When you hear the phrase “wellness weekend,” most often 5-star resorts or rustic rooms in remote locations come to mind; but in Toronto, you don’t have to head to the sticks for healing or health-conscious meals. The fourth most populous city in North America, known as “the six” by Drake, makes wellness a way of life, with accommodations, apothecaries, and a number of restaurants that ensure living well becomes or remains a lifestyle.
Last month I had a chance to explore Canada’s hottest city for the first time, and as a former 12-year New Yorker, temporary Atlanta transplant, and recent Los Angeles resident, I was blown away by the diversity among people and places that made treating and taking care of yourself easy.
As I shared my experience on social media, many people reached out to share how Toronto had long been on their must-see list. And if you’ve also been thinking about making a trip to the city to relax, relate, and release, here’s how I recommend you plan your visit.
Where to Stay
For too long, sustainable tourism has been more of a trendy topic than a necessary consideration when it comes to travel and accommodations. Yet as climate change increasingly becomes a reality that can’t be ignored, tourists have become more conscious about how their desire for exploration impacts local communities and environments. At 1 Hotels, eco-friendly travel is built into its ethos, with the brand building sustainable sanctuaries across North America and Europe.
From the minute you step in the vicinity of the 1 Hotel in downtown Toronto, you know you’re in a unique space — that’s if you pay attention to the microgreen garden to the right of the building where the very vegetables and herbs used in dishes and drinks at its restaurants are grown. Add to that the wall of fresh green plants and fruit free for the taking to your left as you walk to the reception area, and the Flora Lounge to the right, which features beautiful furniture from Just Be Woodsy, a company that takes trees set to be removed by the city and turns them into one-of-a-kind functional works of art, and you’ll quickly determine the property is one of one, particularly for its ability to put you in a headspace to do better.
What doing better looks like depends on the individual, and 1 Hotel has various ways of aiding you in your wellness endeavors. If physical fitness is at the top of your list, head to the lower level where the Field House Gym resides. The space is one of the more expansive among hotel gyms, from the cardio machines to the wide-ranging weight and functional training equipment. To kick up the intensity of your workout, you can book a personal training session. For those who prefer to let it flow, yoga classes are offered on Sundays and Thursdays.
If you want to lean into sustainability more on a personal level, 1 Hotel’s rooms and suites prompt you to reconsider waste in different ways, from a sand timer you can use to limit the duration of your showers to a donation service that allows you to leave clothing you might otherwise discard with the property to be sent to a local charity. Hangers are decorated with phrases like “contains love letters” demonstrating their repurposed pasts, and the full-size bottles of Bomford personal care products naturally cut down on plastic use. (Set aside money in your travel budget to buy a body wash or lotion to take home with you. The smell is unreal and they sell every item in your room in the hotel lobby.) The aluminum Pathwater water bottles in the minibar can also be refilled with the free infused water in the lobby.
If better eating is on your mind, no need to step outside of the 1 Hotel – though I’ve listed a plethora of options to explore in the downtown area below if you do. Nevertheless, there are four different restaurants to enjoy right at your home base, starting with the aforementioned Flora Lounge where you can snack on light bites while exploring cocktails “designed by nature” like the popular Purple Rain made with Grey Goose Pear, St Germain Elderflower, Prosecco, and Lychee Hibiscus Juice.
1 Kitchen is a zero-waste farm-to-table restaurant with a menu built on sustainably sourced fresh local ingredients, including a list of cocktails and vegetable-based appetizers whose ingredients come from within 100 kilometers of the property. You can’t go wrong with breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner here, and if you’re giving yourself grace by way of a cheat meal, the signature Smash Burger is worth the temporary guilt.
To dine with a view head up to Harriet’s Rooftop, which sits across from the hotel pool and features dynamic views of downtown Toronto. You can grab a seat at the bar, a standard table, or one of the outdoor high-tops daily starting at noon. The Asian-inspired restaurant features snacks like edamame and shishito peppers, while you’ll find a variety of sushi rolls on the main menu along with hot and chilled items like veggie tempura and fresh oysters with lemon, ponzu and wasabi.
