Canada has two types of weather- cold and cold AF. When deciding on where to travel next, my wife Melani decided Toronto Canada would be best because of the proximity. We had #72Hours, and because many of the creatives we follow online happen to live in Canada, we wanted to find out what was in the water. This was also her birthday trip since my love is a Capricorn born on December 30.
Here's the thing, when you're from Miami like I am, 20 below zero feels like your skin is melting off your body- I wasn't ready. Babe on the other hand is from up north so she had her Tims and skully on deck.
When we arrived to Toronto Pearson International Airport it, it was raining snow. On impulse, I stood under it and let it fall on me as it slowly melted into water. It was like God's hand salt-baeing the airport. I was in awe, it was majestic as it glistened glitter-like on the way down.
First things first we usually rent a car on our #72Hour adventures because of the time crunch and because of Canada's extreme weather. No one, especially someone who is not used to the cold, wants to stand in bone chilling weather while they wait for their Uber. We've also calculated the cost before and it's always cheaper because of the ability to move from place to place without delays. It also made sense to drive because Melani knows how to drive in the snow. She figured it would be like getting back on a bike. Minus the car skidding under a bridge, we managed the entire trip unfazed, and I even helped her drive- like a senior citizen- but I did it.
Here's where we messed up.
We reserved with Economy Rent a Car, PEOPLE IF YOU TAKE ANYTHING AWAY FROM THIS POST, NEVER, EVER, EVERRRRR reserve with this company. We should have realized how sketchy they were from the beginning and walked away, but we were so cold and excited we wanted to get the car and drive off. Needless to say they had hidden fees and charges we never agreed to. When we decided to cancel the reservation they didn't want to cancel and charged our card anyway. We argued that we had not booked and only reserved a car so something would be available when we landed but they didn't budge.
We walked over to Alamo, the company we usually use, and got a car on the spot and were finally able start our adventure. Lesson learned: Just because you want to save $60 on a car, don't take the cheap route. Just like you don't cheat on your eyebrow lady, you don't cheat on Alamo.
Pro Tip: Cars, Hotels, Airbnb's etc are not things you want to be frugal with and like the Federation of Latina Mom's like to say: Lo Barato Sale Caro.
We disputed for a credit with Expedia but this issue took about 2 to 3 hours upon arrival. The trip started with a headache but we didn't let it phase us. I'll get into our Airbnb situation later.
As we drove into the Toronto it occurred to us that the brave people of Canada are not bothered by such chilling temperatures because their city is B E A U T I F U L, stunning even. The architecture is mostly made of this reflective steel mirror in a tinted blue/green color that reflects in the sun brightly. Their highways are clean and the perimeters are adorned with snow blanketed Christmas trees. They use solar power, They recycle, They have street art and murals as you drive into the neighborhoods and the people are the icing on this bountiful Canadian cake.
The locals are sweet, friendly, talkative, helpful, grateful, pleasant looking but we realized we needed to go indoors to find them. Seems obvious, but once we discovered Canadians hang indoors we found them walking about like it was summer in Toronto- think crowds like in Times Square. We live in Miami so it made sense that we kept thinking of places to go outdoors, but when you travel you have to tailor the experiences mostly to the weather.
We decided right then and there that this would become more of a food journey with some city trottin' spirinkled on top because most outdoor places are closed in subzero weather.
Canada uses Canadian dollars and we took about $400 with us for this trip- a budget of $100 a day. We exchanged some currency at the Miami International Airport, but we also used our credit card. Apparently, the exchange rate is $1.27 to the dollar. I thought we were going to spend more money but we didn't. Also, I noticed that when I used my credit card the charges were in USD and not Canadian dollars which was nice.
