Here are some of my favourite Toronto neighborhoods to explore by foot – part 1:
- Toronto Islands – The best $6 you can spend in Toronto is for the return ferry that runs every 15 minutes from the foot of Bay St. and Queens Quay to the Toronto Islands. From here you’ll get the best views of Toronto’s skyline and enjoy the peacefulness of North America’s largest urban car-free neighborhood. Walk the boardwalk around the island and admire the spectacular gardens of its privileged residents; stick your feet in the water from several sandy beaches (including a clothing-optional one); or enjoy a light lunch and a beverage on Toronto’s most relaxing patio at The Rectory Café, a five minute walk from the Ward’s Island Ferry. And if you happen to be in town on June 13, Toronto islanders open their homes to city dwellers for the Toronto Island House and History Tour.
- Kensington Market – Located in the heart of downtown, Kensington Market is Toronto’s most vibrant and diverse community. There’s a DNA strand here shared with Venice Beach in California. Home to Toronto’s bohemian elite, this eclectic neighborhood is a local’s favourite place to shop at the many indoor-outdoor markets. Try on some funky vintage clothing in the converted homes on Kensington Ave., or linger over Free Trade espresso at Luis Coffee Stop on Augusta and watch the colors of the world go by.
- Chinatown - Along the eastern edge of Kensington is one of North America’s largest Chinatowns. Step out of Western culture and immerse yourself in the noisy din of Hong Kong or Saigon. At the corner of Spadina and Dundas, and extending outward from both streets, a plethora of Asian specialty foods and wares – and smells – spills out into the sidewalks, bombarding your senses. Prices are bargain basement here and eager shoppers will find everything from Asian cookware to electronics to imported jewelry and clothing. Find a restaurant packed with locals for authentic Cantonese or Vietnamese fare, or pop in to see a Chinese herbalist about your jet lag.
- Distillery District – Steeped in history and used as a setting for countless Hollywood movies, this romantic cobbled neighborhood for pedestrians only is dedicated to arts, culture and entertainment. The refurbished mid-nineteenth century rye distillery, grist mill, ice house, dairy and store houses that make up Toronto’s Distillery District at the south east edge of downtown constitute “the largest and best preserved Victorian Industrial Architecture in North America.” Coffee lovers, gourmands and wine aficionados can satisfy their palates here at the many on-site cafés, bakeries, restaurants and bars. And every Sunday through Thanksgiving you can pick up your farm fresh produce at the bustling Distillery Farmers’ Market.
- West Queen West – This is my neighborhood and I never tire of walking here. Bathurst and Queen is one of the ugliest corners in the city, which stops most tourists cold. But continue a few blocks west on Queen and you’ll find yourself immersed in a sea of funk (the good kind). Indie designers, one-of-a-kind coffeeshops, cutting edge art galleries, hipster hotspots, sunny patios, boutique hotels and an endless variety of restaurants. This neighborhood changes by the week as condos rise and street-level rents go through the roof. My favourite restaurant, Little Tibet, just closed its doors after years of serving up traditional healthy Himalayan fare. No doubt, in its place, will emerge a designer boutique or a chi-chi bakery. So far, West Queen West has managed to keep out most of the chains. But the tide is coming…
I’ll post more Toronto articles while I’m here soaking up spring in the city. So much to explore, so many new vegan restaurants to check out! Meanwhile, what’s your favourite Toronto walk? I look forward to hearing from you!