Wellness Wednesday: It All Begins Here

My intention was to write this post last night and publish it early this morning. Unfortunately, I’ve been brought down with a tenacious head cold so my energy level is hovering somewhere around 20%. The irony that my illness prevented me from writing a post on wellness is not lost one me.

Over the recent Christmas holidays, I came down with strep throat – again. It was the second time in a year that I battled this painful pest, but I was determined to avoid antibiotics once again. I thought I’d be clever and health-savvy and mixed up a paste of cayenne powder, raw garlic, and honey. You can’t imagine how awful it tasted, but I ate it non-stop for a 48-hour period. That is until my husband started complaining about the smell of our house and he refused to come within five feet of me.

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Not only did the paste not work, my symptoms actually worsened. And trust me – strep throat is nothing something you want to mess with. I resigned myself to the notion that I’d need antibiotics and found myself in the waiting room of a walk-in clinic on more than one occasion over the holidays.

The circumstance I found myself in, as I flipped through a months-old magazine in the clinic’s waiting room, was exactly the kind of motivation I needed to make some serious changes in my life. Becoming infected with strep throat twice in the same year was only the tipping point. I’ve been afflicted by everything from eczema to low energy for most of my life, and I couldn’t overlook the fact that my immune system was taking a serious hit. I knew I needed to create change in my life from the inside out, and certainly without delay.

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Over the last month, I have begun to assemble a “health squad,” if you will, comprised of wellness practitioners who prescribe to a holistic approach. I’ve added a chiropractor, a naturopath, and an acupuncturist and doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine to my team. I’ve prioritized carving out time to practice yoga – even if it’s just for 30 minutes. My eating habits have been given a major overhaul (albeit by way of baby steps). I spend more time and energy into reading and researching ways I can enhance my own overall wellness.

Most of us realize how valuable our own wellness is, whether it’s physical, mental, spiritual, or emotional. For some of us, wellness means aligning all four of these elements in our lives. Very few of us are able to effectively prioritize our sense of wellness and some of us don’t even know what it looks like. I recognize that the steps I’m taking can be considered drastic and even time-consuming. I’ve learned that one’s own wellness doesn’t have to be an “all or nothing” quest. We can each do a lot of things, or we can pick one or two things that heighten our individual sense of well-being.

Zion National Park

Small changes often make the biggest impact. I love Prevention’s list of “100 Ways to Change Your Life in 10 Minutes or Less.” I have to be honest: not all of those tips appeal to me, but with an open mind you might find a little bit of inspiration. While we can’t do everything, we can each do something.

I recently read a quote that I won’t even try to paraphrase, but in essence, it encouraged me to make changes not because I hate my body or because I’m frustrated with my health. I should make these changes because I cherish my body and wish to honour my health. If there’s anything I can stress, it’s that it’s important to remember to be gentle with ourselves because no journey is without stumbles, trips, and wrong turns.

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My goal is to make this post the first in a series of weekly posts about my personal wellness journey, so I hope you’ll follow along and find some encouragement. I’d love to hear your tips and ideas for healthy, practical changes, so please feel free to share them in the comments below! See you next week!

Playing with my New Nikkor 50mm Lens

Despite the fact that I’ve owned my Nikon D3000 camera for more than five years, I admittedly know very little about its function. And until recently, every photo I took with it was shot with the stock lens.

When my husband and I were in San Francisco, we met up one day with good friends of ours, Mike and Ashley. I’ve known them for years and they also happen to have been our engagement photographers, so they know a thing or two about cameras. Mike was quick to point out that my stock lens was “absolute crap” and lent me his $2,000 lens to shoot with for the day. It should come as no surprise that the photos I shot that day were among the best photos I took on our entire six-week road trip.

I asked Mike if he could recommend a good lens that wouldn’t bleed my bank account dry, and he recommended a 50mm Nikkor lens. Santa Claus (otherwise known as my husband) left one for me under the Christmas tree in December, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever shot with before. The 50mm requires manual focusing, which is a huge adjustment for me. It also seems to be best-suited for macro photos and portraits.

