Washington state is home to some of the best natural displays of fall color in the world. Around mid to late October, the trees begin to turn vivid shades of yellow, orange, and red. It's a photographer's paradise! While there are many places to see fall color around downtown Seattle, you can also take a day trip and see even more impressive displays of fall foliage. A few weekends ago, we took a road trip to Olympia to see their autumn trees. This past weekend, we decided to go east toward Wenatchee to see the fall colors of the mountains.
Our route started in Seattle and followed Highway 2 out to Index, past Steven's Pass, and on to Leavenworth. Along the way, there were plenty of places to stop and admire the beauty, particularly at the Tumwater Dam. We then continued on to Peshastin, taking small country roads through the many apple and pear orchards and grape vineyards. On a whim, we stopped by Wedge Mountain Winery to taste some wine. We ended up taking home a bottle of their delicious 2014 Estate Lemberger wine (highly recommend!) and were delighted when owners were kind enough to let us explore their apple orchard and even take a bag of freshly picked fruits home with us. From Peshastin, we went a bit further to Dryden before heading back to Seattle via Highway 2.
We snapped many photos along the way and even created a video of our trip. Check out the photos and video below, and see our whole driving route.
As the state capital of Washington, Olympia is often overlooked as a travel destination. It's true that Olympia is hardly a shiny, busy city like Seattle and Bellevue. But that's actually part of the charm. Located at the southern end of Puget Sound, Olympia is just a 1-hour drive south of Seattle. It's the perfect place for a day or weekend trip, and one of our favorite destinations in Washington. If you're an outdoors enthusiast, Olympia is also a great base for exploring nearby Mount Rainier and the Olympic National Forest.
Check out our itinerary below for ideas, or check out our Olympia travel photos.
We started our trip rather leisurely, leaving Seattle midday and arriving in Olympia in the early afternoon. Find our accommodations, The Governor Hotel was easy, as it was very centrally located. There are a handful of cozy hotels in downtown Olympia, but ours seemed among the most contemporary. If you're lucky, you might also get a room with a stunning view of Heritage Landing Park.
Speaking of parks, there are quite a few all within walking distance of The Governor Hotel. Directly across the street is Sylvester Park. Formerly the Town Square of Olympia, the park is named after the found of Olympia, Edmund Sylvester. Today, the park is a great gathering place to hang out with friends or sip a coffee with a book in hand.
Not far away are two other parks worth visiting, particularly during Golden Hour or right before sunset: Percival Landing Park and Heritage Park. Percival Landing is one of Olympia's three waterfront parks, and it includes a 0.9-mile boardwalk. From there, walk toward the Capitol Lake to Heritage Park and walk the path around the lake. There are great views of the State Capitol Dome, and even a pathway leading directly to it.
Shopping in Olympia
From Sylvester Park, pick any street and take a stroll. You'll find many eateries and shops peddling everything from vintage wear and antiques to modern children's toys. What you won't find are many big chain stores. Some of our favorite shops include Captain Little, Compass Rose, Archibald Sisters.
Food, Drinks, and Coffee
Similar to the shops in Olympia, there aren't many big chains in town when it comes to food and drinks (besides Starbucks, of course). During our first day, we stopped by Olympia Coffee Roasting for a pour over and then grabbed a late lunch at artisan-style food hall 222 Market. The 15,000 square-foot building opened in September 2016 and features an array of food and beverage producers including Broth Bar By Salt Fire & Time, Sofie's Scoops gelateria, and Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar (the city's first!). It was too cold for ice cream, but we tried our very first bone broth (Sea and Strength were our favorites). We then headed next door to slurp some oysters. Particular standouts were the Chelsea "Gem" and "Bonita" Pacific oysters, which we had never tried before.
Later on that evening, we headed to Iron Rabbit Restaurant for dinner. While it's not within walking distance of downtown, the food was worth the drive! The menu is New American with some nice twists to classic dishes. We started out with the Dungeness Crab Romanesco Dip and were particularly impressed with the difference that 100% crab meat makes (much tastier!). For our mains, we had Curry Battered Fish and Chips and the Zola Burger, the latter featuring Painted Hills grass-fed beef, hot coppa, cambozola cheese, and Chipotle spread. Somehow, we had room for dessert, which was worth it because the peach and raspberry bread pudding was one of the best we've had.
After spending the night at The Governor Hotel, we woke up on Sunday morning and headed downstairs for the hotel's complimentary breakfast. It had all everything you would expect from a Continental breakfast including make-your-own waffles. Next, we packed up the car and headed out on the first stop of the Thurston Bountiful Byway.
What is the Thurston Bountiful Byway?
If you've never heard of it, fear not! This scenic route through Thurston County is relatively new, having only been officially designated in March 2014. The byway has over 20 suggested stops, all of which promote some form of agricultural tourism or agritourism. Perhaps the best part of the Bountiful Byway is the three ways you can see it: walking, biking, or driving.
First Stop: Olympia Farmer's Market
Our first stop on the Thurston Bountiful Byway was the Olympia Farmer's Market. As the second largest farmers market in Washington State, this market boasts a wide range of vendors. You can buy organic produce and fruits, meats, fresh flowers, and all kinds of arts and crafts. Compared to Pike Place Market, Olympia's Market is actually quite sizable. But it's much calmer and has a more open, friendly vibe as it's not stuffed with tourists.
Second stop: Tumwater Falls
Although not officially part of the Bountiful Byway, Tumwater Falls was an essential stop for us. This 0.5-mile scenic loop trail leads you on a gentle hike along the Deschutes River. Not only are you treated to three cascading waterfalls, but if you're lucky, you might also spot some salmon. From September to late October, Tumwater Falls Park is full of salmon gathering at the base of an 82-foot waterfall. They're returning to their holding ponds at the Deschutes River Hatchery, which is located in the park. It's quite a sight to see.
