50 things to do this summer in Toronto
Summer activities and events in Toronto are, arguably, the best kind. As much as we are a city that makes the most of the cold, one can hear an almost audible collective sigh from residents when the truly warm weather arrives and we can enjoy what Toronto has to offer in short sleeves. And, there's no shortage of things to do. From activities that allow us to enjoy the tremendous natural resources of the city (our parks, ravines and the Islands are second to none), or to gather together with other citizens (this is the time for music festivals, outdoor movies and street festivals), or just to indulge in food that's easy to eat with one's hands (street food is the latest thing, you know), there's an almost limitless supply of ways to make the most of summer in Toronto.
Here's our list of 50 essential summer activities in Toronto. We've tried to avoid some of the more predictable and well-known options in an effort to keep things fresh and interesting. Please add your ideas to the comments section!
Take in a flick at Toronto's last Drive-In movie theatre
The drive-in movie theatre is a dying breed, but Toronto has one last holdout in the Port Lands (it actually doubles as a driving range during the day). The image and sound quality isn't the best and $15 per person isn't exactly a steal, but on a warm summer night the breeze off the lake is gorgeous enough that you won't worry about these perfunctory concerns.
Get your EDM fix
Hit up the Veld Festival, happening this year on Aug. 3 and 4 at Downsview Park. Highlights include the likes of Deadmau5 and Pretty Lights. Time to get poppin' and dance like your limbs ain't attached to nothin. And check out what happened last year in the interim.
Watch a Toronto Maple Leafs game (no, not those Leafs)
There's more than one Leafs team in Toronto. Founded a couple years after the original Toronto Maple Leafs AAA team packed it in back in 1967, the Intercounty Leafs play out of Christie Pits, a great place to watch a game on a warm summer night. The baseball's pretty good, but even better when you pack a few beers to drink discreetly in the grass bleachers.
Soak up some culture at the Summerworks Festival
Summerworks, as any actor or lover of the arts will tell you, is an annual celebration of live performance art in Toronto. This year's festival is from August 8 until the 18, with a sure highlight being "How Can I Forget" by Sook-Yin Lee and Benjamin Kamino. For a full schedule of performances, check out the Summerworks site.
Bet on a long shot horse
While there are Off Track Betting options in Toronto (at least one of which is a pretty classy joint), nothing beats heading to the track itself on a sunny summer day. Horse racing actually has a rich history in this city, and the tradition continues in somewhat diminished form at Woodbine Racetrack on the outskirts of the city. If your hunch pays off, you might even make some money.
Check out a band at Toronto's newest live music venue
Adelaide Hall, situated on Adelaide just west of University, is Toronto's latest venue to catch a show and it's generating lots of buzz after Japandroids brought down the house in the first official performance there. They're just starting to fill up their summer schedule, but you can get tix to Blonde Redhead on July 15. Want more new live music? We've rounded up Toronto's newest live music venues here as well as put together a list of our favourite outdoor concert venues in TO.
Watch a movie under the stars
Like eating a meal outdoors, somehow watching a film is just better when you're sprawled on a blanket on the grass under the stars. It's the magnitude, the retro vibes, and the warm night air. There are free outdoor films from Yonge Dundas Square to the Harbourfront to the Dog Bowl, as well as the ongoing Open Roof Festival and a list of other locations across the city. Get a little romantic, or get together a few friends for an innocent night at the movies.
Get your indie on at the Grove Music Festival
The Grove festival just moved from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Toronto's Fort York Garrison Common. Their loss is our gain. Headliners include the likes of Phoenix, Hot Chip, and Girl Talk. It's all happening on August 3. For details on tickets and scheduling, take a look at the festival's official website.
Have a gourmet picnic (but let someone else do all the work)
A picnic in the park — it sounds like a great idea until you start to assemble the whole thing. For those looking for a delicious spread without the affiliated work, Parts & Labour offers gourmet picnic baskets, stocked with locally sourced meats and cheeses. They're not cheap (starting at $25 per person), but you can return your tote, containers and soda bottles for a refund.
Indulge in some soft serve
For soft serve, head to Tom's Dairy Freeze on the Queensway. The ice cream parlour and fast food joint is straight out of the 1950s, and serves up retro cones whipped up to nearly impossible height. Hot days often see lineups, but it's worth the wait once you park it at the adjacent picnic tables and chow down.
Drink on a patio in the pouring rain
Rain is the enemy of patio drinkers everywhere, but the folks over at Gusto 101 are one step ahead of mother nature. Their rooftop patio is like the SkyDome of outdoor drinking spaces: it has a retractable roof. You'll be singing in the rain with a cold beer and a dry head. This could be the inovation of the decade.
