Elated, instinctual roars can be heard in schoolyards across the region as the final school bell of the year rings. But as a parent, waiting in the sun, I always feel another sentiment that lies somewhere between joy and panic—okay, now what are we going to do for the next two months?
If you’re looking for a last-minute summer getaway, Canada’s biggest city offers affordable and easy fun. So consider this your last multiple choice test of the year and choose one of these Toronto getaways—whichever one suits your family best.
For the mini-foodie
Want to take in Toronto’s inventive restaurant scene but have kids who struggle to sit still through a meal (AKA every kid, once they’re no longer strapped in a high chair and easily placated with Mum-Mums)? A walking tour with the Culinary Adventure Co. lets you explore the city’s neighbourhoods and diverse flavours.
On a recent morning, owner Kevin Durkee and his daughter, Taylor, led a family tour of Chinatown and Kensington Market. At one point, we stopped for dim sum—fresh shrimp har gow and congee, to which we added crisp roasted pork and bright ginger-fried pea shoots. “Just stab it!,” Durkee said to my son as he fiddled with chopsticks.
And then we were on to a Mexican street-style torta sandwich with lightly brined cactus, panela cheese and avocado, followed by Ontario sour cherry pie. Sounds eclectic, but somehow it worked. Just don’t eat breakfast first!
For the artist
Toronto has a wealth of interesting museums focusing on everything from ceramics and shoes to art and natural history, with many offering experiences suitable for children. One of the newest additions is the Aga Khan Museum, which shares Muslim art and artifacts from the 8th century onward; one current exhibition responds to the Syrian refugee crisis.
A short drive from downtown, the museum is stunning inside and out. Kids are drawn to dip their fingers into the reflecting pools, part of a six-hectare park. Inside, they can go on “find the creature” hunts, looking for details such as a chain of cats on a bronze candlestick (ask for the Family Exploration Kit), or roll out clay to make mosaic tile in the Education Centre on Sunday afternoons.
For the scientist
The Ontario Science Centre is a classic Toronto family diversion with a multitude of exhibits to entertain and inspire kids of all ages (and it makes a good day’s pairing with the nearby Aga Khan Museum).
Explore the science of creativity in the Weston Family Innovation Centre (don’t miss the wind tunnel and ferrofluid piano) or the feats and limits of the human body (don’t miss the climbing wall) at the AstraZeneca Human Edge. For kids aged 8 and under, there’s KidSpark, with its hands-on water play and body-size pin art. New this year, the Canada 150: Discovery Way showcases the impact of Canadian ingenuity, from snow goggles and egg cartons to the black box flight data recorder.
For the first mate
There are many stages of childhood and one of them seems to be the pirate phase. If your child is in this crucial stage of development, boarding the Island Rogue with Pirate Life is a fun way to cruise the Toronto shore.
Enthusiastic crew members christen their new crew with costumes and names like Dangerous Dan and Mad Mateo, and then offer song, theatre and the chance to control mini-water cannons (my son guarded the cannon with his hand for the entire time) on the hour-long journey. Along with the drama about treasure, the views of the skyline are great too.
For the hotel homebody
“Can we go back to the hotel?” However happy your kids are sightseeing, that’s a well-worn phrase on many family trips, especially if there’s a hotel pool. At the Chelsea Hotel Toronto, the pool includes an indoor-outdoor waterslide that shoots you through the darkness at high speed. For the younger set, there are bunnies (Marbles and Thumper) and a big playroom.
The Chelsea is centrally located between many city sights: Nathan Phillips Square and its big Toronto sign, the Eaton Centre, and the teeming life and buskers on Yonge Street. Every morning it offers what many kids consider the ultimate treat: the buffet breakfast at the Market Garden café, where they can load up their tray at different stations with scrambled eggs, morning fries, pastries and fruit. My son always felt like a king.
Disclaimer: Karan Smith travelled to Toronto as a guest of Tourism Toronto, which neither reviewed nor approved the content.
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