50 things to do with kids this summer in Toronto
Kids activities abound in Toronto during the summer, when the splash pads are running, the parks are lush, and playgrounds are warmed by the sun. Far more than adults, children benefit from the summer season in Toronto, no longer cooped up indoors or shuttled from arena to arena for hockey or figure skating practice. But aside from the obvious things like park trips and playgrounds, how to make the most of summer with kids in Toronto?
While some of the many ideas we've put forward in our huge roundup of things to do in the city this summer will work for children, this dedicated list should help you keep the little ones entertained and, more importantly, exhausted come bedtime.
Here are the top 50 things to do with kids this summer in Toronto.
FUN AND GAMES
Go for a ride at an amusement park
With a range of rides from the tiniest tilt-a-whirls up fear-of-heights-worthy Leviathan, thrill seekers of any size can ride at Centreville's quaint cutesy coasters, working their way up to the seasonal CNE or the mighty rides of Wonderland. If you're stuck inside on a rainy day, then check out Fantasy Fair. This indoor amusement park in Rexdale has rides for the most timid toddler right up to pumped up pre-teen. Score a day pass and ride all day long for about $20.
Party by the lake
Harbourfront is one of Toronto's best kid-friendly venues, with a dedicated team of staff and volunteers overseeing an ever changing array of events, festivals, markets and cultural celebrations ensuring you and your brood not only take in the sights and sounds, but maybe learn a little something too. Weekly activities include canoeing on the Natrel Pond, DJ and dancing nights on the pier, music and movies. Be sure to check out weekend events like the China Now festival (July 11-13) or the delicious Hot and Spicy Food Festival (August 15-17).
Have fun at CNE
So your kids are finally at the right age for a proper intro to Toronto's favourite summer pastime - the CNE. While people watching alone should illicit more than a few inquisitive stares, there are loads of kid-friendly activities to do, not including the nostalgic midway rides like the monster Euro Slides, dancy disco Polar Express or my personal fave the Sizzler. After you run out of tickets, check out the massive Kid's World featuring live performances by your fave fear-inducing clowns, meet and greets with plus size costume characters from their fave TV shows and live theatre with Munsch productions on stage. Nothing calms wee ones down better than some animal interaction, so pop by the Better Living Centre to get hands on with piglets, chickens and other animals they're surely deep frying in the nearby Food Building.
Go for a run
Many of Toronto's best running events include a pint-sized option so you can cheer on your kid while his or her tiny legs tackle the tricky 1km track. Most include adorable medals just for finishing, so those participant ribbons will be a distant memory when they get their hands on their shiny new hardware. Notable races include the much anticipated Zoo Run (September 20th) and older kids will dig the LED hardware for the Night Race (September 6th).
Ride a horse
Hitting the hay takes on an altogether different meaning at this Toronto green space. Located amidst the rolling hills of Sunnybrook Park, Sunnybrook Stables will teach your kid (and you) the basics of horseback riding, with ponies matched to your novice rider. Camps and classes run throughout the summer, and private and semi-private lessons ensure you won't have an audience for that gallop/trot/fall combo.
Race around the track
Is your kid the next Paul Tracy? Polson Pier has karts for rent for $2.50 a lap, and vertically challenged kids (or those under 11) can ride for free in their double seated models. Prep for the upcoming Honda Indy with a spin around the Mini Indy. With indoor and outdoor tracks, this place is a safe bet on a rainy day. Kids 5 and up can ride around with a parent, while ten year olds have the freedom to recreate MarioKart (or Grand Theft Auto) all on their own. If the thought of an enclosed area coupled with diesel fumes has you gagging, then GPK at Downsview Park is the ticket for you. With a fleet of all electric rides, you can zoom around the track without sucking on noxious fumes and coming home stinking like a school bus driver.