We always stay in Airbnb's when we travel because it gives us a more local approach. Melani always surprises me with what she picks so I don't usually see them until we arrive. She said she was disappointed with this house because the photos looked better than the actual place. I thought it was basic nothing fancy. The bed was way too hard and flat. We only had two pillows and the sheets were thin. The bathroom was pretty cool so I guess that made up for it. This is the link to the hosts profile because the listing for the house we stayed in is currently unavailable.
Things to do
Niagara Falls is the new 8th wonder of the world and the we wanted to check off another one from our list. ( We've also been to Machu Picchu) Driving to the falls was about an hour and 20 minutes from our Airbnb. There were no tolls and the drive was smooth along the city. We knew we were going to freeze but seeing these magnificent falls I completely forgot about the cold. When going there you have the option to park right by the falls, they actually have shops and stores around the area and parking garages.
To see Niagara Falls you can walk on the side of the fall along the sidewalk all the way until where the falls begin. This is the up close option and quite frankly the best view you'll get. Seeing the falls is completely free. There is no gatekeeper or fee to get in. You can just walk right up to them. You can also buy tickets for the Skylon Tower if you want to see the falls from the observation deck. This is optional and we parked here when we visited. You ride the elevator all the way up and walk around the deck 360 style and see both the American and Canadian falls. Tickets were $15.02 pp.
Seeing the Niagara Falls definitely made the trip unforgettable. While we were there the snow covered everything around it- now I understand the "Winter Wonderland" reference people talk about. We walked right over to the peak and just stared and this collaboration of God and Mother Nature while counting our blessings.
Pro Tip: Wear boots with grip to Canada. I didn't fall but I got close to it many times. It seems silly to buy hiking boots for a small trip like this but at least wear the most comfortable boots or sneakers you have with grip that have enough space to wear double socks and take them. At least two pairs of shoes because snow = wet shoes. Also, if you travel in the cold as much as we do you may want to splurge on gloves that have the ETIP for touch screen compatibility. I barely took photos this trip because it was so cold and I didn't want to take my gloves off constantly. Also because I'm trying to live more in the moment.
Art Gallery of Ontario AGO
This museum is enormous but we were really there to see Guillermo del Toro's At Home With Monsters exhibit. For this showing the gallery got really creative and turned the rooms into what would be Del Toro's home, recreating walls and a rain room the film maker mastermind has in his home studio. We walked the museum for almost half a day and explored breakdowns of the film, marveled at the costumes used in his movies, and stared down statues of the monsters, props included. The great thing about this traveling exhibit is that it has a downloadable app that allows you to turn your iPhone into a guided tour. Lucky for us we always travel with our headphones. I had my student I.D. and purchased two tickets for about $16 each.
Allan Gardens is a park and an indoor botanical garden with six greenhouses comprising over 16,000 square feet. We found out about it while we were there googling for conservatories but I didn't think locals hyped it up as they should. I'm a huge fan of mother nature and green is my favorite color. Greenhouses are places Melani and I actively seek out to visit in each city to get a feel for their nature, admire the beauty of these plants, and obviously in Canada- see some type of green in the white washed winter. This place was FREE .99 to get into and it is open during the winter.Yes all the way.
Leslieville's Crazy Doll House
I have to give my wife credit for this- and most of the places we visit when on trips. Melani has a thing for quirks and finding unique gems with deep ties into the community. This trip she found this cute house that displays monthly themes with dolls and decorations. I thought we were going to be able to walk in the house because of the name but it was more like Leslieville's Crazy Doll Front Yard. Either way it was cute to take a photo of and adds flair to the neighborhood. It's also a popular attraction because people were stopping by to take photos in front of the house.
The Distillery Historic District opened in 2003 and today it is widely regarded as Canada’s premier hub for arts, culture and entertainment. Developers employed hundreds of tradesmen and craftsmen who were skilled in working with 19th century timber, planks, stone and brick and now the open air site is made up of restaurants, designer shops and stores among other concepts. This seems like a fun open-air concept, but only when it gets warmer in Canada.These are the three that were open when we went:
This of this like the lux-designer-boutique European elevated Bed Bath & Beyond with cute home gadgets, stationary, light fixtures, candles and other goods for the home and beyond.
