In case you were wondering, yes – they really do say “eh?” in Canada.
At least, I am prettyyy, prettyyy, prettyyyy sure I picked it up in conversation a number of times while we were in Toronto and Niagara, but that also could’ve been my overzealous imagination, which was very overly excited (as opposed to moderately excited) to have been in Canada for the first time ever.
One thing I am absolutely sure of, though: how incredibly nice people are. From our restaurant severs to front desk staff and general manager of our hotel (more on that in a bit) and even our virtual reality video game guide Gabe, our interactions could not have been more pleasant.
Below is an account of our experiences, plus the only guide you need to 48 hours of eating, staying and playing in Toronto!
Note: though this post contains sponsored links, all opinions are my own. I only share products, places and experiences I love and think my readers will love too.
The Digs: The Soho Metropolitan Hotel
The most important thing to consider when seeing an entire city in just 48 hours? Your hotel location. Enter the Soho Metropolitan Hotel, nestled in the hustle and bustle of the famous Entertainment District and perfect walking distance from almost everything on my very long (and somewhat aggressive) must-see list. Not only that, it was situated directly across from the famous Second City Toronto – which, if you know me and my history of improv at Second City, I took to be a serendipitous sign from above that it was going to be a great weekend.
From the moment we arrived and walked into the lobby (and may or may not have been momentarily distracted by the insanely awesome outdoor Chihuly glass installation), we knew this spot was going to be special. We were greeted by Aqdas at the front desk, and proceeded to check in effortlessly in all of 5 minutes. We headed upstairs to check out our room and were blown away. One of my absolute favorite features was the “walk in closet” style storage area off the bathroom – it was so nice to not have to take up valuable surface space with our luggage!
Other highlights included a gorgeous marble bathroom stocked with fluffy robes with heated floors (yep, you read that right) and, get ready for it – automatic drapes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidentally overslept because of blackout curtains (which, on vacation, are usually exactly what I need, but time is of the essence when you’re only in a destination for 48 hours)! This was hands down one of Riley (and my) favorite features because as you know, we are huge nerds.
I also had the opportunity to meet with my contact and the general manager, David Kelley, for a coffee so they could share a little bit about the hotel. Sure, the amenities were absolutely top notch, but the thing I was most jazzed about was the incredible talent at the hotel. I have never met someone with more passion than David. The care and attention to detail paid by everyone, from the concierge to the housekeeping staff, was really on a different level.
As David shared the history of the hotel, I learned that the Soho Met was one of the first mixed hotel, condominium and extended stay residence buildings in the city. Because of this, the hotel has created an excellent relationship with entertainment industry – the hotel is a favorite with film crews, directors, writers and actors alike – due to its location and proximity to a number of major filming areas. In the mood for a celebrity sighting (like the one time Will Smith lived in the penthouse during the filming of Suicide Squad)? Look no further (check out their Insta for a peek into other goings on and happenings!).
The hotel is also takes great care to work with other local businesses on projects that benefit the entire community, which is something I loved to hear. As you guys know, I love discovering really unique, non-mainstream spots – and the Soho Met certainly delivered on all those points!
Ever heard of Susur Lee? I hadn’t, until we arrived in Toronto and discovered this celebrity chef’s dim sum and Asian fusion-focused restaurant, Luckee, was just a 30-second elevator ride away and adjacent to our hotel. Luckee us! (Get it?!)
As Ron Burgandy would say, he’s kind a big deal. And probably has many leather-bound books written about him that smell of rich mahogany. Susur Lee is a celebrity chef who was born in Hong Kong and at 20 years old, immigrated to Canada and worked to the executive chef level at a handful of culinary destinations. He has been on Iron Chef America (and tied Bobby Flay in a battle, no less), as well as Top Chef: Masters.
We were treated to an absolutely incredible meal of dim sum and traditional Chinese dishes that left us in a seriously awesome food coma. Between the cocktails, Xiao Long Bao dumplings and insanely delicious Lobster Cheung Fun (do yourself a favor and don’t skip this one!) to the Sweet & Sour Berkshire Pork and sweet Sesame Balls with berries and cream for dessert, we were left wanting nothing. I definitely recommend checking it (or teasing yourself with their Insta) out if you want sum dim sum!
The second and last night of our stay, we were again in the mood to sample some exotic flavors and wanted to treat ourselves to another culinary “foodventure” (as I like to call it). After a bit of research, we settled on an upscale Mexican place called Los Colibris, which translates to “the hummingbirds”. I’m not 100% sure this was the intent, but I like to think it’s because the menu is tapas style – letting you flit from dish to dish and sample all kinds of amazing things.
We started with the guacamole which came with house made corn and taro chips (crunchy, sweet pomegranate seeds were a yummy twist!) and the Torta de Elote. If you’ve ever read my post about Chicago’s Green Street Smoked Meats with an entire section dedicated only to elotes, you can probably imagine why we ordered this one. It was my absolutely favorite thing on the menu – slightly sweet corn cake with brisket, a smoky adobo sauce and grilled corn and lime. I still am having dreams about it. We also had the Tacos de Rajas Poblanas and the Arrachera.
The Dirty Bird Chicken and Waffles
I am a sucker for chicken, and I am also a sucker for waffles. So naturally, I am a super sucker for both of those things combined. Perched (hehe) on the main drag of the famous Kensington Market, we stopped into this super casual eatery to fuel up (and honestly, to keep our hanger sass at bay) in order to explore the area.
