Toronto For First Timers!?
May 13, 2016 10:57 PM   Subscribe

We're NYCers going on a 2 week trip to Toronto on the 26th. We've never been! What are the new exciting sites? The old established stuff? (Again, we've never been!) We like history, werid engineering dork stuff, movie stuff, dive bars, gayness, unusual stores and secondhand vintage menswear. We don't drive, but we'd like a nice trip out of town by train or even bus. Exciting cuisine a must overall.

Off season discounted plays or concerts are always great, but SO has a bias against anything new. We'll be staying at the Chelsea hotel in downtown and would like to find a diner/breakfast spot nearby as a base of operations for planning out the day. Nature hikes are not out of the question, but nothing over two hours. I'd like to know if that crazy Ed's store from the Scott Pilgrim comics is still around - thanks again!
posted by The Whelk to Travel & Transportation around Toronto, ON (52 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Honest Ed's is still around, the best comic book store in the country is around the corner. Jordan Tannahil is a young, queer playwright and his double header should be at canstage. Buddies at Bad Time is the avant queer space, and has some excellent cabaret stuff. I will make sure to show you around.
posted by PinkMoose at 11:39 PM on May 13, 2016 [4 favorites]

Wander around the distillery district and then come see a show (for discounts: rush tickets perhaps or if you're under 30) at Soulpepper

For a nice semi out of town meets nature meets history, Evergreen Brickworks (accessible by shuttle from Broadview Subway station, very easy to get to).
posted by stray at 11:57 PM on May 13, 2016

There's not much that springs to mind for breakfast in that immediate area. If you go up to College St, there are three breakfast spots of varying levels of cleanliness and mediocrity -- Toronto diner institution (Fran's), Toronto cheap family pancake house institution (The Golden Griddle), and recent upstart chain from away but unlikely to give you a staph infection (Cora's). If you go South instead of North, there's the Senator a few blocks away.

Someone who works downtown and thus actually eats breakfast in the area might have some better ideas, though.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:31 AM on May 14, 2016

For a brief nature hike, and some old school cool, try to take the Ferry Boats to the Toronto Islands (not the ferry to the Island airport). To avoid crowds, consider going very early in the morning, which treats you to gorgeous views, and much quieter lines (there used to be a very early morning ferry, which mostly catered to folks working on the island, not tourists). The Islands are a lovely nature preserve. There is also some neat history over there (an allegedly haunted lighthouse) and some fun quirky things as well.

For out of town, consider a bus tour to Niagara area wineries. There are several options that depart by mini bus from Toronto and do day trips (2 hours each way ish) and feature various wineries, food, etc. The concierge at the Chelsea may be a great resource to find something suitable for you.

Have a great trip.
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 3:22 AM on May 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Please take a stroll through Kensington market.
posted by parki at 3:57 AM on May 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

For history, you can visit Fort York Canada's largest collection of original War of 1812 buildings and 1813 battle site. Located in the heart of downtown Toronto.

Also, you'll be here during Doors Open Toronto . This is when you can visit a lot of buildings that you normally couldn't enter. They offer a walking tour as well.
posted by Coffeetyme at 4:09 AM on May 14, 2016

honest ed's is still there, but it isn't as interesting as it used to be - they are planning on shutting it down, I don't think they have really restocked in years, so there is a lot of empty space and bedraggled leftovers. Still very weird and mazelike, stop in if you are in that area anyway, but not worth making a special trip for. You will need to have poutine! go to poutini's, it is awesome. (avoid smoke's, it is dreadful)
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:19 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There are day trips to Niagara Falls. Ours included stops at a candy place, a winery (ice wine!), a gorgeous little town and a ride on the Maid of the Mist. It's ever so slightly cheesy and clearly everyone at every stop has their hand out, but I an honestly say it was WELL worth it!

We also did a bus tour of Toronto (I have to guess that it was included in our package because that is NOT typically something we'd do). That was interesting and gave us looks at different neighborhoods. "That's the hospital where they invented Farina and Insulin."

