For years, the Upper Beaches seemed to live in the shadow of the Beaches, which earned its moniker through proximity to Lake Ontario. But even the name "Upper" Beaches suggests a lack of distinct character, a reliance on the rising real estate values of the neighbourhood to the south.
But over time the area around Woodbine Avenue and Gerrard Street East has forged its own identity, which, its residents contend, has more soul and less ostentation than the Beaches proper. Long-time residents grow tomatoes beside their front walkways and chat with neighbours on wooden porches.
Along this eastern stretch of Gerrard, dive bars still attract a gritty crowd at night but during the day babies glide across the pavement in Norwegian import strollers. Perhaps the best example of that dichotomy is just east of Woodbine, where the Peek-a-Bears Child Care centre stands almost side-by-side with the Vagabonds bikers' clubhouse.
What it has going for it
Location: While the neighbourhood's character is getting stronger, residents also point to the strategic positioning at the centre of more buzzy areas, such as Little India, the Danforth and the afore-mentioned area on the edge of Lake Ontario. "You have the best of Little India and the heart of the Beaches without the traffic and parking hassles," says a long-time homeowner.
Transportation: It's a short walk south to the Queen Street streetcar or north to the Danforth subway line. There's a GO train to Union Station. By car, the hub of Yonge and Dundas is 15 minutes away.
Tranquil streets: The streets have pleasant rows of trees and a nicely-varied housing stock. The detached Edwardians are the match of many in High Park and the smaller semis are attractive to young families. St. John's Norway Cemetery standing at the bottom of the streets west of Woodbine lends serenity to that corner.
Parks: The neighbourhood has an abundance of children's playgrounds and little parkettes. The best thing about the little nook east of Woodbine and south of Gerrard is Cassels Park, also known as the dog park.
Small-box retail: One of the pioneers who re-located from Queen Street East several years ago, florist Reed Russell at East of Eliza draws regulars who enjoy her creatively unfussy hand-tied bouquets. There's a "secret garden" in the back with nursery plants. For globetrotters, Black's Adventure Outfitters is the place to go to get your rucksack stitched up.
Brunch: Upper Beach Cafe is a busy spot on the weekends. The wholesome breakfast club sandwich is a local favourite.
Room for improvement
Restaurants: It could use a few more, says the Gen-Y crowd. They often head out of the 'hood for more choice.
Raccoons: Lots of areas have them but they are in abundance here. That's because of all the green space.
Shopping: While new businesses are arriving, the commerce along Gerrard Street East is still a work in progress. Some locals appreciate the lack of big box but they do have to trek to the Danforth to buy toilet paper in bulk.
Harbingers of Change
At one time many of the businesses on Gerrard had papers over the windows or trash piling up inside. Now those commercial spaces are being refurbished. Residents are watching with interest to see who will take over a spiffed-up building listed for sale with an asking price of $629,000. The former corner store has a restored store front just waiting for a trailblazing merchant.
Baristas begin pulling shots at 7 a.m. at The Bandit espresso bar, which recently opened in its refurbished space with free Wi-Fi.
A new day spa offers manis and pedis and other pampering on the north side of Gerrard Street East.
Newly-built houses are replacing little old shacks on the side streets and a couple of condo towers have risen up.
Typical houses are 3-bedroom semis, which fetch up to $500,000 in many cases. An updated detached house will range from $500,000 to $700,000 on desirable streets such as Bowmore Road, Normandy Boulevard and Kingsmount Park Road. For those with tighter budgets, the busier streets of Gerrard and Woodbine offer a chance to get on the property ladder for $400,000 or less.