After marveling at the salmon, it was time for a traditional fall adventure through some corn mazes. Rutledge Corn Maze came about in the year 2000 when the Rutledge family turned its cornfields into an entertainment-based corn maze. It was one of the first corn mazes of its time and the first in the world to be planted in a maze pattern. Each year, the maze pattern changes and has taken the form of everything from the Statue of Liberty to a design based on the Twilight series. This year's design features the Thurston Bountiful Byway logo. Of course, the design can't be seen unless you're overhead the maze in a helicopter. But it's good fun to get lost in the corn maze and reward yourself with picking out your Halloween pumpkin in the patch afterward.
Fourth Stop: Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve
Next, we headed toward the edge of the Capitol State Forest to check out a curious natural phenomenon known as Mima Mounds. As the name suggests, this is a relatively flat natural terrain sporting series of strange lumps that span 445-acres. There are educational posters that summarize many theories as to what created Mima Mounds. But at the end of the day, no one can prove any theories. While you're here, head to the observation deck to get a good view of the mounds and walk the half-mile paved trail.
Fifth Stop: Medicine Creek Winery
At this point, we'd done quite a bit of agritourism visiting a farm, market, and natural parks. What was missing from our list was a winery, so we hightailed it to the wine region of the Bountiful Byway. We targeted what appeared to be the most photographically interesting winery of them all: Medicine Creek Winery. And it did not disappoint!
The winery is made up of a wine processing area, barrel room, tasting room, and even a dance floor. That's because the entire facility is located in a barn that's been designed to appear like a 1800's vintage New Orleans brothel. The star design feature of the winery is the Medicine Creek stagecoach, a 12-year long labor of love created by winemaker Jim Myers. But how was the wine, you might ask? Their signature 2006 Cabernet Franc and 2006 Stage Coach Reds were fantastic, but it was their brand new Riesling that really blew us away.
Sixth Stop: Nisqually Wildlife Refuge
Our very last stop on the Thurston Bountiful Byway was also our favorite: Nisqually Wildlife Refuge. This walkable scenic area is designed to protect fish and wildlife and is almost always teeming with animals. We arrived at 4:00 pm, two and a half hours before sunset. This was the perfect time of day to see many birds in their natural habitat and take advantage of the ideal lighting conditions.
There are several walking paths in the refuge including a wooden boardwalk that takes you a full mile into the delta. The elevated boardwalk lets you walk above the water and really get up close to the shorebirds. During our particular hike, we saw many Great Blue Herons and gulls, and even an owl and a small family of beavers. If you do as we didn't and bring binoculars and a birding book, you might glimpse even more bird species.
As long-time Seattle residents, we discovered many areas in and around Olympia that we'd never heard of. From Olympia's hip oyster and broth bars to a world-famous corn maze and mysterious mounds, we had no trouble filling an entire weekend with activities. Best of all, we found out that areas like the Thurston Bountiful Byway have whole biking trails begging to be explored, not to mention dozens of wineries and farms that we didn't have time to visit. So we certainly will be back in Olympia, hopefully sometime soon!
Olympia Travel Video
Check out a recap video of our weekend road trip to Olympia.
Here at Gemini Connect, we love donkeys, as evidenced by our donkey figurine collection below. As a result, it makes total sense that when we drove by a sign in Mount Vernon for miniature donkeys, we just had to stop and see what that was about. We collected the name of the miniature donkey business, JF Ranch Miniature Donkeys, and made plans to come back a couple weeks later to actually meet the donkeys and the owners.
JF Ranch is owned by Julie Jones and Todd Frankenfield. Their path to breeding and raising miniature donkeys began about 15 years ago when they fell in love with a friend's minis. They purchased their first jack (uncastrated male) and jennet (female) miniature donkeys from Meadowood Farms, owned by Loyal McMillian, who is part of the Nordstrom family. Today, Julie and Todd have a full host of miniature donkeys of all sizes, colors, and ages. Their miniature donkeys are bred and sold to others such as our friends at Hoehn Bend Farm .When we stopped by to visit, we found ourselves in a pen full of baby miniature donkeys and were instantly bombarded by them!
What is a miniature donkey?
In contrast to larger donkeys, miniature donkeys have a sweet, loving, and naturally curious disposition. They love attention and will vie for it every chance they get. Julie described the miniature donkeys as being more like oversized dogs, and we couldn't agree more. We spent an easy hour walking around the farm stopping to pet and play with them as Julie went on to recite their names and personality quirks.
We learned that these adorable creatures are a breed of their own and are not bred down from larger donkeys. They are native to the Mediterranean islands of Sicily and Sardinia but have made their way around the world. Currently, there are over 40,000 registered miniature donkeys in the United States. To be considered a miniature donkey, it must be under 36" or less that the shoulder, with the smaller ones being more prized. They also have incredibly long life spans averaging between 25-35 years.
Why have a miniature donkey?
Given their small statures and tame personalities, miniature donkeys typically aren't treated like their larger counterparts. Many people will keep them as pets, but they do need large spaces to roam, so farms are preferable. It's also important that pet owners choose a gelding (a castrated) donkey rather than a jack (uncastrated donkey). Miniature donkeys can also be trained to barrel race and do other sports and competitions, or they can be used as a pack donkey, as they were originally used in the Mediterranean. No matter what they are used for, one thing is for sure: these animals are incredibly cute and will steal your heart!
