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It’s hard to top Toronto when it comes to wintertime activities. As the temperature cools down, this city of 2.5 million-plus really heats up. Not only are there a myriad of great attractions and over 7,000 places to dine throughout the city (Belgian fries or schnitzel anyone?), but according to Guinness World Records, Toronto is also home to the largest underground shopping complex, PATH, with 29 km (18 miles) of shopping arcades featuring 1,200 shops and services that will keep you busy and toasty warm as you traverse the largest, and what many view as the most metropolitan, city in all of Canada. There are also many spaces and places, many of them along the waterfront during Winterfest, offering all sorts of fun stuff to do. The following is just a few to help you get started on your winter tour of Toronto.
For thirty years and counting, when the temperatures drop, this chilly yet thrilling Harbourfront neighborhood hangout fills with locals and tourists alike. And why not? Overlooking Lake Ontario and the Toronto Islands, this gorgeous skating rink features outdoor fire pits, food and all sorts of cool events, including DJ Skate Nights every Saturday night from 8-11 p.m. And better yet, the nights (and as well as the days) are free!
Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West. Through April 14, 2014. Free admission.
Hockey Hall of Fame
Want to take a shot at a pro? Then skate on over to the Hockey Hall of Fame. One of Toronto’s premiere tourist stops, this interactive museum features two state-of-the-art games that allow you to go one-on-one with puck legends like Wayne Gretzky. There are not one, but two, theaters featuring hockey’s first ever 3-D film experience and all sorts of hockey memorabilia to ooh and ahh over, including the Stanley Cup.
Brookfield Place, 30 Yonge Street. $13-$17.50 (children 3 and under free).
Lowe’s Toronto Christmas Market
Where Old World Europe meets the New World, Lowe’s Toronto Christmas Market is all about shopping and so much more. Located in the Distillery Historic District, this charming marketplace, chock-full of locally sourced and handcrafted gifts, is fun for the entire family, with plenty of children’s activities and events designed just for the wee ones. Heck, that sweet guy in the big red suit even stops by. His home is only a few miles north, after all. And for adults, there are beer gardens and mulled wine aplenty.
Distillery Historic District. Through Dec. 15. Free.
Miss Lou’s Room
If you’d rather, make a gift with your own two hands at Miss Lou’s Room, located at Harbourfront Centre during Winterfest on Toronto’s own waterfront. Here children and adults alike can concoct all sorts of crafty items and engage in hands-on activities.
Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West. Saturday-Sunday December 14-15 and 21-22, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Free.
If it’s 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve at the Toronto Zoo, you know what that means, don’t you? It’s time for the Kids’ Countdown. That’s right. From 5-8 p.m., the kids take over the zoo, with great entertainment including The Decades and Majinx Magic Show and more. You'll encounter some very special animal visitor, too! And don’t forget to check out the nearby, brand new giant panda exhibit.
2000 Meadowvale Road, Scarborough, Ontario. Tuesday, Dec. 31. 5-8 pm. Your Toronto CityPASS booklet gives you general admission to five indoor pavilions and outdoor trails that highlight over 5,000 animal residents of the zoo.
Presented by PawsWay, these free Dog Sledding Demos allow families to get up close and personal with the hardest working pooches in the world. During the half-hour presentation, visitors will get a chance to ‘pat and chat’ with authentic sled dogs and find out more about the items used in this unique cold-weather sport.
Ann Tindal Park, Harbourfront Centre, 235 Queens Quay West. Saturday-Sunday December 14-15 and 21-22, Noon-2 p.m. Free.
Free Concert Series
Grab a bag lunch and head to the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre where, from now until June 2014 during the noon hour, you can check out a free concert featuring artists from all over the world and from varying genres including jazz, opera, classical and dance.
Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, 145 Queen St. West. Most Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon, and some Wednesdays at noon or 5:30 p.m. Free.
360 Restaurant at CN Tower
With your Toronto CityPASS booklet, you’ll definitely want to take in the jaw-dropping views located atop the CN Tower. After that incredible experience, you might find your mouth wide open once again at the CN Tower’s 360 Restaurant. Reservations are recommended for this high-flying and highly-touted eating establishment. The tasty and timely three-course 360 Holiday Lunch is available from Dec. 1-24.
