50 things to do this summer in Toronto 2014
Summer activities and events have finally arrived in Toronto, and there's a veritable flood of things to do as part of our ongoing recovery from the six months of winter hell we experienced this year. As it gets hot and sticky out, the food trucks are back in full force, new patios have been unveiled, our beaches are looking inviting again, and parks around the city are bustling with activity. It's hard to argue against summer as the best season in Toronto -- not only is there just more to do, but our collective attitude seems to become more laid back, friendly, and open to adventure.
Last year, we posted our first list of 50 things to do in the summer (still worth a read), and loads of the items on that previous list still apply this season, but with so many new events and activities to get up to, a new list had to be made. So get out your shorts, sandals and sunscreen, summer is here and the itinerary of fun things to do has never been longer or more alluring.
Here are 50 things to do this summer in Toronto.
Catch a movie under the stars
There are few things that take advantage of summer weather better than outdoor movies. And Toronto is blessed with a number of options when it comes to open air screenings. The Open Roof Festival just announced its summer lineup, but you can also head to Yonge-Dundas Square, the Harbourfront Centre, Trinity Bellwoods Park, Christie Pits, David Pecaut Square, and Corus Quay for the annual Sail-In Cinema. Full schedules have yet to be released for a number of these movie nights, but we'll round them all up as the information becomes available.
Get your electronic music fix all summer long
There's no better time or place to get one's electronic music fix than summer in Toronto. There's the more EDM-focused major festivals like Digital Dreams (June 28 and 29) and Veld (August 2 and 3), featuring Calvin Harris and Armin van Buuren. And even though Sound in Motion will be on hiatus this year, series like Electric Island and Summer Daze will make sure this summer is as bass heavy as it should be.
Get your World Pride party on
World Pride is going to be an unbelievable party, there's no question. Though our fair city is far from perfect, Pride is the most amazingly loving celebration of our LGBTQ++ communities every year, and it makes me proud to be a Torontonian. World Pride will be full of Pride's usual boisterous, flamboyant, rainbowy spirit, but kicked up about a thousand notches. Events to watch out for include the opening party with Melissa Etheridge, Tegan and Sara, and Deborah Cox at a licensed Nathan Phillips Square, the Village Streetfair, and, of course, the Dyke March and main parade. It's going to be incredible this year.
See a concert at the new HMV Underground
The in-store performance is one of the record store's greatest raisons d'etre. So it seemed like a clever move when the HMV mega-store at Yonge and Dundas announced that they would clear out their basement to make way for a new live performance space. (At the very least, it's a good way to get folks in the door, no?) The room is already drawing musicians of some note - their next scheduled performance features Jill Barber (June 18). Check out the company's Facebook page for more info.
Or, party on a party boat
Last year in the heat of summer, I laboriously scoped out the details for you on the best party boats in Toronto. Most of the boats around the city will put you back about $25 to board (not including drinks, of course) before you get to cruise around the inner harbour looking like you're having a better time than everyone else stuck on the shore. Just don't drink too much, ok? We wouldn't want anyone to fall off (or cramp their style by wearing a lifejacket).
Take in some live theatre
Toronto has so much wonderful live theatre on offer throughout the summer. Labcab in Parkdale is July 26 and 27, with lots of workshops going on prior to the event. (Stay tuned for further developments). Then there's Summerworks, which stretches over 11 days in August and features stage performances of all kinds. This year's festival is August 7 to 17. And last but not least on out list of can't-miss live theatre in Toronto is the Toronto Fringe Festival, which has raised over $5-million for artists since its inception in 1989. Tickets for Fringe Festival shows are $12, and there's over 150 to catch. This year's festival is July 2 to 13.
Catch the TFC friendly
Toronto FC has built up a rabidly loyal following over the last five years, but there's nothing quite like seeing the European stars come through town to test the team's mettle. TFC will butt heads with Tottenham Hotspur F.C. on July 23rd in what will be an extra interesting friendly on account of the fact that it's the first time Jermain Defoe will square off against his old team. The Spurs are still one of the finest teams in the Premier League, so it will be intriguing to see how our local boys (at least by team affiliation) stack up against them.
