10+ Things to do on the West End of Toronto

By Steven Wright

Feels like summer in the city even thought its barely spring in Toronto, that has inspired me do a series of articles of things to see and do in this great city! Toronto is Canada’s largest city, the capital of the Province of Ontario and is constantly evolving. It is a vibrant and culturally diverse city, who’s unique neighborhoods are great to explore to get the whole experience eh. The third article of this series is dedicated to Toronto’s West end; here you can find some amazing shopping, great restaurants, interesting neighborhoods, theatres, galleries, museums and Toronto’s entertainment district.

Bloor-Yorkville
(Bloor Street West / Cumberland Street / Yorkville Avenue between Yonge and Avenue Road, TTC stations Yonge / Bloor or Bay)
If you are shopping for luxury goods and designer brands then this is the neighborhood for you. The Bloor Street West strip includes luxury brands like Tiffany & Co., Prada, Chanel, Coach, Hermes, Harry Rosen, and Canada’s luxury department store Holt Renfrew. Shopping continues with designer boutiques on Yorkville Avenue, Cumberland Street and Hazelton Lanes Shopping Centre. If you are searching for the perfect pair of jeans then I would recommend a stop at  Over the Rainbow (101 Yorkville). The neighborhood features a number of 5* hotels, high end condos, and fine dining. This is a good neighborhood for celebrity spotting, especially in September during the Toronto International Film Festival, grab dinner on the patio at Sassafraz for a bird’s eye view.

Royal Ontario Museum / Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art / Bata Shoe Museum
(100 Bloor Street West, TTC Station Museum / 111 Queen’s Park TTC, Station Museum / 327 Bloor Street West, TTC St. George)
Just west of Bloor-Yorkville you can not help but notice Architect Daniel Leibskind’s redevelopment of The Royal Ontario Museum, the grand entrance makes a huge impression as you look down Bloor Street. The collections are dedicated to understanding world cultures and natural history. ROM Fridays feature a special rate from 3:00 pm to 5:30 pm. Friday Night Live @ROM includes Pop-up food, drink and DJs with $9 cover and $5 drinks, general admission is $15.  Not many cities can boast a museum of ceramic art and footwear, but Toronto has both! Across the street from the ROM on Queen’s Park find Canada’s only museum dedicated to ceramic art, The Gardiner Museum. The museum has gained international recognition and the new modern building has added more than additional gallery space, it includes a new restaurant by Canadian Chef Jamie Kennedy. If you get the chance join one of the clay classes in their state-of-the-art clay studios, instructed by professional ceramists. They have a Friday night program and family days on Sunday’s, general admission is $12. Travel down Bloor Street West to St. George Street, there you will find a building that resembles a shoe box, inside find the Bata Shoe Museum. The museum is dedicated to the history of footwear with an extensive collection of shoes from around the world. With over 12,500 shoes in the permanent collection there is something for every shoe lover. General admission is $14.

The Annex
(Bloor Street West between Avenue Road and Bathurst Street, TTC Stations St. Gerorge, Spadina, and Bathurst)
The Annex is a primarily residential area north of Bloor Street, but with the proximity to University of Toronto this is the preferred neighborhood for students and educators a like. The Bloor Street West strip is filled with restaurants, cafes and bars with street side patios great for grabbing a bite and people watching on the busy streets, some of my favorites are Future Bakery (483 Bloor Street West) for their mashed potatoes and mushroom gravy and Insomnia Restaurant and Lounge (563 Bloor Street West) for brunch. Grab toasted marshmallow homemade ice cream from Greg’s Ice Cream (750 Spadina), then catch a documentary film at the newly renovated Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. For an unique shopping experience don’t miss Honest Ed’s (581 Bloor Street West) the massive store has everything from dollar store items to fine antique pieces worth thousands of dollars and absolutely everything in between. Next to Honest Ed’s visit Mirvish Village, an area dedicated to art, culture and cuisine with many one of a kind vendors. In July the area is host to The Fringe Festival, Toronto’s largest theatre festival. Grab dinner on Harbord Street just one block south of Bloor Street between Spadina and Bathurst. Here you can find Toronto’s best fish and chips at a little take out stand, Harbord Fish and Chips (147 Harbord Street) or if you are looking for fine dining try Spendido (88 Harbord).

