Family Staycation Toronto: Where to Stay, Eat and Explore!
Some of my fondest core memories from childhood happened in the City – the fun of riding the boats at Centreville with Dad, the thrill of candy hauls, ride-hopping and winning stuffies at The Ex and so many more. The best part about this season of family life is enjoying those nostalgic, and even some new, experiences with our crew and realizing we’re smack dab in the middle of lots of full circle moments. While we thought we’ve done most of the family-centred experiences in TO, we’re going on our 15th year of parenting, and realized we hadn’t yet done an overnight in the city! Our August baby just turning tween and our oldest off to high school this fall, it was time!
Thanks to a special invitation from Destination Toronto, we’ve just enjoyed a fun-tastic family staycation in Toronto with the family, and if you’re looking to squeeze out every last drip drop of Summer, we’re sharing our recos on where to STAY, EAT and EXPLORE for a fun-tastic fam-venture families of all-ages will love (*school-agers to teen – our mix ranges in age from 6 – 14 years old*)! Our suggested Family Staycation Toronto itinerary is based on a 2-day, 1-night weekday stay, and Ontario fams will love that you can take advantage of this year’s Staycation Tax Credit for overnight adventures such as this one!
Disclosure: This Family Staycation Toronto post is made in partnership with Destination Toronto. House of Kerrs receives hosted travel experiences and/or compensation to keep our family travel content flowing. Thank you for supporting partners who support our small family business. As always, opinions are based on our authentic experience. View more about our Disclosure here.
Disclaimer: COVID-19 safety protocols/recommendations are ongoing & ever-changing. Please consult the individual tourism/attraction websites prior to booking/visiting for the latest updates.
Family Staycation Toronto – Where to STAY
If you’re looking for a place that hits all the sweet spots for families of all-ages [parents of teens, you get what a win this is ;)], offers stunning panoramic views and close proximity to Toronto’s waterfront, rests just steps away from some of TO’s best spots for family fun and food, The Westin Harbour Castle (a CAA + AAA Diamond hotel) should be on your radar for your next Toronto overnight with the fam!
Here’s what we loved most about The Westin Harbour Castle for a family staycation in Toronto:
- Spacious (keyless-entry) suites well-suited to our big family that offered comfy beds to feel well-rested, and ample room for all of us to have our own space at the end of our full day of exploring. We stayed in rooms 3343 – 3344 (North Tower) – a combination connector suite comprised of a King room with an enormous lounge/dining area + pull-out sofa and two bathrooms, and a 2-Bed Double suite [this was our teenage dreamland zone 😉] Both rooms had incredible views of Lake Ontario, the iconic CN Tower, and the kids got a kick out of seeing planes land & take-off from Billy Bishop airport!
- Amenities that satisfied the whole family – a large, heated indoor pool + whirlpool with chaise loungers for big and little bodies, wellness facilities (weight + cardio rooms), an outdoor terrace with a garden, views of the harbour and basketball + tennis courts, indoor squash court & more! NOTE: The Westin also has a kids club-type program but this was temporarily closed during our visit. The tennis & squash courts can be rented by the hour (free with your stay) & equipment available for complimentary use on-site. There is no lifeguard on-duty at the pool & supervision is sole responsibility of caregivers. Complimentary towels available at the pool & wellness rooms, as well as headsets in the cardio room.
- Conveniences for a stress-less getaway – on-site valet parking meant we could pull up, park & get on with exploring & convenience QR code to scan when you’re ready to leave so your car can be ready when you are. Arriving before the 3p.m. check-in? No problem – the hotel offered a luggage storage service in a locked & secure room with ticketed access so you don’t need to wait & lug around your stuff when you arrive.
- Being well-fed – a buffet breakfast at The Mezzin offered a generous spread of all our family favourites (Omelette station, fruit, cheese & meat bar, a variety of baked goods – breads/muffins, etc., oatmeal/cereal station & more) to give us fuel to conquer our adventure-filled day! Being served by the lovely Violetta was a nice morning pick me up! (Note: gluten-free & allergy aware options were available). Of course, you could linger in bed a little longer and enjoy room service!