Listen to Toronto's gay choir (and join in!)
Singing Out!, which bills itself as "Toronto's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community chorus," welcomes folks from all over the city who love to sing. Though they don't audition members, and anyone can join, they make beautiful music together through intricate choral arrangements. Their set lists range from moving pieces dealing with homophobia and suicide to boisterous odes to gay marriage and Jan Brady - sometimes, one right after the other. (They also do a pretty solid rendition of fun.'s "Some Nights".) Look for them at Pride, where they'll host the Big Pride Sing-Along; bellow along with the choir to show tunes and Madonna/Gaga mash-ups. They also promise drag king Mounties.
Go for a swim at Rob Ford's favourite club
At this point, it is rather gauche to make jokes at the expense of Toronto's sort-of-mayor, Rob Ford. But if you're a fan or want to live a day in the mayor's shoes, hit up Muzik Nightclub new pool-based addition. Aiming to compete with Cabana Pool Bar, the place is outfitted with lovely, clean swimming pools, white cabanas for VIP service, glorious cocktails and a good beer selection, too. Definitely worth the potential priciness for a special night out, if it's your thing.
Go to Drake's music festival
Drake's whole purpose in life is to outdo himself (and he does, on the regular),so what will this year's OVO bring? So far, we only know about Outkast (who, sorry ms. jackson, is kind of overdoing it on the festivals this year). He's announced special guests, but is remaining secretive. I'm hoping Nicki or Riri, to be honest. Last year, he brought Kanye and Diddy for OVO, and his last performance in the city, on his birthday, was amazing. Impress us, Drizzy. We may have been the worst, but now we're waiting for you. See Drake at the Molsen Amphitheatre August 4.
Check out the work of an iconic Canadian painter
The AGO has been on quite the hot streak over the last few years, with major shows featuring international heavyweights like Frida and Diego, Ai Weiwei, as well as Francis Bacon and Henry Moore. Now we're to be treated to the work of a Canadian legend in the form of Alex Colville. Featuring over 100 of the artist's meticulous and tension-filled paintings, the exhibit is a well deserved retrospective for a Toronto-born great. Starts August 23rd.
Visit Fan Expo
Another year, another slew of elaborate costumes at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre: Like a dead superhero, Fan Expo will return right on schedule Aug. 28-31. Joining perennial convention favourites Stan Lee, William Shatner and Bruce Campbell on the roster of celebrity guests are Firefly's Nathan Fillion and a slew of Walking Dead cast members. Build your own props with the Toronto Steampunk Society, attend a masquerade, or do some speed dating. Personal con-going advice: Don't get the balloon animal guy to make you a balloon Chthulu, or a couple dressed in Star Trek redshirt uniforms will give you the cut-eye after you poke them with the tentacles one too many times in the concessions line.
Check out a Pan Am Games test event
So it's not the Olympics (phew!) but the Pan Am Games are kind of a big deal. Along with the major infrastructure projects affiliated with the event, there's going to be a ton of world class athletes and competition in Toronto next summer. For those dubious at the importance of this impending event, the city will host a number of test runs this summer to drum up excitement for next year's games. Ok, yeah, organizers are also using these preliminary competitions to check out boring things like athlete transportation, but you don't need to think about that stuff as a spectator.
FOOD AND DRINK
Stuff yourself (and then walk it off) at a street festival
Even as the street food trend has gripped Toronto restaurants over the last couple of years, there's nothing quite like the real thing. Eating food off of a stick is both nostalgic (harkening back to marshmallows and hot dogs on the camp fire) and convenient in that you can just keep on walking to the next vendor. In addition to the most popular (and lineup-plagued) festivals, make sure to hit up Taste of Lawrence, one of the city's best from a culinary standpoint.
