I was born and raised in Toronto and about two years ago left my home in the Great White North. Now, living in LA, there are a lot of things I miss about home. The food, the neighborhoods, but most importantly, the people. So, when I saw my friend in Winnipeg post on Instagram that she’ll be visiting Toronto in October, I threw out some suggestions. Not satisfied with my half-hearted Instagram responses, she asked for a whole guide.
Say no more.
Having lived in North York, Yonge and Eglinton, Scarborough, Leaside, and Bloor West, I can confidently say I have a unique perspective of Toronto. Sure, you can turn to the Expedia and Trip Advisor blogs (wait, no, don’t turn there!), but those may be more dedicated to the tourist-y side of things. I’m going to share what you must do in Toronto to really feel what the city is like and why it’s regularly in “top best cities in the world” lists. Let’s go!
Where to Visit
There’s no shortage of areas to visit if you’re in Toronto. If your time is short, I recommend the following areas. Just remember, Toronto’s diverse multiculturalism can be felt from Mississauga all the way to Ajax, but below are the places I think you should check out to get a good mix of the city in and around Downtown, Toronto.
Dundas Square has been coming up in the last few years and is slowly replacing the cliché mental images people have for Toronto. It also looks like a future cyberpunk city at night because of all the giant billboards. Grab a seat on the Jack Astor’s patio to overlook the whole square or go to Imperial Pub to enjoy cheap beers and play board games in their upstairs seating area. Heads up, a lot of students from Toronto’s Downtown universities frequent this place – cheap drinks will do that.
Like Dundas Square, Nathan Philip’s Square is becoming a new prime spot for mental images of Toronto because of its giant Toronto sign, which looks awesome at night. It sometimes changes colors depending on the occasion. If you’re visiting in the winter, you can even skate here. Also, “A Handmaid’s Tale” was shot here.
Queen Street West: Start at Osgoode Station
Queen Street West is my favorite area in Toronto. It’s great for shopping, eating, and sights. Much is located here and you can see great views of the CN Tower in between the crack of buildings and down streets. Honestly, when I think of Toronto Queen Street West comes to mind. Oh, and before YouTube, we had this.
Fort York: 250 Fort York Blvd
Fort York is great for walking and is a good spot to explore if you’re going to be in that area for something specific – not as good to just chill around there, unlike Queen Street West. Fort York is more open space than Downtown, Toronto, so it’s less annoying. Nearby is stackt market, which is a shipping container shopping mall.
Graffiti Alley: Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2W1
Do you want an Insta spot? This is it. Walls on walls of graffiti. The graffiti also changes all the time, so, something you see here when you visit will be different than when someone else visits.
Kensington Market: Start at 273 Augusta Avenue
Vintage shopping, coffee, snacks, and charm! I said Queen Street West is Toronto to me, but Kensington Market is definitely second in mind. In addition to the charming shops, you’ll see lots of awesome and eccentric people here. I recommend going to Kensington Market for breakfast as the crowds can get a bit annoying after lunch.
Waterfront: 20 Bay St
For a subtler, albeit more tourist-y area of Toronto, I recommend Waterfront/Harbourfront. Walk up and down the pier and grab a Beavertail. Or get seated at some awesome restaurants and bars. Check out The Slip, PIE BAR, Amsterdam Brewhouse, or Boxcar Social.
Bloor West/High Park: Start at Runnymede Station
My old area! Before I moved to LA, I called this cute little neighborhood home. It’s West of Downtown, Toronto, and it’s really chill. Cute shops and cute restaurants. Be sure to go to High Park and stroll around, and look for the giant maple leaf. Then, if you’re craving awesome bread, stop by Cobbs.
Where to Drink
My heart breaks when I was looking up some of my favorite places because it turns out a lot of them closed due to the pandemic. So, please pour one for all those bars that closed during the pandemic if you’re visiting any of the following bars/drinking spots I recommend below.
Gladstone Hotel: 1214 Queen St W
Go here for lunch, brunch, or dranks. This is a really dope hotel too – maybe stay for a night of decadence.
