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Best of Toronto

The Best Parks to Have a Picnic in Toronto

Posted by Guest Contributor / May 23, 2012

Best Parks Picnic TorontoThe best parks to have a picnic in Toronto prove that we don't need much to enjoy a picnic in this city — give us a patch of grass, above-freezing temperatures, and we're eager to throw down a blanket (or jacket) and feast on that sandwich like there's no tomorrow. It's no surprise then, that in season, Toronto's parks turn into meccas for the picnic junkies big and small. We lug our coolers and our babies, ready to combat anything from wasps to squirrels to the parking pains — in exchange for a few hours of gastro recreation.

To help alleviate some of these grievances, I put together a list of Toronto's best parks to have a picnic. Aside from the undisputed crown jewels, there are many wonderful options that will silence even the most critical picnic snob. For groups of 25 or more, you should obtain a permit by calling the city at 416-392-8188. Depending on the park, they will run between $50 and $75. Or you can just take your chances, but watch out for the fun police.

Here's my list of Toronto's best parks to have a picnic.

High Park (Bloor St West)
Excluding High Park from this list would be like excluding Meryl Streep from the Oscar nominations. Area residents are a few of the extremely fortunate in this city for living near to this picnic haven. Whether you're an earth mother hosting a drum-circle birthday bash, or an early riser with a camera, settle at a picnic table and soak in the life around you. Don't bother preparing too much food in advance; just grab some treats on Bloor Street or from the Grenadier Café up on the hill. Brilliantly designed for a city picnic, High Park is hands-down, a true star.

Sunnybrook Park (Leslie & Eglinton)
It was hard not to turn this review into a poem — Sunnybrook Park is an endless stretch of weeping willows, old pine trees and lush, sun-drenched ravines. Nestled between Leslie and Bayview streets north of Eglinton, this place feels like more than just a city park. Here, you'll want to turn your picnic into a 10-course meal. Hundreds of picnic areas, many equipped with grills, are scattered throughout — far enough from each other to let you enjoy the park undisturbed in all its glory. Be warned, though — once here, you may (want to) forget your way back home.

Wards IslandWard's Island (Toronto Islands)
You can't go wrong with a park that has to be reached by a ferry - especially the ferry that doesn't get hijacked by tourists and strollers. Far enough from the bustle of the Centre Island, Ward's is decidedly an alfresco paradise. This is where the big chill happens. Come for a morning picnic, turn it into lunch, and stay for dinner. Sip some iced tea and fill your lungs with cool, lilac-soaked air. And when you've eaten the last morsel and your friends have told the last story, return to land rejuvenated and ready to spend the rest of your day smiling.

Earl Bales Park (Bathurst, south of Sheppard)
Earl Bales is a peaceful sanctuary, generally devoid of big crowds, compared to other, more central, destinations. Though located just off a main Toronto artery — Bathurst Street — this park is undisturbed by traffic. What I like most about it is the views you get from your picnic table. On a clear night, bring a blanket and a thermos, and watch the lights of the faraway civilization flicker against the starry sky. Don't forget to pack a date with your thermos.

Morningside Park (Morningside, between Ellesmere & Lawrence)
If you don't have a cottage or a friend with one, don't despair — come to Morningside Park for a day. Set up a little tent next to one of the park's BBQ spots, put on a ripped T-shirt, and you've got your cottage getaway all sorted out. Climb up the shaded ravine just behind your picnic table, and you'll likely find a few mushrooms to complement your spread and authenticate your outdoor experience. That said, the park also features a large playground with a community centre, in case you feel like you've roughed it out long enough and want to return to city life right away.

Ashbridge's BayAshbridge's Bay (Lake Shore Drive & Coxwell)
If you walk past the main picnic area near the parking lots, you'll discover a charming little peninsula trailing further towards the southwest end of the beach, peppered with pristine picnic tables and shady cul-de-sacs in which to enjoy some baguette and cheese, and a few romantic hours by the lake. Ashbridges Bay Park is an easy choice for a waterfront picnic, with a range of spots to entertain both you and your date (or you and your date's friends). Eat, swim and be merry — for an hour or two, or an entire day — this place is a refreshing getaway in Toronto's own back yard.

Trinity Bellwoods (Queen St at Bellwoods)
As a former long-time Queen-West resident, I almost skipped Trinity Bellwoods, simply because over the past few years it's become too crowded. The arrival of so many condo-dwellers seems to have tripled the human-to-grass ratio. But truth be told, it's hard to deny Trinity the title of a top-ten picnic destination, especially if your picnic is composed of a blanket, a few friends, and a double-dunk from Chippy's. On any given day, the energy of Queen Street is irresistible. So with that in mind, I'll allow Trinity Bellwoods to hang on to its crown for a little while longer.