El Catrin Destileria
This is one of the main restaurants there. There was a wedding party and photoshoot happening outside when we got there.
This store was super cute and had witchy vibes. They also had jewelry and stationary which to me go hand in hand. The owner was friendly and talkative and let people pet her dog. Dogs are always a win for me.
This is a mix of farmers markets, used vintage + consignment, and local flavor. This is like the Wynwood of Toronto except they haven't sold out and all the stores and shoppes are hipster Central. Wynwood before Wynwood- #NoShade.
We loved it here and walked around as much as I could take it. Eventually we heard Colombian salsa coming from the speakers of a store and I could not believe my ears. We had a quick little impromptu sidewalk dance and kept it moving. We wondered around the stores and eventually ended up at this bookstore/ trinket shoppe called Causa. We bought two rings from the Peruvian owner who makes them by hand and lives upstairs with his wife and three kids.
Where to eat
The Hogtown Vegan
This was the first place we hit up for a meal and for sure this was one of the best vegan restaurants we ate at while in Toronto . They had these bomb seitan chik-n-wings and mac and cheese. They offered soul food vegan items and regular veggie burgers. Everything is plant based and after I asked our server if she could recommend other places for us to explore she gave us a list in the back of the receipt. I love when people do that for us.
Everywhere we go we have to try that city's Pizza and Phó. We chose TrueTrue based on the fact they were the only pizza spot open late on New Year's Eve. I thought it was pricey given that the pizza is thin and didn't fill me the way I expected. Their branding is very modern-millenial type of vibe. Think Tiffany's meets modern graphic design which may add to the price because they had these fancy looking takeout boxes. We got the vegan version of The Aristocrat think Classic Tomato, Fior di Latte, Garlic Confit, Pesto, Arugula, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, minus the Fresh Parmesan in the largest size and paid $21 plus tax. I did like that they had the option to make the pizza vegan-friendly with substitutions for other toppings.
Bloomers is the shit.
The girl behind the counter had these amazing long eyelashes. We exchanged mascara brands and she told me the secret to her growth is coconut oil. Of course I would remember this- anyway we scouted this place because of course it is vegan and they were right next to a liquor store where we bought champagne for our NYE celebration. If you live in cold weather or travel during cold months you'll find yourself making stops for tea or hot chocolate which is why we went in- this is the norm when you're trying to stay warm. Bloomer's had crazy good crumb cake which babe loves. Later that night we went back for takeout. We had the Seitan- buffalo wings and truffle fries. God Bless Canada.
There was a lot of hype about this bakery's cinnamon buns. We each ordered one but they had no tea or hot chocolate which made the experience OK. They also don't have a place to sit and enjoy their delicate desserts and honestly I wasn't trying to be chilling outside.*pun* intended. I thought the buns were good but not line-around-the-corner good.
Pho Tien Thanh
We legit sing this every time our phó hits the table.
This place was incredible. You know when you walk into a place and by the look of the people eating there you can tell it's going to be good? That was Phó Tien Thanh, locals and Vietnamese families were packed next to each other at the tables. Because the space is limited we found ourselves sharing a table with two other girls. Honestly, I loved that. I wish they would have spoken to us but I think they thought we didn't want to be bothered. Anyway, I love when people go out of their way to make veggie-broth for their phó. Most places have beef both with vegetables and we don't eat that. We also had an order of veggie spring rolls and boba tea for dessert.
Moon Bean Coffee Company
This was a quaint little shop. The owner and two ladies are behind the counter making coffee while they ring people up. It's quite the talent if you think about it. They had a beautiful vegan chai-latte and this fresh veggie sandwich like no other. This was the only time I spoke Spanish there because the owner made small talk with me in my mother language. I think he was happy he finally had someone to practice with. I thought it was sweet. I love when people go out of their way to connect with each other.
