Toronto {mini} Guide

by Stephanie

http://www.designsponge.com/2010/08/toronto-guide-update.html Photos by Stephanie Todaro

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!


the gladstone hotel 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 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 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.

mildreds temple kitchen 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 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.

hopgoods foodliner 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 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 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!

queen street west West Queen West

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 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 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.

the lakefront The Lakefront

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.

kensington market Kensington Market

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!

I would personally like to thank the Canadian Tourism Commission and Tourism Toronto for helping to arrange such an incredible trip.

Suggested For You


  • So glad you enjoyed it. I’ve lived here long term and it’s an amazing place. The only flaw is it’s always under construction.

  • I’m sad it seems you didn’t go to the east side at all. For all things design related, I would say Leslieville (Queen street east) has the most diverse and eclectic mix of products that would be aesthetically in line with what I see on Design*Sponge all the time.

  • I’m so glad you visited my hometown and so glad you loved it like I do! It looks like you hit all the great places too–how great is Mildred’s Temple Kitchen?!

  • I’ve lived just outside of Toronto my whole life, and although it feels like my city, I also occasionally feel like and outsider because of the vastness of it – there’s no way to experience it all without truly living there in the heart of it.
    You described Toronto the way true Torontonians do, and I’m so glad to see that you did the city justice and experienced it the way it deserves to be experienced.

    Did you take a streetcar??

  • You pointed out so many of my favourite haunts in my neighbourhood, and a few elsewhere I’m going to have to check out! Sometimes I get really fed up with Toronto, and all it takes is a visit to one or more of these places to restore my faith. (Also, woop woop west side!)

  • I visited Toronto last fall for a green building conference and thoroughly reviewed the guide here on Design*Sponge before I went and again when I got there. While I didn’t get to hit everything on the list, it was instrumental to my lovely experience there! Several of my colleagues at the conference were surprised with how familiar I seemed to be with the city and how “brave” I was to explore, but really it’s just because I took your recommendations and then talked to the super friendly shopkeepers, artists, and gallerists! Thanks d*s!

  • I’m from TO and miss my hometown! It looks like you hit a lot of hip spots, but barely scratched the surface of the uniqueness of the city. That gives you a really good reason to go back and explore some more! :)

  • This post makes me a bit nostalgic of my old hood – West Queen West. Great job in showing people who haven’t visited Toronto a sneak peak in what the city has to offer. I LOVE TORONTO! Glad you liked it too…come back soon…

  • Oh, I miss Toronto! I’ve been in LA for a year, and while I love it here (no snow, woohoo!) I still love “my city”. Looking forward to checking out some of these spots the next time I’m back – I hadn’t heard of a few of them.

  • I love my city, but I have to admit there are a few places on your list that I haven’t had the chance to visit yet – I’ll make a concerted effort in the near future based on your rave reviews :)

  • What a city and what a post!

    The city is changing all the time and sometimes it is hard to keep up. I’m lucky to be a native Torontonian, but have been living away for some years now. I’m going home next week for a visit after two years and I cannot wait to re-explore my home turf. I will certainly check out some of the restaurants you mentioned. Sounds like a great combination of food for a great trip!

  • Glad you loved Toronto!! I moved about an hour outside of it two years ago to settle down and have kids – but boy oh boy do my husband and I miss the city. I definitely think we will move back as soon as its the right time! Toronto really is the best


  • Thank you for this post. I lived in Toronto for over 21 years. Now I live in Warsaw, Poland. I love it here, but miss Toronto, too. It was great to see your photos.

  • Glad you had a great time in Toronto — it’s a vibrant and creative city.
    Next visit try to check out the neighbourhoods EAST of the downtown core.
    You’ll be blown away again!

  • Great little sum-up! I’m a Torontonian living in Melbourne (another great city) and you’ve made me even more excited for my visit home in the fall! Great round up!

  • You should come back in winter and have some fun on our outdoor rinks.!
    There is still High Park, the theatre, symphony, ballet, great bars, CNE – goes on and on.

  • So glad yo loved Toronto! Wish Grace hadn’t canceled her book tour event here, please come visit us again!

  • Quick note/correction: Toronto is actually the most diverse city in the world (not just in this region of Canada)…

  • I just moved away from Toronto… my home of 10 years. I moved to a very wonderful place (Prince Edward County), but oh it was bittersweet reading this lovely post!

  • I’m so happy to read such a romantic love letter to a city I live and work and commute in every single day. Kinda makes you remember the brighter points :) I’ll admit it, I love Toronto!.

  • Great article! I am Toronto born & though I live about an hour away now, you certainly captured some of the most wonderful things to do in Toronto! Queen St. West has always been a great area, and although it has changed it is still a great place to spend my off time. Don’t forget all the wonderful conventions & trade shows, I love the One of A Kind show & the Old Clothing Show personally, but there are so many to choose from.

  • Thanks for the great review of my lovely hometown! You defintely got a good feel of what’s hip, though I do feel a little like you missed out on all of the amazing ethnic neighborhoods we have, which is where a lot of our diversity comes from. Next time you visit, please be sure to check out Chinatown, Little India, Little Italy, Koreatown, Little Portugal, to name a few!!

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