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Top 8 Places to See on Toronto's Waterfront This Summer

Jul 8, 2014

Tommy Thompson Park is the largest wildlife habitats on the waterfront.

Tommy Thompson Park gives visitors the chance to experience one of the largest wildlife habitats on the waterfront with stunning views of the city skyline.

By Meghan Hogan

Now that the kids have finished school and summer has officially begun, our thoughts are drifting toward summer vacations spent with family and friends. Some of you will pack your bags and head north for a cottage weekend, while others may board a plane and soar to an exotic locale. Yet the truth for many of us is that money is tight, time is short and an “away” vacation is not in the cards.  

But don’t panic – we have a great solution: Your Toronto waterfront staycation! You can experience all the excitement of travel exploring your own city.

Toronto’s waterfront offers plenty of engaging activities for people of all ages – from lounging on the beach and picnicking, to hiking and paddle boarding. Here are our top 8 places to visit on the waterfront to make your summer staycation a memorable one.

Cherry Beach

Pack your beach towels, sunblock and flip-flops – Cherry Beach is the perfect summer getaway. Known as one of the cleanest in Toronto, this popular Blue Flag beach has a laid-back vibe and provides seclusion from the city’s hustle and bustle thanks to its location in the Port Lands.

We suggest: Try a hand at stand-up paddle boarding and windsurfing if you’re feeling brave, or wander over to the state-of-the-art Cherry Beach sports fields and watch an afternoon of football. If you’d rather enjoy some R&R, simply sink your feet into the warm sand and enjoy the soothing sounds of water washing ashore as the kids build sandcastles. And with a fabulous off-leash dog park, it’s easy to include the canine members of your family!

Sherbourne Common

Sherbourne Common is a great place to watch the sailboats go by.

This stunning waterfront park spans two city blocks on either side of Queens Quay in East Bayfront. With ample green space, beautiful public art, creative playgrounds and a hidden stormwater UV treatment system, it’s not surprising that this versatile public space has been dubbed one of the best new parks in the world.

We suggest: Pack a family picnic and a large blanket, and cycle down to the park for the afternoon. On the park’s north side, there’s a playground with unique play structures designed to get kids’ imaginations working. Follow the signature 240-metre water channel to the park’s south end, where a large splash pad is waiting to cool everyone off. Then you can relax next to the park’s trees and watch the sail boats go by on Lake Ontario.

Canada’s Sugar Beach

Located east of Toronto’s central waterfront, at the foot of Jarvis Street, this award-winning park delightfully plays with its proximity to the Redpath Sugar Refinery. Find refuge in this parking-lot-turned-magical-urban-oasis with the fragrant aroma that sweeps in as you watch the sugar boats unload next to the pier.  

We suggest: Lounge in one of the welcoming white Muskoka chairs shaded by pink fiberglass beach umbrellas and read a novel while your kids play in the sand or climb one of the park’s enormous candy-striped granite rocks. Feeling restless? Enjoy the breeze off the lake as you stroll along the waterfront promenade or swing by after dusk to see the spectacular light show that bounces off the splash pad’s cascading water.

 

Corktown Common

Corktown Common's playground

The rolling hills and valleys of this park are thanks to the park being built atop the area’s flood protection landform. Located in the city’s east end, where Lower River Street and Bayview Avenue meet, this spectacular park gives visitors unrivaled views of the city, the Don River and beyond.   

We suggest: Take advantage of the beautiful topography and wander the park’s meandering trails that invite you to explore the marsh and the flourishing naturalized ecosystems that it supports. The sound of croaking frogs and children playing will temporarily transport you from city to countryside. Indulge in the refreshing splash pad located next to the playground and park pavilion, where children can romp around freely. Finish the day tossing a Frisbee on the park’s open lawns watching the GO Trains rush by.

Tommy Thompson Park/Leslie Street Spit

If you’ve never had the chance to visit this man-made peninsula in Toronto’s east end, be sure to visit this summer.  Extending 5km into Lake Ontario, the spit – better known as Tommy Thompson Park – is one of the largest wildlife habitats on the waterfront and provides critical habitat for birds and butterflies. At more than 250 hectares, the park provides a unique urban wilderness experience and receives close to 250,000 visitors per year.

We suggest: Grab your bikes or comfortable shoes and begin your trip on the connecting Martin Goodman Trail or Waterfront Trail. Once you arrive, explore one of the parks three trail systems that span more than 23km including a multi-use trail, pedestrian trail and a nature trail. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars, because the park is one of the best bird-watching spaces in the city, with over 300 recorded bird species. Reminder: Dogs are not permitted in the park and the park is only open on weekends.  Tommy Thompson Park is still an active landfill and receives clean fill materials during the weekdays, so plan your trip during its weekend operating hours.

Harbourfront Centre

Canoeing at Harbourfront Centre

This 10-acre site is nestled along the shore of Lake Ontario and it's one of the city's premiere destinations for arts and culture. This cultural hub promises a “Summer of Wonder” – come party with rock stars, dine with iron chefs and dream with international artists. The recent addition of three new public spaces– Ontario Square, Canada Square and Exhibition Common, allow for even more outdoor Harbourfront activities this summer.

We suggest: Whether you choose to unwind at an outdoor yoga class, peruse the weekly food markets or attend a live music performance on the water, there truly is something for everyone. For a unique waterfront experience, set out on the water in a canoe or kayak for breathtaking views of the city skyline before enjoying a free film screening as the sun sets.

Toronto Islands

Just a hop, skip and a ferry ride away from the mainland, these islands are a special place in Toronto. This charming, car-free neighbourhood with a thriving art community is the perfect place to enjoy a warm summer day - simply take a 15 minute ride to the Island from Jack Layton Ferry Terminal at the foot of Bay Street.

We suggest:  Bring your bikes aboard the ferry and cycle across the island's peaceful, car-free paths, or rent single, tandem, and 2-4 seaters for an hourly fee. Stop by one of the three beaches – Wards, Manitou and the clothing optional Hanlan’s Point – for a swim or enjoy a picnic at one of the islands' BBQ and fire pits. If you’re looking for family-friendly activities, visit Centreville Amusement Park which has over 30 rides and attractions.

Museums

There are a number of contemporary museums, galleries and studios along the wider waterfront area, where you can explore diverse exhibits that touch on history, politics, and even Canadian culture. These spaces are a great way to fuse knowledge and fun on an affordable budget – not to mention providing some shelter from the sun on a hot summer day.

We suggest: Plan a route and cruise along the waterfront to explore galleries, studios and museums like the Museum of Inuit Art, The Power Plant and the Redpath Sugar Museum. For families wanting a deeper insight to the exhibits, many galleries offer guided tours and events throughout the summer. Stop for a bite to eat along the waterfront to refuel before heading off to the next gallery.  

post contributor

  • Meghan Hogan

    Meghan Hogan is a communications and public engagement specialist at Waterfront Toronto. When not mastering her craft, Meghan enjoys being outdoors, cooking, and attending as many Toronto events and festivals as possible.