Have you been on a date to the Toronto Islands in the past year? No? Shockingly, you’re not alone and while visiting the Toronto Islands feel like a tourist staple and a local’s closest getaway, only one in five (16%) GTA residents have visited the Toronto Islands in the past year.
The Toronto Islands are comprised of 15 different islands with the main ones being Centre Island, Ward Island, and Hanlan’s Point. They are so close you can literally see them from Harbourfront, and in a short 15-minute ferry (or Tiki Taxi) ride, you can escape the concrete jungle and enjoy what feels like a far off destination.
With famous beaches, weeping willows in expansive green parks, local restaurant gems, an amusement park, bike rentals to get around and so much more the Islands sound like a summer break heaven, but young GTA residents under 35 are the least likely to have visited.
The proximity to the city makes it so easily accessible and an affordable date idea that everyone can enjoy!
So if you haven’t been ever, or haven’t been in a while and honestly forgot about all the cool things to do over there, we have a guide for you to enjoy a date at the Toronto Islands.
We recently took a trip to the Toronto Islands with the Waterfront BIA and our first stop was the very delicious, very locally sourced Island Cafe. This gem gives reason in itself to ride into Ward Island, or make the bike ride out there from Centre Island.
Located on Ward Island, the mainly local and residential area of original Islands homeowners, family-owned Island Cafe is the perfect spot for a home baked treat and iced coffee in the morning, a delicious lunch date with dishes made with their on-site garden, or to sip on a cocktail as you take in the sunset while listening to local live music.
Other spots to grab a bite include the Riviera Ward Island Kitchen, a pub-style spot with a pretty garden patio. This is also one of the few restaurants open beyond the summer season to catch a sports game or have a night out with their date.
On Centre Island are a handful of take-out spots in popular locations that see endless traffic all summer long. Right where the ferry docks on the Island is Toronto Island BBQ & Beer Co., a seasonal waterfront patio with BBQ eats, burgers, and brews with an unreal city view.
Around the Islands, you’ll find four amazing beaches to spend some time in the sand. These include:
- Ward’s Island Beach
- Gibraltar Point Beach
- Centre Island Beach (Manitou Beach)
- Hanlan’s Point Beach
Impressively, the four beaches all have a blue flag designation which is an International designation for some of the cleanest beaches and swimming water in the world, so don’t hesitate to take a dip here!
Hanlan’s Point is the Islands’ clothing-optional beach and is thought to be one of Toronto’s first queer spaces. The beach has been frequented by the queer community in Toronto since the 1940s and hosted the first Pride Picnic in 1971!
So bring a beach blanket and your favourite snacks and bevvies and soak in the Toronto summer sun with a view of endless water and your favourite people. You can’t say there aren’t any good beaches near the city now!
If your beach day isn’t complete without enjoying the water first-hand, you can hop in for a swim or head over to Toronto Island SUP to rent kayaks and/or stand up paddleboards!
They offer rentals that you can grab-and-go, or you can sign up for one of their guided activities. Try your hand at getting zen during SUP (stand-up-paddleboard) Yoga, or take off on a Sunset Safari ride where you paddleboard around the Islands with light-up boards as the sun goes down.
The lawns, fields, parks, fountains, carless roads and gardens on the Toronto Islands make this perfect for getting active in big, open spaces!
Sports lovers will have no shortage of activities to keep them busy on the island. Throughout the Island there are two baseball diamonds, a tennis court, pickle ball court and an 18-hole frisbee golf course that stretches from Ward’s Island all the way to Centre Island.
If you enjoy a slower pace of appreciating the Islands, join longtime Toronto Island residents, Linda Rosenbaum and Susan Roy on a Toronto Island Walking Tour for a 90-minute stroll through their vibrant Toronto Island community. We got a taste of this awesome tour that took us through local streets with artsy homes and beautifully grown gardens, scattered with art by locals. Learning about the Islands history and what it’s really like living there is also such an interesting addition that only makes you appreciate it more.
Alternatively, check out Gibraltar Point Lighthouse. At over 200 years old, the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse is the oldest stone building in Toronto and Canada’s oldest standing lighthouse.
One of the islands best kept secrets? Artscape Gibraltar Point – a secluded community cultural hub nestled against the magnificent natural backdrop of the Toronto Islands. Onsite they host artist residencies, provide studio rentals, and welcome individuals and groups as an event venue (like weddings), year-round.
Family Date Idea
This is a fun day that the kids (of all ages) will enjoy! Whether you’re looking to entertain the little one, or your inner child, these spots are such cute additions to the Islands you have to check out.
Start off by getting lost in the William Meany Maze, made from over 1,200 black cedar trees. It makes for the perfect photo opp too!
Check out Franklin Children’s Garden, an interactive garden for kids and families inspired by the Franklin the Turtle book series.
And for some extra excitement, be sure to head to Centreville Amusement Park. With antique horse carousels, bumper cars and the iconic swan ride, it’s truly fun for the whole family. And don’t forget to check out some furry friends on your way out at the Far Enough Farm.
How to get around
There’s only a few ways to take in the Islands on land: by walking, bringing your rollerblades, or renting a bike at the Toronto Island Bicycle Rental that’s actually been family owned and operated for 34 years! Choose between a solo bike, go tandem with your date, or put the whole crew on wheels with a four-seater quadricycle.
The walk from Ward Island to the Centre Island pier is around 20-30 minutes depending on your speed; while the Centre Island port to the pier is around 10.
We wish we could stay on the Toronto Islands always but here are some awesome date ideas for when you return to the mainland!