Last summer when one of my favorite artists announced a tour for the first time in years, I would stop at nothing to be there. He was playing at a couple different venues here in Ohio and surrounding areas, but I decided it would be more fun to make an event out of it and planned a long weekend trip up to Toronto.
I truly enjoy any type of traveling, but last year really grew to love road trips in particular. I went on my fair share of them and found that it allows people to be together with minimum distractions and that some of the best conversations can happen during a nice long car ride. Make sure you have plenty of munchies, create some kick ass playlists, and download a couple of podcasts you’ve been meaning to listen to and you are all set to hit the road.
On the way up we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls for the afternoon. I had never been and wanted to check it off my long list of landmarks to see, so why not! We chose to go over to the Canadian side to walk around and see the sites. I do recommend viewing the falls from this side, as you were able to get closer and see better views from shelling stretch of walkway that runs along the entire area. The Maid of the Mist tour was a really cool experience and something everyone should do at least once in their life.
I will sadly admit, I was a little disappointed in the whole experience of Niagara though. For something as beautiful as the Falls, it has been made more into a theme park attraction for people to parade around and tourists to flock to. An absolutely beautiful landmark that is swarmed by so many people taking selfies and kids running around, that it has seemed to lose a lot of its natural wonder. I would recommend trying to visit during the off season when it’s just as pretty and more enjoyable to take in.
The rest of the weekend in Toronto was so much fun with plenty to do and see. It seems like no matter where you’re at, there is always something going on around the city, which is full of plenty of character and charm. Toronto features a strong art presence that gives the city an eccentric atmosphere. You will find graffiti covered buildings, abstract sculptures, and funky little neighborhoods on every street corner. It really is such a lively town with numerous unique restaurants and markets to wander around in. As a strong supporter of small businesses, one of my favorite aspects of being there was the overwhelming number of local cafes and shops. Besides Tim Hortons and Starbucks, the city hardly has any chains, so there were plenty of new things to explore. Below you can read about some of my favorite places we found to eat at and some of the fun things to do.
- Union Café: A highly recommended brunch spot by all of the townies. Organic, farm to table café that offers the most fresh, local ingredients. Rustic atmosphere meets modern décor for an amazing energy and even better food. If there’s room, try to sit outside. The back patio makes you feel like you’re eating in a quaint alleyway somewhere in the middle of France. Get there EARLY to beat the weekend wait. There was already a small line when we arrived 15 minutes prior to them opening!
- Calii Love: If you’re a fan of juice cafes then this is your place. Bringing all the California feels to the heart of Toronto where you can get your fix for a number of cravings. The menu consists of tasty smoothies, poke bowls, hearty salads, or just a standard coffee pick me up. Focusing on living a healthy lifestyle, Calli Love has plenty to offer and enough good vibes to go around.
- Wahlburgers: Although not unique to Toronto, if you’re in the mood for a juicy burger, you can check out Marky Mark’s latest production. The place was absolutely packed when we went during the late afternoon with a short wait. The menu is standard to most burger joints complete with double deckers, tator tots, and delicious shakes. They have some items that are made from scratch such as their homemade chili and smoked mac and cheese. It’s good, but hard to beat Shake Shack on the east coast 😉
- Fancy Franks: Gourmet hot dogs…need I say more? Inspired by Coney Island itself, this place lives up to any hot dog fantasies you can dream up. Decked out dogs with way over the top toppings creating the best combinations ever.
- Queen Margarita Pizza: Trendy neighborhood staple in Dundas West. Preserving the tradition of Neopolitan pizza by serving authentic wood fired pies. With prix fixe menus to make ordering even easier. No ingredients are frozen, except for the gelato of course 😉 Complete with a beautiful two-level dining room with elegant aesthetics.
- El Catrin: Unique indoor atmosphere with Canada’s largest tequila bar and a mural that took almost 100 days to complete. The outdoor patio is so big it could be a restaurant on it’s own, and is a total bonus that it’s heated. Presenting a one-of-a- kind tapas style menu that allows you to taste and try a variety of items, they also have guacamole and taco classics and a list of larger house specials as well. Don’t forget the churros that come with three yummy dipping sauces. Live music, killer margaritas, and laid back energy make for one hell of a experience.
- Roselle Ice Cream Café: Small, intimate atmosphere with the friendliest staff ever. Tiny Toronto pastry shop specializing in all kinds of yummy desserts. Inspired by delicate French pastries, these little treats are almost too pretty to eat. Go here for their selection of gourmet Tarts, Eclairs, Canneles, and Cookies. We tried the house made soft serve Earl gray ice cream that was topped with a tiny shortbread cookie which was heavenly.
- Peace Treats: Located inside Peace Collective which has the coolest Toronto graphic apparel. Peace Treats whips up the best milkshakes you will ever find. “Gourmet” is an understatement here as they are all topped with whipped cream, sprinkles, chocolate syrup, cake, donuts, cotton candy and the list goes on. Their milkshakes definitely have a visual experience that matches the delicious taste. The toughest part is choosing which one to have.
- During the summer months in Toronto, you’ll find so many people out and about during the day. As you make your way down the lake, everyone is outside soaking up the sun and enjoying the waterside. Whether it be sailing, kayaking, biking, really anything, as a whole the city appears to be so active and excited for warmer weather. One of my favorite places we found was Sugar Beach, an urban beach park located right on the water. Complete with pink umbrellas, water fountains, and yes even sand, there was no doubt we had to spend an afternoon lounging here to stop and relax for a little.
St Lawrence Market
- Major public common space with over 120 specialty vendors to make up the city’s largest market. There is so much to see, taste, experience, discover in this massive two-story building. All the fresh fruit, raw veggies, red meat, hearty pastas, baked goods, and of course gourmet cheese one can want. All the merchants work together to create a long list of vibrant cultural cuisines. Make sure to bring a big appetite. One must stop is the famous Carousel bakery known for its Peameal Bacon sandwiches.
- You can spend a good part of a day wandering around the 40 plus restored red brick victorian buildings and brick paved streets. Restricted to pedestrians and cyclists, it is truly created for casual walking and exploring. A great environment of relaxing European streets with cute patios mixed with the trendy atmosphere found in big city districts. Bringing old and new world vibes and not allowing chains or franchises in, ensures a truly one of a kind experience. You will find plenty of shopping boutiques, art galleries, unique bars and restaurants, quaint/local coffeehouses, jewelry stores, even a microbrewery. Summed at as the epitome of dining, shopping, and culture in Toronto.
- So every big city has a certain landmark that if it’s your first time visiting you have to go see and get a picture of right. Chicago has the Bean, LA has the Hollywood sign, NY has Rockefeller Center, and so on so forth. Well for Toronto, it’s a big 3D sign that spells Toronto in capital letters right in the middle of downtown located in Nathan Phillips Square. It may sound kind of random but there’s something special at night to have the city lights surrounding you, the big water fountains reflecting all the neon colors of the illuminated sign. Almost 10 ft tall. Beware tons of teenagers, and selfie taking tourists, but I still think you have to see it your first time visiting.
Scarborough Bluff Cliffs
- If you’re wanting a break from all the downtown urbaness, there is an absolutely breathtaking park about an hour north of Toronto that is well worth the drive. It runs along the shoreline of Lake Ontario and is the perfect place for a long walk or hike. Beautiful scenery with stunning views from the top and crystal clear blue water to gaze into. For the daring, you can climb out to some of the peaks for a cool photo op. For someone who loves heights and has decent balance, it was even a nerve wrecking for me.