Toronto: what I love about this city

This is the second-to-last post I’ll be writing in Toronto. I was going to try to do a personal guide to the city, but I find that’s just too daunting at the moment (and anyway, isn’t that kind of what I’ve been doing with all my posts here?). So instead of trying to make this post definitive, I’ll just make it individual.


As a Californian, I’m just fascinated with brick houses. We don’t have that many of them, I think because of earthquakes. Same goes for houses above two stories. We also don’t have as many Victorian-era homes or buildings. So one of my greatest pleasures of living here, boring as it may seem to locals, has been just walking through the neighborhoods and seeing the houses: tall, narrow, pointy-roofed, with those little attic windows and the old-fashioned architectural details.

Brick house

Residential street

There are streets that look like this in the Bay Area — especially in Alameda or San Francisco — but they get “historic neighborhood” designations! (And they’re usually much fancier, larger homes, which have a grandeur no matter what era.)


City dwellers sometimes complain about the lack of green space, but I didn’t feel that in Toronto. We walked everywhere so we were outside a lot more often than we were in San Pablo; there were plenty of trees; and there were lots of parks.

CN Tower in the distance, from Trinity Bellwoods Park

True, Toronto’s geography means there’s nothing like San Francisco’s Presidio or Berkeley’s Tilden Park (or even Alvarado Park in San Pablo). If I lived in Toronto permanently, I’d probably start aching for Californian woods and coastline. But having already lived with that spectacular scenery my entire life, I don’t mind seeing something different for awhile.

Trinity Bellwoods Park

And I feel like people here really appreciate the outdoors, probably because they’re so bleak and forbidding for most of the year! At home we often take beautiful days for granted, but here, when the weather is nice, people are out: in the parks, on their porches, on restaurant patios. There’s such a nice energy to that.

Christie Pits Park


Yeah, so a lake is not an ocean. A strip of sand on Lake Ontario is not going to be like the coast of Santa Cruz… or the beaches of Marin County… or the piers of Santa Monica. But you know what? You take what you can get. And it’s still pretty nice.


Same beach facing the opposite direction

Also, I thought Bay Area waters were cold, but Ontario has them all beat. Brrrrrr!!!

Lisa in the cold cold water


As I said, I think people here really value the weather when it’s nice, and you can see that with the number of festivals and events that happen during the summer. It’s the same in Montréal. (In Chicago too, maybe, come to think of it?) In both cities, we saw sidewalk festivals, music festivals, theater festivals… and so many of them were free or inexpensive.

1000 Tastes of Toronto, in the Distillery District.

1000 Tastes at the Distillery District

Distillery District around sunset

Outdoor eating area

Annex Festival on Bloor, in our neighborhood

I’d been seeing signs for this one, but I forgot all about it. We walked into it by accident when we were going to the subway for the above event (1000 Tastes). I got a $10 Shiatsu massage which I badly needed, and the vendors’ booths enlivened the walk to the subway.

Street fair around noon

We walked down Bloor again later that evening, when the festival had finished and most of the vendors were packed up and gone.

Empty street

desiFEST (about a month ago), in Yonge-Dundas Square

Accessories for sale at Desifest

I happened upon this South Asian festival while on my way home from something else. A week later there was a shooting at the Eaton Centre mall across the street from where the festival was held. When I heard of the shooting, all I could think of was the community feel of this festival and how happy and safe I felt that afternoon, bopping in this multiracial, multigenerational crowd right in the middle of Toronto.

Snakes & Lattes

We’ve been living around the corner from this board game cafe for two months, but it always seemed a waste to go with only the two of us. Last night we finally went with two friends and had a fantastic time playing Forbidden Island (made by the same company as Pandemic, which I played with my family when I was in San Jose to visit, and which was so amazingly fun and different that I almost wrote a blog post about it. Bottom line: the game play is cooperative, so you all win or lose together, and the concept is really well imagined).

Playing Forbidden Island

When we lived in LA, we had a tradition of Friday board game nights with a group of friends; that’s something I really missed once we all moved apart. If we all lived in Toronto you can be sure we would be at Snakes & Lattes every week. For $5 per person, per visit, you get unlimited access to their 2000 board games, no pressure to eat or drink, and one of their “game gurus” will help you select games and explain all the rules to you. (Having pieced together the Pandemic instructions with my sisters, I can tell you, having this guy explain Forbidden Island to us as clearly and concisely as he did, was worth the admission cost by itself.)

Inside Snakes & Lattes

The whole evening was wonderful, in fact; one of my favorite things about Toronto has been (re)connecting with these particular friends. His mother has been friends with my mom since their Cultural Revolution days; our families visited a fair amount when we were little kids, but the last time we saw each before that, I was 14. So seeing this friend and meeting his partner, and staying with his parents (the family friends in Mississauga), has been just the greatest. It’s kind of like when we went to Taiwan and I got to meet Erik’s relatives there, and suddenly I had a whole new family.