Did you know there's a Bavarian village in Washington State? Located just 2.5 hours east of Seattle is the city of Leavenworth, where the town center is completely modeled in the European tradition. As a result of its design, Leavenworth is a popular year-round destination for locals and visitors to Washington. Visit in the summer to enjoy many nearby hiking trails or whitewater rafting. Venture out in the fall for the annual Oktoberfest, or wait until snowfall for the impressive Christmas decor. As Seattle residents, we have been to Leavenworth on numerous occasions and experienced it during all seasons. No matter what time of year, there's always a reason to enjoy Leavenworth.
Getting from Seattle to Leavenworth
There are several ways to get to Leavenworth from Seattle. You can get there for pretty cheap by taking an Amtrak train or Greyhound bus. Both of these routes will take you to the heart of the faux-Bavarian village of Leavenworth. But if you intend to explore the great outdoors and hike or camp, it's recommended that you drive to Leavenworth as you will need a vehicle to reach trailheads.
If you drive, bear in mind that there are two paths to Leavenworth: one route is via Highway 2, and the other is via I-90 freeway. Both routes take about the same amount of time, but the I-90 route is arguably more scenic. For the full experience, consider driving one route on your way in, and take the other route back to Seattle.
Where to Stay in Leavenworth
Since the town is largely a tourist attraction, Leavenworth accommodations of every kind are ample. There are standard hotels and motels, rustic lodges, bed and breakfasts, cabins, and even RV parks and campsites. With that said, it is a popular destination, so lodging fills up during peak times of year such as Christmas, summer breaks, and Oktoberfest. So plan accordingly.
For a truly Leavenworth experience, it's hard to go wrong with one of the picturesque lodges on the main drag of town. They are within walking distance of the town's main square, and many offer on-site parking and breakfast, some even with the majestic alpenhorn.
Activities in the area depend largely on the season you visit, but there are definitely year-round attractions as well. Most of these activities in the village of Leavenworth are all within walking distance of each other on flat sidewalks.
Front Street Park
This is the heart of Leavenworth. Featuring a gazebo and lawn, Front Street Park activities vary according to the season. The centerpiece Christmas tree lives here in the winter, and children love sledding down the lawn's hill. In the summer, art festivals and performing bands fill the lawn to entertain families and travelers having picnics.
Eat German Fare
The town appears authentically Bavarian in every way, including its food options. From München Haus and Bavarian Bistro & Bar to King Ludwig's Restaurant, it's not hard to find an eatery that will make you feel like you're actually in Germany. There are also restaurants serving Italian, American, and even Asian options if you need more variety.
What's a German town without a beer garden? All of the restaurant mentioned above have stellar German beer options. We'd also recommend the outdoor Leavenworth Sausage Garten and the indoor beer hall Der Hinterhof to the list if you're going for a rustic beer garten experience.
Since this town is located within the Leavenworth Valley Wine Country, it's only logical that there's a ton of local wineries. Many offer tasting rooms in the downtown area of Leavenworth. You can also hop on a guided limo wine tour or drive yourself out to the beautiful nearby wineries. Some notable Washington wineries include Bordeaux Cellars, Icicle Ridge Winery, and Baroness Cellars.
Eat Local Fruit
Within Leavenworth and alongside many roads leading to it are the bounty of local farmers. Visit a fruit stand and get some freshly picked famous Washington apples, pears, and other goodies.
Go Christmas Shopping
Scattered among Leavenworth's many beer gartens and restaurants are lots of specialty retail shops. Many play on the theme of the town's most popular time of year: Christmas. This is one of few places where you can buy nutcrackers and holiday ornaments at just about any time.
You don't have to wander far from downtown Leavenworth to get a taste of nature. Just look up to admire the towering nearby mountains that nestle the town. Or stroll a few blocks away from town for a leisurely stroll on a path alongside the nearby Wenatchee River.
Located just off of Highway 2, which runs through town, is the 18-hole Icicle Junction mini golf course. Pretty much anyone who's been to Leavenworth will probably admit they've tried their hand at this course. It's a fun activity for all ages, although it's best enjoyed in the warmer summer months.
Hiking and Camping
Given the natural beauty surrounding the town, it's no surprise that many people come out this far to hike or camp. One of our favorite nearby destinations for nature is Eightmile Lake. You can do this moderate hike in a half-day trip, or spend the night camping.
White Water Rafting
White water rafting is one of those things we have yet to check off our bucket lists, but there are ample opportunities to do so in Leavenworth. Many outfitters cater to individual levels and even throw in a lunch. Check out Osprey Rafting, BlueSky Outfitters, or Alpine Adventures.
Leavenworth is popular in both the summer and winter months of the year. Snowfall is heavy in this part of the state, and it's not unusual to get snowed in. So bring your skis, snowboard, or snowshoes along and trek outdoors to enjoy the winter wonderland. Leavenworth Ski Hill is the closest to enjoy winter sports action, although it's on the small side. You can also go a bit further by car and get to nearby Stevens Pass Mountain Resort or Mission Ridge Resort for longer trails.
If you make a trip out to Washington State, be sure to plan a visit out east to Leavenworth. The natural beauty is well worth the drive out and will give you a full taste of Northwest life.
Have you visited Leavenworth? What are some of your recommendations? Let us know in the comments below!
Montreal is a unique place the exudes the old-world charm of Europe while still being a modern North American city. While there are many signs of French high culture, there's also a rapidly growing hipster scene worth exploring. Even if you've been to other parts of Canada such as British Columbia, you'll find Quebec unique in its own ways. Here's how to make the most of your weekend trip to Montreal. Check out these photos to inspire you to visit Montreal.
I visited Quebec's largest city on a fall road trip with my parents. We had spent the past week had been spent exploring New York City before picking up a rental car and driving north to upstate New York. From there, we crossed the border into Canada, settling in Montreal. Despite being a relatively long drive, it was smooth without problems. I'd definitely recommend traveling to Montreal as a road trip.
