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08.12.16 / Our Trip to Toronto

toronto

We spent a week in Toronto last month and had a blast. There was so much to see and do! The trip was nine months in the making. When we fantasize about vacations, we typically lean towards nature and a slower pace so this trip was a fun deviation. The words “I’m bored” never passed the kids’ lips. Here are some of the highlights in case you’re interested.

To keep costs down, we made the trip by car. In the past I’ve always considered Toronto “too far.” I was surprised to learn that we’re a doable 7-hour drive away. (I’m embarrassingly terrible at geography.) It’s also worth noting that children <16 years old can cross the U.S.-Canada border by land or sea with their legal guardians and a birth certificate. Steve and I had to present our passports, but the kids only needed their birth certificates.

Niagara Falls

We drove through New York to hit up Niagara Falls on our way. It’s nearly impossible to capture the grand scale of the falls on camera. In person, the vistas are vast and impressive. It’s beautiful and scary all at once.

Niagara Falls

Our favorite part was walking to the top of the falls and looking down at the hurricane decks where tiny people in yellow ponchos were getting drenched. The backs of my knees felt melty, and I’m not even afraid of heights. The constant swirling and gushing was meditative. The entire experience was breathtaking.

Niagara

Nobody fell in! I want to give a little shout out to the purse I’m wearing. I bought the small crossover bag just for traveling, and it’s perfect. Not too big, not too small. Hands-free carrying. Adjustable strap. Plenty of zippers and pockets for organization. The water-resistant nylon stood up to sweat, spills, sprays from the falls and even a random thunderstorm that caught us off guard one evening in Toronto. It’s my version of a fanny pack ;)

toronto airbnb

toronto airbnb

toronto airbnb

toronto airbnb

toronto airbnb

After an exciting afternoon at the falls, we crossed the border and made our way to Toronto. We stayed in the most amazing, family-friendly airbnb. It had a cozy rustic, artsy vibe with a slew of insanely fun amenities for the kids including a kitchen swing and the ultimate playroom. You can see more of the kid-friendly features here. It was the perfect home-away-from-home base for exploring the city. (It looks like the price has increased since we booked it, but at the time it was crazy affordable.) If we lived in Toronto, I feel like we would be good friends with the homeowners. They have an amazing art collection and a great selection of reading material for kids and adults. After casually plucking this book from a shelf, I had a hard time putting it down and ended up buying a copy when I returned home because I had to know how it ended!

We realized early on that we were in a part of Toronto known as Little Portugal. Our first night was the final of the Euro 2016 championship, and the neighborhood broke out in celebration when Portugal won. It was really exciting to be in the middle of the festivities.

toronto

toronto

toronto

toronto

toronto

toronto

We enjoyed the walkability of the neighborhood. It’s only a short walk to Dufferin Grove Park, restaurants, grocers and shops. I absolutely LOVED walking to buy groceries on a whim at the local markets. In the States, I drive to make weekly grocery trips. The planning is my least favorite part. It was nice being close enough to pick up ingredients spur of the moment and wheeling them home in a wagon. Plus, it makes for some great house stalking. (Those little arched windows hinting at an interior staircase slay me every time!)

We spent slow mornings at the house then ventured off to the city in the afternoon, returning home again in the evening.

cn tower

toronto island

toronto zoo

jellyfish

jellyfish blue

We bought city passes to visit CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium, Casa Loma, Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and Toronto Zoo. (I did the math, and it ended up being $11 admission per person for each attraction with the city pass. Not bad!) We really, really wanted to visit the Ontario Science Centre, but due to poor planning (and an exhausted four-year-old) near the end of the week we ran out of time. We paid extra for the Sky Pod at CN Tower (do it!) and felt like giants looking down on the city, lake and island. People looked like ants; cars looked like toys; buildings looked like architectural models. We made a game of pointing out rooftop pools. We could have done without the zoo, and once you’ve seen one Ripley’s Aquarium (we had), you’ve seen them all. Even so, the jellyfish exhibit features a color-changing black light and is super cool.

casa loma

casa loma

casa loma

casa loma

casa loma

Casa Loma was a crowd favorite. We loved being able to tour the more personal and secretive spaces. We snuck through a hidden door in the study and discovered the servants’ back stairs. We walked up a spiral staircase on the third floor and emerged on top of a turret with long range views of the city. We traipsed through an underground tunnel and popped up in a horse stable. I couldn’t get over the concrete coffered ceiling, tiled walls and brick floor in the stable. They were gorgeous!

lake ontario

Mid-week we hit up the lake. It was a welcome break from all the walking, crowds and traffic. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. It was a painful descent from the sandy beach into the cool water, but we discovered that once you get past the rocks (ouch!) the lake bed gives way to sand once again. We’re quickly becoming lake fans. We’ll take the sun, sand, water and waves. Hold the salt and sharks!

toronto cn news

Speaking of perfect weather, it was comical to us that everyone was going on and on about the “heat wave” during our stay. There was even a heat advisory in effect.

