Most tourists who visit Toronto rarely explore the Eastern part of the city as it’s in the process of gentrification. However, things are changing rapidly in East Toronto and here’s a glimpse into off the beaten path Toronto with alternative things to do in Toronto, focused on east Toronto. This local guide written by Pari, a Toronto local.
Notice that I say the beaches and not the beach. That’s right! There are three beaches in East Toronto – Woodbine, Kew, and Balmy Beach. Though the beaches have three different names, they are all next to each other and a clear demarcation of where one starts and the other ends is not clear. There is a difference in the vibe though. Woodbine beach has a wider sandy area and is lively. The beach volleyball teams and their loud blaring music certainly add to this fun atmosphere.
The Kew and Balmy beach have a more laid-back residential feel. Take a walk along the boardwalk that stretches throughout the length of these three beaches. For the people who like to skate or cycle, there is a cycling route that runs parallel to the boardwalk. If you are looking for a picnic, the park near Ashbridges Bay has lots of greenery and secluded spots that can give you access to your private section of the beach. This one is a lover’s paradise.
RC Harris Water Treatment Plant
At the East End of Balmy Beach, you will find the RC Harris Water Treatment plant. A Water Treatment plant doesn’t sound like a very nice place to visit. Actually, it’s just the opposite! The architecture of this Water Treatment Plant will draw appreciation from anyone whether they are an architecture enthusiast or not. Unfortunately, the Water Treatment Plant allows people inside only on one weekend in the year – during the Doors Open Toronto event.
On other days, you can spend time and have a picnic on the green slopes of the plant overlooking the beach. If you have an adventurous streak in your personality, you can jump the fences to the East of RC Harris Water Treatment Plant to reach a very secluded part of the beach. This thin strip of beach is a secret among locals. You will find very few people here and occasionally some people sun-tanning in the semi-nude. If this is not your scene, don’t venture there. 😉 (We did promise that you’d get off the beaten path in Toronto!)
This area was once an up and coming neighborhood of the town of York thanks to the lumber mill that was established in 1793. Though it is not as extensive as the Black Creek Village, you can still explore Toronto’s history and get a peek into the lives of people who worked in the mills. Plaques at the site explain the impact that the flooding of Don River had on this village until it was diverted.
Now, this site has the Todmorden Mills Heritage Museum, which includes two houses that belonged to the millers and a Brewery. There is a small forest area just beside the museum suitable for a leisurely walk while enjoying the pond and various plant species. If you are looking for a longer hike, along the Upper and Lower Don River, you will find beautiful trails that come alive with color especially in the Fall.
Scarborough Bluffs and Scarboro Crescent Park
On the shores of Lake Ontario, in the East, stand some tall white chalky cliffs that remind one of the cliffs Scarborough in the UK. This is also why they were named Scarborough Bluffs by Lady Simcoe. This scenic spot is an ideal place to have a family picnic, a Sunday barbeque, go boating (in your own boat; there are no boat rentals here), laze around on the beach, and hike.
When I say hiking, please stick to the hiking trails that are marked and don’t attempt to hike up the Bluffs even though it looks tempting. The slopes of the Bluffs are dangerous as they are prone to erosion. If you want to get a view of Lake Ontario and the Bluffs from the top, visit one of the 11 parks along the border the cliffs. Scarborough Crescent Park, which is located right on top of the Bluffs, is one of the 11 parks that has excellent view points of the lake. Check out my detailed directions on how to get to Scarborough bluffs here.
Pape – The Greek Town
Many people know that Toronto is famous for its cultural neighborhoods. One such neighborhood is Pape which is Toronto’s Greek town. Feast on Mediterranean delights such as gyros, souvlakis and those addictive Feta fries at the Greek restaurants that line this street.
Another way to enjoy the Greek culture of this neighborhood is by attending the Taste of Danforth festival that this neighborhood hosts every summer. This is one of Toronto’s celebrated food festivals and is attended by a million visitors every year.
If your taste buds crave some spicy foods then head to Little India located on the intersection Gerrard Street East and Coxwell Avenue. As you walk down the street, the aroma of various spices and curry will invite you in to the restaurants.
There are various cuisines you can try apart from Indian such as Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Tibetian, Indo-Chinese and Nepalese. If you are not looking for a full-fledged meal, then try the pani-puris, pan or sugar-cane juice from the stalls. Also, you can also shop some colorful ethnic wear such as churidaars and sarees from stores here.
Queen Street East
Queen Street East stretches from Yonge Street in Downtown all the way up to the Beaches. However, I am limiting myself to talking about this street that lies after Don river to the East. Queen Street East is known for local cafes, restaurants and boutiques. Especially, the stretch in Lesliville has a number of cute cafes, pubs and restaurants. Queen Street East on the Beaches is known for its art scene and local boutique shops. It’s one of the best places to get off the beaten path Toronto.
Every year in June, Kew Gardens hosts a local Arts market which showcases work from more than 150 Canadian Artists. Also, every Spring and Fall, local artists open their studios to the public. You get the unique opportunity to observe local artists in their element, learn more about the art they produce and buy from them directly.
I hope this article has inspired you to explore East Toronto the next time you visit. I am sure you will have a wonderful time in my beloved neighborhood.
Have you been to East Toronto? Let us know what you thought of this guide to off the beaten path Toronto!
You can check Pari’s website for tips for Toronto!
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