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A Torontonian In California

Palm trees blowing in the ocean breeze. Twenty-five degree weather every day. Movie stars around every corner. Beach culture. Multi-million dollar mansions and adorable Spanish-style housing.

One would think I'd want to stay in California for longer than a month. "You won't wanna come back," all my friends worried. Undoubtedly it was the trip of a lifetime, exploring everything from San Francisco to San Diego, and there's a lot to be said about the natural beauty the West Coast possesses. However, I found that I was a wee bit homesick and in the end, I developed a renewed sense that Toronto was more the place for me.

I couldn't stop myself from bragging. I described in great detail all the culture and the different neighborhoods Toronto boasts - from Greentown to Chinatown to Little Italy and Little Portugal. There is no "melting pot" in Toronto; several summer festivals, street signs and mutual respect celebrate each culture. "There are so many amazing restaurants for all cuisines and budgets," I found myself advertising.

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San Francisco genuinely surprised me. I expected it to be chalk full of culture, as it's been stereotyped as the epicenter of homosexuality and a stronghold of artistic expression. Yet I found San Francisco to be crawling with Tourists and as a result, inundated by trashy little gift shops and over-priced attractions. Where was the REAL San Francisco culture, I wondered? Beneath all the Capitalistic cash grabs, I suspected their culture had something to do with the fishermen who used to propagate the wharves. Once upon a time San Francisco was the premier destination for gold-seekers. Today it seems that people are still flocking here in search of some sort of treasure. I, however, found a renewed appreciation for Toronto.

What else did I miss most? SUSHI! I craved Sushi On Bloor with its cheap prices, dynamite rolls and sushi pizza (nowhere to be found on the West Coast). I dabbled in sushi restaurants in San Francisco, LA and San Diego but was not impressed.

Hanging out on the Sunset Strip in LA was definitely legendary. I even caught a moment with pro skater/actor Bam Marguera! Yet I found it unusual that all the bars wound down around midnight. After the local bands finished playing, the music was done, the bar was closed. In Toronto, we'd surely be partying well until 3, already envisioning an afterhours environment. The local bands weren't the caliber I had dreamt of... and I went to A LOT of shows out there. I think many times we underestimate the talent that pervades our City. Sometimes it takes walking away and looking back to really realize its significance.

Hollywood with all its glitz and glamor was an awesome place to see. But when I tried to envision myself living the lifestyle, I just couldn't fathom it. We complain about Toronto real estate all the time, but imagine paying $1200 for a 500sq ft bachelor? The tiniest inland bungalow would run approximately $500,000. Let's face it, even if one makes $60,000/year... in California, they're poor. Living off a dollar and dream, I felt detached from this Prada, Gucci, and Armani infused world.

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So what do Californians think of us? I half-expected to be met with the ever-present stereotype of Toronto that we are "cold, smug, and sophisticated". Yet I found that almost everyone expressed interest in visiting Toronto and had no biases or preconceptions about its population. Many people heard it was a "cleaner, nicer New York City". I think one businessman summed it up best, "Toronto is indeed a World Class City."

Palm Tree Photo Courtesy of Travelers Digest, San Diego
San Francisco Photo Courtesy of J Gunther
Toronto Photo Courtesy of Andrew Ross


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