50 things to do this spring in Toronto
Spring has finally arrived in Toronto, and not just in name. As temperatures threaten to reach double digits and the stubbornest of snow piles melts away, activities and events draw us outdoors with a fervor unlike any other season. But it's not just sunshine that we get to enjoy in the coming months. Toronto undergoes a cultural renewal in spring as well, with festivals like NXNE, Luminato and Contact (to name a few) all on the horizon. This was one of the worst winters in recent memory, so appropriate payback is to soak up every second of spring.
Here are 50 things to do in Toronto this spring.
FOOD AND DRINK
Visit Toronto's newest farmers' market
Toronto already has a thriving farmers' market scene, but there are always room for more. Time to check out the newest additions, including Farmer's Market 707, in and around the Scadding Court Community Centre and the Sanderson Public Library. It starts May 1st, every Thursday until September 25th, 3pm until 7pm, and includes such vendors as Forsythe Family Farms, Monforte Dairy and Mnandi Pies.
Get soaked at the Songkran Festival
It's time to get fed and wet all at once (that is not a sexual reference). Khao San Road celebrates the Thai New Year with a water gun fight in a big heated tent on Saturday, April 12th. Admission is $16 and water guns are supplied, while $6 food tickets will get you dishes supplied by a solid roster including La Carnita, Come And Get It, and Matt Blondin's, yet-to-open Junk Bar.
Get a caffeine kick at Pilot Coffee's new tasting bar
If you want a full immersion into all aspects of coffee and coffee culture, head to Pilot Coffee Roasters new and impressive tasting bar and roasting facility. You will be amazed at the level of coffee production and pulling there, and may have your taste buds transformed in a way that will make your usual coffee habits pale in comparison.
Take a bite out of Susur
While details are still scarce about Luckee, Susur Lee's new restaurant located inside the Soho Metropolitan Hotel, the concept is rumoured to be set to launch in late April. Transformation is underway in the former Senses restaurant courtesy of Brenda Bent and Karen Gable, while the menu of classic Chinese dishes and dim sum is being developed with a nod towards the culinary traditions of Guangzhou, Hunan and Szechuan regions.
Pig out at the Yum Cha! Dim Sum Fest
Does anything sound more promising than a dim sum fest? These are the food events we need, Toronto. Tickets for this celebration of steamed buns and fried dumplings are selling fast even though a complete the line-up of participating vendors has yet to be announced. Admission is $10 to the festival happening at the Chinese Freemasons Association on Sunday, April 13th.
Have dinner at the movies
Take in a tasteful film at TIFF's monthly Food on Film series or at the Revue Cinema's bi-monthly Epicure Review series paired with food samples from local restaurants. Stick around after the show at each screening for programming featuring guests and experts ready to delve into the topics and themes of the film du jour.
Down some tequila for Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo runs a close second to St. Patrick's day when it comes to holidays most likely to be exploited via misappropriated cultural tropes and binge drinking. That aside, we're all in need of a reason to party at some point, and if you're looking for excuses to imbibe freaky amounts of tequila, this is the excuse for you. Mexican restaurants are typically your best bets, but both the Drake Hotel and the Monarch Tavern have hosted quality 5th of May events in past years, so just be sure not to enter the day with a hangover and everything will go swimmingly.
Go covert at an underground supper club
Snag a seat at an exclusive dinner party thrown by Luke Hayes-Alexander, Charlie Burger's or the Rusholme Park Supper Club. Expect an intimate evening of chatting with the chef(s) meeting fellow guests, and dining on multi-course feasts or experimental cuisine.
Drink some seasonal suds at a beer festival
We're spoiled for choice this spring when it comes to beer drinking events and festivals, but Ontario Beer Week might take the cake. The fifth annual tribute to Ontario's independent brewers takes place June 15-21 and features over 30 Ontario Craft Breweries pouring local brew at 150 events in over 50 different Ontario communities. Festivities will include food and beer collaborations, tap takeovers, tasting events, brewery tours, cooking demonstrations, beer dinners, contests and more.
Be a masochist at Toronto's Ice Lounge
It was (is?) the winter that wouldn't end, so the best thing to do this spring is to check out the soon-to-open Ice Lounge, which will shuttle you right back to winter where you know your could heart belongs. Although a firm opening date has yet to be confirmed for the Chill Ice House at Bathurst and King, it's only too fitting that it arrive in spring.
