This tour for your third day in Toronto focuses on downtown west and includes the city’s top art gallery—the AGO. Then you'll hit some of the city's hippest neighborhoods, where you’ll find great food, independent shops, and more galleries (as if you hadn’t seen enough great art today).
Start: St. Patrick Station and a streetcar west to Beverly Street
Toronto’s first Chinatown hasn’t been immune to gentrification. Chinese grocery stores are closing, and dumpling joints are being replaced by snack bars, such as Peoples Eatery, serving fancy Chinese remakes. Today, the neighborhood is a fascinating mixture of old and new. Hole-in-the-wall restaurants share the sidewalks with glitzy shopping centers built with Hong Kong money. In recent years, northern suburbs Markham and Richmond Hill have become the top destinations for Chinese immigrants relocating to Toronto, and some of the best Chinese restaurants in town are found north of Hwy. 401. Still, you can get good dim sum and xiaolongbao here, even if it’s not the city’s very best.
It took Toronto boy Frank Gehry 50 years to finally design a building for his hometown. The famed architect—who grew up around the corner from the AGO—didn’t have the luxury of building something from scratch. Instead, he was given the daunting task of redesigning the town’s top art museum. From the outside, the glass-clad Gehry facade looks like a futuristic dirigible floating above Chinatown traffic. The light-filled insides make it a delight to explore the 90,000-plus works of art, among them works by Canadian legends, European masters, and modern masterpieces like Andy Warhol’s Campbell's Soup.
Although Toronto has long suffered an (outdated) reputation for being straitlaced, when wacky things are introduced here, the new additions are quickly absorbed into the cityscape. This brilliant bit of design from Will Alsop is a cube on stilts and requires a first-hand view to really appreciate its beauty. It’s home to the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) and is closed to the public except on special occasions such as Doors Open.
Many of the indie shops that long gave this strip its hipster cred have been replaced with names like Zara and Lululemon. You’ll still find the odd vintage shop (Black Market remains a trove of used treasures from bygone eras) as well as some great shoe stores like Getoutside. Despite the influx of big-brand names, the area remains the go-to destination for local designers thanks to the concentration of textile shops. Just south of Queen, between Spadina Avenue and Portland Street, you’ll also find Graffiti Alley, a concentration of kaleidoscope murals by various street artists.
5. West Queen West
Vogue calls it one of the hippest districts in the world, second only to Tokyo’s Shimokitazawa. West Queen West has some of the city’s best window-shopping, from homegrown fashion labels to apothecaries promising eternal youth in the form of $60 serums. There’s tons to browse here, including excellent galleries such as Koffler Gallery, Mulherin Toronto, and Paul Petro. The Drake and Gladstone hotels are more than just comfy spots for tourists to lay their heads; both function as art hubs with excellent kitchens, great bar scenes, and cool concerts on the regular.
This site used to be the home of the precursor to the University of Toronto. The buildings have been torn down, but the impressive stone and wrought-iron gates that face Queen Street West remain. There are benches where you can rest and take in the scene, but it’s more fun to wander. As you do, watch out for the legendary albino squirrels who reside in the park. Stop by Nadège (at the park’s southeast corner) for almost-too-pretty-to-eat French pastries.
7. Dundas West
For years, this was a sleepy part of town, part of Toronto’s Little Portugal neighborhood, where many of the houses have religious icons painted near the front door. But now Dundas West and Ossington Avenue have become the epicenter of Toronto nightlife. Drop in at Painted Lady, a bar/dance hall with bar-top burlesque shows; eat mainland Chinese delights and knock back sake cocktails at SoSo (which transforms after dinner into an epic dance floor); or go more low-key at Sweaty Betty’s.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.