Of course, since I’m already here, Toronto’s enduring greatness surrounds me every day. And IMHO, these 11 spots are where it shines the brightest:
Toronto Islands Park
A 15-minutes ferry ride from the foot of Bay St., the car-free and bike-friendly Islands feel like a faraway slice of cottage country. I’m especially fond of Ward’s Island, home to one of Toronto’s finest stretches of sand, the bucolic Island Cafe, arguably the best disc-golf course in Canada — E.T. Seton Park also has a superb track — and a community of whimsical cottages that’s straight out of a Tim Burton flick. Plus, few places are better for admiring the stunning downtown skyline.
St. Lawrence Market
I love visiting this massive covered foodie paradise on weekdays in the early afternoon, and making a meal of sampling the wares at the scores of vendors spread over the market’s two floors.
I’m very proud of the fact that I’ve taken the stage in the same checkerboard-floored venue celebrated in the Tragically Hip’s “Bobcaygeon.” The ‘Shoe, along with spots like Massey Hall, Lee’s Palace and the Opera House, make Toronto the ultimate Canadian destination for live-music fans.
Hockey Hall of Fame
This 57,000-square-foot shrine features 15 exhibit areas cover everything from a vintage replica of the Montreal Canadiens' dressing room to an interactive area where you can snap pucks at a computer simulation of goalie Ed Belfour. My only quibble: Why isn’t an entire wing devoted to the Calgary Flames?
I have a thing for roller coasters, and the country’s largest theme park has the Western Hemisphere’s greatest variety of them. There’s Leviathan, Wonderland’s tallest, and Vortex, Canada’s first suspended roller coaster. To quote a visiting cousin: “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!”
Royal Ontario Museum
I’m not really a museum person, but the ROM wins me over every time. Behind its trippy "Michael Lee-Chin Crystal" façade more than six million items are housed in 40 galleries, with world-class collections showcasing dinosaurs, Near Eastern, African and East Asian art, and European and Canadian history.
The Scarborough Bluffs
This 14-km-long sedimentary escarpment provides a dramatic backdrop for more of Toronto's best beaches, a network of marsh-crossing boardwalks, and an expansive marina that’s home to fishing charters that gave me an afternoon of salmon fishing I’ll never forget.
Just west of Chinatown, this warren of streets takes its neighbour’s ethnic energy and adds a dose of bohemian style. Ramshackle storefronts house everything from vintage clothing boutiques to taco joints, while street performers swallow swords and do their best Dylan impressions for passers-by.
This collection of brick heritage buildings and cobblestone streets is transformed into a festive wonderland in December, and in summer practically overflows with outdoor patios. The Mill Street Brew Pub, for instance, pours more than a dozen house beers.
Ripley's Aquarium of Canada
For aquarium enthusiasts such as myself, it doesn’t get much better than the shark-filled “Dangerous Lagoon.” The 2.5-million-litre display is home to scores of the 450 water-dwelling species that call Ripley's home, and can be viewed from below via a glass-domed moving sidewalk that’s the longest of its kind in North America.
High Park Zoo
Toronto is home to Canada’s largest zoo — which is fantastic — and this isn’t even remotely it. But set as it is in the city proper’s largest and best-equipped park, this free-admission menagerie is charming in its own modest way...kind of like Toronto in general.