This was the case when Lara & I ventured north for a long weekend. The purpose was for a dear friend’s wedding, but the time in between was left to the wind. We decided to have a “Toronto by Suggestion” trip – we did a Facebook poll of our friends for suggestions, asked our hostel receptionists for suggestions, walked up to random people on the street for suggestions and from there, our trip was mapped and unfolded with each step we took. This allowed for flexibility & discovery. It’s like the scarecrow in Wizard of Oz… “Pardon me… that way is a very nice way. It’s pleasant down that way too!”
Random is fun and freeing. If we didn’t take the random approach, we wouldn’t have contributed to Canada’s largest gum art installation or enjoyed free pizza & gelato. We wouldn’t have snagged secrets from locals that may not have been in the guidebooks.
Lara & I stayed at Planet Traveler hostel. While this wasn’t necessarily a suggestion by anyone, I suggest it for any future budget-minded travelers.
Chinatown – Some of the sights, smells and sounds transported me back to Beijing when I wandered those streets down Spadina. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, but was served a heap of vegetables and lo mein mounded on a plate for $4. The struggle to finish the meal was very real, but starving after hours in a car justified the gluttonous shoveling of food in my mouth. Hey – it was still vegetables. It could’ve been worse. Like poutine. Oh wait… which leads me to…
Smoke’s Poutine – Here’s another time where I gluttonously shoveled food into my mouth, but instead of vegetables it was fries smothered in gravy and cheese curds. A dieter’s downfall. My first exposure to this place from a post from blogger MeganoTravels. Her post was in my head during the trip, so when we stumbled into a Poutinerie one night and I realized it was Smoke’s, I did a little happy dance. We made it at the perfect time too, only minutes after we ordered, the line was out the door. My thoughts on poutine? GREAT! Although the taste was different than I expected, I spent the remainder of the trip wondering how I could eat more poutine without being too gluttonous. My next mission is to find a place in Detroit with excellent poutine.
Cafe Pamenar – What a tranquil place to start the morning in Kensington Market. An outdoor patio garden, fresh brewed coffee/cappuccino, incredible buttery, flaky chocolate croissants. Lara noted to the barista how impressed she was with the chalk-drawn menu boards. For those of you who know your Mean Girls, Rajiv Surendra lives in Kensington Market and yes, he created these signs. Now that’s something not in the guidebooks. Plus this place is right next door to a bike shop. So after you consume all those breakfast calories you can just ride it off….
Soma Chocolatemakers – ...until you ride your bike to a chocolate place in the Distillery District (yes, this was a true order of events). Even though Paris still holds the cake (or rather, cocoa?) for best HOT chocolate I’ve ever consumed, Toronto now reigns supreme for best chocolate truffle I’ve ever tasted. 8-year aged balsamic vinegar dark chocolate truffle. WOW. I regret not purchasing a box to savor during the road trip home.
Mill Street Brewery – Free beer tasting. If you’re in the Distillery District, you might as well try some!
Biking in Toronto – It’s scary. It’s also very fun. Yes, there are bike lanes but for the inexperienced biker who did not grow up in a bike-friendly metropolis, gliding between a tram and traffic is frightening. Exploring a city that accommodates bikers is very different from life in the Motor City back home. It felt completely invigorating to conveniently trek along by bike. I’m a true believer that exploring a city on two wheels is the ideal way to cover a fair amount of ground within time constraints and on a budget. Toronto is very bike-conscious.
Graffiti Alley – I’d tell you where it’s located, but I’d rather you mosey around until you find it yourself. Or I’d rather you ask a local. The murals stretched along the buildings were the creation of artist Uber 5000. It’s one of those places that you can stare at for hours and still see something new.
St. Lawrence Market – Dating from the 1800s, St. Lawrence Market is home to passionate vendors peddling fresh produce, meats, wine, baked goods and other unique Toronto food & non-food items. Among the best in the world, this market possesses the colors, chatters, smells, and tastes to be discovered whilst wandering within the market walls. We indulged in high-end cheese samples and tasted locally made ice-wine. Sweet nectar of the frozen grapes! This wine is like drinking liquid sugar gold. Because only one drop of juice is squeezed per grape, a small bottle of ice wine for purchase will definitely lighten your wallet.
Distillery District – The Distillery District survived over 150 years of making whiskey & rum, even adapting to manufacturing factories during wartime and shutting down during prohibition. However, in 1990, the distillery ceased its primary business intention and has since become a destination for arts, shopping and entertainment. The original brick-paved roads and sturdy buildings are a reminder of this corner’s past among modern art galleries, shops, and restaurants.
Sugar Beach – The name makes me want to eat the sand. I don’t recommend eating the sand. Don’t expect palm trees or waves lapping up the sandy shore – this is a tiny sliver of man-made beach in an urban setting. But taking my shoes off, kicking the sand between my feet, closing my eyes and elevating my chin toward the warm sun was a brilliant escape from the buzzing city.
Kensington Market – I wish I could clone Kensington Market and drop it in Midtown Detroit. For my friends who have experienced the vendors and atmosphere of Detroit’s annual Dally in the Alley, Kensington Market is like Dally’s permanent cousin. It’s a thrifter’s paradise with rich vintage shops and charming cafes and eateries. Unique and vibrant, even the homes and businesses use their facades as an artist’s canvas. It’s an eclectic feast for the eyes, this neighborhood.
A quick weekend isn’t enough time for everything, therefore I hope a trip back to Toronto will be in my future for another weekend. I still need to climb the CN Tower (touristy, I know) and bike around Toronto Island (I hear there’s a nude beach?!). I also need to make sure I’m around for a summer Sunday to join in on a Cherry Beach dance party that was recommended by a local. And visit the museums and opera house. And eat more food. And poutine.
Have you ever been to Toronto? What would you recommend putting on a weekend itinerary?