Experience your city like a tourist

Experience your city like a tourist

5 locals dish on their favourite places in some of the city’s eclectic neighbourhoods to create your ultimate virtual guide

As one of the most diverse cities in the world, Toronto is packed with plenty to see, do, eat and experience. However, most of us end up falling into a routine of hanging out in the same few neighbourhoods or dining at the same go-to spots.

While restrictions still hamper international travel, there’s no better time to take a staycation and explore your own backyard. Get out of your comfort zone this summer and explore the countless things you can do across this diverse and beautiful city.

With that, Destination Toronto launches a campaign that encourages Torontonians to do and see things they haven’t done before in the city while also sharing those experiences on socials using #NeverHaveIEverTO. As a part of the campaign, they have also introduced the My Toronto Pass, a mobile-exclusive savings pass, which allows locals and visitors to redeem special offers, value-adds and unique one-of-a-kind experiences from participating businesses like the Bata Shoe MuseumHaunted Walks Inc., Toronto Botanical GardenToronto Harbour Tours Inc., plus many, many more!

Explore the city’s vibrant and unique communities and discover everything from shops, places and spaces, to culturally and historically significant points of interest in Toronto’s 25 wards through StrollTO. The free self-guided walks offer plenty of reasons to get outside while supporting local businesses and neighbourhoods to experience what our visitors rave about. Besides spending a night or two at one of the city’s beautiful hotels, indulging their amenities and unique offerings, eat your way through the city via CaféTO, enjoy a prix fixed menu during DineTOgether (September 17 to October 3) or take advantage of the ActiveTO program.

With a staggering 140 named neighbourhoods, here are some insider recommendations to explore safely, responsibly and following public guidelines in a few of the city’s municipalities.

For an inclusive, community-minded adventure in East YorkThe Danforth.

Local: TJ Borile, Entrepreneur and Daniel Oliveira, Marketing Director

Stay: With gorgeous guest rooms, The Broadview Hotel’s beautiful 130-year-old building has a great main floor restaurant and rooftop bar.

Shop: Owned and operated by two queer women of colour who are social justice advocates in their community, Old’s Cool General Store is a one-stop-shop where you can pick up groceries, a scented candle and a book about anti-racism in one trip. 

Eat: Break away from tried-and-true Greek and check out the reasonably priced Thai cuisine at Sala Modern Thai Kitchen, a go-to place to celebrate milestones like birthdays, anniversaries and promotions. The menu has plenty to offer, so it’s best to go with a group and eat family-style. For incredible samosas, as well as soups, curries and sauces that you can reheat at home, we love The Samosarie. The coconut chickpea curry is a staple.

Drink: The RE Place & Poured Coffee is a shop and café that’s environmentally conscious. It carries all kinds of products to help you reduce your carbon footprint: You can refill your own containers with dish soap or all-purpose cleaner and enjoy your Americano on-site in a donated coffee mug or bring your reusable tumbler to takeaway. Making drinks using only Ethiopian coffee beans, Mofer Coffee is another café with a cozy atmosphere likened to a log cabin with an Afrocentric twist.

Do: Taylor Creek Recreational Trail is great for walks, runs, or a bike ride on one of the many paved paths and tree-lined trails where you might spot local wildlife. It also has picnic sites and fire pits for socially distanced hangouts. 

To experience the best of the west – South Etobicoke

Local: Ed Ho, the former owner of Globe Bistro, currently pursuing an MSc in Energy Policy and Climate at Johns Hopkins University

Stay: The Westlake Boutique Hotel stands out amongst its peers with modern designs and smart technology.  

Shop: For nights-in inspired by coastal cities, Mike’s Fish is the best fishmonger in the west end. 

Eat: Kitchen on Sixth is a gastropub that has a good beer selection, while Royal Meats is a grill restaurant with a great patio that specializes in cevapi/cevapcici and the area institution, San Remo Bakery, is a must for sandwiches and donuts—especially their apple fritters.  

Drink: Birds & Beans Café is a neighbourhood stalwart and an excellent place to stop if walking in.

