Ontario road trip - what should I see/do/eat? (especially in Toronto)
September 27, 2018 8:29 AM   Subscribe

I’m going to do a solo drive from New York to Minneapolis next week and since I have a little free time, I’m thinking of taking a longer route through Canada. I’ll probably head straight up to Montréal and then across southern Ontario at least as far as Toronto. From there I’ll either continue to Windsor or possibly head up to Sudbury and across to Sault Ste. Marie. What should I see, do, and eat along the way?

While I'm already familiar with Montréal, I don’t have a lot of eastern Ontario experience and have never spent time in Toronto. I’m interested in pretty much everything, but specifically looking for:

-good local food
-restaurant recommendations
-interesting geology
-Toronto neighborhoods to explore
-forests and other natural areas to do some hiking and photography (I won’t be bringing camping gear, though)
-historical sites
-local arts and entertainment
posted by theory to Travel & Transportation around Ontario (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Don't plan any entering/leaving of Toronto from 7am -11am or 3pm - 7pm.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:45 AM on September 27, 2018 [7 favorites]

There is a lot of information on tripadvisor on the direct versus scenic route from montreal to toronto. We drove it this summer. We bypassed most scenic route along 1000 islands scenic drive since we had just come from there in NY. We did take some of the scenic route, not the most direct highway route, after that ... and, it wasn't that scenic. Based on this experience, I would recommmend the 1000 island area if you haven't seen it and the fastest highway route unless you are stopping at a specific site. We did stop at Cobourg Beach, but I wouldn't recommend unless you are very beach-starved as this was a nice Great Lake beach if you have no access to other beaches. We at at Rustic Spud in Cobourg and it was decent.

If you decide to go south after Toronto, take care what bridge to enter the US through Customs, the Rainbow Bridge cost us over an hour of merging several lanes of traffic into one and sitting on the bridge. The other bridge would have been much better. We ended up on Rainbow Bridge because we drove past the Falls, but would have been better off backtracking as the Rainbow Bridge was a logistical traffic mess.
posted by RoadScholar at 8:48 AM on September 27, 2018

So, as for going west from Toronto, there is pretty much bugger all between Hamilton and the border. It's a flat nothing land. Boring. And if Windsor is what you find after 3 hours of staring at boringland, it will be a major let down. Unless you have a burning desire to see Detroit before you die (in which case I am sorry for you) I highly HIGHLY recommend going north from Toronto and around the lake that way because it is a far, far prettier route. Orders of magnitude so.

If you absolutely must go through Detroit, then the Henry Ford museum was about a bazillion times more interesting than I thought it would be and is not all that car focussed in the traditional sense. Very interesting.
posted by Brockles at 8:55 AM on September 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

We're headed to Toronto this December and our big plan is to share the fried chicken dinner for four at Momofoku Noodle Bar. That's one of David Chang's places, late of Netflix's Ugly Delicious.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 9:10 AM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you have a good chunk of extra time for the 45 min south of Belleville drive, Prince Edward County has a nice United Empire Loyalist meets arts culture meets food culture vibe to it. If it's nice weather where you can sit outside I recommend County Cider on a day the patio is open. If you are doing that, a very fast stop at Lake on the Mountain is kind of neat if you like little geological/topological quirks. Standing at the edge and then crossing the road to look at the Glenorra ferry below is nice and takes like...10-15 minutes.

In Toronto, the Bata Shoe Museum is lots of fun. I wish world tourism had not discovered Bluffers Park, but it has. The Vista Trail in Rouge Park is a fav, or the Mast trail in the same park is great for foresty feelings. The best hikes in the area are on the Niagara escarpment or the Bruce Trail though.

In Toronto for food I'm going to recommend NishDish but really a search of BlogTO or Toronto Life's websites will give you lots of choices.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:19 AM on September 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Geology: I haven't been there, but a friend lives near Frontenac Park and has recommended it highly to me as having great hiking and really interesting geology. I also went to Niagara Glen for the first time, and it's amazing. There isn't a lot of information on-site about the (amazing) geological and natural history, so I'd recommend bringing your own / doing a bit of pre-reading. We'd read up on the formation of the Niagara Escarpment, and that really informed our exploration. (Didn't find any fossils, but we did identify layers).