Getting Around Montreal
Like most cities, it's easiest to ditch the car and avoid driving around. If you love biking, you'll be pleased to know that Montreal has over 310 miles of bike lanes crossing the city. Use Bixi, the city's shared bike program and easily get around on two wheels. After all, this is why Montreal was named a Unesco City of Design in 2006. The Montreal Metro also runs frequently and is the top form of public transit.
Where to Stay in Montreal
Downtown is the central pulse of the city, and it's where you'll find large chain hotels. Standard accommodations through Hilton, Marriott, and the Holiday Inn and relatively easy to find.
Old Montreal is the best place to experience the city's unique mix of European and North American cultures. This section of old world charm shows off cobblestone roads, stunning architecture, and historic public spaces. There is a very unique and romantic vibe surrounding Old Montreal. In our case, we chose to stay here at the eclectically modern LHotel. Highly recommend staying here for its impressive design and closeness to attractions.
If you use a service like Airbnb to find a room, choose your location based on proximity to the Metro for easy day-time travel.
What to Do
1. Take a walking tour of Old Montreal
Place d'Armes is one of the main entrances to the city's historic area. From here, you can get a fantastic view of the facade of Notre Dame Basilica. Definitely go inside of the Basilica and prepared to be wowed by its colorfully lit interiors. No wonder Celine Dion got married in here!
Stroll down St-Paul Street and Place Jacques Cartier to feel like you've stepped back in time. Despite the many tourist shops, the architecture of these areas stunning. Be sure to head down Saint-Claude Street and visit the Bonsecours Market. It's the largest and oldest public market in the city. Walking these areas can feel a bit touristy, but it's one of those thing to do in Montreal that you really should do!
2. Visit Jean-Talon Market
As foodies (we had just visited the Culinary Institute of America days before), we still had food on our minds when we got to Canada. One of the best things to do in Montreal is visit the markets. We started our culinary tour at the Jean-Talon Market. Originally called Marché du Nord, Jean-Talon Market has been around since 1933. It was and still continues to be the main neighborhood market of Little Italy.
You'll see a wide variety of goods being sold at this market, but the emphasis is the fresh fruit and vegetables from farms in Quebec. All arrangements are drool worthy and you will go crazy taking food photos! Indulge in whatever fruits or vegetables are in season, and be sure to pick up some authentic Canadian maple syrup.
When you need a meal, grab a grilled cheese sandwich at Qui Lait Cru. They offer several variations of grilled cheese sandwiches such as brie with walnuts. Everything is made to order and there are many places to sit and enjoy.
3. Keep on eating at Atwater Market
Slightly larger and more popular than Jean-Talon is Atwater Market. The offerings are somewhat similar, including the many fresh fruit and produce vendors, cheese shops, maple syrup shops, etc. But the outdoor food court is the highlight here. Satay Brothers and their South Asian street food are arguably the most popular among diners.
4. Visit "The Big O"
The 1976 Summer Olympics were held at the Olympic Stadium of Montreal. Today, the interestingly shaped stadium is an architectural attraction. It also has the largest seating capacity in Canada and hosts many professional sporting events. There is also an Observatory that gives you stellar views of the Olympic Village.
Bonus tip: Eat poutine!
Trivia time: did you know that poutine actually emerged from Quebec? This popular Canadian dish consists of French fries and cheese curds topped with gravy, and you should eat some while in Montreal. One of the best poutineries (yes, it's a word) is Patati Patata.
Have you visited Montreal? What were your top places to visit? Let me know in the comments below!
Ever since Martin and I purchased our new car in May, we had been dying to break it in on a proper road trip. Our shiny Subaru Impreza Sport was the first brand new car that either of us had ever owned, and we were stoked to take it out on the road. With this in mind, we began devising plans for our annual 4th of July trip. Instead of heading out of state, we decided to stick (somewhat) closer to home and explore more of Washington.
After pouring over Google Maps one evening, Martin devised the perfect route. Over the course of 4 days, we would take our new car into uncharted territory for all of us by hitting up Tri-Cities in eastern Washington, and Bend, Oregon. What followed was a pleasantly relaxing trip around the Pacific Northwest.
Travel Mission: Explore the Tri-Cities of Washington and Bend, Oregon.
Our Trip By the Numbers
800 Miles driven
$350 Cost per person
16.39 Miles walked
50,594 Steps Walked
Many First Times
This trip was full of first times for both of us. We were thankful to have two cameras with us to document these moments. Half of our photos were taken with a Canon 6D camera, and the other half with the Olympus Tough, which was great for taking jet skiing and inner tubing.
The Pacific Northwest had been experiencing a freak heat wave and early summer, with temperatures in Seattle creeping up to and even slightly surpassing 100 degrees Fahrenheit. And this was all prior to July, in a coastal city. Thus, we were expecting record heat when we headed inland, and yet the 100+ degree heat hit us like none other.
Our first day and a half in Tri-Cities saw sweltering temperatures at 110 degrees. It was pretty much inevitable that we would end up touching the chilly, refreshing Columbia River. But I not only wanted to jump into the water, I wanted to jet ski for the first time. Luckily, we found an affordable, friendly local business conducting jet ski rentals at the river's bank, and thus Martin and I ended up jet skiing together, pushing our poor machine its limit of 60mph.
A summary of our first times:
visiting Tri-Cities and Bend
experiencing 110-degree heat
riding on a jet ski
inner tubing down a river
touching the Columbia and Deschutes Rivers
Our trip began bright and early Friday morning when we drove directly east to the Tri-Cities. A mid-sized metropolitan area east of Seattle, Tri-Cities encompasses the three cities of Kennewick, Pasco, and Richland. All in all, the Tri-Cities make up the fourth-largest metropolitan area of Washington. Tri-Cities have been getting national recognition lately for being among the top 10 best places to raise a family, as well as one of the areas for the best gains in housing value. Thus, Martin and I were curious to visit this part of the state that neither of us had ventured to.
