Lots of families from Ohio pack up and drive all the way to the beach, some 18 hours, once every summer. My family went to Gulf Shores Alabama as a kid and then when we got older started going to Myrtle Beach. While I was home from India this year, I told my parents we should try something different, a new idea for vacation within driving distance from Ohio – Canada! Toronto, in fact. It was only 6.5 hours from my house in Lexington, Ohio.
– A family vacation in Toronto –
I think the reasons mid-western families go south are that 1) it’s familiar 2) it’s hot 3) we miss the ocean. Plus, if you haven’t been to Chicago or NYC, you might think going to Montreal or Toronto sounds scary or like it’d get too confusing trying to get around. Toronto is the 4th largest city in North America, but honestly you can’t tell because it’s so spread out. In case you’re curious the top 3 in population are Mexico City, NYC, and LA.
We went for 3 days and 3 nights and had a blast. There is so much to do in the city and there’s even a beach for SUP and boating/fishing on Lake Ontario. That’s a good way to talk your dad into going!
Going to Toronto is great because it’s an international trip and you get to see lots of cultures all in one place. Stats say that 50% of people in Toronto are born outside Canada, with over 130 languages spoken in Toronto. There is a Little Italy, Little Portugal, China Town, Little India and more plus international markets and huge museums with artifacts from all over the world to explore.
Things to do on a family vacation in Toronto
(Prices on everything will be in Canadian dollars as the exchange rate is always changing.)
1. The ROM
The Royal Ontario Museum was a very cool place to stop by. We only stayed two hours because it was such a gorgeous sunny day to be outside. It’s open 10 am to 5:30 pm and later on weekends. Absolutely worth a visit with artifacts from all over the world. For the special exhibitions you do have to pay extra than the general admission ticket.
Price: Tickets for adults at $17 and $14 for children, although they have discounts on Fridays.
Getting there: 100 Queens Park. It’s on the intersection of Avenue and Bloor, easily walkable if you’re staying on that side, or you can take the metro to the museum stop.
2. CN Tower
The CN Tower is the 2nd tallest building in the world at 447 meters high and shows great views from the city. We went at night and it was pretty cool. You can eat up there but we just had a look and went back down.
Price: $35 for adults, $25 for children for general admission
Getting there: 301 Front St W. Most likely you can walk here from your hotel.
3. St. Lawrence Market
The St. Lawrence market was ranked by Nat Geo as the best in the world. I did expect it to be a bit bigger! It was really cool, easy to see it all, and partially indoors. The thing to try is the peameal sandwich which is a Canadian specialty (get the honey mustard on it). I’ll tell you which places we tried later in the article.
Price: free to enter
Getting there: 92-95 Front Street East. Take the metro to Union or King Station on the University line and you can walk from there.
4. Evergreen Brick Works
See where Toronto was built, literally. The bricks for most of the major buildings came from here. You can have lunch, rent a bike, take a hike and bring your dog along. It’s also called Don Valley Brick Works or Weston Quarry. A local told us this is her favorite place in the city.
Price: free to enter
Getting there: 550 Bayview Ave. Take the green metro line out to Broadview then walk to your left to a bus stop where a neon shuttle will pick you up for free and take you, every 30 minutes.
5. Eat International food
We tried all kinds of restaurants! You can get EVERY nationality of food here. I’ll share just some of the places we tried.
Chinese at Luckee Restaurant (328 Wellington St). This was our big dinner out as it’s a little bit pricey. There were 3 of us so we ate quite a lot! We tried their famous starters: chicken Cheung fun, steamed spinach, Chinese celery dumplings, and Taro & turnip cake. For mains we had the bakes soy cod with green beans, the very famous duck with Chinese pancakes, and the beef tenderloin. The beef was so tender and the duck was delicious. I know Ben was really bummed to miss this meal! We don’t usually eat “real” Chinese food so most of the dishes were totally new to us. We liked it all, although the textures took some getting used to. For dessert we tried the passionfruit & pineapple coconut pudding and rice donut. We loved the pudding. The chef here, Chef Lee, is a judge on chopped and very famous.
Italian at Pizzeria Libretto (221 Ossington Ave or other locations). The rice balls (arancini) were better than the pizza in my opinion, and they were delicious. The pizza was really good but I guess I don’t get what all the fuss is about with this famous place. It’s real Italian style, and tasty but nothing to go nuts over.
Canadian at Paddington’s at St. Lawrence Market. We had the most scrumptious juicy turkey sandwich outside the market and tried the burger with peameal bacon.
Polish on the street. Go ahead and get a hotdog or Polish sausage from anywhere between 3-6 bucks on the streets.
Canadian/American at Jack Astor’s (chain restaurant). We wanted a good burger but all the famous little joints were packed for the Pan Am games, so we went here to a popular chain restaurant. The food was great.
Local beer at Mill St. Brewery. My parents tried the one on tap, the Mill Street Pilsner. One of the famous beers we saw in Toronto was Steamwhistle which we had at other places.
Chocolate at SOMA Chocolatemaker in the Distillery district. They had gelato, homemade chocolates, and nuts. My parents bought the spicy pecans and they were so good.