I asked what was good (which I don’t do as much as I should – the idea of trusting my culinary fate and satisfaction to a stranger makes me a little anxious, but at the same time, it’s the best way to push your boundaries, right?) and the guy behind the counter immediately piped up with the ODB. I have no idea what that stands for… but it must translate to delicious. The thick waffle, topped with juicy, steaming hot chicken is covered in a sauce with a sweet and sour vibe that will give you a little kick in the mouth. The Dirty Bird is definitely a place to seek out if you make it to the neighborhood!
Someone call ACDC because soft serve is back in black and it’s never tasted better. Charcoal ice cream has taken Instagram by storm and I obviously couldn’t pass up the chance to participate. Though I now realize wearing a white lace top and white converse to Ihalo Krunch that day was a little like bringing a knife to a gunfight, I came out victorious. I tried the Black on Black – which had a bit of a hint of Taro (coconut kind of flavor) and was dang delicious. Don’t worry about crazy drippage, they’ve got you covered and stuff the bottom of the homemade charcoal cones with what I’m pretty sure is marshmallow fluff. GENIUS!
Make sure you bring a good bag for wandering around the city – like this incredibly roomy backpack by Zai-Mu. There’s even an easily-accessible hidden zipper pocket on the outside that sits flush against your back, perfect for your ID, phone or any other things you need to keep safe! You can see more styles and looks on their Insta!
What to Do and See in Toronto
So, much like Chicago (a comparison that was made a surprising number of times while we were visiting – “it’s a city by the lake and the people are nice!”), there are a TON of things to do in Toronto. Everything from markets, to culturally diverse neighborhood wandering, to catching a ride on some sort of aqua-mobile vehicle on the lake to shopping – you name it, it’s there. Here are a few of our favorites!
Watch out Miami – Toronto’s coming for ya! An art-lover’s paradise, Graffiti Alley is like someone went Alanis Morissettte on Miami’s Wynwood District. A maze of incredibly captivating graffiti art awaits you (and your #instagramhusband) for an afternoon of exploration.
Pro tip: if you have a car and don’t feel like walking, there is a little pay-to-park lot on Augusta right behind KFC. Expect to spend at least an hour or two wandering between Portland and Spadina Avenue. Make sure to charge your battery before you go for lots of photo ops!
Kensington Market is one of the most culturally diverse concentrated neighborhoods I’ve ever been to. It’s the perfect way to spend a few hours (we elected to hit this area before we drove back to Buffalo for our flight and grabbed lunch while we were there).
If thrift shops, local artisan booths and exotic world cuisine are your thing, Kensington Market is your JAM. Since we were heading out of town we opted to pay-to-park nearby, but this area is easily accessible by public transportation too, or even by bike. Plan to spend a few hours wandering the streets – it’s also a great spot to head for brunch or lunch!
I had no idea, but Toronto has a mass of land about 13 minutes away by ferry made of up 15 various-sized islands that are all connected via pathways and bridges.
There are three main “larger” islands – Ward’s Island, Center Island and Hanlan’s Point that are home to beaches, parks, picnic areas, expansive gardens, a light house, an amusement park and my personal favorite thing ever – a giant hedge maze! We decided to take a day trip out via ferry on Saturday, when we felt like we needed a break from all the walking and touring.
If you’ve been following along with my adventures on Instagram, you’ll know that the William Meany Maze was created in 1967, fell into disrepair and then was brought back to life by businessman William Meany and was finished in 2014. I felt some serious Harry Potter TriWizard Tournament vibes while Riley and I challenged each other! Definitely a can’t-miss if you make it to the island. We unfortunately didn’t get a chance to make it to the Rectory Café on Ward’s Island, but David highly recommended it for a great lunch stop!
The Distillery District is another must-see area of the city that is great for shopping, sightseeing and eating out. The neighborhood is comprised of over 13 acres of brick-lined streets and industrial buildings and was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada in 1988. It’s also the largest collection of industrial Victorian-era architecture in North America.
We stopped at the Mill St. Brew Pub for lunch – if you go, make sure you don’t skip the pierogis! City of Angels is also another place to stop for fashionable finds and adorable home décor. You can also find some really amazing shopping in the Queen Street West area – another great spot for restaurants and unique retail in Toronto. One of my absolute favorites is Fraiche – tons of pieces with crazy prints!
Okay, VRPlayin was hands down one of the neatest things we did. Riley’s old coworker has family in Toronto and suggested we try out this virtual reality video game spot. IT WAS SO COOL. Riley and I opted to play two-player games and due to the headset and microphone, could actually see one another’s avatars INSIDE the game and talk and hear each other. Moving was a little tricky – since you can’t walk forever, you essentially have to teleport with controller buttons.
Gabe was our guide and was absolutely awesome at getting us acclimated. There are all types of games for anyone – ranging from shooting games, to ping pong and other active games, to travel exploration games. Pro tip: be sure to bring some eye drops if you have dry eyes or wear contacts! Pricing starts around $29/hour, which is actually pretty reasonable for such a novel thing.
St. Lawrence Market
Just past the Berczy Park (don’t miss the adorable dog fountain!) and the flatiron style Gooderham Building is the St. Lawrence Market. Much like any Saturday market, St. Lawrence’s is filled with bustling energy, jostling crowds, great smells and good eats.
While we were visiting, we learned that the most “Toronto” food item in the city is the famous “peameal” bacon sandwich, which you can get at Paddington’s. While a majority of the vendors at the market sell produce and other goods (especially meat) there are some great food stalls to check out. Know before you go: make sure to visit Tuesday – Saturday – the market is closed Sunday and Monday. And bring your bills – most of the stalls, including Paddington’s are cash only!
PHEW! There you have it – how to spend 48 hours in Toronto. Have you ever been? Is there a spot I missed? Let me know in the comments!