Dufferin Grove Park (Dufferin south of Bloor)
Since the wave of local farmers and the arrival of new families in the area in the recent years, this city darling has enjoyed quite a renaissance. With farmer's markets running daily in the heart of the park, one would be foolish not to turn a freshly bought treat into a picnic. There's community bake oven near the ice rink, where after 3 p.m. you can bake your own bread. What makes Dufferin Grove a real gem is the way it invigorates the community. It brings residents of the nearby high risers out from their packed dwellings and lets them enjoy the city and each other. Many family dinners are prepared here all through the summer, and for a good reason — Dufferin Grove is as close to a communal neighbourhood backyard as it gets.

Bluffer's ParkBluffer's Park (Brimley Rd South, Scarborough Bluffs)
More reminiscent of the west coast than east-end Toronto, this park boasts some of the city's most brilliant scenery. The winding, steep, Mulholland Drive-like Brimley Road takes you to the bottom of the Bluffs, presenting the view of the shimmering lake as a sort of grand finale. Unique in its landscape, Bluffer's Park feels both romantic and remote. Pack some organic smoothies and a cheap paperback, throw a colourful blanket in the shade of a tree, and you'll soon feel much closer to Malibu than you thought possible (provided, of course, the weather is good).

Withrow Park (Logan St. south of Bloor)
Withrow Park is the east-end's answer to Trinity Bellwoods, without the onslaught of cyclists and dogs. Tucked below the Danforth amongst charming residential streets, Withrow undoubtedly feels bigger than it really is. There are enough picnic areas to entertain family BBQs and toddler birthday picnics, all nicely spaced out around the park's hills. And with the Danforth's parade of restaurants just up the street, a take-out picnic at Withrow on a weekend afternoon is simply a must.

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Writing by Inna Gertsberg / Photos by Bobcatnorth, Fionn Luk, c_pix, and Tom Podolec.

Discussion

37 Comments

Bellwoods Belcher / May 23, 2012 at 10:16 am
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Do you need a permit to drink beers in the parks here?
agentsmith replying to a comment from Bellwoods Belcher / May 23, 2012 at 10:24 am
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Thanks to our liquor laws from the prohibition era, alcohol in public is illegal. But just be subtle and cool about it and I doubt anyone would say anything... except the cops of course.
Smokey The Bear / May 23, 2012 at 10:54 am
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Please clean up after yourselves people!
wikito / May 23, 2012 at 11:15 am
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Withrow park: http://www.wikito.org/Withrow_Park_-_Toronto
peanut gallery / May 23, 2012 at 11:16 am
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Dear god, how is Riverdale park West not on the list? Or Riverdale Park East, for that matter?!
skeeter / May 23, 2012 at 11:23 am
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Ashbridge's Bay is lovely, except for the little bugs flying in your face.

Where was the third photo from the top taken? That doesn't look like Ashbridge's Bay to me.
Brandon replying to a comment from Smokey The Bear / May 23, 2012 at 11:35 am
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I thought you were supposed to warn people about putting out their fires?
skeeter / May 23, 2012 at 11:46 am
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Upon further inspection, that is indeed Ashbridge's Baby. It looks different and weird from that angle.
Carry on, folks.
fart knocker replying to a comment from skeeter / May 23, 2012 at 11:46 am
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Look again: http://www.flickr.com/photos/news46/2678876044/
Oink replying to a comment from peanut gallery / May 23, 2012 at 12:00 pm
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Riverdale Farm! Riverdale Farm! Riverdale Farm!
Shotgun replying to a comment from Brandon / May 23, 2012 at 12:28 pm
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Sadly, Woodsy the left wing pinko "Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute!" hippy owl was gunned down execution style last week. Smokey the Bear is now doing double duty...that is until his time comes too. Keep your eyes open, mutha f@cka!
Rob replying to a comment from Bellwoods Belcher / May 23, 2012 at 12:42 pm
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Assuming you're not being sarcastic, I had a picnic this long weekend at TB park and alcohol (and pot) was being widely consumed out in the open. The cops rode through a few times, but didn't seem to bother anyone. A great time was had by all. And thanks to the "tin-can triad", clean-up was easier than ever!
Riverdalien replying to a comment from peanut gallery / May 23, 2012 at 01:01 pm
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Riverdale is a pretty big oversight. They probably thought they covered the hood with withrow but riverdale is clearly the better park.
jenn / May 23, 2012 at 01:04 pm
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so what are the best parks to witness a little outdoor love making?
Shotgun replying to a comment from jenn / May 23, 2012 at 01:24 pm
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Or better yet, partake in?
DWE / May 23, 2012 at 02:26 pm
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Ward's Island is great, but am I the only one perturbed by how much plush picnicking turf is annexed by the frisbee golf course? It's an odd choice to cede so much ground to people with one peculiar hobby.
t / May 23, 2012 at 10:19 pm
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riverdale should definitely be on this list
J*town / May 23, 2012 at 10:48 pm
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Dear Guest Contributor, just curious as to what exactly are the "undisputed crown jewels" you refer to.
Gabe / May 23, 2012 at 11:40 pm
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1 more to add to the list - Riverdale Farm Park
Rena / May 24, 2012 at 07:40 am
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Whaaaaaaat? No love for Christie Pits? :(

