It’s no secret that Waterloo Region was my home base for a number of years. After finishing my degree at the University of Waterloo, I returned to the area where I worked and played for quite some time. With that comes a number of trips to one charming corner of the region – St. Jacob’s. The town might be small but it sure is mighty with plenty of activities to offer both locals and visitors alike. Keep reading to check out these top things to do in St Jacobs Ontario!
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Brief History of St Jacobs, Ontario
Long before Europeans set foot on these lands, the Anishinaabe, Attiwonderonk (Neutral) and Mississauga Peoples have called this territory home for centuries. With colonization came the formation of two settlements near where St. Jacobs stands now – Conestoga and Winterbourne. While Winterbourne was settled mainly by the British and Scottish, Conestoga was primarily Germanic. However, most settlers were of Mennonite descent from Pennsylvania, also known as the “Pennsylvania Dutch”.
The first sawmill was built just west of the village in 1844 along with the first school. Jacob C Snider built a dam, followed by a sawmill, flour mill and woollen mill less than a decade later. It wasn’t long before this village began to attract new inhabitants and it became Jakobstettel (translating to Jacob’s Village) in his honour in 1852. Years later it was pluralized in honour of Jacob C Snider as well as his son, Jacob C Snider Jr, who lost his life in the Dejardins Canal train disaster.
FUN FACT: The “St” in St Jacobs was added to make the town sound more pleasing to the ears, however there are no saints in the Mennonite faith.
In the years to follow, a post office, four hotels, a flour mill, a tannery and a school were established. Then a rail line was built in 1891 but despite this, St Jacobs didn’t see much growth. The town really remained the quaint little spot you see today, though it certainly can be busy with tourism playing a big part in its economy now. For more details on the history of St Jacobs, click here.
10 Top Things to Do in St Jacobs
Now that you know a little bit more about how St Jacobs came to be the country treasure it is today, let’s dive into some of the great St Jacobs attractions you can experience during your visit!
Stroll on a Guided Tour of St Jacobs
So the history I gave just now is barely a scratch on the surface. If you really want to know about the ins and outs of St Jacobs, there is no better way than a jaunt with Stroll Walking Tours!
Spend some quality time with your fantastic guide, Juanita, as she shares about this small town that has made quite a name for itself. What better way to do so than by sharing about the locals who have contributed to it? From the signing of the Haldimand Tract to the hardware store that has become an iconic Canadian company, there are plenty of stories to tell.
I promise you’ll be surprised by what you hear (like how a man from Sierra Leone became a school teacher in town, for example!) as you gain a deeper understanding of the patchwork quilt that St Jacobs has come to be. Plus you’ll learn about a few local businesses that nod to this fascinating history!
You can enjoy this historical walking tour Thursdays at 2:30 pm and Sundays at 11:30 am. Tours run rain or shine so be prepared (especially in the final weeks of the season in November) and come ready to listen and ask questions. Click here to book your Stroll now!
Hunt for Street Art in Town
I remember the days when the only mural you’d find is the iconic horse and buggy scene on the side of the St. Jacob’s Emporium building. However, I’m happy to share that the town is now home to a number of beautiful murals! Chances are you’ll spot some during your walking tour or as you’re exploring around town.
While I always love an iconic location mural that’s perfect for snapping a selfie, I think my favourite is the newest addition to the mural line-up – the Song of the Harvest Moon. Located in the new St Jacobs community space, it celebrates the connection of community as well as nature but above all, love. Love is what makes us unique. To love and be loved lights our darkest days, allows us to thrive and pushes us to new heights. It shares a beautiful sentiment in a time where, in my opinion, the world could use a little more love.
With thirteen in total to be admired, it’s fairly easy to see them all during your visit. You just have to know where to look! Take a stab at finding them all on your own or check out this guide for detailed descriptions of where each mural is.
Go For a Ride on the Waterloo Central Railway
Take a ride on board this heritage train! Dating back to the late 1800s, this rail line connects Waterloo to Elmira as it was part of the Grand Trunk Railway. While its days of hauling freight are now over, this little train has become a favourite of the St Jacobs tourist attractions!
Operated by the Southern Ontario Locomotive Restoration Society (SOLRS), this not-for-profit registered charity keeps the Waterloo Central Railway alive. Volunteers work daily to restore and maintain the heritage railway equipment like their pride and joy – steam locomotive number nine. Pop in anytime to say hello and see what they’re working on or book your own railway adventure!