Girllllll, she's expensive. Let me tell you something about problem I have with eating out vegan. My wife Melani is a vegan cook. If you follow her Instagram @MeloMelz then you for a fact have seen the way my Dominican boo throws down in the kitchen. So yes, I have a problem going out to eat and spending madd money on food I know for a fact my wife can cook better ( humble brag.) Also, what I'll pay for our check there with entrees, dessert and drinks is probably what I'll spend on a weeks worth of groceries at my Nicaraguense papi's corner market where we do our groceries. It's called La Guardia if you ever happen to be by Little Haiti- right before Wynwood (#ShamlessPlug)
Now that I got that off my chest- this place is GORGEOUS and they are coming to Miami this year so of course we will be there supporting. This was going to be wifey's birthday dinner spot but we ended somewhere else and came here for dessert and drinks. Dessert was delicious, drinks were good and I was happy she blew out a candle for her birthday. I will say that I emailed them to make reservations and they emailed back but when we got there that night they didn't have the confirmation. We got lucky we got sat, but Planta y'all need to do better with that.
Khao San Road
We hit up this spot for pad thai noodles. It was cute inside and hipster but I can't say it was spectacular. The food was good and it was a nice date.
If I'm going to be honest, I need you all to reserve your judgements for a second because although this is a Vegan Foodie Guide, I had thee best eggs benedict I've ever tasted in my life at Lola's. I think a big reason why I stick with my veganism is because I allow myself flexibility when I travel. I'm not perfect, I'm human and this is what works for me. So if I want to have some eggs every so often I will do it. I'm an American, I know my rights.
I ordered the Mushroom Benny $14.50. It came with a warm English muffin, nice brown caramelized onions, fresh baby spinach, roasted mushrooms with just enough bite, and plump organic eggs that sat high and generously dripped yolk and Hollandaise consuming everything beneath it ( can I get a hallelujah? ) they came with a salad and Lola's home fries. #LawdJesus
This place was sheek and cozy with a hipster flair and not stuck up fancy but more like: I'm in my mid twenties and I have a lil fun money to spend so I can cough up the $14 drink prices because #exploring. Melani spotted this place as we were driving and in the mood for a drink. Street view the venue has a yellow neon line in place of what would be a formal name sign and to enter you walk through a small alley and right above the door you'll find another neon but this one is in the shape of a tiger head. That night I was craving sage- they don't have formal drink menus minus the beer so I just told the bartender I wanted something with sage and he got to work. The drink hit the spot and the bartenders were so cute, and friendly and chatty so we stayed for couple of beers and then headed back to the Airbnb.
Wifey and I are huge thrifters so obviously we hit up consignment stores when we travel.
This spot was well stocked and we bought my mother-in-law a hat for $7. I'm not sure why I got the vibe that the owner was following us around the store, but I did which was weird so we bought the hat and rode out.
Queen St Warehouse
This was the last spot we ate before returning to Miami because it was one of few catering to people's New Year's hangover. Every dish is $4.95 and they had a really fun hipster staff. At one point the music went up, the lights went down, and trap and hip-hop started blasting out of the speakers. It was 10 a.m. I was drinking a Bloody Mary and I was unbothered. Total bill was about $25 with tip.
I would recommend Toronto to anyone who is thinking about going to Canada even in the winter. The city has all types of cultural and artistic activities. The city is clean and Canadian's are helpful, nice, friendly, and respectful people. Plus they never looked at us crazy, which if you've read my previous #72Hours posts you know that matters to me. #GayCoupleProbz.
The architecture was especially nice.
Finally, this was one of the best cities we've traveled to for plant based food. Being vegan doesn't have to be difficult and Toronto proved that.
If you have any questions about traveling to Toronto or if you have feedback on your experience email me to: email@example.com.
Stay safe and Roam Free.