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Toronto’s “The Beaches” neighbourhood is the supremely popular East End neighbourhood with a quaint, small-town atmosphere and nearly 2 kilometers of beach along the Toronto shoreline. Although its officially known as “The Beach” everyone calls it The Beaches, and its borders are Victoria Park Ave. and Leslie St. on the East/West axis and Kingston Ave. to the Toronto Shoreline on the other axis.
The beach and boardwalk make this neighbourhood the perfect destination for swimming, sunbathing, volleyball, or just casual relaxation and draw big crowds of locals and tourists alike during the summer. It’s a good place to get away from the concrete jungle of downtown any time of year, so many families and young professionals choose this part of the city to settle in.
Queen St. East is the neighbourhood’s vibrant commercial centre. There you’ll find businesses of all kinds amid a small-town main street atmosphere even though it’s near the heart of Toronto. It’s got unique bistros, family restaurants, intimate cafes, and plenty of spots for brunch along with the bakeries, ice cream parlours, and the independent local shops which give it that reputation for quaintness. Off the main strip, you can take advantage of all the green space and sports facilities plus the local events which take place there.
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The Beaches has old buildings, new urban culture, and modern living. We owe this quaint neighbourhood atmosphere to the area’s history, back when the city was still growing into the metropolis it is today. The neighbourhood used to be a sparsely-populated outlier community which was then transformed into the hip neighbourhood it is today by several City of Toronto infrastructure developments.
Before it had yoga studios and pet groomers, this patch of land East of the Don Valley was heavily wooded swampland dotted with private homes. In the early 1900s, the Toronto Harbour Commission acquired the shoreline and what is now the Kew Gardens Park, then private land.
By 1930 the city had enlarged the original beach which was not continuous into one long public park using wooden groynes, finally opening the public boardwalk and other beachfront facilities to the public in 1932.
At the beginning of the 20 Century, The Beaches was home to several local amusement parks. Victoria Park and Munro Park were in operation from the late 1800s until 1906 and Scarboro Beach Park from 1907 until around 1930. These parks aren’t just in the history books. You’ll recognize the names from the local streets which were named after them. There was even a ferry, called the Victoria Park Ferry, which connected the amusement parks to the downtown core, but it was discontinued after the parks closed.
As one of the city’s older neighbourhoods, The Beaches have more to offer than just older buildings and hip bistros to have brunch. While these attractions might not bring tourists flooding in like the beach, residents of The Beaches probably like to keep it that way. Visit in the summer and you’ll see why. Here are the notable features and landmarks which will be familiar to most residents:
Kew Gardens is a medium-sized park in the neighbourhood running from Queen Street to Lake Ontario and includes the Alex Christie Bandstand for concerts. Every July, the neighbourhood celebrates the Beaches International Jazz Festival, drawing thousands to the area. However, now most of the performances occur at Woodbine Beach Park. It’s the neighbourhood’s hub, with many festivals, craft shows, concerts and exhibitions taking place here.
Woodbine Beach & The Boardwalk are where the neighbourhood gets its namesake. Starting with the paisley-shaped Woodbine beach to the east, sandy terrain stretches east as far as the neighbourhood, flanked all the way along by a glorious boardwalk which is big enough to accommodate the crowds on even the hottest summer days. Excess beach-goers who didn’t find a spot on the beach can set up in one of the 3 big parks which can be found on the other side of the boardwalk.
Glenn Stewart Ravine is like a mini (seriously mini) Taylor Creek or Don Valley. It may not have the size of its bigger cousins but you also don’t have to look far to get back to the action on Queen St. East. You won’t even have to worry about your cappuccino getting cold if you decide to go for a stroll. It stretches from Queen St. East, where the grass and parkland are well-manicured, all the way to Kingston Road and gradually turns into a more rugged trail along the way.
Queen St. East is where everything happens, the artery of The Beaches. If the boardwalk is the balmy place of relaxation, the Queen St. East. strip is a commercial centre bustling with independent shops, cafes, restaurants, and all the other amenities a major metropolitan area affords its residents.
R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant, an industrial facility with iconic status for its role in media over the years. It’s been featured in films like “Half Baked”, “In the Mouth of Madness”, “Four Brothers” and “Undercover Brother.” Its reputation among those in the know is legendary for its central prominence in Michael Ondaatje’s novel In the Skin of a Lion, itself about the building of many well known Toronto structures including the Bloor-Danforth Aqueduct.
The Beaches Toronto District Library Branch is one of the few Carnegie Libraries in Toronto. Endowed by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and built in the English Collegiate style, there’s no better place in the neighbourhood to grab a coffee, sit down with a book, and feel at ease in a truly literary place. The library opened in 1914 and has undergone a number of alterations and updates, so if you can’t find a book that suits you the library itself is fascinating to learn about and admire.
