Kensington Market patios are perfect if you're looking for a laid-back retreat in one of the most unique neighbourhoods. There are a variety of low-key, casual spaces to choose from, ranging from sidewalk spots perfect for people-watching to more secluded backyard haunts.
Here are my picks for the top patios in Kensington Market.
This front patio is a perfect destination for people-watching. The picnic table seating matches the casual vibe of the 'hood and is an all-around great choice if you want to sip some craft beer and chow down on smokehouse grub.
When there's no party going on the Cold Tea patio is a low-key hangout spot. Photo by Jesse Milns.
The patio here is Kensington Market's worst-kept secret. It boasts long communal tables, making it ideal if you've got a big group of friends. They often throw patio parties during the summer with DJs and food provided by a local restaurant.
Great eats and brews are to be had on the Otto's Berlin Doner patio. Photo by Hector Vasquez.
A good bet in the evenings, this patio may be on the small side but when there's live music inside, you can still hear the bands playing on the stage, as the large front windows next to the patio are usually open.
Patios don't get much cozier than Embassy's. Photo by Jesse Milns.
When night falls, this spot may be your best bet. Head to the back for one of the more refined patios in the area and a good spot to savour a cocktail while listening to the live music coming from within.
The former Templeton's patio now belongs to Beer2Beer. Photo by Jesse Milns.
The patio at this Augusta Ave. spot has remained largely unchanged over the years, and if you ask its loyal patrons, that's certainly a good thing. It's the perfect destination if you're craving Portuguese.
Toronto is a canoeing paradise, some might say it's an urban canoeist's dream. Toronto has river systems, lakefront beaches, and islands in the stream. Escaping the grind of city life is as easy as renting a canoe.
Here are my picks for the best places to get started canoeing.
This place might be the most expensive on this list, but I guess there's a convenience fee for being able to rent a canoe from somewhere right on the water, and just a short paddle from a day of exploring the Toronto Islands. Canoe rentals are $60 for two hours or $95 for a day.
Located about a five minute walk from Old Mill station, Toronto Adventures' location makes them a perfect destination for a spontaneous trip down the Humber to the lake. Rental prices vary based on day and size.
Currently based in Vaughan, Exclusive is more of a dial-a-boat service for Torontonians who want to paddle around their city. With more than eight canoe models on offer with varying price points and purposes, Exclusive delivers rental equipment all over the GTA.
The Scarborough Bluffs are one of the most geologically distinct landmarks on the coast of Lake Ontario. The water is often choppy, and the beach here is littered with neatly sanded beach glass. Conditions can get quite rough, so pick a calm day to paddle out from here.
The Secret Beach runs immediately west of Bluffer's Park. It's called the Secret Beach colloquially because of the secret entrance through a hole in the fence alongside the R. C. Harris Water Treatment Plant. Paddle here for some peace and quiet.
Paddling west from the Secret Beach, the boardwalk picks up and meanders along the sandy coast of Kew Beach. In the heat of summer, power boats creep through Ashbridges Bay, so be sure to keep your eyes open and steer clear of potential run-ins.
Whether you launch your canoe in the East, or paddle in from the West, all paths converge on Toronto Island. It's a destination for urban paddlers because it feels like you've left the city completely, but without the stress of driving for hours.
Enjoy a paddle in Toronto's largest wetland habitat, but a word to the wise: the river is shallow in some points and the weather has a tendency to change quite rapidly.
How to prepare
Like all activities on open water, canoeing can be dangerous if you're inexperienced or caught off guard. Make sure you wear the appropriate safety gear, like PFDs and any other equipment recommended by the rental company.
Always stick close to shore when out on the lake, and avoid wearing heavy clothes that could weigh you down in the water. Keep a safe distance from any water traffic that poses a threat, like motor boats that drag large wakes behind them or sculling and rowing groups out training on the water.
Above all, plan accordingly so that you're not out on the water after the sun sets. Trying to paddle home in the dark is not safe at all. Be safe, have fun, and enjoy your awesome time on the water!
Lavender farms near Toronto will transport you to a purple-hued paradise that also smells amazing. Many of these beautiful fields are located a quick drive away from the city. They seem more popular than ever this summer, largely thanks to Instagram. Just call to make sure the fields haven't been harvested before you visit.
Here are my picks for lavender farms to visit near Toronto.
One of the biggest lavender farms in Canada is also one of the most popular ones near Toronto. This place is Instagram ready, with a giant yellow door in the middle of its field and it also serves up lavender ice cream. Find it near Milton.
