Mini Break (Parents): Set a Mom Loose on Toronto
Ever now and then I run away from home. Actually once a year I do. It always happens in June, and it is never to the same place. You see, I run off to a travel bloggers conference to learn a little more about what I love, meet a few virtual friends face to face, and connect with a couple of people that may make travel a little more exciting in the next year for all of us. This year I was running to Toronto, and oh boy what a trip it turned out to be.
Normally my conference, dubbed TBEX (Travel Blogger Exchange), is just a quick Friday through Sunday trip. This year I extended it a little more so I could attend a workshop before the conference. Instead of three days I would be gone 7 full days. Yes, that’s right. I was running away from home for a week, a first in this mom’s history of mamahood.
Explore the city
Due to bad flight options I flew out a day before I had to start my workshop. This meant I would have almost a full day to explore Toronto, a city I had never been to before, all on my own. between the workshop and conference, I was also privy to some pretty amazing experiences. Let’s just say I ate and toured my way through the city in record speed. Here’s how you can too.
Put on your walking shoes
Toronto is relatively flat. If you’ve got the energy, pick a direction and start walking. My home base was Eaton Centre, so we will start there.
Make your way down Yonge Street, the longest street in word at 1,178 miles long (there is a bit of speculation on this one since it would have to be also be known as Highway 11, which it is not.) Find Eaton Centre and enter a world of shopping mayhem you may never escape if you don’t stay straight. You can eventually exit out of the other end through The Bay, or you can continue into the subway tunnel. Toronto has a series of underground walkways called the PATH that you can follow throughout parts of the city and never have to actually go outside. Helpful when it is chilly in the winter months.
Head east towards St. Lawrence Market for a Peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel and some decadent macarons. You won’t be sorry. Walk off this treat by heading west towards the financial district. Stroll through Brookfield Place to gaze upon an old bank façade that was moved piece by piece so it could be preserved. The old vs. new contrast is exquisite. Pull up a chair at Marche inside the building so you can continue to marvel at the design of this financial monument. The chocolate-covered strawberries are worth the trip.
Head west down Queen Street into the Entertainment district for a little window shopping and a coffee before turning up Spadina Avenue into Chinatown as you loop your way back to Eaton Centre and collapse at your hotel.
Yes, this is a lot of walking. I’m not going to lie. But it was exhilarating to experience the city at the ground level, see the locals in action, and to just savor a moment all alone in a city without little hands to hold, or strollers and baby bags to carry.
Things to do
- CN Tower EdgeWalk. I did not have time to go to the top of the CN Tower, or to take the daredevil walk along the outer edge. I hear it is amazing. If you have the guts, you have to do it.
- Historic Toronto Tour with Bruce Bell. Bruce may just be one of Toronto’s secret weapons. This man brings history alive, keeps his tours moving, and knows just about everyone in town. He is on a mission to preserve Toronto’s past and he isn’t afraid to let everyone know. His tour was so good I would happily ave brought my baby and toddler along. His pace was perfect as we moved through the Fairmont hotel, CBC building, King Edward Hotel, St. James Cathedral and more. Needless to say, we were never bored. Bruce had a story to tell about each spot, and even reminisced about the time he met Marlene Dietrich while busing tables. A tour can never be bad when it ends at St. Lawrence Market either! For more info check out brucebelltours.ca. The price is right for a family; don’t be afraid to hop on and learn a little more about the city.
- The Distillery with Segway of Ontario. Part of my conference is getting the chance to work with a few tour operators to see what they offer travelers when they visit the host city. Segway of Ontario rolled out the red carpet with an abbreviated version of their walking, Segway, and a culinary tour of the Distillery District. This area of Toronto has had countless movies filmed in it, including Chicago, Death to Smoochie, X-Men, and Tommy Boy. If you want a well-preserved brick factory town in your movie, this is the spot you come to.Inside those brick walls you can sample some of Soma Chocolate Makers cocoa products. The salted caramel chocolates are swoon worthy. Experience oil and vinegar pairings at Crescendo. The staff is more than happy to help you sample a variety of combinations to liven up your meals. Grab a 6-pack or do a tasting of craft beers at Mill Street Brewpub before picking up some artisan crafts and cheeses at Art du Quebec. While you wait for your packages to be wrapped up take in a bit of art at the Thompson Landry Gallery, or pop over to Izumi for a little handcrafted sake.
Now as for that Segway, you are in for a treat. This is not something you could do with your baby or toddler, but it would be perfect for older kids (ages 12 and up). As a mom traveling solo I could hit the max speed on my Segway (all 6 mph of it) and cruise around the district, hitting dips and bumps along the path. It’s a great way to cover a large space in a small amount of time. For more information, check out segwayofontario.com.
Food to eat
- St. Lawrence Market. Just as locals and tourists frequent Pike Place Market, so do they frequent St. Lawrence Market. It is closed Sundays and Mondays (learned that the hard way), and is certainly worth a stop. Come hungry. Grab a Peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel, before hitting the bakery just across the way in the center aisle for some of the most mouth-watering macarons you will ever experience in North America. Instead of the little dab of filling, these beauties are filled with cream. Heaven!
- Cheesewerks. 56 Bathurst Street, Toronto. If you love cheese, then you have to stop by to say hello to Kevin Durkee, owner of the only shop of its kind in the city. Dive into the Beijing mac n’ cheese crafted with Asiago, Chinese BBQ pork, hoisin and slivered onions. I don’t even like mac n’ cheese and I liked this. The original grilled cheese is a must, but I wouldn’t say no to a Charleston or Picton if I were back in town again. Top it off with a side of Rustic Tomato soup and you may need to be wheeled out of the place.
- Yuzunohana. 236 Adelaide Street West, Toronto. Decent sushi in a quiet atmosphere for lunch. Lots of the usual rolls you love, with a long list of nigiri to choose from. Ask for a seat by the window if available for a little people watching down below.
- Pizzeria Libretto. 550 Danforth Avenue, Toronto. Take the subway up to the Chester stop to wander the streets of Greektown. Although there are plenty of fabulous spots to experience a little expat greek life, you won’t want to miss the handcrafted pizzas and salads at this hot spot. Kids are welcome, but it also creates a nice evening mood for those looking for a little romance.
- Walk. After eating so much you may want to walk more than you had thought. The streets are safe, and most areas downtown stay active into the wee hours of the night. There are homeless people, but I never felt threatened by anyone. Use your street smarts, and when in doubt, hail a cab.
- Subway. Don’t be afraid to use the subway system. It is very easy to navigate, can be cheaper than a taxi, and is fast. No sitting in traffic for hours!
- Taxi. Cabs are plentiful downtown, but can be harder to find the farther out you get. Have a number for a cab company handy. Ask your hotel for a recommendation if possible. Rates aren’t always the cheapest depending on how far you go, but if you have a few friends to split the fare it can be more cost effective than the subway.
Stay tuned for more on my time in Toronto at TBEX and BlogHouse (workshop).
Many thanks to Bruce Bell, Cheesewerks and Segway of Ontario for complimentary tours and tastings. As always my opinions are my own; when they aren’t you will be the first to know.