We used Airbnb to find lodging, staying overnight in a guest room on the lower level of what looked like a nearly brand new 4+ bedroom house in West Richland. Seeing this new house from the inside as well as exploring the virtually brand new neighborhood it was located in made it apparent as to why this area appeared to be a middle-class American mecca.
It was ultra suburban, yet still on the newer side, with warmer, less rainy weather than Seattle, as well as decently priced homes. Young families could afford the "American dream" style middle-class houses that at the time seem so out of reach in other parts of the country. Overall, we really enjoyed the Tri-Cities, yet were sad to not be able to fully experience some of its outdoor activities due to extreme heat.
Falling Head Over Heels in Bend
After leaving the Tri-Cities, we made a beeline for Bend, Oregon. Sadly, many of our desires to indulge in outdoor activities were again squashed by the heat. Staying in an immaculately Southeast Asian designed cabin not far from Sunriver Resort, we fell fast and hard for Bend. As the largest city in Central Oregon, Bend has become a paradise for young adults and lovers of outdoor activities and sports such as fishing, hiking, camping, rock climbing, rafting, skiing, and more. It also has a strong microbrew industry and affordable housing market, making it more than obvious why so many college students and young Millennials flock to Bend.
Despite the fact that we hauled our bicycles to Bend to take advantage of its many biking trails, we never rode once due to heat. Instead, we opted for a "lazy" experience of inner tubing down part of the Deschutes River. We quickly discovered that when it's windy, inner tubing can be hard work.
Ask any rock climber in the Pacific Northwest where the best place is to go climbing, and Smith Rock is bound to come up. Towards the end of our trip, we took a detour to Smith Rock to finally see the popular national park in person. Pro tip: hike up the Misery Ridge trail to get some epic panoramas. The climb is steep, but the views are breathtaking and the path isn't terribly long.
Our 4th of July weekend was the perfect opportunity to explore parts of the Pacific Northwest for the first time. We plan to return, perhaps during the winter to experience a whole other world.
Believe it or not, but the Pacific Northwest has quite a few islands that offer supreme weekend getaways. The San Juan Islands in Washington get the most attention and thus tend to be packed during peak seasons. But head just a bit north of the San Juans and you'll find hidden gems offering much more intimate experiences. For our annual 4th of July road trip, we decided to head to one such place: Gabriola Island. Having spent many weekends in downtown Vancouver and Whistler, we hadn't spent much time in or around Vancouver Island, so this was our chance to finally do so! Want to see more photos of Gabriola Island? Click here.
Where is it?
Gabriola Island is a small southern Gulf Island located in the Salish Sea that separates Vancouver Island from mainland British Columbia. The easiest way to get here is taking a 20-minute ferry ride from Nanaimo, a small city on Vancouver Island. You can also take the super scenic route by flying in a float plane from Vancouver Airport. For our weekend trip from Seattle, we drove north to Vancouver, BC to a small town called Tsawwassen. From here, we loaded our car onto a BC Ferry and set sail to Swartz Bay (Victoria). It was a pleasant and scenic 90-minute ferry ride.
Overnight Stay in Victoria
Given the amount of land and water travel we did on day one, we made a short pit stop at an Airbnb rental in Victoria. The capital of British Columbia, Victoria is a lovely, picturesque city located on the southern end of Vancouver Island. There is lots of visual evidence of the city's British colonial past in the form of Victorian architecture. You can easily spend a whole day wandering the streets of Victoria with a camera in hand, marveling at the building designs. If you prefer outdoor activities, there's also an abundance of outdoor activities including hiking, biking, zip lining and even bungee jumping (which I may have done in Canada in my younger years).
What to Do in Victoria
Walk through Beacon Hill Park, the city's main urban green space that has a petting zoo
Visit Butchart Gardens, a designated National Historic Site of Canada
Enjoy high tea at the iconic Empress Hotel
See the Neo-baroque British Columbia Parliament Buildings light up at night
Go hiking, biking, zip lining, or bungee jumping
Take an Orca whale watching tour
Days 2 & 3
Head to Gabriola Island
The next day, we departed Victoria for Nanaimo harbor. We loaded our car onto a ferry and enjoyed a 20-minute ferry ride to Gabriola Island. The ferry pulled into Descanso Bay, and from there we headed to our accommodations. Marina's Hideaway is bed and breakfast that we found on Airbnb. We occupied an upper-level guest suite attached to the property's main house and absolutely loved the comfortable atmosphere and delicious home-cooked breakfast. But perhaps best of all was the view! Sitting out on the deck or in the outdoor hot tub gave you the most stunning view of Nanaimo in the distance. It's the most beautiful place to watch a sunset. We recently discovered that Marina's Hideaway has been sold; hopefully the new owners are still running it is a bed and breakfast, but we can't say for sure.
What to Do on Gabriola Island
With a population of just over 4,000 people spread over 22 square miles, Gabriola is pretty sparse in terms of people. However, the residents that live here are tightknit and have a lovely community established throughout the island. You'll find nicely paved roads, restaurants, shopping centers, museums, and lots of art. After all, Gabriola is known as the "Isle of the Arts" and holds three large annual arts events throughout the year. Even if you're visiting during a non-art event weekend, many artist studios are open and welcome visitors.
In addition to the arts, there are many public beaches and forests offering lots of hikes and opportunities for nature photography. There are three provincial parks on the island: Gabriola Sands Provincial Park, Sandwell Provincial Park, and Drumbeg Provincial Park. There's also Descanso Bay Regional Park located near the ferry terminal. We visited all of these parks during our two-night stay in early July. The weather was a bit wet and chilly for summer. But considering that it was a peak travel time, there were very few travelers that we encountered. This was a huge change from our previous trips to Orcas Island, which is generally packed during this time of year.
