Gibraltar and Hanlan’s
Take the Centre Island ferry, follow the signs to Centre Beach, and then keep on walking west to reach Gibraltar or hop on the Hanlan’s Ferry and wander 15 minutes up the paved path to Hanlan’s on the right and then past the lighthouse to Gibraltar Beach.
Gibraltar’s is a sweet little stretch of beach tucked between Centre Island and Hanlan’’s Point – just past the bustle and commerce of Centre Island Beach. It’s one of our favourites, with windswept dunes, almost total mid-week privacy and a vast vista of Lake Ontario. Hanlan’s, 10 minutes to the west is, and this important to note, a clothing optional Blue Flag beach. Sunset in particular can get a little wild here. Your call.
Bluffer’s Park Beach
Kingston Rd & Brimley Rd, Scarborough
The Scarbourough Bluffs are a 14-kilometer long 12,000-year-old geographical wonder and Bluffer’s Park is a sweeping, sandy stretch of summer wonderful with swimming, picnic areas, walks and lookouts. Change rooms and washrooms are available on site. The park also features access to the 3.1km Bluffer’s Park Trail and a marina with quaint houseboats and a restaurant. Open every day from 11am until 9:30pm, the restaurant is a fairly upscale option with a lovely view of the harbour but might not be ideal for sandy-bottomed toddlers. The park is surrounded by residential land so bring your own picnic as you’ll be hard-pressed to stock up nearby.
A few cautionary notes… if you are heading to Bluffer’s on a weekend, go early! Once that parking lot is full, you are looking at 30 frustrating minutes circling the street-parking drain around Kingston Rd and then a 2km walk downhill (that’s uphill on the way home). The good news? The Bluffer’s Park Loop bus will take you from Kennedy Station to the beach in about 20 minutes starting on May 18th through Labour Day.
Centre Island Beach
Take the Centre Island Ferry and follow signs to the beach on the far side of the island. It’s about a 15-20-minute walk with plenty to stop and see along the way.
This is a very busy, but family-oriented, breakwatered, sandy beach, backed by trees and tall grasses on the eastern shore of Toronto Island, facing Lake Ontario. It’s the least lovely of the island beaches but has the advantage of multiple amentities close at hand. There are bike rentals nearby as well as snack concessions, changerooms, lockers, and a very large wading pool. If you’re looking to make an extra special day of it, Centreville Amusement park is just next door.
Bottom of Cherry St, Portlands
This picturesque, tree-shaded sandy beach in the Toronto Portlands is perfect for families. With nature-filled walking trails, it’s a popular bird-watching spot. There are change rooms, a sports field, a playground with a wooden ship and the ubiquitous chip truck. Picnic tables and barbeque pits are on hand, and a special TTC bus service is available during the summer season.
Kew Balmy Beaches
Lee Ave, S of Queen St E
Head over to The Beach, a 1.2-kilometre swath of sand bordered by stretches of wooden boardwalk and the Martin Goodman Trail. Parking can be a challenge on busy weekends but the 501 streetcar will get you there (eventually). Alternatively, you can pop on the bike trailer and hit the Trail.
Rock stacking, stone-skipping, castle-building, frisbee-flipping, dog-watching and lawn-bowling are just a few of high-tech amusements we suggest. Kew-Balmy is great for swimmers and paddlers, but it’s nice to know that there’s a playground with a wading pool in Kew Gardens on the other side of the boardwalk as well. You’ll find washrooms at the western end of Kew Beach and the east end of Balmy Beach. If you’re heading east, keep walking a while and pay a visit to the architecturally astounding RC Harris Water Treatment. To the west, there’s the iconic Leuty Lifesaving Station completed in 1920. Just past the station, there’s a bright, clean snack bar with gelato (the brownies are nice, too) and a food truck with dogs and fries if you haven’t come packing your own picnic.
Marie Curtis Park
At the foot of 42nd St, south of Lakeshore Rd W,
this beautiful spot has a fantastic playground and is surrounded by picnic-perfect green space. Whimsical creatures spout water on the splash pad, and ducks play in the creek under the bridge while kayaks navigate their way downstream. There are two free parking lots on either side of the creek, accessible from Island Rd or 42nd St. Carless? A short hop on the westbound Lakeshore GO Train from Union Station will land you just a 10 minute walk from this lovely Blue Flag beach in Etobicoke!
Rouge Park Beach
195 Rouge Hills Dr
A short drive out of town will take you to this popular sandy beach with wetland marshes at the mouth of the Rouge River for swimming, paddling, wildlife viewing, walking trails and fishing. Lifeguards are on duty from the third week of June to Labour Day, and there are accessible washrooms onsite. Parking is free but very limited.
Don’t have a car? While you could patch together a bicycle route between the Martin Goodman and Waterfront Trails, it’s also possible to ride the Go Train to Rouge Hill station and then take a leisurely 20-25 minute waterfront stroll to Rouge Beach.
South of High Park on Lakeshore Blvd
Sunnyside has much more than a beach going for it: there’s a wooden boardwalk, swans to watch, shady trees to picnic beneath, good stones for skipping, and a generous stretch of beach boasting the romantic 1920’s-styled Sunnyside Pavilion as a backdrop. There’s a restaurant in the pavilion and snack bars with ice cream nearby. The park here is a highly urban experience – expect volleyball players, the wafting scent of hamburgers and plenty of goose poop, but don’t let that keep you away from magical sunsets and the welcome breeze off the water.
Take the Ward’s Island Ferry, it’s a short walk from the landing, past the café and the field to the beach. There’s a peaceful sandy beach with a stretch of boardwalk that’s great for families. Stroll through Ward’s lovely residential community full of quaint cottage-like houses. Don’t miss the Fire Festival on 4 August. The Island Café is your family-friendliest choice for really delicious meals, grown-up drinks, finger food, ice cream, yummy baked goods and coffee. We love their lush vegetable garden and the laid-back wooden seating on the patio. The Rectory Café, down the path by the fire station is also a lovely option. It boasts one of Toronto’s most beautiful patios and is open from 11am to 9pm daily. Make a reservation at 416-203-2152.