Things to do in Downtown Toronto - An insider's guide
Run-of-the-mill isn’t really our vibe here at Outer Layer; don’t get us wrong, High Park makes for a beautiful stroll, but if you’re looking for the real Torontonian experience, you’ll find some of the cities best-kept secrets by visiting downtown. So, what are the sort of things you can do in downtown Toronto? Well, as long-standing residents on Queen Street West, we’ve visited almost all of the local shops, cafés and attractions, and we want to share our years of research with you! Coming to Toronto? Visit downtown and plan these into your day:
Jimmy’s Coffee Shop - the best coffee in downtown Toronto
Jimmy’s Coffee seems like it’s taking over Toronto with its ubiquitous yellow lids, but did you know their original location is just down from Outer Layer on Portland Street? And did you know the owner’s name is actually Phil? Yes, we’ve been fans since the very beginning back in 2009, and we’re convinced they serve the best coffee in downtown Toronto.
We remember when they used to hand-stamp Jimmy’s on their cups - you can imagine how much work that was! Most of all, we love the coffee, of course. The trend nowadays is for light roasts that taste of berries and grass, but we love an unpretentious place like Jimmy’s that still does a delicious dark roast. And try the Americano – there’s a reason it’s their most popular drink. We defy you to find a better one!
Looking for the best bar in Downtown Toronto? Try Tequila Bookworm
If businesses were people, Tequila Bookworm would be Outer Layer’s boyfriend. They are right across the street from Outer Layer, and they’re always looking out for us – most notably the times (yes it was more than once) the window in our front door got smashed after hours. They’ve also brought us treats from time to time. But they are more than just a great neighbour. Tequila Bookworm is also one of downtown Toronto’s beloved local watering holes.
They are best known for their extensive and excellent selection of Ontario craft beer and cider. They also serve classic cocktails - on tap even! It’s the best bar in Toronto to chill over a pint with friends. But don’t miss out on the great food! The kitchen is open late, so you can stay well-nourished while you sample the bar offerings. A few of us may have overindulged in the delicious Bookworm Brussels Sprouts at our staff Christmas party - they have an event space upstairs that’s perfect for such occasions!
The Healthy Butcher - Organic meat & healthy food
The Healthy Butcher opened on Queen Street West in 2005, just a few years after Outer Layer, and we’ve been loyal customers ever since! If impeccably sourced organic meat is your thing, you can’t do better than The Healthy Butcher.
Local, organic, sustainable, grass-fed – you can find it all here. Try their signature sausages and burgers! We’ve impressed many a guest with Mama Fiorucci’s best selling burgers, and they always make an appearance at our staff barbecues. Pair that with an always innovative, ethically-sourced selection of grocery items and you have a neighbourhood staple. Now that they’ve partnered with Fresh City, we’ve started sampling their delicious wraps and salads as lunch options too. And when turkey time comes, make your order early and don’t forget to stock up on their homemade gravy!
Our favourite places to eat in downtown Toronto
All of this shopping, sightseeing and drinking can make for a hungry traveller. Luckily for you, we know the coolest places to eat in Downtown Toronto. But don’t just take our word for it, all you have to do is see their pictures and read the reviews raving about their tasty treats. Here’s what we recommend when you visit the area; we’ve even listed somewhere for different meals of the day.
Breakfast in Downtown Toronto? It has to be Café Crêpe
Walking along Queen West, it’s impossible to miss the black tiled façade with the bright Café Crêpe neon sign and staff making crepes in the open window. Maybe you’ve hit the takeout counter late at night on the weekend for a sinfully delicious Nutella banana crepe, but this place has way more than just dessert crepes! Stop in for breakfast some time and experience one of their savoury crepes in the back dining area, with its lovely French bistro decor. Or go ahead and have dessert for breakfast – we’re not judging. But don’t skip the delicious coffee!
Queen Mother Café - the best brunch in Downtown Toronto
Queen Mother Café is a Queen West institution. Opened in 1978, it’s been a vital part of the neighbourhood since the street first became Toronto’s cool place to be. Much has changed around them, but the café is still true to its roots as the mother of Queen Street West, and it’s just as popular as ever.
It’s the perfect place to stop for lunch or brunch during a day in the neighbourhood. Housed in a historic building from the 1880s, the décor is cosy and welcoming. Their Asian-influenced menu is full of tempting choices – the Ping Gai gets lots of raves! There are lots of vegetarian and gluten-free options as well. Don’t forget to check out their patio in the summer!
La Palette - The tastiest Queen St Restaurant
Kensington Market’s loss was our gain when La Palette moved to Queen West several years ago. It quickly became a neighbourhood fixture. This relaxed French bistro, with its open kitchen and charming décor (think mismatched wooden chairs and vintage French ad posters), is the perfect place to linger over dinner.
They have an excellent, innovative wine list and always give great advice about pairings (and are generous with the samples). As much as we like to be adventurous, it’s hard to resist the steak frites followed by crème brulée. Throw your diet to the wind and try the fried Camembert! This restaurant should be on your to-do list if you’re visiting Queen St for food.
Our favourite Downtown Toronto attraction - Graffiti Alley
When it comes to Downtown Toronto attractions, none are more spectacular than Graffiti Alley. The entrance to Toronto’s famed Graffiti Alley is right behind our store, running along the alleyway just south of Queen from Portland Street to Spadina Avenue. Not only do we get to enjoy it on a regular basis ourselves, we can say for sure that it’s a hugely popular destination.
No matter the time of year or the weather, there are always people wandering through the alley, taking photos, and posing. With about a kilometre’s worth of wall space, it’s one of the most photogenic places in Toronto – you’ll often see couples getting professional engagement photos taken. Work by the city’s most renowned street artists abounds, and it’s worth repeat visits because the art is always changing. It’s an open-air gallery that’s not to be missed!
What is it Graffiti Alley?
Due to the popularity of graffiti in Toronto, government officials were left with the task of reducing street vandalism. On one hand, it was a showcase of beautiful modern art, but on the other, it kept cropping up in places that weren’t necessarily appropriate.
Street ART Toronto came up with, quite literally, a crafty solution. There would be dedicated areas that street art would be permitted, allowing artists to breathe life into the city through their creativity, one of these being Graffiti Alley.
We really do recommend that any visitors come and take a look (it makes for an amazing Instagram photo at the very least). If you’re struggling to locate it, you can always pop into the store and we can direct you.
Shopping in Downtown Toronto? Come and visit us!
Last, but by no means least, we’re going to throw ourselves into the mix of things to do in Downtown Toronto. Even if it’s just to tick it off your list, come and explore our range of quirky wares - we’ve been awarded the most unique gift shop in Toronto for a reason!
You’ll find everything from cheap novelty gifts to fashionable home accessories. We visit trade shows throughout the year, and if we like the look of something (usually meaning it has a bit of character), it’ll usually find a home in our store. Don’t forget that you can browse our online store and order gifts for in-store collection absolutely free!