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What the Locals Do in Toronto
To get a sense of Toronto's culture and indulge in some of its pleasures, start by familiarizing yourself with the rituals of daily life. These are a few highlights—things you can take part in easily.
What do the Leafs and the Titanic have in common? They both look great until they hit the ice. Cue rim shot. Leafs fans—or "Leafs Nation" as they are known collectively—are accustomed to jokes, rooting as they do for a team that hasn't won the Stanley Cup since 1967. Despite heartbreak after heartbreak, they stand by every year praying for a slot in the playoffs. If the opportunity arises to attend a game (don't bank on it—nearly every one has been sold out for six decades), count yourself luckier than most Torontonians. For hockey fans or an intro to the sport, the Hockey Hall of Fame is a must. Seeing a hockey game at a sports bar is a true Canadian pastime: grab a brewski and join locals in heckling the refs on bad calls. When the Leafs score, the mirth is contagious.
With around half the urban population born outside Canada, and even more with foreign roots, Toronto redefines "cosmopolitan." Ethnic enclaves—Little Portugal, Greektown, Corso Italia (the "other Little Italy," on St. Clair West), and Koreatown—color downtown. It's fun to explore the unique architecture and shopping in each neighborhood, and dining out can be as exotic as you choose. Toronto's multiculturalism is evident in many of its annual festivals: the glittering Toronto Caribbean Carnival (formerly Caribana) along the waterfront; the Taste of the Danforth, featuring Greek musicians, dances, and plenty of souvlaki; the raucous celebration of Mexican Independence Day in Nathan Phillips Square; and the India Bazaar's annual festival with dancing, chaat (savory snacks), and henna tattooing.
Coffee, Coffee Everywhere
Morning rush hour is the best time to observe, but not participate in (lines are out the door), the ritual of caffeine and sugar intake at Tim Horton's, a coffee chain with a distinctly Canadian image and affordable prices. Go for a "double-double" (two cream, two sugar) and a box of Timbits (donut holes). But plenty of Torontonians eschew "Tim's" for more quality brews, and the city has no shortage of independently owned cafés with stellar espresso, exquisitely steamed milk, and often a fair-trade and organic options, especially along Queen Street (east of Broadview or west of Spadina) and in the Annex and Little Italy. Some of the best are Crema (Yorkville, the Junction), Sam James (the Annex, Little Italy), Dark Horse (Chinatown, Queen East, and Queen West), and Manic (Little Italy).
You don't need a car to escape Toronto's bustle and summer heat to indulge in a calm, cool day by the lake. A rite of passage for every Torontonian is a warm-weather trip to the Islands—a 15-minute ferry trip from downtown—for a barbecue, picnic, bike rides, or the Centreville amusement park. Or head to the east side of the city for strolls along the boardwalk in the Beach neighborhood. Those with wheels spend weekends on the Niagara Peninsula dallying in antiques shops in charming towns and sampling wines or head north to relax in the Muskoka Lakes cottage country or hike and camp in Algonquin Provincial Park.
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