We live around the corner and aim to have at least a dozen picnics there every summer. You can grab some walnut cakes and coconut jelly water from Koreatown or make some organic sandwiches with groceries from Fiesta Farms and hang out on the hill to watch the baseball games! And when you've eaten enough, there's lots of space to play some Frisbee or kick the soccer ball around.

I do love all of those places on the list, but Christie Pits is awesome for being right on the subway and right by lots of places to get picnic essentials. But I guess you can make ANY park good for a picnic if you want to! :)
Kat / May 24, 2012 at 01:16 pm
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The fun police don't sound all that bad...
Woody / May 25, 2012 at 04:41 pm
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Although Riverdale park (east) has a beautiful view and is a loved spot for the scenic view of the entire city... It's a bit tough to toss a blanket on a 45º pitch for a picnic.
Instead, go to the Rooster for a sandwich and/or a coffee. There you can have a lovely bite to eat without chasing your lunch half way down the hill.
Milly Bentsen / June 7, 2012 at 10:08 am
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but the lead photo shows people having a picnic on a 45 degree pitch?
Khalid / June 19, 2012 at 01:44 pm
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Oh Boy! you bombed this one. A list of parks best for picnic in Toronto and Thompson Memorial Park not on the list!! Get it right next time.
Alex replying to a comment from DWE / June 30, 2012 at 12:55 am
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It's funny you should mention that course. My first time on the island,I tried to have a picnic. Ended up being on the Frisbee course, unbeknownst to us. Lol. Damn thing is hard to avoid.
Sam replying to a comment from Bellwoods Belcher / July 16, 2012 at 02:11 pm
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Nope. We got charged by really idiotic Toronto Police this weekend on Hanlan's Point. No bottles out, no noise, they just descended on our group of 9 people having lunch at the table in their little golf cart. They started by asking if we had a "permit" to have our picnic, and then asked if there was alcohol. One person was silly enough to say yes and they started writing tickets. The irony is that there was only one small tetra pak of wine for mixing sangria earlier. Good thing they kept the city safe! They then threatened me with charges for showing my wife a photo that was sent to me from friends watching the whole episode unfold from across the path and laughing. When asked what they would like to charge me with, they quickly got back onto to their joke of a little cart and swore while puttering off. Pathetic.
Lisa / August 6, 2012 at 10:07 am
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Wicth is the best park
COSPLAY / September 26, 2012 at 11:30 pm
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Upon further inspection, that is indeed Ashbridge's Baby. It looks different and weird from that angle.
Ellie replying to a comment from agentsmith / October 4, 2012 at 04:20 pm
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You've been watching too much TV. Toronto's liquor laws are outdated, but it has nothing to do with Prohibition, which didn't exist in Canada, only in the US.
New Toronto Condos / February 7, 2013 at 04:44 pm
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I have never heard of Bluffer's Park, but cant wait to go check it out next summer! love finding new places in Toronto to explore!
Tanya replying to a comment from Ellie / April 22, 2013 at 04:12 pm
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Prohibition was in Canada look it up
Me / April 22, 2013 at 04:58 pm
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So people know it's illegal to drink in public, do it anyways and then say it's not their fasult? yeah we feel SO sorry for your self-entitled whinefest. BOOHOO!!!
Nike Free Run / May 6, 2013 at 10:19 am
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Big T / August 22, 2013 at 05:18 pm
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Morningside park is lax when it comes to having a drink. Police have approached and just said to clean up the mess and not get sloshed.
Edwin / September 14, 2013 at 09:42 am
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The Toronto Botanical Gardens should be here too. Free to go to and absolutely beautiful in the Summer. It's definitely one of my favorite places and is still close to the downtown area.
Samantha / January 16, 2014 at 10:43 am
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How is Riverdale East not on this list?! Best view of the whole city.
juel / April 18, 2014 at 02:07 am
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Great location and very beautiful park that I used to visit during my grand canyon bus tours . Parks, Forestry and Recreation strive to ensure that all Torontonians enjoy active, healthy lifestyles and a high quality of life.

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