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Toronto 2011

THE BEST OF 1
TORONTO
I
grew up in downtown Toronto, and it’s where I still choose

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to live with my family. It’s an ever-evolving version of the
multicultural city I remember from childhood: an inter-
locking collection of neighborhoods that change every

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year with new arrivals. Toronto is friendly in a somewhat

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reserved way, a generally safe place to explore, and it has
plenty to discover, from restaurants to museums, festivals
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to towers, arts to shopping, with loads of green spaces
throughout. Sure, times have changed since I was kid, and
crime has risen along with traffic, but it’s still relatively safe
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for a metropolis with a 5 million-plus population. It also,


happily, ranks as one of the world’s most diverse cities.
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Toronto has a sprawling layout and miles of suburbs, but


if you stay focused on its core, the density of attractions
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and vibrant communities makes it an incredibly approach-


able place to explore. For example, just stepping out my
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front door leads me to great cafes for people watching;


lip-smacking charcuterie; the Art Gallery of Ontario,
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MOCCA, the Cinematheque, and assorted galleries for


inspiration; funky pubs with great live music; and a handful
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of parks.
Exploring Toronto is easy. Hop on a red-rocket streetcar
and ride with the locals. Get your bearings from the top of
the CN Tower or from a rooftop lounge. Take a ferry ride if
the weather is good or opt for a bracing walk along the
waterfront. Look up to see the city’s great architecture.
Look down to navigate the city’s mazelike underground. Be
prepared to shop until you drop. Eat till you’re stuffed.
Dance till dawn. Walk, and then walk some more. The
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Metropolitan Toronto
THE BEST OF TORONTO

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THE BEST OF TORONTO


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1 reward: In just a few days, you can tour the town and leave with the
feeling that you’ve got the hang of the place. A great, and lasting,
The Most Memorable Travel Experiences

souvenir.

THE most MEMORABLE


TRAVEL EXPERIENCES
W Taking in the Thomson Collection at the Art Gallery of Ontario: Locals are
thrilled with local boy Frank Gehry’s renovation of the AGO. His design has bril-
liantly revised (and expanded) the space, but the very best thing about the newly
reopened AGO is the 2,000 works of art (great paintings, miniature sculptures,
model ships) donated by local media magnate Ken Thomson. See p. 119.
W Checking Out Local Theater and Music: Sure, Toronto mounts its fair share of
blockbusters. But the fine, and often more rewarding, offerings from Soulpepper,
Opera Atelier, the Canadian Stage Company, Tafelmusik, and the Lorraine Kimsa
THE BEST OF TORONTO

Theatre for Young People are innovative and generally excellent. And seeing the
Canadian Opera Company onstage at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing
Arts is breathtaking. See “The Performing Arts,” in chapter 10.
W Exploring the Distillery District: Not only is this carefully restored area a remark-
ably intact example of 19th-century industrial architecture, largely thanks to its
recent past as a stage set for movies and other productions, it’s also a hive of activ-
ity. In addition to art galleries, shops, restaurants, and the city’s finest chocolate
emporium, Soma, you can hear live music or visit the farmers’ market. See p. 123.
W Bar Hopping along Ossington Avenue: This once downtrodden strip is so hot
that the city recently passed a bill to prevent more establishments from opening
in what is largely a residential neighborhood. You can dine at the excellent restau-
rants or grab a great pizza, sip a cocktail at an intimate club or a tiny bar, take in
some live music and then stroll the streets that frame the area and get a look at
how the locals live—in Victorian-era homes side-by-side with family-owned
shops. Utterly charming. See chapter 10.
W Visiting the Toronto Islands: Toronto is blessed with a chain of leafy islands just
a brief ferry ride away that are mostly residential and offer a pretty, quiet, car-free
spot for a stroll or a bike ride. The main attraction, Centre Island, is wide open
parkland with an old-fashioned theme park, complete with pony rides and cotton
candy (needless to say, it’s great for kids). From the islands, you’ll have a perfect
view of Toronto’s ever-evolving skyline. Pack a picnic, paddle a canoe, go bare if
you dare at the sandy nudist beach, or take in the amusement park for a vacation
within your vacation.