Watersports. Lake Ontario is a world-class venue for water sports of all kinds including sailing, kite surfing, wind-surfing & more, so many of the necessary amenities for these activities can be found on and around Woodbine Beach. Yacht and sailing clubs flank Woodbine Beach in Ashbridge’s Bay while businesses that will rent you everything from a paddleboard to a kayak can be found along the boardwalk stretching East.
The Balmy Beach Club is a local institution. The private social and sports club has been in operation since 1905 and has been tying together the local athletics and social scene ever since. It continues to be a local gathering place and with mature trees sheltering a patio looking out on the lake, there’s no doubt that this urban oasis could be one of the best patios in Toronto.
Take In Nature
No matter what your preferred way of experiencing nature might be, it can be had in The Beaches. Walking through the Glenn Stewart Ravine at parts feels like you are out of the city entirely and provides more of a hiking experience while the boardwalk and many area parks have plenty of benches protected by shade from old-growth trees if you prefer to sit down, relax, and watch the life of the city unfolding before you between sips of a coffee. Kew Gardens park even features a sizable gazebo that’s ideal for enjoying the park without too much sun. It’s also a great Instagram opportunity.
Go To Brunch
Numerous brunch-able restaurants, cafes, and diners line the Queen St. East strip which runs through The Beaches, any one of them a more than adequate venue for your Sunday brunch prospects. Just be warned. Getting a table might not be too easy if you don’t plan ahead, especially in the summer. Sitting on a Queen St. patio before strolling down to the beach or one of the area’s many parks is a quintessential Beaches past-time.
Hit The Beach
Toronto doesn’t exactly spring to mind when most people think of big-city beaches, but it’s there and it’s more than worth a day trip. Bring a blanket, a cooler, a few towels, and a frisbee along with your friends or family and you have yourself a day filled with fun, sun, and excitement – or relaxation, for that matter. There are several cove-type sections of the beach if you just want to get your feet wet and there’s ample space for swimming if you prefer to go all the way. Just remember that the beach isn’t always guarded, so be sure to stay safe if you go in the water. If you prefer beach volleyball or sand-sports, head to Woodbine Beach closer to Ashbridge’s Bay, but if it’s water-side lounging and swimming your after you’re better off grabbing a spot along the nearly 2-km. Stretch of sand between Kew Beach Park and Balmy Beach Park.
Play Some Sports
In the summer recreational possibilities are plentiful. It’s no wonder this area draws crowds. You can swim at the Donald D. Summerville Olympic Pool, take a dip in the lake, play a tennis match on the courts near the beach, rent a paddleboard and explore the bay, or just play frisbee in one of the neighbourhood’s beautiful parks.
Go For A Bike Ride
Some of Toronto’s best cycling can be had on the Martin Goodman trail immediately North of the beach’s boardwalk. The trail has a dedicated cycling lane, and riding down it while the beach is teeming with activity might be one of the best ways to experience this slice of Toronto life. Cycling is also a terrific way to see all the landmarks and survey the neighbourhood. Just be warned that North of Queen St. East you’ll be facing a stark uphill climb. After exploring the beach you can hit the streets for some urban exploring or take the trail all the way West to Humber Bay, traveling through the Downtown Waterfront District along the way. It’s a great way to experience Toronto if you’re athletically inclined.
Picnic in One of The Parks
Whether you couldn’t get in somewhere for brunch or you simply prefer the great outdoors, picnicking bliss is waiting for in any of the many parks in The Beaches. Just make sure you bring enough food and a good book because you may not want to leave once you set up camp. Greenspace along the beach is generally subject to pretty high traffic, so it might be a bit crowded and uncomfortable for picnicking. Instead, you can try Kew Gardens Park, Woodbine Beach Park, or the less populous parts of Ashbridge’s Bay Park down by the peninsula which separates the Yacht Club from the lake.
Walk The Ravine
Glenn Stewart Ravine that runs through the centre of the neighbourhood may not have the length of the Don Valley or Humber Valley, but what it lacks in size it certainly makes up for in charm. Strolling the length of the ravine is a nice way to get away from the crowds on the beach and get away from the feeling of a big city. The Northernmost part of the ravine near Kingston Road is enclosed in foliage and can make you forget you are in Toronto, especially if traffic is light. Further south you’ll find a more manicured park nestled among beautiful homes on both sides. The whole experience can be a refreshing break from a busy day walking the boardwalk or hitting the beach. It’s terrific for pets, too.
Various public and private organizations also run regular events throughout the year ranging from food tasting to the famous jazz festival.
Getting to and from The Beaches is simple and convenient. With a transit score of 88, the area is considered highly accessible by transit.
