As San Francisco has Oakland and New York has Jersey, Halifax has my dear Dartmouth. I opted to settle there when I moved back from Toronto a month ago. Plenty of Haligonians think Dartmouth is just a place to drive through on the way to the airport, but here are a few of the reasons why you, like me, should choose The Darkside.
The Eastern Shore
Bring a bike across the Woodside Ferry from Halifax. It offers better views, and it's a slightly longer ride than the Dartmouth Ferry, giving you more for your bang for your bus pass. Be sure to refer to the schedule, because the ferry only runs seven hours a day Monday to Friday.
Once in wonderful Woodside, home to the waterfront campus of the Nova Scotia Community College, you can head southeast. You can't miss the Imperial Oil refinery, as beautiful as it is stinky. Just past the oil tank fields is CFB Shearwater, where helicopters spiral overhead and you can find the Shearwater Flyer Trail.
This leads to the Salt Marsh Trail, where you can zip from island to island through the marsh and fog, all the way to Lawrencetown Beach. It's way too cold to swim here most of the year without a wetsuit, but the large waves offer up some of the country's best surfing. You can rent gear or take a lesson from Happy Dudes Surf Emporium.
Winding coastal roads take you back downtown through oft-foggy Eastern Passage. Tiny real and faux wooden fishing buildings, make up the darling Fisherman's Cove. Stop to check out some shops and have great (and giant) fish and chips from Wharf Wraps. Walk off the sleep-inducing grease at the nearby MacCormack's Beach boardwalk.
If you're not quite hungry yet, you can take the bike lane back to Woodside past Canada's second largest Autoport and see next year's models of European-made cars. Work up an appetite at the new giant Value Village, and then head for either fish and chips at John's Lunch or, if seafood isn't your bag, the Woodside Tavern for a delicious burger.
The coolest way to get downtown is to take the bike lane and ride to the Waterfront Park. Check out the pyramid-shaped World Peace Pavilion, filled with artifacts from around the world and built with the help of the local Baha'i community.
At Alderney Landing you can find out about shows from Eastern Front Theatre---the company's administrative offices are there, though performances this season will take place at Neptune Studio Theatre and in the Windsor Theatre at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia---or head up the street for a show at Dartmouth Players. Grab dinner and a beer at Celtic Corner, which features live music and a killer open mic hosted by local dreamboat Dave McMichael on Tuesdays. After last call take the short trip around the corner to Whiskey's Lounge for another beer or two and the occasional UFC match. If you want to make it a full-on pub crawl, head up the street to Jacob's Lounge games room---complete with leather chairs, dim lighting, Dartmouth prices and an indescribable experience.
After a night on the town you can crash at the luxurious five-star Sterns Mansion Bed and Breakfast. And if that doesn't put a smile on your face, the Smiley Face Museum sure will. Then you can write a letter to all your friends missing out in Halifax with help from the old Fisher's Stationery store.
The Lakes, et cetera
Perhaps the number-one reason most peninsula planters (AKA Dartmouth-phobes) head across the bridge is Mic Mac Mall. It's three floors of shopping wonder---Old Navy! The Disney Store! Sparkles!---and they just opened an H&M.
But if you want a "an interesting place to visit" (and have a car, or are willing to brave the hikes across parking lots), the fine folks at Dartmouth Crossing suggest heading to Dartmouth's slightly better version of Halifax's Bayers Lake Business Park. They have big-box stores, a multiplex and boutique-style rows of shops.
Walk off that shopping stress on the Trans-Canada trail around Lake Banook. From there you can watch the paddlers when the lake's free of ice, and ice-skating during winter. The trail also connects to the woodsier Shubenacadie Trail around Lake Mic Mac.
On the other side of the lake you can eat with the locals at the Mic Mac Bar & Grill. It's busy most days, but if you want the popular Wednesday spaghetti special you better be sure to get there early. Then you can party Palace-style with the regulars at nearby Montes Showbar Grill, which features a diverse selection of live music from Dr. Hook to metal.
Of course, Dartmouth does have a certain reputation to maintain. Nestled among the normality of Main Street's homes, strip malls and fast food chains is a perfect evening of sleaze. If you're horny you can check out HRM's only strip club, Ralph's Place Showbar. If you're hungry (and only a little bit horny), you can head to HRM's single Hooters next door. And if you do meet that special someone(s) on your night out, the Lake City Motor Inn across the street rents rooms by the hour.
The area does feature the best Guy's Frenchy's in the city, where used-clothing treasures are always to be found. Following the street past four lakes (did I mention Dartmouth is the City of Lakes?) you can also get schooled at the Black Cultural Centre of Nova Scotia and learn all about this overlooked part of local history.
Certainly this is one of the roughest areas of Dartmouth, but even this neighbourhood has some gems. Fan's is HRM's only Chinese restaurant specializing in Peking cuisine. The ginger beef and the duck are worth the trip, but lots of traditional veggie options are sure to delight. You can leave your innocent Halifax donair experiences at the door of Robert's Pizza and Donair. If you can finish one of their football-sized donairs in one sitting, you're an honourary Dartmouthian. You can head home over the bridge's walkway.
Just try not to run.