Written on the Amtrak from Chicago to St. Louis while listening to Kanye’s ‘My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.’
I’ve always been wanting to travel for my birthday and I found the perfect opportunity to do so when I discovered that my fave basketball team, the Memphis Grizzlies, would be playing the Toronto Raptors. Once I saw this, I knew I had to make a trip out of it! I booked my flight and hotel arrangements through Expedia back in November, and have been effectively saving to make it all happen. Here’s the recap of my Toronto birthday getaway!
Friday, February 2, 2018
I left St. Louis at 5:45 a.m., had a layover in Charlotte for an hour and arrived in Toronto around 11:30 a.m. The flights were smooth and the timing of everything worked out perfectly, but I did have one problem; the change in air pressure. I’m not new to flying, but this was the first time I’ve ever experienced air pressure issues. Once I checked into the Chelsea Hotel downtown, I needed to take pain medication and ended up resting for a few hours until I felt like myself again!
The Distillery District was a great area to explore, check out unique, local shops, and also visit some great dinner and dessert spots. During the winter, they have the Toronto Light Festival with amazing installations of various artists in the form of light sculptures.
After walking through the chilly alleyways of the district, I took breaks to warm up and have an Original Organic Lager at the Mill Street Brewery and then dessert at Cacao 70 Distillery. The Black & White Waffle is heaven on Earth!
Saturday, February 3, 2018
Saturday was the most eventful day! I started the day off at Old School, a diner located in the west downtown area. This spot is definitely “Instagramable” and you’ll be sure to jam to the 90s music as you enjoy your brunch. I ordered the Dixie Chicks’n’Waffles; a unique spin on chicken and waffles complete with honey, pickled okra, and kola butter. I’ve never had flavors like these together, but it all worked well together.
OVO Flagship Store
Visiting the OVO store was one of my main objectives; you can’t go to The Six and not go to Drake’s store! When I took the photo below, it was actually not open for the day yet. I came back on Sunday to buy an OVO hat in pink. The store is extremely minimal on the inside with only a few racks for sweatshirts/tees and some shelves for hats. Some things you gotta do just to say that you did them, haha.
Art Gallery of Ontario
After taking pics at the OVO store, I walked for about 18 minutes up the street to the Art Gallery of Ontario. I loved visiting here simply because I got a chance to learn more about Canada’s history. My favorite piece was Battle for the Woodlands by Bonnie Devine. Also, free admission was granted simply by chatting it up with my new “cousin” at the front desk who gave us the family discount.
From the art gallery, I walked about 15 more minutes to the CN Tower (I definitely got the most steps in this day!). I ended up investing in a City Pass for $86 CAN that allow admission to various attractions around Toronto, ultimately saving more money in the end. With the City Pass I was able to get into the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium, Casa Loma, and the Royal Ontario Museum.
Saturday was a bit cloudy and snowy, but the view of Toronto from the top was still amazing! Regular admission allows you to go to the main lookout area, but there was also complimentary trips up to the Sky Pod located a little higher up.
My phone was completely dead after CN Tower, so I went back to the hotel to charge it up a bit before going to Ripley’s Aquarium. The aquarium reminded me a lot of Atlanta’s aquarium, but without the areas for dolphin and sea lion shows. My favorite part was going through the tunnels of the main tank. I made sure to keep my distance from anything octopus related. Another plus is that it was open until 11 p.m.!
Harbourfront Centre‘s Natel skating rink offered a late night skate with a DJ that I was super excited about! The one problem is that I got there 10 min after the last rental for skates was available. I decided to hang by the rink anyway to enjoy the music and it was just like being at a party. Had I been there earlier, I knew it would have been super fun!
Duke’s Refresher + Bar
To finish the night, I celebrated the beginning of my birthday with drinks at Duke’s Refresher + Bar that’s located just across the street from the Chelsea Hotel. I met some strangers, took a birthday shot, and had a good time requesting music videos for them to play on the screens above the bar.
Sunday, February 4, 2018 – My 26th Birthday
Air Canada Centre – Grizzlies v. Raptors
Seeing the Grizzlies play the Raptors was the foundation for my choice to visit Toronto. Having my favorite team play on my actual birthday in a city and country I’ve never been to? Of course, I’m making a trip out of it! The Air Canada Centre was one of the nicest basketball arenas that I’ve been too, and I had a great time. I was probably the only Grizzlies fan there, and we lost, but it was still a ton of fun.
Taking a tour of Casa Loma was not initially on my things to do in Toronto, but I was happy I made the time to stop by. This historic castle is not too far from the downtown area and has a rich history to it. Sir Henry Pellatt, a Canadian financer, and his wife, Lady Mary Pellatt, lived in Casa Loma. This residence was ahead of its time, complete with indoor plumbing (something that wasn’t common in the early 1900s), bathrooms with marble floors and walls, and both Sir Henry and Lady Pellatt had their own suites; the ultimate signs of wealth.
Nodo Hillcrest – Birthday Dinner
I chose Nodo in Hillcrest for my birthday dinner. Nodo gave me cozy vibes and the dishes I ate were the perfect comfort food for the snowy evening it was. I highly recommend the Arancini for an appetizer; my main dish was Gnocchi (Old School) pasta. My birthday dessert of choice was Tiramisu.
Monday, February 5, 2018
Evviva Breakfast and Lunch
Monday was my day of travel back to the States, but my connecting flight from New Yor City to St. Louis was canceled, giving me more time to try a brunch place I didn’t have time to visit before the basketball game on Sunday. Evviva Breakfast and Lunch was so crowded on Sunday, so we figured it must be good! I stepped away from my normal breakfast choices of waffles or french toast and went for the Atlantic Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict with a side of home fries; it was bomb, y’all. I’m not the biggest fan of salmon, but it was perfect.
Royal Ontario Museum
Also due to the flight delay, I was able to squeeze in time to visit the Royal Ontario Museum. This museum is basically like going to a natural history museum; there’s science components, cultural history, and even a Christian Dior exhibit.
Overall, I highly recommend taking a trip to Toronto. Should you go in winter? Probably not. According to one of my Uber drivers, the best time to visit TO is anywhere between June and October. No snow, no problem! Despite the cold and the snow, I ended up having a blast with our Northern cousins. I’ll be planning a second visit during the warmer months, eh?