west coast weekend: tofino, bc

TOFINO, {OH} Victoria
Tofino is top-notch May through August, but true west-coasters know the wet and windy surf-destination is worthy of its accolades year-round. We slipped away on an extra long weekend in February for an incredible mini-vacation that has us itching to head back soon. From three meter swells to a world-class meal, it was a weekend worth talking about. Here are a few of our Tofino highlights.

surf

The first item on the agenda was a 3 hour surf lesson with Tofino Surf School. There are an overwhelming number of surf schools in Tofino and choosing one online can be a daunting task.  In the end, we went with Jeffro because his prices were the best and there were plenty of rave reviews on his site. Verdict? We picked good. Jeffro was professional (yet fun) and relaxed (yet diligent). It was grey and raining hard even by Tofino standards, but our wetsuits were warm and we were having too much fun to care. Maybe it was the weather, or maybe it was luck, but there was not another soul on the beach that afternoon. It was a perfect Tofino day.

soak

We consider ourselves pretty savvy when it comes to Vancouver Island points of interest, but we only discovered the Tofino hot springs a little while ago. Located in Maquinna Provincial Park, the springs are only accessible by plane or boat. We booked a tour through Tofino Whale Centre, but several Tofino tour companies travel there. The 2 hour boat ride was an incredible way to see the coastline and the vast ocean, and if the season is right you might even spot a whale or two. Tip: take Gravol or you won’t be enjoying the view at all – the open ocean swells were 2 to 3 meters. On land, it’s a 30 minute (or so) walk through the rainforest to the hot springs. The springs are tightly packed, but piping hot and soothing. The best part? We packed a post-soak picnic to enjoy from the rocks overlooking the waves – miraculously, there was not a cloud in the sky that day.

dine

Food journalist Andrew Braithwaite named it Canada’s Best New Restaurant, and while we haven’t traveled as far and wide as Braithwaite has, we’d have to agree. Wolf in the Fog is a new favourite of ours for its stunning interior, gracious staff, and most of all, its remarkable food. At the helm of the new restaurant is head chef Nicholas Nutting from The Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn. From the moment it started, the meal was an experience. It began with a potato crusted oyster with apple and truffle and a Bamfield seaweed salad with shitakes, wild rice and daikon. From a selection of five sharing platters we chose the ‘Mighty Duck‘ – a whole B.C. duck, beetroot and gorgonzola lasagne, and blood orange salad (other enticing options included fried chicken with corn bread and an Arabian lamb shank). The grand finale was butterscotch brulee with caramelized white chocolate and raspberry gelato. Trust us (and Braithwaite) when we say Wolf in the Fog is not to be missed.

sleep

The Cabins at Terrace Beach in Ucluelet is a really cool little resort. We only crossed-paths with other guests at check-in and check-out, so if you’re into privacy then this is your place. The staff we did see was incredibly kind and accommodating (but we might be a little bias because they upgraded us to a huge two bedroom cabin). The cabin itself inspired many “we could totally have a place like this one day!” comments over crib and wine.  That’s a sign of a good cabin.  The only downside to our stay was our own poor planning.  The drive between Ucluelet and Tofino is about 45 minutes, and every activity we planned took place in Tofino.

 

{oh} sonoma

Sonoma Valley Travel Guide
California’s wine country has been on our bucket list for as long as we’ve loved wine (that’s a very long time, for those of you keeping track). When we started planning the big California road trip Napa was an itinerary must, but after doing a little research (and budget planning) we thought the smaller, more laid-back Sonoma might be a better fit. Like all important decisions, this one was made over a bottle of wine – and boy were we right.

