What to see and do on the Toronto Islands
The Toronto Islands are unlike any other destination in the city. What feels like heading to a far-off destination, a land of dreamy beaches and amusement rides, is in reality just a 15-minute ferry ride away from the downtown core.
While the entirety of this archipelago can realistically be explored in one day, chances are you won't be able to visit all the attractions and enjoy them to the max.
If you are, however, gung-ho to see it all at Centre Island, Hanlan's Point and Ward's Island in one go, here's a roundup of things you should check out while you're there.
The westernmost side of the Islands, Hanlan's, is best known for its clothing optional beach, where you can rid yourself of all the trappings of city life and swim butt-naked in the lake.
But aside from that, this section has a handful of unique sight-seeing hot spots worth stopping by, like the sexy memorial of the island's namesake, Ned Hanlan, who according to the plaque was "one of Canada's greatest oarsmen."
There's the Mermaid Cafe, a small licensed counter with a patio selling some cheap brews and little snacks. You'll likely hear the music from this stop before you see it; equipped with bathrooms, it makes for a good pit stop after Ned Hanlan's Memorial.
The Gibraltar Point Lighthouse is a must. One of Toronto's oldest buildings (it was built in 1808), this structure is also the oldest lighthouse on the Great Lakes.
Directly across from it is the old public school-turned-artists' getaway Artscape Gibraltar Point, where thousands of people have churned out their craft through the seclusion of artist residencies and studio spaces.
Further along the path heading east you'll spot a sudden boardwalk to your right leading you toward the lake. Here is where you'll the sand dunes of Gibraltar Point Beach.
Constantly shifting, these sand dunes stretch both ways along the water and, while not as busy as the other island beaches, still have their fair share of sunbathers.
You'll know you've entered Centre Island territory when you start to see an influx of four-seater and tandem bikes.
Closer toward the Centre Island ferry dock is where you'll find the island bike rental company, which charges renters for day rates or by the hour.
Jutting out into the water is where you'll get one of the best vistas of the lake around: Centre Island Pier, a beautiful lookout equipped with binoculars and the perfect vantage point for photos.
Deeper into the island, across the Avenue of the Island bridge, you'll find the William Meany Maze. Small but mighty, this labyrinth of evergreens is a briefly distracting getaway.
Of course, you can't forget the rides. There's over 30 rides in the Centreville Theme Park, from splash rides to mini golf, that will fulfill all your childhood dreams.
They even have the quintessential amusement park swan rides. It's a minimum of two people per swan, so if you're approaching it solo, you better partner up.
Getting into the easternmost part of the island with a large residential population, Ward's is cosy and secluded, with a few leisurely activities that scream island life – like admiring Algonquin Island Park or stand up paddleboarding (more colloquially known as SUP.)
Heading toward the beach, you'll likely come across several chain baskets attached to poles. There's 18 of these frisbee golf nets, with the first appearing right beyond the Firehall. If you've got a frisbee you can try your hand at this oddly challenging sport.
If you're feeling adventurous, you can cross a bridge and head to Snake Island. You're unlikely to encounter actual snakes in this foresty, slightly buggy area, but there are picnic sites and fire pits to post up at for a good part of the day.
Along the way, you'll pass by The Rectory, a Ward's island favourite that's re-opened after shuttering its doors following the floods of 2017.
Under no circumstance should you skip out on the boardwalk, a.k.a Lakeshore Avenue, which allows you traverse the land with lush trees to your left and water to your right. But beware of closures, which will force you to turn all the way back to re-take the main path instead.
As you finally get to the main part of Ward's Island, you'll notice way more residences, along with a lawn bowling field belonging to the Ward's Island Clubhouse. It's member's only, so if you're serious about that life you'd better sign up to rent.
Before hitting up Ward's Island beach, one of the more private and intimate beaches on all of the islands, you can stock up on snacks at The Island Cafe. Full off of butter tarts and rock fish ceviche, you'll be ready to pass the rest of your day lying in the sand, under the sun.
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