The Beach is the only segment of Toronto’s waterfront that lives up to its enormous potential as a place to live and play. That’s why the 3.5-kilometre boardwalk is invaded every weekend by pleasure-seekers and why a detached home on one of the picturesque streets by the water seldom goes for less than a million dollars. It’s also why the word “Beach” has been climbing steadily uphill from the lake, first transforming the gracious homes north of Kingston Road into the Upper Beach and then spawning Beach Hill just south of the train tracks, the latter’s dubious connection to sand and spit notwithstanding. Residents of the actual area tend to stay away from the crush of beach volleyball and kitesurfing at Ashbridge’s Bay Park, sticking to the quieter eastern stretches or relaxing over a pint at the Balmy Beach Club, a relic of the days when the shoreline was filled with amusement parks.
The styles of the houses here are more eclectic than in just about any other old Toronto neighbourhood. By the water, tiny Victorian summer cottages mingle with low-slung apartment buildings and larger houses from the ’20s and ’30s, some featuring kitschy lakeside resort details like porthole windows. In the 1990s, Greenwood Raceway was torn down and replaced with Woodbine Park, which gets taken over by a different festival every summer weekend (Ribfest, the Muhtadi International Drumming Festival, the jubilant Beaches International Jazz Festival). To the east, there’s a dense New Urbanist development laid out on six streets, bringing new waterfront housing to hundreds of families in the area for the first time in decades (even if the trees have yet to fully grow in). Beach residents are famously averse to new development, and the first modern mid-rise condos are only now appearing along the fiercely protected Queen East retail strip.