Friday, April 15, 2016

Toronto Tips

Here are some tips for visiting Toronto, adapted from emails I once sent to a friend. These are meant to be for people on a budget, thus no discussion of the pricier tourist attractions, most of which are pretty well known anyway. Note: this is not meant to be complete. Rather the information below was stuff that interested me enough to pass along to a friend, and may interest others as well.

Street Layout:

Toronto street numbers require a certain amount of explanation. Depending on where you’re from, you may be used to blocks switching from one set of hundreds to another every block or so, with the odds and evens paralleling each other, and parallel streets paralleling numbers. That... would be a bad assumption in Toronto.

First the easy part: north-south streets are lower the closer the are to Lake Ontario on the south and high as they head north. So there is no N vs S to worry about. For east-west streets the divider is Yonge street. So for example Dundas St W becomes Dundas St E at Yonge St. For east-west streets if you don't see a W or E it's probably W.

Here's where things get tricky: close to the low end of the numbers (Lake Ontario or Yonge St), numbering is fairly similar all around, because the street numbers are all starting from a similar location. However, the street numbers are basically by building with no other considerations. So the higher the number on a street the less likely the number will resemble the number across the street or other blocks. There are no number dividers between blocks. The number differences can reach the hundreds even across the street. Also note that increments of two between buildings are not unknown (592 594 596 ...)

To use a completely made up example, On Maine St W you might have 398 Maine St W and 400 Maine St W on the same block, and right across the street there might be 525 Maine St W.

In short, if you want to visit two even or odd numbered locations on the same street and the numbers are pretty close, you can probably find one number on a map and the other will likely be nearby. However if you want to visit an odd number and an even number on the same street and the numbers are pretty close, find both locations on a map separately because they might be blocks apart from one another.


For the various transportation fares in the area, you can save money by getting a PRESTO card. I don't have one myself not being local, buut my understanding is, for buses and streetcars you tap the card upon entry; for subway trains you tap the card when you enter the subway system, and for trains, you tap a reader before AND after boarding as train fares are calculated by distance.

Within Toronto itself, nearly all transportation is serviced by TTC (Toronto Transit Commission). A day/week/month pass gives you access to all their transportation types (buses, streetcars, subway trains). If you opt for a daypass, it's strictly Monday-Sunday.

With streetcars note that you often have to step into the street to get on, unless the stop is at a platform, which is rare outside of St Clair Ave.

To commute to areas outside of Toronto, but close enough that you don’t want to fly, you have a few options:

1. Almost always the cheapest way of getting there by a sizable margin (aside from a small transaction fee, $1 one way fares to Niagara Falls or Buffalo and $10 to Montreal are possible);
2. Often fast if not the fastest outside of flying.

1. Usually have to book in advance;
2. Prices may vary depending on time of day/day of week;
3. Prices tend to increase the closer to the date of the travel;
4. There are certain routes that might seem logical (e.g. Toronto to Hamilton) that Megabus doesn't do;
5. They’ve started charging for certain seats at select times.

Despite those drawbacks, the significant price difference makes this the best option whenever possible (Canada destinations and Buffalo NY) (US destinations; Toronto can be picked as a starting point)

Transit hopping
1. Frequent service normally;
2. While often pricier than out west, still cheaper than most other options except Megabus, and for nearby destination, goes where Megabus doesn't stop;
3. Flexible.

1. This is the slow way to travel;
2. The further out you're going, the less feasible this is to do in a day.

Services immediately adjacent to Toronto include York Region Transit (to the north, e.g. Markham, Vaughan, Aurora, Newmarket), MiWay (to the west; Mississauga), Durham Transit (to the east: Pickering, Ajax, Whitby, Oshawa). Oakville, Burlington, and Hamilton to the west also have their own transit services).

GO Transit
1. Frequent service;
2. Flexible;
3. Has both buses and double-decker trains;
4. Fast.

1. This is the most expensive of the commuter services, approaching Greyhound and Via Rail levels (a return trip to Niagara Falls is over $30);
2. Daypass prices connected to distance. You can only find out the cost of a daypass using their fare calculator (no maps etc to help eyeball costs)

1. Often a fairly direct way to get places;
2. Some decent deals if you look 21 days or more in advance, potentially then cheaper than GO Transit.

1. Not too cheap beyond the above;
2. While not mandatory, booking in advance advisable to get a good deal.

As with Megabus, best to check the US site for deals there.

VIA Rail
1. As long as you don't wind up with the kind of crew I had to deal with, it's a train and thus normally a pretty comfortable means of travel;
2. Again, fairly direct.

1. The most expensive option normally, especially to the west;
2. Booking in advance recommended, another case with 21+ days gives you the best deal.