The area around Church and Wellesley is The Village and loaded with gayness.

A tour of the CN Tower? A Toronto Blue Jays Game? Here's a site that will tell you what shows are in town.

It looks like Fran's Restaurant might be a good option for your breakfast/planning sessions. Be SURE to get something with which to convey real maple syrup into your gob. Once you have it, you will NOT be satisfied with Mrs. Butterworth. Not even close. The bonus is that it's right on the Subway line, so nom, plan and then hit the town. There's a Fran's a couple blocks south of your hotel on Yonge Street.

Tim Hortons is pretty great too, here's a guide for ordering. I take mine Double Cream, Single Sugar and I love that the ratios are the same, no matter what size you order.

My hotel was on Dundas right off of the Eaton Centre. I enjoyed breakfast at Denny's, and dinner at a joint called Spadina Garden. There are plenty of great Chinese places in Toronto, and they're pretty flipping tasty. I lucked out and got an Uncle Tetsu's Cheesecake.

Eaton Centre has a Canadian Tire. You're going to want to stop in just to see what it's about. Be sure to buy something so you can get some Canadian Tire money as a souvenir. I bought candy.

In Canada they use cane sugar, not High Fructose Corn Syrup, so enjoy fountain drinks and candy! Also, you're going to want to hit Shoppers Drugs to get a bottle of 'A C & C'. It's Aspirin, Caffeine and Codeine. They sell it over the counter and those few grains of codeine can really help make you feel better if you have a migraine or the flu. I'm here to tell ya.

They use teeny, tiny subway tokens, so be aware that you're going to have to keep track of them. They have dollar and two dollar coins and no pennies. Also the exchange rate is our favor! But be careful, some things are just more expensive in Canada and even with the exchange rate, are less expensive back in the States.

The only problem with Toronto is that you might fall in love with it, and then you'll be like me, trying to figure out how to immigrate.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:45 AM on May 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

For engineering dork stuff, The Brickworks is a former industrial site in the Don Valley that has been set up as a neat community facility. It takes about a half hour to walk there from Rosedale Station and it's quite pleasant. There are both a TTC bus and a free shuttle (going different places) to get you out of the valley if you don't want to continue walking.

For getting around, you can get TTC day passes or weekly passes. Then you don't have to deal with the token/Presto Card transition we're going through right now.

Doors Open, as mentioned above, is awesome.
posted by TORunner at 5:15 AM on May 14, 2016

It's a little bit out of your way for a regular breakfast joint, but L'Espresso Bar Mercurio on Bloor has good breakfast options, good coffee and a great ambiance. As I recall, they sometimes have cellists come in for Sunday Brunch.

You could also do like the rest of Toronto and check out Bar Raval.

And I no longer live in Toronto, but I miss Urban Herbivore for a quick (vegan) salad on the go. You'll find lots of exciting food options in Kensington market, where UH is located.

Definitely the Toronto Islands for a nature outing.
posted by Milau at 5:18 AM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, for breakfast one day you can visit the Loblaws grocery store in Maple Leaf Gardens, a former hockey palace, located in the traditional gay village. There's a cafe that opens at 7am.
posted by TORunner at 5:30 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Definitely seconding Kensington, Distillery district, and a trip to the Toronto islands; even the ferry ride is fun. Head up University to Queen's Park and meander around the University of Toronto campus just for a sense of the weird relationship this city has to its historical buildings.

Fort York is a historic fort, so if you like that kind of history it's enjoyable, and while you're there have a walk around the Exhibition grounds. The ROM is also neat and the Gardiner Museum is across the street, and the Bata Shoe Museum is around that area. If you're into art the AGO is worth a visit and Mean Bao is in the little Grange food court across the street.

If you're a Scott Pilgrim fan and you like weirdo pseudohistorical things, go see Casa Loma. The gardens are fun and it is...weird. The Spadina Museum (pronounced spa-dee-na, unlike the street, which is pronounced spa-die-na) is part of Wide Open Doors and if you're there anyway is nice to check out. Honest Ed's is indeed there and if you walk east on Bloor you'll hit Lee's Palace. Sneaky Dee's is still at College and Bathurst and hits both Scott Pilgrim and dive bar notes.

