The Best Parks to Have a Picnic in Toronto
The 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.
Ward'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 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 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.