Dine out on some late night jerk chicken
Toronto has embraced street food with a fervour over the last couple of years at night markets, pop-ups, and even at restaurants, but if you're looking for an authentic street food experience in Toronto, head up to Eglinton and Oakwood on a jerk chicken mission. Huge oil drum barbecues are spread with glistening chicken that's as delicious as it cheap.
Do the prix fixe thing at Summerlicious
Summerlicious is in full force for another season, and while many of the hot ticket destinations for dinner are fully booked, there remain many opportunities to snag gourmet eats at drastically reduced prices — especially if you pay a visit during lunch. Sure there are the same old places year in and year out, but the new crop keeps things interesting. And if you're the type that likes to take photos of your noteworthy meals, this contest might win you some free food.
Fill up at a food truck
Despite some tired old Toronto by-laws that limit where our local food trucks can operate, the mobile food scene is thriving in this city. With regular appearances at music and street festivals and longer term residences at places like the Sony Centre, Toronto eaters have wholeheartedly embraced this new street eats option. To keep up with news on the latest food trucks and where the various members of the fleet have set up shop, check out our free Toronto food trucks app.
Get gelato delivered to your door
Hot? Sweaty? Hungover? And/or lazy? Gelato is perfect for any of these situations, and it's a widespread treat in Toronto. But now Be Good Gelato does special bike deliveries straight to your house. They serve it sandwiched between two cookies ($5) or in little cups ($4). Orders are required to hit the $30 mark to qualify for delivery.
Eat food on sticks at a night market
The night market is the very essence of summer, and one of the best the GTA has to offer happens this weekend with Night It Up! in Markham, an annual celebration of Asian street eats and culture. If that's not enough notice or the location seems too far, the T&T Night Market (July 19-21) in the Port Lands is also a good bet.
Have a backyard growler party
Ever heard of a growler? If you're a beer fanatic you might be interested in joining the Indie Ale House's Growler Club, which provides members with a 2.5 litre refillable ceramic beer "bottle," which you can bring back to the brewery to be refilled once a month. It would make a perfect centrepiece to a backyard barbecue. Only a few membership spots remain, so you'll have to act quickly if interested.
Try a homemade popsicle
This shit beats the sugar-coated crap out of your traditional store-bought Popsicle. Augie's Gourmet Ice Pops morph to match the seasons, and this summer there are hybrid flavours available like watermelon/lemon/mint, mango/lime/basil-mint, and pineapple/coconut/lime. Pops are $3 a pop. Excuse me while I go and hoard them all like they're Tickle Me Elmos.
Drink a cold-brewed coffee at Te Aro
Cold-brew coffee is not to be confused with iced coffee. Te Aro in the east end offers the special beverage. It's not diluted by ice cubes; rather, it's made by steeping the grounds for 16 hours in water that's room temperature or cool, and then filtering them out, making for a less-bitter, fruitier result that's perfect for summer.
Get Drunk at a summer beer festival
Toronto loves craft beer, in case you hadn't yet noticed this delicious trend. There are at least nine beer festivals going on in the city this summer. Toronto's Festival of Beer is the the behemoth event; the biggest beer festival in all the land (or at least, in all the True North Strong and Free). It's going down July 26 to 28 at Bandshell Park at the Ex. If you're mad about hops, this ain't one to miss.
Share a pitcher of sangria
On a sweltering day in the middle of a Toronto heatwave, sangria is somehow thirst-quenching and effectively boozy at the same time. It's also a respectable choice for day drinking. Milagro has phenomenal sangria. Ditto for Playa Cabana Cantina. Be sure to check out what's on offer at new Spanish restaurants Patria and Dyne.
Create your own deep fried food tour of the CNE
Along with offering outlandish dishes like donut cheeseburgers and bacon-covered hot dogs, the CNE has become something of a Mecca for deep-fried eats. These range from the old fashioned (deep fried pickles) to the ridiculous (deep fried coke) to the heart attacking-inducing (deep fried butter). Consume at your own peril.
Eat tacos at the Brick Works
Tacos. What an incredible combination. If the precise individual who invented this snack could be found and resurrected, the entirety of the human race would be sure to heap frankincense and myrrh on his or her head. End rant — but yes, if you like tacos with a side of street art and good music, you need to head to the Brick Works on July 19 for La Carnita's "party of the summer" for the second year in a row (last year's event was called UNO).
Get your eat on at a shipping container
Toronto now boasts more than one shipping container market. Joining the older and bigger Market 707 is a new collection of food containers at Harbourfront, where you can get gourmet burgers, lobster rolls and hot dogs. Over at Scadding Court, the options are more eclectic, with coffee, bubble tea, crepes and roti, to name only a few of the foods on offer.
