Ontario's cultural magnet – Toronto – offers a global perspective to foodies, fans of fine art, and families with kids of any age.Ontario's cultural magnet – Toronto – offers a global perspective to foodies, fans of fine art, and families with kids of any age.
If there is one word that defines Toronto, it's diversity. The late author and Toronto resident Jane Jacobs, an expert on cities, has written that cities "flourish most prolifically" when people live and work together in buildings of differing ages, types, and sizes. Short blocks help, too. That describes Toronto very well.
Tolerance of all kinds has made Toronto a magnet for Inuits, Jews, Irish, English, Chinese, Indians, Ukrainians, and dozens of other ethnicities and nationalities. Most Torontonians consider themselves Canadians first, and English is their common language, but few have forgotten the culture or place they came from. Torontonians create their own blends, too. No one bats an eyelid if a Wong is married to a Houlihan or if a Chinese-Canadian suggests a nosh of dim sum.
The city is a foodie's paradise where good eats of all kinds can be found. Stalls laden with raw ingredients, cheeses, breads, and more can be found in the St. Lawrence Market. The Kensington Market, a collection of storefront shops, is the place to find produce, meat, nuts, baked goods, and condiments, turning the four-block area into a pedestrian's moveable feast. Around the corner is Chinatown, where shoppers can find the exotic fruits and vegetables used in Chinese cuisine.
There are so many well-attended ethnic restaurants, one gets the impression that Torontonians — who aren't obese — eat out at least twice a day. They like their coffee, too. For a jolt of java, they head for Tim Hortons, the Canada-based chain of two thousand coffee and donut shops, almost as ubiquitous in Toronto as Starbucks in any US city.
Restaurants with roof decks are good places to go in summer. Most popular is Ultra Supper Club, which features an eclectic menu and several creative cocktails. The best restaurant in Toronto also happens to be the best restaurant in Canada. Winner of the AAA 5-diamond award for 13 years, Truffles, in the Four Seasons Hotel, offers signature dishes like spaghettini with truffle foam for starters and ends every meal with, yes, chocolate truffles. The rest of the menu pairs fresh local produce and fish with some of its 500 wines, with emphasis on Ontario vintages.
When the weather is good, Torontonians like to walk or bike along the expansive Lake Ontario waterfront — so huge it looks oceanic — stopping to watch dragon-boat races or visit the Toronto Music Garden, a beautifully landscaped park that has self-guided audio tours featuring Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach.
From Gallery-Hopping to Shopping
There's plenty of good art in Toronto's galleries and museums. At the Art Gallery of Ontario (317 Dundas Street W, Toronto M5T 1G4; 416/979-6648) there is an exhibit of medieval treasures from London's Victoria and Albert Museum. A new wing, designed by Toronto-born Frank Gehry, is on the books for 2008. The Royal Ontario Museum (100 Queen's Park, Toronto MJ5 2C6; 416/586-5549) has an excellent collection of archeological finds and European decorative arts.
Few cities, including those much larger than Toronto (4.9 million) have so many boutiques selling clothing by local designers. The best — such as Jeanne Lottie (106 Yorkville Avenue, Toronto, M5R 1B9; 416-975-5115) for handbags, Elena's (55 Avenue Road, Toronto, MJR 3L2; 647-436-2061) for jewelry ("Everything in this store is Russian," says Elena, "including me") — are clustered in the Bloor-Yorkville neighborhood. Quality usually is high, and the prices are less than what one would pay for comparable merchandise here. In some cases foreigners are eligible for a partial refund of tax they've paid on accommodations and goods that they take home.
Toronto also has one of the finest department stores in the world. Holt Renfrew (50 Bloor Street W., Toronto M4W 1A1; 416/922-2333) is a throwback to when merchandising was an art. Varied clothing, including items by Canadian designers such as Lida Baday and Arthur Mendonca, is elegantly displayed in "rooms," Service is superb, and there is no Muzak!
For people who like to explore cities on foot, visit museums and galleries, shop, and just generally live well, Toronto is hard to beat. A friend describes it as "New York without the hassle"; another calls it "Chicago without the brass." A friendly, cosmopolitan city small enough for a visitor to conquer in a weekend, Toronto is a great place to kick back.
Cool Stuff for Kids
Canada's Wonderland has so many thrills to offer, it is hard to know where to begin. That might also depend on one's ability to stomach being turned upside down on the inverted roller coaster or splashed when rafting on the Timberwolf Falls or White Water Canyon.
Along the shores of Lake Ontario, there is what is known as the Ontario Place Corporation, (866/ONE-4-FUN; 416/314-9900) but don't let the name put you off. This is the place to go for bumper car rides, miniature golf, a motion simulator ride, and the Cinesphere where such IMAX films as Aliens of the Deep, Everest, and Ontario Summer Tide play in rotation.
Five thousand animals live at the 710-acre Toronto Zoo (316A Old Finch Avenue, Scarborough, M1B 5K7; 416/392-5929) and that's not counting the two rare snow leopards born July 28, 2007. But keep trying the website for pictures and updates. The Zoo is open every day of the year except December 25.
Air Canada has several flights daily from major American cities and Toronto is within a day's drive from many Northeast cities. If you do drive, though, you'll want to park your car as soon as you arrive and take advantage of the city's good public transportation. Depending on which neighborhood you prefer, there are dozens of options for family lodging. For subdued elegance, there's none better than the aforementioned Four Seasons Hotel (21 Avenue Road, Toronto, M5R 2G1; 416/964-0411).
For something hip, nothing beats the Drake Hotel (1150 Queen Street West, Toronto, M6J 1J3; 416/531-5042). Located in the artsy "Queen West West" neighborhood, once a shooting gallery for drug addicts, the Drake and the art galleries and boutiques around it have made the area very popular with tourists as well as Torontonians.
Its restaurants, bars, and music club attract crowds nightly, and its guest rooms are often fully booked. A wall-size window in the rooftop Sky Yard looks into the adjoining yoga den, which hosts performance art some nights. Video presentations and movies are often projected onto another wall of the bar.
For more information on Toronto, visit www.torontotourism.com or call 416/203-2600.
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