Yes, Toronto is full of glitz and glam (especially this time of year), not to mention fare from celebrity chefs and sights spectacular enough to give New York City a run for its money. But it’s the out-of-the-way spots and happenings — well-known to locals — that create Toronto’s real personality.
In between Toronto Intl. Film Festival screenings and celebrity spotting, make time to discover the soul of this booming metropolis. Though there’s an endless list of Toronto spots boasting unique offerings, here are our top nine recommendations — from under-the-radar destinations and festivals to long-standing favorites.
Hit The Beach: More officially known as Beach Village, this effortlessly charming neighborhood just 20 minutes east of downtown Toronto has a vintage small-town feel and 28 miles of Lake Ontario waterfront. Join a game of volleyball, stroll the boardwalk, walk, bike or rollerblade along the 30-plus mile Martin Goodman Trail, and cool off in the lake. Then shop Queen Street East, a bustling road lined with cool and quirky shops and an interesting collection of cafés, bars and restaurants. Take the Queen St. E. streetcar for a quick, easy ride.
Grab a Pint: Toronto’s burgeoning craft beer scene is among the biggest in North America, with new breweries and brewpubs popping up around town all the time. Take your pick or sign up for a tour through the greater Toronto area — tours include three or four craft breweries plus samples, of course! Or check out Toronto Beer Week, Sept. 13–22, an itinerant beer festival now in its 10th year. With participating bars and breweries pouring special suds across the city, this year’s festival promises to be epic.
Get your Meal on Wheels: Here in Toronto it’s a food-truck world, and there’s one to satisfy every craving — from deli-style hot-smoked meat sandwiches and gooey mac ’n’ cheese to organic, locally sourced European fusion cuisine. And of course, beavertails: a quintessentially Canadian treat made of whole-wheat pastries, fried and served hot with butter and your choice of sweet toppings. Check out Toronto Food Trucks and @FoodTrucksTO to find the closest mobile meal near you.
Try a Different Kind of Bubbly: Bubble — or boba — tea shops have been multiplying across Toronto, where the world’s new favorite beverage has exploded. Originating in Taiwan, bubble tea features a base made from tea, fruit, coffee or milk and chewy tapioca “pearls” at the bottom of the cup. There are literally thousands of possibilities for bubble tea, and you can take your pick across the city, from those made with edible glitter or cheese mousse to your choice of dozens of tea varieties. New trends arrive daily.
Bring Out Your Inner Irish: Discover Celtic culture, music, art and dance, all while experiencing one of Toronto’s lovely islands, during the annual Celtic Island Festival. This event celebrates all things Irish with food, traditional folk performances and live bands. Let the spirit move you as the sun sets over Lake Ontario. Sept. 14, Toronto Centre Island.
Find Your Roots: Step into Friday Roots and Vibes for down-home soul food, bourbon cocktails and live entertainment every night of the week. Enjoy comedy and live R&B, jazz, soul and rap, plus the occasional tap dancer. Get your soul food fix with favorites like hush puppies and gluten-free buttermilk fried chicken, finished off with fresh peach cobbler. The basement is home to 876 Studio, a recording studio and rehearsal space, which makes Friday Roots and Vibes a cool, creative hub.
Star Gaze at The Ritz-Carlton Toronto: One of the city’s most opulent hotels, situated just steps from the red carpet, the Ritz is the place to go for a peek behind the Toronto Film Festival curtain. Mingle with boldface names at the Ritz Bar and sip festival-themed cocktails. Eat like an A-lister at the exclusive pop-up Seafood Bar, featuring a decadent array of market-fresh and raw favorites from Canadian waters.
Sip in Style: Celebrating its first-ever Toronto Film Festival, the St. Regis Hotel Toronto is pulling out all the stops: The lobby’s Astor Lounge has been transformed into the Moët & Chandon Champagne Lounge, with limited-time-only treats from the bubbles and bites Champagne menu. Savor Moët & Chandon and Dom Perignon Champagne by the glass (or the bottle) or try a special Champagne cocktail. Be sure to get there by 6 p.m. for the hotel’s iconic Champagne sabering ritual. Running through Sept. 15.
Adopt a British Accent: Don your best frock and head to the Library Bar at the Fairmont Royal York — the official hotel of the “Downton Abbey” movie — and enjoy a themed afternoon tea. Sample pastries from the official “Downton Abbey Cookbook,” compete in a best-dressed competition and “Downton Abbey” TV series trivia games, and maybe even walk away with a something your friends will all envy. Sept. 14 and 15. Reservations required.