Toronto Makes Its Mark as a Burgeoning Wellness Destination

Barbara Noe Kennedy


Mention Toronto, and the first thing that pops into your head probably won’t be wellness, given everything else the city has going for it, including the striking CN Tower, fanatical sports teams, and modern cityscape vibe.


But everywhere you go in this bustling metropolis on Lake Ontario, there’s an emphasis on being well, from 1 Hotel, filled with 3,300 different live plants; a rave sauna where alcohol is prohibited at the Saturday night social gatherings; a pescatarian restaurant that became vegan during the pandemic; not to mention, plenty of outdoor space to breathe fresh air. Toronto is a valid wellness escape that’s under-the-radar and deserves to be discovered, with one feel-good experience after the next. Here are some of the things I unearthed on a recent trip.




Toronto offers a surprising number restaurants focusing on super healthy but delicious menus. Chief among them is Actinolite in Ossington, a homey, indoor-outdoor restaurant inspired by farmers’ markets and local gardens with hints of Old World flavors. You are offered a set chef’s tasting menu of 7 courses— amazing dishes like Kalapore Springs trout, grilled Ontario lamb with lamb sofrito, and shrimp with seafood butter. Be sure to splurge for the wine-paring. PLANTA Queen in the Entertainment District serves Asian-inspired dishes that may look like Maki rolls and bao chicken sliders, but everything on the menu is made from some form of plant. There’s also Gia, a pescatarian restaurant in the Dundas West area that became vegan during the pandemic, a huge hit among millennials.




Beatrice Society Café, serving adaptogen-focused drinks in a downtown café ambiance, is a place to learn about (and enjoy) medical mushrooms and plants that have health benefits and can aid with anxiety and stress. It’s a really cozy, friendly setting that also serves high-quality coffee and healthy bowls and toasts. Fresh Kitchen + Juice Bar, which started in 1999 as a juice bar, offers an energizing menu of both drink and food, including the Glow (carrot, apple turmeric, ginger, lemon) and Energy Elixir (mint, cucumber, kale, grapefruit, apple). There are six restaurants around Toronto.


At Rest

1 Toronto Hotel is a sustainable hotel in downtown Toronto with lines that blur between interior and exterior, all designed with local and reclaimed materials and incorporating more than 3,000 live plants. It offers mind and movement programming (including yoga); and nature drives its food program (including cocktails such as Flora’s Sustainable Iced Tea at the Flora Lounge). Splurge on the Wellness Suite Retreat.



Hot and Cold

Saunas are the Northerners’ secret to well-being—research has confirmed they can support mood and mental health, boost cardiovascular health and immunity, and facilitate a longer life. There’s an amazing Finnish-inspired indoor-outdoor one about 80 minutes north of Toronto, at Vettä Spa, tucked away in the forest of Horseshoe Valley. You can dip in the saunas and ice baths to your heart’s content, have a massage, and eat healthy, Finnish-inspired cuisine in the comfort of your robe.


But for something different, stay in downtown Toronto, where you’ll find the modern, 3,000-square-foot Othership Bathhouse, centered on four ice baths and a 50-person hot sauna, plus a tea lounge. Themed classes, including “sound immersion” and “loving kindness,” are available to help guide you through the process of connection and self-inquiry as you go move between the sauna and ice bath experience. No alcohol is allowed to enhance the meditative, healing environment.



Feel the Beat

Waves of sound vibrations and frequencies run through your body as a masterful musician plays crystal tones bowls, koshi chimes, and Svaram instruments, believed to be calming and healing. Toronto Sound Theory is one practice offering this relaxing experience.



Put on Your Glow

If all of this is sounding a little woo-woo, never fear. At Lixr Apothecary, Susanne Langmuir brings you back to earth by using organic ingredients handpicked from her Ontario farm to create luxurious formulas that transform the skin—DIY workshops are offered. It’s an immersion experience that teaches you about taking care of your skin in a natural and holistic way, for men and women both.


The Lake

Lake Ontario is right there, edging the city’s southern edge, looking every bit like an ocean. You can get out on the smooth waters (which make you realize this is not an ocean after all) with First Nations sisters Jennifer, Sharon, and Lana, who started the kayaking and SUP company Oceah Oceah. The Martin Goodman Waterfront Trail runs along the lakefront, ideal for walking, running, and biking—and stunning views.



Fresh Air

The Toronto Islands are a short ferry ride away from downtown, where you can do yoga, lie on the beach, or stroll verdant paths. It doesn’t get better than this.



Author Bio:

Highbrow Magazine Contributing Writer Barbara Noe Kennedy is an award-winning writer and editor, who specializes in travel writing. She worked for more than 20 years for the National Geographic Book Division, and she has also written for the Washington Post, National Geographic Traveler, the Los Angeles Times, and Fodor's -- in addition to penning a few books -- including 25 Joys of Paris, which was published recently. She is also a Lowell Thomas travel journalism award winner. Barbara has traveled extensively around the world and, along with her husband, is actively involved in helping Zambian students achieve their education and career goals. She writes travel articles and film reviews for Highbrow Magazine.


For Highbrow Magazine


Photo credits: Barbara Noe Kennedy;


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