I’ve spent the last month playing around with it and getting the feel for an entirely new way of taking photos. The snaps below were all shot with the 50mm lens and are completely untouched and unedited. So far, I like what I see.

Jordy

Photo Walk

Photo Walk

Photo Walk

Photo Walk

Photo Walk

Photo Walk

Photo Walk

Photo Walk
He probably won’t be thrilled that I posted this, but how I could resist? I may be biased, but I’m nuts about this guy and think he’s strikingly handsome!

Photo Walk

Photo Walk

Photo Walk

Rowena’s Inn on the River in Harrison Mills

Daydreaming about all the places around the globe I’d like to visit one day can be a lot of fun, but in doing so it’s easy to overlook the hidden treasures waiting to be unearthed in my own backyard. Rowena’s Inn on the River is one such treasure, and my husband and I were fortunate enough to spend a weekend exploring the resort in the community of Harrison Mills.

Hugging the banks of the Harrison River, Rowena’s Inn is the crown jewel on a verdant stretch of land that is saturated with history. Sprawling across more than 160 acres, the resort sits on what was once home to the Pretty family. Strolling the grounds is not unlike tip-toeing through a fairy tale with babbling brooks, soaring eagles, and little puffs of smoke from the brick chimneys of the cottages. The hotel is the grand dame of the resort, dating back to the early 1900s.

Rowena's Inn on the River

Betty Anne, the last surviving child of the Pretty family and now sole owner of the resort, was gracious enough to give us a tour of the hotel. She wove for us intriguing tales of her childhood in the home, while showing us candelabras from a castle in England and a table that the Prince of Wales once dined at. The guest rooms are cozy and illuminated in soft light with delicate details that honour the hotel’s past.

Rowena's Inn on the River Rowena's Inn on the River

My husband and I decided it was important to make this a family trip and bring our dog along. Rowena’s Inn also features four stand-alone cottages on the riverbank, each equipped with a king-sized bed, jacuzzi tub, wood-burning fireplace, and all-important wine glasses. Lucky for us, one of the four cottages is dog-friendly, so Jordy was more than welcome to come along. With such tranquil surroundings, we were each able to get the rest we needed. Spending a weekend in one of the cottages in front of a roaring fire is not unlike kicking off your shoes and unwinding in your own home. The cottages are incredibly romantic and simply feel like home.

Rowena's Inn on the River

Rowena's Inn on the River Rowena's Inn on the River

Though private, the cottages are a quick stroll from the River’s Edge Restaurant, a welcoming place to enjoy home-cooked food in a warm atmosphere. As expected, we dined like royalty on a menu that was thoughtfully created with as many locally-influenced ingredients as possible. I dove into the most scrumptious omelette on the first morning, and then stuffed myself at the breakfast buffet the next day. For you bacon lovers, there was a trough of it! J and I made a “date night” of Saturday’s dinner as we cozied up by the restaurant’s fireplace, sipped wine, and let Chef Jonathon Gee’s Salmon Wellington melt on our tongues.

Rowena's Inn on the River Rowena's Inn on the River

Rowena's Inn on the River
Do not miss out on the cinnamon-sugar nachos for dessert!

There is no end of things to see and explore in the surrounding area of Harrison Mills. In the morning we made the drive up to Hemlock Resort so I could make a snowball, but because Rowena’s Inn is in such a hushed and serene spot, we were equally happy to spend our afternoon playing crib in front of the fire and taking Jordy for a walk along the river. Golfers would be delighted by the par 72 Sandpiper Golf Course on the grounds. By the end of the weekend, staff knew us by name, we both felt thoroughly relaxed, and our only regret was that we didn’t have more time to stay. Any time of year, Rowena’s Inn is a very special place to escape the city and reconnect.