It’s accessible despite not being situated directly on a subway line thanks to its many buses and the famous 501 streetcar. The 501 ride west is in itself somewhat of a treat as you get to experience all of the neighbourhood’s charms from the comfortable vantage point of one of Toronto’s new streetcars.
Getting to the subway system is just a matter of hopping on one of the Northbound bus lines to either Main St. Station or Woodbine Station.
Torontonians from other parts of the city who are hoping for a beachside weekend getaway will typically take the Route 92 Bus down from Woodbine Station, so it can get pretty packed in the summer. Alternatives include the Route 64 Bus from Main St. Station, although this route meanders through a residential neighbourhood and is, therefore, less direct – hence the popularity of Route 92. There’s a 3rd route available from Coxwell Station, but the bus only makes it as far as Kingston Ave. before turning towards Victoria Park, and even then it’s only available between 7 p.m. – 5 a.m. on weekday evenings and 24 hrs. On weekends).
Consult the TTC Trip Planner for more information on the area’s transit routes.
The Beaches is a family neighbourhood. Like any neighbourhood in a major city, The Beaches is far from homogenous, but if Queen St. West is the young happening bohemian strip, Queen St. East is home to more couples, families, and generally settled-in folks overall.
According to the latest census data, the population is 21,567 with a population density of 6,058 per square meter. That’s considerably lower than the downtown average and even lower than some of the other residential neighbourhoods in the city.
Most of the residents are working age (58.8%) or in the pre-retirement years. There are far fewer college-aged youths, placing this neighbourhood firmly in the family-friendly category. A walk through any of the side streets will confirm that it’s really more of a family neighbourhood. You’re more likely to run into families with strollers than groups of young people.
Median family income is ~$150,000, making The Beaches a solidly middle-class neighbourhood. With low-income households only making up about 10% of the area’s residential population the area is certainly a more exclusive place to live. North of Queen St. East you’ll find a more middle-class environment. South of Queen is where you’ll find some of the more exclusive housing, some of which is quite elegant. The costlier real estate is nearer the water, naturally.
With 60% of residents possessing a Bachelor’s Degree or higher, The Beaches is firmly a white-collar neighbourhood. Most of its professional residents commute to downtown or other parts of the city for work. However, the percentage of people who take transit to work is lower than the city’s average at only about 30%. That means a bit less congestion on transit lines in and out of the neighbourhood compared with the rest of the city.
The Beaches bring together a closer sense of community with big-city living. Although the area does still have the fast pace of life which comes from living in a major metropolitan area it’s not quite as fast or hectic as some of the city’s other popular neighbourhoods.
It’s not quite a sleepy beachfront community, but it’s as close as you’ll get to that laid back vibe in a city like Toronto. Walkability is a key feature that brings people of all kinds to the Beaches. Everyone from young urbanites to retirees calls the beaches home, though the predominant demographics are working-age people, who make up 44% of the population.
Along the main thoroughfare of Queen St. East. you’ll get the mixed-use housing which is typical of Toronto. 2- or 3-storey buildings with commercial space on the main level and apartments upstairs, entry to which is usually granted by doors in the facade.
Within the largest residential section of the beaches, the space between Queen St. & Kingston Road and Woodbine and Victoria Park, there are middle-class, single-family homes and semi-detached properties with a few low-rise apartments here and there.
The housing is one thing about The Beaches residents love. It hasn’t been taken over by towering condos, at least not yet. That lack of serious development is part of what gives the Toronto neighbourhood it’s slow, small-town vibe. It’s a neighbourhood where most homes are single-family detached or semi-detached homes.
There are condo developments along Queen St. East, but they’re low-rise buildings as opposed to full-fledged condo towers. In total only around 7% of the housing available in the neighbourhood is 5+ storey apartment or condo-type accommodation.
Most homes are older (1980 and earlier) and exemplify the classic old Southern Ontario residential vibe. Old-growth trees shade the neighbourhood to give visitors the sense of being in a small town.
Closer to the water is where you’ll find some of the more upscale properties. Even strolling through this part of the area can be a treat. Many of the homes are a treat to look at if you are a fan of residential architecture. Spending time in the area gives you a sense of why The Beaches is such a highly sought after neighbourhood in the real estate market.
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The Beaches is far from plain geographically. It’s most prominent geographic feature is no doubt its namesake beach, but it’s also remarkably hilly. Leading up from the beach toward Queen St. East is relatively flat where the topography suddenly turns into a long steep hill leading all the way up to Kingston Rd to the North.
Another notable geographic feature is the Glenn Stewart Ravine, a short creek that bisects the two halves of the neighbourhood and which runs from Kingston Rd. to Queen St. East. An often overlooked part of the area is the peninsula jutting out into Ashbridge’s Bay. Stand at the very tip to get an unobstructed 180° view of Lake Ontario.