We loved Sonoma as soon as we saw it. We arrived mid-afternoon with just enough time to explore the tiny (but charming) town square before dinner. The streets are lined with galleries, shops and, of course, wine tasting rooms. Many wineries have storefronts in town to catch the wandering tourist – our favourite was the Roche Winery Tasting Room located just off the square. The wine at Roche is delicious and, as with everyone we met in Sonoma, the people are positively delightful. Seasoned wine drinkers at the relaxed outdoor bar welcomed us warmly and fed us with the kind of tips only locals can give, between glasses of crisp white wine.
Sonoma Valley Travel Guide
Our only full day in Sonoma started at Wine Country Cyclery where we rented bikes and picked up a map for a self-guided wine tour. We rode down country roads past incredible farm houses, beautiful barns, and wide open fields and stopped at a handful of wineries along the way. The highlight was Scribe Winery, a turkey farm-turned-winery perched on the top of a hill. It was also the only place we pulled out the camera, so all the pictures featured here were taken at Scribe! Unlike most wineries, Scribe doesn’t just line you up at bar for a 10-minute tasting, and for that reason they require appointments – we found this out the hard way, but they let us in anyway. Their tasting room is their yard, scattered with picnic tables and roamed by farm dogs, and the tasting experience is extremely intimate. We were surprised at how much time our sommelier spent sitting with us, explaining not only the wine but the history of the vineyards and the valley. We must have spent over an hour tasting and talking, soaking up the California sun – it was well-worth the higher-than-average tasting fee.
Sonoma Valley Travel Guide

Sonoma Valley Travel Guide
There’s no better way to end a perfect day than with a perfect meal. When in Sonoma go to Sondra Bernstein’s restaurant the girl & the fig for a dinner you won’t forget. Be sure to make a reservation – the inventive cocktails and plats du jour attract locals and tourists by the truck load. We won’t dare suggest what to order because the seasonal menu frequently changes, but we will confess that we still think about the chicken. And the steak. And the mussels…

The Sonoma Creek Inn was the perfect place to stay for our short two-night stay. The cute boutique hotel has comfortable rooms and accommodating staff, and it’s just a short drive from town. We can’t wait to check in again for another weekend in Sonoma.

{oh} california coast

California is a big state. We knew this going in, but we still grossly underestimated just how many hours of our road trip would be spent, well, on the road. Lucky for us, the coastal highway between SoCal and San Francisco is about the prettiest road you could ever drive. We’ll share our favourite California coffee shop, the best place to stop for picnic goods, and a breathtaking hike you won’t forget – but first, some (super amateur) photos! Travel California by {OH} Victoria Travel California by {OH} Victoria Travel California by {OH} Victoria Travel California by {OH} Victoria Travel California by {OH} Victoria Travel California by {OH} Victoria Travel California by {OH} Victoria Travel California by {OH} Victoria Travel California by {OH} Victoria Travel California by {OH} Victoria

Our first stop along the coast after Santa Monica was the ever-charming Santa Barbra. With only a day in town we had just enough time to explore State Street (the main shopping drag) and cruise bikes up and down the beach (with a pit stop at East Beach Grill for nachos, of course).

Next was San Luis Obispo (SLO). We breezed through pretty quickly, but if there’s one thing we always make time for it’s a good cup of coffee. We fuelled up at Kreuzberg, a trendy downtown coffee roaster by day/bar by night. The coffee is divine, but the retro decor that pays homage to classic lit’s best authors is really what won us over.

Two miles west of downtown SLO is the sunny, sandy Avila Beach. Lined with brightly coloured buildings (vacation rentals, cafes, and shops) the beach is the perfect picturesque pit stop.  Be sure to stop at the Avila Valley Barn for fresh local produce (it’s not a road trip without a bag of cherries) and to-die-for baked goods. Don’t leave without saying hello to the adorable critters just waiting to be pet and hand fed. It is a barn, after all.

Our absolute favourite thing about this leg of the road trip was without a doubt the view along Big Sur. We pulled over many, many times along the way (once to watch hundreds of sea lions shed their fur on the beach!) but the epic coastline deserves a closer look than what the vista stops have to offer. Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park offers some incredible hiking through lush ferns and the shade of the Redwoods all the way up to hot dusty mountain tops with wild flowers and breathtaking views of the Pacific coastline. The view alone makes the sweaty hike worthwhile!