In fact: anywhere on the Niagara escarpment is totally worth a stop.

Crawford Lake has a recreation of Iroquoian life in the 15th century, and a fascinating meromictic lake.

For Toronto: my main recommendation as a native is to skip the downtown core (the central business district, the few blocks around Bay & King), unless you really like sky scrapers and chain stores.
- Yonge St between Dundas and Bloor is not as colourful as it used to be, but is still worth a walk; Queen West (from University to Spadina) has sadly gone all chains, so skip that.
- Kensington is still fun, especially on a weekend afternoon; there are fewer vintage shops, but more food options, including Moo Frites (very good Dutch-style fries) and the Moonbeam cafe (roast their own coffee).
- For queer culture, Church St. from Alexander to just north of Wellesley is still rich; Glad Day bookstore is also a (very good) cafe.
- Bloor between Ossington & Landsdowne is a great neighbourhood, with a lot going on - I keep thinking I should go walking there more often.
- People may recommend the Distillery District: it's pretty, but I don't go there; while it has lovely 19th century buildings, the only other things in them are expensive restaurants and even more expensive galleries and stores. If you're a Murdoch Mysteries fan, it might be fun for location spotting.
- the area north & just east of the Distillery district (Corktown?) is actually quite interesting for exploring; it's also part of the early city, and there are sites like William Mackenzie's house & print shop, and the first free school, tucked into the backstreets.
posted by jb at 9:20 AM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Sweet tooth? Try the butter tart tour and see how much sugar you can eat in a day!
posted by five_cents at 9:23 AM on September 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Don't plan any entering/leaving of Toronto from 7am -11am or 3pm - 7pm.

QUOTED FOR TRUTH. For the love of yourself, make sure you arrive and leave the GTA well outside weekday rush-hours.

Also on the historical sites: in eastern Ontario, there is also Upper Canada Village and Fort Henry; in addition to a daily sunset ceremony, the fort has ghost tours and at one point you could even stay the night there (much fun - you have the run of the fort overnight).
posted by jb at 9:27 AM on September 27, 2018

The grounds of the McMichael art gallery in Kleinberg (not far outside Toronto) are quite pretty in the fall, well suited for walking and photography. Their Group of Seven collection is impressive.
posted by crazycanuck at 9:50 AM on September 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Unless you have a burning desire to see Detroit before you die (in which case I am sorry for you)

I guess you can decide for yourself whether it's worth looking at Brueghels and such.
posted by praemunire at 10:12 AM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Traffic anywhere near Toronto is truly aggravating. I'd almost be tempted to try to skip Toronto for that reason, except that it does have great selection of interesting restaurants. As suggested you'll wanna look at BlogTO and review your options.

If you happen to be going thru Don Mills, The Aga Khan Museum is interesting.

There's lots of pretty gorges and waterfalls to see in the Niagara escarpment all around Hamilton. Regret some more tedious traffic to get to there.

If you have enough extra time, you could try to catch the ferry from Tobermory (limited fall schedule I presume) and go through Manitoulan Island on to Sault. That's a scenic route.
posted by ovvl at 10:31 AM on September 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Once you know your schedule and whether you'll be coming to TO with a few free hours, it's very likely the local crowd will be down for a meetup. We're pretty lazy about getting together on our own, but out of town visitors often catalyse good times for everyone.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:51 AM on September 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

In Montréal, try the smoked meat at Schwartz's.
posted by ubiquity at 11:12 AM on September 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

If you go via Sault Ste. Marie then you can take a trip on the Agawa Canyon Train. I had never heard of it but some family friends went and said it was really good.

Out past Sudbury you can do a short hike in Kilarney Provincial Park and there's a really good fish and chips place just beyond the park. This only works if you take the 400 from Toronto instead of going via Tobermory and Manitoulin Island (going via Tobermory is probably the better option).
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:00 PM on September 27, 2018

If it's a not too chilly day, walk around the waterfront in Toronto, between say Bathurst and Jarvis. There are interesting gardens, boats, places to sit, watch the planes take off and land at the island airport, treats. (I feel particularly soothed by water, YMMV.) I recommend a drink and/or something to eat at the Amsterdam Brew House.
posted by wellred at 12:45 PM on September 27, 2018

