Think about Toronto and you might conjure up images of the CN Tower, the Hockey Hall of Fame, hip neighborhoods, cool street art, and the foodie offerings of Chinatown... but beaches? That probably never crossed your mind.

But Toronto has beaches by the bucket and spade load, from man-made sprinkles of golden sand in the center to lovely natural strands at Scarborough Bluffs and out on the Toronto Islands. Torontonians really know how to take advantage of the precious rays of summer, and the city’s location on Lake Ontario means there are plenty of beaches to choose from to catch a bit of sun.

Ranging from sandy, to rocky, to tucked under impressive cliffs or scattered across islands, Toronto's beaches are a perfect stop for any warm-weather vacation in the city. There’s even a clothing-optional beach should you want to, ahem, bare it all. Just double-check the reports from the city's SwimSafe team before you dive right in, as seasonal changes can affect water quality in Lake Ontario.

Summer is prime beach time, but Torontonians still hang out on the beaches in spring and fall, watching sunsets over Lake Ontario and enjoying the lengthening evenings or the fall colors. Here are the best beaches in Toronto for sunbathing, swimming, beach walks and more.

Just back from: Toronto & the Niagara Peninsula

Sugar Beach, East Bayfront

Best for urban sunbathing

As close to downtown as you can get, Sugar Beach is a little slice of sand dotted with Instagram-worthy pink umbrellas. Located next to the Redpath Sugar Refinery (hence its sweet name and those candy-pink umbrellas), this sandy patch in the city used to be a parking lot. It’s a favorite for locals who live and work downtown as a sunbathing spot or a place to sit back and enjoy a warm evening.

That said, it's also plopped in the middle of a rather industrial part of the city. Lake views might not be the selling point here (you’re likely to see a freight ship docked nearby to transport all that sugar). But what Sugar Beach does provide is a quick beach fix in between the concrete and urban grit, which is actually quite cool.

Expect to see city sunbathers, social media posers, comfy wooden Muskoka chairs and large rocks for lounging. If you’ve spent a day wandering or cycling downtown, make your way to Sugar Beach for a quick reprieve from the city.

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Sunnyside Beach, Sunnyside

Best for a seaside vibe

The West End's nomination for the best beach in Toronto feels like a mini seaside getaway. Sunnyside Beach doesn’t come with fine, silky sand – it’s more on the pebbly side – but it’s still a popular hub for those who love an active afternoon. This beach is set next to a long boardwalk that's popular for jogging, walking and cycling, and the shorefront has beach volleyball nets and paddleboard and kayak rentals during the summer. At certain times of year, there's even competitive dragon boat racing.

Pick up a bike from the city's bike-share scheme, cycle down to the water and chill on this laid-back beach. If you’re seeking an even more laid-back vibe, the historic and Mediterranean-inspired Sunnyside Pavillion on the beach comes with a restaurant and bar, ample outdoor seats, frosty cocktails and sometimes even some live music. 

People looking over the shoreline from Scarborough Bluffs, Toronto
The top of Scarborough Bluffs offers great views over the lakeshore and beaches © Fanny Lelorrain / Shutterstock

Bluffer’s Park Beach, Scarborough Bluffs

Best for feeling miles from the city

The Scarborough Bluffs are one of Toronto’s most unexpected finds – a cliff-backed stretch of lakeshore running for 14km (9 miles). These rocky dramatic cliffs formed over the last 100,000 years, creating a scenic backdrop along the water’s edge. Locals have always loved Scarborough Bluffs Park, with its walking trails and marina, but the same bluffs also shelter some of the best beaches in Toronto, including the beach at Bluffer's Park. Think soft sand, shallow water and a couple of good swimming spots.

Once you’re down at the bottom of the bluffs and looking out to the water, you’re probably going to forget you’re even in Toronto. Getting here is easiest by car or bike, but you can also hop on a bus from the Kennedy subway station to Bluffer’s Park Beach. The sandy beach is so worth the journey to get there, and your Instagram feed will thank you if the weather is on form.

Beachgoers on a crescent-shaped beach with trees in theb ackground
Centre Island Beach is an escape from the urban sprawl, set on an island in Lake Ontario © Kiev.Victor / Shutterstock

Centre Island Beach, Centre Island

Best for families

One of the coolest things about Toronto? The islands that sit in the lake, just off the downtown shore. The ten small Toronto Islands (connected by bridges) were formed due to erosion from the Scarborough Bluffs. For Torontonians, it’s a summer tradition to leap on the ferry and head over to these car-free islands for a day of fun chilling on some of the most family-friendly beaches in Toronto.

