Have you ever visited a town and immediately felt like unpacking and staying forever?
If you’ve visited the Annapolis Valley region of Nova Scotia, it’s very likely your answer is yes.
We’ve experienced that feeling on several of our brewtrips. Chicago left a huge impression on us. The small town of Elora, Ontario totally felt like home. And Vancouver was the craft beer holy land. But the tiny village of Port Williams, Nova Scotia is the most recent place to make a big impact on us.
With just over 1,100 residents, Port Williams is definitely cozy. Housing lots of less than an acre in size seem pointless here. I grew up only 45 minutes away from Port Williams, but rarely visited. It’s funny to return now as more of a tourist. Growing up, we didn’t know much about Port Williams. We saw it as the rural version of a commuter suburb – with everyone working at nearby Acadia University or driving to Halifax on a daily basis.
Returning to Port Williams now, I see just how wrong we were. Sure, there are commuters here, but this is a wonderfully self-sustaining village. Surrounded by amazing agricultural land, there is an abundance of small farms offering produce, meat, dairy, eggs and almost anything else you would go to a grocery store for. There are excellent places to eat, great options for finding antiques and collectables, and amazing views of the Cornwallis River and Minas Basin.
Oh, yeah, and also two breweries, a distillery and at least six wineries within a 20 minute drive. So, it’s a pretty fun place to visit!
The beauty of the Annapolis Valley is the abundance of small towns in a relatively small geographical region. In one moment you can be on a side road, surrounded by fields and rolling hills and not a house in sight. The next moment, you’re on the main street of a town where you can park (almost always for free) and find excellent food, drink and art – not to mention an abundance of friendly people willing to talk.
If you blink, you can almost make it through Port Williams. But that’s deceiving. With several side streets and pull offs for sightseeing, the village is not a place to simply drive through. When you cross the Cornwallis River and arrive in the village, be sure to immediately park and get out of your car. You can walk wherever you need to go. And that’s our main piece of advice for both Port Williams and any other Annapolis Valley town. Get out of your car and explore. Ask the locals where you should go and what you should do. Pre-planning you visit is hardly necessary!
But once you’ve explored Port Williams, take time to visit our two favourite nearby destinations.
- Kingsport Beach. It doesn’t matter what time of year, you should visit this beach. It’s rarely busy, but always beautiful! Kingsport is a short 15 minute drive from Port Williams and is heaven on earth. The Minas Basin features awe inspiring tides, so the beach is always changing! If you spend your days working in an office, we apologize. Once you’ve been to Kingsport Beach, you’ll never want to go back!
- The Lookoff. Driving north from Port Williams, you start climbing the North Mountain. When you reach the top, a small roadside turnoff gives you one of the most amazing vantage points in the Valley. Signage is lacking – a theme that Jenn noticed in Nova Scotia – but you can’t miss it. The Lookoff gives a panoramic view that will leave you breathless. It’s also a great spot for selfies – just saying.
Despite the small population, Port Williams offers several excellent options for food! If you follow us on social media, you know that we’re the type of people who love pubs. The Port Pub, attached to Sea Level Brewing, was highly recommended. Google reviews confirmed what many had told us. But we’re saving this one for our next visit. We wanted something different.
The Noodle Guy
O. M. G.
If you love pasta, you need to visit this restaurant. With the ambiance of a funky cafe and the smell of an Italian kitchen, The Noodle Guy is a really interesting space. When you eat here, you can expect local ingredients and a whole bunch of completely made-in-house meals. They also have 11 oz drafts of local craft beer and a selection of Nova Scotia craft sodas.
These meals are inexplicably good. The pasta and sauces, obviously made-in-house, are unreal. It’s like I tasted pasta for the first time that day. We both sat speechless while we ate. I don’t pretend to be a food reviewer – I just know The Noodle Guy served me the best pasta dish of my life. You need to go here.
And if you live nearby and don’t feel like cooking, you can stop in to buy their house-made pasta and sauce to take home for later. I spent the last half of the meal trying to figure out ways to bring fresh pasta back to Ontario.
Walking distance from The Noodle Guy are two craft breweries. That’s right. 1,100 people in the town and two breweries. If you weren’t jealous of Port Williams residents already, you should be now!
Sea Level Brewing
Long before the craft beer craze had reached its current frenzied level, Sea Level Brewing was brewing beer locally and independently in the Annapolis Valley. Their space overlooking the Cornwallis River remains small and true to their heritage as a family run craft brewery.
For many people in Nova Scotia, Sea Level is known as the brewery with the small cans. When everyone else was doing bottles and tall boys, Sea Level was putting out 355mL cans of all their beers. Super portable and a reasonable amount of beer, the 355mL cans are something we love! That said, you can also do growler fills on site.
Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of Sea Level’s products. Founder and brewer Randy Lawrence puts out a fairly good mix of styles and incorporates as many locally sourced ingredients as possible.
As a blueberry fanatic, I always pick up the Blooberry Pail Ale. Featuring locally grown blueberries, this is one I love to have on a warm summer evening!
Wayfarers’ Ales Society
Last time I visited Port Williams, the Wayfarers’ site was a gravel parking lot. Now it’s a surprisingly large building that features their brewery, tap room and patio overlooking the river.
Wayfarers’ also happens to be right next door to Sea Level. They actually share a parking lot!
Founded by a collective of home brewers and beer enthusiasts, Wayfarers’ puts their focus on heritage beer recipes. So don’t expect a chocolate milk stout when you visit! Their lineup is definitely an homage to the history of craft beer. Blonde, English pale and red ales feature prominently at Wayfarers’.
The retain shop is a really nice space and they offer draught, pre-filled growlers and a newly released line of tall cans.
The great thing about this brewery is their commitment to heritage. In such an agriculturally rich region, I can imagine the original farmers home brewing many of these recipes.
Don’t forget wine and spirits!
The good folks at Barrelling Tide Distillery invited us for a visit, but an overtired Brewtripper family just couldn’t fit it in this time. We highly recommend you pay them a visit. It’ll be our first stop on the next visit to Port Williams. Their product line looks amazing and they’re just down the road from the breweries. In my mind, I’ve already bought their Blueberry Liqueur and Tide Gin. Can’t wait to get back to Nova Scotia and support this excellent distillery!
The Annapolis Valley is an excellent winemaking region. Not enough people outside of Nova Scotia know this and I’m determined to change that! When you’re driving to Kingsport Beach and The Lookoff, there are two wineries you need to visit – Planters Ridge Winery and Blomidon Estate Winery.
Our tip is to grab a bottle of Tidal Bay wine from both wineries. Tidal Bay is Nova Scotia’s wine. If someone tries to tell you otherwise, they’re lying! This is a wine that defines Nova Scotia’s terroir and is a must buy for anyone who wants something unique to the province!
Our love for Nova Scotia is pretty obvious. This is a province you need to add to your list when planning vacations! It’s perfect for anyone. And Port Williams is the type of village you need to visit. No matter what you’re looking for in your vacation, the Annapolis Valley will have it for you.
There are few regions in Canada that can boast such a wonderful mix of beautiful landscape, friendly towns and local, independently produced food and drink.
We’re not saying you should buy a one way ticket, but we’re betting you’ll wish you had.