416 Snack Bar: 181 Bathurst St
416 is the OG area code and the one Torontonians mostly associate with representing Toronto. Go there for that point alone.
Bar Isabel: 797 College St
Bar Isabel is an institution, winning loads of awards. If you can, make reservations now!
Death & Taxes: 1154 Queen St W
Death & Taxes is a really cute, intimate spot. You can’t go wrong if you’re bar hopping in this area.
Queen Street Warehouse: 232 Queen St W
Cheap-ass drinks! People tend to go here to get lit before they spend time at other places. So, maybe pre-drink here before starting the night.
The Porch: 250 Adelaide St W
Dope view of the CN Tower from here. It can get incredibly packed though.
Where to Eat
Toronto’s food scene is quite good in my opinion. Not only is the food awesome, so too is the vibe of the restaurants I’m going to suggest below.
Uncle Betty’s: 2590 Yonge St
This is more North of Downtown, Toronto, at Eglinton Station East (not West!). This spot has been featured on TV food shows. Their pulled pork and macaroni sandwich is insane.
Burger’s Priest: 212 Adelaide St W
When people ask me where my favorite burger place is, I always think of Burger’s Priest.
The Chase: 10 Temperance St Fl 5
This place is a little boujee, but they’re really well-known for their seafood.
Momofuku: 190 University Ave
Please go here for their pork buns. If you thought that pork buns couldn’t get fancy, you’d be wrong my friend. Jokes aside, the vibe here is strong and the food is bomb.
Terroni: 57 Adelaide St E
Craving classy Italian food? This is your spot. One of the Terroni locations used to be a jail! You can tell because the basement still has jail cells.
Mildred’s Temple Kitchen: 85 Hanna Ave #104
Blueberry. Pancakes. Mildred’s is a Toronto institution for brunch. The lineups can be hours long sometimes. So, maybe make a whole morning of it in Liberty Village. Liberty Village has cool shops and other coffee places to chill at.
Lake Inez: 1471 Gerrard St E
Want your Asian cuisine to get fancy? Check out Lake Inez’s take on Spam.
The Broadview Hotel: 106 Broadview Ave
This is one of my personal secrets, but from the Broadview Hotel is where you can get one of the prettiest views of the city. Obviously, go at night as it’ll look great. Other than the view, the food, service, and building aesthetic are pretty marvelous.
Canoe: 66 Wellington St W 54th Floor
This spot is all sorts of boujee, so get dressed nicely, it’s that kind of place. Go here for sweet views of the city and also if you like paying $100 for a meal that is more visual design than actual deliciousness. And, I guess it’s worth mentioning Canoe’s owner is kind of a big deal.
PAI: 18 Duncan St
PAI hits different. Though the wait times here are insane, it’s well worth it. Pay close attention to the polaroid pictures on the wall of the owners. They moved from Thailand to start a business in Canada and it’s super cute to see their journey. Makes eating there feel really good.
Where to See Toronto’s Best Views
Toronto’s skyline is still one of, if not the best, in the world. It’s so good that even Superman’s Metropolis was inspired by it. To get the best, most unique views, keep reading.
Polson Pier Skyline View: 11 Polson St
One of the better Toronto views is from here, especially at sunset. There’s not really much to do in this area apart from taking in the view, so, make it a quick stop.
The One Eighty: 55 Bloor St W 51st Floor
They’re currently closed but may reopen by the time you visit. This spot is nice since you get a 180 (that’s the name of the restaurant!) degree view of Toronto.
360: 290 Bremner Blvd
This is on the more tourist-y side, but this is the restaurant inside the CN Tower. It rotates very slowly, so, it’s kind of cool to see the city like this, but you don’t actually get to the see the CN Tower because you’re in it (duh). For the perfect view of the CN Tower from a restaurant, keep reading…
KOST: 80 Blue Jays Way 44th Floor
Interestingly, this place is described as a “California” restaurant. Anyways, the best view of the CN Tower from atop is here – for sure. And it’s my favorite view from on top of a building.