It’s not uncommon for the Waterloo Central Railway to have themed events or seasonal adventures. For the festive season, hop on their Vintage Christmas train with Santa and his elves or enjoy the train all decked out in lights with their nighttime experience.
Shop ’til You Drop
There is no shortage of fantastic boutique shops in St Jacobs. The variety of shops is a big draw for many to come and visit! The base of operations for the iconic Home Hardware franchise, you’ll find everything from clothing to Mennonite quilts to specialty dog treats. Here are a few of my favourite stores in St Jacobs:
Change Lifestyle & Apparel is a certified B Corporation carrying outdoor adventure gear and clothing from other B Corp brands. What does this mean? B Corp brands are businesses that follow a high standard of social and environmental performance as they balance profit and purpose to decrease their negative impact on the planet as well as in society. The products they carry are of the highest quality and to top it off, Change Lifestyle & Apparel donates 10% of every dollar to a local charity in the region.
Hamel Brooms has been in Waterloo Region since 1908 and they’re the last corn broom manufacturer in all of Canada! At their store in St Jacobs, you can often watch them at work as they make some in-store. Hamel Brooms also carries home decor items including cast iron works and stained glass.
Kultrún Market is home to a variety of items from a wide range of artists. Supporting Neruda Arts’ mission to elevate talented artists, you’ll find a wide range of artisanal items from both local designers and craftspeople from all over the world. Their focus is to showcase gifts with a story and conscience. You will only find fair, direct or horizontal trade items so that every purchase directly benefits those who crafted them.
Xclusive Elements is where lifestyle lives. Inside their shop, you’ll find a wide range of items from ladies’ and men’s wear to kitchen gadgets to personal care items. Many of the brands they carry are Canadian-made with unique styles you won’t find anywhere else. It’s clear that a lot of thought and care goes into the products they showcase in-store!
Of course, there are plenty more where that came from. Definitely spend some time perusing the shops as you never know what interesting finds you’ll see.
Indulge in a Flight at Block Three Brewing
Chances are all that shopping made you thirsty. What better way to take a break than with a flight of brews from Block Three Brewing? They brew all-natural beers using ingredients that are as local and as fresh as possible because quality starts right at the source. Focusing on small batches, there’s always something new coming down the pipeline. Pop in for a taste and a tour to see where the magic happens!
Block Three makes a wide range of beers from light to dark and all the hoppy fun in-between. Personally, I’m a fan of sours so I enjoyed their Fickle Mistress, though the version with raspberry and ginger took it to the next level. If you’re going to stop by, I personally would recommend a flight so that you can sample from a handful of their brews to see which one you prefer.
Grab a Sweet Treat from Stone Crock
If you haven’t visited St Jacobs since 2018, you might be surprised to hear that Stone Crock is no longer a sit-down restaurant. However, it’s still alive and well – just in a different form!
Now a part of the Fat Sparrow Block, they continue to fill the streets of St Jacobs with the delicious aroma of baking pies as they have since 1975. Everything is baked fresh daily so pop in and grab some tasty eats to go or something to sink your teeth into right away. From sweet treats like their famous Dutch apple pie and butter tarts (said to be the best in the country!) to savoury delights like their quiche and sausage rolls, I dare you to go in and walk out empty-handed.
Take a Hike Along the Health Valley Trail
Previously known as the Conestogo River Trail it once connected the villages of St Jacobs and Conestogo and dates back to the earliest days of the two villages. Now, it extends from Albert Street East in town to University Avenue East near the top border with the city of Waterloo.
You’ll be treated to a number of beautiful views as you meander along this footpath. There are some patches with uneven terrain but for the most part, this trail is quite easy to complete. You will want to wear hiking boots though as there are some areas that can be muddy. Hikers will also pass through private property and farm gates so be sure to close them when you do so. Oh, and don’t forget to say hello to the Wise Old Oak for me! Take a peek at the trail route here.
Explore the St Jacobs Farmers Market
Say hello to Canada’s largest year-round market! Chances are if you’ve heard of St Jacobs, it’s because of the Farmers Market. Open Thursdays and Saturdays throughout the year, it’s a popular destination for both locals and visitors to peruse its 250+ vendors.
