The top 10 beach weekend escapes from Toronto
Beach getaways from Toronto don't have to involve air travel. While humble Ontario might not have anything to compete with equatorial destinations, there are more beach-based escapes that you might imagine. Thanks to our ample lakes (both big and small), there are plenty of sandy spots to set up an umbrella and stretch out on a towel. In fact, you don't even need to leave Toronto for a quick escape to the beach, as some of our local offerings are top notch. If you do, however, want to see the city fading away in your rear view mirror, there are plenty of options within a two hour drive (or so).
Here are my picks for the top 10 beach weekend escapes from Toronto.
Featuring 14 kilometres of fine-grain sand on Nottawasaga Bay, this is one of the prime destinations for those looking to escape to the beach. On summer weekends the place is absolutely packed with everyone from bro-dudes in neon-rimmed sunglasses to young families soaking up the sun. Despite being located on Georgian Bay, shallow area waters tend to mean that the beach is comfortably swimmable by late June (that likely won't be the case this year). There are a host of motels, B&Bs, and campgrounds in the area.
Rivalled only by Wasaga for its full-out beach culture, Grand Bend is, quite simply, a party. It's also huge, featuring over 30 kilometres of beaches lining the Luke Huron Shote. With a main drag that feels like it cut and pasted from Florida, the beach lifestyle isn't reduced to sunny days, but lingers into the evening and night with rowdy patios and impromptu night swims. There's even a speedway that hosts some of the province's best auto and motor cross racing. Of the many accommodation options, Oakwood Resort is the pick of the litter.
Lake Erie has the warmest waters of the Great Lakes thanks to its relatively shallow depth. This is good news for those who like to spend as much time in the water as on the beach. The area features a shallow beach with decent sand that's primarily used by cottagers in the area. It's nowhere near as busy as Wasaga or Grand Bend, but the swimming is great and the cottage rentals far cheaper than Muskoka. For something out of the usual, head to Sand Hill Park, which offers massive sand dunes that drop into an almost tropical looking Lake Erie. A variety of accommodations options can be found here.
Home to one of the province's nicer (and busier) campgrounds, Sandbanks is a beach vacation for those on a budget. With the provincial campground occupying the best beach area, all you need to do is reserve your spot, set up camp and then hit the beach. Campsites range between $16 and $50 depending on their location and available amenities, though you best book early on account of the site's popularity. In addition to exploring the dunes and lounging on the beach, the vineyards of Prince Edward County are only a short trip away.
Did you know that Cobourg has one of the nicest beaches within an hour and half of Toronto? While not really a secret, this is one of those vacation destinations that tends to fly a little bit under the radar compared to the province's other beach getaways. Being Lake Ontario, the water doesn't really get comfortably swimmable until mid July, but the long arcing beach is a great place to chill out and watch the waves roll in. The Cobourg Waterfront Festival, which takes place Canada Day long weekend, transforms the beach into a Coney Island-like place, complete with a midway and a surge of tourists. As far as accommodations go, look no further than the Breakers on the Lake.
Sauble Beach is one of the longest freshwater beaches in the world, and the population of the town swells to over ten times its usual size in the summer months with tourists out to take advantage of the white sandy beach and those famous Lake Huron sunsets. While not quite as raucous as Grand Bend, the summer beach vibe here is similar (there's also a nearby racetrack), with plenty of action in the form of volleyball, stand up paddling, and restaurants/bars on Main St. There are lots of reasonably priced motels and resorts in the area.
Over 40 kilometres in length, there's tons to explore on Long Point. Not all of the point is accessible, but it's still amazing to walk out as far as you can for a look at the shanty cottages, wildlife, and glistening waters of Lake Erie. The Provincial Park is the main places to stay if you haven't rented a cottage, and it features about two kilometres of fine sandy beach, which never seems to get overpopulated. More serene than most large-scale beaches with a two drive of Toronto, Long Point point is the type of place to get away from it all without having to rub elbows with other vacationers. Nearby Port Dover is quaint little town with decent B&B options.
Port Stanley is a cute harbour town on Lake Erie with a big sandy beach that attracts a decent number of tourists over the summer months. The temperature of the lake is a major plus (it's comfortably swimmable by the end of June) and the attractions like the old 1940s steam train provide good fun for family-oriented vacationers. There are lots of inexpensive inns and B&B's in the area.
For all of its ruggedness, Bruce County might be at its most beautiful while gazing westward across Port Elgin's main beach at sunset. Dusk here can seem otherworldly, so much so that one begins to wonder if the giant nuclear power plant might have something to do with it all (it doesn't). Travellers on a budget will want to check out MacGregor Point Provincial Park, while those who prefer sleeping off the ground will want to consider the B&B options.
The Toronto Islands
You really don't need to leave the city to bask in the glory of the beach, but if you want to feel like you're escaping Toronto, the Islands are your best bet. Along with the fact that there's tons to do over and above getting a sun tan, the beaches on the south end of the Islands feel like they're hours away from the hustle and bustle of the mainland. And if you really can't bear to make the ferry trip back home, you can try out one of the many B&B's on Algonquin Island.
What did I miss? Plug your favourite beach weekend escapes from Toronto in the comments below.Thanks to Ford Escape for sponsoring our weekend escapes.