In Search of the Beach on the Toronto Islands (Clothing Optional)

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What should a guy do when five women want to go to a clothing-optional beach? Stay behind to watch the bikes, maybe? Or follow along to see what the giddiness is all about? I followed. Of course I followed.

It’s doubtful anyone travels to Toronto, Canada, to check out a clothing-optional beach. That’s not why I found myself on a bike tour of the Toronto Islands with five women on a perfectly sunny and mild Monday morning. But the idea of seeing the beach quickly became a topic of discussion and giddy anticipation for most everyone.

The fun starts this way

The fun starts this way

Riding by a clothing-optional beach — protected from the island road by a narrow forest and accessed by a sandy trail — isn’t the reason for this ride with Toronto Bicycle Tours. The company usually offers a casual bike ride around the Toronto Islands as a 3.5-hour Twilight Tour, but it was made available on a weekday morning for attendees of a conference I happened to attend while in Toronto, TBEX.

So it was a bright and beautiful Monday morning that six riders and two guides from Toronto Bicycle Tours mounted our bicycles just outside the Metro Convention Centre in Downtown Toronto and pedaled a few blocks on city streets to the ferry landing.

The ride through the streets of Toronto is easy even for the most novice of riders. One guide leads the single-file line while the other brings up the rear. After about five minutes we arrive at the landing and board the ferry.

We dismount from the bikes for the short ride across to the islands.

We dismount from the bikes for the short ride across to the islands.

Once across to the Toronto Islands we learn about its airport where we see occasional landings of smaller commercial planes, not to mention what occurred on the property prior to the facility’s construction in 1930. Here was once a minor league baseball park, where the great Babe Ruth apparently hit his only home run in the minors.

Terrence Eta gives an introduction to the islands once off the ferry.

Toronto Bicycle Tours founder Terrence Eta gives an introduction to the islands once off the ferry.

The ride took us through the quiet streets as we heard about the history of the islands and how they once were connected to the mainland. That changed over time as the constantly changing shoreline and erosion saw the land split off to form the islands.

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After a few minutes of leisurely pedaling along the car-less streets — automobiles aren’t allowed on the islands — we pull off to the side next to a sign pointing us to the clothing-optional beach. It was too difficult to keep track with how many times some of my fellow riders asked about the beach during the first part of the tour: six, eight, 11 times? But we were here, and it was amusing to watch the giddiness.

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I’m not sure what our hope was when we quickly walked along the path to the beach. Would we spy a beautiful couple sunbathing, maybe a tad too much bounce exhibited in a volleyball match?

What we spied was an empty beach with Lake Ontario gently washing ashore. Ah, but a turn to the left and way off in the distance was a mass of flesh walking our way. Maybe he forgot something, or maybe it was that he realized he was about 60 yards out from a group fully clothed and wearing helmets, but that blob of flesh turned on a dime and quickly disappeared.

Thankfully nothing to see here at the clothing-optional beach.

Thankfully nothing to see here at the clothing-optional beach.

So we turned back down the path and made our way back to our bikes, not sure if disappointment or relief was the general mood of the group.

The tour continued around the islands where we heard ghost stories at the Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, a structure that thanks to erosion and the shifting of the islands has found itself inland from Lake Ontario.

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One of the real highlights of biking the islands is the relaxation of an easy ride on the quiet car-less roads lined with trees. There’s a remoteness, but not too much as just across from the residential section of the community is a priceless scene of the Toronto skyline.

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It’s hard to imagine having this view. Of course living on the island isn’t easy; there’s a long waiting list to get into one of the beautiful houses.

This house has the above amazing view of the skyline.

This house has the above amazing view of the skyline.

As a lifelong runner and now budding cyclist I enjoy when I can get a little exercise in while seeing the sights. Company founder Terrence Eta said the tours accommodate children as young as 2, and the pace is certainly moderate enough to be tolerable by anyone who is able to ride a bike.

Toronto Bicycle Tours founder Terrence Eta was passionate about sharing his love for the islands.

Toronto Bicycle Tours founder Terrence Eta was passionate about sharing his love for the islands.

I’m a big fan of cities that offer tours on foot, by boat or on bike. More North American cities are seeing cycling and running tours popping up to go along with the more traditional walking tours. Whatever it takes to get travelers out and about experiencing a place while getting a bit of exercise at the same time is fine by me.

The tour was offered as part of my participation in the TBEX conference. As a trained journalist with the highest ethical standards, my writing is in no way swayed by the complimentary tour. Only honest assessments are given on tour reviews at Trips By Lance. Much like the policy at many publications with restaurant reviews, if an experience is not positive it won’t be reviewed.

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