Toronto beach profiles: Woodbine
Woodbine Beach in Toronto just pulses on hot summer days. The curve of sand that links Lake Ontario to Ashbridge's Bay Park is packed with warm bodies gleaming under the blazing sun. This is a place that's open, gregarious, and undeniably alive.
The beach sits at the foot of Woodbine Avenue, where storms, wind, and time have pulled sand from the face of the Scaborough Bluffs until it finally comes to rest in the half-moon curve of Ashbridge's Bay Park. Woodbine is the gateway to three kilometres of glorious, sandy waterfront stretching eastward to the art deco palace that is the R.C. Harris Water Filtration Plant.
The first thing you notice when you approach Woodbine is the people. This has been a meeting place for at least a century. Once a cottage community with a similar vibe to the Toronto Islands, Woodbine Beach became a popular escape from the muggy heat of downtown and other land-locked neighbourhoods. During special events, like the annual Victoria Day fireworks celebration, tens of thousands of Torontonians flock to Woodbine Beach.
On any given summer weekend, the 92 Woodbine bus and the 501 Queen streetcar are packed with people making the trip to what is arguably the city's most popular beach. Cyclists speed to the area along the Martin Goodman Trail. The parking lots at Ashbridges Bay Park fill up by 10 a.m.
It's also a busy place on weeknights. There are over 90 beach volleyball courts here, most of which are owned by the Ontario Volleyball Association, but a handful of which are designated for public use. Even if you don't want to shell out for a membership, on weekday afternoons, you'll never have trouble finding a court. For the more adventurous, the Donald D. Summerville Outdoor Olympic Pool complex lets you dive from a 5-metre board into the Olympic-size pool. The beach is large enough to accommodate groups of people playing DIY beach sports, like badminton, frisbee, and soccer.
You can swim at Woodbine Beach, of course. That's part of the allure. There's a ribbon of smooth rocks just under the water, but it fades out after a few feet and your toes sink into the dust of the Scarborough Bluffs. There are lifeguards, too. Stick close to their towers and you'll find the sandiest spots on the beach. Water quality is pretty good, rarely failing to meet Ontario water quality standards. The Blue Flags folks like Woodbine Beach so much that they've awarded it the international eco-label for maintaining quality, safety, and community engagement every year since 2005.
If there is a flaw in Woodbine Beach's shiny veneer, it's the periodic smell from the nearby sewage treatment plant. When the wind is blowing the wrong way, the big old plant makes its presence known with a cauliflower scent that's anything but commensurate with the rest of the atmosphere. An odour elimination filter is supposed to be up and running by 2019.
Another drawback is the lack of rental options for key beach items like umbrellas or even bikes (how good would a couple of BIXI stands be here?). In the absence of a beach shop, you have to bring everything you need with you.
These faults aside, the sights, the sounds, and the spirit of Woodbine Beach make it the city's most dynamic playground. If you have never been to the beach before or if you doubt Toronto's street credit as a waterfront town, this should be your first destination.
Water quality rating: Blue Flag
Number of days closed due to water quality problems since June 2011: 0
Sand quality: Fine, soft sand with occasional medium-sized smooth rock
Nearby trails: Boardwalk & Martin Goodman Trail
On-site facilities: Snack bar, washrooms, bathing station
Transit: Woodbine 92 Bus, 501 Queen Streetcar. Lot and nearby street parking available, but come early.
Other perks: Off-leash dog park immediately to the east
People watching potential (out of 3): 3
Aggressiveness of seagulls and geese (out of 3): 1 (unless you're near the snack bar!)
Krystyn Tully is the co-founder of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, a Toronto-based charity working for a Lake Ontario in which you can swim, drink, and fish. Check out her Swim Guide smartphone app for more info about beaches in Toronto and beyond.
Photos by Scott Snider