Toronto is an original. Canada’s downtown is known for its multicultural neighborhoods that feel decidedly cool, but in a low-key way. Most people have head of the main ones: West Queen West, Yorkville, Little Italy, and Ossington. But there are some exciting up-and-comers where locals flock to dine, lounge, shop, and stroll. Get to know them — and why they’re so much fun to explore.
Leslieville? Undeniably hip. Like Williamsburg is to New York City, this industrial-turned-residential area on the east end is your go-to for artisan-minded restaurants, trendy coffee houses and bakeries, creatives of all ilks, and fiercely independent vendors: Queen Books, Black Cloud Tattoos, Radical Road Brewing, and experimental jewelry studio Rawspace. Film crews are lured by the converted brick warehouses, graffiti, and bursts of eclectic artistic expression contrasting tidy pocket community gardens, cheery tree-lined vintage facades, and upscale boutiques. It’s like a self-contained village and that’s because it was once back in the 1850s. Polished? Not yet — and that’s the appeal.
Rough around the edges, but with a marked historical flair — that’s Corktown, one of Toronto’s oldest districts, just south of Regent Park and not too far from the Don River. Young professionals like it because it’s slow paced and still relatively affordable, and you’ll see lots of live-work studios and cool converted lofts rising from old brickyards, mills, and breweries. Also fascinating is the early 19th century row housing, dating back to when the area was an Irish neighborhood with immigrants from, of course, the Emerald Isle’s County Cork. Movie producers utilize a lot of the vacant industrial spaces, but a recent influx of eateries, shops, and cafes is transforming this place into a coveted zipcode. What will likely push it over the top is the coming redevelopment of the West Don Lands, 200 acres of industrial to the southeast slotted to become a mixed-use ‘hood. Check out the elegant brick Enoch Turner Schoolhouse, and ornate 1822 St. Paul’s Basilica, Toronto’s first Roman-Catholic cathedral, between shopping, dining, and drinking, or take in a fashion show — in an 1871 converted church.
Along Dundas West in the west end, The Junction has come into its own. The area’s architecture reveals its industrial past. A reclaimed former grit zone, this laidback place is filled with 30-something former hipsters with young families. There are still dusty antique stores, plus now happening lounges, bars with ambiance and quirky restaurants, superb furniture stores, great espresso, and some of Toronto’s most eclectic places to hear live music. It’s far enough from downtown, though, that you don’t get the weekend partiers. Expect originals here — dining spots, ateliers, fringe theaters, shops like Pandemonium Books & Discs, or watering hole Famous Last Words Bar — that you won’t find anywhere else in the city.
Somewhat similar to The Junction, Parkdale boasts a contrasting mix of originals, young artsy-leaning families, and pockets of West Indian, Tibetan, and North African communities. On Queen West near King Street West and the lake shore, this district is like what trendy Queen West used to be (young, artsy, gorgeously restored), but more relaxed and much less polished. A former suburb, it’s in the process of beautifying — so you’ll find designer dining dens and toney bars mixed in with slightly shabby buildings. That just makes it more spicy. Artists have taken over church lofts here and other creatives are renovating diamond-in-the-rough Victorians. Get breakfast at a greasy spoon, hear some live music in a dark basement, buy fabric or vintage fashion, eat vegan, or eat at industrial-chic Parts and Labour. There’s also Roncesvalles Village further west, a family-oriented, multi-cultural Little Poland where you can eat Lebanese, French crepes, Spanish tapas, and Thai food, and go to the movies.
Though it’s still a matter of debate, Lower Junction is the city’s newest — a so-called micro neighborhood in Junction Triangle sandwiched on three sides between The Junction, Roncevalles, and Bloordale Village — and will perhaps soon be its most exciting. Here’s why: the MOCCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto, has relocated from Queen Street to take up residence in the Tower Automotive Building on Sterling Road at the triangle’s southern tip and has international ambitions as an arts hub. The raw 55,000 square feet will include R&D, workshop and artist studio spaces, a bookstore, a library-lounge called The Squat, and cafe. And a new urban plaza is cropping up around it — sure to be the next “it” spot. Also in the ‘hood are the offices of Ubisoft, a video game maker, and online accounting pioneer, FreshBooks. Visit one of the upstart urban contemporary galleries and craft breweries. And as it goes, after the microbrewers move in, the rest follow.
While you’re in Toronto, get ready to eat. International trendsetters are calling it the next great global dining destination, and especially compelling is the city’s follow-no-rules food truck scene. Dive in!
Get ready for big city fun at the Tourism Toronto website.