A short ferry ride across the harbor from downtown, the Toronto Islands (415/397-2628) are the city’s backyard, where both residents and visitors go lounge at the beach, cruise around by bike or kayak, or have a picnic. The awesome views of the city skyline, from the ferries and from the islands themselves, are a bonus; take those picture-postcard city snapshots here.Cars are not allowed on the islands, so you’ll need to get around on foot or by bicycle. Bicycling is a good way to tour these flat islands, which are crisscrossed with pathways.
The “Toronto Islands” actually consist of several small islands connected by bridges. Ferries dock at Centre Island, Ward’s Island to the east, and Hanlan’s Point to the west.
Restrooms and drinking water are available on the islands, and there are several places to eat, including the year-round Rectory Cafe (102 Lakeshore Ave., Ward’s Island, 416/203-2152, 11am-5pm Mon.-Thurs., 11am-8pm Fri.-Sun. late May-mid-Oct., 11am-5pm Wed.-Sun. mid-Oct.-late May, $12-18)) or the more touristy Shopsy’s Island Deli Bar and Grill (416/203-0405, www.centreisland.ca, 11am-8pm daily mid-June-early Sept., $9-16), next to the Centre Island docks.
Centre Island is the entertainment hub, with an amusement park, gardens, bicycle and boat rentals, and beaches. If you have young kids, head for the Franklin Children’s Garden, with play structures, a tree house, and a theater with summer storytelling events. There’s a beach by the pier on Centre Island, but if you walk or cycle either direction from there, you’ll find prettier, less populated sand.
You can rent bikes at Toronto Islands Bike Rentals (416/203-0009, May-Sept., $8 per hour, tandems $15 per hour, cash only) near the Centre Island pier, across the island from the ferry dock. You can also rent fun “quadricycles,” four-wheeled pedal bikes seating two ($17 per hour) or four ($30 per hour) people. It takes about an hour to cycle a loop of the islands. You can take bicycles over from the mainland, except on the Centre Island ferry on busy summer weekends.
In summer, the Boat House (416/397-5166) rents canoes, kayaks, and pedal boats. From the Centre Island docks, follow the main path past the amusement park, cross the bridge near the fountains, then bear left (east) toward the Boat House.
A big draw for the kids is the Centreville Amusement Park (604/203-0405, 10:30am-8pm daily July-early Sept., call or check the website for hours May-June and mid-late Sept.), with a 1907 carousel, a Ferris wheel, bumper boats, a roller coaster, and other old-time carnival attractions. If you arrive on the Centre Island ferry, it’s hard to sneak past the amusements without the kids noticing; the park is a short walk from the ferry dock.
Admission to the amusement park is free, but you’ll pay to ride the rides. A sheet of 25 ride tickets costs $25, or you can buy an all-day pass. Individual passes are based on height; one-day passes for adults and kids over four feet tall are $37, under four feet tall $26. Family all-day passes are $112. Passes are discounted if you buy them online.
Ward’s Island looks like an urban cottage colony, with the islands’ only community of permanent residents, a beach, and a playground. The mostly sandy Ward’s Island Beach can be a little less crowded than some of the others.
Toronto Island SUP (416/877-4668, May-Sept., 1st hour $30, $10 per additional hour) rents stand-up paddleboards from Ward’s Island Beach. They’re on the beach every weekend, but call first if you’re coming on a weekday.
If you see airplanes coming in over the harbor, so low that you think they’re going to land on your ferry, it’s because they’re headed to the Toronto Island Airport, near Hanlan’s Point, which also has parks and beaches, including Gibraltar Beach, west of the pier. Nearby, the stone Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, built in 1808-1809, is the oldest surviving lighthouse on the Great Lakes and the second oldest in Canada. There’s a clothing-optional beach at Hanlan’s Point.
Getting There and Around
Catch the ferry (9 Queens Quay West, at Bay St., 416/397-2628, round-trip adults $7, seniors and students $4.50, kids 3–14 $3.50) to the islands from the docks just west of the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel.
From downtown, ferries run to Centre Island, Hanlan’s Point, and Ward’s Island. You can disembark at one and return from another. The schedules for the three ferries are different, however, so be sure to check. While schedules vary seasonally and by time of day, the Centre Island boats (mid-Apr.–mid-Oct.) run most frequently, with summer departures every 15-30 minutes. Boats to Hanlan’s Point (mid-Apr.–mid-Oct.) and Ward’s Island (year-round) typically operate every 30-60 minutes in summer. Only the Ward’s Island ferry runs year-round.
Cars are not allowed on the islands, so you’ll need to get around on foot or by bicycle. Cycling is a good way to tour these flat islands, which are crisscrossed with pathways. In summer, 35-minute tram tours leave from Centre Island, a short walk south of the ferry docks.
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Ontario.