One of the best tours of the city you can have is to take the Queen Streetcar as far west and east as you like -- if you go east, get off at Woodbine and go down and walk along the boardwalk. There's currently a route diversion going west but it's still fun if you're not trying to get to work on time.

For food, there are MeFites who are more on top of the Toronto eating scene than I am (small kids, small budget) but I love to eat on the Danforth for Greek, specifically Mezes, Although it's a bit cliche and my experience is years old, Canoe for lunch has a gorgeous view and yum. ($$$) If you don't mind a slight breakfast pilgrimage, if you walk up to get the Gerrard streetcar just north of your hotel and go eat to Greenwood you can eat at Maha's Brunch. Cora is worth trying once for sure. I like Sansotei Ramen on Dundas St. West and if you're around there there's Uncle Tetsu's Japanese Angel Cafe.

Have fun!
posted by warriorqueen at 6:16 AM on May 14, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The best breakfast downtown is the old school George Street Diner, about 30 minute walk from Union. People like The PAtrician Grill, but I can take or leave. Cho Cho (It's train themed) is closer to the Don River than the three other suggestions, but its delightful.
posted by PinkMoose at 6:47 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Leslieville is a nice, walkable neighborhood in the east end of the city. Walk along Queen St. East, headed east, starting at around Broadview. Wayla is a queer bar in that end of town. There is a developing stretch of good/fun/somewhat hipster/laid back restaurants/bars around Danforth and Greenwood, Morgans on the Danforth is tasty.
posted by walkinginsunshine at 6:51 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by maryr at 6:51 AM on May 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: There is so much good food in Toronto, it's literally everywhere. You need to pick categories and go from there there is so much choice. My top picks for food are indian, west indian (rotis), sushi, ethiopian, mexican/latin american.

Popular online resources are: Now Toronto, BlogTO, TorontoLife.

If you like mexican food and beer try Sneaky Dee's any time of day (it's a punk rock dive-bar/restaurant that I highly recommend), you can walk up to College st and hope on the streetcar west pretty easily from where you are. Where you are is more tourist/business-district and if you go West it's the more trendy/popular brunch places. Toronto is big on "brunch" so search for it in the online guides.

You'll probably love Kensington, from there you can check out Trinity Bellwoods park if you want to drink beer openly and people watch.

High Park itself has an interesting history (Grenadier pond), and is lovely (I'm biased I grew up there). It's a giant park, with a little zoo, lovely rose gardens, a birch savannah that is rare and endangered, gorgeous trees, so much in there AND it borders three places to check out, Roncesvalles to the east, the lakeshore to the south, and bloor-west village to the northwest.

A nice day (or two) would be to take the streetcar to Sneaky Dee's for brunch, then go west into Parkdale to check out the shops along Queen, walk up to Roncesvalles. There are tons of cute shops, coffee, ice cream, then catch a movie at the famous/historic Revue Cinema. Take a walk into High Park and then head up to Bloor West Village or go back to Roncey for dinner and drinks. There are restaurants on Roncey with outdoor seating through the back of the restaurant, which can make for a lovely private atmosphere, I'm sure there are more places like that through the city especially downtown at fancier places.

Toronto's lakefront is not as developed as some cities I've been to like Chicago but there are beautiful paths around harbourfront and it's easy to hop on a streetcar when you get tired. The Sunnyside Pavilion has a neat history and is very cool, sometimes there are events there.

There are a lot of Tibetan people and restaurants in TO and if that's something that intrigues you you can take the Queen car down towards High Park/Parkdale and explore the different options, you're looking for "momos".

Near to your hotel there is a Jack Astor's at Yonge and Dundas with a big rooftop patio and it's really lovely on a warmer evening although not the coolest choice for food, worth going to given how close you'll be though. If you check out the eaton's centre for shopping I'd tack that on as where you go afterwards.