Navigate the lake
You can rent stand up paddle boards, canoes and kayaks, so if you're an experienced paddler, take your kids out and see Toronto like never before. Toronto Adventures has two prime locations - Humber River and Sunnyside Beach. Rentals can include lessons too, or opt for the sneaky Paddle in Concert, which lets you drift around Molson Amphitheatre, bonding with your brood over the summers best concerts. If canoes are a bit too tippy, consider tubing through the Elora Gorge, which offers nature's version of a lazy river about an hour northwest of Toronto.
Play at Toronto's newest playgrounds
Taxes were well spent in the building of Corktown Common, one of Toronto's most spectacular and interactive parks. The playground boasts a water play area, boardwalk and wetlands, public fire pit, and great slide. Not far away, Regent Park now lays claim to Toronto's newest playground. Get the kids sweaty and then head inside for a swim at the spectacular Aquatic Centre. Want more playgrounds? Here's our round-up of the best playgrounds in the city.
Go for a bike ride
Life in the fast lane may not be the best place for children, but it's important for kids to get practice time in on the wheels to get confidence for the real roads later on. Thankfully Toronto has plenty of bike paths that'll keep the little ones away from traffic while they master the art of riding in a straight line. If you're feeling a bit more adventurous, you can even take them off road.
Putt for hole in one
As the saying goes..."Drive for show, putt for dough," so work on your short game with your small kids in tow. While the glow in the dark atmosphere at RINX may seem outlandish, at least it'll make golf interesting for kids. If you're closer to the maze of big box stores at 7 and 400, get lost in the massive Putting Edge, which features 18 holes of frustration weaving through time and history all under the glow of the neon night light.
Skateboarding is both a culture and an empowering sport, and kids can learn how at CJ Skateboard Park and School. They've got great instructors, camps and a ProShop for boards, helmets and pads and once the tyke's got the hang of things, try out one of the many skate parks around the city such as Cummer Skateboard park or the one in Ashbridges Bay.
Play golf with a Frisbee
While played technically with a Golf Disc and not a (trademarked) Frisbee, disc golf has been in Toronto since 1980, and it's finally gaining momentum with more than just burnt out golfers and hippies graduating from their hacky sack. With three totally free BYOD courses to play in Toronto, tire the kids out with a tournament of 18 holes at Centennial Park, ET Seton Park or the more exotic Toronto Island course. Different shots require different discs, so pack a few of different weights to make your best shot.
Play bubble soccer
Bubble soccer can be played pretty much anywhere, with aptly named Toronto-based Bubble Soccer delivering the bouncy balls to your house, park or go full throttle and rent out an indoor dome. While leagues and teams haven't quite built up the traction here as they have in the US, competitive GTA bubblers can sign up for Mississauaga's team with the National Association of Bubble Soccer. Bubbles fit anyone who is over 5 feet tall and come equipped with handles so your kid (or you) won't tumble out.
Go for a ride in Toronto's newest bike park
Sunnyside Bike Park will be open later this month, rewarding BMX enthusiasts with a challenging circuit of pumptracks, a wall ride, and jump lines all in a compact patch of land adjacent to the Gardiner expressway. Newbies to the sport can work their way up the track from beginner runs up to expert all in a family friendly environment. Designed by the guru of all bike park builders Jay Hoots, this ecologically friendly park was designed with trees fallen in last year's ice storm and dirt from around the corner from a local condo development. Phase two will introduce trails, boardwalks and seating so you can watch your kid nail that wall ride from a safe distance.
NATURE AND OUTDOORS
Take a ferry to the Toronto Islands
Quite possibly the best way to spend a day in Toronto, the Islands are home to meandering paths, beaches and restaurants, not to mention the expansive list of sports and activities to keep you on the go. Rent a bike and tool around the islands to get your bearings, then hunker down for a picnic or BBQ while the kids frolic around the grass. Centreville's rides are mostly geared to the younger set, and there's also the neighbouring Far Enough Farm.