Once called the Stockyard Farmers’ Market, the St Jacobs Farmers Market dates back to 1952. It was originally located on Victoria Street in Kitchener, but it wasn’t until 1987 that the iconic two-story structure you see today was built. Since then, it has seen tremendous growth and is now the one-stop shop you know and love. From fresh produce to handmade crafts to books and toys, there is plenty to see at the market. It’s also still a go-to spot for Old Order Mennonites so don’t be surprised if you see a number of horses and buggies as you head inside!
Don’t forget to pop over to Market Road Antiques just across the street. Open seven days a week, this antique market features 20,000 square feet of antique dealer booths. You’ll find quality furniture, tools, glassware, collectibles and much more. Plus new items arrive daily so it’s always worth a peek to see what new treasures you may come across!
Keep an eye out for events where you can enjoy the St Jacobs Farmers Market in a new way. In the festive months, their Holiday Sip n Shop makes for a great date night or girls’ evening as you meander through the market sipping on an adult beverage or two. They also have additional displays perfect for photos, buskers and live entertainment to make the evening extra fun!
Visit the Three Sisters Cultural Centre
What was once a tire garage has been given new life as a hub of art and culture in Waterloo Region. The Three Sisters Cultural Centre is a creative industry complex where artists can rent affordable workspaces and be surrounded by other practicing makers. This supportive environment is meant to strengthen the artistic community so that these skilled folks can work while also making their pieces available for purchase.
Open to the public, Three Sisters invites you to come in and see what’s cooking! You can visit and meet the artists directly, asking about their work as well as support them by buying their pieces. Three Sisters also offers a number of different workshops including painting, wet felting, photography and more. Additionally, they host a variety of meet ups where you can mix and mingle with like-minded folks and get your craft on. However, one of their most popular events is their monthly Ontario wine tasting held in conjunction with The Tasting House next door. Take a look at the Three Sisters calendar for their full offerings.
Visit The Tasting House
Speaking of The Tasting House, this is a great specialty shop to pop into while exploring St Jacobs. With a focus on products crafted within a 50 kilometre radius of town, you’ll find a menagerie of items including locally-made beer, spirits, preserves and sauces. This is also the only place you’ll find Jakobstettel wine made in partnership with Vineland Estates which makes the perfect souvenir to take home from your visit!
Plus, Terry is an absolute character and will ensure you have a wonderful visit to his shop. He’s always serving up something delicious whether that’s in liquid or solid form. Give his Moondance spirit a try. This double distilled, triple charcoal filtered, clear corn spirit (also known as moonshine) is the first of its kind in Canada as it utilizes recipes from 17th Century Midlands England!
BONUS: Get in the Holiday Spirit at St Jacobs Sparkles
St Jacobs is fantastic to visit year round, but it’s truly magical as the festive season arrives! During the last two weekends of November, the village fully embraces the Christmas spirit as the businesses and shops all pitch in for a fantastic event.
You’ll find a number of additional activities and happenings occurring throughout the village like carolers serenading you as you explore and fun holiday photo opportunities. A number of businesses stay open late and offer extra deals to entice potential buyers. You can find the full schedule of events here. And if you’re lucky, Mama Nature just might join in on the fun with a fresh dumping of snow, making the town look like something out of a Hallmark movie! If you’re planning to visit late in the year, this St. Jacobs Christmas Market is not to be missed.
More Fun Things to Do in St Jacobs
Planning for more than just a day trip to St Jacobs Ontario or curious to know what else there is to do in town? Here are a few more ideas of things to do in St Jacobs during your stay.
Sip on a Latte at the Eco Cafe – If you’re in need of a caffeine boost, you’ll want to head to the old flour mill complex at the north end of town. They always have a variety of seasonal drinks available like their magical cloud latte which has a double shot of espresso mixed with white chocolate and steamed milk with a hint of lavender. My mouth is already watering! Plus they roast their beans in-house so even if you don’t want something right away, grab a bag to take a taste of St Jacobs home with you for later.
Catch a Show in St Jacobs – Drayton Entertainment produces some of the best live theatre shows in Southern Ontario. They perform across seven venues in the area with not just one but two in St Jacobs! If you’re a fan of the live arts and would love to sit down for a theatre show, take a peek at the St Jacobs Schoolhouse Theatre and the St. Jacobs Country Playhouse to see if any live performances are happening during your visit.
