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Staycation. A different kind of blockbuster summer.

by:
Laurie Campbell

There's a new word on people's lips this year: Staycation. And, no, it's not a summer blockbuster starring Eddie Murphy as the unemployed patriarch of a family of misfits played by none other than Eddie Murphy. Staycation is the term for sticking around home this season and finding ways to enjoy yourself at the same time. It also can make your summer a hit in a big way. 

A staycation makes a lot of sense in a down economy. Travelling can be very expensive and sometimes you've just got to tighten the reigns and stay put. But that doesn't mean you can't have fun. Luckily, in cities and communities throughout Canada, you can have a terrific time without spending a lot. There is much to see and do for individuals and families alike.

For instance, I've already mapped out staycation options for my gang of rowdies, Chelsey (11) and Ben (13). We live in Toronto, and it is really quite amazing what you can discover and experience here while spending little or no money.

Here are some economical choices I've included in my summer agenda:

> Kensington Market. Toronto's downtown west area features one of the most charming outdoor markets you're likely to discover anywhere. From eateries, bakeries and cafes, to clothing, trinkets and fresh produce, you're sure to find things of interest at some of the lowest prices in town. And even if you don't spend a nickel, you'll enjoy the intimate street scene, much of it set in an old city neighbourhood where colourful locals and curbside musicians are the order of the day.

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Toronto Island. What a gem of a place this is, nestled on the water just south of Toronto's downtown shore. Here you will find Hanlan's Point, Centre Island and Ward's Island (so maybe the plural Toronto Islands is more appropriate). You'll spend a few bucks on the ten-minute ferry ride over, but it's worth it and you'll love viewing the many sailboats. The view of downtown Toronto looking north is stunning, too. Yet at the same time you feel like you've travelled to some place far from the city. Toronto Island is tailor made for recreation, fun and sightseeing. Do a walkabout or cycle (rent for cheap or bring your own). Great picnicking sites, sandy beaches, snack bars and restaurants, tennis, baseball and volleyball facilities - even a mini amusement park and farm - are some of the features. There's also a charming marina filled with lovely boats and an allotment of picturesque summer cottages that look like something from a fairy tale. For a map of this staycation destination, check out this URL: http://www.toronto.ca/parks/pdf/island/toronto_island_map.pdf

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Riverdale Farm. I used to take my children to Riverdale Farm frequently when they were toddlers and they absolutely loved it. Maybe it's time for another visit to a place so rurally authentic it's like stepping out of the city right onto a southern Ontario acreage. At this east central Toronto location you will find an array of animals - from sheep to cows to horses - in corrals fenced in by weathered wood. Along with an old farmhouse, there's a rustic barn filled with artifacts and the scent of hay - all surrounded by beautiful flower gardens and winding paths. On certain days the farm features arts and crafts for the little ones. And it's all free of charge. Just pack up your picnic basket and look forward to a wonderful outing.

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High Park.  At this west central Toronto location you'll find offerings similar to Riverdale Farm - with animals, picnic areas and lots of atmosphere. High Park itself stretches out, so there's added opportunity to roam paths in splendid summer surroundings on foot or by bicycle. Don't worry about spending a cent in terms of visiting the park's zoo, touring the greenhouse or watching any of the ongoing plays at High Park's outdoor theatre. It's all free.

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The Art Gallery of Ontario and the Royal Ontario Museum.  The first thing you should know is that the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) offers free admission from 6:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. every Wednesday. There's been a lot in the news about the gallery's new Frank Gehry-designed building and its spectacular collections. So for Torontonians this is a must see. And at these prices why not see? Likewise, you can save money while visiting Toronto's celebrated Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), with wonderful permanent and travelling collections. The ROM offers free admission every Wednesday from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., or pay only half price on Fridays from 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Both centres are located in the downtown area. You should also know that this summer you can get your hands on a wide-ranging Museum and Arts Pass (MAP) thanks to Sun Life Financial. With the pass, you and your family can explore the best of Toronto's arts and cultural treasures for free. To get it, all you need is a valid adult Toronto Public Library card, which enables you to "borrow" a MAP for your family at any Toronto Public Library branch. But you better hurry. Quantities are limited and borrowing rules apply.

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Harbourfront. Toronto's downtown waterfront offers a host of activities all summer long, and lots of great free fun for families. At the heart of the action is Harbourfront Centre where you will find art galleries, theatres, craft boutiques, restaurants, and marinas fronted by a waterside promenade. Check out harbourfrontcentre.com for a calendar of events and activities.

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Distillery District. Take a step back in time to the city's Distillery District just east of the heart of downtown. A bevy of beautiful old stone buildings have been restored here amid pedestrian walkways that are a pleasure to experience. In fact, the Distillery District is now recognized as North America's best-preserved collection of Victorian industrial architecture accommodating galleries, museums, rehearsal halls, boutiques, retail shops, artist studios, restaurants, bistros and cafes. Day and night, there's lots going on. You can catch live music, outdoor exhibitions, fairs and special events. Check out distillerydistrict.com for more information.

The Beaches. This is otherwise known to the locals simply as The Beach.  It's a charming, laid-back Toronto neighbourhood that was long ago an escape outside the city. Now it's part of the city but retains its special atmosphere, with miles of sand, plus a never-ending boardwalk. There is lots of open space and shady areas for picnicking, and free events are common throughout the summer. For some fun exercising there are sandy volleyball courts and an Olympic-size swimming pool where entry is free.

This is just a short list of things to do in Toronto. There is so much more to experience and explore here with little or no cash outlay. I urge you to enquire among friends and family about all that Toronto offers. Great summer outings are waiting for you right here at home.I also encourage you to contact Toronto Tourism at www.toronto.ca to find out more about what our diverse Toronto communities offer. 

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