Rowena's Inn on the River

Rowena’s Inn on the River is located in the community of Harrison Mills, just a short 90-minute drive from Vancouver. To learn more about the resort, you can visit them online, follow the resort on Twitter or Instagram, or give them a “like” on Facebook. You can also find Tourism Harrison Mills online, follow them on Twitter or Instagram, and like them on Facebook.

Disclosure: Our stay at Rowena’s Inn on the River was offered at a reduced rate with complimentary meals. I was not paid or asked to write this post. My thoughts, views and opinions are entirely my own.

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

For as long as I’ve known him, my husband has been fascinated with lighthouses. For as long as I have been breathing, I’ve been drawn by the ocean. It’s no wonder that annual trips to the Oregon Coast have become the norm for the two of us.

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

Once we left California on our road trip last summer, naturally we decided to return home via Highway 101, driving every inch of the Oregon Coast. While most of our itinerary would find us in Clatsop County to the north, we had plenty of time to inch our way up the coast. When passing through Newport, my husband insisted that we stop at Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area (yes, it’s really called that).

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

As a child he visited the lighthouse at Yaquina Head but did not have the opportunity to actually go inside of it. This time around, we knew we couldn’t leave without making up for lost experiences. The Yaquina Head lighthouse took two years to build and it first splashed light across the western shores in 1873. Before it became automated in 1966, the lighthouse had three keepers: a Head Keeper as well as First and Second Assistants.

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

Until the Newport region established itself, Yaquina Head was desolate and largely isolated from civilization. The keepers and their families developed a tight-knit community of their own by growing a garden, raising livestock, and constructing a number of outbuildings. Like all lighthouses, Yaquina Head had its own signature identifying light pattern: two seconds on, two seconds off, two seconds on, and 14 seconds off. Yaquina Head still flashes that pattern today.

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management now maintains the lighthouse and the 100 acres around it. This meant we were able to access the grounds using our America the Beautiful annual pass (score!). Tours are conducted hourly for those wishing to exploring the inner workings of this significant symbol of Oregon’s coastal history, but arrive early and sign up quickly as the tours tend to fill fast in the summer months.

Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area

If climbing 114 stairs isn’t your thing, there is still plenty to see around the area. My favourite spot was the adjacent Cobble Beach. Millions of perfectly tumbled basalt rocks roll over each other hypnotically, applauding the ocean with each wave that rushes in. Hit the play button above to see what I mean. If you’re lucky (like we were) you can spot harbour seals nearby. It’s also not uncommon to spot migratory birds and gray whales.

To learn more about Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, or to plan your visit, stop by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s official website. Yaquina Head is open year-round from 8:00 am to sunset and is located just north of Newport in Lincoln County. I was not paid or asked to write this post. My thoughts, views and opinions are entirely my own.

On Being A Foster Mom

You know those people you hear about? The ones with the bleeding hearts? That’s me. At least when it comes to dogs and canine rescue.

In 2009 I adopted Jordy from an organization on Vancouver Island. He is the beat of my heart, my smushy-faced lovebug, and the love of my life. When I was going through a very difficult time personally, Jordy brought me back to life in ways I couldn’t imagine. I like to think that he rescued me as much as I rescued him.

Happy Jordy

As he and I both grew, I watched him transform from being frightened into a confident and sweet dog with a zest for life. The change in him never ceased to amaze me, and it was through that that my passion for dog rescue developed. Knowing how many tens of thousands of dogs languish in shelters (or even in homes that simply don’t want them), I became an advocate for rescue. Purchasing a dog from a breeder or a pet store didn’t only cease to make sense, it seemed to me that doing so does more harm than good in the big picture.

Cue my bleeding heart. I can’t save them all. I can’t even save a notable fraction of them. However, I decided that I could be part of a network of like-minded individuals. That’s how I came across Pommy Country Pomeranian and Small Dog Rescue. Volunteering with a rescue organization has given me the opportunity to lend my time and my talents in a way that I simply couldn’t do on my own.

