Visiting Toronto next weekend (labor day weekend), and looking for some things to do.
August 27, 2010 5:14 AM   Subscribe

Visiting Toronto next weekend (labor day weekend), and looking for some things to do.

We are visiting Niagara falls on sat, and then spending sun and Mon in Toronto. We are from new York and late 20s/early 30s (recently married couple) We are looking for something that we can't get in new York. What should we do / where should we go? Not really interested in art galleries at all, but love little boutique stores and cafes, along with historical areas. And off the beaten path types of places. Love beer, wine and cocktails, so any fun bars we'd be interested in.

We've thought of Toronto island, Casa Loma, distillery district, queen st west, and stopping by Niagara on the lake on the drive up. (we will have a car). We've thought about a blue jay game.

Any cool, usual bar and restaurant recommendations are welcome. Thanks!
posted by cavs33 to Travel & Transportation around Toronto, ON (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Casa Loma is, despite it's castlehood, pretty unremarkable, as are (sadly) the Jays. In addition to Queen West and the distillery district (where you should try the beer at the Mill Street Brewery and theMayan Hot Chocolate at Soma) you might want to try Kensington Market, Queen West's punk little brother, and make sure to pick something up at Jumbo Empanada while you're there.

Sunday-Monday means you'll miss the St. Lawrence Market, sadly, but come back for that! It's good fun, and seasonal food is delicious.

I don't know much about the cocktail scene - my preferred places tend to be dives with good beer menus, so if you'd like to know about them, let me know! - but that'll get you started.
posted by mhoye at 5:38 AM on August 27, 2010

The Ex is always fun. I'm planning a trip myself labour day weekend.
posted by Go Banana at 5:41 AM on August 27, 2010

You can book winery tours in the Niagara region, some by bicycle if that's your thing -- though I suppose if you have to drive to Toronto the same day that won't work.

I'd definitely pass on the baseball game. You can purchase a weekend transit pass that will last through Monday since it is a holiday -- $10 for two people. Both the distillery district and queen west are good ideas. How much walking do you like to do? If you walked all the west way along Queen from Yonge to Ossington and then turned north of Ossington, you'd pass a lot of interesting things along the way. If you get tired, you can always hop on the Queen street car. Feel free to memail with specific questions -- I live just off of Queen west so I can recommend plenty of things.
posted by modernnomad at 5:42 AM on August 27, 2010

NOW or Eye magazines will have all of the gallery/theatre/concert/event listings that you might want to peruse.

On Sunday, at Saint Lawrence Market on the North Side, there's a good antique market. I'm a big fan of a fried egg and cheese sandwich on a bun from there, and poking around for hours.

The Distillery is not far from there, and good for an hour or two - at Soma Chocolates and I'd recommend the lightly salted toasted corn tumbled in Costa Rican milk chocolate and yes, Mill St. Brewery offers Coffee Porter (caffeinated beer!) and the Tankhouse which are excellent.

Kensington Market is always fun, a short walk up from parts of Queen W - I had a great browse in Good Egg the other day, and Courage My Love is always a favourite. Lots of food and good groceries - it's too bad you can't bring Sanagan's Cheeseburger Sausages home easily! There may be a band playing Sunday afternoon at Graffitti's, and that can be great - but I'd say go around the corner for taquitos at Salsa's before eating there...

Toronto Island can be lovely, bring a picnic lunch and tetra wine packs! Queen West is always great, though Monday can be a dark day for some of the shops. But you can walk from Queen West West to the Ex... Casa Loma is a bit of a let down, sadly, and my husband can only take about three innings of a Jay's game before he's bored and wants to leave. There's the CN tower, which is bloody expensive - but it's one of those things to do...

The EX actually, is indeed a great idea. My friends are raving about the Mac and Cheese booth, and there's deep fried butter!

You might like the Danforth for a wander, for shops and food, though it's gotten a little bland lately. My favourite watering hole is the Only, for great beer and a surprisingly delicious weekend brunch - which isn't to everyone's taste decor-wise.

Or, the Beach area is always nice - better on a Monday than a Sunday, because the weekends are jammed there. Shops, food, pubs, a great big green park and a walk along the boardwalk and then back up to Queen E. for the amazing ice ream at Ed's.

Have fun!

