The top five beaches in Toronto
The top beaches in Toronto may not rival those to be found at more southerly destinations around the globe, but throughout the summer months they're a more than adequate substitute for those who find themselves city-bound and in need of a little sand and sunshine. Perhaps surprisingly, many are also excellent places to swim. Although the water quality at Toronto's beaches tends to suffer from a bad reputation, the majority of our lakefront swimming areas have received the Blue Flag eco-label, an internationally recognized designation that takes into account a host of environmental factors.
So it's generally safe to swim in the lake, but is it warm enough to be enjoyable? Assuming the city receives typical summer weather, from mid July to late August, the water around most beaches should make it up to at least 20 C (68F) and possibly significantly higher. That said, according to Environment Canada, northwesterly winds in conjunction with a cold front can push surface water on Lake Ontario towards the southeast, which results in much colder water from deeper layers coming to our shores. In other words, even at its warmest, the water at city beaches will feel "refreshing."
Here are my picks for the top five beaches in Toronto.
Although technically different beaches with distinct histories, I group these three together based on their close proximity. Should one not like the vibe at one, it only takes a minute or two to get to the others. And different vibes they do have. Woodbine is the city's best spot for beach volleyball and is the busiest of the eastern beaches. Kew takes some of the overflow and rewards those looking for a more serene experience. It's marked by the historic lifesaving station and rock sculptors on summer weekends. Balmy is the quietest of the three (and also the most easterly), and so ideal for those seeking seclusion.
Notorious for its clothing optional area, Hanlan's Point also has a side for the less adventurous, even if it's generally far less populated than its nude-friendly neighbour (only the second of its kind in Canada). The site of one of Toronto's first major amusement parks, the beach still gets very busy on hot weekends with a wide variety of clothed and unclothed patrons. Weekdays see a higher single male population on the nude side, but the creep factor is is kept mostly in check.
Not the best beach when it comes to water quality, Sunnyside is nevertheless deemed safe to swim most of the time. Perhaps due to the proximity of Gus Ryder pool, the beach itself never seems to get altogether that packed (and certainly not like it used to). Still, on summer evenings and weekends, both the beach and the ample grassy area immediately to north draw people out who are more interested in the scenery than getting in the water.
A popular spot for kite-boarding and surfboarding, Cherry Beach has a decidedly laid back atmosphere. Shouldn't all beaches? Yes, but compared to Woodbine, for instance, it's less populated and lacks the "look at me" vibe that the volleyball players tend to emit. The smell of charcoal barbecues often wafts over the beach from the small wooded area to the north. At night, the parking lot serves as one of the city's best-loved makeout areas.
Located at the bottom of Brimely Road (one of the steepest hills in the city), the beach itself at Bluffer's Park is one of the nicest in the city. Bounded by the Scarborough Bluffs to the north, the park is both scenic and well-manicured (as far as Toronto beaches go). A most excellent place for a nighttime bonfire.
Although you can't swim at Sugar Beach, if you can secure a spot under one of the signature pink umbrellas, this is one of the nicest places in Toronto to sit and watch the day go by. Huge bonus points if a ship docks at Redpath Sugar while you're chilling.
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