Weekenders: Cultural Toronto

The capital of Ontario is coming into its own with hip galleries, shops and restaurants.

By Stirling Kelso

A decade ago travelers often overlooked Toronto in favor of Canada’s more popular cities—Montreal, with its Paris-style bistros; Vancouver, with its Pacific Coast oysters and lush mountain backdrop. The Great Lakes tides have turned, though, and today Toronto is flourishing. Not only does the city have a thriving financial center, it is also incredibly diverse—more than 130 languages and dialects are spoken here—and home to a thriving cultural scene. Explore Toronto with our jam-packed weekend guide.

The Queen Reigns

Funky and cool, the Queen Street West neighborhood, in central Toronto, is a breeding ground for independent boutiques, galleries and restaurants. Businesses often have ultra-local concepts—say, a chef who sources honey from a rooftop hive or a brewer who grows hops in his own backyard.

Artists in search of showrooms and cheap rent were Queen West’s early adopters, and the neighborhood now has the gallery scene to prove it. The grande dame is the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. The museum will move later this year, so check out the last exhibition at this site (running through August 16, 2015), The Aluminum Jubilee, by artist Dean Baldwin. Next door, make your way through the wisteria-framed entrance of the Edward Day Gallery to see pieces by Canadian artists for purchase. Down the street the Stephen Bulger Gallery focuses on historical and contemporary photographs by Sarah Anne Johnson, Ruth Orkin and others. And the Cooper Cole gallery has works by emerging artists, such as Vancouver-born Andrea Pinheiro and Owen Kydd, who hails from Calgary, Alberta.

You may catch an author reading at the independent Type Books or browse among its collection of food and art books. Five blocks west BYOB stocks beautiful cocktail accoutrements, including gold-washed bar spoons and blown-glass highballers made in Japan. Also keep an eye out for Dillon’s Bitters, made outside Toronto in Niagara wine country. Rest your bags and sip espresso at the White Squirrel Coffee Shop, or stop in next door for a snack: Clafouti serves fresh-baked croissants and chocolate éclairs.

At Annie Aime you’ll find boldly cut dresses, sleek travel bags and high-tops made from vintage French silk scarves. For hip menswear ranging from herringbone button-downs to varsity jackets, check out Lost & Found.

You can start the evening off at Bellwoods Brewery, one of many microbreweries that opened recently. Catherine Wheel, a Belgian IPA, and Lost River, a Baltic porter, are two of the most ordered brews. One block south, Union restaurant, owned by unofficial Queen Street West ambassador Teo Paul, is a popular spot for dinner. The eatery serves duck à l’orange with turnips—or whatever vegetables show up at the farmers market in nearby Trinity Bellwoods Park. If you’d prefer to eat on the go, stop by butcher and sandwich shop Côte de Bœuf.

Paint the Town

In downtown Toronto you’ll find a mix of major attractions and hidden gems. The city is home to the CN Tower, the tallest freestanding structure in the western hemisphere. You can take the elevator up to the Sky Pod for a bird’s-eye view. Close by, the new Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada is a favorite with families, thanks to its Rainbow Reef exhibition and underwater viewing tunnel

Chinatown is filled with bargain shops and lively markets. Cooks stuffing pork and shrimp dumplings in the storefront window may lure you into Dumpling House Restaurant. Or stroll along King Street, where fashionable restaurants vie for attention. Cibo Wine Bar has a lengthy list of wines by the glass and a refreshing Niçoise salad. You’ll need reservations for Lee restaurant, named for the capital’s star chef, Susur Lee, a finalist on Top Chef Masters. Among other dishes, the Singapore-style slaw and the cod in a miso-mustard broth are standouts. Luckee, another Lee outpost, in the Soho Metropolitan Hotel, turns out equally delicious fare. End the night with a cocktail, like a barrel-aged Negroni, at the America Restaurant, on the 31st floor of the Trump Hotel.

