Origami Guides: An Introvert's 3 Day Itinerary Through Toronto (Off the Beaten Path)
I’m sitting in our LA apartment, between mouthfuls of chicken biryani, thinking back on the three years spent in Toronto. 2012 to 2015. A dark period. Years 3 to 6 of a long distance relationship. Months 0 to 17 of a Kafkaesque immigration process. Despite making more money than I ever had (or have since), what Toronto really represented was a lot of wasted time living someone else’s life.
There were good times with amazing people, of course. But the times in Toronto I remember best are the days spent alone, languishing in my favorite neighborhoods, waiting for Godot. As a result, I know all the places to go when you’re alone and just want to blend in; the A to Z of restaurants, bookstores, coffee shops, theaters and bars where a traveller can truly remain anonymous.
Who should use this itinerary?
Solo travelers looking for ways to avoid the tourist traps in favor of a quieter, slower pace of travel.
What are the best times in the year to visit?
My favorite month is September for the Toronto International Film Festival and Nuit Blanche, a night when all of downtown Toronto becomes an art installation. Springtime from April to June is also nice. Avoid the dreary winters. Canadians aren't nice all the time.
What’s the best way to experience Toronto?
Toronto is not an “attraction” city, which are mediocre at best. Here's a list of all the places that won’t move the needle: CN Tower, Toronto Centre Island, Dundas Square, Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), Second City, Casa Loma, and the Hockey Hall of Fame.
I’m boring myself just typing this. The only way this list gets more generic is if I tack on a day trip to Niagara Falls.
The best way to experience Toronto is to pick two or three neighborhoods to languish in and try to act like you live there. My favorites are The Annex and Kensington Market.
Where should I stay in Toronto?
Most Toronto hotels are overpriced so I’d recommend an Airbnb within walking distance of a TTC subway stop. My favorite neighborhood is The Annex (near Bathurst station). It’s grungy, artsy, and fun.
How do I use this guide?
The map is divided into three color-coded areas:
- Day 1 attractions are in Blue
- Day 2 attractions are in Red
- Day 3 attractions are in Yellow
- The Green Martians...I’ll explain the Martians at the end
- Grey attractions are optional
An Introvert's 3 Day Itinerary Through Toronto
Day 1 (Blue) - A Perfect Day at The Annex
- Land in Toronto. Avoid the long taxi ride from Pearson International Airport by flying Porter Airlines’ turboprop planes to Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, located right near downtown. It’s the only civilized way to arrive in Toronto. Unfortunately, Porter only flies to/from major East Coast and Midwest cities in the US.
- Take a 10 minute taxi ride to Bathurst Station near The Annex. Check into your Airbnb.
- Have your first Canadian poutine at Smoke’s Poutinerie. Forget the unnecessary toppings and just stick with the classic: cold cheese curds and hot gravy on fries.
- Grab a coffee at the Green Beanery. The coffee won't blow you away, but its location on the intersection makes it the best place to people watch.
- Walk over to BMV Books, my favorite bookstore in North America. BMV has no theme, no ambiance, no quirk. The only thing BMV cares about is selling cheap books, books made even cheaper by the current US/CAD exchange rate.
- Dinner at Yummy Korean Food Restaurant. I had to look for the name of this place online. I know it as the giant orange sign with the photo of the smiling Korean lady on it. This place is cozy and the food is fantastic (if you like homestyle Korean). A lot of singles dine here. Like we were all invited over to some lady’s house.
- After dinner, stop by Doug Miller Books and say hi to the rabbit for me. Hope it’s doing ok.
- Two options to cap off the night: existential pinball and beer at Tilt Arcade Bar or a documentary at Bloor Hot Docs Cinema. Or why not both?
Day 2 (Red): High Park & Drinks at Kensington Market
- Take a 20 minute stroll down to Kensington Market. Breakfast on the covered patio of Our Spot.
- Make your way through Chinatown enroute to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), a building most recently renovated by Frank Gehry. I hate sharing so I usually get here when they open at 10:30 (closed on Mondays, free admission on Wednesday nights from 6-9).
- Walk to St. Patrick Station. Take the TTC to High Park.
- High Park in the springtime (late March to early April) is full of cherry trees in bloom. Visit the free High Park Zoo to see the llamas and capybaras. But mainly, just sit on a bench and read the Toronto Metro daily or a BMV paperback.
- Back to Chinatown. Dinner at whatever hole-in-the-wall restaurant catches your eye. I like to get my takeout from Buddha’s Vegetarian Restaurant (open 11-9, cash only). The portions are unreasonably large.
- End your night with beers or cocktails at Poetry Jazz Cafe. There’s a $10 cover charge for live performances which start at 9 PM. I’m never disappointed.
- Soak up the alcohol with some late night pho at Pho Pasteur (open 24 hours, cash only). Sometimes all you need is good broth, Thai chili and dandelion leaves.
Day 3 (Yellow): Scarborough Bluffs & The Performing Arts
- Wake up whenever you want. Check on Mirvish.com (my favorite Mirvish venue is the Princess of Wales Theatre) or the Young Performing Arts Center for available shows that night. Reserve tickets.
- Take the green line (aka The Suburbia Express) from Bathurst Station east to Warden Station.
- Grab enough food for breakfast and a brown bag lunch at Cafe on the Go (it's the one on the right) inside Warden Station. In the early mornings their Jamaican patties are still piping hot from the oven (Jamaican patties are to Toronto what $1 pizza is to NYC). Order one spicy, one chicken. You're welcome.
- Take an Uber or taxi down to Scarborough Bluffs Park.
- Hike the path up to the cliffs, hop a wooden fence and be rewarded with the best and least known view of Toronto.
- Picnic, read, and nap under a tree. What's the rush?
- Take an Uber or taxi to Sukhothai for dinner. There are multiple locations, but I can only vouch for the original spot on Parliament Street. I lived in Thailand for two summers and I think this place may serve the best pad thai in North America.
- Depending on where you reserved your tickets: Taxi to downtown King Street for Princess of Wales Theatre or make your way to the Distillery District for the Young Performing Arts Center. End the night with the internal satisfaction of knowing that you couldn't have played this city any better.
PostScript: The Green Martians
Truly far out options. These inconspicuous places make perfect hideaways for the visiting Martian who wants to study our species. The most cost effective way to reach them is to take the TTC to Finch Station, then transfer to an Uber or taxi.
- Le Cafe Michi: Nothing about this restaurant makes sense: not the quality of their sashimi, their Japanese chefs, their gourmet fucking desserts, or prices totally at odds with the shabbiness and remoteness of their surroundings. Is Le Cafe Michi a run-down suburban strip mall joint? A high-end French boulangerie? A sushi bar serving chef special omakase sets that's way higher quality than it has any right to be? The answer is all of the above.
- Pacific Mall: If an entire block in Hong Kong was suddenly transported to the middle of bum-fuck nowhere and gets sealed off from the rest of the world until the place becomes both sentient and sad, the end result would be P-Mall.
- Seoul Zimzilbang Korean Sauna: Tired of staying in nice, tastefully curated hotels? Why not spend the night in one of Toronto's weirdest 24 hour Korean saunas, located in a garage-like building behind a Home Depot parking lot? It costs $25 to get in (stay forever). Seoul Zimzilbang is an oasis for Korean families and Russians hiding from the cold. You get to wear funny towel hats while ordering from a number of Korean restaurants who deliver directly to this modern sanitarium, while you make the rounds between sauna rooms named after different power crystals.