24 Hours in Toronto
Exploring the effervescent energy beyond Bay Street.
Toronto pulses at the heart of the Golden Horseshoe, Canada’s most densely populated region. Home to the Toronto Stock Exchange and leading financial, banking and telecommunications sectors, the metropolis is the commercial capital of the nation.
Stepping past the towering skyscrapers of Bay Street, though, yields diverse discoveries reflecting Canada’s multiculturalism and burgeoning local arts movement. Head to the trio of the Queen West, Kensington Market and Trinity Bellwoods neighborhoods, in particular, to explore an exceptionally vibrant side of the city.
Wake up at The Drake Hotel, the nucleus of the dynamic Queen West arts-and-design district downtown. The 19-room building, which dates back to 1890, has been lovingly restored into a boutique hotel and cultural center. Integrating elements of the original building’s architecture with one-of-a-kind pieces from local and global contemporary artists, The Drake’s atmosphere gives a nod to both the city’s history and the modern energy of Queen West.
Breakfast at The Drake Café will have you rubbing shoulders with locals who flock for the blueberry scones and house-roasted coffee. The Southern-inspired chicken-and-waffles dish with macerated cherries is famous for its sweet-and-savory flavor combination.
Walk east on Queen Street West, taking in the restored heritage buildings and stylish boutiques that characterize the neighborhood, until you reach Portland Street. Turn right on Portland, then take the next left onto Rush Lane. Rush Lane (aka Graffiti Alley) and its offshoots are the canvas for some of the most impressive street art in Canada. Take your time exploring the alley and its works, which are painted over regularly to create space for fresh pieces.
A 15-minute walk north on Spadina Street to St. Andrews Street will take you to Kensington Market — one of Canada’s most distinctive neighborhoods. It’s known for its legendary open-air market, overflowing with produce, bakeries, vintage and thrift clothing shops, and independent arts collectives.
Try the yam burrito at the lively Big Fat Burrito for lunch, or just follow your nose to one of the market’s many ethnic eateries — such as Jumbo Empanadas for traditional Chilean empanadas (fried pastries) stuffed with chicken, beef or cheese. Next, wander the market to your heart’s content, being sure to check out Courage My Love for a great selection of vintage clothing, Uprising Books for counterculture reads, and Bungalow for a mix of vintage and modern furniture and clothing.
Heading west on Dundas Street, you’ll leave the bustle of Kensington for a relaxed 10-minute walk toward Trinity Bellwoods Park. Turn left on Gore Vale and find yourself in the well-tended, 15-hectacre green space — a hub for sun seekers, picnickers and dog owners. Wander the park, heading south toward Nadège Patisserie on the corner of Gore Vale and Queen Street West. Grab a few of Nadège’s famed multicolored macarons and a coffee at White Squirrel Coffee Shop (so named for the park’s renowned albino squirrel), and enjoy both while people-watching in the park.
Next, head to the nearby Type Books to lose an hour or two discovering gems amid its thoughtfully curated collection.
Walk west on Queen Street West, stopping in at The Drake to drop off any treasures from your afternoon of exploring. Just past the hotel is Grand Electric, a legendary taqueria specializing in innovative tacos, bourbon cocktails and loud music. The baja fish tacos are something to write home about, and the unusual scrapple tacos (made from boiled pig’s head meat, sliced and fried to a crispy, salty goodness) are well worth a try. The wide selection of bourbons and mixed drinks (“Jesus Juice” is particularly popular) keeps the party going until late. Be warned: Arriving after 7:00 p.m. almost guarantees you’ll have to wait in line, as the taqueria doesn’t take reservations.
Return to your hotel and end the night with a cocktail on the year-round rooftop patio, Sky Yard, adorned with local graffiti murals and featuring a wintertime fire pit. Alternatively, you can venture to the basement, where The Drake’s Underground showcases live entertainment nearly every night. Then, retire to your crash pad at your leisure, knowing you’ve tasted one of Toronto’s most effervescent regions.