What cool places can I go to to eat my lunch in Toronto?
July 19, 2012 2:35 PM   Subscribe

(Toronto filter) What are some awesome places I can go to in Toronto where I can eat a lunch I bring myself?

I wrote previously that I am unemployed for the summer :) I am a teacher and start work again in September, but for the first time, I was unable to get a summer job and am loose ends. I have been trying to get out of the house more, but I am getting bored and I am spending more money than I should on coffee and snacks just so I can get out of the house. I need to shake things up a little. I am looking for places to go and things to do where bringing my own lunch is not an issue.

1) Either the place is something like a park, where the whole thing is free and I can sit with my lunch, read a book or something and have a pleasant afternoon


2) The place is somewhere like a museum where I can go, have something to do and then there is a cafeteria or something who won't mind if I sit and pull out a bag lunch (I am okay with paying to get into the attraction if necessary but welcome options which are free of course)


3) The place is a cool coffee shop or something with great ambiance where I can buy a drink or something small and they won't notice/mind if I pull out my own sandwich to go with it.

Stuff I have tried so far:

- Food court at various shopping malls
- Public library (I have to leave to eat, but can come back after)
- Picnic in the park (I want to try High Park; where else can I try?)
- Local rec centre (there is a lounge upstairs with seating)

So, fellow Torontonians, where else in the city can one go and enjoy the day, and eat without paying?
posted by JoannaC to Grab Bag (11 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Cherry Beach!

Lots of places to chill, walk around, even swim (not everyone swims in Lake Ontario but I love it).
posted by beau jackson at 2:58 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Toronto Island isn't quite free (you need to pay for the ferry), but it's a great place to hang out. On my days off I really like eating in Queens Park, there's plenty of office people doing the same on a sunny day.

Toronto's a city of parks - there are tons of little neighbourhood parks that are severely underused on a weekday. One of my favorites is a park in Rosedale that is apparently called Craigleah Gardens. On weekdays it's largely empty except for the occasional dog walker and the local nannies pushing carriages around and is a great place to read. It's also got a path down into the ravine system, where it's easy to spend a couple of hours exploring. It's a short walk to the Brickworks along the well-maintained ravine paths in the area.
posted by flipper at 3:09 PM on July 19, 2012 [2 favorites]

Any park will work, but I think Queen's Park and http://www.trinitybellwoods.ca/ are especially great for people-watching. (Grab an iced coffee or lemonade at The Tampered Press and then walk across to the park for your picnic!) You could hit up the Beach also, spread out a blanket, etc.

Dufferin Grove park
has a Thursday farmer's market, and a cheap community dinner night (pizza oven, I think?). Artscape Wychwood Barns is neat to roam around, and has some seats. Their farmer's market is too $$ for me, but it's a nice place for sure, and I think they also have some cheap/free community meal events.

If you have a car/bike or don't mind a long walk, Evergreen Brickworks is a really interesting place. They have guided tours and also free self-tours, and I imagine you could find a nice spot to have a bite.

And of course there are the Toronto Islands if you don't mind paying the ferry fare. If you're looking for a nice long walk, take the ferry to Ward island, then walk along it to Center Island and find someplace to enjoy lunch on the way -- you see a whole different aspect of the Toronto Islands, the more residential, peaceful side.

The U of T courtyards are beautiful -- benches, greenspace. I know Hart House at the U of T has a little area in the basement where students can sit and eat their own food (though it's not particularly pretty). You could probably snag a table on Sammy's patio during a quiet time, they're not too strict about having to buy food first (though please be courteous to those that did pay for their food, especially during peak hours).

You could also head down to the Distillery District - certainly atmospheric, and I seem to recall that there are benches sprinkled throughout where you can have a sit and a sandwich. Afterwards, you can grab an ice cream cone, window shop the galleries, check out the chocolate making at Soma, maybe even get cheap rush tickets for a play at the Yonge Centre for the Performing Arts if you're 30 or younger.
posted by miss_kitty_fantastico at 3:12 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

My personal favourite secret spot: the incredible green roof garden at 401 Richmond (St W)!

Despite appearances, the roof garden is indeed open to the public. Bonus: the Roastery Coffee House is on the ground floor.
posted by kitkatcathy at 3:46 PM on July 19, 2012 [4 favorites]

Seconding Dufferin Grove and Wychwood.

Also Sugar Beach at the foot of Jarvis, and Sherbourne Common one block east of Sugar Beach.

A nice secluded spot not too many people know about is Serena Gundy Park in the Don River system. Take the 34 Eglinton Bus to Brentcliffe, walk north to Broadway, turn right. At the end of Broadway, follow the path downhill and it will take you to a secluded open space. One of Toronto's hidden gems.

Also, the Evergreen Brickworks.
posted by dry white toast at 3:55 PM on July 19, 2012

I enjoyed people watching and an iced coffee in the park behind AGO - google maps looks like it is Grange park? If I recall, that is also by Chinatown which is a fun outing in itself. And Kensington Market is close too.
posted by cestmoi15 at 4:43 PM on July 19, 2012

I did exactly this at Trinity Bellwoods Park a few weeks ago. There's a kind of ridge overlooking a dog park where people had gathered, so there was even a bit of a show as well.

I also did a picnic at the Allan Gardens. The homeless population in parts is pretty sizeable, but you can find a quiet corner, and it's worth it for the conservatory, which is free.

Also have you considered taking some of the free tours? Google around, the city runs a number of them. I even saw a few Mefi links about them, which I failed to favorite.
posted by vecchio at 5:32 PM on July 19, 2012

-Harbourfront has lots of benches n' stuff by the water.
-Sugar beach!
-That random square behind the eaton center with the maze!
-The park in Kensington Market!
-As already mentioned, the roof on 401 Richmond is awesome, and as a bonus, you can wander the building and peer into the designer workshops and wander the art galleries and visit the design-y shops.
-On hot days, it would probably be great to hang out at public pools
-The UofT campus
posted by Kololo at 7:13 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Beach aka The Beaches. Lovely boardwalk to stroll, great people-watching, lots of trees to lounge under and read. There are also shops nearby to get an ice cream or a coffee (your favorite chain is surely represented). I've passed many a pleasant afternoon doing just this.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:33 PM on July 19, 2012

There are lots of common rooms and cafeteria's on all the University campuses, and they're usually pretty quiet in the summer. I would imagine the College campuses are similar. And they're generally pretty accessible by transit and spread around the city, so visiting a bunch of them might give you an interesting view of Toronto that you wouldn't get by focusing on the downtown places.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:10 AM on July 23, 2012

I thought of your question today, and I came to suggest Riverdale Farm! Or the park part. On Tuesdays there's a Farmers Market from 3-7, which is a bonus - but there are lots of little spots with benches on the trail around the farm, or there are benches and picnic tables in the park proper.

There are also picnic tables just to the west outside of St. Lawrence Market, and nobody would look twice. I'll usually grab something from the market and eat there, because there are so many delicious options -- but I would not see a problem with bringing your own lunch. If you need to get a couple of groceries for the lunches you're making, you could make it part of a fun trip.

But I'd agree with everyone that the Beach, High Park and the Brickworks are great. And mrgood used to eat at 401 Richmond when he worked around there, and really liked it there. And Grange Park, yes. When I worked at the Eaton Centre, I would often eat at Trinity Square, and would buy parts of it from the Trinity Square Cafe - their soups are fantastic.

And, if you need to get out in the evening sometimes for a cool libation, for the record, the Avro on Queen E. very specifically mentions that outside food is welcome. They open at 7.
posted by peagood at 12:10 PM on July 27, 2012

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