301 Front Street West. For reservations click here or call 416 362 5411.
This assertion may seem a little at odds with itself, but San Francisco not only is one of the world’s most romantic cities, it’s also one of the best places to take kids.
In a prior blog, I wrote about spending many summer afternoons watching Willie Mays and Willie McCovey play at Candlestick (yes, I’m that old), while tossing back Ghirardelli’s Flicks chocolates out of a cardboard tube. Another treat always was walking along Fisherman’s Wharf, and touring Ripley’s Believe it Or Not museum, which displays a trove of oddities from around the globe.
It’s nice to know that some things don’t change completely. Fans can still enjoy a Giants game, albeit at the breathtaking AT&T Park instead of wind-whipping Candlestick, and Fisherman’s Wharf still has Ripley’s, as well as multiple shops, attractions and restaurants.
What makes it so fun for parents is that instead of being fenced in a theme park’s grounds, families can enjoy mobile adventures riding cable cars, ferryboats, Segways, and take in wonderful strolls through sprawling Golden Gate Park and along the beach. Here, one can find scrumptious food of any variety, cost and ethnicity. It’s truly a city for all ages and people.
Plus, with San Francisco CityPASS, many of the city’s best attractions are a bargain. Start with the iconic Cable Cars. CityPASS ticket holders not only get access to the historic cable cars, they can use CityPASS to traverse the city on the Muni system, which also operates diesel and electric trolley buses, and historic streetcars. But you have to ride the trolley with the kids, at least once. They’re pretty easy to catch coming down the hill, but there’s a huge line at the turnaround locations to go back up. Therefore, it’s best to board at least four blocks above the turnaround. Also, according to the CityPASS website, the cable car on California Street is least crowded and easiest to board.
Another terrific ride for ages 12 and up is a City Segway Tour. I’ve blogged about this before and the rides remain as popular as ever. The Segways are a thrill to ride after just one lesson, and the tours incorporate stops at San Francisco’s most famous destinations: Telegraph Hill, the Embarcadero, the Pyramid building, Ghirardelli Square, Palace of Fine Arts, the cable car turnaround, and panoramic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and the Bay. It’s an unforgettable few hours spent with wonderful, friendly tour guides. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Families will want to visit the Exploratorium’s new home on the historic waterfront at Pier 15. This CityPASS attraction was called “one of the best science museums in the world" by Scientific American. Visitors of all ages will enjoy exhibits on the human body, astronomy, food and sports science, color and the natural world.
Make your kids’ eyes open like saucers by taking them into Chinatown, the largest outside of Asia. Chinatown is one of the top attractions in a city that’s known for so many iconic and eclectic things to do. The three top picks for kids are visiting the Chinatown Kite Shop on 717 Grant St., going to the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory (which churns out 20,000 cookies a day) at 56 Ross Alley, and taking everyone to a noisy, clattery dim sum restaurant and giving your kids a real culinary education. “I don’t know what it is … just try it,” you’ll say. That is, unless it has a beak sticking out of it.
On Friday, January 31, 2014, the Chinese New Year is celebrated. Originated in the 1860s during the Gold Rush, it is the largest general market event in Northern California. The celebration includes two major fairs, the Chinese New Year Flower Fair and Chinatown Community Street Fair. All the festivities culminate with Chinese New Year Parade on the 31st. The year 2014 is the 4,711th Chinese year, and marks the year of the horse — a symbol of traveling, competition and victory.
The Aquarium of the Bay also is a perfect family getaway, particularly if the city’s famed wet, gray carpet of fog unfurls. This CityPASS attraction is the only aquarium dedicated to animals native to San Francisco Bay. One of the more striking attractions is its 300 feet of crystal-clear tunnels, which provide a scuba diver's view of more than 20,000 marine animals. The aquarium has a giant Pacific octopus, and even a tactile pool where little fingers can touch sharks, rays and sea stars – without losing digits of course.