The lack of people made it feel as if we were on our own private island. We would walk hours on the rocky beach shores without encountering a soul. Instead, probably due to the lack of people, we saw an abundance of wildlife. There were banana slugs as big as our hands, flocks of cormorants gathering at sunset, families of harbor seals playing incredibly close to shore, more deer than we've ever seen in the Northwest, and our very first sighting of a large, lone sea otter in the wild. The nature viewing was spectacular.
We ended our last day on Gabriola with one last home-cooked breakfast at Marina's, and then caught the BC Ferry back to Nanaimo. From here, it was a long wait to board a ferry back to mainland Canada, and an even longer drive back to Seattle. This was likely because we were joining the flocks of people traveling after a long weekend. As a result, we highly recommend leaving ferry travel in the Pacific Northwest to non-weekend days.
Gabriola Island is a special getaway from Seattle and Vancouver that actually isn't much further than other popular island destinations. It has significantly fewer visitors, which gives you a more intimate, private experience. Have you visited Gabriola Island or any other islands in Canada? Let us know in the comments below!
For those of us who live in the north, the winter season can be a bit tough. There are only so few exciting options for driving and plane tickets are notoriously expensive starting with Thanksgiving all the way past New Year's day. There is a kind of travel, though, which is exciting even in the winter - visiting a modern metropolis.
Here at Gemini Connect, we enjoy living and traveling in Washington. Typically, winter gets to our nerves by January and we're itching to make a quick trip to break up the winter slump. Vancouver has become our local getaway destination in Canada. This modern metropolis is located just a quick two and a half hour drive away. Our mission this January was to spend a weekend in Vancouver to discourage us from spending another weekend working away at our computers, to take advantage of the huge post-holiday retail sales, and of course stuff ourselves with ethnic cuisine.
Mission: Refresh winter wardrobe and relax for a weekend in Vancouver, B.C.
Our Trip By the Numbers
286 Miles driven
$194.50* Cost per person
44,4381 Steps walked
17.93 Miles walked
*Cost per person is in USD and includes accommodations, roundtrip gas and dining out.**Steps and mileage were tracked by FitBit Flex
Besides the proximity and easy drive up I-5, there are more reasons to visit Vancouver. Here are a few:
1) Gorgeous urban setting and architecture
Downtown Vancouver is surrounded by water on 3 sides and mountains rise immediately to the north. The city itself is famous for its city planning - using residential towers as the standard and is often called the 'North American Hong Kong'. The combination of the two makes it an amazing places to be even if all you do is look. Another great benefit of this city planning is that downtown there are very many offerings on AirBnB which let you experience what it's like living in one of those towers and are quite affordable!
While searching for a place to stay in Vancouver, our one requirement besides proximity to town was a stellar view of the city. We lucked out with a lovely one-bedroom Airbnb apartment located just a few blocks from Vancouver's main strips, Granville and Robson. The apartment was an ideal base for our weekend trip and it came with a stunning 180-degree view of the city.
2) Abundant, diverse ethnic food
Almost half of Vancouver's population is foreign-born. One of the results of this diverse population is in some of the most authentic ethnic food we've been able to find on our travels. In two short days we dined on ten dishes at a traditional Japanese izakaya restaurant, Japanese-style hot dogs, traditional Bulgarian pastries, Transylvanian desserts and Malaysian curries and roti. All made by people from those countries, all very good, and all reasonably priced.
Dining Around Vancouver
We approached this trip to Vancouver plotting out how many meal and snack times we had available and specifically determining which eatery to be at each time. This time around, our standout choices revolved around what we each deemed to be comfort food.
Our first meal was at Guu Original on Thurlow. Located just a few blocks away from our Airbnb apartment, Guu Original is credited as being the very first Izakaya (a type of casual Japanese drinking establishment) in Vancouver. It first opened in 1993 and is famous for serving classic and authentic Japanese foods. Guu's immense success is noted by its long line of customers awaiting tables even before the restaurant has opened. The dishes we tried at Guu included Kabocha squash croquette, kimchi udon, tuna tataki, beef tataki, and oden, the latter of which strongly reminded Suzi of her grandmother's cooking.
For brunch the next day, our dining choice revolved around Martin's Eastern European roots. We made our way on foot through Vancouver's West End to Acacía Fillo Bar, a family-owned restaurant specializing in Bulgarian pastries, particularly the banitza. A savory pastry made of fillo dough and stuffed with filling such as leeks or feta cheese, the banitza is similar to the Greek spanakopita, but made with thicker pastry dough. Acacía Fillo Bar's banitza was the best and closest to his own grandmother's recipe that Martin has been able to find in the Pacific Northwest.
Vancouver is regularly noted as an esteemed city. It constantly tops "Best cities in the world" kind of charts like this one by the esteemed Economist Intelligence Unit where it got #3, making it one of the most coveted cities to live in the world. Because of this, since its founding Vancouver's metropolitan area has seen constant high growth of population, often near 10% or above, and constant economic growth accordingly. Being in Vancouver you often get the ritzy vibe and accordingly in downtown, you're never too far from a Prada, Burberry or Hugo Boss store. Shopping is a big draw for American, Asian and European tourists alike, and if you go early in the year like in January, you'll enjoy some of the huge post holiday markdowns and sales that for some reason aren't as common in the USA. As another plus, the drive from Seattle to Vancouver goes right by Seattle Premium Outlets, which makes for a great pit stop while on your shopping binge.