- Proximity to some of the bests of TO for families! Besides our visit to The Ex (more on that below), we were able to park and walk to all of our choice activities/restaurants. There is a concierge on-site in the lobby to help you make the most of your family staycation by arranging tickets/admissions to local attractions! Beach-loving fams like us – you’re just around the bend from Sugar Beach, Ward’s Island Beach & Cherry Beach!
- NOTE: if you have a large, SUV-type vehicle like we do, note there is limited availability in the Valet lot offered by the hotel. However, there are LOTS of parking lot options near-by the hotel staff will guide you to if the Valet is full.
More Know-before-you-go to The Westin Harbour Castle
Other fantastic features of this family-centred hotel that didn’t apply to our dynamic but your family may love are:
- Dog-friendly! The hotel is proud of its pet-friendly policy and warmly welcomes your furry friend(s) to join you at no extra charge. Westin Heavenly Dog Beds are available for use during your stay, along with other local dog friendly amenities. (2 dog max per room).
- Inclusivity matters – the hotel offers disability accessible facilities
- Dietary accommodations – the hotel has gluten-free options and is happy to accommodate allergy-aware families. Contact the hotel in advance of your stay for more details and to make arrangements.
- Unique packages for your family staycation! Driving into & around the city during your stay? Check out their ‘CARS EAT FREE IN TORONTO’ promo which includes a gas card! Want to get your morning fuel then get on with exploring? Try the ‘BREAKFAST ON US’
Family Food-ventures – Where to EAT Toronto
Toronto is known for culturally-rich, world class dining opportunities and your family certainly won’t have any trouble finding fantastic eats to satisfy your whole crew’s tastes. Here are some of the spots we savoured during our stay:
Carousel Café – Centre Island
Conveniently tucked at the front of the park with a fully-licensed outdoor patio, Carousel Café was a great, casual-style spot to re-fuel before exploring the area. Sandwiches (both of the vegetarian & meat variety), wings, burgers and smaller bites from the kids’ menu (Mac n’ Cheese + Pizza) were all enjoyed by our fam. Service was quick & attentive. Cost: $8 – 18/entrée.
Amsterdam Brewery – Harbourfront by The Lake
Under a 10-minute walk from the Westin Harbour Castle, and through Toronto’s Harbour Square Park & Harbourfront Centre, lies the Amsterdam Brewhouse – a highly sought-after dining establishment set along one of the best strips of Toronto’s waterfront!
Suggested lakeside eats we enjoyed on their spacious outdoor patio (some infused with the beer of the on-site brewery): Start with the Buffalo Cauliflower bites & Amsterdam Good Pretzel to share, then choose from a scrumptious selection of smokehouse stacks, beef brisket & lemon schnitzel. The kids’ menu was a hit and includes choice drink, entre & dessert – our littles loved the pizza & mini cheeseburgers with celery + carrots.
Parents, if you’re up for a ‘Beers on the Pier’ experience, the menu offers recommended pairings with your food selections. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but enjoyed swapping sips of the 3-Speed & Fria Cerveza with hubs. If your crew still has room for dessert, the Key Lime Pie and Berry Cheese Cake were delish! Cost: $9 – 25/item.
If staying at the Westin Harbour Castle, check out more nearby dining options HERE.
The Food Building & Concession Stands – Exhibition Place
Navigating the Food Building and concession eats at Canada’s largest annual fair – ‘The Ex’ – is a family food-venture all its own. After two hot closure summers, the fair-style food offerings are bigger (and bolder) than ever before!
Here’s what CNE food our foodie fam tried:
Fried Chicken Poutine from ChickeeOne – Food Building (okay)
Fried Perogy with sour cream (yum – traditional favourite)
Oreo Milkshake & Apple Pie Ice Cream Sandwich from Fran’s (not bad – wasn’t a fan of the ‘sandwich’ part)
Tiny Tim Donuts – Food Building (collective traditional family fave!)
Strawberry-Watermelon Dole Whip – Food Building (refreshing! And VERY fruity!)
Leaning TO-wer of Pisa from San Francesco’s (okay – meatball was tasty)
Mac n’ Cheese Pizza from Wood Fire Pizza concession stand (loved the crust, not a fan of the very artificial-tasting mac n’ cheese). Tip: you can ask for half-half toppings if you want to try multiple flavours. We did a Mac n’ Cheese & plain cheese combo.
