Sarah Hanlon’s Insider Guide to High Toronto

Published on May 24, 2018 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Symbol of Canada

This weekend Toronto hosts the Lift & Co Cannabis Expo, North America’s largest cannabis convention, so Leafly has enlisted me, their Canadian brand ambassador and certified Toronto fanatic, to help show you around.

One Lift Con must-see: High Tea, my latest podcast addiction, which hits the Med Releaf Stage at 2 pm Friday and 3 pm Saturday.

First off, some expo tips. Tickets for the expo on Saturday and Sunday will run you $20 and if you want to attend Industry Day activities on Friday, you’re looking at $45. The conference is being held in the North Building of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (255 Front Street W). Look for the CN Tower— that’s pretty much where you want to be. If you’re coming from a hotel downtown, it’s probably a short and cheap Uber/cab away. If you’re coming from a distance, you can take any line of the subway to Union Station, which is just a short walk from the convention centre.

The expo runs from 11am-5pm both Saturday and Sunday, and is packed with more stuff than any one person can see. One of my Lift Co must-sees: High Tea, my latest podcast addiction, which hits the Med Releaf Stage at 2 pm Friday and 3 pm Saturday.

In Lift & Co’s TVape Lounge, medical users will be able to test different vaporizers.

Access to space for medicating at cannabis events is, ironically, usually pretty limited, so I recommend getting baked beforehand. One onsite consumption option, for those with proper accreditation: Lift & Co’s TVape Lounge, where authorized medical users will be able to test different vaporizers. For the non-authorized, microdosing edibles or oil might be a good choice for what could be a jam-packed day. Don’t forget to bring a bag for all the swag on offer, and if you’re coming to network, business cards are really handy. And look for me! I’m hoping to meet as many great people at the Career Fair this year as I did last year.

If you’re looking to venture out of the conference for some fresh air, just outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre’s south doors you’ll find Olympic Park, a spacious garden with a gorgeous view of the city. It’s a nice spot to take my next piece of advice: Stop and take it all in! What’s happening in the cannabis world right now is momentous, and it’s tempting to get caught up in the minutia of it all. Make sure you take a moment to step back and realize how significant it all is. Outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, below the iconic CN Tower right next to the Toronto Blue Jays Skydome, is a pretty great spot to do it.

You may remember Toronto’s Orwellian-looking City Hall from its being blown up in Resident Evil: Apocalypse.

It’s also the perfect spot for your Drake approved #The6ix selfie. Other Instagramable session spots: Graffiti Alley (behind the 500 block of Queen Street West); Dundas Square (our mini Times Square at the intersection of Yonge and Dundas, home to the massive Eaton Centre mall); and the “Toronto” sign outside of the Orwellian-looking City Hall building (which you may recognize from being blown up in Resident Evil: Apocalypse).

Also near the convention centre is one of my favourite areas of the city for daytime activities: Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, where I command you to walk straight to the shark tunnel and the mesmerizing jellyfish wall. Across the street, Steam Whistle Brewing offers tours, but I’d proceed directly to the patio to sample the Toronto beer.

Keep your buzz going with a fresh-air walk through Roundhouse Park, and make sure you check out the historic train cars before you dip into the Rec Room, an arcade for adults. (Think Chuck E. Cheese with alcohol.) The first time I went to the Rec Room I lost my voice on the virtual reality experience —I promise you it’s worth the extra cost.

Not only is Union Station just a short walk from the convention centre, it’s a gorgeous example of Toronto’s old-meets-new architecture. Make sure you walk all the way to the original concourse to see the gorgeous ceilings and massive stone columns. (More cinematic name-dropping: Union Station’s served as a filming location for Orphan Black, Suicide Squad, Cosmopolis, The Freshman and, my personal favourite, Silver Streak starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor.)

If you smell Jamaican meat patties while waiting for your train, that’s Toronto’s signature snack and my favourite in-transit treat.

If you smell Jamaican meat patties while waiting for your train, that’s Toronto’s signature snack and my favourite in-transit treat. Some are better than others,  all worth stopping for.