Stay tuned for our final California post about Sonoma Valley!

{oh} santa monica

Santa Monica beach

We love the beach. We grew up on it, and we’ll never be able to live away from it. It’s why we decided to do a west coast road trip, and it’s why Santa Monica was top on our list of California destinations. Our three-day stay was not without hiccups (a car that wouldn’t start, a record-breaking heat wave, and a bad motel) but it remains a highlight of our trip. From phenomenal food to bicycle beach tours, here’s our take on the SoCal city.

eat

Huckleberry Bakery and Cafe

Weeks after eating there (twice) we still think about Huckleberry Bakery and Cafe. The family owned and operated bakery and cafe is all about fresh, seasonal food – from savory sandwiches and lush salads to artisan baked goods that pair perfectly with their gourmet coffee. The casual space is pretty and rustic, and seems to be eternally full of chic and attractive SoCal residents looking for a gourmet grilled-cheese, a quinoa bowl or fresh-baked doughnut hole.

Tacos, tacos, tacos. The best tacos we’ve ever had can be found at Blue Plate Taco on Ocean Avenue, a cool restaurant with an energetic vibe, killer patio and an even better drink list. Tacos range from veggie to short rib, but the shrimp tacos won us over with pumpkin seed pesto, cilantro crema, jicama and cilantro. We recommend you make a reservation – this ain’t your neighbourhood taco truck. We’ve heard rave reviews about their sister restaurant Blue Plate Oysterette and have added it to our ‘Next time we’re in Santa Monica’ list.

Sometimes (or always) it’s okay to skip lunch (or dinner) and have ice cream instead. We discovered Sweet Rose Creamery at the Brentwood Country Mart and found out mid-cone that the quaint shop (with flavours like fig sorbet, lemon chiffon and salted caramel) is in fact owned and operated by the very couple behind Huckleberry.

do

Santa Monica Pier
The Santa Monica Pier should be seen by day as well as night. It’s definitely a mecca for tourists, but worth a stroll. When you’ve had enough of the crowds, grab a bike from one of the rental huts and cruise down to Venice Beach for some top-tier people watching. From body builders to street performers, there’s plenty to see. Watch the locals fish off the end of the Venice pier as the cranes swoop and dive around them.
Venice Beach, bird

The Third Street Promenade is a shopping lover’s dream. The beautiful three block stretch is lined with shops (Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters and Madewell, to name a few) and restaurants. Magazine kiosks and cafes give the Promenade a Parisian feel, and any of the restaurants have sidewalk patios perfect for dropping your bags and enjoying a late afternoon cocktail.

Venture into upper class Santa Monica and check out the Brentwood Country Mart where you’ll find upscale boutiques like Unionmade and Kendall Conrad. To give you an idea of just how trendy the ‘country’ mart is, goop was rumoured to have a pop-up shop there just days before our visit – yes, goop as in the divine Gwenyth’s goop. Our favourites are the slightly more affordable but still o-so-chic Diesel, A Bookstore and Sugar Paper. Unless you’re rollin’ like Gwen, pass on the designer leather handbag and grab some fresh garden grub at the (gorgeous) Farmshop. Finish off with that gourmet cone from Sweet Rose Creamery we mentioned – it’ll help ease the pain of passing up all those fancy threads.

Hollywood

Technically it’s not in Santa Monica, but we couldn’t write this post without mentioning our detour to Anaheim. Yes, we went to Disneyland. As childless adults, Disneyland is the MOST FUN. The best part about experiencing Disneyland as an adult is noticing and appreciating the sheer amount of detail in every design. To understand that it began as one man’s crazy dream is a pretty wonderful thing. While we’re on the topic of not-in-Santa Monica, make sure you explore the Hollywood hills, too.

