May 1, 2009

Toronto: My Home Town

I bet that many of you have never been to Canada before. Okay, this excludes my friends and family from Canada of course. But seriously, I've met so many Americans who have never even ventured across the border. It's true that many Americans don't even travel outside the lower forty eight states, but come on. And if you're one of those people who have been to Niagara Falls or Windsor, Ontario, that doesn't really count as visiting Canada. Toronto, the biggest city in Canada, and also where I grew up, is easily accessible and very cosmopolitan.

After a quick jaunt to New York City, I jumped on a Continental Airlines flight to Toronto. Continental is actually one of the best US based carriers I have ever flown, and way better than my native Air Canada. Sorry Canada, but this is one thing you got wrong. It's okay, I'll forgive you since You have amazing health care, great public schools, funding for the arts, your streets are clean, and you are extremely polite.

I spent about a week in total in Toronto, which is more than enough time if you just want to get the highlights of the city. I was there to catch up with family and friends, so I took some much needed rest after some serious globe-stomping in Asia.

The area I grew up in is called Riverdale, yes, like in the Archie comics. I'm sure I am being biased, but it's one of my favorite neighborhoods in Toronto. Riverdale park incorporates a large hill, that at the top, it gives one of the nicest skyline views of the city, especially at sunset. Plus, it's also the best tobogganing hill in the winter time. I was lucky to be in the city during a big snow storm (yes, I know you probably think I'm crazy for saying this), but because of this, I was able to go tobogganing for the first time in probably ten or fifteen years. Tobogganing is an activity that one should continue to do into old age. Seriously, it keeps you laughing and therefore young at heart.

So what did I do while in Toronto. Well, the most important thing was visiting old friends. This included food and nights out on the town. In addition to going tobogganing, I also attempted the sport of Curling for the first time. It's much harder than it looks, and it's also so much fun.

If you didn't know, Toronto is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. And with it, comes great food from around the globe. I ate the best dim sum at a local Chinese restaurant called the Grand, on Gerrard Street East, near Broadview Avenue. The main Chinatown (yes, there are several) is on Dundas Street West, and packed with great restaurants as well. If you want some authentic Indian food, head to Little India on Gerrard Street East. As for Italian, nothing beats Little Italy on College Street West, near Bathurst Street. This is also a great place for night life. If you want to experience a good market head to Kensington Market, just off of Spadina Avenue, near College Street. Not only can you get fresh produce, but it's home to some of the best vintage clothing stores in the World, and also to the best Jamaican beef patty joint, called the Patty King.

Speaking of street snacks, Toronto has the best hot dogs, and I'm not even slightly exaggerating this claim. New York is famous for its numerous street carts selling steamed kosher dogs, but nothing will prepare you for the massive grilled, yes grilled, hot dogs and sausages that are best enjoyed late night after a couple drinks. My favorite stand has always been on the corner of Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue. Besides being grilled over an open flame bar-b-que, the dogs are almost twice the size of New York's, plus you have the option of toppings like cheese, bacon bits, hot peppers, and multiple types of mustard. I usually eat mine with ketchup, mayo, American mustard, onions and/or sauerkraut, cheese, bacon bits, and banana peppers. It might sound like a heart burn in a bun, but done on occasion it is heaven, and a trip home isn't complete until you try one of these.

There are two other essential food and drinks from Canada that you must try if you make it to Toronto, or another Canadian city. The first is coffee from Tim Hortons (named after the famous hockey player). Canadians swear they put crack in the coffee to keep us addicted. The second is pizza from Pizza Pizza. It's not like it's the most fantastic pizza in the world, but it is a Canadian icon.

As for sightseeing and activities while in Toronto, there are plenty of things to keep you busy. There is a bustling theatre (yes, in Canada they spell it theatre) community. You can find many of the same Broadway shows from New York, including Mamma Mia, at theatres such as the Princess of Whales. If you are an art or museum lover, check out The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), and the newly re-designed Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) by Frank Gehry. Want to see something out of the ordinary, check out the unique Bata Shoe Museum. If you have children, the Ontario Science Centre will keep them entertained for hours. Not afraid of heights, then take the elevator to the observation deck of the CN Tower, and jump up and down on the glass floors while looking down. Go on, I dare you.

Toronto is best visited in the spring and summertime for obvious reasons, and if you find yourself in the city during this time, there are some outdoor places you have to visit. My favorite is the Toronto Islands, located just off-shore in Lake Ontario. This is an amazing place for biking and rolling blading. Plus, there is also a nudist beach if you're into that kind of thing. While you're strolling, or biking along the numerous paths, don't forget to take in the view of the city over the harbour. Most of the picture-perfect postcard scenes of the city, are taken from the Islands. As for some other fun outdoor activities, head to Ontario Place, Harbourfront Centre, the Toronto Beaches off of Queen Street East, and the massive High Park.

If you are a sports fan, then there are several options for live events, depending on the time of year. Toronto is home to a number of professional sports teams. The Blue Jays baseball, and the Argonauts football teams play at the Rogers Centre (formerly Sky Dome). The Maple Leafs hockey club, and the Raptors basketball team play at the Air Canada Centre.

My nights in Toronto were spent in the new party spot near the intersection of Queen Street West and Ossington Avenue. In this area is the Drake Hotel, which in addition to being a hotel, has a great bar and music scene. Just around the corner is Levack Block, another fun bar with dancing. If you want other areas, check out the Annex neighbourhood near Bloor Street and Spadina Avenue. I love Future Bakery and the Green Room for great food and coffee. There is also Queen Street West around Spadina and Bathurst Streets, which also has great bars and restaurants.

I know this is probably enough information to keep you busy for several months in Toronto, but it's just that I want you to love my home city and tell all your friends. Actually, let's keep it a little secret between you and me, okay? Because it's that great.

Check out my photos from Toronto, Canada.


Vivian, VIA Rail's virtual tour guide said...

You forgot that Toronto street vendors also have the best veggie hot dogs!! And the best hot dog buns!

Jared said...

Well put. Toronto street vendors also have kick ass veggie dogs and buns. I would normally eat a veggie dog, but when I'm home in Toronto, I make the exception for beef.