Get brain freeze with some frozen beer
What do you get when you marry soft serve with draught? Polar Beer. And yes, it's exactly what it sounds like: a glass of beer with a frozen foam top. The frosty top insulates the beer below, keeping it wonderfully cool for drinking under the hot, hot sun. At present, it's available at Don Don Izakaya, Nome Izakaya, Kintaro Izakaya, and Tsuki Izakaya, though there are plans to increase the number of establishments at which it can be found as the warm weather arrives in full.
Try a new restaurant
There's a wealth of new noteworthy restaurants opening this summer including Gwai Lo, a modern Asian brasserie coming to College Street, and Thouroughbred from Aaron Zack of Snakes & Lagers pedigree. Also on our radar is Colette coming soon to the Thompson Hotel from the folks behind the Chase and Cluny, a massive French bistro in the Distillery District.
Drink some local cider
Cider is on the rise in a big way. Along with local upstarts like the Brickworks Ciderhouse, the cider scene just outside of Toronto is brimming with novel offerings like the West Avenue Heritage Dry. Ontario's cool climate produces the type of highly-acidic apples that make for great cider, so the next time you're tired of beer but not up for wine, take a ride on the cider train.
Drink a slushie cocktail
Okay seriously, an opportunity to be transported back to childhood and get drunk at the same time? I can't think of a better invention. Rhum Corner, Momofuku, and Home of the Brave all serve up wonderful boozy slush concoctions, with from Piña Colada to cherry flavour. Check out our list of the top boozy slushies in the city for more spots.
Check out the Roundhouse Craft Beer fest
The Roundhouse Craft Beer fest, outside of Steamwhistle's brewery, is one of the city's best. Picnicking is encouraged, and all brewers present are part of the Ontario Craft Brewers. Last year, brewers present included Amsterdam, Beau's, Flying Monkeys, Mill St., Steamwhistle of course, and others. Food trucks will be present too, making the event a true festival. This year, it's on August 9 and 10.
Cool down with some frozen eats
Seriously, there are so many options for yummy frozen treats in Toronto. If you can't find an ice cream truck, check out the copious amounts of gourmet ice pops around, from the likes of Augie's Ice Pops and others. Or, if you're more into carnival food and want to feel like a kid again, check out Sweet Snow Shave Ice, which comes in flavours like Rainbow (strawberry,pineapple and lemon) and The Hawaiian (pineapple, banana and coconut).
Get some food delivered by bike
Ever picked a car while commuting by bike and tried to race it along your route? If you've engaged in this vaguely competitive scenario, you'd know that during peak traffic hours, two wheels almost always beats four in the downtown core. That's good news for Toronto's recent bevy of delivery-by-bike options. Pizza Pizza's 30 minutes-or-its-free promise is a distant memory, but bike delivery is faster than your might think. Hurrier's got a lot covered, but BeerBikeTO is worth noting for the less boozed-up among us.
Eat some corn!
Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon. Oh, such delicious and simple foreshadowing courtesy of Shirley Jackson's classic (notorious?) short story. Rejoice in the fact that you never have to read this parable again (or ritually sacrifice other humans) and chow down at the CORNehCOPIA food truck or go for Mexican style at La Carnita. Want to go the DIY route? Hit up one of the GTA's organic farms come August.
Get drunk (and fed) in a back alley
We're not condoning splitting a forty from a paper bag, but you can still take in the graffiti-covered urban landscape by stopping in for a cold one at Cold Tea tucked behind the decrepit Kensington Mall (60 Kensington Ave). Best still, stop in on a Sunday afternoon for a weekly barbecue helmed by guest chefs from Toronto's top restaurants. In Parkdale, book ahead for a private pig roast in the back alley of Grand Electric. On the east side, try out the cigar alley at the newly opened Rock Lobster in Leslieville.