Route 66

Stay tuned for our take on California’s Central Coast and the glorious wine country!

 

{oh} portland

Portland travel blog

We’re back! It was a helluva trip and we’re so excited to share all of our vacation favourites with you over the coming weeks, starting with Portland. Technically, this was our second time visiting, but we experienced so much more of it this time around and fell deeply, deeply in love. There’s already talk of another visit, soon. Here’s our take on a city we can’t get enough of…

shop

Portland travel blog

It seems every second Portland address is a charming shop, whether it be clothes or books. Start with the Portland Saturday Market (open Sundays, too) for a look at artisan goods both weird and wonderful. When the market wears you down, recharge at one of the many food trucks and have a seat in the beer garden.

Union Way is a trendy indoor shopping alley connecting Southwest Burnside with Southwest Stark. Walk through for a look at local and designer shops, like the Oregon boot brand, Danner, and makers of beautiful bags, WILL Leather Goods.

Leave a little room on your credit card for the nearby Powell’s Books, the world’s largest new and used independent bookstore. Forget the bargain bin and check out their Rare Book Room for a glimpse at some real literary gems.

Finally, there are plenty of vintage shops to choose from, but there’s one in particular that caught our attention. BillyGoat Vintage on SW Broadway is far more than clothes. We were swooning over old school lamps, vintage drapes, and antique typewriters.

eat & drink

Portland travel blog
Portland does coffee and comfort food like no other. Start your day with Stumptown Coffee Roasters, a Portland staple. Bonus if you’re staying at the Ace, the Stark location is adjacent to the trendy hotel lobby.

Once your caffeine addiction’s been fed, head next door to Kenny and Zuke’s. If you love an authentic delicatessen with a great pastrami, then this is your place. Traditional latkes, bagels, and a breakfast that will last you all day long are featured alongside a huge assortment of sandwiches, burgers, and salads. Oh, and Pastrami Cheese Fries, too.

Portland travel blog
Leave room for donuts (doughnuts?) and worry about your waistline another day. If you’ve never been, then Voodoo Doughnuts is a must if only to say you’ve been there, done that. Call us traditional, but we love the Portland Cream and the Apple Fritter. Someone a little more adventurous might try the Bacon Maple Bar doughnut. For a real gourmet treat (not to mention shorter lines) try the more subtle Blue Star Donuts where you can sample a Blueberry Bourbon Basil donut and a Red Berry Rhubarb Fritter. Our favourite? You’ll have to visit both and be your own judge.

Nothing washes down pastries like a cold beer. Henry’s Tavern on 12th Street offers an impressive selection of local brews and their urban patio is the ideal place to enjoy Happy Hour.  If you feel like going straight to the source, Hair of the Dog Brewery offers tastings at their spacious SE Portland spot.

If you have the stamina, stroll around the Pearl District come dinner time. You can’t go wrong with a restaurant pick in this neighbourhood.

explore

Portland travel blog

Getting lost in a new city is an adventure, and sometimes the best way to find the real hidden gems. We drove to Nob Hill in search of PBJ’s Grilled but sadly, they were closed. Had the line not been a block long we would have drowned our sorrows in ice cream from Salt & Straw. Instead, we went exploring. The nicest views and prettiest houses are always at the top of the hill, so we jumped in the car and drove up – way, way up. Long and aimless drives proved to be the best way to explore a town’s most beautiful neighbourhoods, and ended up being one of our favourite vacation activities.

sleep

We’ve heard rave reviews about Ace Hotel and The Jupiter Hotel, but we lay our heads down at the vibrant Crystal Hotel. Part of the McMenamin’s group, the Crystal Hotel is located just across the street from the legendary Crystal Ballroom. Each unique room is inspired by a song or performance from the Crystal Ballroom’s past 100 years. The staff was the friendliest and most helpful we’ve come across, but it was the salt water soaking pool that really won us over.