If you followed me on Instagram this a few weeks ago, you may have seen that I wasn’t in Portland, but on the other side of the country in TORONTO!
As part of my day job, I travel around North America to host events at different universities. I love love LOVE my job, and while it’s extremely demanding and can be a whirlwind, the fact that I get to discover new places and see different parts of the world for work is super valuable to me. I hustled over to the east coast to host an event at University of Toronto, and had ust enough time to check out some of the best “the six” had to offer.
Because this was a business trip, I only really got 24 hours across a few days to do things on my own time, hence the hashtag and title of this post. Given that’s how almost all of my work trips end up being, the #24HoursIn… is seeming more and more like it's going to be a fixture around here for my upcoming travel guides. So to kick things off, here is my #24HoursInToronto Travel Guide. I hope you like it!
First things first, from what I can tell, Toronto is actually a lot like Portland. Way more diverse, but similar, in that it’s made up of a number of smaller neighborhoods. That and they have a lot of coffee, and I mean A LOT. And it was all delicious. It’s definitely a bigger city, in terms of professional offerings and academia, but it also offers a lot of culture in the form of food and art.
That said, to make this the most efficient travel guide I can, I’m going to batch together my favorite spots in a couple of categories - food, coffee and sights and things to check out.
I almost always end up at a Hyatt for work trips, and this time was no different. I stayed at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Torotono, centrally located just a few blocks from most major Toronto sights. The cab ride from Toronto Pearson International was about 20 minutes, and once at the hotel, everything was either walkabout or a short Lyft ride away.
The food scene in Toronto was interesting... In Portland, we get spoiled with affordable, yet amazing food. And when someone says something is 3 star in Portland, it’s still a really solid spot. In Toronto, I think the Yelp rating system was a bit exaggerated. That’s not to say I didn’t have some good meals - it just means that it took me a bit to find a few that I’d happily recommend.
Snakes & Lattes - For a casual brunch or lunch spot, with a fun and quirky personality, Snakes & Lattes in a restaurant, bar, coffee shop, board game house. For $8/person, you can sit there and play board games all day. And the food served was surprisingly delicious and of restaurant quality. I was expecting it to be less so, but given it’s such a multi-purpose space, it hit all of them well. Oh, and there are two locations - the original location on College St. is larger and has a nicer ambiance than the Annex location.
Sotto Voce Wine & Pasta Bar - Little Italy - If you’re looking for really great Italian food, the kind where Italians eat, I’d check out Sotto Voce. We ended up there after our work event and were very happy. The menu is fairly diverse, with a solid number of options for vegetarians, meat eaters and seafood lovers alike. The venue is on the smaller size, so I wouldn’t recommend a big party, but getting a table for 4 is no problem. Of the food, I’d highly suggest ordering both appetizers and an entree. We went for the Zucchini Fritters and Bruschetta as appetizers. And then for entrees, I ordered the Aglio e Olio, a dish of spaghettini w/ chilies, garlic and extra virgin olive oil, to which I added parmesan. And my colleagues ordered the Risotto of the Day, which happened to be mushroom, and the Dal Mare, which was linguine with scallops and chives in a dry vermouth rose. And quite frankly, we’d recommend it all.
By far, this is the easiest category to share solid recommendations. I ended up visiting quite a few coffee shops over the 24 hour period as they were great spots to work, read my book, take in the scene of the millennial demographic in Toronto and also just as a spot to warm up for a few minutes when walking from spot to spot.
FIKA - Kensington Neighborhood - My favorite coffee house discovery whilst in Toronto! I’m a huge fan of hygge - the concept of Scandinavian coziness. And a core component of the hygge movement is doing things that make you happy and that focus on relationships and community, of which fika is a critical factor. Fika is another Scandinavian word that highlights the intentional act of having coffee and taking a break to recharge and connect with others. And that’s exactly what Fika, the coffee house, offers. Not only does the coffee house encompass a Scandinavian aesthetic, it also applies the European principles to all things food and beverage - i.e. being mild and semi-sweet.
Strange Love - Downtown Toronto - Such a quaint little coffee shop, located in the heart of Old Toronto, with some great street art right outside. Strange Love boasts treating coffee as a chef treats food, taking into account molecular food pairings to create unique flavor pairings. Disregarding that, the moment you walk in, you feel the love, with extremely friendly staff and an airy and light environment that welcomes you in. I had a seasonal special - a hazelnut mocha, made with hazelnut milk rather than a syrup, and it was delightful. They also display a number of coffee knick nacks and tools, as well as a few niche board games.
Quantum Coffee - Downtown Toronto - If you like Blue Bottle, you’ll love this spot. With an extremely similar vibe - minimal, hipster, independent - Quantum offers a great working space and is located right in the middle of downtown Toronto. I pit stopped in Quantum between sightseeing to take a few meetings, and found myself among a mass of similarly aged individuals in Patagonia gear, typing hastily away on their Macs. If you’re in the city for work, this would make for an ideal remote office.
Livelihood Cafe - Kensington Neighborhood - This spot is a diamond in the ruff and made me so happy the minute I walked in. The Livelihood Project is a refugee run not for profit organization that opened this amazing coffee house to provide jobs and decent wages to its employees. Not only does this cafe provide opportunities for refugees to get training and work experience, it’s also just a delightful place to have a great conversation, read a book or write, with the natural light and big windows.
Sights & Things To Check Out
And of course, I can’t forget the sights! That was definitely one thing I loved about Toronto - the number of sights sprinkled in and around the city. As you’ll see from the photos below, you truly can see quite a few of the main sights in just a few hours.
CN Tower | Lake Ontario | Town Hall & The TORONTO Sign | 401 Richmond | St. Lawrence Market