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Summer lovin’—art and food festival in Toronto’s trendiest neighborhood

West Queen West and its changing history

While trying to discover the most hipster things to do in Toronto this September, I stumbled on the Queen West Art Crawl. It’s an annual art and food festival in Toronto’s trendiest neighborhood: Queen West. The annual summer festival began just as a one-day event in 2003 but has since turned into a weekend-long festival celebrating creativity and the local community. The event takes place in the Parkdale and Queen West neighborhoods, which are coincidentally where many of Toronto’s local artists showcase their work. West Queen West, also called the Art & Design District, is home to Toronto’s largest concentration of art galleries. (BlogTO has a map of at least 24 of them.)

The West Queen West area of Toronto became popular with art galleries in the 1990s, though the area was traditionally a bit more bohemian and home to many immigrants. Today, the neighborhood is filled to the brim with boutique shops, organic coffee houses, art galleries and Toronto’s most popular cupcakes. Though there are plenty of pretty things to admire in Queen West, it hasn’t been completely overrun with baby strollers and picture-perfect trendsetters. Just off the main drag is Toronto’s most colorful street—Graffiti Alley.

Like any dynamic city, Queen West’s development isn’t without controversy. Many of the artists who moved into Queen West in the past few decades have been pushed out by higher rents. It’s a common phenomenon in hipster neighborhoods; gentrification tends to change the face of many communities around the world. Events like the Queen West Art Crawl try to bridge the void between old and new, stagnation and development.

Queen West Art Crawl

The summer Queen West Art Crawl festival is a local non-profit which hosts walking tours of the Queen West galleries, a nighttime art crawl, family-friendly activities and an outdoor art show where you can purchase local Torontonians’ works of art. It’s one of those fun, summertime things to do when you feel like doing a bit of hometown exploration. As a first-time tourist to Toronto, it was a welcome surprise to see a local art show in such a public space. Add in some beautiful weather, some of Toronto’s finest food trucks and it was a great summer event worth stumbling on.

The 2012 Queen West Art Crawl (website) took place from September 14-16 during which Toronto seemed to be enjoying some quality summer weather. You can discover some of Toronto’s local artists who were featured at the festival on the Queen West Art Crawl ETSY page.

My visit to Toronto was part of my Great American Hipster Project, with support from Tourism Toronto and the Canadian Tourist Commission.

View more hipster travel tips for Toronto in my hipster city guide.

  1. Jules says:

    Thanks for the pingback, Adam! When you return to Toronto you’ll have to check out the artist-designed rooms at The Gladstone Hotel on Queen West. It was a top contender in the best places I slept in 2011:

    Also, cupcakes are giving way to gourmet donuts in the city, so, you will have to come back for a taste test of our latest lard fascination!

    • Adam says:

      Hey Jules, no problem!

      Thanks for the tip about the Gladstone—sounds like just my kind of hotel. Also: donuts seem to be the next culinary trend. Bet Toronto could do some good maple flavored donuts!

  2. Art crawls are always fun. I don’t remember if I visited this area when I went to Toronto a few years back. All the more reason for me to return soon!

    • Adam says:

      Queen West is definitely the most hip/trendy area of Toronto, so you’d definitely like it. I had no idea, actually, that Toronto was such a cool city. I definitely plan to return soon :)

  3. Love that you’re featuring my city!! I’m home in Toronto for a visit this week and was JUST walking up and down Queen Street W. yesterday!! I also highly recommend the Gladstone- they have a great karaoke bar on the weekends! ;-)

    • Adam says:

      Ohhh thanks for the recommendation Oneika! I totally fell in love with Toronto—can’t wait to go back!

  4. Jemma says:

    I love the ice cream van. It must be really fun to attend the annual art and food festival in Toronto. :)

  5. Ayngelina says:

    So so glad you got to see the more interesting things in my city.

  6. I love food festivals. Keep hearing such great things about Toronto, too. It’s not too far from New York, so perhaps it’s time for a trip!

    • Adam says:

      Koren, I think Toronto is a great place to visit from NYC. I went to New York a week after my visit to Toronto and made a lot of silly little comparisons in my mind. Toronto’s smaller, but still very hip.

  7. jill says:

    I’m such a sucker for unique arts and crafts I’d only go to one carrying cash. It’s like a casino for me. I’d be grabbing those inspirational cards by a handful if I were there.

  8. Priyank says:

    Ah, cool, I love the art crawl and it has evolved so much over the last 6 years that I’ve seen it. The same goes for graffiti lane… nobody knew about it few years ago. :)

  9. Glad you enjoyed the Queen West Art Crawl! I love attending the crawl! You would also enjoy stopping at the Drake Hotel, which is a block east of the Gladstone. You can eat on the sidewalk patio and people-watch, go inside and listen to local musicians at the Underground or hang out at the ultra-cool rooftop patio.

  10. Liz says:

    Which city has the best night live? London or Toronto?

    And which do you prefer for general reasons?

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