Last spring I had the opportunity to foster a dog for the first time. In a nutshell, fostering involves bringing a dog into your home to provide it with love, food, affection, and shelter while meeting any training or health needs the dog may have. Calvin came to my husband and I as a stray from the streets of a small town in central California. Calvin was vibrant and energetic and he was hilariously entertaining. And 13 days later, when his adoption was finalized and he went to his forever family, I cried for two days straight. I didn’t just weep. It was a full-on, face-scrunching, snot-running, ugly cry. And I swore I’d never foster again.

Calvin

That sentiment lasted a few months. By November I felt ready to do it again and, in a circumstance that seemed rather serendipitous, the opportunity presented itself. Brodie entered our lives from a local home, surrendered by an owner who admittedly had no time to care for or train him. He spent the majority of his days locked in a crate, left to soil himself and miss out of the loving affection of humans. Brodie was fearful when he came into our home, skittish on our daily walks, and had no concept of trust.

Within a few weeks, all of that turned around and he began to shine as he emerged from his past. Brodie would roll on our couch like a burrito. He’d stand on his hind legs and dance when he was excited. Brodie would never be happier than when he was curled up in one of our laps. Last week, after 34 days with us, I brought him to meet his forever “mommy,” a compassionate woman who whisked him on a plane to Ontario and a new life where he would never want for anything ever again.

Brodie and I were both so brave as we said our goodbyes. I knew I wouldn’t see him again until we both cross over that proverbial Rainbow Bridge. I drove all the way home, remembering fondly all the memories we’d collected in the month previous. I walked in my house, drew back the curtain for a shower, and let the tears flow as the water poured over me.

Brodie

They weren’t tears of regret but tears of sadness. I’m an emotional sentimentalist who wears her heart-on-her-sleeve. I’m the worst kind of bleeding heart. It’s impossible to open my home and my heart to a little creature and not let them leave paw prints all over my life. Yes, letting go is hard. But what’s harder is knowing that, if not for foster homes, these dogs’ futures would be uncertain. The day-to-day of fostering can be challenging, but the decision to be a foster mom to a dog is always easy. And when I let go, their little lives leave a hole in my heart that I’ll always carry with me. So would I foster for a third time? Ask me again in six months.

Visiting Alcatraz Island

San Francisco is a city of icons: the Golden Gate Bridge, Pier 39, the Transamerica Pyramid, Chinatown, and, perhaps most infamously, Alcatraz Island.

San Francisco

Since the island’s first official use in 1854, it has been many things. One thing Alcatraz Island has not been short on is fascination. In the 1850s the first lighthouse on the West Coast opened up on the island, a beacon to lure ships safely into the bay. Until 1934 it was used as a military post before becoming home to some of the country’s most notorious criminals when the penitentiary was built.

San Francisco

San Francisco San Francisco

The high cost of running a secure facility off-shore eventually proved to be too much, and the prison was shut down in 1963. Alcatraz’s history did not run dry there, as in 1964 and again in 1969 it was occupied by the Indians of All Tribes. Since that time, Alcatraz has being reincarnated through film, repopulated with an astonishing array of birds, and has become San Francisco’s most sought-after tourist attraction.

San Francisco

I’m admittedly a bit of a crime story and forensic science junkie, so visiting the island was a must on our recent visit to the Bay Area. A friend recommended buying tickets a few weeks in advance, which turned out to be great advice. When we arrived during the last week of July, the next tickets were not available until the end of August.

San Francisco

San Francisco

We were surprised to learn that Alcatraz Island is actually part of a U.S. National Park, as it’s encompassed by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Access is only by way of a scenic boat ride that slices north across the Bay from Pier 33 in downtown San Francisco. Despite being a National Park, our annual Parks Pass did not grant us free access to the island. Tickets should be purchased directly from Alcatraz Cruises.

