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Sports & Play

The top five beaches in Toronto

Posted by Derek Flack / July 6, 2011

Top Beaches in TorontoThe 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.

Woodbine / Kew / Balmy beaches
Woodbine Beach TorontoAlthough 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.

  • Water Quality: Blue Flag
  • Sand Quality: Best at Woodbine (rockier at Kew and Balmy)
  • Attractions: Olympic swimming pool, multiple snack bars and change areas, people watching

Hanlan's Point
Hanlan's PointNotorious 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.

  • Water Quality: Blue Flag
  • Sand Quality: Fine-grain, some of the best the city has to offer
  • Attractions: Dongs

Sunnyside Beach TorontoNot 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.

  • Water Quality: Often swimmable (check here), but E. Coli levels do periodically exceed safety levels
  • Sand Quality: Decent if not great, darkish hue and small (smooth) rocks by the waterline
  • Attractions: Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion (built in 1922), Gus Ryder Pool, Joy Oil Station (soon to be renovated), dragon boat races

Cherry Beach
Cherry Beach TorontoA 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.

  • Water Quality: Blue Flag
  • Sand Quality: Let's say "rustic"
  • Attractions: Ice cream truck, 1930s lifesaving station, watching surfer types show off on the water

Bluffer's Park
Bluffer's parkLocated 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.

  • Water Quality: Blue Flag
  • Sand Quality: Some of the best
  • Attractions: The bluffs, scenic hiking trails, a busy marina


Sugar Beach
2011629-sugar-beach.jpgAlthough 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.

  • Water Quality: Don't do it!
  • Sand Quality: Fine-grained and near-perfect
  • Attractions: The view of the city and harbour




Photos (in order) by ~EvidencE~, scott3eh, karin!, Deep-Fried Goodness, Still the Oldie, dtstuff9, Still the Oldie (again).



Sean / July 6, 2011 at 10:20 am
Nice list.

"Dongs" lol
realtalk / July 6, 2011 at 10:38 am
Toronto doesn't have any "real" beaches...Nova Scotia and British Columbia is where its at.
Grass is greener replying to a comment from realtalk / July 6, 2011 at 10:43 am
"Toronto doesn't have any real blank, blank is where it's at."

Feel free to cut and paste this quote for use on every other thread on this site from Mexican food to best skating rink.
ROB replying to a comment from realtalk / July 6, 2011 at 11:16 am
Been to Vancouver BC and I've seen it's beaches and much vaunted scenery.Overrated by far.
Andrew / July 6, 2011 at 12:03 pm
Sugar Beach is my favourite.
TheRealJohnson replying to a comment from realtalk / July 6, 2011 at 12:16 pm
1) Nova Scotia and British Columbia <i>are</i> where it's at.
2) This post ranks the best beaches in this city, it makes no claims over other cities (or provinces, in your rebuttal).
3) When it comes to all things other than coastline, Toronto is most certainly where it's at.
4) Dongs.
NC / July 6, 2011 at 12:22 pm
Ward's is definitely the best ... but we're supposed to keep that a secret aren't we?
Fig / July 6, 2011 at 12:27 pm
Cherry Beach also has an awesome chip truck!
BM replying to a comment from realtalk / July 6, 2011 at 12:53 pm
I'm pretty sure no one here would care if you left right now to go to either coast. Although, given your douchy attitude, I immediately assumed you were from Montreal. :-)
Niklas / July 6, 2011 at 03:26 pm
I went to hanlan's point this past weekend and expected a generally abandoned beach with three naked dudes on it but was surprised to find a nice beach with a lot of people enjoying the sun.. more clothed than nude!
Bexxxx / July 7, 2011 at 05:31 pm

Bahahahaa! Dongs!

