The Beach in our Backyard

Three times a week in the summer, I trek with varying numbers of my family to The Beach for three soccer practices. Anyone with three kids knows this is usually painfully bad planning, but because our destination is the beach, I don’t mind it. The Beach has become something of our beyond-fantastic backyard, but for those of you who aren’t quite so close or familiar, it’s a wonderful destination for a summer’s day.

Living in most parts of Toronto, it’s sometimes easy to forget that we have live along the shores of stunning, vast Lake Ontario. A visit to the lake is uplifting anywhere along its edge, but the beaches offer unparalleled access. So much restoration is freely offered by the lake from its beaches.

And of course there is the actual beach, sand and everything. The sandiest beach is at the west end of the beach at Ashbridges Bay Park. Our kids have school events here, but in the summer it’s just a lovely place to unwind. If you go farther east, you’ll approach Woodbine beach (notable for rows of beach volleyball courts) and Kew-Balmy Beach, both of which are often peppered with sunbathers and kids playing and skipping rocks.

Remember that you can often swim at the beach. When I was growing up, this was a risky business, but the beach now operates under the international Blue Flag program which tests for water quality. If these tests indicate the waters are unsafe for swimming, signs warn against swimming. Along with the lifeguards, the Blue Flag program helps to make for safe and satisfying swimming.

If your kids get tired of the beach (which in my experience is unlikely), you can find lots of other kid fun at the beach playgrounds. There are a few peppered along the beach, and we have usually gravitated to the park next to the Donald D. Summerville Outdoor Olympic Swimming Pool. This pool is a whole other destination in itself, with a 50 metre Olympic size pool, a 25 metre training pool, and a separate diving pool which features 5 and 10 metre diving platforms (some people can do amazing things off these platforms!). We love the beach, but when we are in the mood for more (predictable, warm) swimming, we head for the pool.

One of the nicest walks in the city is along the beach’s wood-plank boardwalk, and because we love to bike, we can’t say enough wonderful things about the paved Martin Goodman Trail that runs alongside, taking you right into the heart of the beach. This is a great path for cyclists (and rollerbladers and skateboarders) – you do need to keep alert on the path – and if there is any way that you can use the path to access the beach you will find it is faster, easier, and more pleasant than trying to navigate driving and parking in the area. (If you do need to try to find parking, it’s best just to assume it will take a good while, and not let that detract from the rest of your time at the beach.)

When you do arrive at the beach, plan to stay. Bring food – it’s a perfect place for a picnic. One of the nicest birthday parties we ever had was at the beach, and I still remember forgetting candles, hunting for an appropriate stick we could burn instead, and then begging for a light for the stick. But what I remember even more was my extended family, spanning three generations, finding their place in the sand, shade, or among the rocks, and moving among these places. Some of us played alone, some of us played together, some of us talked. There was something for everyone.

At the end of the afternoon, we said goodbye, and in the air was the satisfaction of a day well spent. My sister noted how relaxing for everyone in different ways, and how the afternoon felt longer than it was. I think a lot of us feel that way after going to a good beach, and the only surprise was remembering that we have our own, excellent beach, right here in the city.

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