Drop some cash for a good cause at Toronto Taste
Tickets will run you a pretty penny, but this fundraiser event for Second Harvest pairs a good cause with some exquisite eats. Presented by The Daniels Corporation, the event will take place lakeside on Sunday, June 8th at Corus Quay. Over 70 of the city's finest chefs, vintners and brewers will partake to showcase their talents and delicious creations for a worthy cause. Tickets are on sale now for $250, and all proceeds will go to food rescue programs.
Hunt down Toronto's newest food truck
Get ready to chow down curbside as a whole new breed of food trucks rev up for the warmed months. Joining the city's existing roster of food trucks, expect Fish St. Market, the midtown fishmonger to debut their new food truck by the end of the month. Download the Toronto Food Trucks app to keep up with locations, service times and menus.
High Park Cherry Blossoms
Arguably the most spring-like of all of these spring events, the annual pilgrimage to High Park to check out the sakura trees has become wildly popular over the past few years. There's no doubt it's a spectacular sight, but it's not exactly serene given the snap-happy frenzy that takes places as people try to capture the beautiful display on everything from iPads to medium format cameras on tripods. Word to the wise: take the TTC and walk it into the park.
Hit the pavement in new sneaks
Let's get physical! All those swank sneakers need to finally slap some pavement for a cause, and Toronto has plenty of spring runs to get your body moving and heart pumping and endorphins flowing. Something for everyone- novice to marathoner: Toronto Yonge Street 10 k, Harry's spring run off 8 and 5 K run to fight prostate cancer, Color Me Rad, and the Goodlife Toronto Marathon to name but a few.
Paddle the Don
Though it seems like it might be a paddler's paradise, the Don River is actually a bit of a pain in the ass to navigate by canoe given its various dams and unpredictable water levels. If you're going to do, the annual Paddle the Don event is by far your best bet. Not only does one benefit from the safety of the group (there are usually more than 200 canoes in the water), but other support is on hand should you run into trouble. Let's just hope that by May 4th the weather is reasonable.
Plant a community garden
Not only to community gardens give land stewardship to urban dwellers, they give opportunity to grow culturally diverse food and plants, beautify the vacant lots, give you a chance to meet and connect with neighbours, and heck, studies show a community garden even cuts down on crime. Who doesn't brighten up at the sight of the first tender stalks pushing up through the earth?
Do some serious sculling
While part of the fun is just being out on the water when the weather turns nice, the added fun of joining a rowing club is that the sport is a real challenge, both physically and from a skill standpoint. Lots of clubs around the city offer introductory courses in the spring at which you can test your mettle to determine if the sport is for you. For my money, the best place to row is in the barrier-protected waters by Marilyn Bell Park, but the other club locations don't give much away in terms of setting.
Get your Daily Dose of Imagery offline
Most Toronto photographers and photography fans will remember Daily Dose of Imagery, Sam Javanrouh's photo blog that made a 10 year run and developed an international following along the way. If you missed the photo of day thing or just want to see the whole project in one place, this exhibit presented by Spacing Magazine will get you caught up. Read our interview with Javanrouh from 2013 here. Runs until April 26th at Urbanspace Gallery (401 Richmond Street West).
Creep yourself out with the art of Francis Bacon
The Art Gallery of Ontario will host a massive Francis Bacon and Henry Moore exhibition for from April 5 to July 6. The show will feature over 60 works by the two British artists, both major players in the postwar art scene exploring bleak existentialism and the distortion of reality and human form. While Moore's less brutalizing works will balance some of Bacon's dread, it will be pretty dark for a spring show. Curmudgeonly weirdo, sadomasochist, and just gother-than-goth, Francis Bacon is best known for painting screaming popes, abstract and grotesque human portraits, and skinned animal carcasses. Warning: prepare for nightmares (you might want to take some Gravol before bed the night after this one).
Cross over to the great beyond at Images
The most unique festival out there, Images Film and Video Festival is in a league of its own. Focusing on experimental film and video art, Images' programming is some of the most avant-garde and innovative in the city. This year they'll run from April 10 - 19. See their calendar for exhibitions, screenings, artist talks, guided tours, parties, and more.
