Toronto residents love the great outdoors, whatever the time of year. In summer, you’ll see people cycling, boating, and hiking; in winter, they are skating or skiing and snowboarding out of town. Locals make great use of their parks system and waterways to escape the city without ever leaving T.O. proper.
For additional information on facilities in the parks, golf courses, tennis courts, swimming pools, beaches, and picnic areas, contact Toronto Parks and Recreation (tel. 416/392-8186).
With a name like the Beaches, it’s not surprising that this east end nabe has some excellent sandy shores. From Coxwell Avenue to Victoria Park, a charming boardwalk connects the beaches, starting at Ashbridge’s Bay Park, which has a sizable marina. Woodbine Beach connects to Kew Gardens Park and is a favorite with sunbathers and volleyball players. Woodbine also boasts the Donald D. Summerville Olympic Pool. Snack bars and trinket sellers line the length of the boardwalk.
Many locals prefer the beaches on the Toronto Islands. The ones on Centre Island, always the busiest, are favorites with families because of such nearby attractions as Centreville. The beaches on Ward’s Island are much more secluded. They’re connected by the loveliest boardwalk in the city, with masses of fragrant flowers and raspberry bushes along its edges. Hanlan’s Point, also in the Islands, is Toronto’s only nude beach.
All of the Island beaches, plus four others in the Beaches, have earned Blue Flag status, an international eco-standard of water quality and cleanliness. For water-quality updates, visit www.app.toronto.ca.
Canoeing, Kayaking & SUPing
The Harbourfront Canoe and Kayak Centre (283A Queens Quay W.; tel. 800/960-8886 or 416/203-2277) rents canoes and kayaks; call ahead if you are interested in taking private instruction. You can also rent canoes, rowboats, and pedal boats on the Toronto Islands just north of Centreville from the Boat House. Stand-up paddleboards can be rented on Ward’s Island from Toronto Island SUP (tel. 416/899-1668), which also holds SUP yoga classes for truly advanced balancers who are keen to test their core strength while floating among the swans.
Just about every park in Toronto becomes potential cross-country-skiing territory as soon as snow falls. Best bets are Sunnybrook Park and Ross Lord Park, both in North York. For more information, contact Toronto Parks and Recreation. Serious skiers interested in day trips to excellent out-of-town sites, such as Horseshoe Valley, can contact Trakkers Cross Country Ski Club, which also rents equipment.
With biking trails through most of the city’s parks and more than 70km (43 miles) of street bike routes, it’s not surprising that Toronto has been called one of the best cycling cities in North America. Favorite pathways include the Martin Goodman Trail (from the Beaches to the Humber River along the waterfront); the Lower Don Valley bike trail (from the east end of the city north to Riverdale Park); High Park (with winding trails over 160 hectares/395 acres); and the Toronto Islands, where bikers ride without fear of cars.
The Toronto Bike Share Network is one of the most headache-free ways to rent a two-wheeled mount. A 3-day pass costs $15 and gives you access to 3,750 bikes scattered around town across at 360 stations. Returning the bikes at these stations means you don’t need to worry about locks or being tethered to returning to the same bike—you can grab or return your bike to any station.
Be forewarned: Like many other North American cities, the tensions between cyclists and car drivers are mounting, so be on your guard, take it easy, and always take streetcar tracks at a perpendicular angle.
Toronto's Golf Obsession
Toronto is obsessed with golf: The city has more than 75 public courses within an hour’s drive of downtown. Travelers who are really into golf might want to consider a side trip to the Muskoka Lakes. This area, just 90 minutes north, has some of the best golfing in the country at courses such as Taboo Muskoka and the Deerhurst Highlands. Here’s information on some of the best golf courses in Toronto.
- Don Valley (4200 Yonge St., south of Highway 401; tel. 416/392-2465). Designed by Howard Watson, this is a scenic par-71 course with some challenging elevated tees. The par-3 13th hole is nicknamed the Hallelujah Corner (it takes a miracle to make par). This course is considered a good place to start your kids.
- Humber Valley (40 Beattie Ave., at Albion Road; tel. 416/392-2488). The relatively flat par-72 course is easy to walk, with lots of shade from towering trees. The three final holes require major concentration (the 16th and 17th are par-5s).
- Glen Abbey Golf Club (1333 Dorval Dr., Oakville; tel. 905/844-1800). The championship course is one of the most famous in Canada. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, the par-73 layout traditionally plays host to the Canadian Open.
Toronto on Ice
When the frost starts to linger in late November, Toronto’s 52 skating rinks open for the season, which runs into March. With its civic backdrop, Nathan Phillips Square, 100 Queen St. West (daily 10am–10pm; 2-hr. skate rentals: $10 adults, $5 children 12 and under), is one of the city’s most enticing ice rinks. The reflecting fountain is transformed as the water becomes ice, and the concrete arches above are festooned with festive lights. Down by the water, the Natrel Rink at the Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West (Sun–Thurs 10am–10pm, Fri–Sat 10am–11pm; 2-hr. skate rentals: $13 adults, $8 students), is the city’s second best rink; if it weren’t for the sometimes whipping wind that comes off the lake, this would take top place. The chill, though, is easily combatted when you're grooving to the tunes at the regular DJ Skate Nights. If that’s not enough to warm your bones, Boxcar Social, a charming rinkside bar that looks down onto the ice, is a great place for some warming tea (or something a bit stiffer) between rink loops. Helmets are available for rent at both rinks.