Island Time

Toronto is surrounded by barrier islands—570 acres of green space dotted with summer cottages and accessible by ferries. On pleasant weekends residents flock to the largest, Centre Island, for its placid Lake Ontario beaches and picnic-worthy parks in bloom. Rent wheels at Toronto Island Bicycle Rental and ride along the waterfront pathway to the island’s northeastern tip, home to Ward’s Island Beach. On the way you’ll pass the Rectory Café, which has a wooden gate and a leafy patio. Stop in for a cheddar-brisket burger on a potato-scallion bun. If you’re traveling with kids, make a beeline for the Centreville Amusement Park for its petting zoo, twirling-teacups ride and mini roller coaster.

On the boat ride back to the mainland, head to the front of the vessel to take in Toronto’s epic skyline, dazzling in its reflection of the sunset.

Cibo Wine Bar
522 King St. W.; 416-504-3939; cibowinebar.com; dinner for two, $70*
915 Queen St. W.; 416-603-1935; clafouti.ca; breakfast for two, $7
Côte de Bœuf
130 Ossington Ave.; 416-532-2333; cdbossington.com; lunch for two, $25
Dumpling House Restaurant
328 Spadina Ave.; 416-596-8898; dinner for two, $20
601 King St. W.; 416-504-7867; susur.com/lee; dinner for two, $125
328 Wellington St. W.; 416-935-0400; luckeerestaurant.com; dinner for two, $100
Rectory Café
102 Lakeshore Ave., Ward’s Island; 416-203-2152; therectorycafe.com; lunch for two, $40
72 Ossington Ave.; 416-850-0093; union72.ca; dinner for two, $100
America Restaurant
Trump Hotel,325 Bay St.; 416-637-5550; americarestaurant.ca; drinks for two, $36
Bellwoods Brewery
124 Ossington Ave.; 416-535-4586; bellwoodsbrewery.com; drinks, $10
White Squirrel Coffee Shop
907 Queen St. W.; 647-428-4478; whitesquirrelcoffee.com; coffee for two, $8
Annie Aime
42 Ossington Ave.; 416-840-5227; annieaime.com
BYOB Cocktail Emporium
972 Queen St. W.; 416-858-2932; byobto.com
Lost & Found
44 Ossington Ave.; 647-348-2810; shoplostfound.com
Type Books
883 Queen St. W.; 416-366-8973; typebooks.ca
Centreville Amusement Park
Avenue of the Island, Centre Island; 416-203-0405; centreisland.ca; all-day pass, $39
CN Tower
301 Front St.; 416-868-6937; cntower.ca; tickets, $32
Cooper Cole
1161 Dundas St. W.; 647-347-3316; coopercolegallery.com
Edward Day Gallery
952 Queen St. W.; 416-921-6540; edwarddaygallery.com
Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art
952 Queen St. W.; 416-395-0067; mocca.ca
Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
288 Bremner Blvd.; 647-351-3474; ripleyaquariums.com; tickets, from $10
Stephen Bulger Gallery
1026 Queen St. W.; 416-504-0575; bulgergallery.com
Toronto Island Bicycle Rental
Centre Island; 416-203-0009; torontoislandbicyclerental.com; rentals, from $8
RCI affiliated resorts near Toronto include:
Carriage Hills Resort 4200

Choose from a variety of activities and sports at this year-round resort. 90 Highland Dr., Oro-Medonte (about 70 miles from Toronto)
Member Review: “The lake is beautiful, and there’s a lot of antique shopping throughout the area.”

For complete member reviews (as member review has been condensed) and additional resort listings, visit RCI.com or call 800-338-7777 (Weeks) or 877-968-7476 (Points). Club Members, please call your specific Club or RCI telephone number.

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Non-RCI affiliated resorts:
InterContinental Toronto Centre

Opt for a revamped room at this centrally located hotel. 225 Front St. W.; 416-597-1400; torontocentre.intercontinental.com; doubles from $169 a night

Trump Toronto

Don’t miss a dip in the 32nd-floor swimming pool. 325 Bay St.; 416-306-5800; trumphotelcollection.com; doubles from $530 a night

Drake Hotel

This hotel hosts art exhibitions and music performances. 1150 Queen St. W.; 416-531-5042; thedrakehotel.ca; doubles from $169 a night

  • *Prices have been converted to U.S. dollars. Estimated meal prices do not include drinks, tax, or tip.
  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Summer 2015