THE best SPLURGE HOTELS


W Park Hyatt Toronto (4 Avenue Rd.; &  800/233-1234): The Park Hyatt is a
perennial favorite, with top-notch service and one of the best views in the city

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from the rooftop terrace lounge. This is a place to relax and let yourself be pam- 1
pered, especially in the on-site Stillwater spa. See p. 84.

THE BEST OF TORONTO


W The Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St. W.; & 416/531-4635): This groovy hotel
is moderately priced overall, but the double-decker “Rock Star Suite,” located in
the hotel’s Gothic tower, is a unique splurge—and its view makes the downtown
Toronto core look like a faraway metropolis. See p. 77.
W Thompson Toronto (550 Wellington St. W.; & 866/345-9501): The hip, luxury
brand that started in New York City has landed in Toronto. Smartly situated in the
King West district, this super-hot new hotel opened in summer 2010. Sixteen
floors of fine modern design are complemented by floor-to-ceiling windows, a
rooftop pool, private screening room, sushi bar, all-night diner, an outpost of New
York City’s Scarpetta restaurant, and excellent service. See p. 74.

The Most Memorable Dining Experiences


THE best MODERATELY
PRICED HOTELS
W Delta Chelsea (33 Gerrard St. W.; & 800/243-5732): This is a longtime favorite
with budget-minded families. Perks include a playroom with live bunnies and fish,
a video arcade, and a waterslide. It also offers children’s programs, a day-care center,
and kid-friendly restaurants. Many rooms have fridges or kitchenettes. See p. 77.
W Hotel Victoria (56 Yonge St.; & 800/363-8228): This property offers the best
value in town. Double rooms start at C$120 per night and, for this, you get excel-
lent service; a smallish but well-appointed room; and proximity to the Eaton
Centre, St. Lawrence market, top theaters, and the Financial District. See p. 79.
W Fairmont Royal York (100 Front St.; &  800/441-1414): This historic grande
dame is at the higher end of the moderate price range, but it’s also a place where
great deals are often available (it’s possible to score a room for as low as C$119,
if you keep an eye on the special deals on its website). It’s a piece of historic
Toronto, plus it has some fine dining, too. See p. 76.

THE most MEMORABLE


DINING EXPERIENCES
W The Black Hoof & Hoof Café (928 & 923 Dundas St. W.; & 416/551-8854 or
416/762-7511): Nose-to-tail eating is taken to extremes—and to truly tasty
heights—at this brilliant resto-bar and its sister brunch spot right across the
street. Co-owner/chef Grant van Gameren’s hand-crafted charcuterie is the main
draw (the tongue sandwich draws raves), but the pastas and mains are equally
inspired. At the Café, try the delicious bone-marrow donuts and suckling-pig eggs
benedict for brunch. See p. 99.
W Canoe (TD Tower, 66 Wellington St. W.; &  416/364-0054): The panorama
from the 54th floor of this iconic bank tower in the heart of the Financial District
is stunning, but as the many regulars can attest, the food is so good you might
forget all about the view. It’s Canadian cuisine with rarities such as Nunavut
caribou and Québec foie gras, all handled with delicacy and brilliant technique.

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1 The menus, wine list, and service are as dazzling as the locale. The daytime vibe
is corporate; evening is more romantic. See p. 93.
The Best Things to Do for Free (or Almost)

W Gilead Bistro (4 Gilead Place; & 647/288-0680): Local top chef Jamie Kennedy
is behind the stove at this small, beautiful boîte. In other words, the food is sublime.
Come for a light breakfast, a simple yet lovely lunch, or a real treat: a memorable
dinner where local, seasonal ingredients are the stars. Great value, too. Finding your
way can be tricky: It’s situated in a tiny alley in Corktown. See p. 105.
W The Local Kitchen (1710 Queen St. W.; & 416/534-6700): Parkdale’s latest hot
spot is part authentic Italian trattoria, part contemporary Toronto. The crowded,
convivial room is idiosyncratic, the service pro yet friendly, and the food absolutely
fantastic. Chef Fabio Bondi arrives pre-dawn each morning to make stunning
fresh pasta such as smoked gnocchi with creamy taleggio. The wine list is simple
yet superb. See p. 100.
W Scaramouche (1 Benvenuto Place; & 416/961-8011): Chef Keith Froggett and
maitre d’ Carl Corte have been quietly perfecting one of the city’s finest restaurants
for over 25 years. The formal dining room, which is best for special occasions, is
complemented by the adjoining casual pasta bar and grill. Located in a tony apart-
ment building in midtown, there are beautiful views over the city. See p. 115.
THE BEST OF TORONTO

