Michelle Kay is a writer/editor and runner and cyclist in Toronto. You can usually find her biking around exploring or running in the city.
Made up of several neighborhoods, each with their own flavor and flair, Toronto is Canada’s largest and most diverse city, one of the most influential in the world. With its dynamic pace and a growing population, the city can at times feel a bit crowded, but there is no shortage of outdoor spaces in which to be Recreational. The usual spots include the Martin Goodman Trail, the Toronto Islands and High Park, but there are also some hidden (and less congested) gems.
Tommy Thompson Park aka the Leslie Street Spit
Originally conceived as an extension of the Toronto Harbour, Tommy Thompson Park (lovingly referred to as the Leslie St. Spit), has evolved into an area that is popular with nature lovers. Located in the east end, the human-made peninsula began as a landfill project for discarded bricks, rebar and debris. Today, “the Spit” is a naturalized space about 5 kilometers (3 miles) long. It is an excellent city-nature mashup and a peaceful hideout when you need a break from urban living. The entrance is easily accessible by public transportation, foot, bicycle or car (but no motorized vehicles are allowed inside.) The park is a bird lover’s paradise and home to 300 species of birds including migrating songbirds, owls and more. The paved, tree-lined paths are ideal for running, cycling, walking and wildlife spotting (but pet owners beware, dogs are forbidden). Be sure to check out the little lookouts along the trails for uninhibited views of Toronto’s skyline. The park also offers a number of education and conservation programs for students, wildlife walks and special events in case you want to learn more about the flora and fauna.
- Pro tip: The park is open 4pm – 9pm on weekdays so you’ll have to skip the morning sunrise and check out the evening sunset instead. However, it is open from 5:30am to 9pm on weekends and holidays.
- Pro, pro tip: The Nature Centre has a “Tackleshare” program where you can rent fishing rods, reels and tackle boxes for all your fishing needs!
In a city of rising rents and multiplying condo buildings, space is a premium and Toronto’s music venues have been shuttering, leaving musicians, party promoters (and goers) wondering what happens next. One solution, it seems, is to host rotating pop-up parties. Dudebox is a group of friends that throws massive dance parties and shows around the city. Part of their appeal is that they happen in unconventional spaces such as an old car wash, a former bank or the parking lot of Honest Ed’s (the iconic Toronto discount store that no longer exists, R.I.P.) Their Halloween parties (called Dudebox is Fucking Dead) are legendary. Working under the motto, “You’re a good person,” they “throw hype parties in weird places” and give proceeds to local and international charities. So far, they have donated over $200,000 to various causes. Dancing is already good for the soul and the Dudebox parties are even more reason to lace up those dancing shoes and head out the door. Follow them on Facebook and Instagram to find out where the next party is.
- Pro tip: This is not a buy-a-ticket-at-the-door type of situation. Get tickets to their probably-sold-out-parties in advance.
The Don Valley Park and Evergreen Brickworks
Located downtown, the massive Don Valley Park is a 200-hectare park that highlights some of Toronto’s best ravines and trails. The valley runs along the Don River, which flows into Lake Ontario. The parkland is a series of wetland environments and unique homes to all kinds of wildlife and plant life; a wonderful oasis for people craving fresh air and solitude. The long stretches of unbroken trails are popular for your long runs, walks and bicycle rides. The park also has an art program where you can find temporary public art projects (sculptures, installations, murals, sound performances, talks and walks) along the trails! You can link up to the Beltline from the Lower Don Trail or visit the beloved Evergreen Brickworks, a former quarry and brick factory that was restored and reopened as a nature sanctuary and recreation facility.
- Pro tip: Stop by Evergreen Brickworks on Saturdays for the city’s largest farmer’s market and pick up some Monforte cheese!
Neo Coffee Bar
Coffee and pastries go together like a horse and carriage, and at Neo Coffee Bar, it’s no different. They offer an assortment of fresh pastries, all produced in house and feature monthly specials such as roll cakes made with in-season fruits. The space is minimal, intimate and well-designed with a dim and cozy atmosphere for you to enjoy a caffeinated beverage. Located on Frederick Street, near George Brown College, the clientele are a mix of students, coffee lovers and local neighbors. They encourage community-building and to facilitate a social atmosphere, interaction and conversation, Neo does not allow laptops and tablets on the weekends and holidays between 12pm – 4pm.
- Pro tip: St. Lawrence Market is nearby so you can pick up all sorts of fancy meats, cheeses and other delicacies if you are looking for something savory or a bit more substantial.
- Pro, pro tip: A couple blocks from Neo is George Brown College’s Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts. The students run a cafe on the second floor and sell delicious, well-priced to-go foods. Pop in to grab some delectable and cheap eats!
Toronto hosts a whopping 58 outdoor pools in different neighborhoods across the city, and they are all free! Open from June to September, the outdoor pools are an essential and integral part of surviving the humid summers. Favorites include Alexandra Park off Dundas Street and Bathurst Ave (a no-frills pool that is great for lounging and people watching) and the Sunnyside Gus Ryder Pool on Lakeshore. This popular location has a large capacity and is generally kept quite cold (perfect for those scorching days). Plus, you can spot the Lake Ontario beach from the pool so you can pretend you are actually in the lake instead. The Sunnyside Bathing Pavilion is right next door and features a beautiful central archway designed by Alfred Chapman built in 1922. Some of the city’s pools stay open late (until 11:45pm) during extended heat waves including Alexandra Park and Sunnyside giving sweaty city dwellers a place to cool off in the summer. Bring a quarter for the lockers to keep your valuables safe as some pools have strict rules that do not allow bags on the deck.
- Pro tip: For those who want to continue swimming long after the outdoor pools have closed for the season, head to the Pam McConnell Aquatic Centre located in the heart of Regent Park. It is one of the city’s best pools and the universal change rooms are not gender-specific, allowing full accessibility for everyone.