Explore the Maple Syrup Museum of Ontario – While you might think this would be in Elmira since it’s home to the largest maple syrup festival in the world, the Maple Syrup Museum of Ontario is located in the old flour mill alongside the Eco Cafe. Learn all about the process of producing maple syrup from the early days of Indigenous collection methods to how things are done today.
Spark Your Interest at the Electricity Museum – Sharing space for the aforementioned Maple Syrup Museum of Ontario, the Electricity Museum shares all about this electrifying element. See the original turbine that helped power the mill and village lights as well as vintage artifacts and rare historic photos.
Experience the St Jacobs & Aberfoyle Model Railway – One of the largest model railway layouts in North America, the St. Jacobs & Aberfoyle Model Railway depicts Souther Ontario as it was in the late 1950s. All of the models you see are hand-built and quite the sight to see!
St Jacobs Restaurants to Eat At
As with any adventure, whether it’s a day trip or otherwise, you have to stay fuelled! There is no shortage of great eats in town so I recommend grabbing a bite at one of these restaurants in St Jacobs.
An extension of Block Three Brewing, the Village Biergarten serves up a rotating seasonal menu alongside Block Three’s fantastic beers. Co-owner Graham has always been a fan of German beer gardens and so when the opportunity came to snatch up this property, he couldn’t resist bringing that vibe to St Jacobs.
Voted one of the best patios in Waterloo Region, the fun lasts year round as they also have dome dining available in the winter months. Don’t worry, they’re well heated to keep you nice and toasty so you can relish in a little extra sparkle as you enjoy your meal!
Not only is the vibe fantastic but the food is also scrumptious. The Village Biergarten utilizes Ontario-sourced items to ensure flavour is of the best quality. I indulged in their Bavarian Hash featuring locally-sourced sausage, apples, brussel sprouts, walnuts and onion all sautéed together to create a delicious concoction. I highly recommend their mac and cheese croquettes to start as these tasty little morsels are packed with smoked cheddar, mozzarella, onion and jalapeno in a bed of sundried tomato pesto and topped with a balsamic drizzle.
Those Pizza Guys
What was once a mobile wood-fired pizza truck now has a brick-and-mortar location on Front Street, just off the main drag in St Jacobs. The restaurant opened in mid-2020 and while take-out is still a popular option, you can now dine in so you can sink your teeth into these pies while they’re piping hot. Though there is limited seating, they also have a beautiful little patio for you to enjoy your pizza on in the warmer months.
This is easily some of the best pizza in Waterloo Region if not all of Ontario. I don’t know if it’s because their dough is fermented for at least 24 hours, or that it’s fired in a wood oven burning at over 750 Fahrenheit. Maybe it’s their plethora of toppings that are bursting with flavour? It’s probably all of the above combined with their impeccable service that makes these pizzas so scrumptious.
I don’t care if you’re team pineapple or not, their Aloha pizza is honestly incredible. With a smokey yet sweet barbecue sauce as the base, the pie is well-doused in mozzarella and then topped with prosciutto (so fancy!) alongside cinnamon-spiced pineapple. Yes, you read that correctly and oh man is my mouth watering again just thinking about this flavour combo!
I was no stranger to Harvest Moon while I lived in Waterloo Region. Whenever that quarterly coupon book arrived in my apartment’s mailbox, I took full advantage and made my way to Harvest Moon!
You might not expect it, but their Greek dishes are absolutely fantastic. If you’re not the biggest eater, their pitas will easily fill you up. However, I’m all about the “go big or go home” so I often indulged in their souvlaki platters. Why not get another meal out of it, possibly even two?! My personal go-to is the Gyro dinner and as you can see from the photo above, it’s piled quite nicely.
While I don’t see it on the menu anymore, they used to have this appetizer that would be the result of poutine and spaghetti having a baby. If memory serves me correctly, it was called Italian poutine and had fries drenched in bolognese sauce topped with shredded mozzarella cheese. I was skeptical at first too but now that I don’t see it on the menu… I miss it!
Where to Stay in St Jacobs
If you’re looking to stay in the heart of St Jacobs, there’s no better option than Hotel 52. Located on the top floor of one of St Jacobs’ historic buildings, this boutique hotel is absolutely picture-perfect. Follow the mural-adorned staircase along the side of this old lodging hotel to your colourful abode.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: Hotel 52 is right above Cellar 52, a popular boutique wedding venue. As such, sometimes it can be a wee bit noisy on weekends when the bride and groom are tying the knot so if you’re not a part of the wedding, you may want to bring some earplugs!