Little Italy
(College Street from Bathurst to Ossington, TTC Streetcar 506)
If you feel like a little Italian, the make sure to drop by Little Italy, the strip along College Street is filled with restaurants, bars and patios and it is a great place to spend an evening or a weekend brunch. Cafe Diplomatico (594 College) opened in 1968 and is one of the most recognizable restaurants, recently featured in Toronto Director, Atom Egoyan’s film Chloe. Kalender Restaurant and Bistro (546 College) is a great spot for dinner or weekend brunch with a great atmosphere and amazing food. Then take a relaxing stroll window shopping and grab a gelato at Dolce (697 College). If you are coming for a fun evening out start with martinis at Souz Dal (636 College), the open after dark and then head to Andy Poolhall (489 College) for a little pool and dancing, live music and djs at  The MOD Club (722 College) or dance the night away at El Convento Rico (750 College).

China Town
(Spadina Avenue from College to Dundas, TTC Streetcar 510)
One of the largest in North America, Toronto’s China Town is filled with great shops, grocery stores, herbs and Chinese remedies. There are a number of restaurants that encourage family style dining, you can order a number of items and share with your family or group around a large table equipped with a lazy Susan, other restaurants feature Dim Sum, order what you want off the carts rolled to your table. My favorites include Yeuh Tung (111 Elizabeth) for their amazing Chicken in a Hot Pot, the  Hua Sheng Supermarket (293 Spadina) and Tap Phong Trading Co. (360 Spadina) for amazing deals on kitchen ware and other home items.

Kensington Market
(Kensington Avenue, Baldwin Street & Augusta Avenue, TTC Streetcars 510, 506 & 505)
Just west of China Town find Kensington Market. Its a great area for vintage clothes and furniture, and craft shopping, picking up some groceries or grabbing a bite to eat. The last Sunday of the month from May through October the area is pedestrian only. Some of my favorite stops include Blue Banana Market (250 Augusta) for one of a kind gifts, Bungalow (273 Augusta) for retro clothes and furniture, Tom’s Place (190 Baldwin) for designer suits and accessories at discount prices, Global Cheese (76 Kensington) for exotic and specialty cheeses to bring home and enjoy, and vintage clothing favorites Dancing Days (17 Kensington) and Courage My Love (14 Kensington).

Art Gallery of Ontario
(317 Dundas Street West, TTC Streetcar 505)
I may be a little biased, but it is so amazing to have a small piece of Gehry excellence in Toronto. Toronto born Architect Frank O. Gehry’s transformation of the Art Gallery of Ontario has accomplished his goal of bringing the gallery to the public. The large glass exterior of the museum, incredible new entrance, the brilliant staircases and 5th floor tower are worth the price of admission. The museum is one of the largest in North America and houses a collection of works from 100 AD to present, the galleries feature Canadian, European, photography, the Thompson Collection, and two of my personal favorite are the contemporary and Henry Moore galleries. General admission $19.50, Wednesday nights entry to Permanent Collection is free from 6 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. When you have finished in the AGO, go behind the building down Beverly Street to Grange Park, here you can see the final gallery: the exterior staircase leading to the big blue Gehry box a top the AGO and the Ontario College for Art and Design‘s Tabletop, designed by acclaimed British Architect Will Alsop.

Queen Street West
(TTC Station Queen or Osgoode, Streetcar 501)
You can spend a whole day on Queen West, so put on your comfortable walking shoes. Start at Bay Street with Toronto’s Old City Hall and City Hall Nathan Phillips Square on the East and West, then continue to the West side of University to start your shopping day. No matter what you are shopping for there is something for you on Queen West, from salons, shops and restaurants, you can get a make over, redecorate your house, catch up on the latest fashion trends, buy some great fabric and stay well nourished throughout the day. Some of my favorite stops for home decor are Pavilion (739 Queen W), Quasi Moto (789 Queen W), Style Garage (938 Queen W) and The Queen West Antique Centre (1605 Queen W). For fabrics don’t miss Designer Fabric Outlet (1360 Queen W); for shoes B2 (399 Queen W) and Get Outside (437 Queen W); and if your with your man there are even a couple of stops for him Atlas Tools (233 Queen W), Active Surplus (347 Queen West) and Steve’s Music (415 Queen W). If you are coming in for the weekend consider staying at one of the boutique hotels The Drake (1150 Queen W) or The Gladstone (1214 Queen W) and have dinner at Ultra Supper Club (314 Queen W).