It was 83°F.

In Ohio, it’s not unusual for us to experience 90ºF+ days during the summer. Anything cooler feels pleasant. One evening while waiting in line downtown at Sweet Jesus (a local ice cream hotspot), Layne and Everett were approached by a local news reporter and asked if they wanted to be on TV. Uh, okay. When they went live (at 9:00 p.m. in SCORCHING 78ºF heat!), they were asked how they were staying cool. They were like, “Drinking water?” #celebrities

Meanwhile, I had goosebumps. To be fair, I probably couldn’t handle Toronto winters.

la carnita

We tried a bunch of local restaurants. Sweet Jesus and La Carnita were good but, for us, they just didn’t live up to the hype and were overpriced. I did fall in love with the decor at La Carnita though. How fun is that chicken wire pendant filled with burnt-out light bulbs?!

Our favorite meals came from Boom Breakfast, Laziza, La Bella ManaguaThe Slip and the beer hall at Mill Street Brewpub in the historic Distillery District. The first three were all within walking distance of the house. We liked Boom Breakfast and Laziza so much that we ate at each of them twice! You really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu at either one. Laziza has daily specials that are amazingly delicious and inexpensive. Two giant falafel wraps for $6 total! At La Bella Managua we loved the calamares and bisteck encebollado. We were impressed with the salmon tacos and fried chicken at The Slip. The ribs at Mill Street Brewpub were fantastic. Funny tangent story: After touring the dinosaur exhibit at the ROM earlier in the day, Mabrey stopped mid-rib bite and asked with big eyes, “Are we eating dinosaurs?!” Haha.

We didn’t do much shopping, but Layne and I made it to Kensington Market the last day. I picked up gifts at Kid Icarus (a must!) and Blue Banana Market. I’m bummed I didn’t make it to Tonic Living. Next time!

As much as we loved visiting Toronto, it made us appreciate many of the things we take for granted at home. Namely, free parking and lots of green space.

Have you made any trips this summer? I’d love to hear about your adventures!

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

51 Comments

12.August.2016

I always love hearing about people visiting my city!! Did you visit the islands or high park? We have lots of green space, you just gotta hunt it down ;). Sweet Jesus is overrated- it was designed for instagram. It is too bad you missed the Science Centre because it is a gem.

Also it HAS been really hot here, but we have high humidity so we measure things with and without humidity. For instance, today was 88, but 108 with humidity!

The house you stayed in sounds so cool!

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replied on August 12th, 2016

We’re so bummed about missing the science center! Okay, 108 is legit HOT.

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12.August.2016

I am in Ohio too, Medina to be exact. The heat and humidity has been horrible this week. Toronto’s weather sounds like heaven. We are not from here originally so I want to take more time to do road trips around the area. Chicago is first up. So many places are an easy drive, it’s great to get out there and explore.

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12.August.2016

Seriously – how do you find these awesome AirBNB’s? Is there a trick? I feel like when I look, they are generally boring, sometimes weird looking apartments/condos. And I’ve looked at different cities. Any tips?!

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12.August.2016

very interesting places, your bag sounds great. A swing inside a house? Unusual!

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12.August.2016

I agree with you on Sweet Jesus. Those trendy ice cream concoctions can’t beat real gelato in Little Italy!

Did you guys get to experience the whole neighbourhood smelling of chocolate? When I first moved to the area it took me a while to figure out that I wasn’t crazy, often the air really did smell of chocolate for blocks…the Cadbury factory is tucked away right in the hood!

When you come back, the Cadbury outlet store (part of the Peek Freans cookie outlet) is handily located right near Tonic Living. :)

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13.August.2016

What an amazing trip and Airbnb!

We always spend one week at Lake of the Woods in Southern Oregon with my husbands family. The kids have a blast playing in the lake all week with no shortage of fishing, tubing, SUPing, canoeing, water skiing and fishing. It’s such a beautiful spot and a wonderful tradition. We then head to Central Oregon to Black Butte Ranch for a week with my family. Again, the kids enjoy biking, golfing, rock climbing, hiking, mnt biking, swimming and horse back riding. We are so blessed to have two wonderful weeks with our families each and every summer.