Beaches Recreation Centre (Local Community Centre)
The centre offers preschool and school-aged programs as well as fitness for adults as the mainstays of the program schedule. With a pool, weight room, and plenty of intramural activities for adults, the community centre is an often overlooked asset for staying fit despite its convenience for residents of The Beaches. The numerous arts & camps for kids run throughout the year and include everything from arts & crafts, to dance, guitar, and even children’s visual arts. Located on Williamson Rd., the centre is centrally located for residents.
Although it’s the neighbourhood’s only library, the Toronto Public Library Beaches Branch is more than a well-equipped learning resource for the community. In addition to its ample catalogue, meeting rooms, and regular programming for kids, the library building itself is a pleasant place to spend time in for studying or casual reading.
The Beaches has numerous elementary and high schools as well as ample private tutoring services. You’ll find public schools of all sorts as well as Montessori Schools, Bi-Lingual Schools, and Nurseries. Both the Toronto District School Board and Toronto Catholic District Schoolboard service this neighbourhood.
Balmy Beach Junior School, 14 Pine Ave, (416) 393-1565
Beaches Alternative School, 50 Swanwick, (416) 393-1451
Kew Beach Junior School, 101 Kippendavie Ave., (416) 393-1810
Kimberley Public School, 50 Swanwick, (416) 393-1450
Norway Public School, 55 Corley, (416) 393-1700
Williamson Road Junior School, 24 Williamson Road, (416) 393-1740
St. Denis Catholic School, 67 Balsam Ave. (416) 393-5310
St. John Catholic School, 780 Kingston Rd. (416) 393-5220
Malvern Collegiate Institute, 55 Malvern, (416) 393-1480
Neil McNeil High School, 127 Victoria Park Ave. (416) 393-5502
Notre Dame High School, 12 Malvern Ave., (416) 393-5501
Childcare & Private Schools
As a neighbourhood made up largely of families The Beaches has abundant childcare both for after-school care and preschool. Bilingual childcare is also available in the area.
Parents seeking alternative education for their children will be happy to know the area has several private schools including multiple Montessori Schools.
Employment opportunities in The Beaches are limited to working in the service industry at one of the local restaurants or cafes or working retail in one of the stores or local businesses in the area. There is seasonal work available during tourist season as commerce in the area does pick up considerably.
Some small businesses operate in the neighbourhood and provide professional opportunities but the general lack of office space keeps medium and large businesses from operating in the area.
Most professionals living in The Beaches commute to work elsewhere, typically in the downtown core.
Running errands and going about daily life tasks is simple in The Beaches if you want to walk. With a walk score of 88 the neighbourhood isn’t only highly accessible by foot but enjoyable as well. Most businesses and amenities are located on Queen St. East and a few scattered businesses on Kingston Rd. as well, especially nearer Victoria Park Ave.
Unlike some other Toronto neighbourhoods, the old-growth trees and generally lived-in feeling of the community make walking enjoyable even if it is to run errands.
The only detail which might impede would-be walkers is the hill. Between Queen St. East and Kingston road is a considerable slope that runs from South to North. The steepest section is along the neighbourhoods Eastern border, at Victoria Park Ave. Here, the gradient gets so steep it’s a downright workout just getting up the thing. If you’re riding a bike you will have to dismount unless you use the lowest gear.
Other than the hill, the rest of the area is highly accessible by bicycle. It’s bike score of 75 means there’s ample cycling infrastructure, even if it can get a bit crowded on the area’s main thoroughfare, with cars vying for space on the road and competing with streetcars. The most enjoyable place to bike is by the water on the Martin Goodman Trail, and if you’re planning on biking downtown – a trip or even commute which is entirely possible – this trail is by far the most convenient way to go. It’s got a dedicated cycling route which connects the downtown core.
If getting to other parts of the city requires a trip by car or public transport, the TTC’s service to the region makes getting around convenient as well. The easiest options are shooting along the 501 Streetcar to Downtown’s transit up or taking a bus up to the Bloor-Danforth Line. From there, the city’s expansive transit network is at your feet.
In addition to having one of the city’s most well-known and frequented parks next to Trinity Bellwoods, The Beaches has much more green space. Wherever you find yourself in this neighbourhood there’s likely to be a park nearby, and where there isn’t you’ll be surrounded by charming old-growth trees that give residential areas that quality of quaint comfort that comes from places that are lived-in and well-loved by their inhabitants.
With so much green space in the area, the city was considerate enough to pet-owners to allot some of the space to man’s best friend. Nearly every park in the area has a dog run of its own, with the most popular being the off-leash section of Kew Gardens Park.