Topping the list is Centre Island Beach on Centre Island. It may not be the islands’ most aesthetically perfect stretch of sand, but it is easy to get to once you hop off the Centre Island ferry (follow the signs by foot or by bike) and it places you right by the Centreville Amusement Park. The beach is a mix of sand and rocks, but it comes with a breakwater to keep the water calm, making it great for families. If you’re looking to take a dip, the west side of the beach has the best swimming. 

Hanlan’s Point Beach, Centre Island

Best for the body-confident!

Not for the faint of heart, nor the shy, this beach on Centre Island is the city’s only official clothing-optional beach. The one-kilometer stretch of sand is hidden away thanks to sandy dunes and brush, so you won’t accidentally land on this beach without some intention of going there. If you are looking to bare it all, take the Hanlan’s ferry from downtown and follow the signs and path to the clothing-optional section of beach.

Keep in mind that part of the beach is not clothing-optional, so make sure you’re in the right place before you disrobe. On warm days, you’ll find this small strip of sand bustling with sunbathers of all ages, maybe with a bonfire or two, some BBQs and a lot of yachts anchored off-shore. If you want to flaunt your body positivity, just bring a towel and sunscreen and strip down (to whatever level of nudity you want) on arrival.  

A sunset with a city skyline in the background, boats in the foreground
Ward's Island Beach is a perfect escape from the city © Roberto Destarac Photo / Shutterstock

Ward’s Island Beach, Ward's Island

Best for a quiet escape

If you’re looking to escape the crowds of Centre Island Beach, make your way over to Ward’s Island Beach. This smaller stretch of sand is more of a local favorite, attracting many island residents, and it's accessible by a 3km (1.9-mile) boardwalk linking the two beaches. It’s a bit rockier than some Toronto beaches, so bring water shoes if you have them (expect sand until you get to the water, then knobbly pebbles).

Even if you don't go in, you’ll get great views of the city from this vantage point. Ward's definitely has a more laid-back vibe, and you can enjoy the sun, read a book or have a picnic and forget you're in a major city. If you need food, rather than the pizza and ice-cream offerings at Centre Island Beach, hit the Rectory Cafe at Ward's Island for wine, salads, snacks and yummy treats. 

Woodbine Beach, Ashbridges Bay Park

Best for people-watching

Hands down the busiest and most frequented beach on our list, Woodbine Beach is located in the east end of the city at Ashbridges Bay Park. And it’s your spot to get a glimpse of life as a Torontonian. Head here for people-watching, an upbeat vibe, music, volleyball and sunbathing, in a handy location just east of Old Toronto.

If relaxing is your thing, this might not be the beach for you, because things are definitely lively. On summer holidays such as Canada Day or Labour Day, thousands of people flock to the sandy shore to see fireworks. But on any warm day, you’ll find throngs of people with towels catching the rays and long lines to get the beach volleyball nets, plus people kayaking and canoeing and more.

Because it’s busy, you’re going to want to nab a prime beach spot early (before 10am). Public transit (buses and streetcars) are usually packed, and parking will be scarce, so take an Uber or ride a bike to the park for minimum stress.

A lifeguard station with a sunrise inthe background
The Leuty Lifeguard Station at Kew-Balmy Beach © Philippe Marion / Getty Images

Kew-Balmy Beach 

Best for nostalgia

We’re going to say that Kew-Balmy Beach is not only one of the best beaches in Toronto, but also one of the most underrated. It's less hectic and bustling than its sister beach at Woodbine, perhaps due to the slightly grittier sand, and has an old-fashioned local feeling. Think off-leash dog areas, laid-back vibes and far fewer beach volleyball courts and activities.

This is where you’ll want to throw down your towel, put your headphones on and listen to a podcast, or read a book. Another highlight is the famed lifeguard station – built in the 1920s, it’s one of the last historic structures along Toronto’s waterfront. You'll also be steps away from Kew Gardens and Beaches Park

Cherry Beach, Port Lands

Best for making a noise

Hands up if you’re looking for a beach and music! On the edge of the Port Lands zone, Cherry Beach is also known as Toronto’s dance beach. Dance parties have been happening here on Sundays since the early 2000s, and if you’re looking for a lively summer hangout, Cherry Beach has your name all over it.

The beach is tucked onto the edge of a mostly industrial area, and you’ll need to bypass the incredibly popular Cabana Pool Bar and music venue Rebel to find this sandy haven. But it’s worth it. It’s a great hang-out spot if you’re looking to meet up with friends; bring your portable speakers, some food and friends and you’ll be all set.

One thing you can’t miss while here is the Cherry Beach Lifeguard station, nicknamed "the cottage" because it looks like a tiny house. It’s not as well-known as the Kew-Balmy Beach lifeguard station, but it has just as much charm. 

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This article was first published April 2021 and updated April 2022

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