Courtney and I have been to Montreal and Vancouver, so we had made up our mind that it was time to hit up Toronto. Basically, so we could complete the trio of the largest cities in Canada. We’ve always heard great things about Toronto, specifically that it was the most urban of the major cities in Canada. I will say that it has a lot in common with New York and Chicago, but it also has a very distinct personality, a personality that distinguishes itself from those other major North American cities. We got an early flight out of Portland, but even then we didn’t land until about 3:30 local time in Toronto. We actually had a pretty easy time getting through customs. Customs at Pearson International was completely automated by the use of kiosks. We were off the plane about 3:40 and in a taxi around 4:15 headed to our AirBnb. We only had four full days in Toronto, but it was more than enough time to see everything that we wanted to see. I think the one thing we were most impressed with was the food. We didn’t have a single bad thing to eat on this trip. When we travel, we usually have great food, but there’s always a meal or two that is just kind of “meh”. Not good or bad, just kind of okay. That wasn’t the case in Toronto. We seemed to enjoy everything we ate, literally everything. We felt pretty lucky with the weather on this trip. The forecast before we left was definitely concerning. It called for rain most of the trip, which was disappointing considering that the days we were scheduled to be there were sandwiched by perfectly sunny weather. That bad weather never materialized, luckily. It was sunny for most of the trip, with the exception of the first and third day. The days that were not sunny, were just overcast. I’ll highlight some of the restaurants and bars we stopped at and the places we visited (with photos of course) after the jump!
We settled into our AirBnb around 5:00 o’clock. It was a cozy and trendy loft in the heart of Queen West. Queen West is one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Toronto. It has everything from high-end shopping to local dive bars and restaurants. Street art is on every corner, literally. It’s home to Graffiti Alley, a few blocks of back alleys that have some of the most amazing mural art I’ve seen. We were close to a streetcar stop, which made it fairly easy to get around. As soon as we got settled in we headed out to grab some dinner. We were within walking distance of so many great restaurants and bars. It was hard to choose exactly where to eat and drink on this trip, especially since so many of them were highly recommended. We decided to try out Grand Electric, a little taqueria just a short minutes walk from our loft. We ordered margaritas and hot wings for starters. I tried three different tacos; pollo asado; beef cheek; and fried pork belly. They were all delicious, but if I had to pick one as my favorite, it would probably be the beef cheek. Also, kudos to Grand Electric for having some actual kick to their food. A lot of times, the “spicy” items on a menu aren’t spicy at all. After dinner we did our ritual of hitting up a local supermarket to stock up on some goodies for our apartment. The next morning was our first full day. Our first stop was Kensington Market. Kensington Market is full of local restaurants and shops. We stopped for a quick bite at Egg Bae, which specializes in breakfast sandwiches. They have a limited menu, which is always a good thing in my opinion. Sometimes too many options can be a bad thing. They also have gluten-free bread, which made it a must stop for us. We explored the neighborhood a little more and found an amazing gluten-free/vegan bakery, Bunner’s Bakeshop. There’s always that one place that we have to make multiple stops at on our trips, and this place was that. Hands down, my favorite pastry was the caramel-apple donuts. I couldn’t believe they were gluten-free and vegan. We actually went back on Monday to get more, but found out that donuts were only available on Saturdays. Oh well, that didn’t stop us from trying their other pastries.
