How to spend a day in the Beaches and Upper Beaches
The Beaches and its counterpart, the Upper Beaches, encompass a wide swath of the easternmost part of the old city of Toronto, bordering Lake Ontario from Coxwell to Victoria Park and North to Kingston Road and include Woodbine, Kew, and Balmy beaches.
After the beaches were artificially enhanced in the early 1900s, the area became an increasing touristy destination, and remain today a popular spot, drawing many to the Kew Gardens or events like the Beaches Jazz Festival, and yet The Beaches maintains its village feel.
Here's how to spend a day in the Beaches and Upper Beaches, from morning until late at night.
BREAKFAST AND COFFEE
I start my day at the first Sunset Grill, a now Ontario-wide institution of all day breakfasts that once had humble origins back in 1985 when founder Angelo Christou opened his first location in the Beaches on Queen East. The original spot still remains, and serves up a fine classic grill - eggs, bacon and home fries with toast. I might go in for the Sunset Waffle Supreme, a tower of waffles with fresh strawberries, strawberry compote and whipped cream.
I then make my way to Bud's Coffee Bar. Owner Ken Galbraith has put in his time at many of the indie coffee shops in the city, and knows his way around a La Marzocco. Bud's is the new kid in torn, having just opened this past summer, so I still pay visits to my old haunt and standby Remarkable Bean, with its truly wonderful selection of baked goods and loving attention to their coffee.
Once I get said coffee, I pop into the Beaches Public Library, one of the most charming libraries in the city with its high windowed reading room, and grab something to read down along the boardwalk. Sometimes I take a seat on the Alex Christie gazebo in Kew Gardens, or if I'm out with a friend we may book a court at the Kew Garden tennis club. Otherwise I go straight to the waterfront, head west to Woodbine, and find myself a bench. It's such a lovely walk that even when it gets chilly I just bundle up and watch the waves.
The fresh air of the Beaches always makes me hungry, and I've been known to stop into the original Burger's Priest and eat one of the cheeseburgers in about three minutes flat - or I might grab a sandwich at Tori's Bakeshop and eat it on the bench. If I can actually manage sitting down I stop in at Hogtown Smoke for some of the best barbeque on the east side - and next time, I'm excited to try the new location of Gourmet Gringos, which just opened recently.
After all food I am in need of another walk. I take the Glen Stewart ravine to get to the Upper Beaches. This revitalized walking trail is simply gorgeous, with it's elevated boardwalk amongst the rich Carolinian forest and the wetlands of Ames Creek. The Toronto park department developed an interpretive nature trail and even a pocketsize guidebook to go with it, so you can better identify all of the splendor around you. It's a really cool place to watch for birds like the brown creeper, white-breasted nuthatch, the pileated woodpecker and Donna Tartt's favourite, the goldfinch.
I can't visit a neighbourhood without stopping into whatever second hand bookshop is around and the Upper Beaches is no exception. I browse around Great Escape Books. The owners are knowledgeable and passionate about literature and always have something interesting to suggest. It's hard to leave empty handed.
Once I'm in the upper Beaches I stop into the Beaches Bake Shop on Kingston Road for a snack, or a 'Fika' as they say in Swedish. Those classic cinnamon buns are so good, and while I'm there I can stock up on Scandinavian candy like the salty black liquorice. Otherwise Courage Foods is a tasty alternative, the chocolate brownie being a highly addictive and delicious afternoon snack.
I make sure to go to the Beech Tree for dinner when I'm in the neighbourhood. They build their menu from scratch using local ingredients and purveyors whenever possible - its inspiration comes from sophisticated British comfort food, but takes cues from French, Spanish and Mediterranean cuisine and rarely disappoints. The cocktails are sublime and the staff, kind and attentive without being smothering. The Beech tree is exactly what you'd wish for in an otherwise sleepy little community, good food and service without necessary pretensions.
DRINKS AND ENTERTAINMENT
Being of some Scottish blood, and a born East Coaster, I love a good single malt. The Feathers Pub is the place to indulge, having one of the best single malt scotch collections in all of North America. I suggest taking an evening with some friends and doing one of their whisky tours, sampling Single Malts through various regions and learning a bit about each distillery, or you can do a flight of some of their finest. The atmosphere is warm and inviting. Be warned, that much whisky usually comes with a wicked headache the next day, which is why I like to finish the night with a final bite of food to soak it all up.
LATE NIGHT EATS
Late night eats come courtesy of the Green Dragon and The Loop. Both serve classic pub food past midnight, so I can satisfy my late night nacho and chicken wing cravings like the classy broad I am. I find going to sleep on a full stomach of spicy food magical for my lucid dreaming trips - so I don't call it the munchies, I call it research and preparation, OK?
What did I miss? Add your suggestions for how to spend a day in the Beaches and Upper Beaches to the comments.
Photos by Jesse Milns, Natta Summerky and Evidence in the blogTO Flickr pool.
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