For a livelier dinner, Casa Madera is the best bet. The restaurant mixes Mexican and Mediterranean cuisine with a live DJ and performance artists for an immersive experience that can last well into the night. (The closing time Thursday-Saturday is simply listed as “Late” on the restaurant website.) Menu items range from an $18 vegan taco to a $1,500 champagne and caviar pairing. In between, you’ll find unique creations like Mayan hummus, duck carnitas and casa tomahawk.
What to Do
Book a fast facial. Few of us think about getting a facial while running around town, but at Formula Fig, where 30-minute skincare treatments are their specialty, you can do just that. With spots in Toronto, Vancouver, and LA, each location is drenched in shades of green, from the brick façade on the outside of the building, which carries inside to the walls and countertops lined with high-end products, to the treatment rooms and lush plants nurtured by the natural sun rays coming through the large windows.
I booked a Hydrate + Glow Core Facial at the Ossington location, which uses Diamond-Tip Microdermabrasion, a Pressurized Oxygen Serum Infusion, and LED Light Therapy to exfoliate, stimulate collagen production and new cellular growth, reduce inflammation, and increase hydration to leave skin dewy and bright. While the treatment may have been fast, there was no skimping when it came to the relaxing sensation of the oxygen being mist over my face and the professional application in each step of the cleansing, treating and moisturizing process. Perhaps most impressive was the application of Black Girl Sunscreen as the final step of my facial, which further showed me the aestheticians understand the specific concerns of melanated skin.
Make your own makeup at Lixr Beauty. If you like makeup and skincare even the teensiest bit, stop by Lixr Beauty for what they’ve dubbed “A cooking class for your face.” The apothecary skips the silicones in their products, using instead “farm-to-face” cruelty-free ingredients like calendula, rose, and shea butter in a variety of items, from an elixir, oil, and serum to different types of foundations.
Admittedly, I haven’t prioritized natural skincare as much in my health journey, but our class taught me not only the benefits of using fresh ingredients but also that they are just as effective as the chemical formulations I typically use. The best part was that I was able to customize my items, choosing to add a hydrating and brightening boost to my superfruit serum, which I also infused with a cocoa butter bronzer for a little shimmer. Era, one of Lixr’s makeup and skincare experts, also created a foundation serum for me on the spot, mixing different shades to match my exact hue and level of preferred coverage. I was allowed to customize it with boosters and shimmers as well. These items, in addition to the Calendula Elixir, are the only products I’ve used on my face since I’ve returned to LA.
Treat yourself to sound therapy. If you’re someone who struggles to quiet their thoughts and go completely silent during personal meditation, sound therapy is an alternative worth considering. At Toronto Sound Therapy, variations of music guide your body into a restful state where you’re given a goal few of us have the luxury of indulging in by invitation: sleep. Phil Jacobs, the Founder of Toronto Sound Therapy, is a musician and integrative vibrational practitioner, who, along with his team, uses gongs, singing bowl sets, and even a guitar and singing to help you release pain, stress, and whatever emotions are needed to regulate the central, autonomic, and peripheral nervous systems.
Try a different type of social club. Most Saturday nights out involve drinking, dancing, and chatting it up with strangers amid loud music. At Othership, you’ll get all of the above, except swap the drinking for drawing out toxins at this immersive bathhouse that makes saunas and ice baths a communal activity. The 120-minute evening social seeks to “redefine what a night out looks like,” combining loud music with sauna sessions, guided ice baths, and a tea lounge in a group setting, allowing guests to engage with one another in a welcoming, supportive body-positive space. Bring your crew or meet someone new for your first visit. You can also opt for a 75-minute solo free flow or completely guided UP class to begin your Othership journey.