After grabbing brunch in Dundas, head to this nearby lavender farm and apiary owned by a former Torontonian. It has two small lavender fields and it's also super close to Tews Falls, Websters Falls and Dundas Peak, so be sure to go exploring if you're in the area.
Yes, Prince Edward County can get even prettier. There's plenty to do in this area east of Toronto, but along your wine and food tour, take time to stop at this farm and smell the flowers. There's also a bed and breakfast on site.
This is a 45-acre horse farm in Elgin County that also grows lavender. Even when its lavender is harvested, you can still see purple blooms growing in the on-site garden and of course, there's a shop too.
Scarborough has some of the best parks in Toronto, including the city's biggest green space in the form of the Rouge Valley. Given the area's lower density, many of the parks in the east end boast a more natural landscape than seen in downtown Toronto, featuring ponds, bluffs, and thick tree canopies.
Here are my picks for the top parks in Scarborough.
One of the most tranquil spots in all of Toronto, Guild Park is perhaps best known for its collection of remnants from the city's lost architectural monuments of the 20th century (well that and being the site of Drake video). Formerly an artist colony, the 88-acre site features plenty of lush green space and the historic Guild Inn.
The paved trails that wind along Highland Creek at this park near Lawrence and Meadowvale make for one of the nicest walks in the city. It can be very quiet here, particularly on weekdays when you might not see a soul around for long stretches of time. It's not big on amenities aside from washrooms and a dog park, so the idea here is to soak up the natural setting.
The pond at the heart of Milliken Park is what makes this north Scarborough spot a special place. From the right angle, it can feel like you're sitting at the deck of a cottage. Snag a seat at one of the pond-side benches early in the morning and watch the swans do their elegant choreography across the water as if putting on a show for you.
A true jewel in the city's inventory of parks, the Rouge has everything from a sandy beach to a campground, to glorious hiking trails. Its remarkable to have such a diverse green space so close to the heart of the city. There are over 1,700 species of flora and fauna to be found here.
Not to be confused with Bluffer's Park, the similarly named Cathedral Bluffs Park is the portion of green space that sits above the Bluffs and beach below. This is one of the most stunning views in all of Toronto. On a warm summer day, the vista can seem almost tropical, but there's more to look at than just the lake. The various walls of the Bluffs themselves are a remarkable site.
Free events in Toronto look forward to a summer of fun as Ontario Place kicks off a new season of activities that won't cost you a cent. You can pick yourself a free pizza or hit up a big music festival, while Buddies in Bad Times is celebrating a huge milestone with an epic party.
Events you might want to check out:
Free Pizza at Pi Co. (May 28 @ Pi Co. Pizza) Pi Co. is ready to open up another location on the Danforth and giving away free Margherita pizzas for all from noon to 3:14 p.m. True Stories (May 28 @ Garrison) Real stories from real people are being told at this storytelling session stacked with orators sharing tales from their own experiences. Buddies' 40th Birthday Party (May 31 @ Buddies in Bad Times) One of Toronto's most storied spaces for queer cultural programming is celebrating the big 4-0 with an epic night of dance and performances. Summer at Ontario Place (May 31 - September 23 @ Ontario Place) Ontario Place is ready to kick off a summer of free activities for everyone to enjoy, with yoga, live music, games and year-round skating. Cosmo MusicFEST (June 1 @ Cosmo Music) A full day of music is on at this massive annual festival with performances, an instrument expo, shopping, kids zone, food trucks and a beer garden.
The weekend is almost over but there's still another day of events in Toronto as Kensington Market goes car-free for the first Pedestrian Sunday of the season. Elsewhere, Florence + The Machine is here and there's a big gluten-free food festival.
Events you might want to check out:
Pedestrian Sundays (May 26 @ Kensington Market) Music, food, art, shopping, activities and more are all part of this annual street festival that sees Kensington go car-free for the day. Community Sundays (May 26 @ MOCA) Take a tour through Toronto's newest contemporary museum totally free of charge as the MOCA opens for free this weekend. Florence and the Machine (May 26 @ Budweiser Stage) It's all cosmic love with ethereal charm as Florence + The Machine is once again making their way to Toronto for a night of artsy pop hits. Gluten Free Garage (May 26 @ Artscape Wychwood Barns) Get your fill of gluten-free goodies at this huge market with an afternoon of food demos, samples, drinks, guest speakers and over 65 vendors. The Trinity Bellwoods Flea (May 26 @ The Great Hall) It's the spring edition of this huge market with food, drinks and local artisans selling gifts, clothing, beauty products, art and lots more. Garrison Spring Flea (May 26 @ The Garrison) The Garrison and Black Diamond Vintage are teaming up for a day of vintage finds from local dealers and makers amongst music, food and drinks. Jewish Music Week (May 26 - June 2 @ Multiple Venues) From Israeli pop to Yiddish theatre music, this festival serves as a celebration of all Jewish music with a week of performances happening all over. Woofstock (May 25-26 @ Woodbine Park) There's still another day for dogs, their owners and admirers to gather and bask in doggy cuteness among food, drinks, activities and shopping. Anime North (May 24-26 @ Multiple Venues) It's the last day for this huge annual anime festival devoted to Japanese culture with manga, music, games, special guests, performances and more. Doors Open (May 25-26 @ Hart House) This year's Open Doors is wrapping up for another year, but not before you can explore inside of some of the city's most interesting buildings.