Try out the wacky food at the CNE
After last year's dramatic Summer of the Cronut (and its not-so-savoury results), numerous other outrageous foods came to the fore as must-tries for the brave (or stupid) among us. You can find pizza ice cream cones, bacon milkshakes, and just about any kind of food with Nutella or pork on it. If you call yourself a "foodie" or some other kind of gastro nut, here's where you go to get adventurous.
Go on a culinary getaway
While the stink of Toronto's garbage days is a sure sign summer has arrived, it can be a nice stench to get away from come mid-summer. From Hamilton's food scene to the serenity and charm that is Niagara on the Lake, to the meaty fabulousness on offer in Windsor/Essex, there are many wonderful times to be had outside of city bounds. Play tourist in your own province and you'll be surprised at the coolness it holds.
Hit up a night market
Toronto's got a host of magical night markets peppered throughout the summer for you to to enjoy. The T&T Waterfront Night Market , July 25 to 27, will include live performances as well as over 100 food and retail vendors. Then there's Night It Up! 2014, which goes down in Markham and brims with fantastic street eats. This year's market is July 11 to 13.
Drink on a new patio
Jostling for space on a patio is how most Torontonians keep fit in the summer. It is truly a sport. Also, it is too damn hot to cook, so patios will have you covered. This summer, there are lots of new (and beautiful) ones to check out, including Northwood, Drake 150, Jazz Bistro, Hudson Kitchen, and Against the Grain on Laird Ave. Cocktails, coffees, and delicious food await.
Try a new food truck
Chances are you already have a favourite food truck, but if not, there are some delightful new options in Toronto to check out this summer. La Loteria, Delicious Empanadas, Stoke Stack BBQ, Kal & Mooy, Steel Cut Coffee and Randy's Roti are all new in town, so stop by and say hi over lunch.
Visit Toronto's newest roastery cafes
Toronto's coffee game is pretty serious, and for years now, there's been a specialty indie cafe stationed in every hood, helping us to combat Starbucks and everything it stands for. (Read: durrty capitalism). There are some new roasteries in town if you like supporting the local scene, including Propeller at Bloor and Lansdowne, Sense Appeal in Etobicoke, and Pilot at Greenwood and Gerrard.
Drink some cold brew
As we said, Toronto knows what's up when it comes to coffee. Alongside our various roasteries producing delectable goods, several local cafes make amazing cold brew. Te Aro, Northwood, Lit, Dark Horse, Manic, and Early Bird craft wonderful cold brew coffees, which essentially means the coffee is brewed cold (duh, I know) and left to steep for an extended period, usually between 12 and 16 hours. It's then bottled, or served cold. Voila: cold coffee without the watered-down nature induced by ice.
Pretend you're in Spain
Drink up the best sangria in town or dine tapas style on the patio at Market Street's just opened, modern Spanish restaurant Barsa Taberna. Snag tickets to pintxoTO on July 6th for a one-day block party fiesta that will celebrate Spanish cuisine one tiny snack at a time.
Get buzzed on Toronto's newest craft beers
The craft beer machine in Toronto keeps chugging. Along with impending arrival of Muddy York Brewing Co., we can look forward to offerings from Landsdowne Brewery, Woodhouse Brewing Co., and a new bricks and mortar space for the Liberty Village Brewing Company. And, hey, if any of these upstarts get caught up in red tape, there's always the robust summer festival circuit to get your craft beer fill.
Take a music road trip
There is no feeling in this world more free than making a playlist, throwing a few garments in a bag, picking up some beer (or what have you) and heading to a summer music festival. From blues and electro fests to the more chilled out Hillside Festival, there's sure to be something to suit your tastes. Bonus: You'll get to escape the heat of the city and take in Ontario's natural lush gorgeousness.
Practice safe sex, Toronto style
With WorldPride on the horizon, Toronto has finally release the design of its newly minted condom. And by that I mean the packaging, because as innovative as this city is, we've yet to think up a way to improve upon the most important thing made of latex in the history of time. It's playful, quintessentially Toronto, and something, dare I say it, to be proud of. Congrats on getting this one right, Toronto Public Health. Look for these bad boys to be available for free in clubs, gyms, and other public spaces over the summer.