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13.August.2016

Yeah! Canadian reader here, living in Niagara wine country, about 20 minutes from Niagara Falls and across the lake from Toronto. I love living here. So glad you guys enjoyed your vacation here :)

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13.August.2016

Dana, you’ve a beautiful family. ;) And I dunno how you did it but you always pick the most beautiful place to stay when you went vacationing. ;)

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13.August.2016

My home town!! I’m a long time reader and this is my first comment. I love Toronto and am happy that you and you family enjoyed it. I miss those beautiful big brick houses, and people complaining about the weather (it’s a Canadian thing ha ha). I live in British Columbia now but Toronto always has my heart. I always look forward to reading about your adventures but this one was such a lovely surprise for me. ps I am saving that airbnb listing for the next time I visit!!!

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13.August.2016

This house is around the corner from me! I was really excited to read this post. I’m glad you had such a good time here, but the bit about the heat rubbed me the wrong way, it seemed a bit snotty. Like, you’re from Ohio, not Arizona. A heat wave here is defined as 3+ days above 30C (86F) which sets the bar quite low, but it makes the news because the air quality gets super poor in the city when the heat lingers. This morning it was 43C with the humidity (109F, at 10 AM) and while you may have had goosebumps, to still be 78F at 9 PM makes some people feel gross, there’s no relief. I had Airbnb guests from Chicago that week and they were dying. Maybe our news is comical and lame to you, but we don’t have many stories about shootings filling up our news hour. I don’t know, it’s been bugging me since I read this yesterday so I felt I should comment.

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replied on August 16th, 2016

It wasn’t my intention to belittle Canadian news. We just thought it was funny that the boys were asked on live television how they were staying cool in the heat when they weren’t even hot. It was just something we noticed. No hard feelings! For what it’s worth, I completely agree with you on American news.

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replied on August 16th, 2016

Im sorry but I have agree….I felt a little crappy after reading that part – hat comment rubbed me the wrong way. Despite what people might think, Toronto weather is not ‘cold’ all the time. Good on you guys if you could handle that humidity!! but as Sarah mentioned, those heat warnings are there for a more specific reason

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13.August.2016

Sounds like a great trip and I shall keep those restaurants in mind, thanks.
Toronto does have plenty of green space (Toronto Island is a gem) but as a major metropolis, it would probably be fairer to compare parks and pay parking to Cleveland than small town Ohio.
Glad you made it north!

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13.August.2016

Sounds like you had a great time! It actually was incredibly hot – with the humidex it was closer to 95-100 F

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replied on August 16th, 2016

It gets crazy humid here in Ohio as well, so we’re pretty used to that sticky, sweaty mess ;)

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We owned a condo in Toronto for a few years. It was our vacation get-away. We loved having a doorman, a subway a block away, and tons of restaurants nearby. It’s as close to European city as you can get without going to Europe.

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14.August.2016

We did a Niagara Falls trip last Labor Day weekend (we’re from NE Indiana) and we had a blast. I wish we could’ve spent more time in Toronto, and after reading about your trip we may have to make another adventure that way. It’s funny how people react to the weather differently, I remember being in Vegas 15 years ago and it was like 5% humidity and people were freaking out – coming from Indiana we would’ve been thrilled with only 5% as we are used to 90% on a regular basis.

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14.August.2016

What Casey said! Thanks for such a beautiful tribute to Toronto. Lovely to see it through your eyes.

So many of the restaurants here are overpriced and overrated. In my ‘hood we tend to keep a low profile so the good restaurants don’t get crazy lineups. But my favourite new brunch place got reviewed in BlogTO, so now it’s lined up out the door by 11am. Fortunately it’s a 10 minute walk so I can get their early. For some people lining up for an hour for overpriced eggs is practically a sport — I like my Sunday mornings to be sit down affairs.

Also second what Casey said about the humidity – that’s what kills me in the summer. July and August are something to be endured – I deal by staying inside with A/C. 83F with 80%+ humidity, is stanky hot, especially without A/C.

The city announces the heat advisories because a lot of low-income people don’t have A/C, and many of them live in high-rise apartment buildings. So they’re reminded of local spots where they can cool down if they need to. During the blackout of 2003 (which you may remember) many, many people had to walk up 10-30 floors to get groceries, or do anything – all without A/C. A lot of people suffered. I had just moved here so I don’t know if they ramped the heat advisories up after the blackout or not.

