48 Hours in Toronto
Text by Olivia Stren
Five essential experiences in this newly energized Canadian metropolis.
1. Wander a Colorful Neighborhood " The great story in Toronto is the story of immigration, and Kensington Market is the best place to experience the city's vibrant multiculturalism," says Toronto Life magazine editor-in-chief Sarah Fulford. Ken-sington Market grew out of what was once dubbed the Jewish Market, run by Jewish immigrants in the 1920s. The downtown neighborhood's scruffy streetlets are now glutted with Mexican bodegas, French bistros, Ethiopian spice shops, Jamaican bakeries, fromageries, fruit stalls, and vintage clothing emporia. "Wander through the market on a car-free Sunday," counsels Fulford, "and stop for a latte at Casa Acoreana Café [235 Augusta Ave.]. It's the best people-watching perch."
2. Toast New Architecture Architect Daniel Libeskind's love-it-or-hate-it addition to the Royal Ontario Museum leads the charge in the city's cultural rebirth. His aluminum-and-glass Michael Lee-Chin Crystal is made up of five prismatic structures. Inside, the Lee-Chin Crystal hosts six new permanent galleries, from natural history (50 dinosaur specimens) to world cultures (Hindu deity figures, Yoruba masks). But one of the most festive ways to take in the place is over a fancy cocktailtry the jasmine cooler, made with Tanqueray gin, jasmine tea, and Kaffir sodaat restaurant C5, aloft in the ROM's fifth crystal. C5 also proffers great views of the just revamped and now airy and light-filled Royal Conservatory of Music, just next door.
3. Feast Your Way Around the World You can plot a globe-spanning gastronomic tour at Toronto's tables. Outstanding seafood and Madeira headline at old-world Portuguese Chiado. Susur Lee's Asian-tapas restaurant Lee is a less spendy version of the now-closed original Susur restaurant; the Singaporean slaw, a 19-ingredient masterwork, steals the meal. Jamie Kennedy Wine Bar brings the gourmet tour home with locally sourced fare like pulled-pork poutine topped with artisanal Monforte cheese. Celebrity chef Mark McEwan, who helms a trifecta of the city's top restaurants (One, North 44, Bymark), recommends Colborne Lane. "Chef Claudio Aprile is always doing something wildly imaginative," he says. "He's the Salvador Dalí of the local restaurant scene." Among Aprile's creations: flavored cream poured into liquid nitrogen to make ice cream.
4. Step into the Wild "One of the great things about Toronto is the proximity of urbanity to wilderness, which is very rare in continental North America," says author Stephen Marche, who set his first novel in Toronto. The city is woven with ravines, their coiling pathways busy with joggers and happy dogs (rabbits, foxes, and owls make cameo appearances). But Marche's favorite green corner is the Leslie Street Spit, a place rarely traversed even by natives. Poking into Lake Ontario, the three-mile-long peninsula served initially as a landfill, but has now flourished into a wildflower-speckled sanctuary for about 300 species of birds, from the yellow warbler to the snowy owl. "The Leslie Street Spit is one of the most remarkable parts of Toronto and is a great metaphor for the city itself: What began basically as a garbage dump unexpectedly turned into a beautiful place," says Marche.
5. Gallery-hop and Shop As recently as ten years ago, Queen Street West was a sad-sack drag cluttered with at-your-own-risk boozecans, dissolute motels, and abandoned storefronts. But Queen West West, as it's nicknamed by locals, has morphed into the city's most voguish retail ribbon, with art galleries (the photography-focused Stephen Bulger Gallery, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art), chic eateries, and jewel-box boutiques (women's clothiers Girl Friday, Kama Kazi, and Pho Pa; tot marts Zili Otto and Polka Dot Kids). Designer Virginia Johnson, whose eponymous boutique on nearby Ossington Avenue is stocked with breezy summery frocks, charts a day's promenade: "Start at Gladstone Avenue and walk east on Queen past Shaw Street looking at galleries. Then grab a croissant at French patisserie Clafouti, and curl north through Trinity Bellwoods Park, where you can take in a softball game or browse the farmers market."
Published in the September 2008 issue of National Geographic Traveler.