Free and Almost Free Places to Visit:

Entirely free

High Park:
This park is huge, probably even bigger than Stanley Park. It has a free petting zoo. The petting zoo is a one-corridor walk-through: enter one end and either exit the other end or the same end.

The Beaches:
The north end of the beaches is shopping and the south end is a series of, well, beaches.  The sand is very soft and at Lake Ontario.

Yonge-Dundas Square:
A square where numerous events are held, including live music. Some events aren't free, but if that's the case wait a few days and there will be a free event (or nothing happening, in which case just sit down and relax). Also has water jets. While I haven't been to Times Square in New York this appears to be a mini version of that.

Nathan Phillips Square:
Just outside of City Hall is an artificial rectangular pond and often more free live music in the area. In the winter the pond becomes an outdoor skating rink.

Bellevue Square aka Denison Square:
A small park that's a bit of an oddity because there's a children's playground and the smell of street people smoking pot.  Its most notable feature is the statue of the late actor Al Waxman (King of Kensingon, Power Play, Cagney & Lacey).

CBC Museum:
Small museum inside the CBC Museum. Has Mr Dressup's chair, etc.  Easy to miss is the extra stuff away from the museum proper down the escalator. 250 Front St W.

Waterfront Park:
Visit the Toronto Islands (see below) or just relax on the lawn there. Lake Ontario.

Canada's Walk of Fame:
Squares devoted to famous Canadians. There are three sections: King St W south side between where Ed Mirvish Dr terminates and Simcoe street (this is the bulk of them), on Simcoe St west side between King St W and Wellington St (second largest), and on the north side of King St W between John St and Simcoe (a lot more spread out, thus easiest to overlook; this section has one particularly narcissistic square: a square for Canada's Walk of Fame itself!).

Best streets for just wandering around shopping/window shopping: Bloor St W/E, which becomes Danforth further east for west-east travel; Yonge St for north-south travel.

Borderline free

Toronto Islands:
A series of islands just south of the mainland. There is some name confusion: the largest island, Centre Island is called Ward Island in the north end, and another island is also sometimes called Centre Island because the Centre Island Ferry docks there (the latter is also called Middle Island). Middle Island has Centreville Amusement Park where you have to pay to ride but not to wander around; it also has a free petting zoo.  There are three beaches: Ward Island Beach, Centre Island Beach (aka Manitou Beach), and Hanlan Beach which is clothing optional and curiously as such the closest to a small airport (the airport has its own access. For the most part any flights you do will be from Lester B. Pearson in Mississauga and not this airport). Access to the airport is separate from the rest of the Toronto Islands; no way of getting from one to the other.

Toronto Police Museum:
Part of the larger Metropolitan Toronto Police Museum and Discovery Centre. It's by donation so technically you can visit for free but I always give a small amount. Self-explanatory.  Note that if you are just going to the museum and/or gift shop, you can ignore the notice about all visitors needing to sign in; that's only required if you are there for actual police business. 40 College St.

Shopping (Pop Culture Style)

Here are a few favourites. In all the below there is at least one store within the current Toronto city limits. My bias is towards stores that sell movies and books (including comic trades) so if you're looking for most other things, I can only really point you to the first store.

Honest Ed's: sadly closing down at the end of December 2016. It may be the only store left in Toronto that can be considered a landmark, due to its size and colourful exterior (worth visiting in day and night for the contrast). Low prices on most things, lots of terrible puns, plus it's huge!  If you only visit one store on this list, this is the one to go to. Its founder, Ed Mirvish who lived into his 90s has a square on Canada's Walk of Fame as well as a street named after him. There are a few stores attached to the Honest Ed's building, but most of the space is devoted to the core store. Many photos of celebrities who have visited on the walls. 581 Bloor St W.

BMV Books: a local chain. The initials stand for "books magazines videos". Lots of remaindered books so you can get books in mint condition at a fraction of the regular price. 10 Edward St, 471 Bloor St W, 2289 Yonge St.

Doug Miller Books: Okay selection, but the main reason to visit is to say hi to Bumpkin the rabbit. How can you not want to visit Bumpkin from time to time? 650 Bloor St W.

Re: Reading; Circus Books and Music: two stores on Danforth that both have a decent selection of books and movies. 548 Danforth Ave and 866 Danforth Ave respectively.

Deju Vu Discs: ditto, though the nearest one is in the Scarborough area of Toronto. Note that that, as with Silver Snail Comics and Cafe, they don't bother with the accents in the store name. Scarborough: 26 William Kitchen Rd

Suspect Video: another video rental place; a bit pricey to actually buy things, but interesting to visit because of its cult classics slant.  It has a separate space in the Honest Ed's building and thus may close down in 2016.

Two stores I've never been in but find it amusing to pass by: Condom Shack, Not Just Condoms. If you're going to have an x-rated store, it might as well have a catchy name. 231 Queen St W and 540 Yonge St, respectively.

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