One of Canada's most vibrant and eclectic cities, Toronto is Canada's largest city and the country's bona fide hub of fine arts, theater, fashionable shopping, sophisticated dining and hotels, and diverse gay nightlife. The epicenter of the LGBTQ+ is in the area of downtown called the Gay Village or, more often, just "the Village." It's also centered around the intersection of Church and Wellesley streets, and this is where you'll find the biggest concentration of bars, stores, and community centers that cater directly to the LGBTQ+ community.
Church Street Gay Village, Toronto
It looks, at first glance, like plenty of other urban neighborhoods in North America, but look a little closer at the rainbow banners hung from the street lamps and you may detect that this stretch of Church Street (looking south from near the intersection with Wellesley Street) constitutes one of the world's most famous gay districts. Known variously as Church Wellesley Village, the Church Street Village, or just the Gay Village, this strip of Church Street between roughly Bloor Street to the north and Gerrard Street to the south is lined with gay bars, restaurants, and shops. The gay scene actually spans a block to the west (as far as Yonge Street) and a block east to Jarvis Street, and you'll find quite a few LGBTQ-oriented businesses along several of the cross streets, including Carlton, Maitland, Wellesley, and Gloucester streets.
Toronto's enormously popular and well-attended Gay Pride celebration takes place each summer in the Church Wellesley Village, and on just about any warm day you'll spot plenty of people hobnobbing on the patios of the many cafes, lounges, and eateries.
The Village has few accommodations (although there are a few very attractive and welcoming B&Bs, including Victoria's Mansion, Chicago House, and Dundonald House among them), but the neighborhood is within a 10- to 20-minute walk of many downtown Toronto hotels, from the Financial District right up to Bloor Street.
Church Wellesley Village has cultivated a gay scene for several decades, discreetly so prior to the early 1980s, but in a very conspicuous and official sense since then. Fans of the American version of Queer As Folk will recognize it from many scenes, which though set in Pittsburgh was filmed in Toronto. As dining and entertainment districts go, the neighborhood is relatively stable with many of the same bars, shops, and restaurants from two decades ago or longer.
Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA), in the Queen Street West District
A highlight of Toronto's always engaging Queen Street West Art and Design District (it's the part of the neighborhood out west beyond Bathurst Street and nicknamed West Queen West), the provocative Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA) is set back from the street in a building to which it relocated in 2005. The museum contains a significant permanent collection and also presents rotating exhibits throughout the year.
West Queen West Art & Design District
The eclectic and arty West Queen West Art & Design District is one part of Toronto where you're never more than a few steps from an edgy gallery, minimalist design shop, fair-trade coffeehouse, or hip lounge. This neighborhood set along West Queen Street in the city's West End is also sometimes nicknamed Queer West Village, especially out near the intersection with Gladstone Avenue. In this sense, West Queen West counters the Church Street Gay Village, which is largely a traditional strip of gay clubs and shops and lacks the former's diversity of style and age.
You'll find a genuinely exciting mix of retail, nightlife, and dining along West Queen West, which runs from about Bathurst Street to Gladstone Avenue. Also check out Ossington Avenue, which runs north from West Queen Street to Dundas Street and contains a similar stretch of diverting shops, bars, and cafes, plus the acclaimed Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art (MOCCA). Also be sure to check out leafy Trinity Bellwoods Park, a lovely place to sip coffee or nosh on the food you've picked up at one of the area's many excellent restaurants.
The queer presence around here is brightest along the blocks between Ossington and Gladstone streets. Many of the businesses on this part of Queen Street West take part in the Queer West Arts and Cultural Festival, held in August. The gay-popular Gladstone Hotel, with its 37 one-of-a-kind artist-designed guest rooms, is one of the most interesting lodging options in town, and even the locals stop by to visit the on-site Gladstone Cafe and Melody Bar.
Trinity Bellwoods Park
The regal and meticulously landscaped Trinity Bellwoods Park lies in the heart of Toronto's LGBTQ-popular West Queen West Art & Design District. Queen Street forms the park's southern boundary, with Dundas Street forming the northern edge. Trails, park benches, a dog run, and sports fields and tennis courts, and a recreation center are components of this popular green space, making it an excellent spot for a picnic on a warm day.
Set a few miles east of Toronto's downtown Financial District and just east of the Don River Valley, the steadily gentrifying neighborhood of Leslieville has become increasingly in vogue for its offbeat shopping, affordable indie cafes, and friendly neighborhood bars. Much of the action is along Queen Street East, from about the rail tracks (or Booth Avenue) for several blocks to Greenwood Avenue.
This area south of Greektown is particularly popular with gay women and has earned the affectionate nickname of "Lesbianville." On the north-south streets that intersect with Queen Street, especially as you go north, you'll find a number of attractively refurbished, mostly smaller to mid-size homes - the neighborhood was largely a working-class area, but with its increased resonance with lesbians and gay men, young couples, students, and the like, Leslieville has taken on a more eclectic and diverse demeanor.
You'll find quite a few cool eateries along Queen Street East in Leslieville, with highlights including Sushi Marche, Chino Locos, the amusingly named Gio Rana's Really Really Nice Restaurant, the cool brunch and breakfast favorite Lady Marmalade, and Swirl wine bar. There aren't really any specifically gay bars in the neighborhood, but low-key nightspots like The Curzon, the homey Roy Public House, and the swanky What Are You Looking At Bar draw plenty of folks from the LGBTQ+ community.
Hanlan's Point Beach
Ferries run from downtown Toronto at the foot of Bay Street (next to the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel) year-round to Hanlan's Point, the westernmost of the Toronto Islands and home to the only official clothing-optional beach in Toronto (which, unofficially, is also Toronto's de facto gay beach). The boat ride takes about 15 minutes and service is more frequent during the warmer months. From the ferry station on Hanlan's Point, it's about a 15-minute walk to the beach.
Toronto's gay beach at Hanlan's Point in the scenic Toronto Islands overlooks calm Lake Ontario and draws considerable crowds on warm days. This is one of the most popular clothing-optional beaches in North America and certainly one of the best gay beaches in Canada. If you decide to keep your suit on, don't worry as you won't be alone. Even though it's best-known a nude beach, plenty of beachgoers decide to keep their swimming trunks on.
Glad Day Bookshop
Considered the oldest gay bookstore still in operation in North America, the venerable Glad Day Bookstore in the Gay Village opened in 1969. It's a shopping highlight for all book lovers, but especially if you're trying to find lesser-known titles on queer literature and history. It's considered an LGBTQ+ landmark not just in Toronto but in Canada, and it's worth a stop for all visitors who come to Toronto.