I traveled to Toronto for an extended weekend getaway. Normally for summer, I like to go to the Caribbean, but I went in the opposite direction because the flights were insanely cheap, and the hotels were willing to throw in so discounts and extras to the point that it would be idiotic to not go.
But I went into it thinking, meh, I’ll go, it’ll be “nice” weather, and it’ll be one of the cheapest vacations I’ll regret.
I can tell you that the phrase “book by it’s cover” is ever present in everything we do.
Toronto was a blast!
For one, don’t let the weather stereotypes fool you, they have real summer in Toronto. Low 80’s, high UV Index, and enough humidity coming off Lake Ontario to make it reminiscent of a day on the Delaware coast.
For the record, I went in mid-August, in case you decide to plan your own trip.
Toronto has some ‘typical’ tourist attractions, CN Tower, Hockey Hall of Fame, baseball at the Rogers Centre. But here’s something that Toronto does far better than some US big city counterparts: themed weeks.
A type of festival that is left to certain corners of the US, and New Orleans, the idea of an succinct themed week, at any time of year, seems to be a celebration of yesteryear in the US in the modern era. Instead, we get one type of event for a weekend, at one location. The days of multiple businesses and venues getting together to host one, or even two themes that support one another is something “relegated” to small towns for the most part.
Well, based on how Toronto does it, we’re missing out in the US, and I hope at least one person in a community looking to fill a void reads this realizes that they are missing out on serious tourist potential.
Now here’s the great thing about Toronto: they are combining multiple elements to make up a party atmosphere, out on their boardwalk mainly. That’s right, Toronto has a fantastic boardwalk, meant for biking, walking, running, dogs, oh, and midnight pirate boating….more on that later.
It turns out that combining spicy food, second line bands, and straight funk, you’ve got yourself one of the liveliest street festivals. Seriously, you missed out! August 19th to the 21st, the Treme Brass Band (one of my personal favorites!) was beating those drums, and playing the soul out of those horns. Yuka, a Stax Records-influenced funk band played as well, and all the spicy food, from barbecue to middle eastern. And it was all very great!
But here’s the best part….while most communities that host themed festivals will host once a year, Toronto does a continued stream of them! You get about 24 hours of break in between (probably called a “hang-over” day by locals, but you didn’t hear that from me), and then they right back to business, all summer long.
In the days before I got there, they have a Tapas festival, and brought in chefs from all over the world to “compete” by making unique takes on tapas to pair with, you guessed, craft beer. Look, you may not be a foodie, and you may not like craft beer. If you show up to a town that has a tapas and craft beer festival going on right outside your hotel lobby, something tells me I find you there, ten times out of ten.
And they had so many different kinds of tapas, it was impossible to try them all, along with all the beer. But hey, no one’s stopping you from trying!
So we’ve talked tourist stuff, the boardwalk, now let’s talk about the beach……yea, Toronto has a beach. Prepare yourself.
Toronto Harbour (their spelling, not mine) is created by mainland Toronto, and the Toronto Islands. Yes, there’s islands out in the water of Lake Ontario, and it’s a beach goers paradise! When I was there, the locals described the place as three islands, but as I walked around, I found several distinct islands, but some locals don’t refer to all of them. There’s Centre Island, which maintains the major beach on the island. There’s the area known as Ward’s Island, which is the far east area of the islands. There is also a few hundred residents living there, but the Canadian government is working to put that to a halt (so much for freedom!)
There’s Algonquin Island, and then the much smaller islands of Mugg’s, Forestry, Snake, South Chippewa, South, and RCYC. They all serve island specific activities like forest preservation, wildlife habitation, yacht clubs, and rumor has it, nude beaches…..I was told this goes on at Ward’s Island, but I didn’t check. I say, enter at your own risk.
What I can tell you is that Toronto has put in a lot of effort to maintain clean beaches, and to create an inviting locale to beach it up! I was thoroughly impressed. They have built rock walls into the lake that form a calm atmosphere along the beach, but also have created see-to-the-bottom waters that any Caribbean spot would feel threatened by.
The only thing missing is bars and attendant service. But, that’s no reason not to go, and there is a small spattering for huts to grab plenty of food, and of course beer.
It’s easy to get to the islands, you purchase a ferry ticket, take the 15 minute ride across the harbor, and you’re there. An equally timed walk gets you to the lake side of the island, and subsequent beach. It’s way too awesome to pass up, especially since many tourists don’t consider Canada for summer time!
Back on the mainland, there’s plenty of night excursions to get involved in, like the endless stream of boats that cruise the harbor, encourage terrible singing, and laughs all the while.
Also, you’ll probably meet some really cool Canadians, who aren’t fussy about cheese, or socialism, no matter what Justin Trudeau tries to do.
All in all, Toronto is a fantastic place to vacation, especially in summer. Don’t short-change yourself, get in on the fun now while you can. At some point, the rest of the world is going to hear about how cool the Canadian NYC is!