San Francisco

After arriving on the island, we made the steady climb to the top – it’s where the penitentiary is located. Tours of the prison are self-guided, with each visitor being given a pair of headphones and a digital player. The tour is cleverly written, and is narrated by former prison guards and inmates. Together they weave tales of heartache, dramatic escape attempts, and the sometimes violent past of Alcatraz Island.

San Francisco San Francisco

San Francisco

Though our tickets required us to board a boat at a set time, once on the island we were free to explore at our leisure. Two hours was more than enough time to enjoy the tour at our own pace and see everything we wanted to. Weather on Alcatraz Island can be unpredictable, and while it may be sunny and warm in the city, the island can be shrouded in chilly fog from the bay. I’d recommend bringing bottled water, a warm sweater, sturdy walking shoes, and a sense of intrigue!

San Francisco

For more information, please visit U.S. National Park Service’s official website for Alcatraz Island. The National Park Service is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016. To commemorate the occasion, the NPS has started the Find Your Park movement, encouraging people to explore amazing places and share incredible stories. I was not paid or asked to write this post. My thoughts, views and opinions are entirely my own.

Finding Balance at Float Sense

The concept behind floating is nothing new – floatation therapy has been practiced for more than 40 years – but until this week it was certainly new to me. I was recently invited by Float Sense to experience it for myself, and can say it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before.

Float Sense, located in central Burnaby, is one of the newest floatation therapy clinics to open up in Greater Vancouver. Their concept is based on the notion of Relax, Recover, and Recharge. Float Sense prides itself on providing its clients with the opportunity to take part in what’s known as Floatation REST. REST is an acronym for Restricted Environmental Stimulation Therapy.

Float Sense

For those unfamiliar with the concept of floating, it involves lying in an enclosed tank designed to deprive the floater of his or her senses. The tank is filled with 11 inches of precisely warmed water filled with about 800 pounds of epsom salts, creating enough buoyancy to allow the user to float without any effort whatsoever. It’s designed to create a state of total relaxation while providing countless health benefits that have been scientifically proven over the last several decades.

Float Sense

I had two initial hesitations about floating: first, despite not being claustrophobic, I still wasn’t sure about sealing myself in a sensory deprivation tank. Secondly, I was skeptical that I would get anything out of the experience at all. My session at Float Sense proved me wrong on both.

The tanks are located in private, serene rooms with low lights. They’re also much larger than they look, and once inside, I was able to completely starfish in the water, stretching as much as I needed to in order to get comfortable. Another added comfort was knowing that there’s actually very little water inside the tank and they cannot lock from the outside.

Float Sense
It’s not nearly as scary as it looks – I promise!

My 90-minute session seemed to pass in phases and went by much more quickly than I expected it to. Once I was able to get myself comfortable (hands resting behind my head seemed best), I started to feel like I was drifting. Not off into sleep, but drifting along on a stream. Other times I was so in tune with what I was doing, that I couldn’t remember if I briefly fell asleep or mentally zoned out entirely. By the end I felt both re-energized and relaxed.

I look forward to my next floating session, and if you’re curious about it, I want to offer these tips:

  • Moisturizer – Though showers are provided to rinse off after, the 800 pounds of salt in the tank certainly took its toll on my face, leaving it feeling a bit parched. I’ll bring a smudge of coconut oil with me next time for afterwards.
  • Bring a Hairbrush – The fact that I’d be submerged in water seemed to escape my mind and my hair was a mess when I left without anything to comb through it!
  • Dress Comfortably – Feeling the post-float glow is great, and keeping it going will be a lot easier if you don’t have to squeeze into skinny jeans and boots afterwards.

The team behind Float Sense want to give one of my blog readers the opportunity to experience floating for themselves and have agreed to give away a 90-minute float session to one lucky winner! ($70 value)

To enter:

    1. Post the following on Twitter:

    I want to find balance with a 90-minute float session from @FloatSense and @KeiraAnne! http://ow.ly/UYTOF #floating #YVRcontest

    2. Leave a comment below, telling me why you’d like to try floating. (1 bonus entry)

I will draw the winner at noon on Tuesday, December 1st! Good luck!

