City Guide: Toronto
My favorite thing to do when I travel is to walk around. I'll spend hours just wandering and looking at places and going from neighborhood to neighborhood. Toronto is an exceptionally walking friendly city and the top notch street and underground public transportation make walking around even easier. Here are some great places to walk through.
Kensington Market - Kensington Market is a vibrant historical neighborhood with deep cultural roots tucked just west of China Town. It's boarders are Spadina Ave. and College, Bathhurst, and Dundas Streets. This is one of my favorite places to go for gluten free food in the area because there is a great gluten free bakery and many vegetarian friendly restaurants in this are. Also, the market itself is so vibrant when it's up and you can walk around looking at all the produce and different things for sale. The people watching is absolutely excellent here. One of my favorite things to do in this neighborhood is to ask for a seat near a window in a restaurant and watch the people and events happening around me.
Chinatown - Chinatown extends along Dundas Street West and Spadina Ave. just west of the City Center in Toronto. It's actually one of the largest Chinatowns in North America and has an incredible range and variety of things to do and look at. Whether you are looking for Dim Sum, want to listen to some of the incredible street musicians that set up along Spadina Ave., or are looking for an umbrella because the heavens opened up and you forgot your raincoat, Chinatown is a great place to amble along if you are visiting.
Koreatown - Toronto's Koreatown (or K-town, if you are the awesome guy we met on the train that gave us an introduction to Toronto's awesome neighborhoods) isn't that big - you'll find that China town is far more extensive than Koreatown but it is more than worth a walk through. It runs along Bloor St. between Christie and Bathurst. I really liked this neighborhood because there was a great mix of things to do. There were many great Korean restaurants, a lot of Japanese and Korean stores, including my favorite thing ever: stationary stores stocking office supplies from Japan, Korea, and China.
Queen Street West Art and Design District - I am an unabashed textile design enthusiast so this area was like a candy store to me. J.R. and I spent an entire morning here walking from one end to to other walking in and out of fabric and trim shops, boutiques selling Japanese streetwear and individually produced garments from small French design houses, amazing shoes, and custom built furniture from re-claimed or salvaged wood. There was no lack of great coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants, either. If I lived in Toronto I'd probably be here every saturday morning sitting out on a cafe's front terrace drinking coffee and making notes on what fabric to buy next in one of my tiny little purse notebooks. I would never save money, I'd just be hoarding tweed, wooden buttons, and sturdy metal zippers, so it's probably good I don't live in Toronto.
Toronto has some absolutely amazing shopping. I try to stay away from places I can go visit where I live and look for things that I can't find where I am. We didn't do much shopping - we mostly walked places and ate - but I did a lot of looking and idea gathering for clothes and accessories I'd like to work into my clothes this upcoming year.
Sydney's - Queen Street West Art and Design District - I'm going through a menswear phase. I'm not wearing it, per say, but I'm absolutely inspired by it. Sydney's is a menswear shop with an emphasis on minimalism. As an added bonus, they have the sweetest, and a bit shy, shop dog. www.shopsydneys.com
Nomad - Queen Street West Art and Design District - Ahh, Nomad. Right now this is my favorite store in the whole world. It's another Menswear shop but it's so beautifully curated I almost cried in front of the Phillip Lim embroidered jackets. Just kidding. I don't cry in stores. Regardless, Nomad is a Toronto treasure carrying a mix of heritage menswear (think Filson, Carhart) and Streetwear (think supreme) all wrapped up in a beautiful storefront.
Design Republic - Queen Street West Art and Design District - Design Republic sells a broad variety of locally built and customizable furniture out of it's location in Toronto. In addition to the furniture it has a great collection of home accessories and art. My husband and I fell in love with a large dining room table made out of reclaimed hardwood and pipes. Right now we are not in the market for furniture but once we buy a house we might be trekking out to Design Republic for a few items.