Check out Corktown Common, Toronto's newest park
Waterfront Toronto continues to hit home runs with its new parks. Corktown Common is the latest addition to the city's modern green spaces, and something of centre piece for the quickly emerging West Donlands. Opened just in time for the beginning of summer, the new space features a splash pad, a gorgeous pavilion, and wetlands. More like this, please.
Learn how to surf (or Stand Up Paddle)
Believe it or not there is small by vibrant surf community in Toronto. Although the waves on Lake Ontario are the most worthy during the fall and winter, the main event for Toronto's surfers and stand up paddlers is Aloha Toronto, held August 24th and 25th at Cherry Beach. Get tips on how to catch waves at our local beaches and soak up some Hawaiian culture.
Go for a ride in the Don Valley
There's an excellent paved path that runs through the Don Valley (easily accessed from Pottery Road), but the real fun takes place off road. The quality of the mountain bike trails in the Don Valley is remarkable given its urban location, and riders of various ability levels will find sections that prove challenging to explore. There's even some North Shore-style structures if you want to get into some stunt riding.
Pretend you're in South Beach
Charles Khabouth, the semi-legendary mogul behind La SociÃ©tÃ©, Patria, Weslodge and more, just opened a new pool bar at Polson Pier called Cabana. Scope out some models (including some who float inside of plastic bubbles...), scarf some delicious food by Jamie Meireles of Oliver & Bonacini, and get delirious on tropical cocktails under the TO sun all at once
Make a campfire at Dufferin Grove Park
Bummed that it's the weekend and you don't have a cottage to escape to? No worries, you can have a woodsy experience and howl at the moon right downtown. There are two spots to have campfires in Dufferin Grove Park as long as you email to book in advance. Happy s'mores making.
Take a hike
Take advantage of the lushness in and around our lovely city. You can hike a little ways away from the streets of Toronto to find yourself in what feels like a whole new world. Or at least, very far from the city. The Don Valley trails are a top choice, but there's a myriad of others if you click the link above.
Chill to the beats down at Cherry Beach
Cherry Beach graces the stretch of waterfront just at the foot of Cherry and Unwin in the east end, and it departs from its usual beachy identity each Sunday in the name of rave kids. Promise and its DJs are back, offering a little rest for the soul (in the form of a dance party) every Sunday from 3 p.m. until 11 p.m. Check the Promise Group on Facebook for the latest updates.
Paddle up the creek
But not in the bad way. And not in an actual creek, so...anyway. You can canoe in Toronto, either on the lake or on the Humber River. The possibilities for a trip outside the concrete jungle are more diverse than you'd think — just don't head to the Don. Check out the link below for a list of rental options: canoes can be rented for a mere $30 per day.
Camp out (without leaving the city)
Ever just want to escape the confines of your condo/apartment and sleep under the stars as in days of old without getting mugged/run over/assaulted/arrested? Well, you can if you know where to go. Glen Rouge Park offers space to pitch a tent at the edge of the city. The campground is on Kingston Rd. so it's just accessible enough (read: the closest TTC stop is one kilometre away). Because of its spot on the edge of town, it offers hiking trails and a sandy beach for a true Zen getaway with Mama Nature.
Do some grilling in a Toronto park
The backyard barbecue is a rite of summer, but not all of us have access to a grill — or a backyard for that matter. Never fear, a number of Toronto parks are outfitted with charcoal grills so that everyone can placate their inner pit master. As with most things in limited supply, you'll want to scope out your grill early, lest someone else get their ribs on there first. Check out the link above for a list of Toronto parks with this most crucial of amenities.
Spend a day in the woods
Aside from the occasional view of the CN Tower, a day spent in Crothers' Woods feels like a genuine escape from the city. Once home to a brick company and then later a dump, the Parks Department has done excellent work to make the area an excellent place to explore on foot or by bike. There are now prominent maps at trailheads (the best way to access the woods are from the Loblaws parking lot on Redway Rd), which ensure that you won't lose your bearings once the cityscape disappears from view.
Hit the beach
Is there a more summery activity that making a trip to the beach? Probably not. Thankfully, Toronto has a lot of options for the beach-goer. Clothing optional? Check. Tranquil Island setting? Yup. Bluff-enclosed cove? That, too. Urban-industrial paradise? We've also got that.
Explore local art galleries by bike
Held on the last Thursday of the month throughout the summer, Art Spin offers guided bike-based art crawls, stopping in at some of the city's best independent galleries. Typically coinciding with show openings, the tours are a great way to meet other bike and art enthusiasts, decidedly unpretentious, and a novel way to connect with Toronto's vibrant gallery scene. Best of all, it's free.