To learn more about Floatation REST and to visit Float Sense, Burnaby’s newest floatation centre, visit them online, follow the centre on Twitter, check out their pics on Instagram, or like them on Facebook. They’d love to meet you!

Disclaimer: I was not paid to write this post though my float session was complimentary. The thoughts, views, and opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.

UPDATE: This contest is now closed. Congratulations to Jen R. on winning a 90-minute float session from Float Sense!

Burger & Beer Fundraiser

Helping others is never a waste of one’s time, and ever since I adopted my own rescue dog, Jordy, I’ve felt compelled to help other homeless dogs in BC. I am proud to volunteer for Pommy Country Pomeranian and Small Dog Rescue.

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For those of you in Vancouver, I’ve organized a beer & burger fundraiser with all of the profits benefiting Pommy Country (and their growing vet bills). Here are the details you need to know:

    Who: Benefiting Pommy Country Small Dog Rescue
    What: Beer & Burger Fundraiser Benefit
    Where: The Coppertank Grill in Kitsilano (3135 West Broadway, Vancouver, BC)
    When: Thursday, November 26, 2015 at 6:30 pm
    Why: It’s a guaranteed fun night out with friends and you’re doing something for a great cause!

The evening will feature a 50/50 draw and a raffle with some fantastic prizes! We’ve got the following enviable prizes up for grabs:

Tickets are $25 each and include admission, a burger with fries, a beer, and a donation to Pommy Country. Vegetarian options are available. Tickets will be available at the door; however, to RSVP and secure your spot, please visit the event on Facebook and confirm or send me an email. I look forward to seeing you there!

About Pommy Country: From Poms to Pit Bull breeds, big or small, Pommy Country doesn’t turn down any dog in need. At any given time, their network of volunteers and foster families across southern BC is taking care of upwards of two dozen dogs – and sometimes more! Most of the dogs simply need a new home and are sweet, kind, and loving. Some of the dogs come from traumatic or health-compromised experiences, so they need a bit of extra TLC. As you can imagine, taking care of so many dogs with diverse needs can get costly. Pommy Country relies on donations for 100% of its funding.

San Francisco and the Bay Area

Part of me truly believes I was meant to live in California. I know it’s a common expression, but if so many people believe it, there must be some truth to it. Near the end of our six-week road trip, we spent four days in San Francisco and got a healthy dose of Northern California culture.

San Francisco

One of my most favourite – if not my absolute favourite – film of all-time was filmed in San Francisco: Big Trouble In Little China. And ever since I first saw Kurt Russell drive his big rig over the Golden Gate Bridge in the pouring rain, I knew it was a city I needed to visit. Because we planned to return to Canada via Highway 101, it only made sense to make a long stop in the Bay Area and experience Northern California for ourselves.

In researching our visit, I found that hotels were generally very expensive in San Francisco. Instead I found us a garden suite vacation rental in the Inner Sunset neighbourhood. This suited me just fine because my travel style is more “blend in with the locals” rather than “stand out like an obvious tourist.”

We were a short streetcar ride away from the downtown core, but far enough away that the streets were quiet at night and the neighbourhood felt extremely local-centric. We’d start each day by walking a block or two to the local coffee shop before grabbing the streetcar downtown. Peasant Pies was a noteworthy neighbourhood favourite. (Tip: with a single cable car ride setting you back $7, pick up a 3-day unlimited transit pass for only $26. It’ll pay for itself in no time!)

San Francisco

San Francisco

When friends of ours, Ashley and Mike, discovered that we planned on being in San Francisco at the end of July, they booked tickets and flew down from Calgary to join us. On our first day in the city, we met up with them at Mama’s restaurant at Washington Square. San Francisco was unusually hot that day, and after a long, long, long wait on the street, we were finally treated to one of the city’s most famous breakfast experiences.