If the weather isn’t too blustery, enjoy a Blue & Gold Fleet Bay Cruise. Not only do the boats cruise along the City’s historic waterfront, past the PIER 39 sea lions, it travels underneath the Golden Gate Bridge and around Alcatraz, the famous last stop for so many of the nation’s infamous prisoners back in the day. Or, for a real thrill, take the kids inside the prison on an Alcatraz Tour. For just $30 ($37 for a night tour), it’s a memorable capper to a perfect family vacation.
The winter holidays have a way of bringing people of different beliefs together, recognizing how similar many of our ancient traditions that have survived into modern times may be. This year, Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, begins at sundown on Wednesday November 27th, kicking off the winter holiday season early -- just a day before Thanksgiving!
With the upcoming Hanukkah holiday in mind, CityPASS would like to show you some of the biggest, brightest, and most festive menorah lighting ceremonies around the U.S. Whether you’re Jewish by faith, by birth, or not at all, the cultural significance of these ceremonies is something that can be enjoyed by all. Happy Hanukkah!
New York City - Home of the World’s Largest Hanukkah Menorah
The United States has the world’s second-largest population of Jews after Israel, with over 5.5 million Jewish people calling this nation home. An estimated 2 million live in New York City alone. From November 27th through December 5th, 2013, the Big Apple shifts its focus to the big menorah at Grand Army Plaza at the corner of the legendary 5th Avenue and 59th Street.
Amid the Manhattan skyscrapers, directly outside the iconic Plaza Hotel, a 32-foot, 4,000-pound menorah constructed of gold-colored steel stands proudly as thousands gather to see the structure lit at sundown. The tips of the menorah contain oil lamps that resemble candlestick wicks. Each night during the eight nights of Hanukkah, a new “wick” is lit with the help of a crane. The lighting takes place within walking distance of Central Park, and admission to this celebratory cultural event is free.
Washington, D.C. - The National Hanukkah Menorah
On Wednesday, November 27th, thousands will gather in the heart of the nation’s capital on the White House Ellipse to witness the ceremonial lighting of the 30-foot menorah. Sponsored by a Hasidic organization, the American Friends of Lubavich (Chabad), the National Menorah lighting dates back to 1979. Next year will mark its 35th anniversary, and plans are already underway to make this occasion even more special next year.
The gathering adds a warm holiday feel to kick off the Hanukkah season right! This year’s outdoor event features traditional latkes and donuts for attendees to enjoy. Music will also add to the festive atmosphere, thanks to performances from the Three Cantors, the U.S. Air Force Band, and renowned Israeli-born Grammy-winning violinist Miri Ben-Ari. Tickets to the event are free, but must be reserved in advance to secure seating.
The “Mama Menorah” of San Francisco’s Union Square
During the ‘60s and ‘70s, rock promoter Bill Graham helped elevate San Francisco’s rock scene from a local level to world prominence. Not only did Graham give such artists as the Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, and Rod Stewart to the world, he also gave a shining light of hope to the world. In 1975, Graham helped bring a big, beautiful menorah to San Francisco, right in the heart of its bustling Union Square. Graham himself was a Holocaust survivor and, although he was not devoutly religious, he felt strongly about bringing communities together. The menorah was dubbed the “Mama Menorah” since it helped to give birth to large menorahs and lighting ceremonies in roughly 500 other cities around the globe.
This year’s lighting of the Bill Graham Menorah will take place on November 27th at 5pm PST and will extend for all eight days of the Hanukkah celebration, ending on December 4th. The ceremony will be attended by Andy David, Israeli Consul General, and Lori Starr, Executive Director of The Jewish Contemporary Museum. Music, crafts and activities will also be on tap, as well as a special attraction: a lighting ceremony on the 7th day by The Rabbi and The Robot (a real robot)! The event is free to all and open to the public to attend and join in the celebration.
Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, or countless other winter holidays, joining in on public celebrations of each others’ special days brings us closer together in appreciating the beauty of our shared cities and cultures across the great melting pot that is the U.S. Happy Hanukkah and Happy Holidays from CityPASS!
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