In March 2016 my husband and I embarked on a five-week road trip around the USA and Canada. By any measure it was a trip of a lifetime and certainly one we’ll never forget.
Driving from state-to-state has always been considered a novel and romantic journey – one that dreams, books and movies are made of. Who hasn’t had the desire to hop into an old beat-up Ford and drive down the 101?
Mark and I wanted to take this trip for a few reasons. First and foremost, as techies, the appeal of San Francisco and Silicon Valley, and California in general, has long been a place we’ve considered moving to. The goal of this trip was to size up the scenery, and get a feel for whether or not we could see ourselves living there.
Our second reason: We needed an adventure.
We landed in Houston, Texas and made our way through seven states and two Canadian provinces: Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alberta. We covered roughly 4,000 miles, stayed in eight hotels, seven airbnbs, had three different rentals cars and spent nearly £8,200 ($10,600 USD). The lessons we learned about travelling and each other? Priceless.
One does not embark on a trip of this scale without considerable preparation. The cost of this journey was staggering. When people live on the same amount in Asia for a year, you realize just how little your dollar / pound goes in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
This was no surprise to us – we knew it would be an expensive trip. When I share the cost with others, they ask me if it was worth it?
Yes. Yes it was.
But there are certain things I would do differently next time, and my goal for this post is to share these things with you so you can plan your next road trip with the greatest of ease.
We started planning the trip in August 2015. At the time I disliked my job, was tired of London, and was looking for a change. When they say, “tired of London, tired of life” it’s true. Mark and I had spent the last five years living and working in this great city, and we needed a break from our everyday existence.
The trip itself was rather a spontaneous idea. I was drawing up plans for how we could relocate to a different city, or go back home to my parents’ for the summer. We had a sum of money we had saved from the last two years. Most rational people probably would have used this money for a deposit on a house. For us the the appeal of travel was far greater than the appeal of settling down. We knew if we bought a house, our days of gallivanting around the globe would be numbered. “Better do it now whilst you’re young!” they say. And we wholeheartedly agreed.
With this in mind, I woke up one Saturday morning and booked two tickets to Houston, Texas. Mark has family in Houston, so we thought that would be a great place to start. I plotted a rough sketch of where we could go and what we would do, and it grew from there.
In the 10 months prior to departure, I oscillated between wanting to plan the trip out in full and playing-it-by-ear. We ended up doing a combination of the two. This was a great idea in theory, but it resulted in us having to rushing through some of my favourite locations on the trip.
Our plan was to drive from Houston, Texas and make our way to the west coast, then north to Canada and east to Ontario. We thought about camping for three months, but decided against it. In hindsight – camping during this trip would have saved us a ton of money and probably would have enabled us to see more of the countryside, which ended up being our favourite part of the journey. Camping would have dramatically reduced our eating-out costs as well, which was one of our biggest expenses.
This was our original budget:
|Car rental||£1,258.00||Houston to Seattle, Vancouver to Calgary|
|Flights||£1,343.00||Calgary to Ottawa|
|Bus/train||£87.00||Houston to NOLA, Seattle to Vancouver|
And this is what we actually spent:
|Car rental||£1,258.00||£1,733.12||Houston to Seattle, Vancouver to Calgary|
|Flights||£1,343.00||£1,504.12||Calgary to Ottawa|
|Bus/train||£87.00||£99.47||Houston to NOLA, Seattle to Vancouver|
|Extra stuff we didn’t budget for:||—||—|
|Cash on hand (food/drinks/extras)||—||£564.31|
Our rental car costs, food and extras – things you don’t realize you need until you’re on the road – ended up hitting us hard. Our food costs were more than double. We realized that budgeting $70 USD a day for food for two people is only achievable if you eat McDonald’s for every meal.
The rental car fees and gas were more than we bargained for as well. My advice to anyone embarking on a road trip is to pick up and drop off in the same location, even if it means changing your trip around to do so. Doing this will save you big time. We picked our car up in New Orleans, dropped it off in Seattle, and paid close to $1,000 USD in drop off fees. Ouch.
