Summer Weekend in Toronto: a travel diary
When I first thought about visiting Toronto, I just wanted to get away to a foreign destination (don’t laugh) for my birthday. I’ve been wanting to go to Barcelona but that just wasn’t in the cards. So, I found inexpensive flights to Toronto and figured I’d stay close to home (while still needing my passport) and explore a city that I’d been to once for work, 10+ years ago. I didn’t get to do much while I was there for work so I had big plans to see as much of the city as possible while I was there and since it was finally summer, stay outside as much as possible! I also bought a ticket to see a friend performing in a contemporary circus show the Saturday night I was there and I visited Niagara Falls for the first time! So without further ado, here’s how I spent a weekend sightseeing in Toronto! I’ll review food, coffee, drinks, and donuts in another post.
Fitz and Folwell bicycle tour - I enjoyed this tour so much! I arrived on Friday around noon and booked the tour for Saturday morning through Airbnb Experiences. This was my first airbnb experience and I am so glad that I did it! It introduced me to a smaller company - there is a larger Toronto City bike tour company - but this felt more more personalized. I ended up being the only person not the tour - perhaps because it was Pride weekend in Toronto and any tourists were in town for that? Either way, I had a lot of fun and great conversations with my guide, Nathan. I felt very comfortable and confident riding through the downtown, Kensington Market, the lakefront, the university area, Graffiti Alley, and we stopped for a beer and a snack downtown. My guide was knowledgable about the city, answered my questions, and had a great interest in the history, culture, and current events of Toronto and Ontario so I felt like I was on a very educational and interesting tour. I was on the Essential Tour and I highly recommend it for only $50 per person. The bikes were comfortable and the price included a helmet.
Toronto Craft Beer Fest - Y’all know I’m a beer girl. A craft beer enthusiast, to be specific. I found this early on while researching why to go to Toronto for my birthday weekend and it was kind of the first reason I wanted to go to Toronto for my birthday. It was held at a park venue outdoors on Lake Ontario. All of the breweries were from Ontario, some in Toronto, and I had a great time tasting beers, talking to the brewery reps, getting my bearings as to where in the province they were located, and just learning about all of the yummy beers that Ontario breweries make that I’ll never find in Chicago so it felt extra special. It was a great thing to do on my birthday and now I’ve officially been to more beer fests in Canada than in the US. Canada-2, US-0.
Tour Guys Toronto Street Art Tour - Only my very last day in Toronto, I went on another street art tour (a free one), but this time on foot instead of by wheel and spoke ;). Our guide was from Australia this time! I didn't know the history but he was also an incredibly knowledgable and interesting tour guide. We only looked at Graffiti alley but we learned a lot about the history of graffiti, the artists, and I learned more about the history and how/why it got started than I have ever before and how it became street art. I’m not belittling any tour int the past but this guide truly had a passion for street art and the history of graffiti. As an art lover, I really loved his passion for a lesser appreciated form. As I’ve gotten older, I really appreciate forms of art that I did not 10 years ago. Performance, light installations, sculpture, street art, contemporary art, short films. I never cared for any of it but I think I’ve become a better person because of travel and I’ve been introduced to forms of art that I have grown to like. If someone can dream it and create it, why wouldn’t it be art? Anyway, this tour was great. It was 3 hours of walking but not strenuous and there is an option to tip at the end. I did!
The Distillery District - On my last morning in Toronto (before the graffiti tour) I took the streetcar to Queen Street and rode the Queen Street bus down to the Distillery District, which is east of downtown Toronto. An Instagram friend, and my current inversion (handstand coach) recommended going here. I’d remembered going to a restaurant in the are on my work trip in 2007 (!) but I cannot tell you where we ate nor do I really recall the experience.
Kensington Market - We rode bikes through this neighborhood when I was on the bike tour and Nathan pointed out all the places to get ice cream and sweets while we rode through. And then I went back for the most delicious ice cream I’ve ever had in my life and it was vegan and made from almond and cashew milk. It was SO delicious. Cosmic Treats, go there! This neighborhood was very eclectic, filled with people enjoying their weekends, dining outside, having patio drinks, shopping at vintage and thrift stores, riding bikes. It reminded me so much of some parts of San Francisco or even a market in London because of the colors, the ethnic restaurants, the shops, the completely diverse group of people, and the variety of colorful, slightly dilapidated historic homes and shops. I loved it. I would spend my weekends there if I lived in Toronto.
And a road trip to Niagara Falls! How did I reach the age of 38 (on this trip!) without a visit to Niagara Falls? I’ll never know. I am so glad I went! It was truly amazing and when you’re there you know it is amazing because you’re surrounded by people from all over the world because the falls are so impressive. Water is such an amazing force of nature. But I digress, I rented a car at Pearson Airport early in the morning on Sunday and was on my merry way by 9 am. I arrived around 10:30 with plans to see the falls, go on the Maid of the Mist boat tour and then find lunch somewhere. Well, halfway around Lake Ontario, nearing Hamilton, I realized I’d left my passport back at my airbnb and I would not be taking the Maid of the Mist tour, because it was on the US side of the falls and thus I would not be crossing the bridge. This is the first time I’ve ever done something so careless. So, I parked at a lot near the casinos in “downtown Niagara Falls, ON” and walked downhill to the falls and took a lot of photos, admired the majestic Horseshoe and Bridal Veil falls, and then walked to the Horatio Hornblower kiosk on the Canadian side to buy a ticket for the boat tour because I did not drive all the way there to just see the falls! I wanted to experience the mist and the water and get soaked alongside hundreds of other tourists. It really is a must-see and must-do experience. My parents were supposed to go to the Falls last September and my dad was injured and in a wheelchair for a bit because he pulled a ligament and they didn’t think they’d be able to maneuver a wheelchair around the town and on the boat, etc. They probably could have but it would have been a hassle so I understand why. I really hope they can go soon though, I’d actually go there again so soon to experience it with family. I also want to go back to some of the wineries in the region and stay in Niagara on the Lake, Ontario because apparently you can rent a bike and ride from winery to winery and obviously, that is relevant to my interests. I think the entire area would be a great family vacation and it is one that I want to encourage for my family and others. There really is something for everyone and the town of Niagara Falls has something for everyone and all tourist income levels.