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!