Photographer and writer and I have run in the same circles for a few years now, but somehow we’ve never crossed paths in person — probably because he’s always out and about running around Toronto; and me? Well, I’m a bit of a homebody. But somehow, some of his favorite spots in “the city” (as people call it who live in the towns neighboring Toronto) are some of my favorites as well. It’s safe to say that his taste is impeccable — or perhaps I’m being biased. But regardless, having lived in Toronto for just under a decade, Ryan’s 24-hour guide is spot-on and super relevant considering Toronto’s ever-changing landscape of shops, restaurants, bars and attractions. From Americanos to vintage shops to the best tattoo parlors and nachos fit for a king, if you’re ever spending some time in this great city, be sure to hit up these spots to soak in what Toronto is all about. (Go Canada!)
I’m a writer and photographer living in Toronto. I’ve been around these parts for the past eight or so years. Having worked in historic Cabbagetown for five years, I now work on Queen Street West at a creative agency. (, Queen West is the world’s second coolest district. We’ll take it.)
And I damn well love it here.
Like any major North American city, Toronto is ever the shape-shifter. There’s a constant swing of new shops, haunts, record stores, music venues and eateries. So. many. restaurants. It’s actually a little ridiculous. Here’s a snapshot of some of my favourite spots in downtown Toronto, albeit there’s way more out there. I wanted to keep it focused to the downtown core to make it a little more, well, digestible. Here’s my guide to Toronto.
8-9 am: First things first: coffee. Toronto is well known for its love of third-wave coffee spots. The city is brimming with cafes. My go-to is , which now boasts a couple of locations. Its Americanos are next to none. If not there, I’ll hit up or a longstanding favourite, . It’s a little pricier, but worth it.
10-11 am: With a healthy dose of caffeine pulsing through my veins, I’ll head out to do a little record shopping. My go-to is the newly moved and renovated . They have pretty much any record (new or used) you could want. If not there, I’ll hit or .
11-12 pm: Having an unruly beard, a clean-up is a must. The barbershop is having a modern-day revival, and Toronto is loving it. There’s a new barbershop popping up on every corner across the city. My favourites are , or . For the ladies, try out the .
12-1 pm: Oh, lunchtime. An infinite number of options. Like its barbershops, Toronto can’t get enough of its craft burgers. It’s a burger explosion, and I’m totally okay with it. My all-time favourite is because they’re as ridiculously big as they are good. A close second is , especially with their secret menu. Look it up first. You won’t be disappointed.
2-3 pm: You can’t visit Toronto without checking out . This hodgepodge market boasts a little bit of everything, but is strictly independent. If you’re on the hunt for some vintage finds, Kensington St. is riddled with them. My favourites are and .
On the same street is my favourite tattoo shop, , (I have a sleeve by Daniel Innes there) with its traditional Japanese inspired work. Also in Kensington are a lot of authentic Mexican taco shops alongside for a quick snack that you won’t be able to finish. Yes, that’s a challenge.
4-5 pm: To kill some time before dinner, I would hit up one of my favourite stores quite possibly ever: Its curated collection of used books and vinyl just warms my heart and empties my pockets. I want every damn record and book in there. If you’re looking for an antique to remember Toronto by, . may be hard to leave. It’s a spacious place, but you can’t tell because it’s chock-full (seriously, it’s hard to navigate) with antiques that you’ve never seen before, including taxidermy if you’re into that kind of stuff.
5-7 pm: Where do I even start for dinner? Okay, let’s see what I can jam into here. For tacos, head to Parkdale for . Or . The best Thai in town is definitely , though is a close second. One of the owner’s of Kao San Road just opened a new shop called on Queen West, too. If you’ve never tried Venezuelan food, and their cornbread sandwiches (arepas) will change your life. Trust.
The best smoked meat outside of Montreal can be found at . You’ll get a second sandwich, guaranteed. If you’re feeling Chinese food, Toronto’s Chinatown will make your jaw drop.
My favourite is . There menu is exhaustive. Their food is filling and always delicious.
If you’re into beer, take some friends out to Toronto’s waterfront to . This sprawling lakeside restaurant has all of their beers on tap to sample while you eat swordfish, woodfire pizzas or good ole wings in a beer sauce. Because, beer.
8-10 pm: One of the best parts of living in Toronto is that all of the world’s greatest bands come to town. One of my favourite venues anywhere, not just in Toronto, is the . Having opened in 1947, the “Shoe” is a Toronto mainstay where bands like the Rolling Stones and The Band have taken to its legendary stage.
If you’re in for a quieter night, head down to to hear some up-and-comers test their mettle. If you get the chance to check out , you’ll know why it’s on this list. A perfect venue size with nary a bad place to stand to see a show. An up-and-comer venue is also the .
If you’re going out for a date, try where you can get drinks and play board games. Or if you’re into the more touristy attractions, you can take that special one to the newly-minted for one of its Friday Night Jazz events. Can’t go wrong there.
11 pm -?: This is when the city comes alive. As of late, the number of “cool spots” for drinks has exploded. Anywhere along the base of Ossington St. is coveted, which has now creeped up along Dundas West with a bevy of great drinking holes like , , , and , a terrific “hipster sports bar.”
But to be specific, the best dive bar in Toronto easily goes to , which is pretty much just a roof on a spray-painted alleyway with some of the cheapest drinks around. A good place to start or end the night.
If you’re into dancing you might as well do it to rock ‘n’ roll classics at , a Rolling Stones themed bar. It’s a delight. But every visitor to the “T Dot” should check out the longstanding for their King’s Crown nachos, good music and a pitcher of beer. Or three.
Perfect end to any night, really.
- If it’s the summer, you need to check out the . Hit Hanlan’s Point.
- If you’re looking for a green hostel, is your spot.
- Remember to get lost in Kensington Market.
- Peruse , especially in the spring for the Cherry Blossoms.
- (AGO) is a must. Ditto for the (ROM). See the dinosaurs.
- Oh, there’s also this thing called the that you may have heard about. It’s tall.