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replied on August 14th, 2016

Just discovered that today is the 13 year anniversary of that blackout … spooky.

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/08/14/august-14-2003-northeast-blackout-of-2003.html

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replied on August 16th, 2016

Totally ignorant of me not to think about un-air-conditioned high rises. Thanks for pointing that out!

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14.August.2016

I lived in Toronto for 18 years, but lived in the east end. It is nice to see it from your perspective. We are returning there, after being away for 4 years and will be hitting up some of the things that you saw. I finally get to play tourist there. Thanks for sharing!

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14.August.2016

One of my favourite spots near Toronto is Centre Island. A cheap relatively short ferry ride lands you in an island oasis with a killer view of the city, quaint century old cottages, bike and canoe rentals and beaches.

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15.August.2016

I always enjoy your vacation posts. Looks like you had a great time! Those Niagra Falls pics made my stomach drop! If you don’t mind, where is your outfit from with the gray tshirt? And what color was your cross body bag? It looks like the perfect size.

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replied on August 16th, 2016

The gray shirt is J. Crew, one of their vintage cotton tees. They are so lightweight and comfy. I wear mine all the time. The color of my bag is listed as “khaki” but it’s really an olive green. Hope that helps!

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replied on August 16th, 2016

Thanks! I love a cozy gray tee! Are the jean shorts jcrew as well? Are those saucony running shoes?

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replied on August 16th, 2016

I actually found the shorts in the juniors’ section at Kohl’s. I like them because they’re longer and have a little stretch to them. My shoes are just my Brooks running shoes. Keepin’ it comfy for a full day of walking/traveling!

15.August.2016

I am always looking for kid friendly get aways. Toronto seems to fit the bill. Love going to Canada because it feels exotic since it is another country but no need for kid’s passports.

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15.August.2016

It really is fascinating to hear how others view our city. You did hit the ‘touristy’ spot when you went to Sweet Jesus and La Carnita. Los Guacamoles is way cool and the owner is the chef. Great food, not too expensive :) And Lick it Gelato, not far from the CN Tower has fab ice cream without being over-the-top. We actually have tons of green space with the trails along the Don Valley, High Park, Allen Gardens, Edward Gardens, Sunnybrook, etc, as well as the Toronto Islands which are lovely. I’m sad that the beach you managed to get to was all stones. The beaches on the Islands are lovely and sandy as is Ashbridges Bay & Woodbine Beach.
But it does sound like you’ve had a great vacation. I’ve been to several places in Ohio and loved it in your State :) <3
btw.. your view from the CN Tower is looking right down on my condo building :)

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replied on August 16th, 2016

Ah, we were standing on top of you?! Small world. We did hit up High Park one evening just as Shakespeare in the park was letting out. So bummed we missed it! Even with the rocks, we thoroughly enjoyed the lake!! I wanted to ferry over the islands, but the kids were too impatient to wait in line. There’s just so much to do in Toronto. We knew we couldn’t do it all in a week. We’ll just have to go back sometime ;)

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15.August.2016

Love Layne’s Mexico shirt!! it is always nice to see other people wearing my country’s colors :)
Is he into soccer teams? I have a “vintage (2006)” Mexico shirt that he can have. What size does he wear?

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replied on August 16th, 2016

Haha! That jersey was a hand-me-down from a friend and he LOVES it. Spanish is one of his favorite classes in school. He’s a tall, lanky eleven-year-old, size 10/12?

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replied on August 17th, 2016

Great to hear that! Tell him to keep up the good work :). I’ll send you an email to make arrangements.

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15.August.2016

I love to hear about people’s visits to Toronto. We live in the country about 3 hours away and drive there every few months for weekend visits to get our city fix. I’ll have to check out that Airbnb next time. It looks amazing!

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15.August.2016

I love that you came to Toronto! When you traveled to Michigan City earlier this year, and asked about travel destinations within driving distance, I wanted to tell you to come here (maybe I did?! Who knows). Its such an amazing city – and to echo Casey, the Toronto Islands and High Park are such great spots too. Looks like you had a wonderful trip – I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

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replied on August 16th, 2016

We hit up High Park! We just missed Shakespeare in the park one evening. It looked so fun! We were going to ferry over to the islands, but the kids didn’t want to wait in line. We still loved the lake!