The Toronto Raptors overcame a slow start to beat the Milwaukee Bucks 100-94 to advance to the NBA Finals. Game 1 will take place at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto this Thursday May 30 against the Golden State Warriors.
Kensington Market and Chinatown are two of Toronto's most vibrant and diverse neighbourhoods. Given they're just a few minutes away from each other, it makes sense to wander through both areas in tandem—though you could easily pass an entire day exploring just one.
While completely eclectic in their own way, you'll find these two hoods have a lot in common: in the face of imminent change and newer businesses arriving in flux, both these cultural bastions manage to preserve a sense of the old while adapting to the new.
Here's how to spend a day in Kensington and Chinatown, from morning until night.
Breakfast or Dim Sum
Whether you're craving some fried eggs or a basket of steamed har gow, these neighbourhoods are basically built for early mornings.
Hit up KOS or Our Spot for cheap all-day breakfasts, or for the Chinese equivalent, head to staples like Rol San, Rosewood, or Sky Dragon, where you'll get an amazing morning view of Chinatown with traditional cart service.
Grab some Cut Coffee from local Toronto roaster Sam James. Photo by Jesse Milns.
People-watching while sipping a cup of joe is basically a Kensington Market rite of passage. If coffee is what you need after too many orders of pork buns, head to cafes like Moonbean, Jimmy's, or Pamenar to enjoy their respective back patios.
While Chinatown doesn't offer many sit-down cafes, there's still caffeine to be found aplenty. Yeah, there's Sam James, but have you tried Vietnamese coffee?
These traditional steeped coffees (iced too!) served with condensed milk are deadly: order one to go from any Vietnamese restaurant like Pho Pasteur or Xe Lua, a.k.a. Pho Train, and prepare for the buzz. A Yin Yang (half coffee, half tea) from Crimson Teas will do the job, too.
Shop rare ramen at the Japanese convenience store Sukoshi Mart. Photo by Hector Vasquez.
Kensington Market and Chinatown are two of the most walkable areas in the city, so you could easily pass a few hours exploring Dragon City Mall (there's free WiFi) or soaking up some sun in the recently renovated Bellevue Park.
There's also grocery shopping, which might not seem like your ideal way to spend a day off, but trust me—it's another level here.
White Rabbit Candy from the handful of Chinese groceries on Spadina; hard-to-find hot sauces from the Mexican market Perolas; rare ramen packets (and all the Totoro stuff) in the Japanese convenience store Sukoshi Mart—just try not to spend all your money before the day is done.
Meals come cheap at Juicy Dumpling. Photo by Hector Vasquez.
If you didn't hit up 214 Augusta at some point during the day, you did Kensington Market all wrong. This cramped little building acts as a food court for some delicious Latin American eats, like empanadas from El Gordo, tacos from La Chilaca, or ceviche from Pico de Gallo.
On the same coin, different side: a trip to Juicy Dumpling is totally worth the long Chinatown lunch lines. If not for the bursting, soupy, pork- and crab-filled pockets, go for the fact that six dumplings will only cost you $2.99.
Aside from those staples, there's still plenty of options: Rasta Pasta's jerk pork and rice, vegan Caribbean from Ital Vital, hulking halal burgers from Ozzy's, Taiwanese beef noodle soup from Awas Tea, doners from Otto's—the list goes on.
Samara Contemporary is both an art gallery and a shop. Photo by Fareen Karim.
Shopping and Culture
Historically known as two of the most affordable neighbourhoods in the city, shopping in Kensington Market and Chinatown still remains relatively cheap.
Peruse the $5 t-shirt racks lining Spadina between College and Dundas, or dig for cashmere gems and cool buttons in renowned Kensington vintage shops like Courage My Love and Exile. For more current looks there's Pink Canary for L.A.-inspired outifts or Creeps for homegrown, Instagram hot-girl looks.