CN Tower, Centre Island, HarbourFront, the AGO are all worth checking out, there's also textile museum, a shoe museum, museum of inuit art, so much.

Oh and the subway system is under a lot of pressure right now and it can be frustrating, but so can traffic in general. Walking is best if you're not going far unless you can avoid rush hours. Tokens are about $3 and you need to take a transfer if your route requires switches, I would spring for weekly passes to avoid the hassles and for maximum flexibility. People are often rushing around but will be helpful if you have questions, the city is very safe and even at night there are people around, immediately east of Yonge around Queen can feel less safe than the other side but again largely very safe, people out at all hours, lots of light at night, in my travels in American cities I've realized that is perhaps unique about Toronto.

Have fun, and please have a polish sausage and some fries at Nathan Phillips Square for me, that's what I always do when I go back. :)
posted by lafemma at 7:03 AM on May 14, 2016 [4 favorites]

You can also get acetaminophen with codeine at the pharmacy. You will have to go to the prescription counter to get it; it's not on the open shelves. However, antibiotic eye drops are also sold without a prescription and are stocked with the rest of the eye stuff.

Bloor Hot Docs is a theater dedicated to documentaries.

I went to the Golden Griddle near the Maple Leaf stadium a few days after 9-11 . On the menu were pancakes with dried cranberries. What I was given were pancakes with a blob of sauce. The Arab cashier said that the US got what it deserved. When I went up to pay he leered at me and cooed "Was the food good? " IHOP in the states is far better. Every other person expressed sympathy.
posted by brujita at 7:04 AM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing Doors Open Toronto!

If you want to see something amazing, try the RC Harris water filtration plant.

It located at what's basically the eastern end end of the Queen streetcar line, so in the eatern end of the city, but if the prospect of an Art Deco water filtration plant is up you alley, go!

We've been and it's amazing. It's situated with a beautiful niew of Lake Ontario and the streetcar ride out there will take you through Leslieville and the Beaches.

It's one of the more popular Doors Open venues, so going as early as possible that day would be your best bet (may take you close to an hour to get out there on the Queen car, but you'd get a great snapshot of the eastern part of the city along Queen by doing it).
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:11 AM on May 14, 2016 [5 favorites]

There's a very gay clothing-optional beach on the Toronto Island, called Hanlan's Point. Take bottled water, sunscreen, and a little picnic from the mainland as there aren't really any shops on that part of the island. It's nice- you can socialize with strangers or be more introverted. If it's a sunny day do not underestimate the Canadians' relief from winter- people will definitely be basking and half dressed anywhere you see a ray of sun, Toronto's hilarious tha way.
Trinity Bellwoods park is also great on sunny days.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:59 AM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Little comics jaunt: Best (most passionate and least commercial) comic shop is called The Beguiling, near Bloor/Bathurst, same one mentioned above. Have a little wander through Scott Pilgrim's Honest Ed's while you're at it.
Brunch around the corner at Insomnia is tasty, or on the same street as The Beguiling there's Butler's Pantry and Victory Cafe, where the food isn't as good as Insomnia but they have patios, which on a nice day is preferable.
Nearby rooftop bar and street patio at Pauper's is also nice in the afternoon.
That whole area is called The Annex and it's a nice walkable part of town.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 8:09 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Haven't seen it mentioned yet, but St. Lawrence Market!

Saturday is the big market day, but it's open Tuesday to Saturday, and much quieter on weekdays.

It's about a 20 to 30 minute walk from your hotel (or four subway stops from College to King station - just walk east on King to Jarvis and it's a block south.

Breakfast/early lunch option: grab a peameal bacon (Canadian bacon in the US) sandwich, or a pastry from one of the bakeries (Carousel upstairs, Stonemill downstairs) and sit on the picnic tables outside. Lots of good food vendors with stuff to go. For coffee, try Balzac's on Market Street (just on the west side of the market itself).

If you like hustle and bustle, Saturdays are busier.

We live across the street - let us know if you'll be in the neighbourhood!
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:09 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Food: you have to go to Banh Mi Boys, right around the corner from your hotel.

