Sprawled along Lake Ontario’s northwestern shores in Canada, Toronto represents more than 200 different ethnic origins. Ontario’s capital city is composed of a cozy mix of cultural neighborhoods, eclectic shopping districts and a vibrant downtown. Each neighborhood funnels into the next in this pedestrian-friendly city that also has an excellent public transportation system consisting of subways, buses and streetcars. And taxis, of course, are everywhere.
The English-speaking, cosmopolitan city of Toronto, Canada has tall buildings, world-class museums and traffic just like my home city of Los Angeles. But its Canadian currency, signature peameal bacon sandwich and stately brick buildings in historic districts are reminders that you are not in the United States. Which, of course, means you need a passport.
One of the many things I love about Toronto is that it’s a diverse city with plenty of attractions for families of all ages. A few years ago my younger daughter and I spent a few days visiting several kid-friendly attractions. We spent a night in the Toronto Zoo, played at the Ontario Place waterfront park, and screamed on roller coasters at Canada’s Wonderland . This spring my older daughter spent three days visiting museums, walking through Toronto’s ethnic neighborhoods, and barhopping on St. Patrick’s Day. We also went skydiving (well, sort of) and swam with stingrays!
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Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada
Who would expect to swim with stingrays in a city? We’ve done this in the Caribbean, but this was our first time getting in the water with the velvety smooth creatures in an aquarium. The stingray experience includes admission to the aquarium and an interesting behind-the-scenes tour about animal care and food preparation. But the best part was climbing into the Ray Bay aquarium. Jealous onlookers watched as we sat in the water with clusters of cownose and southern stingrays swimming around us.
A good way to beat the long lines at this popular attraction high in the sky is with a lunch reservation at the revolving 360 The Restaurant. Delicious Canadian dishes prepared with regional ingredients are served as the restaurant slowly rotates for expansive city views more than 1,151 feet below. The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. With the purchase of two entrees you get easy access to observation stations. After lunch, we walked down to the glass floor observation deck – a popular attraction! Would you stand on a glass floor hundreds of feet above the ground?
Ontario Science Centre
There’s always so much going on at this massive museum. The bustling science center’s interactive experiences explore galaxies, the human body, earth, electricity and other concepts with hundreds of hands-on displays and programs. There are also planetarium shows and IMAX movies.
It’s best to start on the bottom level and work your way through the exhibition halls. One of our favorite exhibits is The Living Earth, which includes a tropical rainforest complete with a waterfall. The science center also has several demonstrations that are popular with families, so it’s important o get in line early. We watched an interactive science demonstration about how varying hot and cold temperatures affect living things.
TIFF Bell Lightbox
Even if you’re not a big film buff, it’s fun to poke around the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto’s entertainment district. Though serving as the headquarters for the Toronto International Film Festival, the facility also houses art exhibitions, Family Festivals and other kid-friendly programs. For example, during our springtime visit, we explored the digiPlaySpace digital playground, an award-winning traveling exhibition that features robotic building activities, stop-motion sports and other unique interactive installations. Families visiting this summer can enjoy movies together during TIFF Kids Classics on Saturday mornings through August.
Worth a stop in itself is O & B Canteen, a fresh market cafe and bakery located inside the TIFF building. In addition to tasty burgers and sandwiches, the cafe serves signature items, such as the Forbidden Rice Bowl, made with spicy grilled tofu, broccoli, edamame, kimchi and poached egg.
Designated a National Historic Site of Canada in 2006, the funky neighborhood is comprised of organic coffee shops, vintage clothing stores and small grocery markets stocked with imported goods. It’s a bohemian neighborhood that doesn’t appeal to everyone.
Friends of ours didn’t especially care for it. But my free spirited younger daughter said she could spend hours shopping for shirts, boots and jackets. My older daughter was content to sip coffee in a cafe while people watching.
Art Gallery of Toronto
Located within an easy walk from the Kensington district, this museum is recognizable from a distance for its striking architecture designed by Frank Gehry. Large galleries feature a huge Canadian collection, European masterworks and contemporary exhibits. There’s also an interactive space for kids and seasonal Family Sundays.
This indoor skydiving simulator is so much fun (although I have to say my daughter didn’t care for it). I knew what to expect having done this last year on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship (although I think that simulator was a tad smaller than this one).
After a group instruction and safety lesson, we donned jumpsuits, helmets and ear plugs (it’s loud in the wind tunnel!). One at a time, we stepped into a wind tunnel with our instructor. We each took two, one-minute turns to “fly.” You can feel the force of the wind against your face and it takes some coordination and balance to get in the proper flying position.
Where to Sleep
It was our second time staying in this family-friendly hotel, Toronto’s largest with 1,590 guestrooms and suites. It’s a comfortable, laid-back hotel with many family amenities. Located in downtown, it’s walking distance to shops and restaurants, and short driving distance to major attractions. Among the many family amenities are basic complimentary WiFi, free breakfast, a fitness center (with city views including the CN Tower), adult swimming pool, and Family Fun Zone heated pool and waterslide. For youth, there’s the Kid Centre children’s program and Club 33 Teen Lounge. Four restaurants offer great dining options, and there’s also a coffee and wine bar. During our spring break visit the lobby was packed with families munching on free popcorn and interacting with a roaming talking robot.
Kids can help Plan Your Family Vacation to Toronto
Yo-Toronto.com is a new interactive website for kids where they an learn more about the city in a fun, exciting way while their parents have all the tools they need to plan an ideal family vacation to Toronto.