Entertainment District
(Between Queen Street and King Street from University to Spadina, TTC station Osgoode or St Andrew, TTC  Streetcars 501 or 504)
This area is the heart of Toronto’s nightlife, there are lots of great restaurants and bars to start your evening before heading out to one or more of the attractions in this area. Here you will find the Canadian Opera Company and National Ballet of Canada at the Four Seasons Centre, Broadway shows at The Princess of Wales and The Royal Alexandra Theatres, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and other large events at Roy Thompson Hall, and a little further west you will discover Toronto’s “club land” where you can bar hop and dance the night away in one of the many clubs, or catch a movie screening at the Bell Lightbox, the home of the Toronto International Film Festival.

Financial District
(King and Bay Street, TTC Stations King or St Andrew, Streetcar 504)
The area around King and Bay Streets is the Financial District and home to some of Canada’s tallest buildings, 5* luxury hotels and condos, incredible restaurants and great public spaces. One of my favorite stops in this area is Cloud Gardens, a small park between Richmond and Adelaide just west of Yonge, make sure to visit the Cloud Forest Conservatory while you are there. For a little history enter into the lobby of Commerce Court North (243 Bay Street), which was once the tallest building in the British Commonwealth for over three decades. Across the street at King and Bay, find TD Centre, designed by Modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who even convinced the City of Toronto to allow him to change the sidewalks around the building to match his masterpiece. Here you can grab dinner at one of Canada’s best restaurants Canoe (66 Wellington Street) on the 54th floor overlooking the city, or visit Canada’s design museum the Design Exchange (234 Bay Street) in the former location of the Toronto Stock Exchange, general admission is $10, every Tuesday evening between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. admission is pay-what-you-can. Stay at one of Toronto’s newest 5* luxury hotels Trump Toronto (325 Bay Street) or the Ritz Carlton Toronto (181 Wellington Street West).

King Street West
(King Street West, TTC Streetcar 504)
King Street just West of the Financial District and South of the Entertainment district offers a number of great restaurants and bars, a great place to grab a bite before or show or have a late dinner. My favorites are Lee (601 King W) by famed chef Susur Lee, Rodney’s Oyster House (469 King W), the European style Bier Markt (600 King W), and French bistro Crush Wine Bar (455 King W). I have a couple of other favorite stores in this area, one is Design Within Reach (435 King W) for modern furniture and home design, Lee Valley Tools (590 King West) for great gardening, household items and tools and Mountain Equipment Coop (400 King W) for everything relating to outdoor activities from apparel to tents, backpacks, canoes and much much more.

Liberty Village
(South of King Street between Strachan Avenue and Dufferin Street, TTC Streetcar 504)
A whole neighborhood has popped up in these former industrial lands, now a hip new neighborhood with loft conversions of historic buildings, new developments and condos and an abundance of sores, boutiques, trendy restaurants and bars. For brunch head to trendy Midlred’s Temple Kitchen (Unit 104  85 Hanna Avenue) then go shopping for home accessories at West Elm (109 Atlantic Avenue), or play some pool and grab a bite at The Academy of Spherical Arts (1 Snooker Street).

Roncesvalles Village
(Roncesvalles Avenue between Queen W and Howard Park, TTC Streetcar 504)
If you have never had Dill Pickle soup then visiting the Polish area at Roncesvalles Village is your opportunity stop at Cafe Polonez (195 Roncesvalles) for a bowl like no other. There are a number of other Polish bakeries, delis and restaurants offering up old world charm and traditional music throughout the village. In September there is the Roncesvalles Polish Festival. Its a great neighborhood for shopping or you can also catch a movie at the Revue Cinema (400 Roncesvalles), one of Toronto’s oldest cultural venues.