Exciting cuisine: There’s too much, so here’s a good summary from Vogue of all places. For more recs, check out Toronto Life.

Nature hikes: Rouge Park is so underrated. It’s on the eastern edge of the city but you can get there by public transit. Also High Park. Not as far from downtown as Rouge Park, smaller, still beautiful, has a little zoo.

New(ish) stuff: Ripley’s Aquarium – it’s like swimming in coral reefs without getting wet! Too bad you won't be there during Pride. Also, the zoo – don’t miss the panda cubs that our own Prime Minister cuddled. Also, walk around the edge of the CN Tower.

Yes, Honest Ed’s is still around, but they’re closing, and selling off their iconic painted signs. That’d be a great Toronto souvenir if you can get one!

Unusual spots: The Monkey’s Paw, which has a book vending machine.

Movie stuff: Reg Hartt’s Cineforum is a must.

History: No one’s mentioned Black Creek Pioneer Village?!

N-thing Doors Open Toronto – lots of history and engineering stuff to marvel over! Also n-thing Kensington Market – lots of cool vintage shops and awesome food.

Toronto also has Bikeshare if you’re into biking to get around. The stations are only limited to downtown Toronto though.

Now I wish I had two weeks off to explore my own city like a tourist...
posted by foxjacket at 8:10 AM on May 14, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: MeMail me when you're here, there'll have to be a meetup obvs.

As mentioned, you'll be like a block from the village.

You cannot throw a brick in Toronto without hitting good food. If you're looking at higher end, I'd recommend Buca, Scaramouche, Hiro Sushi. DO NOT eat in the village. Everything there is way overpriced for what it is. Go for pub food if you need to eat while there.

You'll want to explore Queen West. Walk down Yonge from your hotel and turn right at Queen. You'll pass City Hall (Old, which is now courthouses, and New), Osgoode Hall (Law school/home of the Law Society of Upper Canada. Beautiful grounds, tours available) and the opera house. Then all of a sudden you're in a bunch of fun stores and restaurants that goes for a couple blocks. Take in a beer at the Rex (jazz music), wander a bit further and do some people watching from the patio at the Black Bull (don't eat there, but do eat across the street at Peter Pan, which is where Susur Lee basically got his start in Toronto). Further west is Spadina--walking north there plonks you right into Chinatown and then Kensington Market, which is where the hippies go. Pot smoke, good coffee, and even better tacos everywhere.

Further west along Queen from Spadina gets you into a lot of fabric stores. Even further west and you enter hipsterville--grab some food to go and have a picnic in Trinity-Bellwoods park. Discreet drinking is okay, don't be too nuts about it. Also check out the paper store, I think it would be right up your alley, a huge store filled with (mostly) Japanese paper products, lots of handmade stuff. Right across the street from Trinity-Bellwoods. Terroni is also a great restaurant along this strip.

Continuing west from there you'll pass CAMH, Canada's largest psychiatric hospital. The grounds are open to visitors--they tore down the wall a few years ago. You'll pass Ossington--heading north on Ossington gets you into a hot restaurant district. I especially recommend Pizzeria Libretto (certified Napolitano pizza). They don't take reservations; give your name at the door and pop next door to Salt, where they will ply you with wines and Spanish-inflected appetizers. Definitely do the prosciutto tasting, see if you can identify which is the Ontario prosciutto made by Mario Pingue down in Niagara. (It is mouthwatering). It's hard to go wrong for food on the stretch of Ossington between Queen and Dundas. Also recommend The Cure, a chill funky place owned and run by some friends of mine. Farm-to-table cooking without fussiness or pretension, nose-to-tail charcuterie.

Back on Queen though, suddenly around CAMH you will venture into good expensive shopping territory and antiques. Keep going as far as Roncesvalles and turn right. That's a heavily Polish neighbourhood, get some pierogi, go into the delis and get all kinds of noms. Also check out Domani, which is a nothing place but one of my favourite Italian restaurants in the whole city. Further north on Roncey is The Local, a great little pub with a short but comprehensive list of taps, a decent menu, and site of a long-ago MeFi Meetup!