Geology, you say? Sudbury is the place for you. If you're going to be passing through there, you might like to descend for a tour of an old nickel mine at Dynamic Earth (a.k.a. "The Big Nickel") - Sudbury has a long history of nickel mining and is home of the Inco superstack and actually sits in a giant meteorite crater.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 1:53 PM on September 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Kingston Ontario is enroute to Toronto and is dripping with museums & historical sites. We also have rocks (mostly limestone), and things built out of rocks (again, mostly limestone)
  • Fort Henry - jb mentioned this above. The Sunset Ceremony is over for the season, but there are guided tours available and starting Oct 4th part of the Fort is converted to a massive haunted house. Walking around the exterior is free and also totally worthwhile - the view is great
  • Bellvue House - home of Sir John A. MacDonald, Canada's first Prime Minister. The interior of the house is currently closed for repairs, but that means admission to the grounds & visitor centre are free.
  • Kingston Penitentiary tours (not free) & Prison Museum (free) - I highly recommend both of these. If you watched the tv mini-series of Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace this is the main location the story took place & was (partially) filmed. The prison museum is in the Warden's House where Grace is interviewed by Dr. Jordan.
  • waterfront path - this stretches from the 1976 Olympic Harbour (next to the prisons) west past the (now closed) Rockwood Asylum, and on to Lake Ontario Park (nice views, natural limestone shoreline)
  • Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen's University
  • Kingston City Hall tours (free) - built when Kingston was the Capital of Canada, so... super ostentatious.
  • Museum of Healthcare - cooler than you might think
  • Pumphouse Steam Museum
  • Miller Museum of Geology on Queen's University campus - small, but has information on local geology
Happy to provide restaurant recommendations too. We have a disproportionally good food scene for a city our size.
posted by Secret Sparrow at 1:59 PM on September 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Another geological thing: just a little bit northwest of Toronto are the Cheltenham Badlands, which are nifty.

If you do end up doing Windsor/Detroit, you might be interested in this recent AskMe about stuff to do in Detroit. Don't listen to the naysayers - there's a ton of interesting stuff in Detroit.

But a caveat on that route: having had to do it more times than I can recall, my opinion is that the 401 between Toronto and Windsor is an extremely flat - and very boring - drive. Northern Ontario up through Sudbury to the Sault, or the Bruce Peninsula (where Tobermory is), are much more scenic drives.

Speaking of the Bruce Peninsula - if you like grottos, Bruce Peninsula National Park has some really spectacular geology, and Fathom Five National Marine Park is home to the very interesting Flowerpot Island.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:13 PM on September 27, 2018

Best answer: Here in Toronto, Anthropocene is currently exhibiting at the Art Gallery of Ontario:

The exhibition is a component of The Anthropocene Project, a multidisciplinary initiative from the award-winning trio of photographer Edward Burtynsky and filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier.

The Project’s starting point is research from the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), an international group of scientists advocating to officially change the name of our present geological epoch, Holocene, to Anthropocene, in recognition of the changes humans have made to the Earth’s systems. The AWG’s research categories, such as anthroturbation, species extinction, technofossils, and terraforming, are represented and explored in various media as evidence of our species’ permanent planetary impact.

From the AGO, it's a very short walk to Kensington Market and Chinatown.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 2:28 PM on September 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

if the blueberry farm shop near Windsor is still open for the season, go.
posted by brujita at 2:58 PM on September 27, 2018

🍁 Colour report (if it is important to you)
posted by saucysault at 3:40 PM on September 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I second the idea to head up the peninsula to Tobermory and to take the ferry across to Manitoulin Island. It's gorgeous and well worth the trip. My vote also would be to head north and cross the border at either Sault St. Marie or Thunder Bay if you have the time for the drive up that far north. The north shore of lake superior will be gorgeous this time of year, totally worth the trip! If you decide to head out to Thunder Bay, Sibley Provincial Park is gorgeous with lots of interesting geological history in the area.
posted by snowysoul at 9:21 PM on September 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd reiterate that if you plan to take the ferry from Tobermory, check the schedule and git there plenty early, if you miss it might be a good while til the next one. Going thru Manitoulan one outstanding nature walk is Cup and Saucer.
posted by ovvl at 6:05 PM on September 28, 2018

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