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Places

Great tips for a dip – beach life in Toronto

When the sizzling heat of a Toronto summer day has you craving something cool, head to one of Toronto’s many beaches on Lake Ontario. Most of these beaches dot the downtown waterfront’s western and eastern ends or are just a short ferry ride away on the Toronto islands. So, pack some sunscreen and a towel, check that the blue flag is flying – a sign that the water has been certified for high quality – and plunge in!

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The Beaches, of course

The Beaches neighborhood, aptly named for its close proximity to great beaches, is also one of Toronto’s most pleasant areas to hang out in. You’ll find eclectic homes, independent shops and cafés and restaurants along Queen Street East to suit all tastes and budgets. A classic wooden boardwalk begins at Balmy Beach and continues through Kew Beach, officially one beach today. It’s all good, old-fashioned fun with a bandstand in the grassy Kew Gardens Park, a beach club from 1905, a lawn bowling club, and of course, a sandy beach. At the eastern tip of the beach you can spot a stunning art deco palace that houses, rather surprisingly, the Robert Harris Water Filtration Plant. It has featured in movies and TV programs as well as in author Michael Ondaatje’s Toronto-based novel In the Skin of a Lion.

Kew-Balmy Beach

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Splash and volley

You can walk along the boardwalk from Kew-Balmy Beach to reach Woodbine Beach, a popular place for sunbathing and picnicking with its 3km of sandy beach. It’s the right place to be if you want to join a friendly game of beach volleyball or work on those abs at the outdoor fitness gym. For swimmers, if Lake Ontario is too cold for you there’s the giant Donald D. Summerville Outdoor Olympic Pool. The fully equipped Woodbine Beach also offers a playground, sheltered picnic areas, changing rooms, accessible washrooms, water bottle filling stations and a beach shower. If you prefer to hike or bike, there’s the 22km-long Martin Goodman Trail that runs parallel to the beaches and Toronto’s waterfront.

Woodbine Beach Park

1675 Lake Shore Blvd East, Toronto

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It’s the cherry on the beach

Cherry Beach lies at the foot of Cherry Street, not too far from the Distillery District, in what was formerly industrial port lands. For many years, it was one of the few Toronto beaches that was clean enough for swimming. It became a popular spot for windsurfers back in the 1980s and the Toronto Windsurfing Club still has its base here. Today, Cherry Beach is more popular than ever with bathers, who are attracted to its close proximity to downtown and its slightly warmer waters. Torontonians also come here for “Promise Cherry Beach” a music festival on summer weekends. The beach offers changing rooms, barbecue areas, a children’s playground and sports fields.

Cherry Beach

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Sunnyside up

Sunnyside Beach offers a lovely stretch of sandy beach in Toronto’s west end, and opportunities to play beach volleyball or rent a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard from the Sunnyside Paddling Club. Aside from the beach itself, the main attraction is the landmark Sunnyside Pavilion from 1922, which originally provided changing facilities for swimmers. An adjacent outdoor pool was built in 1925 to offer a warmer swimming alternative to the often-chilly Lake Ontario. Somewhat forgotten for many years, Sunnyside Pavilion and its Gus Ryder Pool are having a renaissance, once again drawing bathers. Today, there’s a hopping beachfront café with an extensive menu served in the pavilion and on the adjoining patio.

Sunnyside Beach

1755 Lake Shore Blvd West, Toronto

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Dramatic scenery

One of the nicest beaches in Toronto can be found further east of the city center, in Scarborough. What makes Bluffer’s Park Beach extra special are the dramatic Scarborough Bluffs, a rocky escarpment that frames the beach. At its highest point, the escarpment rises 90 meters above the coastline and spans some 15km. The beach is wide and sandy, with plenty of shady areas and there is more of a wilderness feeling than you’ll find in the downtown beaches. While you’re in the area, check out the Guild Park and Gardens, part of the Guild Inn Estate, a 1914 mansion that was a center for the Arts and Crafts movement. Today, its gardens contain architectural relics saved from now demolished Toronto buildings.

Bluffer’s Park Beach

1 Brimley Road, Scarborough, Toronto

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Take a ferry to the Toronto Islands

Toronto’s three main islands (Centre Island, Hanlan’s Point and Ward’s Island) are all linked together, yet each one offers a different experience. Why not rent a bike and visit them all? To get to the beaches on the Toronto Islands take one of the ferries from the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at the foot of Bay Street. Tickets for the ferries, which take around 15 minutes, can be purchased online or at the terminal.

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Family friendly Centre Island

If you’re taking the kids to Centreville Amusement Park, pack the bathing suits too and head over to Centre Island Beach, also known as Manitou Beach. Located near the old pier on the opposite side of the island from the ferry terminal, it has calm, shallow waters thanks to a rock breakwater that protects it from the open lake. It’s the ideal way to start or wind down a day after visiting the rides and attractions of the completely charming Centreville, with its antique cars, haunted barrel works, floating swan boats and a skyline ride that offers a birds-eye view over the island and a city view of Toronto.

Centre Island Beach

1 Centre Island Park, Toronto Islands

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It’s a home run

Hanlan’s Point was named after the Hanlan family, who were among the first year-round inhabitants on the Toronto Islands. With the islands transferred from the federal government to the City of Toronto in 1867, the land was divided into lots, cottage areas, a hotel and amusement areas that included a baseball stadium where Babe Ruth hit a home run – quite likely into Lake Ontario. There’s a plaque about this once you get off the ferry at the Toronto Islands. But what really makes Hanlan’s Point Beach unique today, aside from its beautiful sand dunes, is that it has a “clothing-optional” stretch too – one of just two such beaches in Canadian cities.

Hanlan’s Point Beach

Hanlan’s Point, Toronto Islands

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Like a day in the country

Ward’s Island is a little off the beaten track – which is what makes it so special. It’s a small residential community of quirky old cottages that enjoy a magnificent view of the Toronto skyline without any of the hustle and bustle of the city. There are no cars or stores here and properties are passed down through families. It all makes for very peaceful walking, biking or relaxing on Ward’s Island Beach. The beach is located at the far eastern end of the island, a 10-minute walk from the Ward’s Island Ferry terminal. The beach has barbeque and picnic areas, and a nearby café. There’s also a restaurant at the Queen City Yacht Club, that was founded in 1889.

Ward’s Island Beach

1 Centre Island Park, Toronto

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