With room names like spicy, saucy and Chardonnay – you know this hotel is bursting with personality! I had the pleasure of staying in the matcha room which is brimming with zen vibes that were perfect for relaxing after a long day of adventuring in town. Featuring a comfy king bed, cozy couch and beautifully leafy accent wall, it’s the perfect place to live your best plant life while sipping on some wine, coffee or even a cup of matcha! You also may want to bring a bath bomb with you to indulge in a glorious soak in the room’s deep tub.
With just five rooms, Hotel 52 can book very quickly. If they don’t have any availability for your visit, not to worry as there are a number of other great hotels in St Jacobs to stay at.
One such option is the Hampton Inn & Suites St Jacobs. Located just a few minutes’ walk from the St Jacobs Farmers Market, this is a great spot to stay if you’re looking to be at the market bright and early or closer to the city of Waterloo. Unlike many of the other Hampton Inns I have stayed at previously, this one is bright and cheery with a hint of sass. The furnishings are modern with a fun pop of colour, making this hotel hip and fun. With amenities like an indoor pool, access to the fitness centre 24/7 and quite the hot breakfast spread included in your stay, it’s a great choice for hotels in St Jacobs.
I had the pleasure of staying in one of their king studio suites and I was very impressed with how much room there was, even with a work desk, HDTV, sofa bed and wet bar complete with sink, fridge and microwave. The king bed was so cozy with plenty of pillows which made getting out of bed difficult but alas, adventure awaits! Take a look at what previous customers have to say about their experience on TripAdvisor or click here to book your room now.
Things to Do Near St Jacobs
As I mentioned, Waterloo Region was home sweet home for me for almost a decade. If you’re looking to do a little more adventuring around the area, here are some great things to do around St Jacobs while you’re in the area. Of course, you can always look at the IBB archives for more points of interest within Waterloo Region.
Step Back in Time at Castle Kilbride – It may not exactly be a castle in the typical sense but Castle Kilbride is certainly one of the finest dwellings in all of Waterloo Region! Owned by flax and linseed oil king of Canada, James Livingston, you an explore the home as it was back in his day. However, the best time to go is when Christmas at the Castle is on since home is extra magical as beautiful festive displays are sprinkled throughout.
Visit the Homer Watson House & Gallery – What was once the home of skilled painter Homer Watson became the Doon School of Fine Arts and then the gallery you see today in 1981. It serves to retain the passion and preserve the skilled works of Watson as well as celebrate contemporary artists within the space. Workshops are held often to inspire others to participate in the arts as well as introduce young minds to creative outlets.
Enjoy a Pint at Innocente – One of Waterloo Region’s original craft breweries, Innocente Brewing Company has been serving up a variety of beers since 2014. Head brewmaster and owner, Steve, has a background in molecular biology and a post-doctoral fellowship studying yeast. Pair this with a love for beer and well, the product is some solid brews! Pop in to grab a pint and if you see Steve, ask for a tour of the facility where you can hear all about how his beer came from Scotland to here in Waterloo.
Stuff Yourself at the Crowsfoot Smokehaus – You’ll have to head out into the country to Conestogo for this stop but trust me when I say it’s worth the trek! Crowsfoot Smokehaus stands on what’s said to be one of the oldest venues in Waterloo Region. With centuries of tradition serving up great eats thanks to German and Mennonite settlers, what you’ll get is a mash-up of southern barbecue and German comfort food. It might seem like an odd combo but trust me when I say it’s incredible. Make sure to get the burnt ends spätzle and cheese – it’s like a glorified mac and cheese. Don’t forget to take a peek at the country store before you leave!
Ready to Explore St Jacobs?
As you can see, there are so many things to do in St Jacobs! Whether you head in for a day trip or make a weekend of it, there’s no shortage of fun to be had. It may still be a small town that came from humble beginnings but St Jacobs has so much to offer that it will have you returning again and again.
This post is brought to you in partnership with the Three Sisters Cultural Centre in St Jacobs with support from Attractions Ontario. However, all of the content and opinions here are honest and speak to my personal experience as always!