishes galore and much more. I opted for their Jerk chicken tacos and French Onion soup during my visit. Both were incredibly flavourful and it was the perfect amount of food. Plus if Cheryl is your server, you’re guaranteed to have a great experience as she’s a lovely gal. Please say hi for me and know that you’re in good hands!
In the courtyard of Pickering Village lies a small but beautifully decorated restaurant that serves some of the best sushi in Durham Region. Koo Izakaya may look unassuming but the quality of their dishes is impressive. Mind you I haven’t had much experience in the ways of sushi in Toronto but the fish they use is incredibly fresh and flavourful. The sashimi will melt in your mouth and they don’t use an excessive amount of rice on their maki rolls which is always a big bonus for me. I can’t recommend it enough!
Their menu features a variety of dishes with sushi and sashimi (of course) as well as udon, ramen and even some Korean dishes. While I could have picked a few items from the long list of eats, I opted for their sashimi sushi set lunch special. It was the perfect amount of food with a nice balance of sushi, sashimi and a few California rolls. Plus the gyoza were fried to perfection! I’m drooling just writing this right now.
Sea Salt Seafood Cafe
There is no better way to warm up on a chilly day than with a visit to the Sea Salt Seafood Cafe! The result of a father’s passion for lobster and a daughter’s zest for coffee, this family-founded, owned and operated establishment looks to bring a unique experience to Durham Region. Sea Salt Seafood Cafe is serving up southern-style seafood boils, garlic mussels, delectable lobster rolls, and more. Each flavour and seasoning is hand-crafted from family recipes so you’re guaranteed to have a uniquely delicious experience!
Fun fact: I’ve never had a seafood boil so naturally, that’s what I had to get! After all the adventuring I did in Ajax, I decided to splurge a little and snag the small lobster boil bucket. Loaded with a half-pound of shrimp, a half-pound of mussels and one 5 oz lobster tail as well as potatoes, corn and rice, you then have a choice of garlic butter, cajun, lemon pepper or a sea salt butter sauce to bring the dish altogether. I opted for the garlic butter (because garlic makes everything better) and a mild spice which still had quite the kick! As you can imagine, I had leftovers and was stuffed silly for two full meals.
Where to Stay in Ajax
Unfortunately, there aren’t any hotel options close to the heart of town so you can park your car and walk. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some Ajax hotel options that will be fantastic for your stay!
Right off the 401, you’ll find the Hilton Garden Inn Toronto/Ajax. Recently renovated, this gorgeous hotel is situated right beside the Ajax Convention Centre, making it perfect for both business and leisure trips. Step into the elegant entryway where you can settle into one of their plush chairs by the fireplace or grab a bite to eat at the in-house restaurant, the Great North American Grill. They also have amenities such as an indoor heated pool with a hot tub and a fitness room.
The rooms themselves are nicely decorated with a modern style and pops of colour. They offer plenty of natural light and come equipped with a fridge, microwave and coffee maker. While I enjoyed one of their queen rooms, the Hilton Garden Inn Toronto/Ajax also has king rooms and suites that offer more space during your stay. Whichever room you choose, you’ll sleep soundly in their cozy beds and plush pillows that feel absolutely heavenly – especially after a full day of adventuring in Ajax!
Click here to book your stay now or take a look at what other guests have to say about their experience. If the Hilton Garden Inn Toronto/Ajax is unavailable, take a look at the map below to see what other Ajax hotel options are available during your dates.
Things to Know For Your Ajax Visit
Ready to visit Ajax for yourself? Of course you are! Here are some tips and tricks as well as some general information to ensure you have a great adventure.
Where is Ajax Located?
Ajax is located approximately 40 minutes east of Toronto along Highway 401. You can either take the Brock Road or Salem Road exits to access the town. From Niagara, just hop on the QEW to the 401 and follow the above directions. If you’re coming from the east, you can either take Highway 2 or the 401 once again.
Is Ajax Considered the GTA?
Yes it is included in the eastern region of the GTA alongside the southern areas of Scugog and Uxbridge as well as Oshawa, Pickering, Whitby and Clarington.
Is It Hard to Find Parking in Ajax?
There is a lot of parking available along the waterfront and most destinations on this list, however many do require you to pay between May and October. However, that’s just one reason to get out and enjoy a winter visit to Ajax as the parking is free near Rotary Park, Veteran’s Gardens Park and more!
What Are Some Free Things to Do in Ajax?
There are plenty of great Ajax activities that don’t cost a dime! Stroll along the waterfront, visit Veterans Park, explore Greenwood Conservation Area, snap some photos in Pickering Village and hunt for public art and murals around town. That should be plenty to get you started and I’m sure you’ll find even more fun as you go!
How About Some Indoor Things to Do in Ajax?
Well with the plethora of great eats, spending some time tickling your tastebuds at one of the local restaurants or enjoying a latte flight from Goldies Cafe is a great way to stay cozy inside. Head to Pickering Village and pop into some of the shops as you never know what gems you may find. Plus there’s always a flight to be had at Falcon Brewing or a spirit to be sipped at The Durham Distillery!
Looking For More Things to Do in Durham Region?
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Plan A Visit to Bowmanville POW Camp 30… If You Dare!
Lake Scugog: Top Things to Do On, Off & Near the Water
This post is brought to you in partnership with Central Counties Tourism. However, all of the content and opinions here are honest and speak to my personal experience as always!