TRONTO – Grab your toque (what Canadians call a wool hat) and get your game face on if you’re heading for the NBA All-Star Game in the 6ix —a term coined by rapper Drake, Toronto’s unofficial ambassador, for his hometown.
The 6ix, referring to the city’s six jurisdictions, is just one of several nicknames for Canada’s largest city and financial hub, along with T-dot, Toranna and Toronto the Good. And don’t forget #WeTheNorth, the marketing slogan promoted by Toronto’s basketball team, the Raptors. Whatever you call it, Toronto’s multicultural, cosmopolitan vibe is likely to warm you up so fast that you’ll be thinking #YouTheNorth before you know it.
Toronto is surrounded by Lake Ontario and waterfront development is booming on 800 hectares of lakeside land, an area equal to the city’s entire downtown core. If you’re here this winter, check out Queens Quay on Lake Ontario for ice-skating on The Natrel Rink.
In warmer weather, walk or rent a bike from www.bikesharetoronto.com and cycle the new pedestrian/bike lanes along the waterfront — part of a network of new and improved bike lanes in the city. The renovated Harbourfront Center offers indoor art galleries and craft centers while new parks are sprouting along the waterfront.
The CN Tower was the world’s tallest free-standing tower for 34 years but it’s now No. 3 after the Burj Khalifa and Canton Tower, though still the tallest free-standing structure in the Western Hemisphere. Ride the glass-bottom elevator up and if you’re feeling adventurous, consider EdgeWalk, in which participants are harnessed to the building for an open-air walk around the roof 356 meters above the ground. EdgeWalk opens for the season April 11.
Art Gallery of Ontario, redesigned by architect Frank Gehry eight years ago, is one of the largest galleries in North America. It houses more than 80,000 artworks spanning the globe and the centuries. Wednesdays, 6 p.m.-9 p.m. are free.
The Royal Ontario Museum dates to 1914, with a world culture and natural history collection of 6 million items, ranging from dinosaurs to Eastern and African art. Its most recent renovation added a controversial crystal-like structure to its entrance.
Toronto is a city of ethnically and culturally diverse neighborhoods. Sample them like tapas by heading east to west on a food-and-drink tour.
Start with a dosa at Udupi Palace in Little India, then stop by Leslieville, a recently gentrified ‘hood housing trendy eateries, art galleries and a Sunday farmers market, May to October. You’ll soon hit the city’s dividing line, Yonge Street. Explore colorful Kensington Market en route to Ossington Street, a formerly Portuguese area now infiltrated by new bars, beards and Foxley, a superb small-plates restaurant that plays Ella while you fuel up to get down to your next stop, a rock-a-billy blues set at the Dakota Tavern.
Hit up Queen Street West for boutique shopping before heading north to the gentrification-in-process ‘hood known as Bloorcourt, at Dovercourt Street and Bloor Street West, en route to your last stop, The Junction, a west-end up-‘n-comer with a solid brewery and new restaurants.
Consider flying into Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, served by Porter Airlines. Its downtown location (on an island) is usually a faster, easier option than Toronto Pearson.
Transit passes covering unlimited subway and streetcar rides are $42 for the week and $12 for the day. A one-way ride is $3.25 (discounted to $2.90 each if you purchase a set of three tokens). You can get a free transfer from subway to streetcar. There isn’t a direct subway line from the airport to the downtown core, but you can take the 192 Airport Rocket bus from the airport to Kipling Station and from there, the subway downtown, in about an hour. Or for $27.50 one way, ride the new UP train from the airport to Union, the city’s central downtown train station, in just under 30 minutes.
If the weather outside is frightful, walk the underground PATH to access select areas in the downtown core. According to Guinness World Records, PATH is the largest underground shopping complex with 30 kilometers of shopping arcades, services and entertainment.
Secret slam-dunk baller tip: The Thompson Hotel is the official players’ hotel and its rooftop lounge will be transformed into a VIP lounge All-Star weekend. Lines for the hotel’s Wildflower Nightclub can be long on an average night, so slap on your thermals and toque while you wait to get in on nights when there might be appearances by Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry and maybe even Drake. The hotel’s redone Lobby Bar officially reopens the weekend after the big game but the NBA crowd and other VIPS will get a preview All-Star weekend.
Tickets are also being sold at NBATickets.com for other game weekend events like NBA Centre Court at Enercare Centre, with skill clinics and opportunities to meet current and former players.