My dream itinerary (okay, it's what I often do): Sunday brunch at the Only (at noon, so I can have a beer or a Bloody Caesar); the Sunday Antique Market; the Distillery; The Beach

Monday: Kensington Market, Queen W., Queen W.W., the Ex.
posted by peagood at 6:15 AM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Try the street hot dogs and the roti vendors.

posted by ServSci at 6:37 AM on August 27, 2010

If you're going to the St. Lawrence Market, you HAVE to go to Carousel Bakery for truly awesome peameal bacon on a bun. (That awful, dry stuff you have called "Canadian Bacon"? No such thing up here.) Peameal bacon is just a carefully brined piece of pork loin, quite lean but still moist and incredibly tasty.

Depending on where you end up, try any of these places for some of Toronto's best roti. (That list is rather downtown-centric: you can get incredible roti in Etobicoke and Scarborough, but it will be a long trip out.)
posted by maudlin at 6:50 AM on August 27, 2010

I like the area around Ossington and Dundas for bars.
posted by TheGoodBlood at 7:19 AM on August 27, 2010

I dying to visit Toronto just so I can go to the Black Hoof. If you go, let me know how it is.
posted by slogger at 7:29 AM on August 27, 2010

In terms of cocktails, my wife and I prefer the old-school hotel bars. The King Eddy's Consort Bar (on King, just east of Yonge) and the Park Hyatt's top-floor bar (on Bloor at Avenue) are where we go for our classic cocktail fix. She also likes Souz Dal on College west.

Seconding Ossington and Dundas for bars, there are a lot of cool places there (mostly beer/liquor places). It's been a couple of years for me, but I really liked the Communist's Daughter back in the day.

Finally, stay away from the club district (Richmond/Spadina area). There's a bunch of mega-clubs that attract the suburban crowd. Sure, there are a couple of bars worth going to in the neighbourhood (hello Smokeless Joe's), but it's not worth dealing with the crowds on weekends. Further west on Queen/King there are a bunch of places worth stopping at.
posted by flipper at 7:44 AM on August 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hang around the lakeshore and you'll see a couple of planes. The airshow is on.
posted by Frasermoo at 8:04 AM on August 27, 2010

Speaking of beer, don't just limit yourself to Mill St. or the distillery district...check out Duggan's Brewery, or check out the extensive import selections at Volo or the Beer Bistro. (Be warned, though -- Toronto's import beer selection tends to be more expensive than what you'd find in the states, and microbrews don't seem as prominent as they are in the US.)

I live out at the beach, so I'm a natural cheerleader for this part of town. Oddly enough, on a nice, sunny day, a trip to the R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant is a beautiful outing, and gives you unparalleled views of Lake Ontario (and a lot fewer tourists, though a lot more dogs.)

If you're tempted to go on one of those overpriced tour bus thingies, I'd skip it and ride the 501 Queen streetcar for $3 instead. Pick it up around Bathurst & Queen (after checking out Kensington market at Bathurst & Dundas, which is just one major block north), and ride it east. You'll pass through lower Chinatown, Queen West, downtown (fashion and entertainment districts), Corktown, Leslieville, etc., and end up at the Beaches (and the water treatment plant at the very end of the line.)

Lovely and dynamic scenery throughout, and the streetcars themselves are quaint (especially if you sit at the very back where there's a big viewing window.) It's a whole different experience than driving, and it runs 24 hours. On the weekends and holidays, you can get a pass for the whole day that two people can share for $10, so you can hop on and off at your leisure and check out all the little restaurants, bars, candy stores, vintage clothing stores, specialty cheese and chocolate shops, and whatnot along the way.

God I sound like a guidebook.
posted by Ouisch at 8:13 AM on August 27, 2010

Oh, and if you want to look at cute old Victorian houses (like, entire streets full of them, not just a few sprinkled here and there), walk through Cabbagetown, especially the area east of Parliament and north of College/Carlton St. You can even book a private tour. And then walk a couple blocks down to what is arguably the nicest Tim Hortons in the city for the obligatory Canadian donut experience (warning: they're nothing to write home about, but it's an institution), which is at Parliament and Winchester in the Winchester building.

