Although not the capital of the diverse and vibrant Canada, Toronto (properly pronounced Tar-on-ah if you’re a local) leads the country with its incredible arts and culture scene, love for small business, and thriving community of social innovators and sustainability advocates. Toronto is hands down a leader in innovation. Regardless of industry, you’ll find communities spread across the city implementing innovative strategies encouraging residents to be more mindful of how they personally impact humans, animals and mother earth on a daily basis, especially within the hospitality and tourism sector.
Torontonians don’t refer to the CN Tower or downtown core as the epicentre of the city’s excitement. Locals thrive in the many culturally-themed neighbourhoods, and arts and outdoors spaces, browsing locally owned shops and cafes. When summer hits, you’ll find us out exploring Toronto’s lesser known gorgeous beaches, islands and outdoor market spaces.
Green Suitcase Eats at:
The west side of Toronto, between Spadina and High Park, is where the hipsters reside, and for good reason. Along Ossington, a popular strip between Queen Street West and Bloor Street, you’ll find an array of awesome spots for food, drinks and play. My favorite: Union, a farm to table restaurant serving up dishes with organic ingredients, using only seasonal fruits and vegetables that come from within 100km of the contemporary spot. The daily rotating menu is inspired by the classic Paris bistro and it’s “simple, hearty fare”. You’ll always find something unique, delicious and dietary friendly, with a stocked bar that’s sure to please.
Although another French inspired cafe and restaurant, Cafe Cancun serves up a mix of actual traditional French dishes. This Instagram worthy spot sits along Harbord Street, a small strip between Ossington and Avenue Road known for its delicious and locally owned restos, bakeries and homeware shops. Cafe Cancan works with a local sustainability consulting organization called Terus that empowers Toronto-based restaurants to implement strategies that minimize waste and maximize profits. Hint: Cafe Cancan has become quite infamous for their delectable brunch.
All vegan everything? Head to Grasshopper. Located at the north entrance to Kensington Market, at College Street and Augusta Avenue, Grasshopper is the ultimate lunch or dinner spot. Every dish, whether it’s their Chick-Un Nuggets or their “Pulled Pork” sandwich served with sesame fries, you’re in for a treat with their entirely plant-based menu. Hint: do NOT forget dessert (Vegan Blueberry Cheesecake all the way!) accompanied by a Sloane Tea, Toronto’s favorite fair trade, loose leaf tea brand, blended and packaged in Canada.
Green Suitcase Hangs at (neighborhoods):
Sandwiched in-between Chinatown and Little Italy, blink and you’ll miss the tucked away marketplace of Kensington. This two-street market is a tourist sanctuary, but also the millennial brunch and thrift shopping spot, filled with good and cheap eats, and all things Cannabis culture. With stores, walls and streets covered in graffiti and art, Kensington is a photo-lovers go-to while in Toronto. On weekends, browse the carless market, brushing shoulders with Toronto’s hippy community; on weekdays, grab a Swedish iced coffee from FIKA while browsing one of a kind finds.
Home to some of the oldest bars, cafes and shops in Toronto, the Annex is a culture and heritage haven. Sit in for a indie film at the century old Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, or a live performance from Toronto’s musical theatre community at Randolph Theatre, settled in a 1800s church. The Annex sits along Bloor Street between Spadina Avenue and Bathurst Street. It is walking distance to Kensington, Koreatown and Little Italy, making it the perfect place to stroll before heading out to the surrounding neighbourhoods for dinner and drinks.
Notorious shopper? Queen Street West is the place to be; locally owned boutiques filled with unique finds from across North America and beyond, intertwined with coffee shops perfect for the Instagram lover. Grab the streetcar when you’re done and head east to check out the shops of Queen East, conveniently located along the Toronto beaches. You don’t want to miss the sidewalk sales on artisan jewelry and homewares, handcrafted by Toronto craftsmen, or a vegan ice cream with your toes in the sand.
Green Suitcase Stays at:
This certified B Corp hotel is a Toronto favorite. Its success is driven from the hotel’s strong ethics in sustainability, passion for the arts (each room is designed by local Toronto artists!), and innovative approach to its food and beverage menu, all sourced locally. Torontonians visit regularly for creative cuisine, drinks and events, from TV trivia to epic dance parties.
The Drake was a well established brand long before the infamous rapper Drake took over the Western world’s reference to Toronto. No, he does not own the property, but you could definitely catch him there when he’s in TO! This artsy-fartsy hotel is always quite busy, as you’ll find locals dancing up a storm in the basement, or lounging on the rooftop day or night with delicious cocktails in hand. Oh yes, the cocktail menu is a staple at The Drake. The boutique hotel is located just down the street from the Gladstone Hotel, making both ideal choices for the traveling hipster looking to explore the art scene of Queen West.
This green hostel is ideal for the responsible traveler. The newly renovated property sits right outside of Kensington Market and Little Italy along College Street. Powered and heated by solar energy, and equipped with wastewater heat recovery and LED lighting, Plant Traveler proves to be one of the most energy efficient and accessible spots in the 6ix. Stay in a mixed or gender specific dorm, or private room during your stay.
Green Suitcase Plays at:
This incredible arts nonprofit organization offers fun, cultural and innovative programming in four different locations across the city, including the Toronto Islands! From their farmers markets at their Wychwood Barns location, to visionary showcases at their Youngplace right off of Queen Street West, there’s always something going on for all ages and is sure to inspire your creative soul.
Whether you’re looking for a bike ride along the water, bird watch from a kayak, show it all off at our nudist beach, or dine with a view of the city, hop on a ferry from Toronto’s Port Authority at the bottom of Yonge Street and explore the islands of Toronto. Young ones in tow? We’ve got a whole kid-size amusement park onsite too!
Also known as “brickworks” is an old train warehouse turned community hub showcasing sustainability at its best. The green space sits in the valley of Toronto next to the Don Valley highway, but don’t be fooled, the quiet sanctuary is bursting with bustling wildlife and nature, with beautiful trails to get lost on. On weekends, browse farmers markets, join in on creative and meditation workshops, or mindful events surrounding the circular economy, such as clothing swaps, hosted by the Toronto Tool Library.
If you’re all about good coffee, beers and spirits, the cobblestones streets of the Distillery is where you want to be. Grab a fair trade, bird-friendly coffee from Balzac’s, a table at Mill Street Brewery’s beer hall (don’t forget their free tasting tour!), or browse art galleries and workshops nestled into corners surrounding the exclusive Distillery boutiques. The ‘hood is walking distance to the downtown core and a great stop on the way to the beaches.
Ready to go to Toronto? Get started with Green Suitcase Travel.
Jazzmine is a social entrepreneur with a passion for responsible travel, conscious consumption, ethical fashion and community development. When not at home in Toronto, Canada, you’ll find her running Hara House, north India’s first zero waste guesthouse. Follow Jazzmine around India and the world on Instagram @jazzmineraine or at SunshineandRaine.com