Travel around the city is easy. TTC (Toronto Transit Commission/Toy Train Company) does both daily and weekly passes, available at any subway station and many corner stores. (Even when not on a corner, convenience stores are called corner stores). People are SUPER friendly about helping tourists with directions.

You'll also be here for Doors Open Toronto, walking tours of some of the best/most interesting architecture in the city.

Pretty much the entirety of downtown is amazingly walkable. But don't neglect going east past the Don Valley. If you take the Dundas streetcar east you'll end up in Little India after passing through our other Chinatown. On Queen, east takes you into the Beaches--yuppies and yuppie stores, and very nice. Excellent places to eat and drink.

Sorry if anything's duplicated.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:57 AM on May 14, 2016 [7 favorites]

Plenty of people have mentioned Kensington Market, and if you do go, stop by Wanda's Pie in the Sky for lunch and pie!
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 9:01 AM on May 14, 2016

Oh, and if you want to make your life easy vis a vis money, virtually everywhere takes debit payments via the Interac network these days. I think opening an account with a Canadian bank that has a US presence (I know TD does, I think it's called TD Ameritrade down there) will streamline that process.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:30 AM on May 14, 2016

Oh yeah, if you want more gayness, check out where our premier, who's a lesbian, works.
posted by foxjacket at 9:57 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

(aka The Pink Palace)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:04 AM on May 14, 2016

You must go to the Bata Shoe Museum.
posted by Automocar at 10:24 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Also check out the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. Nearby, and they have ongoing exhibits.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 10:45 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Minor questions is the ROM a one day kind of place or a "make multiple visits for different collections" one?
posted by The Whelk at 10:58 AM on May 14, 2016

One day, really.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:59 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Eat bahn mi in Chinatown!
posted by ardgedee at 11:56 AM on May 14, 2016

Feckless' walk down Queen west is an amazing suggestion, and another thing you will find there is lots of awesome little art galleries where you can check out the thriving local art scene. Go on a thursday evening and you're likely to hit a few openings and get a free glass of wine, too.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:54 PM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

The ROM is a one day visit. I think that downsizing your expectations will help you have a better time, since two weeks is a pretty long visit in any city and few of them can compare to NYC in terms of scale or mythology.

I always recommend the greenhouses at Allan Gardens. Check out the AGO, see the Group of Seven stuff and don't miss the amazing model ships (in the basement).

Whatever you do, get out of the downtown core. If you're up on College, be sure to walk the sidestreets. Most of my favourite memories, after living here for 35 years, seem to center around just walking around looking at stuff and people. Unless you're actively looking for trouble, you're unlikely to find it, so get out and walk around at odd hours.

If I'm not swamped with freelance work, I'd be happy to get you both into the AGO on my membership.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:41 PM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

posted by PinkMoose at 2:42 PM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

you can do the rom in about 4 hours, the ago in 3 and a half. The Ryerson Image Center is fantastic, and close to the gay village.
posted by PinkMoose at 2:43 PM on May 14, 2016

West Queen West has moved to Dundas and Bloorsdale, which is also quite queer. (im sorr, i will stop editing i love Toronto)
posted by PinkMoose at 2:46 PM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

The TIFF Bell Lightbox theatre is a really great place to see a movie.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:24 PM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

Kensington market and queen east / Leslieville are both great for secondhand clothes. Courage My Love in the market is particularly good. The Scarborough bluffs are gorgeous if a little hard to get to. I'd recommend a day trip to Elora. It's a quaint little town surrounded by beautiful scenery and on the edge of a gorge.
posted by trigger at 4:06 PM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]

Glad Day (lgbtqi) bookstore.
Best to get peameal or strip bacon. When I asked for sausage I would get the same crumb filled banger one gets in most of the British Isles
posted by brujita at 7:05 PM on May 14, 2016

The TTC weekly pass more than paid for itself when I visited for a week. Also it gives you the freedom to hop on and off without having to worry about justifying the price of any one particular ride.
posted by clorox at 7:28 PM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]