What to do in Toronto
I’d be foolish if I didn’t talk about some of the tourist things that Toronto is known for. Here’s my selection of must-dos.
Can you really understand a city without checking out its museums? Try and check out ROM’s After Dark if you can – and once they open back up again (sad noises). Drinks, live music, and mingling in a museum is neat.
Half House: 54 St. Patrick St
I wouldn’t really go out of my way to see this, but it’s cool if you’re in the area. This person’s house was burning, well, half of it did. They were able to salvage the other half, so, now it’s half of a house!
Ripley’s Aquarium: 288 Bremner Blvd
This aquarium has one of the most vibrant jellyfish installations I’ve ever seen. Glowing neon pink and purple give you the perfect silhouette.
Toronto Reference Library: 789 Yonge St
This is kind of like going back in time as the design is pretty old fashioned. But it’s still cool to see the unique display and level of books.
St. Lawrence Market/Distillery District: 55 Mill St
Really romantic, cute, place to visit. Shopping, eating, and architecture. Take a date here.
Casa Loma: 1 Austin Terrace
Book a tour and also make your way to the top of the castle for a cool view of Toronto. If you’re going in December, this place is a must for Christmas decorations and events. Oh, and Casa Loma is apparently haunted. Say hi to Casper for me!
Centre Island: 9 Queen Quay W
Get here by taking Jack Layton ferry. You could spend a whole morning and afternoon here as the place is huge. I recommend renting a tandem bike and biking around the island. Taking kids? Be sure to spend some time in the amusement park.
CN Tower: 290 Bremner Blvd
I mean, obvi. Visit the staple of Toronto and what used to be the world’s tallest building. Feeling brave? Do the EdgeWalk! You can make a whole day of it in this area – go to Ripley’s, then Steam Whistle Brewery, then the CN Tower.
Steam Whistle Brewery: 255 Bremner Blvd
You can actually book a tour to go through here, which I hear is really cool. It’s also near a lot of other things, so, your day can definitely be eaten up around this area. Not your cuppa, check out The Rec Room, an adult Chuck E. Cheese.
Where to Shop
I know you’re itching to use your credit card. Who isn’t excited about shopping after we’ve been cooped up at home for 18 months?! Here’s where I recommend you spend your moola.
Yorkville: 55 Bloor St W
Yorkville is one of the classier areas in Downtown, Toronto. I recommend checking out Over the Rainbow for some jeans. There’s also loads of cute bars and restaurants in the area. Try out Hemingway’s upstairs patio if you’re there in the summer.
Yorkdale: 3401 Dufferin St
I love and hate Yorkdale. Funny story, I’ve been robbed there twice. Anyways, Yorkdale’s shops are awesome. However, beware of the asshole people as they’re everywhere at Yorkdale (for some reason, Yorkdale attracts them like moths to a flame). If you’re taking the TTC, I suggest stopping at Wilson Station to get a beef patty (they’re heavenly). Or go to Allan’s Pastry Shop on the east side of Toronto and grab a beef patty with a coco bun. Trust me.
P.s. The area around Yorkdale is called “The Jungle,” and is dangerous. Don’t go walking around outside.
Eaton Centre: 220 Yonge St
If I had to choose between Yorkdale and Eaton Centre, I’d choose Eaton Centre. The people aren’t as asshole-y and there are loads more to do afterwards other than shopping.
Pacific Mall: 4300 Steeles Avenue E
If you want to indulge in anything and everything Asian, Pacific Mall is the place. It’s also referred to as “Specific Mall” since people go there for something specific. Awesome food, cheap finds, and fake designer goods! This one requires a drive as it’s way outside of Downtown, Toronto. However, if you’re taking the TTC, it’s easy! Go to Finch Station and take the 53 East bus. Not the West, as that goes towards York University, and that’s in the opposite direction. Not sure? Just ask the TTC driver before boarding.