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Toronto Summer: 11 must-do outings across the city

Exploring Toronto as a resident is usually seen as either a daunting or a tired task. You’ve been to the zoo. You’ve been to the CN Tower.

But there’s more you can do. Have you ever kayaked to the Toronto islands and then slept at a B&B there? Have you slept in a boat on the lake? How about training with Toronto’s circus school?

We’ve whittled our summer to-do list down to 11 fun activities. Want to do it all? Incorporate these ideas into your own summer bucket list.

1) Go on a city cycling trip

Sick of biking alone along the same old routes? Toronto Bicycling Network offers multiple trips a week at different levels and distances. Every Tuesday, for example, there are three-hour trips through the city’s ravines during the day, sticking to mostly bike paths.

The group classifies the trips into three levels of cycling.

Leisure Wheeler: Distances of 20 – 60 km, at speeds of 15 – 17 km/h for a leisurely pace, Tuesdays, and Sundays.

Easy Roller: Distances of 30 – 60 km, at speeds of 18 – 22 km/h for a relaxed pace, Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.

Tourist: Longer distances of 60 – 215 km, at speeds of 23 – 28 km/h on both urban and rural roads, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays.There is a classification of riders called ‘Sportif’ who do the same rides as Tourists, but at a faster pace of 29 – 35 km/h.

See the schedule of cycling trips here.

A membership is $50 and renewal costs $35. A family membership costs $70 and renewal costs $55. You can, however, participate in most activities as a non-member for $5. One of those $5 payments can then be credited towards membership if you decide to join within six months of the drop-in activity.

2) Kayak Lake Ontario

Kayaking, Toronto, Lake Ontario, skyline
Kayaking on Lake Ontario in Toronto, summer 2012. DIANA PEREIRA/680NEWS

Join a group of 10-30 people in kayaks each Wednesday, Thursday and Friday night at the Harbourfront Canoe and Kayak Centre. The group hosts “social nights” when they paddle to the Toronto Islands where you’ll be on quiet calm waters surrounded by birds, ducks and swans. You don’t feel like you’re in the city at all — everything is quiet and green. There will be around four guides on the water with the group too, so no worries at all about safety.

On the way back to the city, you see the skyline from a perspective you don’t see every day. As the sun sets, you dock back into the city where you’ll join the group for a BBQ of beef and veggie burgers. Solo and tandem kayaks are available. Be sure to get there 30 minutes ahead of time to sign in and get all your gear on. The rental includes the kayak, paddle, skirt, PFD, and water pump. At the BBQ, donations are taken that go to charities and the cost of food.

In June, July and August, the group departs at 6:30 p.m. In September, the group departs at 6 p.m. since the sun goes down earlier. A solo kayak costs $30 and a tandem kayak costs $40. If you plan on going more than once, there is no membership fee but it’s worth getting a Frequent Paddler Card.’ The card is made up of either 20 stamps ($195 + tax) or 40 stamps ($355 + tax). A tandem kayak will cost you three stamps and a solo kayak will cost you two.

3) Be a food tourist

There are various food tour groups that have popped up in the city in the last couple years.

Foodies on Foot offers unique takes on food tours. The two tours that seem most interesting are:

The 501 Streetcar Food Tour stops at five neighbourhoods along the Queen Street streetcar’s 24.8-kilometre route. The trip takes 4.5 hours.
Dates: Various dates throughout the summer, click here for the calendar.
Price: $69-80 plus HST includes the guided tour and all food.

Another fun trip is the Secret Menus and Side Streets tour, which takes you to hidden gems to taste off-menu secret items. The tour includes five to six locations and lasts three to four hours.
Dates: Various dates throughout the summer, click here for the calendar.
Price: $69-80 plus HST, which includes the guided tour and all food.

Other food trips include one where you eat on a sailboat, a Kensington Market food tour and another one that takes you to the best sandwich spots in the city.

Another food tour outfitter, The Culinary Adventure Company offers tours in various tours through neighbourhoods such as Church & Wellesley, Ossington, Leslieville, Little India, and Baldwin Village.

It also offers culinary trips and cooking classes, such as sausage-making and butchery.

4) Join the circus

Odds are you don’t have circus acrobatics on your list of things to do this summer but there will likely be a rainy day or two where you won’t want to be outside. In that case, you could get a little adventurous and head over to the Toronto School of Circus Arts, where you can learn circus arts either recreationally or professionally.

The easiest way to test out your clown-like strength is to take the school’s $25 drop-in trapeze classes, offered on Friday nights at 7 p.m. from June 25 until August 22.

A full schedule of classes for adults, youth and even a youth summer camp is available here.

5) Join a drumming circle

A casual drum circle happens every second Tuesday Trinity-Bellwoods Park all summer.

Long & McQuade offers drum circle lessons sporadically in the summer. The shop is located at 933 Bloor St.W. For information on the lessons, call 416-588-7886.

If you’re preparing to join the World Cup festivities, you’ll need to learn the Brazilian carnaval style of drumming. You don’t have to book a flight to Rio to learn, however, as groups in Toronto provide training.

One group that attends several street parties all summer is Maracatu Mar Aberto. Beginner classes are $10 and are held on Tuesdays, 7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. and advanced classes are on Thursdays, 7:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.