THE best THINGS TO DO FOR


FREE (OR ALMOST)
W Seeing Great Museums When They’re Discounted—or Free: Admissions to the
Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario have jumped since their
massive renovations. However, you can pay less—or nothing—if you know when
to go. See “Saving on Admission Costs,” on p. 128.
W Listening to a Concert at the Toronto Music Garden: Cellist Yo-Yo Ma co-
designed this serene space that’s intended to evoke Bach’s First Suite for Unac-
companied Cello. It’s easy on the eyes, but the best time to come here is for a
summertime concert. Pure bliss. See p. 143.
W Wandering through Riverdale Farm: In case you need more proof that Toronto
is a very green city, it has a working farm in its midst. Cows, sheep, pigs, goats,
and other critters call it home. See p. 147.
W Strolling the Lakeside Boardwalk: You can choose from a number of starting
points, but don’t miss the quirky parks, open-air concert venues, and wintertime
skating rink near Habourfront. Or venture east to the long boardwalk in the neigh-
borhood called the Beach, where you’ll share the lake views with locals and their
many dogs and youngsters. See p. 61.
W Visiting Harbourfront Centre and the Power Plant Gallery: The collection of
studios, stages, open-air exhibits (especially in summer), and the Power Plant
Gallery itself together offer an always-interesting, ever-changing attraction. You
might call it a living museum. Watch for the many free special events. See p. 123.

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1
THE best MUSEUMS

THE BEST OF TORONTO


W Royal Ontario Museum (100 Queen’s Park; &  416/586-8000): Good for the
whole family, especially with the massive dinosaur collection and creepy bat cave,
the impressive exhibits also include Chinese temple art, Roman statues, and
Middle Eastern mosaics. See p. 127.
W Ontario Science Centre (770 Don Mills Rd.; & 416/696-3127): You don’t have
to be a tyke to appreciate the impressive interactive displays here that take in the
realm of science disciplines, from biology to technology, and make them fun and
interactive. See p. 126.
W University of Toronto Art Centre (15 King’s College Circle; (&  416/978-
1838): This intimate gallery is one of the city’s secret treasures. Visit it for the

The Best Places to Hang with the Locals


special exhibits or for the stunning permanent collection of Byzantine art. See
p. 132.
W Casa Loma (1 Austin Terrace; & 416/923-1171): Toronto has its own castle,
and it’s a smashing example of architecture. Perhaps the man who built it was a
little obsessive, but how can you not admire the fact that it has both a Scottish
and a Norman tower? See p. 136.

THE best PLACES TO HANG


WITH THE LOCALS
W The Drake Hotel (1150 Queen St. W.; & 416/531-5042): Set in the middle of
the Art & Design District, this hotel fosters a sense of community by hosting
music events, literary readings, and other festivities. If you hate feeling like a tour-
ist, this place is for you. See p. 74.
W The Rogers Centre or the Air Canada Centre: The Rogers Centre is home base
for the Toronto Blue Jays baseball team. The Air Canada Centre is where the
Maple Leafs (hockey) and the Raptors (basketball) play. Torontonians come out
to support them in droves. See p. 140.
W Comedy Clubs: Maybe it’s something in the water: Toronto has produced more
than its share of top-notch comedians, including the shagadelic Mike Myers, Jim
Carrey, Dan Aykroyd, and the late John Candy. Checking out local talent or inter-
national stand-up stars at one of the many comedy clubs is a favorite pastime for
Torontonians. See p. 215.
W Treasure Hunting for Vintage Clothing in Kensington Market: How can one
small area have a dozen vintage-clothing vendors? And how do they keep prices
low and the quality high? Haphazard Kensington Market is a big draw for local
bargain hunters. See “Walking Tour 1: Chinatown & Kensington Market,” in
chapter 8, and “Hunting for Vintage,” in chapter 9.

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