You're so awesome blogto!
Krystyn Tully / July 7, 2011 at 09:35 pm
Another great article about Toronto's beaches! It's true that there are gorgeous beaches all over the world, but you can't get to them on a whim on a Sunday afternoon with your friends. The very best thing about Toronto's beaches is that they're right HERE. We might as well love them. The photos that accompany the blog post are stunning, too. I love the shot of Bluffers.
davebeet replying to a comment from realtalk / July 24, 2011 at 05:48 pm
way to compare a city to two provinces. nova scotia and BC dont have real beaches. earth is where it's at if you want real beaches
Souheil / July 29, 2011 at 11:19 am
Which one is the best to go frisbee, tan , have a drink and meet people !!?
not contraption man / September 5, 2011 at 09:29 am

Hanlan's is the best..yes, lots of dongs. but relaxed vibe.
you can have a refreshment, wear what you want or not...and everybody gets along..
beach girl / May 26, 2012 at 03:29 pm
Are bonfires allowed on city beaches? I live near Woodbine beach and would love to have a bonfire with friends...
flora lum / July 14, 2012 at 09:57 am
I thk will love to vist harlans a cute view!
Adam / September 5, 2012 at 04:03 am
This is intelligent, informative and original content I find accurate. I’m pretty sure there’s not another writer that can cover this topic so well.
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ash / September 7, 2012 at 05:03 am
i want to take my 8 month old baby to the beach, which one do you recommend, i used to go to bluff but i dont feel safe to go there with baby
wisdomG.h / December 3, 2012 at 03:36 pm
I really luv it...
edith / March 22, 2013 at 02:00 am
how is the water is a lake or beach salt water o no sorry for the ignorance but i never been there
Mme. / July 19, 2013 at 07:26 am
Ouchie! Burnt dongs!
Jeff replying to a comment from ROB / September 3, 2013 at 04:16 pm
I'm sorry but if you have been to Vancouver you would not be saying his. From Kits Beach to Sunset beach, each is far nicer with much better views and water (written from my house in the beaches and I'm kind of a homer).
Jeff replying to a comment from beach girl / September 3, 2013 at 04:18 pm
I am not sure if they are allowed, but I have had them before. Just need to clean up your mess after and do it in an appropriate spot, not the middle of the sand at Woodbine.
abdullah / September 26, 2013 at 10:54 am
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Farr replying to a comment from realtalk / June 26, 2014 at 09:12 pm
Truck u
Richard Nelson / June 27, 2014 at 04:47 am
You made a nod at water temperature, but didn't note that Cherry Beach has (usually by far) the warmest water of the beaches you mention.
Jonas / July 17, 2014 at 01:09 am
Been to the Baltic coastline along Northern Germany and Poland. Yeah, we Canadians WISH we had a 'real' beach!!

This article makes me want to go for a warm swim at Cherry Beach though. And yes the police patrol do seem to overlook the young folks peacefully enjoying a Toronto Beach campfire.

Festive fireworks seem to be tacitly allowed at Bluffers, but you can't even light a sparkler at uptight Balmy Beach (that's the snooty complaining residents for you.)
KG / July 27, 2014 at 01:24 pm

I see you haven't been to Nova Scotia or PEI's south shore. We've got excellent beaches, they're just all salt water ones.
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johaaaaaaana replying to a comment from Sean / April 16, 2015 at 10:20 pm
dong dong dong! i have a idea!
Angel replying to a comment from ROB / May 13, 2015 at 09:06 am
You do know That NS and BC are right by the ocean right? Toronto is not. And as everyone else pointed it out, this is a top five beaches in Toronto. There are beaches outside of Toronto, and BC and NS don't stand a chance to be compared to other beaches around the globe, but hey, that's completely unrelated right?

Stop been so negative.
Sam Brown replying to a comment from realtalk / July 6, 2015 at 10:10 am
If I were going to get on a plane to travel to a "real" beach, it definitely wouldn't be to one of Canada's coasts.
Sam Brown replying to a comment from Sam Brown / July 6, 2015 at 10:11 am
If a beach doesn't meet the water, it's not a beach, it's a glorified sandbox. Why is Sugar Beach even mentioned over, say, Ward's Island? (There, cleaned that up a bit)
Carla Sotomayor / September 17, 2015 at 08:36 pm
Arrogant Civilians. we must enjoy what nature gives us,
Other Cities: Montreal