Best By the Lake
1910 Queen E, at Woodbine, 416-694-5966.
Call it the Cafe Diplomatico of the Beach. The first patio you encounter when entering this upscale nabe from the west, this sheltered curbside terrace is easily the loveliest. While the friendly trat's inexpensive lineup of pasta 'n' panini may as well be titled Italian For Beginners spaghetti with meatballs, eggplant parmigiana its al fresco ambience is second to none. Muted jazz and a burbling fountain distract from the regular passings of streetcars, while tables out front provide three levels for sun-worshipping, the best one being on the resto's second floor, where a pair of French doors open to the street scene below. Bonus: children eat free from the kids' menu Sundays from 11 am to 4 pm with the purchase of one entree.
1681 Lakeshore E, at Northern Dancer Blvd, 416-694-8844.
The only patio in the Beach anywhere remotely near the water, this family-style roadhouse on Ashbridges Bay offers an impressive view of the park's volleyball court and the dappled waters of Lake Ontario in the distance. Typical for the area, Boardwalk's pub-grub menu doesn't venture far beyond burgers, chicken wings and nachos, but it does highlight a few gluten-free items (i.e., salad). Twenty brews on tap, too.
Centre Island Ferry Docks, 416-203-8795.
Heading over to Hanlan's Point for a spot of nude sunbathing? Might we suggest first-timers stop at this student-friendly watering hole at Centre Island's ferry docks to down some Dutch courage first? Linger on the lakeside deck, take in the unparalleled view of the Toronto skyline and, by the third drink, clothing-optional won't seem like such a scary proposition.
255 Queens Quay E, at Sherbourne, 416-203-0470.
Situated in the middle of a bleak parking lot hidden behind an inflatable tennis club, this Muskoka-style deck on the water's edge takes in a panoramic view of city skyscrapers to the north and idyllic Ward's Island and passing sailboats to the south. Throw in free parking, three decks, two fireplaces and a reliable kitchen, and those who fondly remember the long-gone Sgana Café will make this their new summer hideout.
More patios by the lake
11 Polson, at Cherry, 416-461-3625.
Suck back a few cool ones at this playground-cum-concert-venue by the lake.
235 Queens Quay W, at York, 416-973-3000.
Pizza, wraps and suds next to the Harbourfront Centre bandshell.
1755 Lakeshore W, at Parkside, 416-531-2233.
Once the Sunnyside Beach Bathing Pavilion, this Moorish revival hacienda offers a lakeshore view into Toronto's historic past.