Toronto Posts:
10+ Things to do on the east end of Toronto
10+ Things to do on Toronto’s Waterfront
Winterlicious – Toronto’s dining gem

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10+ Things to do on the East end of Toronto

By Steven Wright

Feels like summer in the city even thought its barely spring in Toronto, that has inspired me do a series of articles of things to see and do in this great city! Toronto is Canada’s largest city, the capital of the Province of Ontario and is constantly evolving. It is a vibrant and culturally diverse city, who’s unique neighborhoods are great to explore to get the whole experience eh. So I thought I would start with the series with a look at 10 things to do on the east end of the city.

The Danforth
(Danforth Avenue and Chester Avenue, Chester Station on the Bloor/Danforth TTC line)
This area is known as Greek Town, it is a lively neighborhood with quaint restaurants, shops and boutiques. In early August the street shuts down for a weekend festival called Taste of the Danforth. This is a great area to grab a seat on one of the many patios for drinks and dinner, people watching and shopping along the way. I love Christina’s (492 Danforth) for an amazing Greek dinner and Il Fornello (576 Danforth) for pizza and salad at lunch.

Chinatown East and Gerrard India Bazaar
(Gerrard Street East between Broadview and Carlaw and then Coxwell and Greenwood, TTC Streetcar 306)
East of the Don Valley on Gerrard Street you can find great markets, shops and restaurants featuring Chinese and South Asian cultures. At Broadview visit China Town east with fresh fruits and vegetable markets, dried foods, butchers and much more. Then continue down the street to Coxwell and the Gerrard India Bazaar, boasting the largest South Asian market in North America with over 100 shops and restaurants.

Allen Gardens Conservatory
(In Allen Gardens – the block of Jarvis, Carlton, Gerrard, Sherbourne)
An oasis in the city, Allen Gardens is one of the oldest parks in Toronto, but its star attraction is the Conservatory. Open year round, free, and home to hundreds of exotic plants from around the world, the 16,000 square foot space features tropical plants, cactus and succulents. The first Sunday in June is The Toronto Cactus & Succulent Club’s Annual Show & Sale. Its a great opportunity to buy and learn how to care for your new succulent from the pros at amazing prices. This is where I gained a love for succulents and appreciate them as I travel around the world, I was lucky enough to visit a succulent sale in Barcelona at the Conservatory in Park de la Ciutadella last year and wished I could have taken one home.

King Street East
(King Street from Church to Parliament TTC Street Car 503/504)
There is always time to shop for home decor or that special piece to take home as a memento of your trip, I recall on a trip to Brussels trying to figure out shipping costs and the exchange rate on the Euro to get 4 – Louis XVI chairs home. This stretch of King Street is a great spot for inspiration and shopping for interior design. Start at Church Street and have a look at the current exhibit in the Toronto Sculpture Garden, then continue to Jarvis Street and visit Arts on King (165 King East) for at high end Canadian artist works. The rest of the strip features a series of home and design stores from modern and contemporary to antiques to  and high end Italian kitchens. Some of my favorite stops include: Ma Zone (63 Jarvis), In Design (214 King E), EQ3 (220 King E), Urban Barn (275 King E ) and Up Country (310 King E).

The Historic Distillery District
(55 Mill Street at Trinity Street, TTC Parliament Bus)
The former Gooderham and Wortz Distillery has been transformed into The Historic Distillery District. This pedestrian area of restored Victoria era industrial buildings is now a chic destination for tourists and locals alike, home to live theatres, galleries, fashion, design and jewelry boutiques, unique cafes and award-winning restaurants. It hosts Woofstock, a summer festival for dogs and the European style Toronto Christmas Market in November and December. Its also a great place to grab dinner and spend the evening on the patio enjoying the music and events, my favorites are the Boiler House and The Mill Street Brew Pub.

