Toronto: A Stand-in Gets Its Shining Moment

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In 'Moonstruck', it was New York. In 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding', it was Chicago. Even in 'Chicago', it was Chicago. But Toronto has a lot more character than most moviegoers will ever know

What you'll find in this story: Toronto travel, Toronto culture, Toronto hot spots, favorite Toronto destinations, Toronto neighborhoods

Even the most blasé Torontonians did double takes: For the filming of Ron Howard's upcoming Cinderella Man, the rear facade of The Bay, a venerable downtown department store, was transformed to resemble Madison Square Garden circa the '30s. Although the 2.5 million inhabitants have grown accustomed to their city's stand-in status, Toronto is anything but generic. Stop in at these spots for a glimpse of what's so special about it.


When the stars are in town, they hang out in this neighborhood, a hippie haven in the '60s that now overflows with posh restaurants, hotels, and shops. It's where Renée Zellweger was turfed from Gucci after entering with a coffee, Jamie Foxx rang up a $13,000 tab at the Lobby Bar, and limos are bumper to bumper during the film festival. The CN Tower gets all the attention--at 1,815 feet high, it's the world's tallest freestanding structure--but it's crowded with kids and tourists. At Panorama, the 51st-floor restaurant and lounge atop the Manulife Centre, the atmosphere is way cooler.

Greg's Ice Cream

There's usually a line all year long for these fresh, creamy, all-natural delights. Among Greg's 125 varieties, the roasted marshmallow flavor is all the rage, with coffee toffee and sweet cream close behind. The store routinely ships orders across the U.S. and has satisfied cravings as far away as Russia.

Yonge Street

At 1,178 miles, from Lake Ontario almost to the Minnesota border, it's touted as the world's longest street. But urbanites say the section that matters is the two-dozen blocks from Bloor Street to the lake. Here's the good and bad of Toronto's downtown--strip clubs, fast food, electronics stores, and a few can't-miss shops. Sam the Record Man is three stories of obscure recordings. Nearby, the World's Biggest Bookstore stocks 165,000 titles on 17 miles of shelves. 

Bata Shoe Museum

Yes, it's an entire museum dedicated to footwear: 12,000 items in a four-story building. Check out Marilyn Monroe's red stilettos, Picasso's ponyskin ankle boots, and a pair of Napoleon's socks.

Honest Ed's

Crowds gather outside this garish discount store before it opens for "door crasher" sales--30¢ loaves of bread, 8¢ tubs of margarine, etc. Founded by Ed Mirvish, a high school dropout who became Canada's largest theater producer (which explains the photos of Liberace and Lauren Bacall), the 160,000-square-foot emporium has been an institution for half a century. It's hard to tell when the early-bird specials end, what with turtlenecks going for $2.30 no matter what the hour.

Queen Street

The city's most eclectic artery begins in the east at the Beach, a gentrified community of bungalows and shops with a boardwalk swarming with runners, cyclists, and skaters. Hop on the streetcar west ($1.75 a ride) and Queen Street morphs into a funky district of galleries, tattoo parlors, and antiques stores. The patio of the Black Bull Tavern, a former biker bar, is the perfect people-watching spot.


Toronto has attracted immigrants for decades, and it's got the neighborhoods--and restaurants--to prove it. Chinatown, Little India, and Little Italy overflow with great food. Over the years the ethnicities have gotten mixed--Greektown is filled with pastry shops and tavernas, but it's also home to Allen's, an Irish saloon serving lamb shank braised in Guinness and to-die-for chocolate bread pudding. Thirtysomethings hang out on the patio, while older couples linger at the oak bar. They all come for Celtic music on some standing-room-only Tuesday and Saturday nights.

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