The Toronto Islands
The Toronto Islands are a serene urban utopia, a welcome reprieve from the heat of the mainland city for about a million people each summer. Most people flock to the Islands to hit up the various beaches and swim or sunbathe, but there are a ton of other activities to get into there, as well as a small residential community. To get to the islands, just head to the foot of Bay at Queens Quay and hop on a 15-minute ferry ride. In case you've never been, or if you're curious about what there is to get up to across the inner harbour, here's a guide to Toronto's Islands.
The best thing about Hanlan's point is undoubtedly the clothing optional beach, one of few places in the country where it's totally legal to get ass-naked in public. Lots of older gay couples come here to hang out, as well as folks of all sorts of other stripes. The energy is really open and non-judgmental; overall, it's a good place to get free in the wild and go for a comfy naked swim.
Centre Island is the more family-friendly option for island beaching in the city, complete with an amusement park. There are some great kid-friendly activities going on, listed below. It's also the most popular of the ferries, so be sure to take that into account when making the trek over.
Ward's Island is actually the easternmost tip of Centre Island. Like the other spots, there's a beautiful beach, and it's closer to the residential area. It's also the shortest ferry ride from the main land. Ward's is typically the least busy ferry, but it's still packed on summer weekends.
Toronto's worst-kept secret: Hanlan's has a clothing-optional beach. Disclaimer: don't be a douchebag about it. If you're not into it, don't go.
Artscape is a studio and residence for artists on the island, but on August 10 and 11, the last All Caps festival is going down as part of Wavelength. You can camp out on the island for two nights, catch a bunch of bands, and check out projects and installations by the artists who work here.
Hanlan's is home to no fewer than six illuminated tennis courts, two softball diamonds, and three volleyball courts, if you please. There's also Frisbee golf at Centre Island.
You'll want to bring your bike over if you have one, but if not, they're available for rent once you get to the islands. It's $8 for the first hour for a regular bike, and another $4 for each additional half hour. You can also go on a two-seater (barfy/cute) which can be rented for $15 for the first hour and $7.5 for every half hour thereafter. This is a far better option than renting a BIXI bike on the mainland.
There are many inlets and mini-bays to explore around the Islands. As far as getting across the harbour, your best bet is to come from the east, which avoids the airport and increased boat traffic in the inner harbour.
Centreville has all the carnival cheese a person could possibly want. There's a Ferris wheel, a spinning tea cups ride a la Disney, water bumper cars, a water slide...essentially, this place will keep just about anyone under 10 amused forever. There's also a cafe, picnic area, and Shopsy's Island Deli Bar & Grill. A family of four can visit this childrens' oasis for a mere $106 if tickets are ordered online.
The Franklin Children's Garden
This little garden is not named after an old white dude with beard and specs. It's named after Franklin the turtle, which is pretty much the cutest thing I've ever heard. Compared with Centreville, this is a fairly chill, drama-free children's entertainment option: aside from the gardens, there's a storytelling amphitheatre, a treehouse, and a pond for wildlife viewing.
Bust out the old man chops and get your game on. Ward's Island is home to a lawn bowl, and I can't think of a better place to play what must be the most chilled out "sport" around.
The Rectory Cafe
The Rectory Cafe is open year-round, and on its menu you'll find accessible dishes like salads, a selection of sandwiches and burgers, pasta and steak. They have a good number of veggie options, too, like the veggie kale enchilada.
Island Cafe offers brunch, a main menu with fish tacos, quesidillas, salads and pub food like nachos and burgs, as well as a cocktail menu. It's open every day of the week, and they often have live music, too.
I would suggest just bringing your own picnic so you can eat when and where you want, with toes in the water. If you're not into making it yourself, Parts & Labour does take-out picnics complete with a tote and cutlery.
WHAT TO BRING
There are some shaded areas on the islands for sure, but the greatest part of going over is spending time in the sun. Thus, you should use common sense and bring necessary sunbathing items, like:
The official map is quite comprehensive in its breakdown of what there is to see and do on the Toronto Islands. Click on the link above for a annotated PDF version.
Lead photo by Tom Podelec in the blogTO Flickr pool
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