Sauna like the Finns: In Oro-Medonte, just a 90-minute drive (in reasonable traffic) from Toronto, sits a haven known as Vettä Nordic Spa that’s unlike any other spa you’ve ever experienced. Designed to model Finnish sauna culture, the property features numerous hot and cold treatment houses that guests rotate between at their leisure, from traditional wood-burning saunas to cold plunge pools, steam rooms, and relaxation spaces for optimal hydrotherapy. Quiet zones allow you to experience the therapeutic treatments in solitude or you can embrace the natural communal nature of saunas in the social areas, including the restaurant inspired by traditional Finnish dishes. Cell phones are not allowed outside of the changing rooms, eliminating unnecessary distractions and ensuring all guests feel comfortable. Book a 60-minute massage to further unwind.
Where (Else) to Eat
When your regular morning brew won’t do. Start your day with more than a cup of coffee at the Beatrice Society Cafe where you’ll find a menu of toasts, smoothies, and hot and cold beverages infused with functional mushrooms and adaptogen add-ons like ashwagandha, ginkgo, and milk thistle. The cafe was created to be a safe space to learn about and explore the positive properties of mushrooms, from chaga, which reduces inflammation, to Lion’s Mane, which aids in cognition, cordyceps to increase energy, and reishi for relaxation. I highly recommend the avocado and marrow butter toasts for breakfast. Return for happy hour from 4-6 p.m. to sip on a mix of house cocktails made with fresh ingredients and alcohol-free drink options.
Go for The Goods. Eating healthy as a tourist can be hard, but The Goods makes it easy. The café, open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. serves light vegan eats that are primarily organic, gluten-free and nut-free, with additional options that are low-glycemic and sugar, sesame, and soy-free. Even in the dead of summer, Sweet Heat, a curried coconut sweet potato soup, paired with a side Carmenta salad of kale, chickpea crisps, hemp seeds, and caesar dressing was the perfect afternoon meal. If you’re staying in Toronto for a while and want to stock your fridge or pantry full of The Goods’ healthy healing meals, the restaurant offers home delivery of pre-prepared meals and ingredients on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.
The fresh kitchen. I have three words when it comes to fresh kitchen + juice bar: Quinoa onion rings. The photo of this starter stands out on the menu and I am a witness to the fact that they taste as good as they look. I stepped outside my personal box and ordered the squash tacos to go with them and I’m so glad I did. Two of these filling items is more than enough with the large serving of the panko-crusted vegetable topped with power greens, jalapeño crema, tomato, onion, cilantro, and lime. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the beverage options, which include fresh and cold-pressed juices, house-made sodas, hot coffees and teas, power smoothies, shakes, and cocktails. The homemade ginger ale made me three for three with my lunch choices.
To eat like a queen. Planta has been changing the perception of healthy dining since its inception in 2016. Now the chain, co-founded by executive chef David Lee, has 10 upscale 100% plant-based restaurants located across North America. Mushrooms were the star ingredient for me at the Planta Queen location in the entertainment district in Toronto, with the chick’n fried mushroom starter being my favorite — though the udon noodles with truffle mushroom cream and shaved black truffle were a very close second. This is the type of spot where you definitely don’t want to skip the fancy cocktails in favor of having “your usual,” and I was glad I didn’t from the first sip of my Kombucha Mojito. The fresh ingredients and fancy presentation make each beverage option a win, whether you prefer tequila, mezcal, rum or sake. If you like your dinner drinks spirit-free, there’s a host of equally tasty options on the menu for you as well.
Get out of your comfort zone at Gia. If you’ve ever said you could never go vegan or vegetarian, Gia will challenge that thought. Located in Little Portugal, Gia is one of the first restaurants in Canada to be recognized and recommended by the Michelin Guide. And when it comes to the renowned culinary guide’s POV, I wholeheartedly agree that “You could have a full dinner at this narrow hotspot in Trinity Bellwoods and not even realize that everything is meatless,” which says a lot considering there’s a meatball dish among the starters. Set your worries about filling up on heavy pasta dishes to the side with this plant-forward menu that includes gnocchi, risotto, and bucatini, even if you do start with the focaccia, which I recommend you do.