As a family that’s not big into food waste, we didn’t try edibles we knew we probably wouldn’t really like (or finish), but you could certainly get down right daring with your taste buds here! I learned about a churro-wrapped dill pickle on a stick after we left & I certainly would have given this a try!
CNE EATS TIPS:
- To avoid wasting time searching, you’ll definitely want to map out your family food-venture before you hit the fair by visiting the food vendor location listings HERE and featured food + secret menu listings HERE. You may also want to download some of these food vendor coupons to save some bucks while you sample.
- Many food vendors are CASH-ONLY! Bring some bills if you’re planning to sample lots of eats. If you forget, there are cash machine terminals in the Food Building. NOTE: featured food items will cost you $18 – 25 PER ITEM. We ate all our selections family-sharing style.
- Bring LOTS of water and in refillable bottles – there are water stations around the grounds to stay hydrated.
- Time-limited family eating opportunity – you’ll want to go on a family food adventure at The Ex before Ontario’s Labour Day statutory holiday – always the traditional last day of the fair!
Overall foodie family review of CNE Eats – the classic + traditional eats we already know & love are still our favourite!
St. Lawrence Market
While we didn’t fit in a visit this time around, I would highly recommend a stop at the St. Lawrence Market (turned Farmer’s Market on weekends) with your family if you can squeeze it in. Amazing food & fresh produce from local producers/suppliers galore! It’s also a walkable distance from The Westin Harbour Castle.
Fun-tastic Toronto – Where to EXPLORE
As we wanted to make the most of our (way too short) summer season, most of our adventuring this trip was outdoors, but if you’re looking for more of our family favourites that our whole crew enjoys, or rainy-day suggestions for indoor fun, we list more fun ideas for fams for all seasons HERE – many close to The Westin Harbour Castle or easily accessibly by public transit!Here are suggested places to explore on your TO family staycation:
Toronto’s Centre Island
By water transit just steps away from The Westin Harbour Castle, a visit to the Toronto Islands is a fabulous way to savour summer as a family in the City! Andrew and I hadn’t been back to Centre Island since the 80’s, so this was such a nostalgic, heart-swelling, full circle experience and one of our favourite Toronto experiences together of all time!
There is a large map on-site to plan your day of exploring Centre Island, or by digital download. After lunch at Carousel Café, we enjoyed immersing in the gardens & fountains and soaking in sights of monarch butterfly beauties fluttering all around the park.Families who want to be more active will love the opportunity to rent bikes (even ones you can ride as a family together!) from Toronto Island Bike Rental. We rented a 4-seater ($36/hour) + 2 singles ($18 each/hour) for the teens. This is one of the most popular activities on the island, so you may need to wait for your choice bike selection (especially if the 4-seater), but we used our 15-minute wait to explore the adjacent beach & take family pics near the pier.
If more amusement is what your family is after, Centreville Amusement Park is open to explore. Open seasonally May – September (hours vary, but were 10:30 a.m. – 8 p.m. during our August visit).
- Pack your swim suits, towels & sunscreen in case you hit up the beaches while on the island;
- Bring lots of water, especially if physical activity is built into your day;
- Plan to allot 3-4 hours on the island – we allotted about 2.5 & felt very rushed! Also, build in time for potential waits at the ferry/water taxi’s that will fluctuate with summer crowds.
NOTE: we took the Jack Layton Ferry to Centre Island the day before an incident that resulted in reduced passenger allowances, increased wait times & prompted additional safety inspections. Had this happened before our visit, we may have opted for a water taxi. Please use your discretion when venturing with your precious fam. Our love to the individuals injured in last week’s crash..
ALSO IMPORTANT: check the water safety of Toronto’s public beaches before you wander over with the family. Centre Island Beach was temporarily closed during our visit. The latest BEACH WATER QUALITY updates can be found HERE from the City’s “Swimsafe” initiative.
The Bob Marley One Love Experience
Immerse in the legacy of love & lyric from the One Love legend – Bob Marley – then go spread his messages of peace, love & light around the city with your fam. Nothing but high, loving vibes radiated from this experience! Located at the Lighthouse Art Space, 1 Yonge Street (entrance that faces Queens Quay West/Harbour Square). Allot 30 – 45 minutes for your immersive family experience. Tickets available from the The Westin Harbour Castle Concierge or in advanced online HERE.