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15.August.2016

I never read about Toronto from a tourist’s perspective. (I’m originally from Toronto, but moved outside the city several years ago.) Love your recap and honesty, and the AirBNB is a gem!
Jordana

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15.August.2016

I just returned from a weekend in San Francisco! It was a lovely escape, and so fun to explore the city with my boyfriend, who’s never been. We live in Arizona, so the heat has been constant since mid-May, if not earlier. We moved a couple of months ago, and it was 122 on move-in day. Awful! Those San Francisco breezes sure felt good!

Toronto looks incredible. Like a big-city feel, but also calm and relaxing at the same time. Definitely adding it to my travel list!

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15.August.2016

I’m so jealous of your luck with airbnb! You’ve find some fabulous gems!
We went to upstate NY recently for a family reunion and made a side trip to Niagara. So I have to agree with your opinions of the falls. We did the Maid of the Mist and were thoroughly impressed with it and the power of the falls!
Wish we could have made a trip into Toronto, I’ve heard great things…I mean there’s gotta be a reason people pay all of those ridiculous prices on Love it or List It, right? haha!
Oh and being from South Carolina, you guys have no idea about heat or humidity! We were in love with the weather and couldn’t figure out why everyone doesn’t live there until we remembered the winters.

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15.August.2016

Looks like a fun trip! I visited Toronto last year and really enjoyed it. I recommend the Toronto Islands for your next visit.

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replied on August 16th, 2016

I wanted to try the islands, but my kids are not patient. They didn’t want to wait in line for the ferry ride!

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15.August.2016

OMG this house was breathtaking!!!! Thank you for taking us with you! I look forward to these Airbnb homes you visit. They are all so different from each other yet still so stylish & all hip (like you & your family). I love the insider travel tips and beautiful pics. You are living my dream. :)

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15.August.2016

I was gonna mention the heat thing too, and how it’s measured with humidity and without. On a day where its 90 and feels like 110 there is alot of concern about old people, people with asthma, etc etc because the air quality is so bad. Especially in Toronto. Anyways, its pretty awesome you were like 2 hours away from me! Glad you enjoyed your visit to Canada.

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16.August.2016

I loved hearing about your trip to my city. Next time when you are able to make the Science Center, pass by Evergreen Brickworks. It is a natural oasis in the city and my kids and I visit the farmer’s market every weekend and catch frogs in the lakes! They also have a children’s garden with a yurt where my kids enjoy making mud cakes.

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17.August.2016

Looks like a fun trip! Love your tan leather sandals. Can you tell me what brand they are/where you got them? Thanks!

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replied on August 17th, 2016

I always get compliments on those sandals. You can read more about them here…

http://www.housetweaking.com/2016/05/24/10-strappy-casual-sandals-for-summer/

I’ve worn them faithfully for the past few years and only this year did I invest in another similar pair.

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17.August.2016

We travel regularly with our children. We take three trips a year (one just my husband and I, one flying with the kids and one summer road trip). Last summer we went to Toronto/Niagara for 5 days. We bought the combo pass too! The Royal Ontario museum was amazing!! I was blown away- it reminded me so much of the Smisonian museums. Casa Loma was beautiful. The zoo was bleh and the CN tower was alright. We stayed in an Airbnb right in the city so we used public transit all week. My kids loved the street cars!! The Toronto Islands were also fun. We weren’t impressed at all with the food in Toronto. This past March we had an unexpected third baby who is so loved!! Instead of a road trip we took the train to Montreal/Quebec City to make it easier for the baby. It was by far one of the best trips! My kids loved the train ride, both cities were equally beautiful, amazing food in Montreal, and completely affordable. I definitely recommend Quebec Province. We are planning on visiting Alberta and Nova Scotia in the future. Next trip for us is the Pacific NW coast and Portland this fall.

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replied on August 23rd, 2016

Sounds like so much fun! I would love to visit Montreal, Nova Scotia and Portland as well.

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replied on October 1st, 2016

Love to see that Nova Scotia is on both of your lists! So much to see and experience, I may be a tad biased as I live here, but you will love our cozy, coastal vibe!

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18.August.2016

I love Toronto and Casa Loma is fantastic. We did this exact trip a few years ago, and it is one of my fav family vacations. I will never forget my boys standing by the falls, the joy on their faces as they got sprayed. Way too fun.

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27.August.2016

Interesting to hear one’s impressions of somewhere I can go anytime, living nearby.[ #shouldn’t take it for granted.]
We go to Niagara each fall, I highly recommend wine purchases and winery tours, Ontario wines are the best in the world.
If you spend time again in Ont., I suggest some of the historical forts, living museums, kids love these, there are 2 in the Niagara area , from the 1812 war.

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