Once upon a time I read a really bad travel article on things to do in Toronto. It had exactly zero imagination. Tim Hortons (a coffee shop chain comparable to Dunkin’ Donuts) is not a destination restaurant, sorry. That is like telling a foreigner visiting New York City (or any other large US city) for the first time that they have to check out Denny’s. I love Denny’s, but Denny’s does not represent the spirit, aura or allure of NYC, just like Tim Horton’s does not represent the spirit, aura or allure of Toronto. It’s a bit of a disgrace really, Toronto has so much more to offer.
Upon entering my fourth and final year at the University of Toronto, and consequently my fourth and final year of living in Toronto, I knew that in nine months, my family would be coming out for a week to see me graduate and explore the city that I learned to love so dearly.
I spent nine months anticipating this trip, planning our five full days as perfectly as possible. Here is what we did/ where we ate/ where my parents stayed.
Where to Stay:
My parents stayed at the Marriott Residence Inn Toronto Downtown/ Entertainment District. I was a wee bit wary of the location, being that it was the Marriott farthest away from the subway line and in an area of Toronto that frankly, I knew little about, but it worked out really well. The hotel was nice, they had a decent breakfast, and the area actually turned out to be very walkable. Steps from the CN Tower and the Skydome (or whatever you want to call it), and a jaunt away from King Street, Queen Street and the AGO, this location was tucked away on a quiet street, while still offering access to the downtown scene.
Honestly, if my parents hadn’t been using Marriott points for the trip and had free rein of where they wanted to stay, I wouldn’t have known what to recommend to them. People who were visiting us tended to just stay with us. The Drake Hotel and the The Gladstone are considered the best boutique hotels in the city, but they are a little bit out of the way. I would say that when looking for a Toronto hotel, make sure you’re close to the subway line so you’ll have easy access to as much as possible.
Where to Eat:
Breakfast was provided at my parents hotel, but there are many good breakfast places in Toronto.
1. Boom (one of my personal favorites): they have three locations across the city and are reliably good.
2. The Lakeview Diner (1132 Dundas St. West): they do more than just breakfast and all of it is delicious.
3. Anties and Uncles (74 Lippincott St.): get there early! There is always a huge line (that just means it’s really good!).
4. Cora’s: It’s a chain, you’ll find them all over, but it’s seriously delicious and super heavy on the fruit.
5. Frans (20 College St.) I went here a lot my first year. Like The Lakeview, they do more than just breakfast.
Lunch and Dinner! Here are some places we ate:
1. The Pear Tree (507 parliment St.) – standard, but delicious, menu and a lovely outdoor patio.
2. Trattoria Mercatto (22o Yonge St. — The Eaton Center) – we went here in the mid afternoon several times for drinks, it was a nice central location.
3. Fresh (326 Bloor Street West / 849 Queen Street West / 147 Spadina Ave) – excellent vegetarian/vegan cuisine.
4. Il Fornello (several locations) – great pizza and pasta
5. Queen’s Pasta Cafe (2263 Bloor St. West) – amazing pasta
6. The Caledonian (856 College Street) – my FAVORITE pub in the city, the food is amazing, the beer list is great, the whiskey list is better and the woman who runs the place is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
7. Pizzeria Libretto (221 Ossington/550 Danforth) – the best pizza in the city, hands down.
8. Dangerous Dan’s Diner (714 Queen St. East) – Nate and I took my brother here for some crazy burgers.
and a couple more I’d recommend that we didn’t have time to get to:
9. Sushi on Bloor (515 Bloor St.) – really good sushi
10. The Victory Cafe (581 Markham St.) – another really good pub
11. College Falafel (450 Ossington Ave) – I’m not a Falafel person, but Nate deems these the best in the city.
12. Dutch Dreams (78 Vaugh Rd.) – ICE CREAM
and I thought I’d throw in a couple of great coffee places for good measure:
1. Le Gourmand Cafe (152 Spadina Ave) – Literally the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever had in my whole life.
2. Ezra’s Pound (238 Dupont St.) – really good coffee, very committed to being a sustainable business
If you happen to visit Toronto post-August 2012, try and stop by my friend Carl’s resturant, Richmond Station at Richmond St. and Yonge St. He won Top Chef Canada so the food should be pretty freakin amazing.
As a note, there are lots of good Asian and Indian Food restaurants in the city, I just happen to have the most tender palate imaginable and don’t go to them. For more Toronto food inspiration, visit blogto.com and use their search bar.
Things to Do:
Nate and I really debated on what we should do when my family visited, here is what we came up with.
Day Three: Niagara Falls Tour (parents)/ Lunch at Dangerous Dans & an afternoon movie (Emma, Nate, Paul)
Day Four: Tour of U of T & graduation
Day Five: St. Lawrence Market & a trip to Kitchener.
Now, several of these things are not universal attractions (ie graduation and a trip to Kitchener to visit Nate’s family — a highlight for everyone), had we not had to do them (as fun as they were), I would have taken my family to the beaches neighborhood, walked along Bloor St., saw Little Italy on College St, went to Kensington Market, took a walk in High Park and maybe visited Casa Loma. The trick to Toronto is that it is a lovely place to just be. It’s not like New York, there aren’t attractions like that (notice that we did not go up the CN Tower nor took a trip to the hockey hall of fame), there is just this wonderful vibe.
The graduating part was a pretty big deal…