April 07, 2014

Toronto's Beach Getaway

The east Toronto neighbourhood of The Beach preserves its roots as the city’s first lakeside resort, embracing its aquatic heritage while marrying a thriving commercial district with its cherished parklands. Disagreement continues to this day as to the proper name for the neighbourhood. Is it The Beaches or The Beach? According to local street signs, the latter has won.

This oasis of pocket gardens and shady ravines skirts the shores of Lake Ontario only fifteen minutes from downtown Toronto. Well-preserved Victorian and Edwardian homes and refurbished beach cottages line quiet streets with leafy names like Silver Birch, Willow and Beech. These residential streets lead from bustling Queen Street East to the four area beaches (Woodbine, Kew, Balmy and Scarboro) and the three-kilometre boardwalk that links them together.

The Boardwalk in The Beach

The lakeshore is the heart of The Beach. Residents and visitors alike congregate here to walk their dogs or jog the tree-fringed boardwalk and rollerblade or bike the Martin Goodman Trail. You can also canoe, windsurf or join in a game of beach volleyball or tennis. Woodbine and Kew-Balmy beaches have been awarded the Blue Flag, an international eco-label signifying excellence in water quality and beach management. Woodbine Park is also the site of the outdoor Olympic-sized Donald D. Summerville Pool.

Toronto's Blue Flag Beaches

The ambience along Queen Street East is family-oriented, with an eclectic mingling of boutiques, gift shops and eateries that has earned the title of best small-town Main Street in the province. In the summer, stalls of fresh Niagara fruit and buckets of flowers spill out onto sidewalks and buskers entertain passers-by. And judging by the array of businesses catering to pets – including two hospitals, the Pets at Peace funeral home and even a Woof-fit fitness studio – Beachers love their four-legged friends. According to Tourism Toronto, The Beach is home to more dogs per capita than anywhere else in the city.

Flowers on Queen Street East

A lively hundred-foot mural on the wall of the Beach IGA at Queen and Lee, Beach Got Rhythm, captures some of the neighbourhood’s most celebrated features like Kew Beach Fire Hall, the much-photographed Leuty Lifeguard Station, the quaint Gardener’s Cottage at Kew Gardens and The Beaches International Jazz Festival. A second mural depicting the Scarboro Beach Amusement Park now graces the corner of Queen and Wineva. The amusement park provided lakeside fun for Torontonians from 1907 - 1925.

Beach Got Rhythm Mural, by Rudolf Stussi & Errol Stussi

The Leuty Lifeguard Station

The Gardener's Cottage, Kew Gardens

The Beaches International Jazz Festival draws close to a million jazz fans to The Beach each summer for a series of free performances. July 2014 marks the 26th anniversary of the event, which takes place over two weekends from July 18-27 and features multiple outdoor venues plus a Streetfest.

Beyond the main commercial area along Queen Street East lie two noteworthy Beach institutions. The Fox Theatre is Toronto’s longest continually-running movie theatre and the Art Deco R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant is prized as a film set for its grand cathedral-style architecture and stunning location above Lake Ontario.

The Fox Theatre

Dining in The Beach is casual and varied, from Italian and Greek to Asian and pub fare. Some restaurants are set in historic buildings like Whitlock’s, dating from 1891 when it was a grocery store and post office, or Lion on the Beach, once a branch of the Bank of Canada.

Lion on the Beach

The East Patio at Lion on the Beach

And then there’s The Garden Gate which opened in 1952 and is now known by locals as “The Goof” since some of the letters in the “Good Food” neon sign burnt out decades ago. Many places offer outdoor seating on a sunny sidewalk or shaded patio and park benches scattered through Kew Gardens or along the boardwalk are ideal for enjoying an ice cream cone or specialty coffee to-go.

The Garden Gate Restaurant or "The Goof"

Kew Gardens

The Beaches Library and Kew Gardens

Getting around in The Beach is best done on foot. Parking can be difficult to find, especially on summer weekends, but walking is the ideal way to explore the neighbourhood. And you can always hitch a ride on the “Red Rocket”, one of Toronto’s convenient streetcars.

The "Red Rocket"

Consider adding a beach getaway to your next Toronto visit. You'll discover a different side of life in the heart of Canada’s largest city.

For more information on The Beach:

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