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.
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.
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.
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 ;)
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.
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.
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 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!
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!
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.
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 Managua, The 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