Visit the Annex Flea
The Annex Flea is moving outside into the summer sunshine on Sunday, June 8, as part of the Annex Festival. It'll be spread out in Honest Ed's Alley (won't it be sad when it's not called that anymore?) and will feature locally made jewelry, vintage clothing, and treats from the likes of vegan bakery Apiecolypse Now! And if you can't make it to the first one, you can catch the flea on the final Sundays of July, August and September, as well (July 27, August 24, and September 28, to be specific). Want more fleas? There's a list for that.
Party on Ossington
Yeah, yeah, I know. Ossington is now beloved by tourists, yuppies and virtually all of the 905. But there's a new way to party in the neighbourhood this summer. Tiger of Sweden is throwing a series of summer block parties throughout June, including patio parties where you can get both a cocktail and a haircut (!), Father's Day themes, and Canadiana themes. They're sure to put the focus back on the neighbourhood. #TigerLovesOssington for details.
Check out a new gallery
Toronto is blessed to be home to such an abundance of galleries. This summer, there are a number new ones on our radar you should definitely check out if you decide to have a gallery day or staycation in the city. 8-11 is a quirky new storefront gallery in Chinatown. BAND is an important new gallery at 1 Lansdowne Ave., near Queen St. in Parkdale. This spot was designed to primarily exhibit the work of Toronto's Black artists. And Katzman Contemporary is a beautiful new galley at Old Weston Rd. and Davenport Rd.
Go back to school (yeah, really)
I'm not sure that there's anything though more horrifying for a 14 year old than spending a summer in school, but if you've grown up a little, the prospect of some warm weather education can be positively alluring. When I went to summer school at Monarch Park in grade nine, I lamented the price of cigarettes at the "food truck" and thought that cowboy boots were cool -- you can avoid these mistakes by taking a less academic approach to it all. A little bit of quirk will make you more desirable and endlessly entertaining at a summer pool party. No cowboy boots, please.
Get a book from Toronto's newest library
In the days before Toronto had its crack scandals, the fight of choice was over the city's libraries, with the Fords waging war against them and literary queen Margaret Atwood railing back. Honour the city's lively history and the 100+ year old Toronto Public Library system by visiting the newest branch at Fort York (190 Fort York Boulevard to be exact). They have, you know, books for a rainy day and such.
Ride on the new streetcar
Maybe we're just geeks, but we think the TTC's new streetcars are pretty cool, even a little futuristic. It's about time. The streetcars are long and snakelike, with lower floors to make for better accessibility. They'll also, hopefully, make commutes a little less painfully squashed, as there's room for an additional 119 people on each one. They're due to hit the streets full time in August on Spadina, Dundas and Bathurst.
Discover Mount Dennis for the first time
While it doesn't get a whole lot of attention, Mount Dennis might just be Toronto's next big thing as far as neighbourhoods go. The area that was once home to the sprawling Kodak plant will be one of the great beneficiaries of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT (due in 2021), but changes are already afoot. The area already boasts one of the city's nicest libraries, has just received its first indie coffee shop in the form of Supercoffee, and is home the UrbanArts Community Centre. While the transformation won't happen overnight, one bets Mount Dennis will already look different next summer. Bring a camera and shoot it before everything changes.
Get into the DIY spirit
Ever wanted to make jewelry / ceramics / a wooden holder for a 6-pack of beer? Check out one of Toronto's craft studios and maker spaces. The newest addition to the family, The Shop, offers memberships for access to their workspace and tools - but if you're still learning a certain craft or trade, they've got workshops scheduled throughout the summer. (And, yes, the 6-pack workshop is real.) Over at Graven Feather, try out letterpress, bookbinding and screenprinting. And The Workroom has classes from beginning to advanced sewers, with projects ranging from tote bags to elaborate quilts.
