When I moved out of residence in my second year, I realized that my first year of university was confined to a small, campus-wide radius. I moved between classes and libraries, and a bit up and down Bloor Street, but for the most part, I hardly explored beyond the school. There’s plenty to see right here on campus, but the city is filled with interesting pockets to explore and you’re missing out if you don’t take the chance to do so! Plus, taking a walk and seeing new things is a great way to de-stress.
Luckily, you don’t have to go very far off campus to start exploring. Jutting right off St. George Street is Harbord Street – the road that stretches between Robarts and Ossington Avenue. It’s situated in the centre of Harbord Village, a neighbourhood in between Kensington and Bloor Street that houses many students and professors, as well as restaurants, cafes, parks, and corners of the city’s history.
A walk along Harbord is filled with hip spots to grab a coffee or peek in, and the shady, historic side streets are sure to inspire you to cut through them and see the unique homes up close. Here are some things to do when you take a stroll in the neighbourhood.
1. Get caffeinated.
There are lots of places to grab a coffee along Harbord – among them Tik Talk Cafe, which also serves up breakfast and lunch and is right by campus. Across the street is Redfish Bluefish Creative Cafe. It’s a family-friendly spot but it’s great for students, too, and particularly those who like fine coffee and healthy, gluten-free options for snacks.New spot Almond Butterfly also has lots of coffee and caffeinated drinks to choose from. Once, a friend brought me their hot chocolate on a cold winter day in Robarts and I nearly cried of happiness. They also offer a 10% discount for all students – just show your TCard!
2. Get some treats!
Harbord Street is a haven for baked goods and desserts. Almond Butterly also serves lots of beautiful baked goods and they are 100% gluten-free. They’ve got cakes, pies, muffins, cupcakes, and more, and they taste as lovely as they look.
RedFish BlueFish is scooping ice cream from Kawartha Dairy this summer, and not only that, they’re also doing milkshakes and hopping on the blessed ice cream sandwich trend – check out this delectable looking picture of one of their sandwich creations from their Instagram page!
Closer to Bathurst Street is Chabichou, which has a huge selection of cheeses, but also serves cupcakes and tarts. And honorable mention, of course, to Krispy Kreme, for their wallet-friendly classic doughnuts.
3. Harbord Bakery. Enough said.
Yes, it’s more treats, but Harbord Bakery is a category all of its own! It’s a staple of the area and a piece of its history, having been around since 1929. They have amazing fresh bread, salads, pies, baked goods, and speciality items. It’s a beloved local hub and a great place to get a study snack or picnic supplies.
4. Learn some local history.
The Harbord Village Residents Association is really active and has worked on a number of projects to preserve the history of the neighbourhood. They recently started the Oral History Project. They installed “StoryPosts” all over the neighbourhood, which contain QR codes that link to short podcasts that describe a relevant piece of history wherever you’re standing!
The audio clips contain interviews with some of the oldest living residents in the area. It’s a really unique aspect of the neighbourhood that goes to show how remarkably passionate its residents are.
5. Grab a meal.
There are tons of restaurants along Harbord – and a lot of them are kind of fancy, so they’re great places to celebrate with friends or take a date.
Flip, Toss, and Thai Kitchen is inexpensive and really delicious for a hot meal. They also deliver so you can order your dinner to wherever you are on campus. Harbord Fish & Chips looks like a stand straight out of a beach town. It’s a great spot for a quick fried meal fix, serving delicious no-fuss fish & chips on pieces of newspaper that you can enjoy on cheery white picnic tables outside in the sun.
As for the fancier joints, Harbord House is a definite stand-out, serving craft beer and really delicious entrees at prices that are a bit higher than the usual student budget, but not totally out of range for a special night out. Their sticky toffee pudding is a must-try. Harvest Kitchen is a great place for vegetarian options, and their sustainability-minded locally-sourced menu is guilt-free and full of healthy, earth-friendly choices. They also have lovely patios for outdoor eating.
6. Discover something special!
As with any neighbourhood exploring, what truly makes a place special when you’re wandering around are the little corners you stumble upon without looking for them. There’s a bench on Brunswick Avenue, for example, that invites anyone to take a rest – locals come there to write, get inspired, leave messages, or just take a breather, and some less fortunate people take naps on it. The family that lives in the house maintains it and has fixed it up over the years.
There’s also all the homes, each with their own unique little quirks, like brightly painted bricks and wildly overgrown gardens and windowsill planters filled with herbs. There are alleyways and buildings with interesting street art and quiet parkettes decorated by flowers and play structures.
Harbord Village is just one of the many neighbourhoods bordering campus, and beyond it are even more interesting areas. It’s very easy to be a tourist at home in Toronto, just by taking a quick jaunt away from the university or grabbing a streetcar taking you somewhere new. It’s the summer, so now’s the time – expand your personal radius in the city, and revel in the sun and all the things to see that are waiting for you to find them!
What’s your favourite neighbourhood in the city? Or your favourite spot in Harbord Village? Chat with me on Twitter at @lifeatuoft or in the comments below!