Take in some playoff action
As I write this, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in a free fall and dubious to make post-season play (still, fingers crossed they pull it out). The Raptors, on the other hand, are first in their division and look like they have a good shot of making the playoffs for the first time since the 2007/2008 season. Assuming you're not a season ticket holder or willing to fork out hundreds for seats, the best bet for cheering on the home team is to head to a quality sport bar.
Circle more films than you could possibly see on a Hot Docs schedule
The 2014 Hot Docs Festival will take place over eleven days and nights between April 24th and May 4th. Hundreds of hypey and underground documentaries will screen at Toronto's second-largest film event (behind TIFF), and the printed schedule is always a huge exercise in frustration no matter how much time and money you have -- there are just too many intriguing titles.
Look at photos way cooler than your Instagram feed at Contact
This year marks the 18th annual Contact Photography Fest. Contact is the largest photography festival in the world, and most of it's free -- think about that the next time you get the Hogtown Blues. Take in public installations showcasing the work of over 1,000 photographers in galleries and spaces across the city, plus attend films, lectures, workshops, and of course, boozy openings. The fest will launch May 2nd at MOCCA.
Stalk music industry types at CMW
Corp-y Toronto music festival Canadian Music Week is entering its 32nd year. Between May 6 - 10th over 1,000 international bands and musicians of all backgrounds (from the securely established to the naive and hopeless) will perform and hustle at showcases around the city. CMW also hosts panels and conferences, a film fest, a comedy fest, and award shows. If you're career hungry and the words "music industry" don't leave a funny little taste in your mouth, get ready to shmooze. If not, it's still an opportunity to see acts like M.I.A., Tegan and Sara, City and Colour, and Neko Case (or to troll the city all night for yet undiscovered bands -- not to suggest many people actually do that).
Bump elbows with some of the biggest talent in comics at TCAF
No Toronto Comic Arts Festival is complete without some of the biggest names and rising stars of the comic world showing up, and what's better is you get to knock those elbows (not too hard, that's connected to their livelihood!) or shake those hands (ditto) at the Toronto Reference Library free of charge. This year's madness runs from May 10th - 11th. Kate Beaton will be there -- please don't crush her hands.
Support LGBT film-making at the Inside Out Film Fest
Founded in 1991, the Inside Out Film Festival has grown into one of the most important LGBT film fests in the world. Running over the course of almost two weeks in late May, you can expect up to 200 screenings alongside artist talks, panel discussions, art installations and, of course, parties. The 2014 lineup will be released May 1st.
Meet the real Wolf of Wall Street
You've seen the movie, now you can meet the wolf himself. Jordan Bellfort is touring off the back of the wildly popular Martin Scorsese picture that tells the story of his rise to riches in the 1990s. No, there won't be tips on how to commit securities fraud, but you will learn the "hidden language of influence," which sounds pretty good if you're into that sort of thing. You'll have to pay $137 to see Bellfort speak, so he must still be doing something right. The wolf arrives in Toronto on May 15th.
Get into cosplay at Anime North
All forms of Japanese culture are heralded at Toronto's fan-run anime convention Anime North. Over the weekend of May 23-25 at the Toronto Congress Centre, anime gets animated- there's a Lolita Fashion Tea Party, workshops, skit contests, a Saturday Night masquerade, a big Anime Doll event, videogames, even an anime garage sale (Nominoichi) where you can buy all your favourite characters and have your anime questions answered.
Celebrate the Queen's birthday with Victoria Day fireworks
Victoria Day fireworks displays happen all over Toronto. Some of the bigger ones are Ashbridges Bay Park, Canada's Wonderland, Dundas Driving Park and Blue Mountain, but head to smaller parks like Trinity Bellwoods and watch the skies light up and listen to the cheers of friends as they set off their own tributes to Queen Victoria and the coming Canadian summer.
Treat a dog like royalty at Woofstock
Toronto's Woofstock, North America's largest outdoor festival for dogs, is part doggie socializing extravaganza, part expo for fancy pooch swag and accessories, and part meet and great for Toronto pet owners. Think designer dogs, luxury products (like dog condos and mansions -- not kidding), handbag sized animals in costume, free swag, and pugs, pugs, pugs. It's also a great chance for the city's dog rescues to get exposure and link up with people looking to foster or adopt dogs in need. Pet owner or not, head down to Woodbine Park May 24 & 25.