Ziplining Through the Zoo
The Toronto Zoo is located in the heart of the scenic Rouge Valley, which is home to white-tailed deer, rabbits, turtles, salamanders, and dozens of bird species, big and small. Now, zoo-goers can whip across the valley on an ecologically themed zipline, down the 300m (984-ft.) cable, which ends in an adrenaline-jolting drop-off. At speeds exceeding 40km (25 miles) per hour, it might be hard to spy the red-shouldered hawk in the canopy, but that’s what the ATV ride back to the Indo-Malayan Pavilion is for.
Downtown routes might include Harbourfront and along the lakefront, or through Queen's Park and the University. The Martin Goodman Trail runs 20km (12 miles) along the waterfront from the Beaches in the east to the Humber River in the west. It's ideal for jogging, walking, or cycling. It links to the Tommy Thompson Trail, which travels the parks from the lakefront along the Humber River. Near the Ontario Science Centre in the Central Don Valley, Ernest Thompson Seton Park is also good for jogging. Parking is available at the Thorncliffe Drive and Wilket Creek entrances.These areas are generally quite safe, but you should take the same precautions you would in any large city.
Walk/Jog/Cycle in Peace—One of the best places to walk, jog, or cycle in the city is the path that connects downtown with the Don Valley Ravine and winds up at the Evergreen Brick Works. There's plenty of topography and the promise of a beautiful and tranquil spot to rest at the end of the journey. On Saturdays in summer, you can also refuel at the farmers market, where good prepared foods, often made with local and seasonal ingredients, make the trek back a breeze.
Toronto has several climbing gyms, including Joe Rockhead's (29 Fraser Ave.; tel. 416/538-7670; www.joerockheads.com) and the Toronto Climbing Academy (100 Broadview Ave.; tel. 416/406-5900; www.climbingacademy.com). You can pick up the finer points of knot tying and belaying. Both gyms also rent equipment.
Snowboarding & Skiing
The snowboard craze shows no sign of abating, at least from January to March (or anytime there's enough snow on the ground). One popular site is the Earl Bales Park (4169 Bathurst St., just south of Sheppard Ave.), which offers rentals. The park also has an alpine ski center, which offers both equipment rentals and coaching. Call (tel. 416/395-7931) for more information.
Spas in the City
In the past decade or so, Toronto has established a reputation for superior spas, some in hotels and others stand-alone facilities. Here's a short list of the best, and most unique to the city.
- Elmwood Spa: 18 Elm St. (tel. 416/977-6751). Just a stone's throw from the busy corner of Dundas and Yonge streets, and a convenient respite for shoppers who have exhausted themselves at the nearby Eaton Centre, this is a favorite day spa to while away many serene hours of pampering, dining, and quiet play. They really have it all: massages and facials, a range of water therapies that center around a pretty pool, steam rooms, a whirlpool, and a poolside lounge where spa cuisine and herbal teas are served. The service is top-notch and the brand so highly respected they have their own line of beauty products. Facials are a highlight.
- Holt Renfrew Spa: Holt Renfrew, 50 Bloor St. W. (tel. 416/960-2909). Located in one of Toronto's most luxurious stores is, appropriately enough, one of the city's most luxurious spas. Decorated in modern-chic blond wood and glass, the spa provides a good range of cosmetic services, from manicures to massage. If you've flown to Toronto, try their Jet Lag Facial, which rehydrates the skin and includes lymphatic leg therapy.
- Stillwater Spa: Park Hyatt Toronto, 4 Avenue Rd. (tel. 416/924-5471). Water is the theme at this spa in the Park Hyatt, and it undulates in streams under transparent floor panels and courses down walls in mini-waterfalls. Before you even get to the treatment rooms, you'll be dazzled by the changing areas, which include a whirlpool and sauna, and also private cabana-like nooks for reclining (personal TV screens come with a headset). There's something for everyone at this lovely spot, from manicures to hair "rituals," Swedish and Reiki massage to anti-stress treatments. For a taste of Canadiana, try a Canadian grain facial (with grain from Alberta) or the BC seaweed wrap. The hotel dining room, combined with the health menu at the Spa, offer culinary delights, too.
In the 1950s, the Gardiner Expressway severed Toronto from the lake. For decades, the waterfront went underutilized, but recent efforts to revitalize the area have yielded new parks, a multi-purpose trail, and the Bentway, a park that runs under the Gardiner inviting people to engage with a previously unsavory space. Spanning from Exhibition GO Station to Spadina Avenue, the Bentway makes walking down to the lake a delight. Once at the waterfront, there’s tons to do. The DIY way to see the waters is to rent a kayak or canoe and discover the coastline. It’s ill-advised for novice paddlers to traverse the channel during peak times—the water traffic can get congested. If you’re keen to explore the islands by boat, it’s best to rent a sailboat. Gone Sailing Adventures (tel. 416/240-0202) offers a 3-hour circumnavigation of islands for $150. Lake Ontario is also stocked with plenty of great eating fish. Fishing charters like Epic Sport Fishing (tel. 416/688-4662) have all the equipment and know-how needed to make for a breezy day of casting (and if you ask nicely, they might tour you around the islands in the fishing boat).
There are 200 municipal parks across Toronto with tennis facilities. The most convenient are the courts in High, Rosedale, and Jonathan Ashbridge parks. They are open from April to October only. Call Toronto Parks (tel. 416/392-1111) for information. The Toronto Parks website also has a brochure you can download; visit www.toronto.ca/parks.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.