Toronto travel: walkable ethnic enclaves
May 14, 2024 9:56 AM   Subscribe

Headed to Toronto in June. We are big walkers and would love suggestions for areas that showcase the city’s diversity. We will have a car and are staying in Toronto Metropolitan University student housing. Shopping centers or malls count too if they’ve got interesting stuff
posted by genmonster to Travel & Transportation around Old Toronto, ON (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
There are lots of great answers, but if you want someone who has thought about this professionally, you could get this book: Stroll, by Shawn Micallef. He is sadly not active on Twitter at the moment but used to post maps and pictures from his walks and bikes around the city.

As for my personal recommendation:

Go to Dundas West subway station and walk south on Roncesvalles (former extremely Polish neighbourhood - now slightly Polish, very walkable, lots of great shops and food) until you get to Queen St W, then walk East on Queen St W. You can basically walk along Queen until the Eaton Centre and you will pass through Parkdale (great Tibetan food), West Queen West (cute shops, bars, patios, etc) and the stretch from like Strachan to Yonge which is what people typically think of when they think of Queen West, cool street. You could also detour from Queen West go north on Ossington to about College (trendy, good food), or North on Spadina to College (Chinatown).

Other fun stretches to walk along include Bloor St between Bathurst and Christie, which is Koreatown (and Bloor is nice beyond both of those borders), Dundas between Lansdowne and Ossington (Little Portugal), and College between Bathurst and Ossington (Little Italy). The Danforth is also a lovely walkable Greektown.
posted by hepta at 10:23 AM on May 14 [5 favorites]

Hepta pretty much covered it. I would add Kensington which is just east of Spadina and Dundas adjacent to Chinatown. Very hippie area with lots of cool shops and vintage stores, and a landing spot for various immigrant groups over the decades. My friend calls Kensington-Chinatown the heart of Toronto. Taste of Italy is happening June 14-16.

Greektown is northeast of TMU, near Pape Station. Further east is little Ethiopia. Further south is Little India. TMU is close to the gay village (Church and Wellesley) and there will be lots of Pride activities happening in June. There's also little Jamaica in midtown. Also see the Aga Khan museum, which features Islamic art.

Be sure to also check out the Toronto Islands, it's kind of a hidden gem and there's a clothing-optional beach too.

Have fun!

Edit: there's also little Tokyo on Dundas between University and Bay, so close to TMU.
posted by foxjacket at 10:43 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]

Seconding Shawn Micallef!

From TMU, if you head east on Gerrard, you'll cross the Don River and reach the start of Chinatown East, which is now somewhat more Vietnamese. Once you get to Logan, head north and go through Withrow Park up to Carlaw and Danforth - there's a great view from above the baseball diamonds. Head west from there through Greektown to Broadview, and then south on Broadview to Riverdale Park East for a great view of the skyline. And I'd be remiss to not recommend Kensington Market as a showcase of the city's diversity - there's a bit of almost everything there.

With a car, you could head up to Pacific Mall in Markham.

Depending on when you're visiting, there are a lot of neighbourhood/cultural festivals on weekends in the summer. Taste of Little Italy is June 14-17, Do West (mostly Portuguese) is June 7-9, Riverside Eats & Beats on June 8. BlogTO keeps an events list that is pretty good about including stuff like this.
posted by phlox at 10:48 AM on May 14 [2 favorites]

Hepta's got some good advice but I think Dundas West between Lansdowne and Ossington kicks West Queen West's ass all day long. I live just east of Roncesvalles.
posted by dobbs at 10:57 AM on May 14

If you get tired of the urban landscape, head east by car and park at the head of the Doris McCarthy trail. Yes it is a small entrance off a residential street. Head down the leafy pathway until you get to the lake and a sculpture (Passages), then head either east or west to enjoy the quiet calm part of the waterfront trail.

Because of the Ontario Line construction, my usual recommendation to take the Queen streetcar is kind of out, but if you want a mixed beach/shops day, the boardwalk along the Beaches is great and Queen east between Beech Ave and Woodbine has lots of little eateries. Due to the construction I’d say subway to woodbine and then the bus down is easiest.

If you want sort of older-feeling Toronto, from TMU head west to University and walk up to Queen’s Park (provincial parliament building) and all around there you’re on the U of T campus. If you keep up to Bloor you’ll pass the Gardiner ceramics museum and the Royal Ontario Museum. You’ll be on Bloor then and can head west past the Bata shoe museum through the Annex to Koreatown, or east through Yorkville which is the fancy global luxury brand area…the people watching there’s very Bling Empire.

You’re in a really good spot if you just walk away from the Eaton Centre. :)
posted by warriorqueen at 11:10 AM on May 14

Another area that's interesting and a bit different from some of the traditional neighbourhoods is Yonge St between North York Centre and Finch subway stations which has become a modern Koreatown. You won't want to walk *to* it, but once you get off the subway, you can definitely walk around it.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:29 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]

Toronto's Jimjilbang, or Korean Sauna, is pretty fun for a rainy afternoon. No good walking around there, but worth a drive on a grey day when you just want to be warm and relax. The heated floor area at the back is really pleasant.