San Francisco San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco is a city of hills, so from there we trekked east (and up!) to the Coit Tower overlooking the city. Sweeping views in almost every direction gave us a sense of direction, so we continued east (but this time down!) to the Embarcadero. This lively stretch along the city’s waterfront eventually led us to Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, ground zero for tourist activity.

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco San Francisco

San Francisco

We visited with lazy sea lions, chowed down on world famous sourdough bread from the Boudin Bakery, wove in and out of souvenir shops and soaked in the delicious California sunshine. It’s amazing how quickly a day can go by when you’re not doing much in particular at all. Before we knew it, it was time to part ways with Mike and Ashley and say goodbye. They had more they wanted to see and do in California, so we were on our own from then on.

Instead of heading back to our rental, we popped into the Blue Mermaid Chowder House for a bowl of their award-winning Corn & Crab Chowder. It’s a must!

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

The following morning, a thick fog permeated our vacation rental’s backyard. It was an eerily perfect morning to visit Alcatraz Island and explore San Francisco’s most infamous landmark. (Tip: book your tickets weeks, if not months, in advance. The tours fill up in the summertime.) Alcatraz can fill a blog post all on its own, so look for that within the next week.

San Francisco

San Francisco

By the time we returned downtown from Alcatraz Island, the day was barely half over and we had a lot more exploring to do. J and I grabbed a cable car and made our way south to Chinatown. The largest Chinatown in North America, San Francisco’s was established in 1848 and has most certainly stood the test of time (and seismic activity).

San Francisco

San Francisco San Francisco

It was an exciting opportunity for me to scout all the locations where Big Trouble In Little China was filmed while soaking in the charismatic and colourful sights. We wandered north to south and darted in and out of interesting shops. I was lured by different scents and fabrics and sounds coming from all directions. San Francisco’s Chinatown is very unlike its counterpart at my home in Vancouver in that it feels as if it has a life of its own separate from the city.

San Francisco

San Francisco

Like most days on our trip, we spent a great deal of time walking that day. We were grateful for a sweet treat at La Boulange (now known as La Boulangerie) before ducking into an air conditioned movie theatre. Sitting in front of the big screen caused us to work up an appetite, so we returned to Chinatown that evening and sought out House of Nanking on Tony‘s recommendation. In a word: “Wow!” This restaurant blew us away with its inventive and fresh dishes with a totally unique take on traditional Chinese cuisine. In fact, I’m salivating just recalling it for you!

San Francisco

San Francisco

With only one more day left in the city, we wanted to see San Francisco in a big way. Arriving in the Haight-Ashbury district, we found a reputable bike rental shop – Golden Gate Park Bike Rental – that would let us return our bikes later in the day at Fisherman’s Wharf. The plan was to ride across the bridge to Sausalito, but I couldn’t do it before seeing The Painted Ladies for myself. After our brief detour, we rode west through Golden Gate Park and past a paddock of bison (yes, really!) until we reached the Great Highway.

San Francisco

San Francisco

A bit of winding, weaving, and wheezing finally found us at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Not surprisingly, the bridge was largely congested with pedestrians and other cyclists, but the pathways are clear enough that a ride over the bridge is simple. Within less than 20 minutes we were coasting into the seaside town of Sausalito, just in time to enjoy some late afternoon sun before taking the ferry back across the bay.

San Francisco

San Francisco San Francisco

By that point, we had already put close to 20 miles on our bikes, and were so glad to be able to drop them off at the waterfront. Our appetites were understandably huge and I wanted desperately to carb load for our last night in San Francisco. Little did I know, the city is home to a Little Italy neighbourhood. My husband and I grabbed a bistro table on the sidewalk outside Michelangelo Caffe and scarfed down on Margarita pizza (my favourite!) and house wine. Not yet satiated, we walked up the street for some gelato. “When in Rome,” right? Or is that “When in Little Italy?”

