Free Family Escapes in Toronto
By Corinne McDermott | @hvbabywilltrvl
As a Toronto girl, born and raised, I am immeasurably proud of my city and delighted to be raising two new Torontonians in it. One of the true joys of being a parent is revisiting favourite spots from your own childhood, and I get to do that almost daily with my children. As urban dwellers we are out and about frequently, but another bonus of this city is you don’t always need to take your wallet with you when visiting kid-friendly spots that are good for everyone.
Cabbagetown is an area resplendent in history and Victorian architecture, and it is also home to the toddler paradise known as Riverdale Farm. Open every day of the year (including Christmas) and free to enter (for now), we’ve been popping by Riverdale Farm almost monthly since my daughter was born. This tiny working farm features a barn full of chickens and turkeys, and a pen full of pigs. Francey Barn, which is the lower barn, often houses the goats, sheep and cows, but if the weather’s nice they are usually outside. After we’ve visited all our barnyard friends, we head off down the trail to explore the woods surrounding the Don Valley Ravine. We spy turtles in the pond, and sometimes we check out the old buildings that used to house zoo animals like monkeys and bears (before they were moved to what is now The Toronto Zoo). We always cap off our visit with some freshly baked cookies from the farmhouse – not free, but a bargain at 25¢ each.
For wide-open spaces with options, we love Bluffer’s Park, just east of the city. The Scarborough Bluffs as geographical wonders are unique to North America, but for families the draws here are the expanses of parkland, a great beach with good skipping stones and beach glass to collect, as well as many paths to explore and picnic areas to relax and congregate at with family and friends. A word of caution – holiday weekends often see Bluffer’s Park fill with families representing the many cultures that make up Toronto, and their resulting picnics will have you scheming on how to crash the various family gatherings just to savour some of that jerk chicken or Paav Bhaaji. Unless you’re my three-year-old son, of course, and you just walk up and ask to try the food.
While Riverdale Farm and Bluffer’s Park can be enjoyed outdoors regardless of the weather, you need an indoor option, and the lovely Allan Gardens is temperate and available to explore – regardless of the season. Located in the heart of downtown, the conservatory is a tranquil and interesting escape in the heart of downtown, with six greenhouses (totalling over 16,000 square feet) that showcase an incredibly diverse and beautiful permanent collection of plants from around the world. It is also open 365 days of the year, and the seasonal arrangements offer something pretty and new for every visit.
As my kids grow up, I’m grateful to have these staples in the city where we can all explore and just wander. We love the bustle of our busy Toronto, but having places like these to escape to for free means we don’t always need to leave the city to recharge, and we can save our pennies for bigger adventures – either close to home or far away.