Adventure Activities in Toronto -- Try if You Dare

Adventure Activity Toronto

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When my sister married a Canadian and moved to Toronto in the mid-90s, I was tickled by the cultural differences she reported. "Milk comes in bags!" she told me excitedly. "Canadian bacon is called peameal bacon! People eat French fries with cheese curds and gravy!" (Can you tell we talk a lot about food?)

The longer she's lived there, however, and the more time I've spent visiting her adopted city, the more I've discovered how adventurous a town Toronto truly is, full of cutting-edge art, food and diverse communal experiences. Try an adventure activity in Toronto and expand your own ideas about the city (and yourself).

1. Walk on Air

It's impossible to miss the CN Tower, the soaring Toronto landmark that looks like a UFO impaled by a giant dart. At 1,815 feet, it reigned as the tallest structure in the world for 31 years, unseated only by Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2007. There is some controversy surrounding its current Guinness designation as the tallest tower in the world, but however you choose to label it, the CN Tower is pretty tall (certainly the tallest free-standing structure in the Western hemisphere).

You may wonder why I'm labeling the CN Tower as an adventure activity in Toronto, given that it's such a ubiquitous tourist attraction already, drawing over 2 million visitors a year. I include it here for one reason -- the new glass floor. Added in 2009, the two-inch thick glass can supposedly hold the weight of over a dozen hippos, but tell that to your stomach when you step onto the clear surface with 113 stories of air beneath your feet. The sensation of impending free fall can be intense, even if you don't think you have a fear of heights. For an even more adventurous option, try lying down on the glass!

CN Tower
301 Front Street West
Toronto, ON M5V 2T6, Canada
Hours: General access 9AM-11PM every day but Christmas Day
Tours start at $22.99 for adults and $14.99 for children

2. Hoof It!

Toronto is full of gastronomic thrills, but it's hard to beat the brunch at Hoof Café -- one of the meatiest adventure activities in Toronto. Chefs Jen Agg and Grant van Gameren have created a daring ode to protein with offerings ranging from tongue grilled cheese ($12 for a sandwich that licks you back!) to pig tails with grits ($13) to a snack of grilled beef heart ($5). Even some of the desserts require the butcher – you can order sour cherry jam and bone marrow beignets for $6.

I am vegetarian, so just looking at the menu requires its own brand of fortitude, but there are a few interesting non-meat choices as well. Even a dish as simple as toast with jam and goat butter ($3) can provide a thrill.

The Hoof Café
923 Dundas St. W.
Toronto, ON, Canada

3. Take it Off

You have to hand it to the nudists – they're persistent. After years of unofficial nude sunbathing at Hanlan Point Beach on Toronto Island, naturists convinced the City Council to name the area an official and permanent clothing-optional beach. Now you can take a 15-minute ferry from the city to Toronto Island, followed by a lovely 10-minute walk, shuck your clothes and scamper around in your birthday suit. The vibe is mellow, and there is a strict code of conduct to make people as comfortable as possible. For example, visitors are asked not to hit on fellow nudists and to ask permission before taking a picture of someone. There is also a wide variety of activities to try, including courts for European lengoteke and French petanque. If you've never heard of these games before, think of them as a whole other set of fun activities to try!

Hanlan Point Beach

4. Be Disloyal

This is more of a scavenger hunt dare than a daring feat, but visiting The Toronto Coffee Conspiracy independent coffeehouses is a fun way to explore the city. Pick up a Disloyalty Card at one of the seven coffee houses and show your commitment to daring, locally-owned, community-minded businesses. After you've visited all seven unique coffee houses, return to the first place on your list, and you'll get a cup of joe for free, plus a clear understanding of why independent coffeehouses are far superior to the chains and why Toronto is such a great coffee town.

If you want to make this dare into a heart-racing, bone-jittering, adventurous scavenger hunt, try visiting all seven places in one day!

Blondie's Café/Bar
1378 Queen St. W.
Toronto, ON M6K 1L7, Canada

Crema Coffee Company
3079 Dundas St. W.
Toronto, ON M6P 1Z9, Canada
Hours: Mon-Thu 7AM-7PM, Fri-Sat 7AM-9PM, Sun 8AM-8PM

Dark Horse Espresso Bar
682 Queen St. E.
Toronto, ON M4M 1G9, Canada
Hours: Mon-Sun 7AM-7PM
215 Spadina Ave., Suite 102
Toronto, ON M5T 2C7, Canada
Hours: Mon-Fri 7AM-7PM, Sat-Sun 8AM-7PM

Lit Espresso Bar
221 Roncesvalles Ave.
Toronto, ON M6R 2L6, Canada
Hours: Mon-Fri 7AM-6PM, Sat-Sun 8AM-6PM
810 College St.
Toronto, ON M6G 1C8, Canada
Hours: Mon-Wed 7AM-7PM, Thu-Fri 7AM-8PM, Sat 8AM-8PM, Sun 8AM-6PM

Manic Coffee
426 College St.
Toronto, ON M5T 1T3, Canada
Hours: Mon-Fri 7AM-7PM, Sat-Sun 8AM-8PM

Mercury Espresso Bar
915 Queen St. E.
Toronto, ON M4L 2S2, Canada
Hours: Mon-Fri 6:30AM-8PM, Sat 7:30AM-8PM, Sun 8AM-8PM

Sam James Coffee Bar
297 Harbord St.
Toronto, ON M6G 1G7, Canada
Hours: Mon-Fri 7AM-7PM, Sat 8AM-6PM, Sun 9AM-5PM

5. Face Your Fears

Night of Dread is an annual pageant and procession held in October (usually the week before Halloween) at Dufferin Grove Park. Organized by the Clay and Paper Puppet Theater, Night of Dread is, in their words, "an invitation to the community, both near and far, to parade our private and collective fears through the streets of Toronto and to laugh at them, mock them, to name them, and to burn their names in a big bonfire, to waltz with Death, to eat the bread of the dead and to remember those who have gone from our midst."

Giant puppets tower over the crowd, fire dancers spin their flames and drummers fill the night with rhythm as thousands of people dressed in black and white, some macabre, some comical, walk and dance and chant together. It's a powerful experience, alternately creepy and moving, hilarious and beautiful. Night of Dread forces us to face our fears and our mortality as a community, and really, when you think about it, what could be more daring than that?

Toronto is a city full of adventure activities. Whether you care to test your stomach, your fear of heights, or your caffeine tolerance, you'll find plenty of daring pursuits to fill your Toronto adventure vacation itinerary!

A Chicago native, Gayle Brandeis is the author of several novels, including The Book of Dead Birds, which won Barbara Kingsolver's Bellwether Prize for Fiction in Support of a Literature of Social Change. Read her blog on Red Room

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