By Dominique Lamberton, Jackie Marchildon and Kim Hession
As tempting as it is to confine yourself to the concrete landmine of glossy-eyed students and scattered construction sites that make up Gould Street, it’s important to realize there’s life beyond the sparkling perimeters of Ryerson’s campus. For some students,Toronto may seem intimidating, but if you’re brave enough to venture outside the Ryerson bubble, you’re sure to be delighted by the varying neighbourhoods and cultural tapestries this city encompasses. Don’t let the old people yelling profanities in the streets prevent you from exploring Toronto, for they too contribute to the city’s fierce personality. So put on your walking shoes, cut off the Rye campus umbilical chord and get the fuck out there.
1. Little Italy
Centred on College Street west is Little Italy, a lively community filled with shops, bars and most importantly, a plethora of Italian food. For about 12 blocks beginning at Bathurst Street and ending at Dufferin Street, Little Italy is alive — specifically at night — with patios, bustling espresso bars, trendy shops and pedestrians. For great, affordable Italian food, try Café Diplomatico (594 College St.), a Little Italy staple with an unbeatable patio. If you’re in the area but aren’t craving pizza or pasta, check out Utopia (586 College St.) for inexpensive yet delicious food ranging from gourmet poutine to burritos and burgers. For dessert, treat yourself to a cone at The Big Chill (367 Manning Ave.) where you can grab a spot to sit outdoors beneath a colourful mural, making your ice cream outing as special as it was when you were five. This Labour Day weekend, check out the Fiera Festival, a celebration of Italian cuisine, language, culture and music. College Street is closed to traffic during the festival, catering to the street vendors, pedestrians and musicians who flood the neighbourhood.
Just northeast of Ryerson, is Old Cabbagetown, one of the oldest communities in downtown Toronto. Along Parliament Street, you’ll find a few bars, notably the Grasshopper, known not so much for its class, but more for its cheap beer and karaoke. You will also find a No Frills, for those of you who are sick of the oh-so-convenient but expensive Metro, a beer store and some cheap housing. If you haven’t had much luck in the friends deparment, check out Riverdale Farm, 7.5 acres of land that is home to horses, cows, pigs, and donkeys you can hang out with. The farm is free to visit and open all year round.
3. Toronto Island
With scenic picnic spots and cycling trails along the water, the island is both the perfect summer spot and a refreshing winter getaway. Despite ferry services to only Ward’s Island and Hanlan’s Point, there are still plenty of opportunities for staged photo opps and family bonding time. Hanlan’s Point is home to both the historic Gibraltar Lighthouse, and Ward’s Island offers food and warmth at both the Iroquois and Paradise Restaurants. If eternal salvation (or temporary warmth) is what you are looking for, then look no further than the Island’s very own Anglican Church. Ferry rides to the island leave from the harbourfront. Tickets are $6.50 for adults and $4 for students under 19.
4. Allan Gardens
Whether you’re looking for a game of chess or a place to hide from the chaos of Toronto chasing you down the streets, Allan Gardens, located just west of Jarvis Street and just north of Gerrard Street, is the place for you. When you can’t feel your fingers, let the warmth of the greenhouse take you in. The not-so frequented spot houses plants of all kinds, complete with water features and seating areas. Even if you’re not into cacti or spring bulbs, the greenhouse at Allan Gardens is one of the best kept secrets in the city, and it’s free.
5. High Park
Walking tours, a petting zoo, train rides, an off-leash park, a museum and a pond all in downtown Toronto? All in High Park — 399 acres (that’s 350 football fields) of trees, grass, dirt and water at the corner of Bloor and Dundas Streets. This park has it all, even a bison at the zoo. This is no stopover, High Park is the event, and that event should be at least a full day. Spend the morning fishing in Grenadier Pond before checking out the Sculpture Symposium and heading for lunch at the in-park restaurant. In the afternoon, join an hourand- a-half walking tour through the trees and let loose like a non-violent maniac on the Jamie Bell adventure playground. High Park is the perfect place to study if you are tired of libraries, and bored of coffee shops. At High Park you’ll have trouble convincing yourself you’re less than an hour away from pamphlet-bearing homeless men on the concrete and chaos of Yonge and Dundas square.
6. Queen West
Queen West has become a trendy neighbourhood in Toronto for its growing collection of restaurants, bars, art galleries and vintage stores. Even with an empty wallet, it is an enticing place to go walking. Bring a frisby or a hot date and check out Trinity Bellwoods park, located just east of Ossington along Queen, where Torontonians gather to relax, play sports, play music and enjoy the city’s outdoors. When the weather is nice, the park hosts drum circles every Tuesday night which attact hundreds of people. If you are into vintage shopping, check out 69 Vintage (1100 Queen St. W). Walking west on Queen, not only will you find some great clothing, and great food, but you will always be entertained by either incoherent hollering, buskers (both talented or completely inept) or just by making eye contact with the plethora of attractive passersby’s.
7. Little India
Sandwiched between Greenwood and Coxwell Aves., lies Little India — a six block stretch of ethnic delicacies to explore. Little India started up in 1971 when the Naaz Theatre opened, which showed exclusively Bollywood films. Today Little India manages to fuse the spirit of South Asia, with a modern Toronto backdrop to provide its visitors with an enchanted experience. Upbeat Indian music spills onto the streets and store-front windows are plastered with an array of colourful textiles and fabrics. If you’re looking for cheap knick-knacks this is the place to check out. There are more than 200 shops and restaurants crammed into this small stretch of Little India, including record shops and Bollywood video stores. If you’re hungry, scrounge up some change and treat yourself to one of the all-you-can-eat buffets, like Skylark (1433 Gerrard St. E.), where an endless supply of fresh nan bread awaits your arrival. If you want to experience an authentic taste of India, this venture will provide you with one without having to fork over your entire savings account to buy a plane ticket. To get there, hop on the Carleton streetcar and head east until you hit Greenwood Ave.
8. Kensington Market
Nestled cozily between College and Dundas Streets, lies Kensington Market — one of Toronto’s most diverse communities filled with a gamut of characters. Hippies, punks, immigrants and hipsters roam the streets, forming a vibrant and harmonious community that feels like a village. The main streets of the market — Augusta Avenue, Baldwin Street and Kensington Avenue — are packed with second-hand shops, cafes, bars and food stores. Fresh produce line the sidewalks and together with the bakeries, butcher shops, fish markets and cheese shops, Kensington is a one-stop shop for affordable, fresh groceries. An afternoon well spent begins with a cup of coffee and people watching at Luis Coffee Stop (235 Augusta Ave.) before heading to Big Fat Burrito (285 Augusta Ave.) for lunch. It is arguably the best burrito place in the city and will leave your stomach happy for hours. For a night out, The Supermarket (268 Augusta Ave.) and The Boat (158 Augusta Ave.) are great places for dancing and indulging in a few drinks. Make sure to visit Kensington Market on Sep. 26 and Oct. 31 for Pedestrian Sunday. On the last Sunday of each month from May to October, the market closes its streets to vehicle traffic and pedestrians are free to to dance, play music, eat and simply enjoy the day together. Kensington Market is a haven in the city, a retreat from the hustle and bustle and a place to relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of fellow Torontonians.