Today, I step away from my typical academic blogging life to offer you 12 things that you can do if you ever visit the lovely city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Whether you enjoy the arts scene, sporting events, fine dining, or exotic cuisine, Toronto has it all. The sights, smells, and sounds of this city are incredible and there is definitely something here for everyone – whether you’re a nature-loving vegan hipster, tightrope walker, or adrenaline junkie. For the past 7 years I have had the incredible privilege of living in this wonderful city. Even after all that time, there are still nooks and crannies that I have yet to explore. For example, I am ashamed to say that Au Noir and Snakes and Lattes (although remaining on my bucket list… are simply items to be checked off). On the other hand, I would say that if you are a tourist and all you care about is seeing the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium (as awesome as those places are), you are sadly missing out. Over the years, I have not only experienced these “must sees,” but have also discovered a few less traveled paths. So, I’d like to offer you 12 places your tour guide or tour book might not bring you to, but guarantee that if you check them out you will probably love them. I’ve even included some pictures for good measure.
- St. Lawrence Market – Whenever friends from different communities (and countries) come to visit me, my first stop is usually to show them the St. Lawrence Market. Although somewhat junky in appearance, this place is a warehouse of Canadian goodness. Whether you are looking to buy some quality maple syrup, some hand-crafted products, or want to try out any number of the various delicacies they offer (from fudge to Greek food to everything in between) I guarantee you will not be disappointed. The only difficulty about this place is that it is closed on Mondays, but no worries, go on any other day of the week and I’m sure they will greet you with wide arms and friendly faces.
- The Burger’s Priest – Step out of the bustling city of Toronto and into the warm ambiance of the Burger’s Priest. Offered in two locations in Toronto (the beaches and by the airport), the Burger’s Priest is your one stop shop to picking up a “High Priest Burger”, “Red Sea”, or “Magnum” (made with blue cheese). Reasonably priced, freshly made on the spot, and owned by an alumnus of Tyndale, you will love the cheesy (no-pun intended) decorations, homemade ice cream floats, and catchy burger names.
- The Brick Works – Tired of the terrible driving, increased urbanization, and snobbish people who make up Toronto? Find your oasis at the Brick Works. Carefully secluded, with hiking trails, a farmer’s market, free cooking demonstrations, and pottery workshops, the Brick Works has something that will please everyone – especially hipsters, vegans, and environmental enthusiasts. Don’t have a car? No problem! The Brick Works offers a FREE shuttle bus service several times throughout the day, where you will likely strike up a nice conversation with another wanna-be hippie.
- Signs Restaurant – Always wanted to be able to communicate in American Sign Language? Well, here’s your chance. The Signs Restaurant functions completely around sign language – orders will be signed, the waiters are Deaf, and the menu is also in sign language. Despite the portion sizes being rather small, Signs definitely offers a complete immersion experience and raises awareness of the Deaf population in Toronto.
- My Zaidy’s Pizza – Right in the heart of Israeli town, this lovely store offers homemade kosher pizza. Can’t get enough of your Jewish fill? Walk a few more feet and you can also go to the Kosher supermarket. Makes the Jew in me geek! (Yes, I have Jewish roots on both sides of my family :)). P.S. This pizza is even better than the one I got in Israel.
- Oktoberfest at Church of St. Luke Lutheran – Don’t think that beer and church belong in the same sentence? Tell that to this Lutheran congregation. Hosting an Oktoberfest annually with real bear, apple cider, and German food, this church opens its doors for a riotous good time every year. Not only that, but several of my friends who would never be caught in a church really had a good time. Oh yes, and there are steins. (For my blog about Pub Theology, check out: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/christian-responses-to-drinking-and-pub-theology/ )
- High Park – Conveniently located at High Park subway station, you don’t even need a car to access the sprawling acres of greenery this place has to offer. Whether you’re a Shakespeare fan and want to see a professional production of Julius Caesar, are looking for a nice spot for a family picnic, want to toss a Frisbee around, or want to visit the animals (yes, there are animals) this place has something for you. Best of all, it is completely free….just don’t take your car there during cherry blossom season – you’ll never find a spot.
- Carrot Commons – Although just a small section of the larger street, this place located in Greek Town is where all the hippies and health food fanatics hang out. Get reasonably priced groceries at any number of the health food vendors, buy precious rocks and jewellery, buy eco-friendly baby supplies, visit Ten Thousand Villages, or go to the Cheese factory – the possibilities are endless when you walk around the Carrot Commons (located at Chester Station).
- The Green Bean Café – What makes the Green Bean any different from the thousands of other cafes Toronto has to offer, you may ask? Not a whole lot, except for the fact that it is a place that inspires. The ambiance is warm and inviting – the perfect place for an informal conversation, deep debate about the meaning of life, or a place to get away from it all and just sketch or write. You’ll notice the artwork that is painted and drawn all around this gorgeous place…also, you can get really nice virgin drinks here. Tell that to all your pub crawling friends.
- Scarborough Bluffs – Come spend the day in nature overlooking the gorgeous water. Pack a picnic lunch to eat on the rocks (just don’t share any with the seagulls) or challenge yourself to walk or run down steep embankments. With open fields for Frisbee or just spaces to roam and walk, this free park makes you forget you are really in T.O.
- The Outdoor Train Museum – Located at Union Station, this free museum (unless you want to pay to go in to see more trains) is located completely outdoors. Climb some old trains, take a ride on the mini-train that goes around the premises (for a small fee), or play hookie and get free samples at the brewery (nope, I didn’t just say that!). Don’t let the Jays game or Ripley’s take all your attention, on your way to the TTC after enjoying these fine events, make sure you stop for a few minutes at this prime location.
- Honest Eds – Despite the fact that I must admit I rarely buy from this store, Honest Eds is a warehouse of cheap goodness waiting to happen. Want to buy Christmas presents under $5? This is the place to go. From pots and pans to jewellery to clothing to groceries, this place has it all. Yet, the store itself is not the only thing that makes this place popular with Torontonians. It is also has to do with Ed’s personality – every year offering a discount of his age on his birthday and often times including a free BBQ to go along with it. Definitely check out this place if you have the opportunity.
So there you have it. Your friends said they can’t afford to spend a night on the town, but I have just shown you several ways that you and your friends can have a great time for only a nominal amount, if not completely free.
I’d love to hear from you. There are so many other wonderful places I’ve explored that I didn’t have time to touch upon in my blog. If you were to encourage your friends to tour Toronto what would you recommend they see or do? Let us know for your chance to make a difference in another tourist’s life 🙂