And, of course, kitties.

I don’t know if Canadians’ niceness rubs off on their cats, or what, but we have met so many cats in Toronto who are just ridiculously friendly, so many cats who just saw us and got up immediately and came over and said hello. Here are a couple of my new feline friends.


If I’m reading this kitty’s tag right, her name is Going. We’ve seen her many times and she is always uber-affectionate.

Beautiful cat

First time we met, this kitty was so friendly. Second time (during a heat wave), the kitty was like, “Eh, I can’t be bothered to get up.”

Happy weekend, my dears! I’ll have one last Toronto post on Monday, and after that you’ll be hearing from me in Glasgow!


11 responses to “Toronto: what I love about this city

  1. I love all the pics! I know you probably mentioned this before and I missed it, but where’s your kitty? Can kitties travel easily around the world? Or is she being kitty-sat by someone she likes until you two settle down somewhere again?

    • Thanks, Ré!! I have heard of kitties who travel, and Tisha might have been a candidate there, but Lyapa is not a good traveler. She becomes alternately unreasonable and panicky or terrified and motionless/soundless, and once she arrives she gets into a grumpy snit and it takes her days to get out of it. She’s with my parents in San Jose. 🙂 She and my mom are getting along well; she’s keeping Mommy good company, and in return she gets lots of pettings. My parents’ cat isn’t so happy about it, but they seem to tolerate each other reasonably well.

      I’m glad we didn’t bring her, but I miss her. In Montréal there was a boutique with a resident kitty who was soooo sweet. I was sitting there petting her when she looked up at me with loving green eyes that were so much like Lyapa’s I just started crying and couldn’t stop for the longest time. It would have been embarrassing, except that the emotions were so strong I was past being embarrassed. I cried and petted her and cried and cried (even harder when I noticed the vintage scarves next to the kitty’s spot were on sale “to benefit stray cats in this neighborhood”). Fortunately the boutique owner was either really subtle and left me alone on purpose, or she ignores all her customers until they ask her questions — either way, I was grateful, and she thanked me nicely when I left the store.

      This comment is getting really long and no longer to the point of your comment, but just on the topic of crying… I’ve noticed that the longer we travel (or maybe it’s because of Gong-Gong’s passing), when I think of loved ones at home, I’m filled with a nearly overwhelming sense of distance and loss. It makes me think, god, how on earth do immigrants cope?

      • I’m loving everything about your comment here, Lisa. Probably best to not travel with a cat – nonetheless I know you miss your own kitty. I’m betting that just about everywhere you travel there will be kitties to love and to cuddle. And, yes, how do immigrants cope? It must be a dreadfully difficult experience. I know you leave for Scotland very soon. Is it easy to pack up and move on, or have you accumulated new stuff that needs to be shipped home? Wondering how this works when you actually stay in a place for awhile

        • Thank you, Sherry. 🙂 Yes, what would I do without the kitties of the world to comfort me? So nice to think that whenever I have love to give, someone is waiting to receive it. 🙂 That goes for humans too, but kitties are more accessible sometimes. 😉

          I’m typing this from the airport, less than an hour before we board for Glasgow! It’s somewhat easy to pack up: not too much stuff, though after lugging my stuff through the airport I wonder how ‘not too much’ can get so heavy! I tried to do one-in/one-out for clothes and I think I more or less achieved equilibrium. Both Erik and I procrastinated unbelievably on packing and end-of-stay errands, for whatever reason, and we ended up doing everything last-minute. 😉

  2. It sounds like you’ve really fallen in love with Toronto and I can’t blame you! Snakes and Lattes looks like such a fun coffee shop and I love the name. Enjoy the rest of your time in Toronto!

    • Thanks, Colleen! So many people (including residents) seem to think it’s an unremarkable city, but I find it just really really livable. On the other hand, I’m here in summer… 😉

  3. You’re right; your blogs are like touring the place, and I loved seeing Toronto as I’ll never get there. Plus, living rural like I do, it’s wonderful seeing a city. Can’t wait for Scotland though! I’ve decided I need to make a list of all the places I want to see vicariously and send that to you. Any plans for Alaska?

    • Rural living sounds exotic to me! 🙂 I love being your vicarious travel eyes — it’s an honor!

      No Alaska plans specifically, but I would love to see it someday. 🙂 At some point we’ll have to do a US tour. There are still so many places there I haven’t seen, like Seattle or most of the South.

      Send me your list! 😀

  4. Pingback: Friday FUSS (favorite urban space survey): Danny Brown – Urban Planning Student – Toronto, ON | Projexity·

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