Get lost in the woods
Toronto's got plenty of parks and green spaces, but none offer quite the escape from urban bustle as Crothers' Woods, located to the northeast of Pottery Road. A popular destination for mountain bikers, the lower trails are quieter and thus a great place to explore nature with the little ones without leaving the city. Trail maintenance and wayfinding signage has improved greatly in the last few years, so while you might want to get lost, it's actually rather difficult to do so.
Toronto is home to some great fishing, and while you will need a licence (kids are free) it'll pay off when you reel in that pike or even salmon. Avoid overly congested areas like the Don River, as Blinky the three eyed fish doesn't have much meat on him. Parlay the fishing fun with a canoe rental and head into marshier areas for yellow perch and sunfish. Grenadier Pond in High Park is a popular spot.
Discover Toronto's divers bird population
Tommy Thompson Park, also known as the Leslie Street Spit, is home to some of Toronto's coolest wildlife. Turning trash into treasure, the man-made peninsula was formed from development residue from the 50's construction in the downtown core and is the best place to spot some of Ontario`s finest feathered friends, with over 300 varieties making a stop through on their yearly migration. Featured free walks means you can put your wallet away for once, just bring binoculars and wear your best wellies.
Go camping in the city
Ever just want to escape the confines of your toy-strewn home and sleep under the stars? 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 perfect for kids to explore.
Have fun in a garden
Your Treehouse TV loving tot will love seeing one of their fave characters come to life with this turtle themed park on Centre Island. The interactive park features gardens, ponds and a playground, including loads of statues kids can climb all over. Pack a bathing suit for the beach, or nearby pond-themed splash pad, complete with Franklin's fave bulrushes.
Hit the Beach
Sun bathers should flock to one of Toronto's many beaches; Sunnyside, Woodbine, Cherry and Kew beaches are all easy access spots. Most beaches have lifeguards on duty all summer long, but kids throwing sand at nearby sunbathers will still fall under your parental control. Check water conditions and make sure your beach is hoisting a blue flag before heading out. If getting wet proves too daunting, check out Toronto's urban beaches, situated right off Lake Ontario, but providing you nothing but sand and fresh lake air. Sugar Beach and HTO Park both have beautiful vistas, but no access to the water.
Smell the roses
If you haven't been to the Royal Botanical Gardens since you got dragged on a school trip, then you're definitely overdue. Dubbed Canada's Largest Botanical Garden, the stunning green space is home to more than 1100 hectares of nature reserve, including 27km of trails, canoeing, a tea house and a cafe. Closer to home, head to Edwards Gardens at Leslie and Lawrence. With bridges over charming duck-filled creeks, climbing staircases and pathways hooking up with Sunnybrook Park there's more than just blooming flowers and big hedges here. Special events are sprinkled throughout the summer, including an indoor garden themed library that hosts story hour and an organic Farmers Market every Thursday.
Hunt for butterflies
The city operates this peaceful park, and special attention has been paid to attract more butterflies (and more) to this stretch of 300 acres on Lake Ontario. Native plants co-mingle with wildflowers and prairie grasses to attract a bevy of butterflies, so time your visit right and get caught up with the mob of monarchs headed this way. Kids can learn about butterfly baiting plants to decorate your space, and there's a great waterfront trail for a bike or blade afterwards.
Hang out at a farm
The only 'working' farm in Toronto is home to pigs, cows, chickens and other delicious animals that are not for sale or slaughter. Sheltered on a few acres in Cabbagetown, Riverdale Farm is great for the under 5 set and is entirely free. The heavily shaded winding path takes you around ponds and vegetable gardens. Make sure to stop in on Tuesdays when there's a farmers' market at the entrance gates. This summer might sadly be your last chance to check out Far Enough Farm which may be forced to close its gates this year after the city pulled funding. Pucks Farm is north of the city and much larger than its urban counterparts. Pony rides, hay rides and cow milking are all daily activities.