6. Kensington Market
Vintage shopping and food from all over the world can be found at Kensington Market. Everyone on my Instagram said to go, but we just didn’t have enough time! It’s one of the things we wish we had done. Everyone says to check out the “Pedestrian Sunday market” there.
Price: free to enter
Getting there: Kensington Road. From University metro, take the Dundas streetcar west, and get off at Spadina.
7. Shop Queen Street West
Surprise, surprise this is the first thing we did. We had some beer between shopping at the famous Horseshoe Tavern and looked in shops like LUSH, Lululemon, American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, lots of boutiques and hipster shops, and coffee shops. Man, the 90’s are so in style!
Price: depends how much of a shopper you are ;)
Getting there: Queen Street West. You can walk from most places downtown or take University metro to Osgoode.
8. Visit the Beaches
“The Beaches” was great to walk around in the early morning. We were meant to have a SUP class but got stood up. Bummer! But we still enjoyed seeing the area and to be honest, the water was a bit too cold anyways. There were so many cute dogs being walked! Perfect people watching place, if you’re a creep like me.
Getting there: we drove, jumped on the Gardiner Expressway to Lakeshore Blvd, about 15 minutes. There was a lot of street parking.
9. Grab a drink where the Rolling Stones play
The Horseshoe Tavern on Queen West is pretty famous and the Rolling Stones do surprise performances. The Police, Ramones, and Conway Twitty have all played here.
Getting there: 370 Queen West. You can walk from most places downtown or take University metro to Osgoode.
10. Shop & in Greek Town
Greektown is easy to hit up on your way out to Brick Works (#4 on this list) because it’s just near Broadview metro stop. We walked around here after we got off the shuttle from Brick Works. There are loads of restaurants and shops.
Getting there: Danforth Ave. You can take the green line out to Broadview.
11. Check out City Hall
City Hall or Nathan Phillips Square tends to have a lot going on. We were there during the Pan Am games, so stumbled into a couple of concerts. Check out the website to see what’s happening while you’re in town.
Getting there: You can probably walk. It’s at the Osgoode stop on the yellow (University line) at Queen Street and University intersection.
12. Distillery District
This was my favorite part of Toronto! The Distillery District is a brick lane with old buildings full of vintage treasure and boutique shops. We loved SOMA chocolate and Mill St. Brewery and all the shops were very cool and trendy although expensive.
Getting there: Mill St. We took a taxi here but you could walk from the Union Station stop, although it’s quite far, maybe 35 minutes. You would pass St. Lawrence market on the way.
13. See a Show
We considered seeing Kinky Boots but it online only found tickets at $350 per person so we didn’t go. They have 4 theaters playing shows and options were Motown, Newsies, Phantom of the Opera and more. It’s a big “thing to do” in Toronto, but I guess we should have planned ahead more.
Price: in my experience, it was quite expensive
Getting there: There are four theatres so you’d have to buy tickets, then look up the theatre on maps.
There wasn’t anything going on while we were there, but our hotel was right outside the Air Canada Center where the Toronto Maple Leafs play hockey. You could also catch a Blue Jays baseball game at Rogers Centre (which also has concerts).
Price: I’m not sure the best place to book sports in Toronto
Getting there: Air Canada Center is just of the Union station metro stop, you can’t miss it and the Rogers Centre is on 1 Blue Jays Way.
15. Hockey Hall of Fame
If you’re really into hockey, this is worth a mention although we aren’t huge Hockey people and didn’t go to the Hockey Hall of Fame on this trip.
Price: according to the website it’s $18 for adults and $12 for children
Getting there: 30 Yonge St. We passed this on our way walking to St. Lawrence market. You can walk from downtown or take the metro to Union or King and walk from there.
For the kids: 16, 17, & 18. Casa Loma, Science Center, and Zoo
I’ve put these together because we didn’t go for a variety of reasons, although they are famous attractions in Toronto. Casa Loma is a mansion you can tour, the Science Center we were advised was best for children, and I’m not crazy about Zoos. You can find more information about all of these on the Toronto Tourism website. Just because I didn’t go doesn’t mean they aren’t great options, especially for kids!
19. Take a Street Car
The 501 street car “red rocket” is a famous way of getting around the city. It goes along Dundas Road. We took this to get out to Ossington. You can ask your hotel for a metro map or print one online and you’ll see the getting around is very easy and you can walk almost everywhere if you’re not into taking street cars or metros.
20. Stay Downtown
There are SO many hotel options downtown, even a Holiday Inn, that you can surely find something in your budget. Driving to Toronto from Ohio was easy and the Highways are really organized with a HOV lane for 3+ people. Even with the Pan Am games we didn’t get into any bad traffic. Parking is expensive so it’s best to leave your car rather than take it out and pay over and over, or valet so you can have multiple take outs with no extra charge. We stayed at both the Le Germain Maple Leaf Square and the Four Seasons; you can read reviews on those links.
If you’re coming from the US back to Ohio, you can stop at Niagara Falls on your way home. I’ve written an article to explain how to get to Niagara Falls.
This is a collaboration with the Toronto Tourism board. I was provided passes by the tourism board for the ROM, CN tower, and some transport. I was also invited to eat by Luckee. All opinions are my own.
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