There's no doubt Toronto boasts an impressive selection of winter-friendly malls. But it's impossible to get any flavour of a city when exposed only to massive chain stores. In fact, Toronto's best retail asset is the entrepreneurial spirit driving people to open up shops that capture the zeitgeist of the world at large while distilling it down to a distinct and colourful sensibility. Beyond the posh yet predictable Bloor Street drag (Prada and Gucci and Holts, oh my!), Queen Street West between Bathurst and Beaconsfield should meet all your quirky needs. Hit up Preloved for repurposed vintage, shoe haven Chase Gardée and Magic Pony for animé. Don't let the rough and ratty exteriors along Ossington and Dundas West dissuade you from visiting Ministry of the Interior, Jonathan + Olivia, R.A.D. and Made. Meanwhile, the Rosedale stretch of Yonge Street has become an ever-expanding hotbed of cool (see Narwhal, L'Atelier and kids' stop Advice from a Caterpillar).
Hoi Bo bags, from $260
Forget showy designer bags and their nefarious knock-offs. Sarra Tang, a designer who has set up both studio and shop in the historic Distillery District, coats her canvas carryalls in beeswax, creating a sturdy yet stylish signature effect. In shades of slate and black, they are infinitely wearable; that they repel water and grime makes them impossible to resist. 55 Mill St., Distillery District, Case Goods Warehouse #74; 416-888-8270; www.hoibo.com
Mischa Lampert hats, $195
New York-based Mischa Lampert may not be Canadian but her knack for hat design suggests she knows about chilly climes. Spun, dyed and knit by hand, they stand out thanks to their chunky texture, which resembles braided wool. The Yorkville boutique Augustina stocks an array of Pantone-esque colours. A fur pompom is also available. 138 Cumberland St., 416-922-4248, augustinaboutiques.com
Le Labo fragrances, $132 for 50 ml
For frequent fliers who buy perfume only duty-free, this New York line will take you on an olfactory adventure. Intoxicating formulations aside, the scents are composed and labelled by a specialist while you wait. Le Labo made its debut in Canada last week and is exclusive to 6, a beachy-chic boutique. 6 Roxborough Ave.; 416-960-8080; www.6bygeebeauty.com
Scaramouche Pasta Bar and Grill
A recent, albeit conservative, facelift has this Toronto institution lapping up a fresh serving of buzz. If the twinkling view of downtown isn't enough of a draw, it's dynamic duo Carl Korte (partner) and Keith Froggett (chef) who have offered an effortlessly refined dining experience for nearly three decades. Best bets: squash ravioli in truffle ragu and the famous coconut cake. 1 Benvenuto Pl.; 416-961-8011; www.scaramoucherestaurant.com.
Check into a cultural tableau vivant/den of inspired design/detail-driven playground, deliberately situated beyond the city's suited-up core. No matter how you define the 19 creatively conceived accommodations (request the larger suite or salon) and lively common spaces (café, lush dining room, lounge and new barbeque joint) expect total sensory stimulation by the time you check out. 1150 Queen St. W.; 416-531-5042; rooms from $189; www.thedrakehotel.ca.