What You Need to Plan the Perfect Picnic in Toronto

Elevate your next picnic with these food and park pairings.

There’s a park almost no one knows about. If you ask even the most dyed-in-the-wool Torontonian about Olympic Park, you’ll probably get a blank stare, and maybe a “Toronto’s never hosted the Olympics, so I don’t think we have one.” 

But we do.

It’s at the base of the CN Tower, a few metres from the big woodpecker by renowned Ontario art duo Fastwürms. It’s the Toronto equivalent of that park near the Eiffel Tower where everyone takes their pictures and lays out on the grass soaking up the Paris-ness of it all.

Except if you visit Olympic Park, you’re likely to have it all to yourself. It’s raised a little, concealing it from both car and foot traffic. You have to either know it’s there, or be adventurous enough to climb the dozen or so stairs up from the west side of Lower Simcoe across from the Delta Hotel.

It’s a buzzy hangout for extreme locals, the sort of place you stop by to say hi to your neighbours. They’ll say hi to you, too; it’s that kind of place. But the hill with the view is also just a few minutes walk south from the west Danforth, one of the city’s densest restaurant strips. 

You could pick up some vegetables and hummus at The Big Carrot, some cheese at Alex Farm, arguably the city’s best cheese shop, where the people behind the counter will be able to advise you on cheeses the way a good mixologist can suggest cocktail novelties (there’s another one at St. Lawrence Market), and maybe something sweet at Demetres before heading down to the grass.

But the city’s full of excellent food and park pairings. Here are some of the best of them.

Trinity Bellwoods, Hooky’s fish and chips and La Diperie for some always-Instagrammable ice cream concoctions.

High Park, with some baked goods from Hannah’s, or maybe some of the city’s best smoked meats at Barque a couple of blocks east on Roncesvalles (order a day ahead for the best selection). There’s also the famous Grenadier Cafe in the park itself, with cafeteria-style food (and some fine diner-style pie).

Grange Park, one of the best designed parks in Canada, adjacent to the Art Gallery of Ontario, with one of Henry Moore’s most famous pieces in its centre, a playground, public lavatories,  and all of Chinatown within a couple of hundred metres for your picnicking pleasure.

Clarence Square is another of those hidden-in-plain-view parks, which happens to provide one of the city’s best picnicking opportunities, if you cross Spadina and pick up some of the best bistro fare you’ll get this side of Saint-Germain-des-Prés at Le Select Bistro, one of the city’s oldest and most revered French restaurants (also with the best wine list in Toronto).

Gear

On your way to picking up your food, you may want to stop by Cocktail Emporium for some fun, inexpensive glassware, Tap Phong for some disposable bamboo plates and cutlery (they’re in the aisle farthest to your left as you enter), and get a basket at Bed, Bath & Beyond.

Or you could cheat and stop by one of these places that puts the whole thing together for you.

About the Author

Bert Archer lives in Toronto, writes about travel and cities and things that tourists like him like, and teaches food writing at George Brown College. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter, and read stories he’s written about places he doesn’t live in the Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, CNN, the BBC, and about a dozen others.

See it. Snap it. Share it. In every neighbourhood, around every corner, through every door there's something that begs to be discovered in Toronto.

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