Mr. Pen - Koreatown - I love office supplies. I think it's a curse that all teachers have but I justify my office supply expenditures by the fact that I'll actually use what I buy. I write a ton of letters. I carry a pouch of writing pens and highlighters and a pouch of art pens and sketching pencils around in my purse along with a teeny little notebook and I'll often stop to jot down an idea a plan, a goal, or an observation wherever I am. Other times I'll find myself sketching whatever's in front of me. Because of this I have no qualms buying office supplies and Mr. Pen is a great place to do that. They stock a ton of pencil pouches, mugs, pens, stickers, clips, page markers, and highlighters. In the case I ever end up going back to school this is where I'll be doing my back to school shopping! (I couldn't find a website but here's a good blog post.)
Food & Drink:
Every five steps you take in Toronto will get you to another place to eat. There is an enormous variety of food from all sort of genres in Toronto - from upscale foraged to vietnamese comfort food, if you can dream it you can eat it here. When J.R. and I travel we generally walk around until we find a place that looks good and we also have no qualms about asking around. When in doubt we go with the most crowded restaurant, which is a policy and practice that has served us well in many places with a few misses here and there. We also look for gluten free friendly and vegetarian places because of our own dietary restrictions.
Urban Herbivore - Kensington Market - Urban Herbivore is the only place on my list so far that I've visited twice (well, I did go into Mr. Pen twice in one weekend - once to look and one to buy) because I ate here many years ago during a different trip to Toronto. They serve solid vegetarian food - salads, soup, and sandwiches. They also have fresh juices, and the girl behind the counter was super friendly. I try to eat at the bar that runs the length of the windows so I can watch Kensington market as I eat.
The Green Beanery - Bloor and Bathurst - One of the things that I am completely fascinated by is the art of amazing coffee. The church that we attended in Denver had an ever increasing array of amazing coffee accouterments that I was quietly in awe of. Coffee making isn't something I'm particularly good - my husband makes a better cup than I do - but it's something that I would like to be good at. Walking into The Green Beanery, which hails itself as the largest coffee roasting supply shop in Canada, was pure inspiration. The coffee roasting and coffee making supplies they stock are a cross between sculpture and functionality and The Green Beanery is both coffee shop and supply shop so you can grab a cup of house roasted coffee if you feel the need.
The Starving Artist - 584 Lansdowne Ave - We were looking for a decent gluten free brunch and stumbled upon The Starving Artist which is a small cafe that specializes in waffles. They serve waffles alone, things in between or on top of waffles, and things dipped in waffle batter and then cooked. Basically, it's a waffle inspired concept restaurant and they do a good job with their waffles, even the gluten free ones. Be warned: they serve enormous portions. I could eat about half of my plate of amazing Canadian maple syrup and Nutella slathered waffles and there was no point in trying to box it up and take it home since we were leaving for home that afternoon.
Auntie and Uncles - 74 Lippincott St - Here's another great brunch spot! Reccomended by locals we met at a coffee shop, we trekked on over there. Even though it was only about 9:00, this tiny place had a line out the door. Luckily a large party before us left and we got in fairly quickly. This place has a great vibe. Both JR and I commented on the fact that the decor and vibe reminded us of a Colorado Mountain Town eatery and the employees reminded us of Detroit hipsters. It was a great mix of two places we love! The food was excellent, as well, with some of the best potatoes we've had in the Midwest so far!
The Last Few Things
1. You can buy a family transportation pass for $11.00 that gets you, another adult, and up to three children on and off of all of Toronto's public transportation for the day. We found that parking at the end of the line and taking the train into the city was a lot more effective and time saving than trying to drive into the city and park.
2. Toronto feels exceptionally clean, safe, and friendly. We had a lot of really incredible conversations with total strangers and almost every single one of them took the time to help us out with directions and tips about the city no matter where they were off to.
3. There are so many more places to go and things to see that I didn't cover in this city guide. When I go back I will make sure to update this guide. We were only there for two days this visit so when we go back and see more things I'll update and let you know!