Two weeks ago, I traveled to the lovely city of Toronto on behalf of Design*Sponge for the Explore Canada Like a Local blogger campaign. I had never been to Toronto before, and I was thrilled for the opportunity to travel to a city I had heard so much about.
In preparation for my trip, I reviewed our Toronto City Guide. I can’t tell you how helpful it was to have a reference before being tossed into an unknown region by myself. But once I got there and got my bearings, I was truly off and running on a whirlwind tour. Here are just some of my favorite highlights from the trip. Enjoy! — Stephanie
Read the full guide after the jump . . .
The first thing I noticed about this lakeside city is how much it reminded me of various cities I have lived in. It has the lakeshore activity (just like my hometown of Chicago); it has an artistic and culturally rich vibe (just like New York); and it has a relaxed, yet stylish flair (just like LA). To me, this city was a melting pot of all that I have known, and its residents would agree. As one of the (if not THE) most diverse regions in Canada, Toronto boasts a “little” of everything: a little Italy, a little Portugal, a little Greece, a little Poland, a little Jamaica . . . and so on. The city is also growing at a rapid rate, with a new condo complex going up on just about every city block.
The last week in June was the perfect time to visit Toronto because it just happened to be Toronto’s Jazz Fest, Pride Week and the week leading up to Canada Day. The city abounded with pride (of all sorts), and I was thrilled to see it happening. Here is a quick recap of all that I saw and did on my brief journey. Thanks again for all of your wonderful tips and suggestions. They really came in handy!
Gladstone Hotel — 1214 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON
One of the oldest standing hotels in Toronto, the Gladstone Hotel is chock full of charm and character as well as incredibly curated art displays. I never thought so much art could fit into one hotel! Each room is designed by a local artist/artisan during the annual Come Up To My Room event. My room (“The Elemental”) could not have been more perfectly suited to my style. They know me so well!
The Drake Hotel — 1150 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON
The moment I saw the Vegas-style neon signage outside the Drake Hotel, I knew I was going to enjoy my stay there. Another historical hotel in the city, the Drake Hotel recently underwent some extensive renovations and also filled its rooms and public spaces with incredible artworks. I absolutely loved my vintage train-car style room (and the robes were to die for). Everything, down to the organic soaps and lotions they provide, was incredible. WARNING: Be prepared for a party at all hours. The downstairs library bar really knows how to draw a crowd.
The County General — 936 Queen St. W, Toronto, ON
I’ve had fried chicken before. I’ve had a burger before. But when I saw The County General’s fried chicken burger, I was beside myself. This isn’t your typical Crisco fried chicken either; it was beyond tender and enjoyably crisp. I totally salute the General.
Mildred’s Temple Kitchen — Unit 104, 85 Hanna Avenue, Toronto, ON
Not only am I a fan of Mildred Pierce (the mini-series), but Mildred’s Temple Kitchen (inspired by the character) tops my list, too. I was a bit skeptical that the oxtail gnocchi would not compare to my dear grandmother’s homemade version, but it was utterly mind blowing. (Please don’t let my nonna know!)
UNION — 72 Ossington Avenue, Toronto, ON
As I first stepped into the long and narrow restaurant, I was aware of the rustic mural that was so perfectly etched on the wall. The farmhouse/jungle vibe of Union is a nice complement to the incredibly hearty food. The elk sliders are definitely the way to go, and DO NOT forget to order the Sticky Ginger Cake. As the waitress put it, “I think about this cake even when I am not at work.” ‘Nough said.
Hopgood’s Foodliner — 325 Roncesvalles Avenue, Toronto, ON
The staff here know what they are doing, and they do it with such style . . . oh, and the food was killer! The scallops with truffle oil literally melted in my mouth (it’s apparently a fave of Ontario-native Ryan Gosling’s, too!). And the finishing touches of the Kentucky Cookie Cocktail and Crunchy Toffee Bar were exactly what I needed to end a perfect Toronto day. Plus, the part of town that is home to this charming restaurant definitely deserves a visit!
Ciao Wine Bar — 133 Yorkville Ave., Toronto, ON
Any Italian restaurant with sunflowers in the entry wins a vote of confidence from me. The polenta fries shocked me at first, but after one bite, I realized that this is truly the way polenta should be eaten: fried and drizzled with gorgonzola dip. Incredible!
Pink Tartan — 77 Yorkville, Toronto, ON
I’ll be honest — I had never heard of this fashion line until arriving in Toronto. But now that I have been introduced, I will never be the same. Not only is designer Kimberley Newport-Mimran’s aesthetic on-point with my own personal style, but she also curates a selection of AWESOME products in her gorgeous flagship store (I found my new biz cards there!). I love a good one-stop shop!
I was lucky enough to receive a guided tour of the West Queen West area by Betty Ann Jordan of artinsite.net, and boy, does she know Toronto. Every gallery, store and restaurant greeted her with open arms and smiling faces, and it made me feel like I was in the best hands for this artistic tour of Queen Street’s eclectic west end. From galleries to tattoo parlors, this street offers something for every artist/artisan at heart.
Distillery District — 9 Trinity Street, Toronto, ON
History + beer + a Segway = a nerdy good time! I had never been on a Segway before this tour of the Distillery District, and I don’t think I ever want to get off. Although nerdy in style (you will get the occasional chuckle), touring the historic distillery grounds on a Segway was one of the best ways to really take in the vastness of it all. Very fun and a good work out at that (balance is key).
Casa Loma — 1 Austin Terrace, Toronto, ON
I’ve been on my fair share of castle tours. You always see the dressing quarters, the sitting rooms and the grand ballrooms, but Casa Loma came with a bit of a modern twist: Hollywood movie making. Countless American films have been shot on Casa Loma’s gorgeous grounds, making it a bit more fun to pinpoint the specific scenes shot in each location. During my time there, I was also lucky enough to enjoy the inaugural summer music showcase out on the terrace — such a beautiful evening affair.
I decided to rent a bike for the afternoon and just cruise around like the locals (I swear there are more bikes than cars in this city). I rented a bike from Set Me Free on Roncesvalles and headed straight to High Park to roam around. From there, I scooted over to the waterfront and followed the path throughout the gorgeous surroundings until my legs needed a rest. It was an easy-to-navigate area with so much scenery to enjoy, not to mention a perfect view of the Toronto skyline.
Something about this part of Toronto just clicked with me. My awesome tour guide for the day, John Lee, owner of Chippy’s Fish & Chips, toured me around the very eclectic area, educating me on some of the interesting history of the neighborhood. From the outdoor vendors to the abundance of street art, I loved walking through the vibrant streets of Chinatown and Kensington Market. This location really offers a lot in one stop.
My trip to Toronto was absolutely incredible, and I recommend a visit to anyone who loves food, culture, art and gorgeous scenery!