Little Korea: walk East along Bloor from Christie Station. Stop and get a box of fresh Walnut Cakes (Hodo Kwaja), if you're lucky with timing you'll see the machine making them in the window. Go into PAT Market and get a Custard Fish Waffle (tastes like a warm crisp waffle full of sweet custard like a crispier Boston Creme Donut), delicious. Contains no fish!) and then chase it with a green Melona popsicle (creamy honeydew melon flavour, oh man they are divine, don't get other flavours, this is the one). If your accommodations allow you to cook, the meat and frozen dumplings at PAT Market are excellent quality so get some groceries too. And eat at Joons Korean (I like the skillet with noodle, cabbage, meat, and a ton of cheese).

I love walking through Chinatown & Kensington Market. Start with the Market, epicentre is Augusta and Nassau. Excellent shops to buy cheese and fruit, lots of weird vintage clothing shops, my fave is Courage My Love. Also nice vintage furniture and clothes at Bungalow and lots of little gifts and knick knacks and artists kiosks at Blue Banana across the street, and delish pies at Wanda's Pie in the Sky is right there too. Lots of places to eat, coffee and coffee beans at Moonbeam, and you can sit in the very urban parkette there, or grab a beer at one of the many friendly bars.

Then walk a couple blocks over to Chinatown's epicentre of Spadina and Dundas. Lots of little shops to wander into, grab a Hong Kong style Bubble Tea and pastry, pick up souveniers and cheap little household random things. And I like King's Noodle House for all-day Dim Sum and its cheap-and-cheerful very good Chinese food. Or, if you like spice, Canton Chili is worthwhile - their Hakka Chili Chicken is delish.

Toronto' s Little Jamaica is at Eglinton and Oakwood, and it's small but mighty. On weekend mornings there's an Afro-Caribbean farmer's market where you can get interesting juices, soaps, etc, there's pretty graffiti on Reggae Lane, the barrels are smoking all day with very fresh delicious barbecue jerk chicken at Raps and there's a free summer Taste the Caribbean Food Festival that happens in that area a few times each summer with delicious food like Trinidadian Doubles (so delicious - fried chickpea flatbed filled with savoury chickpea curry and sweet chutney), Pholourie (pronounced pull-LOR-ree, it's savoury fried chickpea dough balls with sweet savoury tamarind sauce), sugarcane juice, Caribbean coconut cream macaroons and fudge, and other yummy treats. If that's going on during your visit, it's definitely worth the 20 min subway ride or drive to check it out.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:56 AM on May 14 [5 favorites]

I don't know if you consider Jews "ethnic", but a stretch on Bathurst was a big Jewish neighborhood. I recommend Buffalo buns (because my Toronto born Dad grew up on them.
posted by atomicstone at 12:22 PM on May 14

Start at Bathurst and Eglinton and walk north. You’ll pass through the Jewish area with its many bakeries (Hermes, Grodzynskis etc). Have lunch at United (Bathurst & Lawrence) then keep walking until you get to Wilson, which is the Filipino epicentre of the GTA.
posted by ficbot at 2:11 PM on May 14

If you're exploring the Jewish area on Bathurst, make sure to pop into Gryfe's Bagels at Bathurst and Lawrence. Their bagels are a little on the small side, light and cakey and so delicious. My family used to eat a warm dozen of them, in a single sitting, every weekend!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 2:37 PM on May 14 [1 favorite]

You’ve already had a Chinatown recommendation, but I’ll add a small thing to it: my most memorable evening we had when visiting Toronto was at an Uyghur restaurant, with a stop at an extremely adorable macaron shop for dessert. The region was urban and quite walkable; looking at Google maps I suspect the businesses were Magical Taste of China and Daan-Go Cake Lab. This was several years ago but both appear to be in business still, although recent reviews for the former are a bit patchy.
posted by eirias at 2:49 PM on May 14

Toronto traffic is horrid. Gets worse in summer with the various road closures.

You can get a day pass to ride the TTC transit system. Unlimited rides.
The streetcars provide a good way to see the various parts that others have mentioned.
Queen Street, Dundas ,College
You could just get off at any point that looks interesting.
It's not like they speed along at all.
You could take the ferry to the Islands. Is's a nice view of Toronto skyline.
And people live there.
Niagara Falls is an hour and a half drive, if you haven't been it's worth a detour.
posted by yyz at 3:29 PM on May 14

We had a guided tour of Chinatown a couple of years ago.
Google Toronto walking tours and you'll find knowledgeable guides who arrange for fun stops for coffee and treats along the way,
posted by Enid Lareg at 8:48 PM on May 14

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