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Hot town, summer in the city. For cheap.

by:
Laurie Campbell

So maybe you’re down this year about a lack of dough for some summer fun. Forget about it. Tuck those credit and ATM cards away for the time being. There are lots of great things to see and do in cities and towns across Canada this summer that cost you nothing, or next to nothing. You might need a little transportation. But that’s where low-cost or no-cost public transit, bicycles and comfortable walking shoes come in.

All it takes on your part is a little research via the Web. Take my home town of Toronto, for example. Based on my personal experience and with a little help from the Internet, I’ve compiled a list of ten things Toronto families, couples and individual explorers can do for local summer enjoyment. And even if you’ve experienced some of these offerings before, I say get out and experience them again. New sights, sounds and energy abound in Canada’s most populous city. But the same rule applies to just about any city or town in the country.

Get moving. Get exploring. Pack your own lunch or dinner and get yourself some hot summer fun that won’t fry your piggy bank.

1. The Beaches

Soak up the sun or get your limbs moving on the expansive sandy beaches that stretch out along Lake Ontario’s shore in this amiable east Toronto neighbourhood. The Beaches were in fact once a summer getaway for city folks in the days when Toronto was still a budding metropolis. Enjoy cycling, sunbathing, beach volleyball and, of course, people watching. There’s a local commercial area featuring interesting wares and the charm of summer sidewalk cafes.

2. Harbourfront Centre

Along Toronto’s downtown shoreline you’ll find a cultural hub in the summertime called Harbourfront Centre. Here is live music, and plenty of festivals and special camps, many with free admission. The harbourfront is a joy when the sun is high, with sailboats and yachts gliding between Toronto Island Park and the city’s gleaming downtown business and entertainment districts. On warm summer evenings, the whole area takes on a magical quality.

3. Toronto Island Park

The paths, picnic areas and beaches of the Toronto Islands make them an ideal place for a fun, relaxing day or afternoon. Terrific trails for walking and cycling. Sandy beaches for suntanning. Picnic areas. The charm of rustic cottages. A number of baseball diamonds, volleyball courts and wading pools. Plus food and bicycle rental outlets along with a mini amusement park for the kids. Meanwhile, for the more adventurous out there, a clothing-optional beach on the west side of Hanlan’s Point could be worth a look.

4. Chinatown

You can get lost for hours in downtown Toronto window shopping the wares of Chinatown’s many stores and enjoying the ethnic colour of the neighbourhood's streets and people. Plus, if you do have a little spare change, you can find amazing things for cheap, not the least of which include fresh produce and tasty treats like baked goods, many of which will send your taste buds to heaven.

5. Kensington Market

The ambience of this little neighbourhood in west downtown Toronto is charming and funky – in the best sense of the latter word. The area boasts colourful corner fruit stands, many thrift stores and pubs, and it is a gathering place for some of Toronto’s most interesting people. Visit during a summer Sunday afternoon when they block off the streets for strolling and festivities including music, dancing, street theatre and more.

6. Riverdale Farm

Riverdale Farm is a special a treat for urban families, particularly if you have little ones. You will find it in east Toronto near Cabbagetown. It’s an authentic, fully operational farm covering almost eight acres of land.  Amidst the farmhouse, barn, outdoor paddocks and flowering gardens you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported to some idyllic rural landscape far from the city. The kids will love seeing and petting the animals, including cows, horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese and rabbits. There’s a shady, adjacent park for picnicking, too.

7. Don Valley

Toronto is unique among major cities of the world in that it is blessed with what is essentially wilderness area running throughout the many valleys and ravines that crisscross the metropolis. The Don Valley is a prime example. The 10 kilometres of biking trails are great for avid cyclists or those who enjoy a nice, easy pace. There are also beautiful wooded areas and open lawns for splendid picnics, sun tanning, plus surprises I’m not going to tell you about because, well, they wouldn’t be surprises otherwise.

8. Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)

The AGO has always been a pleasure to visit. Now, with the relatively new Frank Gehry redesign, it’s even more of a pleasure to see and experience. And it doesn’t cost a lot to do so. In fact it’s free every Wednesday evening between six and nine o’clock pm. The gallery features more than 36,000 works of art in its collection.

9. St. Lawrence Market and Market Gallery

What was once the site of Toronto’s old city hall is now a vibrant, colourful marketplace filled with vendors offering delicious food, produce, meat, fish – you name it – under the soaring, vaulted roof of an old Victorian building. You can spend a good portion of a morning or afternoon exploring stuff, and finding some good deals, too. The building also hosts exhibits of paintings, artifacts and furnishings showing the history and culture of the historic area in which the market is located. Admission to gallery is free.

10. Allan Gardens Conservatory

Looking for a peaceful escape in the heart of the city? Look no further than Allan Gardens Conservatory, a lovely Victorian style greenhouse with a unique botanical garden, free to the public.

Okay, so there’s 10 great, economical ways to have some fun this summer in Toronto. Check out www.torontoonthecheap.com for more details on all of the above.

Meanwhile, I’m going to add just one recommendation to the list as a bonus because it can be so much fun for families and individuals who like the magic of outdoor theatre. Every Tuesday night from July 6 to August 31, 2010, Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square will be transformed into a giant outdoor movie theatre. And it’s all free with quite a line up of movies starting at 8:30 p.m. (except for double billings).

Have yourself a happy local summer holiday.

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