Small town vs. big city, suburbia vs. downtown, the list of pros and cons is long in the never-ending discussion of where is the best place to raise a family.

As parents we often look at our own childhood experience to guide us in how we’d like our children to grow up. It’s something that fascinates me every day as I leave the house with my kids and look over at the streetcars and up at the skyline with high-in-the-sky condos and the CN Tower. (My hometown had two stoplights and the tallest structure was a bright blue water tower that blended in with the big blue sky.)

It’s this juxtaposition that makes me so aware of the opportunities and challenges of raising a family in Toronto.

Every summer Toronto Life (the magazine) rounds up the Reasons to Love Toronto. It’s a bit of a rah-rah that has you either standing proud or rolling your eyes depending on where you stand on Toronto life (small “l”.) So with that list as inspiration, here are our 50 Reasons to Love Toronto — with Kids in TOw.

In no specific order…

  1. Evergreen Brick Works has one of the best playgrounds in the city. The Children’s Garden and surrounding trails nestled in the Don Valley is your go-to spot for nature in the city. Be sure to add their Wednesday Family Pizza Nights to your summer schedule.
  1. Dinosaurs are everywhere: recreated in Dinosaurs Alive! at Canada’s Wonderland, on walls down Dinosaur Alley and of course as the real deal at the ROM.
  1. Contemporary art isn’t just for adults. The Design Exchange, Art Gallery of Ontario and Harbourfront Centre all offer Family Days. We love the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art’s kid series – Mini MOCCA.
  1. Parks aren’t just places to play. With a permit they are where neighbourhoods gather around pizza ovens and fire pits. The Park People make it easy for Torontonians to get the most out of the green space with their park kit.
  1. Toronto has 11 swimmable beaches. What kid doesn’t love to play in sand?


    Bluffer’s Beach

  1. A visit to the Beaches Boardwalk and Scarborough Bluffs feels like you’ve left the city.
  1. The mini-lake at Harbourfront is year-round fun with DJ skate nights and summer paddling for little ones in TOw.
  1. The Waterfront is just getting better and better and the new Queen’s Quay makes it easier to enjoy its offerings with or without wheels.
  1. Future Ontario Place. The William G. Davis Trail will be a great big park.
  1. Parades are year-round. You can go big (Pride, Caribana and the Santa Claus parades) or small (Kensington Market’s Winter Solstice celebration or the Easter Parade in the Beach.)
  1. Kids can race. Toronto hosts tons of races to get the adults in TOw running. But little legs can get moving with shorter fun runs (Longboat Toronto Island Run) or lets you run with strollers (Toronto Yonge Street 10km.)
  1. Kids can run like a Blue Jay. Saturdays are super family-friendly with the Jr Jays line up and kids can run the bases post-game.
  1. Swim for free. Leisure swim at city-operated pools are free.
  1. City Parks & Recreation programs are actually worth going for. No question, it’s painful to register, but you can often find great and affordable programs for kids (and parents in TOw.)
  1. Riverdale Farm is where city kids can get a taste of farm life. And it’s free.


    Indoor Play Room at Riverdale Farm

  1. High Park Zoo. It’s free and open for parent-friendly hours (7 a.m. til dusk.) High Park’s playgrounds and cherry blossoms make it one of the city’s best parks.
  1. Outdoor music festivals are kid-friendly. CBC Music Fest, Field Trip and concerts at Yonge and Dundas Square.
  1. Kids have their own music fests – Totsapalooza.
  1. The children’s bookstores are the best. When you’re not hanging out at the Thomas the Train station at Indigo, you are most certainly shopping for kid reads at independents like Mabel’s Fables on Mount Pleasant and Ella Minnow on Kingston Rd.
  1. The Children’s Book Bank. You can pass forward your books and stay for some storytime at this library/bank in Cabbagetown.


