Monday, July 2, 2018

24 Hours in Toronto Guide

I know this isn't a travel blog, but I recently spent a weekend in Toronto and wanted to share what I did. It was my first time visiting the city and there's so much to do, so I figured I'd throw together a quick guide for anyone looking for things to do.

I drove up to Toronto from Rochester, NY on June 9th and stayed one night in an Airbnb. This was my first time going to Toronto, using Airbnb, and crossing the border with my passport. I'd been to Canada a lot when I was a kid, but back then the passport wasn't required. Plus, this was my first time going alone.

I have to be honest, I love solo travel, but I was a little nervous about driving there on my own. I'm a control freak and not knowing the roads or what the traffic would be like freaked me out a little bit! Plus, I knew I wanted to cross at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, and my GPS was taking me a weird route to it. It ended up being no big deal though, because once you're headed towards the bridge you can't miss the crossing. I stopped at the Duty Free shop before heading to the crossing (also impossible to miss--it has DUTY FREE written in big red lettering on the front of the building) and exchanged my U.S. dollars for Canadian. It's a great time to go up there, since our dollar is worth a little bit more!

The crossing was fine heading into Canada. The Canadian border patrol agent was really friendly and just asked where I was coming from, where I was going, and why. It didn't take long to pass through since I was traveling pretty early (left at 8 AM, got to the border at around 930). Once I was in Canada, it was about another hour and a half to Toronto.

I drove directly to my Airbnb, which was in the Dufferin Grove neighborhood. I couldn't check in until 3 PM and I arrived at around 11, but the parking was on the street and I wanted to secure a good spot. I planned on leaving my car there the entire weekend and then just using Uber or public transportation to get around the city.

Parking was no problem; I found a spot right away. It was a few houses down from my Airbnb, but not a big deal, and something I'm used to with city street parking. Tip: Toronto does not have free street parking in a lot of their neighborhoods, so you'll have to buy a temporary parking pass. You can do so on the City of Toronto website here, and the prices aren't too bad. I think it came out to about $16 USD for a 48 hour permit.

The Dufferin Grove neighborhood was great and I highly recommend the area! The houses are close together but they're cute, and the whole vibe is very fresh and youthful. I booked that specific area because it was about 15 minutes walking distance from Comedy Bar, but more on that later.

After parking, I walked to the Walmart that was about two blocks away because I desperately needed to use the restroom (or should I say washroom, since it's Canada?). I also picked up a water bottle and a pack of M&Ms because I wanted to break some of the bigger bills I got at the duty free exchange.

I bought a ticket to the Toronto Blue Jays game versus the Baltimore Orioles, which started at 130 PM, and I planned on getting an Uber to the game. I ended up taking a taxi because there were a bunch of them waiting outside of the Walmart and it was just more convenient. The ride cost about $16 CAD.

It was Junior Jays day at the game, so there were lots of family activities around the entire concourse outside. It was actually a great way to kill time before the game, so I walked around a little bit (that's what was going on with the giant blow-up Blue Jay a few photos up).

I'm a Cubs fan, but I don't know any baseball fan who doesn't enjoy catching a game at as many major league parks as possible. I was excited to check the Rogers Centre off of my list, plus it was kind of relaxing to just enjoy a game and not really care about the outcome. I had a pretty good seat about 30 rows up from the first baseline, but I ended up moving up even further into the shade because it got a little warm. I ended up leaving in the fifth inning because I wasn't invested, but I had fun checking out a new park.

The Ripley's Aquarium of Canada is right across the street from the Rogers Centre, so I stopped in because my brother said it was pretty cool. I usually love aquariums, but I have to be honest and say that this was not my favorite. It was smaller than I expected and geared more towards kids. I understand that most attractions like this are family-friendly, but this one was really more decorated and designed for kids.

The coolest part of the aquarium is the tunnel; it's a big glass tunnel that you can either walk through or ride a slow moving walkway under. There were sharks and rays, which were really interesting, but the rest of the fish were kind of...underwhelming to me.

I had one other main objective while in Toronto: go to Milk Bar and get Cornflake-Chocolate Chip-Marshmallow cookie mix! If you're not familiar, Momofuku Milk Bar is a bakery based in NYC that makes the most amazing cookie mix in the world. I hadn't been able to pick any up the last time I was in New York, so I planned on buying a whole bunch of them in the Toronto store.

