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Healthy guide to Toronto featuring Planta
Photo: Courtesy of Planta

The Glassy’s Healthy Guide to Toronto

While we were distracted by Drake, the Canadian city became a low-key leader in all things wellness.

by Rebecca Willa Davis | 03.24.2019

Canadians have a reputation for being nice, but when I visited during a particularly pleasant summer stretch, a fight was brewing. Everyone I talked to mentioned it. The local newspapers reported on it. There had even been a confrontational protest connected to it.

The cause? Vegans.

Best vegan restaurants in Toronto with Rosalinda
Subtle greenery at Rosa Linda.

The short story: A multi-block stretch of an up-and-coming neighborhood had been taken over by a plant-based entrepreneur, who opened series of businesses (from a ’70s-style ice cream parlor to a clothing boutique) and inspired others to do the same. The entire thing was anchored by Vegandale, a brewery, but that soon became the moniker for this stretch of land. Certain locals pushed back against it, decrying it as peak gentrification. A handful of particularly passionate vegans began counter-protesting in front of a snout-to-tail butcher’s shop. All of Toronto was on edge.

No matter where you might fall in the debate, it’s hard to think of another city that’s been so captivated by a slew of vegan businesses (never mind one that has a plant-based block quite like Vegandale). And beyond the drama, it’s an indication that while we were distracted by Drake and Rob Ford, Toronto became a low-key leader in all things wellness.

Healthy guide to Toronto with Fresh on Crawford
Plant based is a big mood at Fresh on Crawford.

In the busiest parts of town, you can’t go more than a few blocks without passing a stylishly designed juice bar; the buzziest restaurants devote their menus to locally sourced ingredients (if they’re not outright vegetarian to begin with), and one of the biggest clean beauty retailers set up a flagship shop in the city (that would be The Detox Market).

According to Julie Clark, founder of the organic beauty brand and spa Province Apothecary, Toronto’s healthy scene is “very vibrant. So many of the small businesses we partner with have a wellness component, whether it’s offering self-care workshops, or selling products that contribute to the overall well-being of their clientele.”

Best yoga studios in Toronto with Good Space
Instant chill vibes at Good Space.

And it’s showing no sign of slowing; in the past year, shops and restos that lean hard into both feel-good products and Instagram-bait design have popped up across The Six, from Hello 123 to Good Space.

As to whether residents will be able to set their disagreements aside and hold hands over a vegan mega-site? It remains to be seen, eh—but in the meantime, we’ll get a double scoop of vegan ice cream to go.

The Glassy Blackbook: Toronto

Vibe: The friendliness of a small town with the options (many of them very healthy and very cool) of a big city, eh?

Pack: It’s Canada so, you know, pack with the seasons in mind. Otherwise, bring a comfy pair of kicks because you’ll probably be walking a ton.

Drop-ins: Unless you’re dead-set on, say, a Pilates Reformer sesh with limited machines, you’ll be fine just rolling in 15 minutes before class time and snagging a mat.

Walkability: Very—you’ll probably get your steps in by lunch.

Runability: Whether you just want to squeeze in a quick two miles or are mid-marathon training, you’ll find good options in Toronto. Our faves are High Park, or just meandering along the waterfront.

Cycleability: There’s a decent number of bike lanes crisscrossing the city—plus a bike share program that might be worth signing up for if you’re in town for a few days and prefer exploring on two wheels. (Also: Many hotels offer free bike rentals.)

Clean eats: You won’t go hungry in Toronto; from Cali-style hipster cafes to gorge Mexican eateries, plant-based is a buzzword in the city. And if you’re hardcore? Head straight to Vegandale.

Supermarket run: There are a handful of Whole Foods (natch), but for something a bit more local we heart The Sweet Potato (in the Junction) and Essence of Life Organics (in Kensington Market).

Water situ: Bring your Swell bottle; the tap water in Toronto is totally safe to drink (it comes from Lake Ontario, FYI).

Toiletry pick-up: Essence of Life Organics for the basics, Province Apothecary for beauty splurges.

Make your base: Queens Street West is a no-brainer if you want to be in the middle of the (juice bar-and-yoga studio) action. We like the low-key vibe of The Junction, too.

Worth exploring: Moonshine Juicery, which is a drive from Toronto but sooo worth it for Corina Crysler’s incredible juices, high-vibe snacks, and souvenir-worthy array of beauty products.

If you eat at one place: Rosalinda is very ‘grammable, very plant-based, and very tasty. The only downside is narrowing down what you’ll end up ordering, since the menu is stacked with OMG-I-want-that options.

If you work out at one place: Good Space is that perfect studio: bright, pretty, friendly, cool. Come for a class, stay for the workshops.

If you relax at one place: Hammam Spa will make you go, ‘Ahhhhh.’ However much time you think you’ll want to spend there, double it.

Check out the complete Glassy Guide to Toronto.

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