I've lived in Toronto for ten years but before I came here I was in New York. I will caution you that all of the museums in Toronto are very small and very expensive compared to the museums in New York. (Like the "Total ROM Experience" which includes the two special exhibits they're running now, is $33 per adult. Although, one of the two exhibitions included in that price isn't starting until June 25, so I'm not sure why they're advertising that now. But still! )

One uniquely Canadian thing I haven't seen mentioned yet is Bulk Barn -- it's just a big store filled with bulk bins, mostly candy but also spices and cooking supplies. And like a thousand different types of sugar and flour. They sell a fair bit of candy you don't see in the US, and since everything is bulk, you can literally just buy two single candies of each thing you're interested in for a cheapie candy tasting menu.

Riding the streetcar is honestly a fun way to pass an afternoon, and the weekly passes that others have mentioned are a really good deal.
posted by kate blank at 7:50 PM on May 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: (I know two weeks is long for smallish city trip but I'm also planning on spending a few days with wonderful local Mefites so I can spread things out, we might front load it with CULTURAL EVENTS. And then just hang out)
posted by The Whelk at 10:17 PM on May 15, 2016

Downtown Toronto is a collection of neighborhoods, some of which are culturally distinct (Koreatown, Cabbagetown, Chinatown, etc) I often will plan a day around one neighborhood. The TTC is great, but it can be slow to get from one area to another.
posted by Gor-ella at 9:46 AM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

FWIW, I know you're coming from NYC, but Toronto is not really a "smallish" city. By population, it's bigger than Chicago.

(Also, ++++++ Bulk Barn, so much fun. Gummy hockey players.)
posted by maryr at 12:46 PM on May 16, 2016

Best answer: I think that downsizing your expectations will help you have a better time

This is as Torontonian an answer as you can possibly manage - "look, we're no New York City, okay?"

Anyway. A few comments on other suggestions and suggestions of our own, from myself and operalass:

- Doors Open is a really great event, but pick which ones you want to do ahead of time because they fill up very quickly and you can stand around waiting all day for the really popular ones.

- Avoid Reg Hartt's Cineforum like the fucking plague. Yes, Hartt is a local character who is quite unique. He's also incredibly creepy towards female patrons and not worth supporting. Also, it's not, like, a real theatre or anything. It's his living room.

- In terms of food, Toronto has literally every cuisine on the planet and you can find everything at a fairly decent quality level. That having been said, Toronto excels with respect to Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Middle Eastern and Caribbean food in particular - you should consider those to be specialties and seek them out, because even the street-level stuff will be exceptional. (I particularly recommend getting doubles from Patty King in Kensington.)

- Toronto street hot dogs are an acquired taste. We love them! But I do know that people from other cities with street-meat culture have commented on them in a "...oh" sort of way, and people have complimented them particularly as well. Basically, try a street dog at least once.

- If I was going to pick one attraction already mentioned that you in particular would adore beyond all else, it's Casa Loma and it's not even close. (The Spadina House Museum is adjacent and it's nice too.) Give yourself the bulk of a day for it and in the evening then head out to one of the restaurants on the Dupont strip: Rose & Sons if you want funky modern nouveau diner cuisine, Fat Pasha for family Israeli, or Le Paradis for classic French bistro at a very reasonable price.

- The Toronto Islands are a must-do; they're really beautiful and even the small residential community on Ward's Island is a lovely walking tour. Note that you can take a water-taxi to the Islands and it will be much, much faster than the ferries - and then the ferry is free for your way back, since they only charge for the ferry TO the islands, not the other way around. The Leslie Street Spit is in the same area (but not connected to the Islands) and is a gorgeous nature preserve that gives amazing views of the city.

- Mother's Dumplings or Dumpling House are both amazing and both have their partisans. Basically, go to Spadina's Chinatown area and get dumplings somewhere.

- The ROM is a full day at most, and although it's smaller than, say, the Met, it's still a really great museum and worth the visit; you can probably fit in a visit to the Gardiner Ceramic Museum across the street when you go.