Visit the Toronto Zoo
Bob Barker may have migrated our elephants (it's for the best) but the super cute pandas more than make up for it. The price is right for this T-dot attraction, kids under two are gratis and kids under 12 are $18. Plan to stay the full day, with interactive zoo keeper meet and greets, wide open spaces to run and a splash pad, this place is guaranteed to have even the most wild child tuckered out before you hit the 401.
Visit the other zoos
For more exotic animals, check out African Lion Safari just outside of Cambridge. You could also head the other direction towards Jungle Cat World half way top Peterborough on the 115. If highway driving isn't your thing, then stick closer to home with the convenience of the High Park Zoo. Perfect for early morning risers and the stroller set, this quaint zoo opens at 7am and is completely free. Bison, llamas and peacocks are all on site, but make a special visit to the capybara, the largest rodent in the world. Awww.
Explore High Park
High Park is Toronto's largest public park, with 399 acres of sprawling green space, complete with picnic areas, baseball diamonds, a duck and frog filled Grenadier Pond, a playground, a zoo and a restaurant. While spring ushers in the Cherry Blossoms (and over eager photographers), summer promises hordes of kids flocking to the new Adventure Playground, the castle like creation of the late Jamie Bell featuring a mega slide for bigger kids and lots of benches and shade for weary parents. While it gets pretty busy at the playground and zoo during the weekend, if you need to take a break cough up the $4.50 ($3.50 for kids) and jump on the adorable trackless train to see the splendour this park has to offer.
See the Bluffs
Kids love the majestic formations of the Scarborough Bluffs, and you can make a whole day of it, with the Bluffs playground, and wading pool, and marina to look at the boats. The beach is unsupervised but fun for everyone if you keep watch. Make sure to explore the trails that line the upper portion of the bluffs, which offer sweeping views of Lake Ontario.
Explore some caves
Getting out of town this summer is a must for most, but for those without a cottage invite, but still craving a good dose of nature and wildlife, the Scenic Caves near Blue Mountain are a good bet. With local accommodations galore, it's a pretty weekend-worthy adventure, but a day trip is still very doable. The caves are the big draw here: formed by glacial ice millions of years ago, this rugged terrain will take about 2 hours to get across, but plan for more time for awesome photo ops and views of Georgian Bay. Squeamish kids will likely be a bit put off by the giant suspension bridge, but after a good shove, there's no turning back. See how fast it takes them to cross the 420 foot bridge to the other side. Loser buys ice cream.
Hike around Toronto's best-known old quarry
Not just for weekend outings, the stunning surroundings of the Brick Works are a great place to let your kid run wild; the meandering paths lead up to some scenic views of downtown, and there's several peaceful ponds to stare at blankly as your kids get dirty chasing frogs. With educational programming about the environment, animals and how to forage, you can feel smug while secretly prepping for the zombie apocalypse. Pop into Cafe Belong if you can spare the scratch and your kid has a Top Chef-like palate. Make sure to pack the bikes, the pathways are perfect turf for taking the training wheels off.
Combine history with a hike at Todmorden Mills
Kitty corner to Evergreen Brickworks, this former paper mill is now home to a museum, and a massive 9.2 hectare wildflower preserve that winds around the hilly landscape of Don Mills. Pack a picnic from the market and hit it up on a sunny day and explore the varied habitats in a historic environment.
Get wet (and wild)
Toronto has a splashy 58 outdoor pools for use this summer, some with water slides, diving blocks and wading pools. Feel like splurging? Check out Richmond Hill's Wave Pool for a change of pace, the trip is worth it alone for the curving 160 foot long water slide. Or go full throttle and spend a day at Wild Water Kingdom in Rexdale. With a bevy of water slides, wave pools and lazy rivers, this outdoor oasis is only feels like an all-inclusive trip, except you still have to pay for your drinks at the bar (there's 3!). If your kids aren't going to make it for a full day then opt for a local splash pad. The best are usually the newest, so scope out Corktown Common or Sugar Beach to see the latest in water manipulation sprinklers.
