Have you been to Toronto? The first thing most people say who have visited is "It's so clean!" And it's true - for a major urban city, it's ridiculously clean. But did you also know that it's less than an hour's flight from New York, Chicago and Boston? And did you know it's the fourth largest city in North America? And did you know it's a fabulously family-friendly place to take your family for a visit? Follow along on my two-day tour of Toronto!
Stay Here: The Eaton Chelsea Hotel
A lot of big downtown hotels in major cities are uber luxurious or geared for business travelers - both of which make it awkward to bring your Frozen-singing toddler into the lobby or to deal with a baby crying over dinner. But the Eaton Chelsea Hotel in downtown Toronto has an amazing blend of class and style while still being friendly and accesible to families. The hotel offers 1,590 rooms many of which are specifically geared for traveling families - like the 44 Kitchenette rooms which come with a full-size fridge, stove and microwave. Or the 34 two-bedroom Family Fun Suites that include family-friendly extras like a kids' creative corner, DVD and Xbox with free access to games and movies, bunk beds and a pull-out sofa to accommodate large families.
Kids can enjoy the Family Fun Zone that includes a family pool featuring a 130-ft indoor corkscrew water slide, drop-off Kid Center and Club 33 Teen Lounge with pool table, foozball and video games.
The Eaton Chelsea makes dining easy with the cafeteria-style Market Garden with pre-made snacks, hot made-to-order dishes, and grab-n-go items like sandwiches and salads. If you want a more formal meal, you can opt for the T|Bar or grab a bite and a brew at the Monarch Pub. Of course, there's also room service and made-to-order pizzas until 12:30am which can be just what you need after a long day of exploring.
Whatever the ages of your kids, there are tons of family-friendly options for things to see and do in and around Toronto. Families with younger kids will love the Toronto Zoo. With over 5,000 animals and more than 710 acres, the Toronto Zoo is one of the largest in the world (Note: You'll want a stroller for younger kids.) The Zoo is divided into seven geographic regions - Indo-Malaya, Africa, the Americas, Australasia, Eurasia, Canadian Domain and the Tundra Trek - with animals displays both outdoors and indoors, making it suitable to visit even in the cold (like we did!). Big hits during our visit were the large gorilla habitat, playful cheetah, and new panda exhibit. During the warmer months, kids will also love the Kids Zoo, Splash Island, and the Waterside Theater.
Want to get a little learning in on your vacation? Kids and adults will love exploring the hands-on science exhibits at the Ontario Science Center. You'll want to set aside a few hours to explore this multi-level science center with hundreds of hands-on experiments, demonstrations and activities to get kids asking "Why does that happen?" Check out the AstraZeneca Human Edge hall for why it's vital to wear a helmet, the Electricity Demo for a hair-raising experience, and the Weston Family Innovation Center to try your hand at making a flying machine. If you have time, you can also see one of their current IMAX movies.
Sometimes, it can be hard to get kids to enjoy an museum, but if you sign up for an Urban Capers' scavenger hunt at the Royal Ontario Museum, you'll not only get to explore the five floors and thousands of years of history, but your kids will actually be motivated to read the placards and search through the museum's artifacts for clues to help you figure out this WhoDunnit. A little team-building and a fun way for kids and adults to see the museum together. Urban Capers recommends this for 13+, but even my 7-year-old enjoyed it and helped us solve a handful of the clues.
Night on the Town: Distillery District
You'll want to set aside a whole late afternoon and evening to explore the Distillery District. Originally the Gooderham and Worts Distillery from the mid-1800s, the site represents the largest and best preserved collection of Victorian Industrial Architecture in all of North America. Redesigned in 2003 as a pedestrian-only village, the Distillery District now boasts more than 70 restaurants, art galleries, performance theaters, retail shops and more. The cobblestone streets, charming lights, and interesting art installations demand a coffee in hand, a slower pace and a few hours of wandering.
Kids and adults alike will get a kick out of the unique retail store Bergo Designs. Guide younger children past the fragile and expensive vases, jewelry and sculptures right by the door to the back rooms with lots of hilarious and oddly-useful pieces for kids, kitchens and more.
You'll also want to be sure to stop in Soma Chocolate for some post (or pre - we don't judge) dinner sampling, a decadent hot cocoa, fresh made gelato, or heck, just to the smell the air. Peruse the rows of unique chocolate bars, grab a seat to enjoy dessert or press your face up to the big glass window and watch caoca nibs get turned into chocolate before your eyes. A great place to grab gifts for family or friends back home or as a yummy souvenir from your trip.
With more than 13 restaurants and eateries, your biggest decision will be where to eat. Try the Mill Street Brew Pub for local brews, the posh new Cluny for French bistro food or the family-friendly El Catrin for innovative Mexican creations. If it's nice, sit outside at El Catrin in the large patio or explore the vibrant, floor-to-ceiling murals inside the restaurant. Wherever you sit, margaritas for adults and fresh watermelon juice or horchata for the kids are a must.
Best Way to See the City: CN Tower
One of the best ways to see Toronto? From above. Head up 1,815 feet to the top of the CN Tower and enjoy 360° views of Toronto from one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
Take a quick ride up a 15mph glass elevator to an observation deck to enjoy the view, splurge on a delicious dinner at the rotating 360 The Restaurant, or test your fears on an edge walk as you hang over the city at 1,168 feet in the air!
If you're looking for a safe, family-friendly big city experience and a stamp in your passport, consider Toronto for your family's next getaway.
Momtrends was not paid for this post. The Toronto Tourism Board sponsored our visit, but all views are my own.