    Children’s Book Bank

  1. Word on the Street gets kids outside and reading. The outdoor national book fest always has a family fun zone.
  1. There are 100 Toronto Public Library branches. Many are extra kid-friendly with the Kidstop Early Literacy Centres.
  1. Your Toronto Public Library card can get you into some of the city’s best cultural and art galleries and museums for free. Check out a Museum and Arts Pass.
  1. Sense of community. For out-of-towners, Toronto may look like one big blob of a city ballooning out from the CN Tower. Not so. Each neighbourhood is like it’s only little community and makes for a great destination with kids in TOw.
  1. Kensington Market. A good mix of urban, hippie and family-friendly. Check out Pedestrian Sundays & Winter Solstice celebrations.
  1. Access to any and every sport – hockey, soccer but there is rugby and cricket for kids.
  1. Skiing in the city. You can give your kids the taste of the slopes at the Centennial Park Ski and Snowboard Centre and Earl Bales Ski and Snowboard Centre.
  1. There are hundreds of places to skate and skating trails. Greenwood Park is the first covered outdoor rink with a skating path.
  1. Toronto Islands is an easy escape from the city and have one of the best views of the city.


    View from Toronto Islands.

  1. The Spit, aka Tommy Thompson Park is another one for families who love to bike, hike, run, scoot and blade through nature.
  1. There are rollercoasters for every speed: Centreville, Canada’s Wonderland, plus all the mini-midways at community events throughout the year.
  1. Cafés are (generally) kid-friendly. For full stroller confidence go to places like Oaks n Acorns.
  1. The Drop In. There are hundreds of free indoor Ontario Early Years Centres and Toronto Parenting and Family Literacy Centres in your community where parents, grandparents, caregivers and children can gather.
  1. Some of the country’s best healthcare resources are at our fingertips. Toronto has 40 hospitals, including the Hospital for Sick Children. Their About Kids Health website must be bookmarked.
  1. Toronto Birth Centre. Another option to giving birth. It made Toronto Life magazine’s Reasons to Love Toronto list.
  1. digging

    Digging at the Children’s Discovery Centre.

    Indoor Play is easy. When weather is bad, or even when it’s not, there are hundreds of places to play inside. One of the newest, and a new favourite, is the Children’s Discovery Centre.

  1. Kids can go to the symphony with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Young Peoples Concerts and theatre at the Young Peoples’ Theatre.
  1. Kids 12-and-under ride free on the TTC.
  1. A subway or the streetcar can be your outing for the day. The 501 Queen St. Streetcar route has topped international lists.
  1. The City is getting more and more bike-friendly. Ok, you may not always be into urban biking with kids in TOw (yay for separated bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide) but there are tons of kid-friendly trails, including the new Pan Am Path.
  1. Bike Parks. You take your two wheels off-road and inside.
  1. The Ontario Greenbelt is 1.8 million acres of protected forest, farmlands, and wetland (the biggest of its kind in the world.) And you can bike it too.
  1. Nature in the city. Toronto has tons of easily accessible trails to walk, hike and bike with kids in TOw.


    KidSpark at the Ontario Science Centre.

  1. The Ontario Science Centre. We have lost count on how many hours we’ve spent here. Hands-on educative and always fun.
  1. Farmers’ Markets make it easy to access local food and hang out with the locals.
  1. Kids classes. Being over-programmed isn’t necessarily a city phenomenon but you have your pick and then some in Toronto. How ‘bout hulahooping, circus classes or mermaid school?
  1. Camping in the city. The Glen Rouge Campground is a short drive or ttc ride away.
  1. It’s easy (and free) to stop and smell the flowers. Indoors (Allen Gardens)and outdoors (Toronto Botanical Gardens).


    Allan Gardens Conservatory

  1. Community Gardens. Very few Torontonians have space for a big garden. That’s ok, you can grow things with your neighbours at a community garden or kids can dig in at Franklin’s Garden on Toronto Island or High Park’s Children’s Garden.
  1. Kid-friendly restaurants. Kids can taste the world and most restos are super welcoming especially if you come at family-friendly hours (5 p.m.-ish.) Here are some places we’ve been.

Anything to add to the list?