A blend of New York City vibrancy doused with the sophistication of San Francisco, a hint of European charm and the friendliness of a Midwestern town, Toronto offers several cultures – just under a four hours from Detroit.
The best views
Head up – straight up on the CN Tower, which stretches 1,815 feet in the air. Pay to ride the elevator to the LookOut level, which includes walking on a glass floor 1,122 feet above ground. Or venture to SkyPod at the highest point for 360-degree views (you might even spy Niagara Falls). The trek is pricy and lines long, but if you want to boast you’ve been to the top of the tallest tower in the Western Hemisphere, it’s worth it (cntower.ca; $35/adults, $25/ages 4-12*).
Or try an island view. Once sandbars, these strips of land south of downtown have become a haven for hikers, beach goers and thrill seekers. In fall, trails are still wide open, along with the Far Enough Farm. It houses 40 species of animals, many that your kids can pet – it’s open daily and has no admission price. Reach the islands via the mainland ferry docks.
Pandas to dinos
The Toronto Zoo is not only the country’s largest at 710 acres, but it’s also one of the few in the world to house giant pandas. Before your kids’ legs get too tired, visit the Tundra Trek, where the exhibit dips underneath polar bears swimming; the Great Barrier Reef that features moon jellies; and the real stars: Er Shun and Da Mao, a pair of giant pandas on loan from China roaming their own Giant Panda Interpretive Centre ($28/ages 13-64, $18/3-12, free/2 and under).
Next, head into the Royal Ontario Museum, aka the ROM, for 30 galleries of art, natural science and archeology displays. Top picks for kids? Two hands-on galleries and the Age of Dinosaurs gallery, where they’ll meet permanent resident Gordo – a 90-foot fossil of a Barosaurus ($17/adults, $15.50/ages 15-25, $14/4-14, free/4 and under*).
Plan to pack a lot in? Five of Toronto’s top attractions – the zoo, ROM and CN Tower, plus Casa Loma and Ontario Science Centre (see sidebar) – are available at one admission price with the CityPASS.
Explore the world
Part of Toronto’s appeal is its many ethnic enclaves. While there are distinct neighborhoods like Little Italy, GreekTown, Little Portugal and the Gerrard India Bazaar, if you have time for just one, head to Chinatown in the west part of downtown, where Chinese shops and restaurants spider through the streets.
Only in October
Toronto hosts festivals year round, but one of the most unique, Scotiabank Nuit Blanche, is Oct. 3. Find free contemporary art events from all day as the entire city becomes an outdoor art exhibit hall – the CN Tower even gets decked out.
You’ll need to swap money for Canadian dollars (“loonies,” as the locals say), but most places take credit cards, taking the guesswork out of the exchange rate – which often hovers around 1-to-1. Kids ages 16 and under can enter and exit Canada using their original birth certificate; just make sure you have your passport or enhanced driver’s license on hand.
Plot your trek to Toronto. Get started at seetorontonow.com.
*Note: Prices are in Canadian dollars. Exchange rates may vary. check online for latest.
Photo courtesy of Tourism Toronto