By: Jim Bamboulis
A few years ago, National Geographic came out with a book that listed Toronto’s 501 streetcar route as one of the world’s top 10 trolley rides. Have to admit, it was pretty nice to have your city be recognized on a global scale.
And although that’s nice, here’s the thing. For locals who depend on it to get to where they need to go, the 501 is a headache sometimes. Sudden short turns and delays have made many people late for work more than a few times. There’s been a whole lot of loud, disappointed exhaling from many people and a lot more angry talking under the breath. But no matter how inconsistent the trolley may be, the 501 is one of those routes that locals take some pride in.
For visitors, it’s an amazing and pretty inexpensive attraction. On a good day, from Neville Park in the east to Long Branch in the west, the 501 streetcar route takes about 90 minutes. It’s one big, scenic route that stretches for nearly 25km (15 miles), straight across the city, passing through nearly a dozen historical and diverse neighbourhoods. It’s still the longest streetcar route in North America and one of the largest on the planet. It goes through so many neighbourhoods and gives people an accurate reflection of Toronto’s history, the changes being made and where it’s headed. It’s also an amazing glimpse into the diversity of the people who live here.
In fact, the 501 goes through so many neighbourhoods that we thought to break each one of them down for you. We want to tell you about the feel of each neighbourhood and why you should get off the streetcar and explore. We’re going from east to west. So our first neighbourhood is The Beach.
The feel of the area
The Beach is one of those areas you come to to get some rest and relaxation. It’s very laid back with a friendly touch. This is a bright and colourful area where locals often stop each other on the street to catch up or go for a quick coffee together. Despite it being 15 minute drive away from downtown, there’s very much a small-town, beach side community feel here with many independently owned boutiques and shops along Queen Street. Most of the shop owners also have a bit of a sense of humour.
Why come to this area?
Parks, beach and recreation. The Beach is all about getting that essential vitamin D and some exercise. There’s a 3km boardwalk as well as a paved trail for walkers, joggers, cyclists, skaters and rollerbladers. In fact, this is where the Toronto Waterfront Trail, the Martin Goodman Trail and the incredibly massive Trans-Canada Trail meet. The latter is the world’s longest network of recreational trails. It stretches 23,000 kilometres (14,000 mi) from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific and up to the Arctic Ocean. Beach volley is also pretty big here. Dozens of courts are set up for tournaments and casual play. There’s also an Olympic sized pool and plenty of beach space for you to toss a football, lay down a towel or even fly a kite.
Hate the beach and love the park? That’s cool too. There’s plenty of green space with benches and shade to make you happy. No matter who you are and what you love to do, you’re doing it outside in the open air.
Coffee shops, bakeries and restaurants
The Beach has more than its share of eats and drinks. You’ve got diners serving all-day breakfasts, Thai, Italian, French and Indian restaurants at every turn and pubs that serve traditional fare. When it comes to coffee, The Remarkable Bean and Bud’s are both sure shots. For dessert/breakfast, Tori’s Bakeshop and Moo Milk Bar are pretty big deals. The Ice Cream Sandwiches at Moo are so good, people come in right at 11am when the shop opens.
There are several notable landmarks in this area of Toronto. In fact, many of them are designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. Among them, the Beaches Branch of the Toronto Public Library. This library was originally built in 1916 and is one of only 125 Carnegie Libraries in Canada. It’s really beautiful inside and out.
This area of Toronto attracts hundreds of thousands of people every summer for its now famous Jazz Festival. International as well as local acts have been entertaining the masses going on almost 30 years. Live music, food and outdoor festivities both in Woodbine Park and along Queen Street East. Unlike many other festivals, this one is pretty civil. The people are generally really nice and are there to casually stroll even dance, take it all in and enjoy the variety of acts that perform.
Alright, that’s it from The Beach. Did we miss something? Let us know and happy travels!