Immerse yourself in the arts at Luminato
Renew your creative spirit with the Luminato Festival June 6-15th. This year has a particularly stellar line-up of talent and events, from Isabella Rosselini in her short Green Porno, Live on Stage, the salute to Daniel Lanois- Sleeping in the Devil's Bed, or the North American premiere of Stones In Her Mouth a moving and beautiful performance by ten Maori women. Luminato celebrates the best and boldest of creative minds, enlivening the city with cultural activities.
Embrace your Peter Pan Syndrome with an Arts & Crafts Field Trip
Of course Field Trip is coming back for year two: Arts & Crafts made tons of people happy last year at Fork York Garrison Common. Field Trip will return to the same sod June 7th & 8th, and Broken Social Scene are playing again - shocking, I know - along with Interpol, The Kills, The Constantines (back together!), Chvrches, Shad, Austra, A Tribe Called Red, and more.
Check out what's hypey at NXNE
North by North East (like SXSW but Canadian, but possibly with the same amount of flannel shirts) is pulling a ton of bands into town from June 13 - 22, including Spoon, St. Vincent, Ryan Hemsworth, Le1f, Swans, Perfect Pussy, Spiritualized, and way more for a week of multi-venue concerts here and the usual big free shows at Yonge-Dundas Square. Festivals of this scale can be a delirious and curious experience (why would anyone book the Pizza Underground? Who are all of these no-name SonicBids bands playing shows without sound engineers?), but that's what alcohol is for. There will also be interactive panels, film, comedy, and art.
Run for Mayor
It's not too late! You can still save this city! The deadline to enter the Toronto mayoral election isn't until the fall, but if you hope to build your campaign, the time is now. I mean if a crack-smoking rich boy and an 18 year old can do it, why can't you? Not that ambitious? You could always run for city council. It's not like those folks are particularly impressive, either.
Get in a massive Pillow fight
PILLOW FIGHT!!! Don't the words just curl your toes and send a jolt of springing energy through you? Each year a giant urban pillow fight happens in Nathan Phillips Square-this year's theme of Pillow Fight Day (April 5th) is Superheroes versus Villains, so don your Wonder Woman or Green Hornet costume and bring your best pillow swing. I hope Mayor Ford goes as the Penguin.
Get lost in nostalgia at the Old Book and Paper Show
If you're a fan of our history posts, you'll want to take a trip through the past at Wychwood Barns on April 6th. There will be seventy tables of old and antique paper, postcards, posters, and other ephemera. You can also get your (not sticky, I hope) hands on some pretty fine rare and antiquarian books.
Ditch the winter weight at a fitness boot camp
If, like me, you've cultivated your gut over the (long, altogether too long) cold months, then perhaps boot camp is in order. As the weather warms, hordes of motivated people will descend on Toronto parks to combat winter fat with a militaristic vigour. You might have to workout under the watchful gaze of those passing by, but that'll only gear you up even more to get into shape.
Follow the yellow bikes around the Beach
Yellow bikes mark the venues of the Beach Studio Tour so keep your eyes peeled. You can walk around and enjoy the Beach neighbourhood and when you spot one stop into the location and admire the work of the local artists ad craftspeople. You can even buy if something really speaks to you.
Stock up on new vintage duds
From 7 pm to midnight April 17th, hit the west end streets in search of sweet vintage finds at the Toronto Vintage Crawl. The list is long of participating vendors from Kensington Market to Roncesvalles, each one hosting their own little parties, spilling out into street for an all out festive shopping vibe.
Get lit up at 420
If you've ever wondered what Yonge-Dundas Square would look like as a giant hotbox, head on down for this year's 420 celebrations, where hundreds of stoners will flaunt their green in front of media, cops, and fellow potheads. It's always a peaceful affair that proves a boon for fast food retailers at the Eaton Centre afterwards (kill me, I couldn't resist).
Give back to the planet for Earth Day
It lands on Tuesday, April 22 but there are events all that week celebrating Earth Day. Head out into the city and do your part for the environment. Plant a tree, join a community clean-up crew, unplug those extraneous appliances, and switch off the lights. Lots of local businesses and parks are marking the occasion-Evergreen Brick works is having a spring clothing swap on the 20th and there are a myriad of family fun events at the Toronto Botanical Garden.