Go on a lagoon tour
Harbour Tours Toronto has a lagoon tour sure to the delight the kids. It winds its way around the inlets and lagoons of Toronto islands where kids can spot the animals at the petting zoo and wildlife sanctuary, see the boats at the yacht clubs and witness the magical Toronto skyline. Also: boats are confined spaces, so the chasing is kept to a minimum. Just remember the lifejackets.
Go for a cruise
You don't usually get to see tall ships in the harbour here in Toronto, which is why the Tall Ship Toronto tours are so impressive, especially with the kids. Take the whole family on a beautiful sunny day and cruise around the waters like a bunch of pirates on the high seas, without the trouble of course. Find the summer schedule here.
Get DIY with some fruit
Ontario is home to some of the country's best crops, and what's a little child labour between family? The shorter the kid, the better they can reach some of the season's early crops, like super sweet strawberries and raspberries. The growing season goes all summer long, wrapping up with apples in October, and most farms have nifty little playgrounds and chip trucks to keep the workers, er children, happy campers. Organics Farm in Markham takes the name literally, which is good for the younger set who will likely just be picking and eating. Head out to Niagara on the Lake area mid-summer for cherry, peach and apricot picking at the aptly named Cherry Avenue Farms and send the kids back to school with apples they picked at Applewood Farm (which also boasts a winery).
Learn to bake
If you're sick of your mini me going all Gordon Ramsey on you in the kitchen, turn the tables on the tiny tastemaker by enrolling them in a baking class. While Le Dolci offers summer camps of many flavours, the tandem baking classes are a perfect portion of parenting and practicality - you learn a new baking skill while your kid (best for 6 and up) gets his or her hands dirty (and everything else) in someone else's kitchen. Most classes are good for kids, but cupcakes, pies and sweet things are usually best bets.
Hit up a street festival
PS Kensington is a great bet for kids, and happens the last Sunday of every month, but there's nearly a street festival for every neighbourhood that children can enjoy. Get them dancing at Salsa on St. Clair or Caribana, laughing with the clowns at Buskerfest, or experience new flavours at Taste of the Danforth. Check the full schedule here.
Eat some pizza
Head to Dufferin Grove Park Sundays from 12-2pm for Pizza days, where members of the community get together at the wood-fired ovens. $2.50 gets you a ball of dough, tomato sauce and cheese, and you can bring other toppings if you wish. On Tuesday nights the Brick Works also has a pizza event. Pizzeria Libretto uses the ovens and for $3.00, you get a salad and a slice and proceeds go to the Evergreen children's food program.
Learn about where food comes from at a farmers' market
While kids tend to want to grab whatever food is at their fingertips, if you can control them a little, a trip to a farmers' market is a great way to teach them about where their food comes from and let them run around for a bit. And given that many markets are hosted in or near to parks, you can kill a couple hours while getting some crucial dinner shopping done. Top picks for kids are the markets at the Wychwood Barns and the Brick Works.
ARTS AND EDUCATION
Get a new book
If you're feeling a bit flush, skip the library and treat your kid to a bookstore shopping spree at one of Toronto's best bookstores. Chapters and Mastermind offer reliable selection, but kids will love checking out a store that's dedicated to them. Mables Fables on Mount Pleasant has been in business for decades, with books for toddlers right up to high school and beyond. Ella Minnow is located in the Beaches and curates a popular Ella Minnow Maple - a collection of books all by Canadian authors. West siders can check out Another Story Bookshop which offers discounts to book clubs and stocks their shelves with books on heavier subjects like diversity and equality. Most bookstores offer story time and book readings with authors too.
See the stars at David Dunlap Observatory
If your pre-teen is dreaming of scoring a ticket on the next Virgin Galactic space flight, then make this your first mission: a York Region bus trip up to the David Dunlap Observatory. With special family nights for space cases 7 and up, head up on a clear night for your best bet at star gazing, including a tour of the observatory. This summer Jupiter, Mars and Saturn are the big draws, as is the 23 ton telescope that's impressive and daunting in its own right.