Leslieville, The Beach and Ashbridges Bay
(Queen Street E from Carlaw to Leslie & Woodbine to Neville Park, TTC Streetcar 501/301)
From Carlaw to Leslie you are in the heart of Leslieville, here you can find a number of quaint shops, antique stores and cafes. Some of my favorites are: Machine Age Modern (1000 Queen E), and Ethel (1091 Queen E). Continue down Queen Street to get into the area called The Beach from Woodbine Ave to Neville Park. The Beach area is a desirable residential area because of its extremely close proximity to the beach at Ashbridge’s Bay. It is a lively area with shopping, bars, restaurants and cafe’s, when you are not sunning on the beach, playing some beach volleyball, swimming in the lake or walking the boardwalk people watching. In July the area hosts the Beaches International Jazz Festival, and Ashbridge’s Bay is home of many firework presentations throughout the summer.

Cherry and Sugar Beach
(The foot of Cherry Street & the foot of Lower Jarvis Street)
Speaking of the beach, Toronto has a few more beach destinations on the east end of the city. At the foot of Cherry Street in the Port of Toronto find Cherry Beach, a sandy beach with off leash dog area on the shore of Lake Ontario, a great place to relax and catch some sun, get involved in a beach volleyball game and watch the boats drive past. Off Cherry Street you can also check out Polson Pier, a lakeside destination with a licensed patio, swimming pool and activities including beach volleyball, indoor soccer, rock-climbing, go-karting, human foosball, and indoor event spaces. Sugar Beach is located on a 8500 square metre pier and is Toronto’s newest and hippest beach park beside the Redpath Sugar factory. Spend the day on this sandy pier equipped with a lounge chairs and umbrellas and granite maple leaf water feature to cool off in.

Church and Wellesley
(Church Street at Wellesley, TTC Wellesley)
Church Street from Carlton to Alexander is the home to Toronto’s GLBT community. The short strip is filled with shops, restaurants and bars. It is a prime destination for brunching, sitting on a patio people watching and the area comes alive on weekends after 11 when the bars and dance clubs get in full swing. The area is home to one of the largest Pride Festivals in North America, each June, which occupies many parks and closes Church Street for the weekend of festivities including a huge parade on Sunday closing a section of Yonge Street. A few of my favorite places to eat include: Cafe California (538 Church), Hair of the Dog (425 Church) and brunch at Fire on the East Side (6 Gloucester).

Pawn Shops
(Church and Queen Street, TTC Streetcar 501/301)
My Dad often took me to the Pawn Shops on Church Street when our family would visit the city, he loved to have a look around and see what deals were available. The same shops I visited as a kid are thriving in these challenging times and you never know what you will find on offer. The History Chanel has even launched Pawnathon Canada, featuring Pawn Master Howard Green and his  H. Williams & Co. shop (145 Church). Another favorite is James McTamney & Co. Inc. (139 Church).

Historic Cabbagetown and Riverdale Farm
(East of Parliament Street, between Wellesley and Carlton)
This is a coveted neighborhood within the city having a great number of the properties listed as historical. Parliament Street has a number of shops, bakeries, markets, restaurants and bars. Locals choose Jet Fuel (519 Parliament) for coffee, Johnny G’s  Diner (478 Parliament) for brunch and The Pear Tree (507 Parliament) brunch and for dinner (ask to sit in the solarium or back patio). Wonder down Carlton Street and enjoy the historic homes, at the end of Carlton walk through the park to Riverdale Farm, the only working farm in the city. A great place to bring the kids and visit all of the farm animals, there is also access here to the Lower Don Recreation Trail, a great place to hop on the bike, roller blades or walk along the trail to head to one of the beaches or north along the Don River. The area hosts the Cabbagetown Festival each September, and there is a Farmer’s Market at Riverdale Farm on Tuesday’s from May until October.

