Get to know Toronto through the lens of photographer Arden Wray, who’s sharing her curated guide to the best places to visit, see, and experience on your next trip.
Photos by Arden Wray
Roncesvalles (Revue Cinema/Reunion Island)
Roncesvalles is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city. It’s home to tons of good shops and restaurants, fruit stands, a weekly farmer’s market, and some hidden gems. The Revue Cinema is a charming spot to see movies that have already done their main-market run at a lower cost. They also host fun events and play old movies on the big screen. Across the street, Reunion Island is a great place for coffee and tasty pastries. Try their caramelized onion and cheese concoction – it’s somewhere between a croissant and pizza bread, and it will blow your mind.
One of the most special things about this city is The Island. A short ferry ride from downtown Toronto, you’ll find yourself in an oasis of miles of parklands, beaches, and charming cottages. There are no shops on the island and cars are difficult to bring over, so most residents and visitors bike to get around. Hippie culture defines the island’s vibe and it’s a wonderful, welcoming place to explore. The Island Café is one of a tiny handful of restaurants over there – it offers beautiful food and drink in a warm, colorful atmosphere. Some evenings, they host community events with square dancing and bluegrass bands playing on into the night in the glow of candles and twinkle lights overhead, with both Islanders and visitors of all ages dancing and enjoying together – these are magic.
In Ontario, there is a fairly silly system in place (as in Philadelphia), where you can only purchase alcohol from designated government-run retail outlets. There is a loophole, however, that breweries can host a small shop and bar on-site. This is spurring a really exciting new wave of craft breweries across the city. My two favorites to drink + snack in, and to buy craft beer-to-go from, are Bellwoods Brewery and The Burdock. Bellwoods has amazing food and a gorgeous patio on Ossington Avenue. Burdock also has a really wonderful small venue on-site which hosts intimate concerts on a regular basis. Both spots have bottle shops open from 11 AM to 11 PM daily.
Toronto is, in my opinion, the best city for vintage in North America – and Kensington is the epicenter for that. Its interweaving blocks are full of densely packed storefronts, coffee shops, groceries, and bars in old semi-detached houses. The colorful, ramshackle mismatch of all the houses lining the Market’s streets is classically Toronto – a charming architectural hodge-podge, rough around the edges. A row of connected storefronts houses fish monger next to a tattoo shop next to a crystals emporium next to vintage clothes – it’s all here.
Bar Isabel is an upscale joint often thought to be the best restaurant in the city. It offers small plates and gorgeous cocktails in a dimly-lit, sexy space full of heavy wood and patterned tile. Its sister spot, Bar Raval, does snacks and drinks in a space full of Gaudi-esque curved wood. Both are worth a visit if you’re feeling indulgent.
Trinity Bellwoods Park
In the summertime, on any given day, Trinity Bellwoods is a sea of thousands of young people sitting in groups on the grass across the park. It’s become something of a parody of itself for the cynical – an endless parade of 20-somethings in single file walking down the path that winds through the park with one hand walking their bike, the other holding their phone to their ear trying to get directions on where their group has set up camp. Still, the park is a beautiful, central hub to the city’s west end community and a wonderful place to enjoy year-round.
Galleries at Dovercourt & Queen
Along the block of Queen Street running east from Dovercourt Road, there are a series of great independent galleries frequently showing work from artists in the community, centered around curator Katharine Mulherin’s spaces.
La Cubana has two locations – one on Ossington Avenue, a great strip with tons of bars, restaurants, and shops – and one on Roncesvalles. The restaurant has amazing Cuban food and great cocktails in a really fun atmosphere. One of my most favorite go-tos in the city.
Across the street from Bellwoods Brewery, on Ossington Avenue, Golden Turtle is my most trusted source of delicious pho in the colder months here. Eight dollars will get you an enormous bowl of fantastic soup – I practically live off it.
Rose and Sons Swan Diner
A block east of Trinity Bellwoods on Queen St. West, this is a gorgeous spot that looks like an old diner and now serves up cocktails and updated comfort food in its red leather booths. Coffee and breakfast in the day time as well.
The Common is a cozy, fogged-up window and rough wood sort of spot to enjoy an Americano and a croissant.
My neighborhood! Loosely defined as running along Bloor St. West between about Dufferin and Dundas, this stretch includes great bars, cute vintage clothing and furniture stores, and a variety of awesome food options. My favorite spots are Holy Oak for coffee in the morning and beer at night, Three Speed for brunch on the weekends and a great bar atmosphere every night of the week, and the Burdock, as I mentioned previously, for beers enjoyed in their lovely space and to-go as well. Dosa Mahal is fantastic south Indian food in a hot pink room – perfect cheap eats when it’s cold outside.