Being an hour (traffic willing) from the fourth-largest (and fastest-growing) urban mega-region in North America has its benefits. Especially since 2020, when cashing-out Torontonians seeking more room to breathe amidst pandemic anxiety started looking north. What they found, and continue to find, are ample parks (Barrie ranks #12 in our Parks & Outdoors subcategory), Lake Simcoe beaches and, in the case of urban green spaces like Centennial Park, both. Award-winning public squares provide a link between the waterfront and the historic downtown core and, like you’ll find at Meridian Place, bring locals and visitors together for yoga classes and movie nights or to big-name festivals and live entertainment. Of course bigger and wilder country is just an hour away, from the warm waters of Georgian Bay and the Blue Mountain ski resort in Collingwood to the regal wilderness of Muskoka. But it’s what’s in town that has people talking: with the #2-ranked restaurants in the country among small cities, Barrie is a culinary treasure trove, with award-winning breweries like Flying Monkeys and Dunlop Street’s restaurant row anchored by North Country and all manner of Italian joints.