Family Road Trip Guide: Toronto, Ontario

Families will enjoy the familiar and the unique when visiting our northern neighbor.

Just a short drive across the newly re-opened Canadian border and you can find yourself in another world. I have been going to Canada to visit my father since I was a young child so it feels like a second home. But taking my kids to visit one of my favorite cities is a completely different experience full of wonder and unique activities and sights to explore.

I’ve discovered that Toronto is definitely a bustling city that has the welcome mat out for American families.

Getting to Toronto, Ontario

Crossing the border sounds like a daunting task, particularly in pandemic times, but with a little due diligence, crossing the Canadian border can be a breeze. Here is what you need for driving to Canada:

  • Pre-arrival information entered into ArriveCan App
  • Valid U.S. passport or proof of citizenship. There are mixed answers on what children need when traveling via car. You can read more about what is required HERE.
  • Negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of travel for everyone 5 and older.
  • Be prepared to answer lots of questions about where you are going and how long you will be in the country.

Photo credit: Thomas Kubik

There are three entry points through Michigan. The Ambassador Bridge, the Detroit/Windsor Tunnel and the Blue Water Bridge that crosses in Port Huron to Sarnia.

Each port of entry has unique reasons to pass through. Kids will get the biggest thrill going through the tunnel and under the Detroit River. The fact that you can’t actually see anything in the tunnel does not seem to keep children from squealing with delight. The Ambassador Bridge gives an amazing view of both countries. It is also ideal for oversized vehicles (although the tunnel can handle vehicles up to 12 feet, 8 inches high). The Blue Water Bridge is often the preferred bridge for those coming from outside the metro Detroit area because you can avoid the city traffic.

Once you cross over, it is a smooth 3.5- to 4-hour ride to Toronto, with plenty of rest stops, restaurants and gas along the way! 

Toronto Harbourfront. Photo credit: Thomas Kubik

Things to Do in Toronto, Ontario

  • Walk the Harbourfront. Grab a boat tour, rent a kayak or have a picnic in the serene Music Garden.
  • Visit the landmark CN Tower. Ride all the way to the top for stunning views of the city.
  • Ripley’s Aquarium is one of the best aquariums. It is stunning and has tons of hands-on activities for kids!
  • Get a mix of art and natural history at the Royal Ontario Museum.
  • Feel like royalty at Casa Loma castle and gardens (a hotspot for movies and TV series to film).
  • Stroll the multi-cultural open-air market of Kensington Market. This community has worked hard to keep the market and surrounding area as locally owned as possible!
  • Visit all of the unique neighborhoods from Chinatown to Little Portugal! 

Where to Stay in Toronto, Ontario

There are tons of options in downtown Toronto for families to stay, including a plethora of hotels and Airbnbs. However, the best options for families will likely be the ones closest to where you want to be.

  • Marriott Eaton Centre: Attached to the Massive Eaton Center Shopping Mall, this is a great location with access to tons of attractions, and any quick needs you might have while traveling with kids.

●  The Westin Harbour Castle, Toronto is close to the Harbourfront, which means easy enjoyable walks along the water, just steps from your hotel.

  • The Hilton Toronto is a bit more centrally located, which would make everything a bit easier to get to.

St. Lawrence Market. Photo credit: Destination Toronto

Places to Eat in Toronto, Ontario

I completely credit having family in Toronto for making sure we eat at the best local and unique restaurants. I would easily just go into the first restaurant that had mac and cheese on the menu, for ease.

But here are some of the cool places we have grabbed a bite to eat:

  • Gushi Japanese Street food is a new obsession from our most recent visit. The Japanese Fried Chicken is unique and delicious. Order the OG – Original Gushi Chicken Meal for the adults or any kids who can take a little kick to their meal. For younger foodies, you can ask for the sauce on the side.
  • St Lawrence Market is a great stop to visit local vendors and grab some yummy treats. It has one of the most diverse and unique collections of restaurants around. A family tradition for us is to grab a peameal bacon sandwich from Carousel Bakery, located on the first floor. Afterward, you can cruise through and choose your dessert of choice from one of the many bakeries and vendors.
  • Pearl Chinese Cuisine is the place to go for dim sum in Toronto. Dim Sum is awesome because you can order a little bit of everything and surely the kids will eat something that isn’t a hot dog or chicken nugget.
  • The Old Spaghetti Factory is going to give you the tried-and-true pasta favorites in an extremely family-friendly environment. The unique decor and fun atmosphere will lake a memorable meal.
  • The Chase is going to be the place to get the family dolled up for a little roof-top dining. No need to worry, their service is top notch, even towards the smallest guest.

Toronto in fall, with CN Tower. Photo credit: Destination Toronto

Why Our Family Loves Toronto, Ontario

Toronto is a perfect balance of familiar and new. There are tons of staples to choose from that are similar to what your family can find in the U.S. but the city also has unique restaurants and culture that makes the visit memorable. Every time we visit, we find a new gem or a fun place to hang out.

So, boredom is not an option when visiting. Much like most of our favorite locations, you can do a lot (museums, shops, restaurants) or just walk around for a day. You won’t be disappointed either way.

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