About a 15-minute streetcar ride from the downtown core, the gentrifying but still gritty West Queen West area is a hipster haven where you can buy vinyl records in one shop and vinyl clothes in the shop next door — and mingle with local artists at a pair of renovated boutique hotels, the Drake and the Gladstone. Sleekly corporate they're not: At the Gladstone, resident cowboy Hank Jones shuttles guests between floors in a hand-operated Otis elevator, and amenities in the artist-designed rooms include free earplugs (a godsend, given the noisy street and single-pane windows).
Marking its 175th birthday this year, the town once known as Toronto the Good — a reference to its role as a bastion of Victorian morality — also prides itself on its low-key, multicultural character. Half the city's 2.5 million residents were born outside Canada, and its ethnic neighborhoods (from Little Pakistan to three Chinatowns) reflect what local historian Bruce Bell calls "the principle of life here: not a melting pot, but a place where you keep your culture and share it with others."
One of the best ways to sample that multicultural ethic is to spend a Saturday in Toronto's St. Lawrence Market, home to its first city hall during the second half of the 19th century. Vendors arrive by 5 a.m., and the place is humming by 7. You can forage for curry powder, kangaroo burger and arctic char, then top off the morning with a Torontonian treat of piled-high peameal (similar to what Yanks call "Canadian") bacon stuffed into a warm roll.