A city with something for everyone, Toronto is a veritable multi-cultural mecca. Over 50 percent of Torontonians are foreign-born, resulting in four Chinatowns, two Little Italys and a Little Portugal, to name a few neighborhoods. With 140 languages spoken and an acceptance of all walks of life and ways of living, Toronto — called Tronno or Churano by locals — makes for a great few days of enjoyable exploration, while giving hope to cities south of the border.
Near Toronto’s trendy Yorkville section, along the route of the Bloor Street Arts & Culture District that was originally the 1960s hippie epicenter, Canada’s first Kimpton opened last June with 188 rooms. Its Boho-chic design, good collection of local art and gastro pub Fortunate Fox mean one can channel inner cool. Rooms are spacious and there’s a small gym with yoga space, bicycles to borrow and happy hour complimentary wine. In a throwback to a seemingly simpler time, suite living rooms have retro record players and a vinyl selection. Staff is friendly and the Bloor Street location with the University of Toronto nearby keeps the vibe hip. It’s a perfect base. www.kimptonstgeorge.com
In Yorkville’s heart, La Societé takes classic French bistro cuisine and makes it lighter yet just as delicious. Enjoy the large terrace while devouring a few oysters, onion soup and chef Ben Heaton’s divine Confit de Canard with braised endive and blackberries. http://toronto.lasociete.ca/contact/
I rarely eat Mexican food outside Mexico or California, so lunching at the Financial District’s new Rosalinda was a shocking surprise. Not only Mexican, it’s also vegan Mexican! As a die-hard carnivore, I couldn’t believe there was no fish or meat in the outstanding young coconut ceviche, chorizo tacos and bowls. http://www.rosalindarestaurant.com
In the Fashion District, Marbl boasts modern industrial-cool design. Floor-to-ceiling marble fireplace, blond bricks, exposed beams and black chandeliers set off comfortable gray banquettes. A perfectly mixed martini complemented a 20-ounce bone-in rib-eye that was so tasty, the three accompanying sauces sat idle. http://marbltoronto.com
At the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, Café Boulud, inspired by chef Daniel Boulud’s Lyonnais family meals, sous chef Colin Arnott prepared dreamy chicken liver mouse topped with sliced pickled rhubarb and balsamic pearls. Squid ink lobster fettuccini was transcendent and cornmeal-crusted calamari on charred eggplant was divine. The signature rotisserie duck with maitake mushrooms burst with flavor. Pastry chef Steven Tran’s lemon tart with yuzu curd atop basil sponge cake and black sesame powder bed should elevate him to rockstar status. https://www.cafeboulud.com/toronto/
For shoe-a-holics, social history buffs or souls who dig soles, the Raymond Moriyama-designed Bata Shoe Museum is appropriately housed in a shoebox-shaped structure. Inside, it reflects fashion as much as social anthropology.
Sonya Bata’s brainchild, this gem of a museum displays the evolution of shoes from humans’ first footprints 3,700,000 years ago to present shoes from around the globe. There are 13,000 artifacts on display including indigenous footwear, Roman sandals, Cinderella’s fictional slippers, Elton John’s Glam Boots and astronaut Jim Lovell’s space walk boots.
Nearby, the Royal Ontario Museum, dubbed ROM, is Canada’s largest. It houses an excellent collection of First Nations artifacts, Asian art galore and enough dinosaur and other reptile skeletons to fill Jurassic Park. Upstairs is Ghanaian artist El Anatsui’s “Straying Continents,” an enormous, colorful metal tapestry incredibly made from discarded bottle caps and copper wire.
Kensington Market was populated by Jewish immigrants in the 1920s and 1930s and was once called the Jewish Market. There are still a number of active synagogues, though the area has since become home to several other immigrant groups, including Portuguese, Caribbean and East Asian. Today it’s a bohemian neighborhood where vendors from everywhere sell their wares and cook their homeland dishes. Sit on the terrace of Amadeus Dining Lounge facing Bellevue Square Park and try the delicious Portuguese grilled shrimp and cod cakes.
Overlooking downtown, the beautiful Edwardian Casa Loma awaits. Sir Henry Pellatt, a key figure in Canada’s economic development at the 20th century’s turn built this stunning 98-room, turreted chateau. Once presiding over 25 companies, Pellatt fell from grace, likely from his detractors, and by 1924 lost his fortune and his castle.
Unbeknownst to the public, between 1941-45, Casa Loma’s carriage room was used as an anti-submarine detection site enabling allied naval vessels to search and destroy enemy submarine fleets. A one-dollar padlock was all that stood between public tours of this magnificent castle and clandestine wartime activities.
Without doubt Toronto is an art-lovers’ hip city. A tradition that continues in the Queen Street West neighborhood, named in 2014 by Vogue as the world’s second hippest district (Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa was first). Apropos, the Funhouse Pop-Up (until Sept. 22) fuses art, music and interactive tech in a cleverly disguised 18-room 1920s hotel, all designed by Toronto-based artists.
Old Town’s St. Lawrence Market is thought by gastronomes to be one of the world’s best markets housed in an enchanting historical setting that includes Toronto’s second City Hall. With over 120 vendors, it’s a foodie’s fantasyland. Try Kolzik’s warm out of the oven, egg-glazed mustard rolls, Carousel Bakery’s peameal bacon sandwiches — Toronto’s official sandwich and favored by Chef Emeril –— or Buster’s Sea Cove for a lobster roll.
Also in Old Town, once the world’s largest distillery and part of Gooderham and Worts, is now the Victorian-era Distillery Historic District. On cobblestoned, pedestrian-only streets, creative space, art galleries, restaurants and artisan shops abound. Mill St. Brewery has excellent handcrafted beers. Try tangy, tropical fruit Hopped & Confused and refreshing blood orange and chamomile White Space. Chocoholics will love SoMa Chocolatemaker. Sample a mango chili bar, buy some gifts or if you dare, join a tasting class.
Hockey aficionados will want to pop into the Hockey Hall of Fame that occupies an 1885 bank building. Here one can practice a slap shot and see all manner of hockey collectibles, including the original Stanley Cup.
If you need a break from heat or cold — Toronto has four seasons, often in the same day — hop into CF Toronto Eaton Centre, a glass-roofed 240-store mall where sculptured geese overhead appear mid-flight. Eaton connects to The Path, a 19-mile underground walkway with nearly 1,200 shops, restaurants and attractions, so whatever the weather, you’ll be comfortable.
The lesson learned
There are few cities on earth as inclusive and accepting as Toronto. A walkable city with friendly Torontonians, a thriving restaurant and art scene, and museums aplenty, it makes for a terrific few days.
Toronto: the best way
From SFO, Air Canada and United offer non-stop service to Toronto with Delta, American, West Jet, Alaska and JetBlue offering connecting service.
Julie L. Kessler is a travel writer, legal columnist and attorney and the author of the award-winning book “Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at Julie@VagabondLawyer.com. Some vendors listed hosted the writer, however content was not reviewed by them prior to publication and is solely the opinion of the writer.