We continued to explore Kensington Market and just browsed the shops and restaurants. After that we made our way to Queen’s Park near the University of Toronto for a walk through the campus grounds. It was overcast that first day, which made the walk through the campus beautiful with the fall colors of the trees. The university is also located near the Royal Ontario Museum, which was a building I definitely wanted to check out. A lot of the architecture in Toronto takes the base structure of an old building and adds on these modern wings/extensions, making for an interesting contrast. The ROM is the perfect example of this. After exploring some more of the Discovery District, we went back to the loft to recharge before dinner. We finished the night by enjoying dinner at Convenience. Convenience had the most interesting theme of any place we ate it. It is heavily influenced by the arcades of the 80s and 90s, which made for a very colorful setting. This was another dining highlight for me. I highly recommend their ramen burger. The second day was spent walking…a lot. We started with brunch at Cafe Neon, a cozy little spot along Queen West not too far from our loft. After brunch we continued walking along Queen West. We made our way to Graffiti Alley, an amazing spot with some amazing mural work. There’s a lot of great photo opportunities here, so if you’re visiting Toronto for the first time, definitely make this a stop. After making our way down queen west, we headed towards St. Lawrence Market to check out some of the vendors they had set up there. After spending some time at St. Lawrence, we made the short walk over to the Gooderham Building, another architecture stop that was on my list of must sees. We finished up our day with drinks and dinner in the Distillery District. We enjoyed dinner at a wonderful French bistro, Cluny. We were so full that we couldn’t order dessert, but we regret not ordering something called the chocolate bomb. It had pop rocks, so yeah, biggest regret of the trip for sure. We finished the night by stopping by Toronto City Hall to get the iconic shot of the “Toronto” sign lit up at night. It was kind of cold (okay, it was freezing), but it was totally worth it.
Our third full day was spent looking for skyline views. Again, we went to Kensington Market for brunch. This time we tried Krepesz, an eclectic crepe restaurant. The reason for stopping off in Kensington Market for brunch again was to get a skyline view of the city from a parking garage. I did some research on where to get some skyline shots and I was able to find a recommendation for a parking garage in Kensington Market that offered some . It didn’t specify which garage, but it wasn’t too hard to find since there is only like two of them in the neighborhood. After we got our shots of the skyline, we walked along College St. just to explore the neighborhood. Once we walked off our brunch, we took an Uber all the way to Polson Pier for the second of our skyline shots. This is the iconic shot you typically see of the Toronto skyline. For reference, it’s the first shot posted in this blog. I’m so happy that it was overcast when we went, it provided a beautiful backdrop for the skyline. We spent a few minutes out there just to appreciate the view. It was really quiet and there wasn’t anyone around, which was a little surprising, but it was also nice to be in a spot not crowded with tourists. Once we finished there we headed to the Entertainment District (near Union Station) to do some more exploring. We finished the night with drinks and dinner at The Shameful Tiki. Courtney and I really enjoy a good Tiki bar, and everything indicated that The Shameful Tiki was one of the best around. We actually had dinner reservations at another location, but when we took a look at their dinner menu, we decided to stay put. Glad we did, because the cocktails and the food were amazing. If you visit Toronto, I highly recommend this as a stop.
Our final full day was probably the most easy going day we had. We found another gluten free gem in Kensington. This time it was a bagel cafe, NU Bügel. I have the luxury of being able to eat anything I want. Unfortunately, Courtney does not. However, it does give me the opportunity to try the gluten free version of baked goods and other dishes to compare them to the real thing. I can honestly say that the gluten free bagel at NU Bagel was not only good for a gluten free bagel, it was just a good bagel in general. I did have my gluten-filled bagel sandwich, but Courtney let me try some of her plain bagel with cream cheese and strawberry jam. After our breakfast we walked from Kensington to the Art Gallery of Ontario. This was the one stop that I was most excited about. Newly added portions of the building, including the staircase, had been designed by Frank Gehry. The museum did not disappoint. After exploring the entire museum we had afternoon coffee in the cafe, which offered beautiful views of the city. After we finished up at the museum, we simply walked around the city, taking it in on our last day. It was nice to walk around with no real place to go. We finished up our last night enjoying Thai food from Pai. We love Thai food. We try to eat at one Thai restaurant when we travel. PAI was one of the best Thai places we have ever tried. It was the perfect ending to our time in Toronto. Toronto was such a vibrant and interesting city to us. It proved to be more than just a “big” city. Everything from the food to the murals on every street corner, Toronto proved to be an artist’s city. The only thing I would change about this trip is the time of year that we went. It wasn’t bitter cold, but it was cold. As I mentioned earlier, the weather was actually much better than the forecast called for, but it would have been been nice to experience a 10 degree warmer Toronto. Either way, if Toronto is on your list of places to visit and you’re on the fence about it, go for it. There’s plenty to do, eat, and drink. Until next time, Toronto, cheers. More pictures from our trip below.