San Francisco

A beacon on the ocean that is rich with history, saturated with culture, and abundant in incredible food, San Francisco is one of those can’t-miss travel experiences. I wouldn’t know where to begin to choose my favourite memory of this city. I was so thankful that we had the time we did, and can’t wait to return again. There’s so much more I want to explore and a few places I definitely need to go back to. I’m looking at you, House of Nanking.

San Francisco

Northern California Coast and Carmel-by-the-Sea

Something about the way the sunlight touches the coast of California makes it seem a little more golden than the rest of the Pacific coastline. There’s no better way to see it than by driving the 101 in either direction, and letting your sense of adventure guide you.

We left the Los Angeles area by way of Malibu in the early afternoon, hoping to arrive near San Luis Obispo before nightfall. To do so meant breezing by quaint surf towns and colourful Santa Barbara. After a night of camping in Morro Bay (more about that in a future blog post), we had hoped to visit the famed Hearst Castle. However, a series of unfortunate events meant we had to skip the castle (again, more about that in a future blog post).

Carmel - Big Sur

The following day we set out as early as we could and found the only Starbucks in Morro Bay before continuing on the 101. I’ve long heard stories about the beauty of driving California’s coastline and exploring Big Sur, known for its craggy cliffs and thrashing sea. I envisioned a sun-soaked highway stretched before us with a cerulean sky overhead. The reality was that Big Sur and the surrounding area was shrouded in cloud.

Carmel - Big Sur

When we reached the village of Big Sur, a light rain started to fall and we were feeling unprepared for any kind of outdoor adventure. And, in truth, following our previous night, I couldn’t wait to get to Carmel-by-the-Sea, check into our hotel, and take a luxuriously hot shower.

Carmel - Big Sur

By a stroke of luck, the sun triumphed by the time we arrived in Carmel. I had booked us into the Clint Eastwood-owned Mission Ranch Hotel. Operating as a dairy farm, the stunning property was set to be turned into condos. In the ’80s, when Dirty Harry was mayor around those parts, he purchased the farm and turned it into a quaint and charming hotel. Guests can stay in former barns, lofts, and out buildings that have been beautifully transformed into havens of slumber.

Carmel - Big Sur

After a quick check-in and time to freshen up, we set out to explore the town of Carmel. Friends of ours visited a few summers before and couldn’t stop raving about its old-world beauty and unique character. Carmel proved to be a really fun town to take a walking tour through, but it wasn’t long before our appetites got the better of us. We stopped in at A. W. Shucks Oyster Bar for dinner. I wanted to indulge in something coastal and my husband had never before tried oysters. I’m still waiting for him to get back to me about what he thought.

Carmel - Big Sur Carmel - Big Sur
Carmel - Big Sur Carmel - Big Sur

Once we finished, we followed the crowds and found an ice cream parlour – the perfect treat on a sunny California evening. Deciding it was still a little bit too soon to return to our hotel, we walked down to Carmel Beach. We arrived just before sunset and dug our toes into the sand. The beach and its waves glittered around us in a way that was almost ethereal.

Mission Ranch Hotel

By the time the sun ducked below the horizon, we found ourselves back at Mission Ranch for a nightcap on the patio overlooking the sheep pasture. I can’t think of a more classic way to spend a night in the Carmel area than exactly how we did. It was the perfect “night off” from our road trip to refuel for the final push up the 101 to San Francisco‚Ķ

Where We Stayed

Accommodation: Mission Ranch Hotel located in the town of Carmel
Facilities: Tennis court, fitness centre, free pastries and coffee, complimentary wifi
Privacy: Spread over 22 acres, it’s easy to find some privacy away from town.
Cost: USD$135-335 per night
Would I Stay Again?: Absolutely! I can’t imagine staying elsewhere in Carmel, but next time I’d shell out extra for one of the more private and quiet detached suites. We were staying in the farmhouse – an older building with paper-thin walls. Our room was situated next to a large, young family, so it made for a very noisy stay.

Disclaimer: I was not paid or asked to write this post. My thoughts, views, and opinions are entirely my own.