The late night drive is a quintessential urban experience, one that reveals the city in its purest visual form, a mass of glimmering lights set against a black sky. It's late at night when one can really explore a city by car (during the day walking or cycling are vastly superior), when the traffic has thinned and it's possible to cruise along with no other purpose than to soak up the scene and the cool air that pushes through an open car window.
"I used to get in my car, get on the highway and drive and it would be nighttime and I would be looking at this city and if the music matched that scenery, then it was right for me," Drake has said of his last album Nothing Was the Same, underscoring, once again, that our biggest star is also our biggest fan -- not to mention someone who understands that late night driving is all about atmosphere.
The soundtrack is up to you, of course, but if you're looking for a little direction on location, I might be able to help with that. Here are five late night drives in Toronto that will have you swooning over our city and quite possibly caressing the hand of your passenger.
Rosedale Valley Road & Bayview Extension
Start at Aylmer and Yonge heading east and wind down through the ravine, feeling temporarily like you've left the city altogether for some country road cut through a forest. The buildings soon fade away altogether, and the road becomes akin to a river at the bottom of a valley. Then you pass under the spooky looking concrete subway tunnel before approaching the first arch of the Bloor Viaduct, its black under beams a tangle of metal faintly illuminated by nearby streetlights. Turn left and head north up Bayview, which will be almost completely bereft of traffic. Here you'll return to the Viaduct, shimmering in all its glory as it spans the Don Valley.
Lake Shore Boulevard
If you can get over your fear of falling concrete, a drive along Lake Shore Blvd. under the Gardiner is about as urban as it gets in Toronto. Start at Cherry Street in the east and head west through the city. You'll feel like you've entered a tunnel that offers brief glimpses of the surrounding city, before you resurface near Bathurst and pass the Princes' Gates and then finally see the water. Cruise through Sunnyside with the smell of the lake in your lungs.
DVP south of Millwood to Gardiner Expressway
While you'll retrace some of the ground covered in the Bayview Extension drive, the perspective from the DVP is altogether different. Get on the DVP heading south from Don Mills, and you'll see the skyline in the distance and the slab apartments of Thorncliffe Park lit up above the valley. As you shuttle southward, the city's towers become more and more of a presence, until you sweep onto the Gardiner and are treated to one of the best views of the city there is before encountering a wall of condos.
Unwin Avenue and the Port Lands
There's a reason why some many films are shot in the Port Lands. This unfinished, semi-industrial zone brims with moody atmosphere. Here you'll see cargo ships, strange bridges, hanger-like film studios, and, best of all, the old Hearn Generating Station. Looking ever so creepy on dimly lit Unwin Avenue, the Hearn is made to be seen at night. Loop around a few times before heading to the western tip of Polson St. and taking a majestic view of the skyline.
Not many people know about Convair Drive, a road that actually takes you onto Pearson Airport property, and feels every bit that like it's a forbidden zone. Do your best Mulder and Scully as you dip into the little valleys that surround the airport and planes take off and land directly above you. Everything about Convair Drive feels mysterious and illicit, which is completely enthralling. One you hit Renforth, continue around the rest of the airport for more plane spotting (it's particularly good at Airport Rd. and Orlando Dr.) before doing the loop all over again.
Sometimes the best night drives are the simplest. Start at Bloor and head straight down Yonge St. taking in the hodgepodge light show of our city's central artery. It's probably the brightest night route you can take, particularly once you near Yonge & Dundas, where the day-glow of billboards somehow transcends their commercial underpinnings for something more eerie: the feeling like you're in the middle of it all.
Got a favourite late night drive in Toronto? Let us know in the comments.
Photo by Ben Lean
by Derek Flack via blogTO