- You'll be arriving just in time for the annual Inside Out LGBT Film Festival.

- Your hotel is just around the corner from Hot Star Chicken, which is a Taiwanese franchise that just showed up in Toronto (and by the same opening, North America), which does fried chicken in a unique and really very delicious way. You're also across the street from The Big Slice, which does absurdly large slices of pizza and which are divisive - some people think it's cardboard, some people adore it. (I agree with both sentiments. It is TASTY cardboard.)

- Your nearby diner of choice should be the Senator, but the Senator fills up often; in those circumstances, Fran's is a tolerable alternative.

- Plenty of people have already suggested Niagara Falls for a daytrip, but as an alternative, consider the Stratford Festival - there is a daily bus from Toronto that lets you arrive, look around Stratford for a bit (it's quite picturesque), catch that day's 2pm matinee and then head back to Toronto afterward. This year's lineup includes A Chorus Line, Macbeth, As You Like It and A Little Night Music.
posted by mightygodking at 8:52 PM on May 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

If you want a crazy theatre experience, how about Counting Sheep? It's an immersive folk-opera set to the music and madness of Toronto's award winning balkan-klezmer-gypsy-party-punk-super-band, The Lemon Bucket Orkestra. The Globe and Mail has this listed as #1 of the top 5 things to do this week. Runs till June 5 before heading to Edinburgh. I saw this when it was first workshopped a year ago, and it was insane and fantastic.
posted by Kabanos at 8:13 AM on May 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I want to second the Stratford day trip idea because you DON'T want to spend any part of your holiday on the QEW to Niagara Falls, sitting in traffic, looking at mile after mile of ugly suburban retail sprawl. The drive to Stratford is away from the main travel arteries and gets you out into the countryside.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:45 AM on May 20, 2016

One of the best non-touristy and cool strips is Bloor St from Ossington to Lansdowne. Tons of cool bars, dive bars, odd shops, hole in the wall food spots, a big Value Village. Its a cool neighbourhood if you want to get out of downtown for part of the day. Take the subway to either Ossington or Lansdowne. Good bars along there are Three Speed, Duffy's, Burdock (onsite micro-brewery), The Piston (good dance parties in the back room usually). A bunch more have opened recently that I haven't been to yet.

If you go to Casa Loma Anthony Rose has built a mini bar and restaurant empire along Dupont - Big Crow (northern cottage campfire BBQ vibe), Rose and Sons (Americana/Canadiana diner/comfort food), Bar Begonia (French bar), Fat Pasha (middle-eastern/Israeli comfort food) and Schmaltz Appetizing (Russ and Daughters style Jewish smoked fish/bagel/cream cheese take out place)

There are some of my flavours of the month! Welcome to TO and enjoy! Nice weather right now.

Oh yeah, and nthing the Island. Its the best part of the city and a shame that people don't go more often. Its right there and feels like your hours from the city instead of minutes.
posted by Fred Wesley at 1:40 PM on May 26, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: How did I miss this question? For men's vintage, try Kingpin's Hideaway (Jonathan Hagey) the Flashbacks in Kensington Market (Roger) and even Mrs. Huizenga (Catherine and Dave) -- and if you tell me what you like, I'll see what I have at work and can show up wearing a trenchcoat with dead stock 1940s ties hidden on the inside, and ask "Do ya wanna buy a tie?"
posted by peagood at 5:07 AM on May 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

A great classic diner near your hotel is the Coach House Restaurant at Yonge and Wellesley. It's one of the last remaining vestiges of what I would call old Yonge Street. You could add the neon sign out front of the Zanzibar strip club with its classic neon to that list. As you have likely observed Yonge is undergoing a massive transformation as many of the old commercial 'main street' style buildings and being torn down and replaced by condos.
posted by Fred Wesley at 5:49 PM on May 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Last Dundas Garage Sale at the Monkey's Paw is this Saturday!
posted by peagood at 6:49 AM on June 1, 2016

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