Make every day Record Store Day -- but especially Record Store Day
If you only shop at record stores on RSD then the industry truly is screwed, yet the event is still a fun thing: for music fans and industry peeps the third Saturday of April is Thy Holy Day of Records, which since 2007 has been a global pep rally for struggling (or are they? Yes, they are.) independent record shops. Bands and labels produce special releases and reissues to be distributed in limited vinyl quantities for RSD, and while it can feel quaint to music fans who are already buying vinyl, or at least music, all year, there's plenty to do, so draw a little black disc on your calendar under April 19th.
Pretend you're on reality TV and plan a great escape
The Real Escape Game is coming to Toronto this spring. Already popular in Asia and the US, this interactive puzzle puts you in a room with a bunch of strangers and challenges you to work together to escape. This might sound like a nightmare to some people, but if you always think you're the smartest person in the room, then this is a pretty good chance to test that theory out. Participants have a limited amount of time to solve the mystery, and so must work together. The Real Escape takes place on April 25th at The Foundery Buildings (376 Bathurst St.). Tickets go on sale April 7th.
Get fashionable at FAT
FAT (that's Fashion Art Toronto) Arts and Fashion Week is set to go down April 22-26 at the Daniels Spectrum in Regent Park (585 Dundas St. E.). Each night of installations, photography exhibits, and runway shows (including Brit Wacher, fresh off her World MasterCard Fashion Week debut) will revolve around two contradictory themes: say, masculine and feminine, or minimal and extreme. Advance tickets are available now -- they start at $35 for a one-day pass.
Hit up a neighbourhood festival
There are tons of wonderful neighbourhood events and festivals throughout the spring. A great one is the Spring into Parkdale Sidewalk Sale and Festival Saturday, April 29th. Look for street-side activities, giveaways, performances and, of course, the sidewalk sales. Last year's newest festival, Dundas West Fest, will also return for 2014 on June 7th.
Explore hidden Toronto at Doors Open 2014
For all the lineups and repeat buildings, Doors Open Toronto can still be a pretty remarkable experience if you plan it properly. First timers will be drawn to buildings like the R.C. Harris Filtration Plant, Osgoode Hall and Redpath Sugar, but it's typically the new buildings in a given year that balance the intrigue of gaining access to a private space and the boredom of suffering through a long queue. The lineup has yet to be released for 2014, but there always seems to be at least five or six new additions each year that are legitimately exciting.
Ride your bike up and down the DVP
How many mornings have you sat in traffic imagining what it would be like to abandon your car and just ride a bike down the expressway past all your fellow commuters stuck in what Point Break's Bodhi would call their "metal coffins?" Ok, maybe that's just a fantasy that I have. Either way, the Ride for Heart affords you the rare opportunity of riding your bike on the DVP and a portion of the Gardiner Expressway. The whole thing is pleasantly bizarre given how familiar these routes are in one's car.
Solve a mystery
Tap into your inner detective by exploring one of the real-life escape games at Mystery Room. Get together a team of about 6 to 8 players, get the instructions and then find yourselves locked in a mysterious room with only your wits and sleuthing skills to get you out.
Strip off your clothes and ride a bike
The annual World Naked Bike Ride must one of the year's most bizarre and fun events. Ostensibly an event to draw attention to oil dependency, it ends up being as much about positive body image as anything else. Usually featuring about a hundred cyclists, the ride takes participants across downtown much to the chagrin of the uniformed passerby who inevitably does a double-take before busting out a big grin. This year is the 10th anniversary edition and goes down June 14th.
Head to wine country
While the LCBO now stocks an impressive array of local wines, it's always rewarding to buy direct from the winery -- and wine country is closer than you might think. Some of the country's best wine comes from the Beamsville Bench, a region that's just over 60km away from Toronto. Here you'll find producers like 30 Bench, Fielding Estate and Hidden Bench (to name just a few). Oh, and make sure to look north: the view of the Toronto skyline is majestic.
Writing by Aubrey Jax, Derek Flack, Erinn Beth Langille, Liora Ipsum, and Natalia Manzocco. Top photo by Jason Cook in the blogTO Flickr pool.
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