St Lawrence Market
(Front Street and Jarvis Street)
When traveling around Europe I love to explore the local markets and the St. Lawrence Market is Toronto’s best. Open Tuesday through Saturday its a great place to get farm fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, fish and cheese. St. Lawrence Market was just named” The Best Food Market in the World”, by National Geographic. There are a number of booths featuring cooking equipment, wine and take away food. The north building features The Sunday Antique Market on Sunday’s, arrive early to get your best pick. The area around the market includes a number of quaint shops, restaurants, theatres, the Flatiron Building and the soon to be completed L Tower by architect, Daniel Leibskind above the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. There are more restaurants along The Esplanade, one block south of Front. In August, come here for BuskerFest to see some of the World’s best street performers in action.

BIXI Bike
(Locations all over the city)
Just launched last year, BIXI Bike is a new bike rental premise giving users the opportunity to rent a bike for a period of time and drop it off at one of the many locations across the city. The city has a number of dedicated bike lanes (hopefully more coming soon), and there are lots of areas along the waterfront, parks and Don River Trail for you to give them a go. They come complete with a rack and lights, but bring your own helmet. Perhaps one of the best ways to get around and see the sites of the city.

Toronto Posts:
Winterlicious – Toronto’s dining gem
10+ Things to do on Toronto’s Waterfront
10+ Things to do on the West End of Toronto

Potsdamer Platz – the platz to be!

By: Steven Wright

One of the things I adore about European cities are the public squares. The magic of a car free, pedestrian area with restaurants lining the perimeter, a gathering place with booths selling artist works, street food, product launches and a “happening place” kind of presence, a place where you can relax and people watch. Potsdamer Platz is a visionary modern public square.

Potsdamer Platz is central to most of Berlin. During WWII, it became one of the most bombed areas due to its proximity to the Reichstag and other government buildings, leaving the area virtually flattened after the war. Post WWII, it became no man’s land, the area of great divide between East and West Berlin. After reunification, this area became one of the largest construction sites in Europe, leading to a total rebirth of this desirable locale.

Today’s Potsdamer Platz is both a community and a destination. There are brilliant modern condominiums and office towers lining the streets, high end hotel chains, restaurants and shops, museums and theatres, an Arkaden (mall) and even a casino can be found here. Extremely connected with links to the S&U Bahn, buses and DB bike rentals.

There are 3 skyscrapers dotting the corner, along with the entrances to the train station, and replicas of the first ever traffic lights in Europe. This corner is like no other in Berlin, the buildings are large and imposing, but are also incredibly beautiful both in colour and shape, creating a new gate into Potsdamer Platz. No. 1 houses the “Panoramapunkt” viewing platform, located 100 m above ground level, which is accessed by riding Europe’s fastest elevator (8.65 metres per second).

On the south side of Potsdamer Strasse find the Arkaden. On the lower level find one of the best food courts I have seen, filled with fresh fish, sandwiches, even a grocery store. Lots of great shopping continues on the main and upper level. Caffé e Gelato is  a must stop for a cappuccino and an amazing Gelato treat. Behind the Arkaden is the Speilbank Berlin casino and a beautiful place to sit and relax overlooking “Untitled (Boxers)”, 1987 by Keith Hering.

On the north side find what I consider to be the pièce de résistance, the Sony Centre. Best to enter through the DB office tower at the east end, you will notice a path that is lit with an amazing blue light, on the right notice the restored parts of the Hotel Esplanade, which was moved 75 metres to its new home after surviving the war. The historic location of the Berlin Wall has been incorporated into the site; look for the metal markers across the grounds.

Looking down the walkway you are drawn into a large circular opening, surrounded by buildings holding up a huge canopy of glass and metal, the site is awe inspiring. The Sony Centre houses many great restaurants that have patios overlooking the square, an English language movie theatre with IMAX, a Lego store, Sony store, and the Filmhaus Berlin. The Sony Centre becomes even more beautiful at night when the canopy is lit up brilliant colours that can be seen from all over the city. Find a seat around the fountain for people watching, red carpet premieres, concert performances and much more. I find myself visiting Potsdamer Platz multiple times each trip to Berlin.

Photo Gallery:
Potsdamer Platz
Germany Posts:
Autobahn jaunt to Düsseldorf and Köln
East Side Gallery
Outlet City Metzingen
Glass Ceiling walking tour: Potsdamer Platz, Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie
Schloss Charlottenburg the Palace of Berlin