It Ain’t Over Yet: Summer Fun in the City of Toronto

Every year it’s tough to see the signs of summer’s end: The Ex is in full swing; school supplies are on sale and the first tinges of red, orange and yellow appear on the leaves.

But it ain’t over yet; so before we begin to hygge and hibernate, let’s make the most of what we have left. And the good news is, at this time of year, you don’t have to go far. We have the best weather right here, not to mention world-class attractions, hotels and restaurants. Here are a few staycation ideas to squeeze in the last drop of summer and store up sunny memories for the winter ahead.

1.       Sign-up for a tour.

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“Let’s just say it was all good,” answered my son when he was asked what his favourite place was on Culinary Adventure Co’s King and Queen West Brunch Food Tour. We all agreed. There was not a single stop that wasn’t fun and/or tasty on this culinary excursion that explores the hip neighbourhoods in Toronto’s west end. We started at 11AM with a latte and a wickedly decadent chocolate chip cookie, and the culinary goodness continued into the afternoon with thin-crust kale and Parmesan pizza, a full sit-down meal at a Mexican cantina and desserts from Italian and French bakeries. Though mostly about the food, we also learned about the history of the area, including the artistry of Graffiti Alley (where Rick Mercer used to rant).

Other exceptional tours to try are Redwing Institute’s culture and discovery walk through Humber River Valley, a Distillery District Segway Tour with Go Tours Canada and Bruce Bell’s St. Lawrence Market/Old Town Tour.

2.       Visit an attraction you’ve never been to.

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Throw a pot at the Gardiner, Canada’s national ceramic museum, or browse flashy shoes that have adorned the famous feet of Pablo Picasso, Marilyn Monroe, Princess Di and Elizabeth Taylor at the Bata Shoe Museum. Then there’s the Aga Khan Museum, McMichael Gallery, Spadina House and the Necropolis Cemetery, all interesting places to spend an afternoon.

3.      Or revisit classic sights.

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When was the last time you were at the Toronto Zoo? Or the Royal Ontario Museum? Ontario Science Centre? I bet it’s been a while.  Toronto’s top attractions are constantly changing and there’s always something new to explore or a nostalgic classic display that brings back memories. An excellent way to see the city’s top attractions, without waiting in any lines is to purchase a Toronto CityPASS, which will give you access to Casa Loma, CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium, ROM and the Toronto Zoo or Ontario Science. You’ll save almost 40% on the price of admission, too.

4.      Venture out to a snazzy Yorkville restaurant.

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Before TIFF descends on the city, enjoy the glitz and glamour of Yorkville for yourself at one of its stylish restaurants. A fine choice is STK, where Chef Tommy McHugh cooks up truly divine meals, like Spanish-influenced Mediterranean sea bass or steak filets that melt in your mouth. The signature dessert, sticky toffee pudding, was the best I’d ever tasted. With sleek decor, a lively atmosphere and lots of fashionable folks milling about, it’s also ideal for people watching.

Another great option is Cibo Wine Bar, the newest Italian eatery in the neighbourhood.  And while you’re enjoying sumptuous lobster ravioli made fresh in-house and thin-crust pizza creations, watch the flashy Mercedes, Lamborghinis and Jaguars drive by.

5.      Lace up your skates at Ontario Place.

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I never thought I’d be telling the kids to put sunscreen on before going skating, but I found myself saying exactly that when we took them to Ontario Place to test out its summer rink overlooking Lake Ontario. The synthetic surface is a bit more of a workout than ice, but you can’t beat the views of the lake. Admission is free, and rentals are available.

At the park, which has just been recently reopened, you can also find an IMAX theatre, volleyball courts, life-size chess, boat rentals, a food stand and other recreational activities. Best of all, there were no crowds despite the prime waterfront downtown location.

6.      Get locked up (and possibly) escape a castle.

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“Mom, you were so into it!” The kids were surprized to see me with clipboard in hand, running around, excitedly looking for clues in order to find coordinates of the enemy’s U-boats. We all had a blast at Casa Loma’s Escape from the Tower, a surprisingly immersive escape room game, which has real actors urging us to save the day.

The experience is based on the castle’s actual history.  During WWII, the Royal Navy began assembling Sonar, the newest top secret weapon, in the stables. Nobody suspected a thing. Maybe that’s part of the reason it felt so real to play. Warning: it’s not easy. Only about 18% of participants manage to escape, and we weren’t one of them. We did come oh-so-close though.

7.      Book a hotel room.

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For the ultimate staycation experience, book a night or two at one of the city’s inspired hotels. While the cottaging folks are fighting the traffic, you’ll have the city to yourself and enjoy it all in style.

Hotel X – This new resort-styled luxury hotel has to be seen to be believed. Located downtown, next to the Exhibition Place, the 30-storey property has unobstructed sightlines of the CN Tower, Toronto Islands and Lake Ontario. The floor-to-ceiling windows in the rooms show off these stunning views to their fullest, but the best place to gawk is from the rooftop. High above the city, you’ll find a shimmering pool surrounded by lounge chairs and the Falcon SkyBar, a multi-storied cocktail lounge and gathering space.

The Anndore House -- Hip and modern, this new boutique hotel, one block south of Yonge and Bloor, has 113 rooms and suites, decorated in a chic mid-century modern style. Though completely fitted out with all the convenient technology, it has charming retro touches. A turntable with a vinyl record collection, a rotary telephone and a red kettle, along with artsy postcards and an adorable stuffed owl, add some whimsy to the amply-sized rooms. Above all, there’s a feeling of home, a ‘cool pad’ type of abode, the kind you want to invite friends back to for Mad-Men-inspired cocktails. 

Chelsea Hotel – Located smack in the middle of downtown, next to the Eaton Center and Yonge-Dundas Square, this hotel is a hit for families, especially with younger kids. The 130-foot corkscrew waterslide will tire out even the most energetic; and if that’s not enough there’s an activity centre complete with the hotel’s very own rabbits, a teen lounge for older kids to hang out in and baby-sitting services. A favourite feature for adults are the rooms’ balconies, perfect for enjoying the city buzz and the glowing skylines when the kids drift off to sleep.

For more last-minute ideas on summer fun, visit www.seetorontonow.