Do: Any waterfront parks from the Humber West to Etobicoke Creek are great places, but Colonel Samuel Smith Park is considered a top bird-watching spot with many urban areas, wetlands trails and a popular ice-skating trail in the winter. Composed of heritage buildings and an important Indigenous travel way and trading path, there’s also Humber College Lakeshore Campus. For live music, head to The Rockpile Pile Bar & Nightclub and Timothy’s Pub

For a relaxing urban getaway in North York – Don Mills

Local: Nisha Kannan, Senior Manager, Technology Business Operations, TD Bank Financial Group

Stay: Beautiful Pan Pacific Toronto is also known for its Japanese restaurant, Katsura, which serves good sushi and sake.

Shop: Lotus Nails & Spa is my go-to for good manicure and pedicure and it’s rarely packed. In addition to shopping at the complex, the Shops at Don Mills is a culinary playground featuring restaurant chains like Joey’s, Bier Markt and Taylors Landing or independents like Fabbrica, Mantra Restaurant and The Good Son.

Eat: A staple of 20 years, Hakka Garden has a menu with more Indian-influenced choices than many other Hakka places and a great mom-and-pop feel. 

Do: East Don Parkland Trail is a beautiful trail with paths, trees and bridges that’s great for walking, jogging or biking and has park areas in several sections as well as parking lots. The Aga Khan Museum has lovely fountains and gardens and is a popular spot for weddings and engagements and the Ontario Science Centre is an area gem. 

For style and edge at King and Dufferin

Local: Wayne Morgan, Engagement Manager at a Neuroscience Firm 

Stay: When it’s time to rest your head, go fancy and check-in at  Hotel X Toronto. New and packed with amenities, it’s close enough for a tremendous shop-bar-and-restaurant crawl in Parkdale.

Shop: Venture beyond Liberty Village and explore west of Dufferin, heading to House of Vintage, where you’re sure to find some cool items that will capture the spirit of the neighbourhood. Then, complete your look across the street at Public Butter Vintage. Grab something dazzling for yourself or as a gift at Made You Look or get a fresh look from Leesa at Klute Hair

Eat: Keep things funky and head for some tasty Korean-inspired grub (by Kaboom Kitchen) at Superfly.

Drink: Need caffeine? You’ll find exceptional cappuccinos at Rustic Cosmo Café—yes, the place with the cow on the sign—or Sam James Coffee Bar if you’re fancying a cortado. In the mood for something else? Stop at Nice Nice wine bar–perhaps Parkdale’s best-hidden gem–that serves nice wines on one side with a cool burger joint (Extra Burger) next door. Or escape to The Shameful Tiki Room to sip on tropical drinks with umbrellas!

Do: You can’t visit Parkdale without checking out some art, so head to Elaine Fleck Gallery or non-profit, artist-run Gallery 1313 to see the latest works on display.

For outdoor treats and family-friendly experiences in Scarborough – Rouge Park

Local: Michele Young-Crook, Founder of Indigimall and CEO of NATOA, a charity organization for Indigenous people

Stay: Glen Rouge Campground is great for all ages. There’s so much to do like biking, hiking, taking pictures for the ‘gram and swimming—plus, it’s right in the city.

Eat: Besides the annual Scarborough Ribfest, must-eats on Old Kingston Road include Fratelli Village Pizzeria and Ted’s Restaurant. In Pickering, there’s Casa Verde Italian Restaurant, The Roti Hut in Scarborough and the beef patties in Warden Station (supplied by Fahmee Bakery & Jamaican Foods) are the best!

Drink: There’s nothing like a beverage on the patio of Port in Pickering. 

Do: Besides a mandatory bonfire with friends at the Scarborough Bluffs, visit Rouge National Urban Park to see the unique carvings in the Ancient Spirit Garden (that’s said to be a portal) and Rouge Beach Park, a small beach that’s usually not as busy as The Beaches but just as nice. For a paranormal twist, you can go for a walk on the Old Finch Haunted Bridge.

For more ways to explore the city safely, responsibly and following public guidelines, check out MyTorontoPass and StrollTO.