I arrived in Toronto in early May, on one of the first warm-ish weekends of the year, as locals were beginning to peel off layers and swarm the patios and parks blooming with fluffy cherry blossoms. After a quick three-hour flight from Miami—about the time it takes to jet to New York—I immediately set off on foot to explore Canada’s largest metropolis. Walking the bustling streets, I was struck by all the beautiful faces and different languages humming around me. As one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world—more than half of its residents were born outside Canada—Toronto boasts a myriad of exotic enclaves that will even impress someone coming from the melting pot of Miami. (Hint: There are three Chinatowns.) Add in soaring skyscrapers, hot-spot restaurants and bars, clusters of old theaters, cutting-edge art museums and galleries, high-energy sports arenas, green spaces and nearby islands, and the city offers the chance for a chock-full weekend getaway.
Stay Like a Star
To be in the midst of it all, check into the 96-room Bisha Hotel (bishahoteltoronto.com) in the bustling Entertainment District, which is the bold vision of hospitality impresario Charles Khabouth of INK Entertainment and managed by Loews Hotels. (Miamians might recognize Khabouth for his Byblos restaurant outpost on South Beach, which has two locations in Toronto.) Like the international jet-set crowd and celebrities that sashay throughout the dimly lit lobby, Bisha impresses with its retro-luxe, moody vibe marked by black marble, walls swathed in crushed velvet and boundary-pushing art. Rooms and suites are named after stars and fitted with black-lacquer bar carts, towering TV stands that serve as mirrors, oversized Art Deco armoires, and sleek oval soaking tubs situated on heated floors (absolute heaven after a long day of strolling around the city). The fashion-meets-art hotel has bragging rights to more than 3,000 pieces of art, so hallways are like a gallery walk thanks to Andy Warhol prints and even supermodel Naomi Campbell’s powerful Interview magazine cover. And, if you’re channeling your inner rocker, Lenny Kravitz decked out an entire floor with 14 guest rooms and a pair of over-the-top suites. Each of the hotel’s venues purposely has a different feel: Sultry lobby bar Mr. C’s is anchored by sculptural chandeliers, framed scarfs from a Damien Hirst-Alexander McQueen collab, and a fireplace where a well-heeled crowd sipping Old Fashioned cocktails mingles at night, while the 44th floor houses rooftop restaurant/bar Kōst, which feels like a breath of fresh air thanks to a décor of light woods, vibrant artwork and epic views of the CN Tower. On weekends, a sceney crowd swarms the infinity pool for pictures of the panoramic views and to sip The Selfie, a gin libation rimmed with rose petals, and brunch on OMG-coconut pancakes.
City & Shore
At night the Entertainment District comes alive, and from Bisha Hotel you’re within walking distance of TIFF Bell Lightbox, home to the Toronto International Film Festival; old theater houses like the Royal Alexandra Theatre, where the latest Broadway shows take center stage; and sports arenas where the Raptors play ball. Also nearby is Toronto’s famous CN Tower, a tourist haven where you’ll shoot up the elevator for breathtaking vistas of the city and Lake Ontario, and your legs will seriously shake as you tiptoe across the glass platform. Brave souls can suit up for the EdgeWalk, a thrilling walk around the tower’s ledge 116 stories above ground. After numerous safety checks, harnessed participants are attached to an overhead safety rail and encouraged to lean over the ledge to capture unbelievable photos. Just do it.
Take time to roam Toronto’s endless neighborhoods, each with its own distinct personality. Stroll the charming cobblestone streets of the Distillery District lined with shops and restaurants housed in beautifully restored buildings and brimming with murals and interactive art worthy of an Instagram feed. An intoxicating smell hits your nose upon entering Soma Chocolatemaker, where you’ll sample unique chocolates like crystalized ginger dipped in Peruvian chocolate or sip the spicy Mayan hot chocolate. Move on to Yorkville for its swanky designer shops, galleries and museums — fulfill your Carrie Bradshaw dreams at the Bata Shoe Museum to peep an impressive array of celebrity footwear. Foodies should head to Old Town to graze their way through St. Lawrence Market, a maze-like market that’s been around for more than 200 years, and browse stalls packed with meats, fresh produce, artisanal cheeses, baked goods and prepared foods. One of the most popular stops is Uno Mustachio for made-from-scratch Italian veal and eggplant parmigiana sandwiches that are consistently voted the best in Toronto.
You can literally eat your way around the globe, thanks to a sprawling Chinatown, Greektown, Little Italy, Gerrard India Bazaar, Koreatown and even Little Malta. Brunch at hip La Société, a French bistro with a stunning stained-glass ceiling and bike that dangles from the ceiling; and make sure to stop in the pink-and-gold hued lounge of Coffee Champagne Oysters for a bougie night of bubbly, caviar and oysters topped with Champs. Hopefully you’ll be invited into the glass Champagne room, where—well, we won’t give it all away, but you’ll suddenly be transported into another secret lounge.
For an easy escape from the bustling city, take a 13-minute ferry ride to the Toronto Islands, the most popular being Centre Island. The ferry ride offers great photo opps of Toronto’s skyline as you cut through the water (especially at night, when the city is lit up), and once you’re there, wander past fountains, gardens, a pier that extends into Lake Ontario, a sandy beach and picnic areas—you’ll want to rent a bike to cover the most ground. City or shore, you pick how you want to experience Toronto—both are the right choice.