Just a brief walk west of there, the Allan Gardens Conservatory is a beautiful Edwardian greenhouse somehow thriving in the middle of one of the sketchiest neighbourhoods in town.
posted by Ouisch at 8:29 AM on August 27, 2010

Thanks everyone! These are some great ideas. We will probably walk quite a bit, especially if its nice out. Walking down queen st sounds like one plan. We will probably skip the Blue Jays game - we've lived in new York for 7 years and I've seen the mets two or three times ha ha. All of the restaurants suggested sound really good. We ate getting excited!
posted by cavs33 at 8:34 AM on August 27, 2010

Check out the Square Foot Show. Always worth a visit.
posted by dobbs at 8:41 AM on August 27, 2010

Casa Loma would be a waste of your time. Also the Exhibition is such an ugly, exhausting crush that I'd prefer to wander through Centreville. It's a cute little amusement park, set among the trees on the island. It exemplifies what I think Toronto used to be all about; publicly-supported family activities that don't cost an arm and a leg. You'll get to see a nice, representative sampling of the entire population of the city/world having fun -I find it kind of dreamy (the mix of outfits -amish, orthodox, ultra-conservative muslim, sikh, tattoo geeks, rastafarian,..whatever)

If you want to go to a nice restaurant on the island go to the Rectory patio, just off the boardwalk.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:41 AM on August 27, 2010

Also, if there's any place special you want to eat, maybe do it on Sunday, as more and more restaurants are closed Mondays and if you're going to do the Island, I'd go Monday if the weather is going to be nice (I'll be lot less crowded for the ferry, etc.).
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:46 AM on August 27, 2010

While you're doing Queen West, you might as well go up a couple blocks to Little Italy. There's lots of great little places there to grab lunch.

You might want to check out the rotating restaurant on top of the CN Tower. It's just a tad pricey (e.g. caesar salad: $14!?), but it's really good stuff. Plus it's really high up and rotates!
posted by Sys Rq at 10:25 AM on August 27, 2010

Forget what I said about the Monday/Sunday thing as far as the island goes (I forgot all about the Labour Day holiday).
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:32 AM on August 27, 2010

Little India around Gerrard St East. And seconding ROTI. Island Foods (King/Dufferin) is as good as any I had in Trinidad and my TT hubby swears by it.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:18 PM on August 27, 2010

Also- WEST Queen West, please. West of Bathurst especially.

My favourite coffeehouse in Toronto is Dark Horse Espresso Bar on Spadina- which is just south of the gorgeous insanity of Chinatown.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 1:20 PM on August 27, 2010

The Canadian National Exhibition (also called the Ex or the CNE) can be really fun, but it can also be really hot and crowded; you may need to be in the mood to kinda work for your fun if you go. And it's not that Toronto-y; it's basically just a big midway carnival + discount shopping mall + weird food court. There is deep-fried butter, though, and rides and carnival games and some very bargainy outlet shopping, a world shopping pavilion, and lots of people-watching.

Casa Loma is kind of boring.

Here's Now Magazine's Listings page. Next weekend's listings will fill up closer to next weekend.

Some restaurants worth trying (all are casual, jeans-ok places where a couple can probably eat for under $50):

Korean Grill House (Queen West or Yonge & Bloor) - Meat meat meat, all you can eat eat eat. Grilled by you over a burning hubcap in the centre of your table. The beef and short ribs are amazing.

Live (Bathurst & Dupont) - Yummy raw food; lots of familiar foods configured in interesting ways ("cheese" made of nuts, raw zucchini ribbon "pasta", etc)

King's Noodle House (Spadina & Dundas) - Cheap and cheerful late-night dim sum. The Shrimp Rice Noodle Roll, or Chee Cheung Fun is very tasty - thin sheets of rice noodle wrapped around plump shrimp, topped with sweet soy sauce. They also do great snow pea shoots with garlic.

Terroni (Queen & Bathurst) - Delicious Italian food- much much better than anything in Little Italy, which, oddly, has kinda crappy Italian food. Plus, the Terroni back patio is gorgeous.

Pizzeria Libretto (Queen & Ossington) - Thin crust pizzas. The duck one is scrumptious.

Greg's Ice Cream (Bloor & Spadina) - I think the best flavours are Stout (Guiness); Sweet Cream (vanilla ice cream without the vanilla- delicious), Coffee Toffee (espresso and Skor bar pieces), and Roasted Marshmallow (tastes like campfire!).

Kalendar (Little Italy, College & Bathurst) - Nice brunch and lunch, romantic little date dinner. Try a Blanche du Chambly mimosa- Quebec beer + orange juice, yum!

You guys might want to get a TTC day pass- it's $10 and on a Sunday or Holiday (ie Labour Day Monday) you can share it for all-day access to the transit system.

Have fun!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 4:35 PM on August 27, 2010

Also, the Toronto International Film Festival is going on then.
posted by bendy at 9:51 PM on August 27, 2010

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