Go for a run
But not your typical run around the block. If you're looking to get intense about it, the Warrior Dash is coming up on July 20. The dash goes down at Horseshoe Valley Resort, which is about an hour's drive north of the city. The course is 5.5K total, and it's made up of about a dozen obstacles, such as leaping over fire pits. You know, sane activities. The best part of this whole shindig, IMHO, is that warriors are met with a celebration feast, including a beer alley. If that's not enough for you, check out Run or Dye coming at us this fall. For more conventional running races check out this post.
Buy some new art
The Queen West Art Crawl is an annual occurrence in the west end, and it's been going on for the past 10 years. This year's crawl will feature works from over 250 awesome local artists on display from Bellwoods to Parkdale, and ready for purchase. While the work is generally uneven, with so many artists' work to choose from, there's bound to be something that appeals. The Art Crawl falls on Sept. 21 and 22 this year.
Get your car washed by a zombie
Car looking a little too clean these days? Care for a lil' more blood and guts on there? Not scurred of The Walking Dead? Check out the Blood & Suds car wash on Aug. 18 at The Classic Coin Wash, at College and Lansdowne, from 12 p.m. until 5 p.m. Proceeds go to the Zombie Walk and the Halloween Parade.
Go bowling outdoors
Bust out those khakis and a white golf shirt and play at being an elderly English chap on the lawn bowl. Yes, that's right. You can bowl, outdoors, at a variety of places in the city. Many of these clubs are members only, so you might want to be especially nice to your grandmother in the hopes of an invitation. If lawn bowling is too stodgy, there's always Bocce Ball.
Hunt for treasure at the Junction Flea
The Junction Flea is a staple venture for collectors of all sorts. They've got art, they've got knick-knacks, they've got magic and food. The Flea takes place once per month from the spring until the fall. And if the Junction is a bit far west for you, check out the Parkdale Flea or the Leslieville Flea, which are essentially the same deal, just new this summer. Want more flea markets? Here's a round-up of the top fleas in Toronto.
Take a joy-stroll at Pedestrian Sunday
On the last Sunday of each month between May and October, the streets of Kensington Market are closed off to cars, and pedestrians roam free. They dance, they stroll, they eat, and they play the bongos. They infuriate motorists and cyclists and forgetful people innocently trying to purchase their vegetables. This is a truly delightful street party, though, and not one to be missed. Share your pics with us in our PS Kensington stream.
Take a late night swim at Christie Pits
Just because summer in Toronto is hotter than hell doesn't mean you can't find ways to cool down — or, maybe, make them hotter. While the Christie Pits pool stays open later during heat waves, there's plenty of unofficial pool hopping that takes place. Take advantage of those summer nights by getting naked and skinny dipping if you dare. The night sky will be your protector.
Yes, you can fish in Toronto. And the fish aren't radioactive, and they don't have legs. You can catch everything from salmon and trout to carp and bass, and destinations include Ashbridge's Bay Park, The Toronto Islands, and the Rouge River Marsh, among others.
Serve up a game of volleyball
A Thursday night tradition in the Beaches, there are over 90 beach volleyball courts at Woodbine Beach. While most are dedicated to the Ontario Volleyball Association, some are available for public use, as well. Looking for a game without the crowds? Head over early in the week, when the courts are less packed.
Spend the night on a boat
Few of us have enough money to buy a yacht (that's an understatement), but if you're drawn to the idea of spending a night on the water, there's always the Boatel. Docked at 539 Queens Quay West, the floating hotel is 65 foot boat complete with multiple cabins. You can also rent the whole boat if you've got $525 to spend for a nautical-themed party.
Have a steamy summer makeout sesh
From a High Park picnic table to Sugar Beach to the CityPlace Canoe...hell, even the basic sidewalk under a streetlight, the heat Toronto holds in during the summer months is enough to get the most prudish among us in the mood to make out. Don't be afraid to indulge in a little summer lovin'.
Make amends with a visit to the Toronto Flower Market
The Toronto Flower Market makes a monthly appearance at 99 Sudbury, changing the streetscape from grey to green. The floral-focused open air market is the first of its kind in the city, offering a rare chance purchase cut and potted flowers direct from the greenhouses while supporting and getting to know local Ontario growers. Future dates are July 13, August, 10, and September 4.
Go fly a kite!
No, really — it could be a whole lot of fun. Already a popular activity at Toronto beaches (and Woodbine in particular), there's actually a dedicated kite festival that will enter its second year on the last day of summer. Windfest brings together kite experts and the uninitiated in a celebration of the simplicity of wind power.
Writing by Sarah Ratchford and Derek Flack
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