Unfortunately, the store was out of the Cornflake-Chocolate Chip-Marshmallow mix, but I got some B'Day Truffles instead. I also wanted to try their famous cereal milk soft serve. Sadly, it wasn't that great. It tasted kind of chemical-y to me and the crunchies were not as crunchy as I would have liked. I much prefer their cookies.

Although I didn't get my cookie mix, I did enjoy walking around the city. It's very bright, if that makes sense. I just felt a lot of positive energy throughout. Side note, apparently no one in Toronto jaywalks, unlike in New York!

I didn't end up going up the CN Tower, but at least I took a picture of it! Also, all of these photos were taken in the Entertainment District.

I took an Uber back to my Airbnb and finally checked in around 5 PM. It was about a 15 minute ride and cost $12 USD (not including tip). The Uber was cheaper than the taxi, so I would recommend using Uber if you need to get around. I didn't use any of their public transportation, but Toronto also has a subway and bus system. My Uber driver said they aren't great or reliable, though.

I wasn't sure how to go about checking into my Airbnb, but the day before I messaged my host and she let me know that there would be a key available and I could let myself in. I felt a little strange going in, kind of just because it was always in the back of my mind that I was in someone else's home. I rented an entire apartment and it was only $86 for one night. The place was really cute and was perfect for my short stay.

I hung out in the Airbnb for a little while, showered, and then headed out for dinner. I walked through Dufferin Grove Park (pictured above) and it was so cute! It's a smaller park, but plenty of people were out and about playing volleyball or hanging out with their kids. It's a lovely space to just sit and read a book or relax.

I loved the architecture and greenery throughout the neighborhoods I walked through. I walked about a mile to The Dock Ellis, which I wanted to visit based on the name alone. For non-baseball people. Dock Ellis was a pitcher with the Pittsburgh Pirates (among a few other teams, but I know him most as a Pirate) who allegedly pitched a no-hitter on LSD. So, yeah, I was interested to see what this bar was about.

See? I wasn't joking about the LSD. This was painted on one of the doors next to the bathrooms. I was too shy to try to go in, because I'd be so embarrassed if it was like, a closet and people were in there or something. I don't know. It just seemed like something I shouldn't test!

The bar was super chill and definitely my type of space. There weren't a lot of people inside, but some were at the bar and a few others were playing pool in the back. I took a table at the front by myself and ordered the Fried Chicken Sandwich Korean Style (kimchi, sweet soy, chilies, scallions, and sesame seeds) with a side of fries. It was THE BEST friend chicken sandwich I have ever had! Every flavor blended together so perfectly. I will head back to Toronto just for this sandwich! I also watched some of the Mets game while eating.

The main reason I visited was to catch a show at Comedy Bar. I didn't take any photos at the venue because, long story short, I had a frustrating incident before heading to the show and was a little worked up when I got there. Nothing that a drink at the bar didn't fix. Plus, I chatted up a really fun local woman before the show started, so the stress from earlier melted away pretty quickly!

Comedy Bar is small (check out the photos at their Yelp page to see what I mean). The bar area is a decent size, but the actual stage for the performances is not big. There were two rows of tables with three seats to a table and a small aisle up the center, and  maybe six or seven tables in the row? I don't quite remember. The show was sold out, so if you're going there and want to get a front row seat to a popular show, get there early. Doors were at 1030 PM for an 11 PM show and it didn't take long for a line to form. Since I got there early and was hanging at the bar I was able to get a second row seat.

The show was a lot of fun and the atmosphere was great. I'd never been to a stand up show before so it was an interesting experience. I also rarely stay out past 9 PM on the weekends!

I was going to spend more time on Sunday walking around, but I was honestly pretty wiped out from a busy Saturday and figured I'd head back home Sunday morning instead. I wanted to beat traffic and hopefully have a shorter wait at the border, since I knew getting back into the U.S. was usually a little bit more involved than going into Canada (I was right--I got randomly selected to have my car searched).

Bottom Line: I had a great time during my first visit to Toronto and will definitely go back for another trip. The people were really friendly and the city had a lot to offer. Next time I think I'll just plan on walking around and not really buy tickets to any specific event or show, that way I can kind of go where the wind takes me. I want to check out the Distillery District and Kensington Market next!

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