Pay a visit to the 19th century
Black Creek Pioneer Village will send your kids through a time warp, almost back to the days you had to walk to school both ways uphill. Explore the village that time forgot, with cutesy demonstrations that will have your kid either captivated or mortified by the simplicity of the "olden times." After a long day churning butter, check out the onsite brewpub and toast your parenting prowess.
Read a Story
Flash mobs are so 2008, but where flash mobs failed, Story Mobs succeed, with more than just pageantry, costumes and storytelling, but interaction and edutainment too. Stories are recreated in a public place with kid friendly books like Paper Bag Princess coming to life as part book reading, part dramatic arts and part art project. Kids and adults come dressed as their favourite characters, and take part in reading parts of the story. Events are totally free and a great way to keep your kid reading throughout the summer. Check out their site to see what book is up next.
Discover a new, favourite superhero
The Beguiling has a little brother in the form of Little Island Comics, North America's first comic shop for kids. Chock full of comics appropriate for a younger audience, boys and girls won't even notice the development of their reading skills as they get hooked on the comic form. They've got lots of special events and comic author guests too. I hear the staff are kinda nice, as well.
Get artsy and hug a tree
The Eco-Art-Fest is a new festival this year that incorporates installations, performance, visual art, and more to bring awareness to environmental issues. All events are family friendly and a great way to get kids thinking how creativity can address climate change. Based out of Todmorden Mills, there's lots of outdoor installations to explore, including one that tracks the former course of the Don River.
See the circus
The World Famous Shrine Circus is in Toronto until July 27th. Kids love the circus (or are terrified by it - but that just builds character!) and this promises to be a fantastic one. The famous Winn family is set to perform the Motor Cycle High Wire Act and the death defying Wheel of Destiny! At the end of August, Cirque du Soleil makes its annual appearance here, this time with a production called Kurios.
Cheer on your favourite horse
Sure, underage gambling is frowned upon, but asking your kids which horsey name they think is cuter is only being considerate. Kids are welcome at Woodbine, just not in the casino, licensed bar areas or gambling paddocks, but that still leaves the grandstands and open areas that kids will naturally flock to. Your pint sized kiddo will love screaming his or her lungs out at the racing ponies and if all else fails, you can pretend they're a jockey and hope for the best.
Watch a movie outdoors
This will require breaking bedtime rules, but that'll just make it all the more special. You don't need to hit a drive-in to watch a movie under the stars, as people have figured ingenious ways to make a blank wall, a white sheet or a park bowl into a veritable amphitheatre. Check our comprehensive round-up for all the outdoor film screenings this summer or hit up Harbourfront for exclusively family-friendly viewing.
See a concert at the Toronto Music Garden
Free music would make anyone happy, but young ones seem to get an extra kick out of concerts in the open air, especially in the beautiful Toronto Music Garden. 7 pm most Thursdays and Sundays at 4 pm there's something playing. Don't forget sun hats and lawn chairs are a must.
Cheer on the home team
Toronto's obsession with sports shouldn't end with the Leaf's last home game, so get out there and show some support for the other guys. Jays tickets are easy enough to score on game day, while Toronto FC's mini stadium can't always accommodate last minute seats, a little future planning could secure your budding soccer star the title of #1 fan. Special events like the Rogers Cup or Honda Indy can ignite a new passion in youngsters, so maybe leave UFC cage matches until they're older. Check out the Toronto Rush for a fast-paced frisbee sport with cheap tickets at Varsity Stadium, or even cheaper, the (other) Maple Leafs at Christie Pits, which is totally free.
Thanks to Pure Leaf for sponsoring our summer adventures. For more things to do this summer, check out our Best of Summer page.
Did we miss any? Leave your picks for things to do with kids this summer int the comments.
Writing by Libby Roach, Errin Beth Langille, and Derek Flack