A Superficial Guide to Being One of Us…
A common fear we all have when traveling to a new destination is being pegged as an obvious tourist (which we are) and not fitting in with the locals. Don’t get me wrong, tourist things are tourist things for a reason and we shouldn’t discount that, but discovering the glory of a city in the shoes of a local, sheds a whole new light on our travel experience.
Living in the downtown core of Toronto for a year, moved me from a novice city wanderer to a seasoned intermediate. The following are some tips and tricks on how you can ditch the big bags, museums and shopping malls — hitting the streets as a local without anyone batting an eyelash.
Leave the Bag at Home
Photo By TheTorontoWeeaboo
This is not to say that Torontonians don’t carry backpacks, briefcases or messenger bags around to go to work or school. From our perspective, if we see someone with a large backpack or suitcase, aimlessly wandering the streets of Toronto, we tend to automatically categorize them as a tourist. Walking the streets free of that extra cargo not only gives a liberating feeling but will make you look less novice in the eyes of city dwellers. If the weather is looking very questionable, it is understandable to carry a small backpack or purse. In some respects, this can help you fit in as a “local” — by allowing you to hide your second layers instead of tying them around your waist (do people still do this?) and ditching the horrid fanny pack. I personally, whether at home or traveling, love to keep almost everything at my base, as it feels more natural to explore the city without being bogged down by heavy annoyances — it is actually even a part of my entire mantra of being a Pocket Wanderer. Give it a try!
Get Your Morning ‘Bucks
Photo Source: Pexels
Once you’ve left your hotel/Airbnb/wherever you’re staying, you need a coffee in hand. Now, I can’t assume all of you out there are coffee drinkers — tea or smoothie beverage will suffice. Starbucks is definitely a staple, but supporting a local coffee shop (some of my favourites being Quantum, Strange Love, Hot Black, Jimmy’s) will gain you extra points (per se). If you want to take the leap of faith, grabbing a bubble tea from Chinatown or any other nearby boba spot will make you look a little more seasoned in the art of a local. What a morning drink does, is show passerby’s that you are comfortable in “your own” city.
Put some TLC on that TTC Knowledge
Photo Source: Toronto Star
Don’t ask for directions. Just don’t. Although most Torontonians know the city like the back of their hands, they are generally in a rush and will end up giving you half-assed directions, putting you on the wrong subway line or saying they don’t know at all (which they do.) It’s best to download a map of all the TTC routes and give it a good gander before getting around the city. Google Maps is also a big help in navigating the streets and figuring out streetcar and subway times. I would love to tell you that you can rely on Toronto’s civilians to point you in the right direction, but that is most of the time, not the case.
Discover Some of Toronto’s Hippest Neighbourhoods
Photo Source: BlogTO
Ditch Yonge and Dundas and hit some of Downtown’s cooler neighbourhoods.
A few neighbourhoods to start:
- Korea Town
- Queen Street West
- The Annex
- Dundas West
- The Danforth
I get Google or a guidebook of choice is telling you that the Aquarium, ROM, Castleloma, The Harbour Front and so on are the top tourist attractions, but that won’t give the scope of what being a local in Toronto is really like. Sure, give yourself a day or two to tackle the CN Tower, The Eaton Centre and all those other tourist attractions, but after that, spend the rest of your time in the local neighbourhoods. You’ll see the cool, the weird and the darn right insane…but that’s Toronto!
Window Shop, Till You Drop
Photo Source: BlogTO
The true makings of an average student or young professional living in Toronto is walking into many stores and buying absolutely jack. After a long week of work or classes, we tend to blow off steam by wandering Toronto’s many, many shops! We want to buy everything. But then there is that little thing called rent and it is due next week. I find most of our weekends involve checking out cool hipster shops in the Ossington area or messing around in Chinatown. If you have a little cash on you, go ahead and spend, there is indeed a lot of cool things to choose from! If you are running low on the deniro though, walk in and out of shops at your leisure…no one will even bat an eyelash.
Ramen, Pho, Korean BBQ…Oh, My!
Photo Source: BlogTO
It may feel easy to gravitate towards the gruesomely marked up restaurants near Toronto’s biggest attractions out of sheer convenience, but I’m telling you, you will NOT get your money’s worth! Take the streetcar or subway over to Chinatown, K-Town or even North York to experience Toronto’s epic Asian food culture. You’ll generally pay a lot less and get a much tastier and authentic experience.
Some of my go-to places are:
- The Fry (Korean Fried Chicken)
- Kinton Ramen (Japanese Noodles)
- Dumpling House (Chinese Dumplings and Noodles)
- Little Piggy’s (Korean BBQ)
- Mr. Tonkatsu (Traditional Japanese Pork & Curry)
- Chine (Hotpot)
- Pai (Thai Food)
- Kyoto House (All You Can Eat Sushi)
- Pacific Mall (Everything Chinese and more)
If Asian is not your taste, you can hit up:
- Burger’s Priest (Best Burger in Toronto),
- Richmond Station (Best Sandwich in Toronto)
- Queen St. Warehouse ($5 Food)
- Arepa Cafe (Venezuelan Food)
- La Carnita (Mexican Food).
Take Me Out to the Bar Game!
Photo Source: BlogTO
You could hit up a Jays game if they are playing OR you can discover Toronto’s energetic and exciting nightlife. One thing I can admit is that Toronto has a nightlife like no other. Go to King Street West Thursday to Sunday and it is jam-packed up until 5am. Head out to Dundas Street West any night of the week and you will come across some of the coolest and eclectic bars and lounges. There are so many options for bars, you will need to be in Toronto years on end in order to experience it all. I’ve barely even scratched the surface!
Some of my favourites include (especially very local heavy):
- Bar 244 (Dive Bar)
- Get Well (Classic Arcade Bar)
- Bar Hop (Casual Bar)
- Communist’s Daughter (Classier Bar)
- Black Dice Cafe (Themed Bar)
- The Citizen (Restaurant/Bar/Lounge)
- Belfast Love (Cool Pub)
Your trip to Toronto is YOUR trip. If you want to hit up the Aquarium and Castleloma, by all means…they are pretty cool — but if you want the “local” experience with no strings attached, my superficial guide will get you to a perfect starting point. Hey, if someone even asks you if you’re from around here, feel free to give them a “Yah”… they probably won’t even think twice.
Are you planning on coming to Toronto anytime soon? If you are, where are you planning on staying? What are you planning on doing? Let me know in the comments below or on any of my social media platforms!