Habourfront Centre & Harbour Square Park
Just steps from both The Westin Harbour Castle and Amsterdam Brewhouse is one of Toronto’s best outdoor lakeside hubs for free enjoyment and a celebration of contemporary culture and artistic demonstrations is Harbourfront Centre. We soaked in a stunning dance performance from the Nordic Spotlight series after dinner and they also have Summer Music in the Gardens. See their What’s On page to plan your visit. We also love their outdoor skating rink in the winter!
Right beside The Westin Harbour Castle is Harbour Square Park where you can watch the boats sail & dock at the harbour, have a picnic on their large outdoor table or walk the board walk – another free family activity to do on your Toronto staycation!
Canadian National Exhibition “The Ex” (CNE)
‘Let’s go to the Ex’…again! Feels SO good to be able to experience this summer tradition with the crew again after 2 years of closures! And the high vibes & energy on opening day reflected the collective gratitude of the city!
The options for family fun times are bigger and better than ever – new shows & a full hit list of concerts at the Bandshell, shopping opportunities galore at the Enercare Centre, rides + amusement central in the mid-way (nostalgia!), and, of course, adventures in FOOD! It’s also pricier than before and we share how families can save some bucks below.
We spent most of our visit eating & navigating the midway this round (we have to go back to hit up some of the other awesome activations we wanted to enjoy).
- Buy your admission + rides tickets in advance online 🔗www.theex.com/tickets/ Rides are an additional cost from your admission ticket & if you don’t buy in-advance online, there are kiosks scattered around the midway to purchase on the day you visit. Ask them if there are any day-of promotions. We saved some bucks bundling our ride passes. Value rates & Family Passes will save you some money on admissions tix. Highly recommend visiting in off-peak hours (evenings & weekdays).
- Public transit is best, but lots of parking available (*highly recommend the covered Enercare Garage $40/vehicle – access via Strachan Avenue*). You can also buy admission & rides tix here if you forgot to pre-purchase online.
- Scan the QR code on your map from CNE Info kiosks to see what’s on the day you visit or download your map in advance.
- Bring some bucks – lots of vendors are CASH-ONLY!
- If you’re planning to go on an ‘Adventure in Food’ with the family, discover where your choice eats are located to save time by mapping out your food-ventures 🔗 www.theex.com/food/
- The cost of games in the midway run an average of $5 – 10 PER PLAY! We did find the bowling ball game at 25 cents per play, Skeeter ball at $1 per 5 balls & 3 basketball hoop shoots for $5 if you’re looking for more budget-friendly plays. TIP: If playing the water spray game ($10/play) wait until no one else but your own family is there – this is how you’re guaranteed a prize & how we scored a Minion ;).
A visit to The Ex is a MUST-do if your Family Staycation Toronto falls the near-end of August to Labour Day Weekend in Ontario.
In the heart of King West lies a hip, immersive experience for the fam at Canada’s largest shipping container outdoor market. Check out the fun activations (the kids loved the piano & ball toss), grab a bevvy and sip n’ savour the sights of TO in the outdoor courtyard, shop unique finds from local artisans or plan your visit to take in one of their special events. The kids loved the blue & yellow piano, the skeeter ball toss & writing a message of appreciation on the gratitude chalkwall.
Food vendors also on-site if hunger pangs happen (*we didn’t get a chance to try any eats this visit so can’t comment on the offering*) Location: 28 Bathurst Street, Toronto – visit Stackt Market’s website for various opening hours in specific market sections.
If you haven’t experienced a Family Staycation in Toronto yet, or are looking for a fabulous way to squeeze the life out of the last bit of summer, we hope you found our recommendations helpful for planning your next fam-venture! Ontario families, don’t forget to take advantage of this year’s Staycation Tax Credit (*save all those receipts!*) after your stay!Big, huge thanks to Destination Toronto for hosting us and letting our family create a whole bundle of forever-memories we’ll cherish for years to come! Happy to answer any questions you may have or give more ideas for a fun-tastic Family Staycation in Toronto!
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Happy & safe fam-venturing!