Drop and give 'em 20 at the O Course
Maybe relaxing with a cool drink on a summer Saturday isn't your jam, and you'd rather do sprints with heavy objects while being screamed at by a drill sergeant in fatigues. Hard-bodied types and gluttons for fitness-related punishment can check out the O Course, a military-style workout created by Fit Factory and inspired by instructor Tony Austin's actual experience as a U.S. Marine drill instructor. The timed obstacle course race is beloved by adventure race fans (there's no better way to prep for Tough Mudder or Spartan), but fitness buffs of all skill levels and interests converge on the course, month after month. The next two races are set for June 21 and July 26 at Monarch Park; sign up and find more info on their website.
Get your yoga on outdoors
Seriously, I know it sounds cliche, but there is nothing more relaxing than doing yoga outside. Toronto's outdoor yoga festival, adorably dubbed OmTO, is on the summer solstice, June 21.It runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. outside at the Distillery District. Downward Dog, The Yoga Sanctuary, and Moksha Yoga are all partners in the event. Did I mention it's free? There's also the solstice yoga cruise aboard the aforementioned River Gambler, tickets for which run for $27. And don't forget Yoga in the Park. FYI: It's BYOMat.
Save Dentonia Park golf course from closure
Toronto's par three golf course is perfect for those of us who no longer take the most frustrating game in the world seriously. Unfortunately, it's also bleeding money. Located right on the subway line, this is one of the best places to learn how to play, it's cheap and it's not possible to lose all that many balls given the scarcity of water on the course. The more you play, the more likely it is to stay.
Or an outdoor arts fair
Take in some art and get fresh air at the same time! Our list of the top outdoor art fairs in the city features crawls in parks throughout the city, from Queen West to Cabbagetown. Many of them include food alongside the diverse collection of local art for sale, which ranges from jewelry to spectacular oil paintings.
Test Toronto's new separated bike lanes
Richmond and Adelaide Streets will have separated bike lanes this summer as a trial run.The Richmond lane will be located on the north side of the street for westbound bicycles between York and Bathurst, and on Adelaide, the lane will be on the south side for cyclists heading east between Bathurst and Simcoe. Cyclists have been campaigning for this for a while, and now that the lanes are here, they'll remain in place until at least 2015.
Plant your own community garden
The time has passed to join up at one of Toronto's existing community gardens (those spots are snagged early!), but if you're the type who's willing to take the initiative, you can plan you're own garden from the ground up. It's a lot easier than it sounds, and the folks at the Brick Works will walk you through the whole process from start to finish on July 27th. Eating food that you've grown yourself is a good reminder of how crucial and delicate our food sources can be.
Learn how to slackline in a park
Before you turn your nose up a slacklining, make sure you 1) watch Man on Wire (walking on a rope has never looked so cool) and 2) peruse a few of the hundreds of photos of Niagara Falls legend Charles Blondin archived online. Ok, now you're ready to head to the park. While not the same as tight rope walking (hence the name), the slackline allows for a bit more creativity for those who get really good on it. Balancing on the line can be daunting, but it's extremely good for your core and for testing your resolve to learn something new.
Hit up a conservation centre
So you left your camping reservations too late and all the provincial parks are booked for the weekends through the summer, not to fear -- the GTA is blessed with loads of conservation centres that will provide that kick of nature that you've been craving on your commute through the Financial District each weekday. As an added bonus, you don't need to confine your stay to a day-trip, as many of these green spaces allow for camping. One of the closest that fits this description is Boyd, just a short drive north of the city in Vaughan.
What did we miss? Plug your favourite things to do in the summer in the comments below. Also, be sure to consult last year's list for even more ideas, as well as our Best of Summer and Toronto Fun Guide sections.
Thanks to Pure Leaf for sponsoring our summer adventures. For more things to do this summer, check out our Best of Summer page.
Writing by Sarah Ratchford, Derek Flack, Natalia Manzocco, and Liora Ipsum