6) Stay overnight at a B&B on the island

Think it’s impossible to escape to an island overnight without leaving Toronto? Think again.

“From talking to travel writers and visitors, the Toronto Islands stand out as one of the best features of our city, Andrew Weir, the vice president of communications for Tourism Toronto, said. “It’s something that people really seek out… the big city combined with the oasis of amazing space and clean air is amazing for people from cities like Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Shanghai and Beijing.”

Smiley’s Bed and Breakfast is located on Algonquin Island. To get there, take the Ward’s Island ferry from the Toronto ferry dock at the foot of Bay Street. The B&B is at 4 Dacotah Ave. on Algonquin Island, a 10-minute walk from the Ward’s Island ferry dock.

There are two rooms available. The smaller room accomodates up to two people and costs $113 including tax per night. The total weekly rate with tax is $632.80.

There is a two-night minimum stay on weekends in the larger room, which accomodates up to four people. A night costs $282.50 with tax. The weekly rate with tax is $1582. The prices are based on two adults and up to two children. The B&B charges an additional $20 for each extra person.

The B&B comes with an in-house pet! Timmy is a 15-kilogram, 12-year-year old poodle/terrier and will greet you at the door.

7) Shop for local food at a farmer’s market

Even if you live smack-dab in the middle of downtown, you don’t have to drive north to get farm-fresh food.

An organization called MyMarket brings certified Canadian farmers selling only what they produce right to Toronto neighbourhoods.

There five locations in Toronto, including one in North York. Click on the links below to see maps of each location.

  • Bloor and Borden (Wednesdays 3 p.m. – 7 p.m., June 4 – October 22, Lippincott Green P)
  • Cityplace (Tuesdays 3:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m., June 3 – October 14, Canoe Landing Park)
  • East Lynn Park (Thursdays 3 p.m. – 7 p.m., June 5 – October 16, Danforth East)
  • Liberty Village (Sunday, 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., June 1 – November 27, Green P Hanna St)
  • North York (Fridays 3 p.m. – 7 p.m., June 6 – October 17, Sheppard Avenue)

A full list and a map of other farmers markets are online.

8) Explore greenery at new urban parks or learn to camp in the city

In spite of the construction cranes crammed in the Toronto skyline, there are green spaces popping up in the city.

Corktown Common
Corktown Common

Corktown Common, east of Bayview Avenue and south of King Street in the West Don Lands neighbourhood is home more than 700 trees, an athletic field, a splash pad, a BBQ, a marsh and a fireplace.

Canoe Landing Park features a huge – you guessed it – canoe, big and red enough that you can see it from the Gardiner Expressway. The park has two sports fields is host to a farmer’s market and fitness activities such as a weekly running group and bootcamp class. The walking path that zig-zags through the park is dedicated to Terry Fox. The route, called the Terry Fox Miracle Mile, is dotted with several posters showcasing photos of him and images of his items, such as one of his socks.

Meanwhile, Rouge National Urban Park in Scarborough is getting a makeover. It’s now part of National Parks Canada and its infrastructure is being improved.

And if you’ve never camped? You’re in luck. You can learn how to camp without even leaving the city.

Parks Canada offers a Learn-to-Camp program in a partnership with Mountain Equipment Co-Op.

“Participants are picked up in a bus it takes you there and sets you up,” Weir described.

The event is happening at Rouge National Urban Park on June 21-22 and September 13-14. For more information and to register, call 1-888-773-8888.

And if you are already a seasoned camper, Parks Canada offers an online camping guide on what to pack, how to book and a host of other tips.

9) Stay overnight on a hotel boat on the lake

Toronto has many hotels; but this one is on a boat. The bed and breakfast, aptly named Boatel, is open from May 1 to September 30 and stays dockside at 539 Queen’s Quay West, west of Lower Spadina Avenue at the west end of the Music Garden.

There is a two-night minimum with nightly rates ranging from $175 to $250. For $550, you can rent the entire boat for up to six people.

The price includes breakfast, bathrobes, Wi-Fi and free North American calls.

10) Take a walk in a monthly car-free Kensington Market

Pedestrians take over the streets in Kensington Market when the streets closed off to traffic and parking once a month.

Pedestrian Sundays happen on the last Sunday of every month until October from noon until 7 p.m. on June 29, July 27, August 31, September 28 and October 26.

The streets fill up with artists, musicians, performers, and market vendors selling their wares. In spite of its popularity, the monthly event truly feels like a community-run fair, with strangers talking to each other, eating empanadas and letting children run around.

11) Spook yourself out in a city castle

When asked what his favourite hidden gem is, Weir had a surprising answer. Casa Loma. Yes, Casa Loma. The castle has been purchased by Liberty Entertainment Group and the company has enhanced a tunnel that connects the castle to the stables. The tunnel now has large-scale photos of Toronto’s dark period lining its walls. The images include images from Plague and from the Great Depression.

“A lot of people know Casa Loma but if you haven’t been recently, you won’t know about the tunnel. It’s 800 feet of damp, dreary darkness,” Weir explained. “It’s pretty neat.”

Happy summer, Toronto!