BONUS: Foreign currency values
Vancouver is only 30 minutes away from the US border, but it is still in another country. This means that besides all the cultural differences which give you a feeling of novelty, you are also using a different currency. At the time we went - mid-January 2015, a Canadian Dollar to a US dollar (CAD - USD) was 0.85. This means that if you're using your American card, everything you buy is automatically 15% discounted! This is why AirBnB options in the towers were so affordable and why we didn't sweat covering whole tables in delicious food or shopping in the shiny malls. We still ended up spending in reasonable limits as you can see in the breakdown.
The Southwestern United States is a region of the country that until recently we had not been very acquainted with. Long fascinated by Wild West tales and history, the Southwest has been an area of intrigue that we finally got to properly explore during a long weekend escape in November 2014. Booked a mere month in advance, we found decent travel and accommodation deals and were able to enjoy our 4 day trip with efficiency and leisure.
We wasted no time, packing in a full day of touring from the moment we arrived, speeding up to the Grand Canyon and making it down to Sedona all within a matter of hours. Overall, we left Sedona highly impressed and determined to return again soon.
Weekend to Explore Sedona and see the Grand Canyon.
2,930 Roundtrip miles traveled on this trip.
$465.60 Total cost per person when split two ways.
4 Days Total time of our trip
26.81 miles walked
Modern West Photo Shoot
The mission of this trip was to step foot into the American Southwest for the first time and take in the majestic Grand Canyon and red rocks of Sedona. Our theme was heavily influenced by Martin's admiration for Mad Max and desire to simulate some Mad Max-inspired photo shoots in the desert. The night before the trip, Martin visited the barber's shop and shaved his full head of hair into a mohawk; he then donned a black leather jacket and black pants throughout all of our hikes in Sedona for the sake of the photo shoots.
Route and Itinerary
Friday (Day 1): Flight from Seattle to Flagstaff. Arrive in Flagstaff and drive to Grand Canyon, then to Sedona.
Saturday (Day 2): Day hiking and overnight stay in Sedona.
Sunday (Day 3): Day hiking and overnight stay in Sedona.
Monday (Day 4): Drive to Flagstaff for lunch and fly back to Seattle.
Driving to the Grand Canyon
From the Flagstaff airport, we picked up a small rental car and drove 90 minutes northwest on route 180 into Red Rock Country. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Grand Canyon is a natural landmark that is an easy day trip from Flagstaff or Sedona. It's ideal to spend at least a full day here, to do the historic Watchtower climb and explore the lesser known East Rim Drive. However, if you're like us and don't have much time to spare, an hour or two or exploration is well worth the trip.
The South Rim is one of the most popular viewpoints at the Grand Canyon. Open all year, the area has paved walkways and is accessible by all. Just be careful how close to the edge you get as there are certain areas without railings that can be potentially hazardous.
Traveling to Sedona
After a stop at the Grand Canyon, we ventured 2 hours (about 108 miles) south on US-180E to Sedona. This scenic desert town is very distinct as it is surrounded by red-rock buttes and steep canyon walls. Maybe it's the dust in the air, but Sedona truly feels magical. There are lots of outdoor activities to do here such as hiking, biking, off-roading, or visiting scenic vistas.
Sedona has a moderate climate, so it is great to visit at any time of the year. However, spring and fall are the best and most popular times to visit thanks to the mid-60s to low 80s temperature. Summer tends to be much hotter in the mid-90s, while winter can even bring snow.
We spent our entire stay in the luxurious Diamond Resorts of Sedona Summit, a modern resort tucked away a few miles from the main town. Normally reserved for timeshare guests, we found an amazing deal here for only $119 per night. Our accommodations were a spacious studio with a King sized bed, couch, dining room, and full kitchen. The grounds were incredibly spacious and well-kept with 7 pools and hot tubs on site and a game and entertainment room.
Things to Do in Sedona
Go for a hike
There are over 200 trails in the Red Rocks National Park. Easily the most photogenic and popular hikes in the area include Courthouse Rock, Cathedral Rock, Bell Rock, and Bear Mountain.
Drive to Oak Creek Canyon
Take a short drive northeast on Highway 89A for a scenic, unforgettable drive to Oak Creek Canyon. This river gorge lies between Flagstaff and Sedona and is located within the Coconino National Forest. There are several campgrounds and picnic areas in the canyon, as well as many miles of hiking trails. Many fishermen also venture here to fish the 49 miles of creek teeming with several types of trout, bass, and catfish.
Shop for Art and Souvenirs
Sedona boasts 80+ art galleries and boutique stores carrying mystic and New Age products. If you're seeking a rhodochrosite, chrysoprase or other crystals that promote metaphysical well-being, you'll definitely find them in here. The shops and galleries along Highway 89A are a great place to start. Also be sure to hit the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, a colonial-style shopping center with plenty of shops.
Seek Out Spiritual Vortexes
Speaking of spirituality, Sedona is full of vortexes, where the earth radiates physic energy. Whether you're a believer or a skeptic, taking a guided tour or exploring vortexes on your own is a popular activity. One such vortex also contains another worthy attraction that was built on top: the Chapel of the Holy Cross. This modern chapel looks like something out of a science fiction film and offers spectacular photo opportunities.
Sedona doesn't have much of a nightlife, and many of its restaurants and bars close rather early. So take advantage of the city's restrictions on light pollution and turn your eyes towards the heavens and enjoy the constellations.
Rent a bike, ATV, or Tomcar
Off-roading is another popular activity in Sedona, with miles of backcountry roads to traverse. Most companies offer half day or full day vehicle rentals that will send you off the day with a map to choose your own adventure.
Take a Helicopter or Hot Air Ballon Ride
The Sedona valley is stunning from a high viewpoint, which you can reach by hiking or man-made vessel. Helicopter tours run frequently, as do hot air balloon companies. Aim for a sunrise or sunset ride for the most spectacular, photo-worthy experiences.