Outside Union Station are my favourite views of the city, especially on a bright day when the sun is setting. Old historic buildings like the Royal York Hotel (opened in 1929 by the Canadian Pacific Railway) blend in with beautiful and sleek glass skyscrapers like the Royal Bank Plaza next door.

Also, the public art in Toronto is stunning, with the murals in the Village (the city’s LGBTQIA+ neighbourhood) making a trip to Church Street absolutely worth your time. While in the Village, make sure to hit the Glad Day Bookshop—the world’s oldest LGBTQ bookstore—for some coffee or tea. Also, beer! Glad Day recently got its liquor licence and even hosts dance parties on weekends. If I’m going out at night, I’m usually going out in the Village.

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I am a sucker for bookstores and ABC Book Store (662 Yonge St) may be my favourite place in the entire city. Open till 11 pm Mon-Sat and 8 pm Sunday, it’s a quiet haven in a busy downtown core. ABC has had every classic I’ve ever looked for, plus an incredible selection of pop-culture memorabilia like vintage Vogue and Time magazines. Whether I’m looking for something in particular or just browsing, I always find a steal at ABC. With lots of paperbacks under $5, it’s the perfect spot to grab book for the flight back home.

My favourite thing about vibrant cities like Toronto is having the ability to eat out 24 hours a day. There’s something so sexy about a full-on dinner date at 3 am. Plus, having never worked a nine-to-five job in my life, late-night options beyond pizza and burgers have been a lifesaver.

Toronto has some great spots for late-night munchies. Fran’s Restaurant and Bar has multiple locations and serves up all the Twin Peaks diner vibes you could want, but 7 West Cafe (7 Charles St W) is my favourite—romantic AF, and with an amazing cake selection.

Looking for a place to comfortably smoke cannabis? Toronto has you covered with our bring-your-own-cannabis lounges.

One thing that can suck about traveling is not having anywhere to comfortably smoke cannabis. Toronto has you covered with our Bring-Your-Own-Cannabis lounges.

I have a soft spot for Vapor Central (667 Yonge St), partly because it was my first job in Toronto, but mostly because its centrally located, open 11 am­–1 am every day of the week, and holds everything a visiting stoner needs: friendly faces, good media, couches, papers, grinders, bongs, dab rigs…do I have to keep going? Vapor Central is like my Cheers and when I worked there, yes, I was the Dianne. Nowadays I’m the Norm—I do a lot of writing there in the day because it’s quiet and has a great glass selection. Pay $5 at the door and come and go all day or buy a weekly pass for $12.50.

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The Hotbox Café in Kensington Market is another great spot to wind down with your buds—they allow vaporizing inside and smoking on the “potio.” After my Hotbox sessions, I love wandering around Kensington checking out the countless thrift shops with a smoothie in hand. Here, you can get a feel for the diversity of Toronto’s delicious food scene. Rasta Pasta or Hungary Thai are great, and if you’re about plant-based eating, your options are endless in Kensington Market.

A trip to the East End will also provide a host of restaurants you can only find in Toronto. Greektown on the Danforth is something else. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was filmed in the neighborhood and for good reason—it’s so filled with Greek cafes, salons, delis, live music spots, and dive bars, you feel like you just walked onto a set. Check out my all-time favourite “I feel like I’m in a movie” spot Square Boy, especially if you like souvlaki! Also, pray to your deity of choice to get the dreamy guy who looks like a young John Travolta on the cash register—otherwise you’re in for a Soup Nazi situation. (Kidding! But seriously, have your order ready before you go to the counter.)

Growing up in the suburbs, I looked up to Toronto as the coolest city in the world. Having lived here for a few years, it’s still just as magical to me. I hope you feel that same magic on your trip.

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Sarah Hanlon
Sarah Hanlon
Sarah Hanlon is a communications and culture grad from the University of Calgary with minor in Women’s Studies. After completing a semester abroad at the University of New Orleans, Sarah moved to Toronto to break into the media world, and in 2015, she won Big Brother Canada. Sarah currently lives in Hamilton, Ontario with her dogs Annie and Sally and her partner Scott.
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