The same goes for art galleries: tucked away in the more quiet parts of Kensington is where you'll find the teeny tiny Whippersnapper and Samara Contemporary showcasing work by local and international artists.
Decadent rings come from Dipped Donuts in Kensington. Photo by Hector Vasquez.
Hong Kong-style afternoon tea is the epitome of a mid-day break, which you'll probably need after all this exploring. There are plenty of Chinese restaurants like House of Gourmet or Hong Kong Bistro offering outrageously cheap meals with sides of coffee or Hong Kong-style tea, specifically between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
If you're looking for savoury but not Chinese, I recommend a gobernador taco from Seven Lives, a grilled jerk chicken sandwich from Golden Patty, some doubles from Maracas, or frybread from Pow Wow Cafe. A bahn mi from Chinatown institutions Ba Le or Bahn Mi Nguyen Huong is a good move too.
For something sweet, head to Bunner's for vegan baked goods, carrot cake from Wanda's Pie in the Sky, Koishi's ice cream sandwiches, or Dipped Donuts for decadent rings. There's also Hanabusa, but those jiggly Japanese souffle pancakes are a meal of their own.
Pedestrian Sundays happen on the last weekend of every month in the summer. Photo by Hector Vasquez.
It's all about community in these two neighbourhoods, and it's pretty likely you'll end up striking a conversation with someone at some point throughout the day, especially if it's a Pedestrian Sunday or the Kensington Market Art Fair.
Or, you, a new friend, and your good pal Mary Jane can all hang out at Hotbox Cafe's POTio, or you can hit up a cool workshop at the Chinatown community centre Tea Base.
There's also no shortage of walking tours dedicated specifically to Kensington and Chinatown. Signing up for a guided adventures courtesy of Tasty Tours Toronto or Savour Toronto is always a great way to meet some like-minded folks.
Green Tea's Chinatown location offers delicious eats from Huangzhou. Photo by Hector Vasquez.
When it comes to the last meal of the day, Chinatown offers the bulk of the options, though Kensington Market does have a couple heavy hitters, like a splurge meal from the wine bar Grey Gardens or Mexican at El Rey.
Big Trouble Bar delivers with peach baiju and live DJs some nights. Photo by Jesse Milns.
Drinks and Entertainment
Again: there are few places better to be when you're trying to imbibe and party until last call. For beer, the aptly named Beer2Beer works, as does the Embassy or the smelly dive bar Thirsty & Miserable, while Koi Koi has you covered with sake.
As for the parties, Cold Tea and its back patio will always be a summer classic, and Big Trouble (no affiliation with the pizza) is the best spot for baiju and live DJs.
Socialite is the place for dancehall and soca. Round and The Boat always have their respective dance parties happening, too. For live music, Poetry is a jazzy getaway, and when you want to get swingy with it, Grossman's is the place to be.
If you're planning to go day tripping this summer, one of the best spots to visit is this former limestone quarry about an hour northwest of Toronto in between the quaint towns of Fergus and Elora. The landscape is beautifully rugged, and the swimming area is clean and safe.
The Elora Quarry has been a designated conservation area since the mid 1970s, but it's been a popular spot to swim for locals pretty much since the quarry closed. It's as dramatic a place as you'll find for a dip within such close proximity to Toronto.
Strong swimmers can explore the entirety of the two acre swimming area. Photo via Grand River Conservation.
The cliffs that surround the two-acre swimming area reach 12 metres (40 feet) high and provide a stunning backdrop for those sunbathing on the sandy beach, which was built when the area was opened to the public.
On occasion, people jump into the swimming hole from the surrounding cliffs, but this practice is strictly forbidden and will get you tossed from the park. Besides, the beach is actually really nice here. Make sure to arrive early in the day to snag a good spot.
The quarry is at its most stunning on sunny days when the water appears cerulean. Photo by Grand River Conservation.
If you're not in the mood to hit the water, which generally doesn't warm up to comfortable swimming temperatures until late June, there's a sizeable picnic area where you can barbecue as well as a one kilometre trail that loops around the top of the quarry.
In general, the water is very clean here. It's tested weekly during the summer, and has a 95 per cent pass rate. It can get quite busy on summer weekends, but you always have the option of swimming to the stony outcropping where there are fewer people.
A panoramic view of the swimming hole. Photo by Grand River Conservation.
The park is open from the beginning of June until Labour Day from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays. A day-use pass costs $10.