Over To You
Have you visited Sedona or the Grand Canyon? Share your travel tips below!
Looking for a quick trip out of town from Seattle for less than a day? Consider Samish Bay! This northern region of Washington state is home to a number of local attractions including the annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. But beyond the buzzy events, there are plenty of other attractions that you can enjoy without the crowd. Here's a summary of a spontaneous food-based day trip we did to Samish Bay, specifically the charming town of Bow-Edison.
Located in the northwest corner of Skagit Valley, Bow and Edison are pretty small farming towns with tons of flat farmlands that make for awesome landscape photos and lots of opportunities to pull over for fresh organic produce. With our own garden in full bloom with more veggies than we could handle, we skipped the produce stands and headed straight to the small town of Bow to Breadfarm, the first recommendation in the article. We certainly were not disappointed!
First stop: Breadfarm
The warm bakery was filled with more freshly baked bread and pastries than our eyes could imagine. Maxey recommends the cherry lemon loaf, olive baguette, Skagit Valley potato bread, and hazelnut cookies. Although they all sound fabulous, we go for a large loaf of multigrain bread and threw in a fluffy piece of focaccia bread at the last second. My favorite had to have been the focaccia. It was flat, chewy, and perfectly seasoned. I savored every bite.
Second Stop: Slough Food
If not for Maxey's advice, we would have easily picked up more food at Breadfarm, but her next recommendation sounded too delicious. After stocking up on carbs, we ventured next door to Slough Food. This small delicatessen and gourmet convenience store felt very European. In fact, the idea of collecting various pieces of our feast at different stores also felt very European, something that made the day's itinerary seem more fun than going to just one destination for all of our food needs. At Slough Food, we picked up some sausage to go with the bread. As an afterthought, we also grabbed a cannoli, as strongly advocated by the article. Two words for you: holy cannoli! Must. Have. It.
Third Stop: Taylor Shellfish Farms
By now, we had a cannoli, hunk of bread, and several sausages. All that was missing were the featured entrees and the whole point of the trip: fresh oysters! Our final piece of the meal was picked up a short drive later when we arrived atTaylor Shellfish Farms in Samish Bay. If not for Maxey's advice, we would have stopped at one of the many tempting oyster bars along the way. But the real treat is at the end of the road.
After a sharp left turn past the oyster bars, drive down past the railroad tracks to Taylor Shellfish's shop at the water's edge. Not only is there a store to purchase fresh shellfish, but there are also picnic tables next to the ocean. Jackpot!
The next challenge is figuring out what you want to eat. Since we didn't bring a grill or any condiments or cooking supply with us, the crab, mussels, clams, and geoducks were out, so we were left with two choices: Kumamoto or Shigoku oysters. We were partial to the Kumamotos for their "beautifully fluted shells and plump meats with a hint of honeydew in both flavor and color."
We bought two dozen whole Kumamotos, adding a small jar of Tabasco and a shucking knife to our purchase for a grand total just over $40. Not too shabby. It's nice that the store sells the knife and extra condiments, as it didn't cross our minds to bring our own. Next time, I'm definitely bringing lemon, cocktail sauce, and horseradish so we can make our own fresh oyster shots! Figuring out how to shuck the oysters took a bit. But once we got it down, we slurped down the whole lot very quickly. How were they? To quote the couple next to us who were BBQing mussels, "Those were amazing! Honey, why haven't we done this before??"
Fourth Stop: Larrabee State Park
When the oysters were devoured, the sun finally decided to poke its head out and we spent a while exploring the surrounding area of Taylor Shellfish Farms before heading off to our next destination. After lunch, the article suggests a trip to Larrabee State Park, which is what we did. Further research declares the park to be the first established in Washington state, and we enjoyed basking in the sun to let our meal digest.
To charge up for our drive back home, we sought out a coffee shop. No java stops were mentioned in the article, but we were lucky to drive by the Japanese Gardens Coffeehouse on Chuckanut Drive. Curious about the blend of a Japanese Garden and espresso, we were charmed by the place, sipping our java while enjoying the zen-like atmosphere of the garden.
Last Stop: Snow Goose Produce
Just as we began to GPS our way back to Seattle, the last paragraph of the article caught my eye: "Once you're sufficiently satiated, get back in the car and stop by Snow Goose Produce in Mount Vernon for Lummi Island strawberry ice cream..." Ok, ice cream. You win. But perhaps slightly better than our sweet treat was the way we got there.
Hopping onto Best Road, we passed by an alpaca farm and a miniature donkey farm. The first one raised our eyebrows, but the second made us downright giddy. We'd seen donkeys while traveling in Belize last winter, and something about them just stole my heart. Not to mention, these weren't just donkeys--they were miniature! This we had to see. We turned around and backtracked to the J.F. Miniature Donkey Ranch and watched the little guys from the road. Too cute and completely worth the pit stop.
Not far from the donkey ranch, we found Snow Goose Produce, marked by the huge line of people waiting to order ice cream. There are at least 20 ice cream flavors on the menu, and the scoops are enormous! If you want two flavors, it means ordering a double scoop. I made the impossible decision of choosing an ice cream flavor, ending up with a tasty blueberry cheesecake. About half of it was consumed before my stomach said no more. Besides ice cream, the roadside market also lots of fresh produce and Snow Goose Products. Be sure to pick up salsa, pasta, and pasta sauce.
All in all, this was a delightful summer road trip that we were glad to have made on a Sunday. We headed out of Seattle at 10 am Sunday morning, making it up to Bow-Edison without encountering much traffic. Our drive back was a little less fortuitous when it came to traffic as we caught the Everett jam on I-5 around 5:00 pm, but it definitely could have been much worse. This will definitely be a repeat trip sometime very soon!