|May 1 – 4||3||Houston, Texas|
|May 4 – 8||4||New Orleans, Louisiana|
|May 8 – 11||3||Houston, Texas|
|May 11 – 14||3||Austin, Texas|
|May 14 – 15||1||Marfa, Texas|
|May 15 – 17||2||Bisbee, Arizona|
|May 17 – 19||2||San Diego, California|
|May 19 – 22||3||Los Angeles, California|
|May 22 – 23||1||San Bernardino, California|
|May 23 – 24||1||Santa Barbara & San Luis Obispo, California|
|May 24 – 25||1||San Francisco, California|
|May 25 – 26||1||Mendocino, Fort Bragg & Fortuna, California|
|May 26 – 27||1||Ashland, Oregon|
|May 27 – 30||3||Portland, Oregon|
|May 30 – Jun 1||2||Seattle, Washington|
|Jun 1 – 2||1||Vancouver, British Columbia|
|Jun 2 – 3||1||Revelstoke, British Columbia|
|Jun 3 – 5||2||Calgary, Alberta|
Getting around was made easy by the fact that our mobile network provider Three allowed us to roam at no extra cost in the US. We would have been up shit creek without a paddle if it were not for our phones, so this was a godsend.
Throughout our journey we relied on the recommendations of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and the TV Food Maps app to scout some of our most memorable meals. To get around, we used Google Maps, and for accommodation we used airbnb and the Hotel Tonight app. (Use promo code MWINTERBOTTOM to get £15 off your first booking 🙂 ).
On Sunday May 1, 2016 we flew from London Heathrow to Houston, Texas. We stayed the first three nights at Mark’s aunt and uncle’s place in downtown Houston. Like many American cities, you need a car to get around. We didn’t plan to pick up our rental up until New Orleans eight days later, so we made do by walking everywhere, ordering ubers, and catching a lift from Mark’s cousin, Nicky.
Our first night in Houston we went to this bar called the Irish Cowboy in midtown. It was a very humid Sunday afternoon, and the bar was packed with twenty somethings enjoying a nice day of drinking. Messin’ Around by Pitbull was blasting on the sound system, and everyone was dressed like they were at the beach. Girls had fake breasts out in full-force, and margaritas were flowing. We enjoyed a feast of deep fried ribs and tacos – by no means memorable in flavor unless you count cardboard a flavor, but still the service was excellent and the people watching was top-notch.
We moved on to Wild West – a full-on square dancing bar with good old country music and saddle disco-balls.
The next morning we ventured out for one of our most memorable meals of our trip: the Hubcap Grill. I discovered this place from an episode of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and knew I wanted to try their Sticky Burger with bacon, cheese and peanut butter. Mmmmmmm.
Mark and I have given up our flat in London to spend the next 5 months on holiday. We’re traveling through Texas, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington and BC, then spending the summer at the cottage. This leg of the journey we’re calling the #WestCoastTasterTrip. For obvious reasons. Here we are in Houston eating breakfast at @hubcapgrill. I had the sticky burger with peanut butter, bacon and American cheese. Mark is having the Hubcap Decker. Delish.
The burger did not disappoint. I now only eat burgers if peanut butter is available. No peanut butter, no burger.
My only regret is that we didn’t try the Cheesy Cheeto Burger – a fresh ground beef patty topped with Cheetos and cheese sauce…sounds heart-wrenchingly good.
We spent our first day in Houston wandering around the Buffalo Bayou and watching an Astros game at Minute Maid Park. The game was something to see, but budgeters beware: a night out at an MLB ballgame could cost you a pretty penny. We spent close to $75 just on hotdogs, water, beer and cotton candy.
We stayed in Houston a few more days, then headed to New Orleans on the Megabus. Mark cannot speak more highly of the Megabus.
A double-decker coach bus, the Megabus now offers premium reserved seating, which means you can select any seat on the bus ahead of boarding if you pay a premium. We splurged and booked the front seats on the top level for $7.00 each. The total trip came to around $42 USD with fees and taxes. Because our seats were at the front, we had breathtaking views of the Atchafalaya Swamp Freeway – a highway that runs through a vast, expansive swamp land. It something you need to see you believe.
New Orleans, Louisiana
We arrived in New Orleans a night early by my miscalculation, and had to book a last-minute hotel on the Hotel Tonight app. We stayed at the Hotel St. Pierre in the French Quarter. Luckily it was a weeknight, so our room didn’t cost more than £50. The hotel itself was very charming, with rooms named after notable jazz musicians (ours was “Baby Dodds”) and a small little swimming pool out back.
We ate at the Kingfish and had a very rich yet exquisite meal of gumbo and crayfish gratin. The waiter was a good old southern boy who was kind enough to give me an extra glass of malbec on the house to celebrate our first night in New Orleans.
We finished dinner and went for a walk in the French Quarter, pass the fortune tellers and bohemians. Mark was asked not once but twice where he got his shoes (Nike Air trainers) and leather jacket, in a seedy, ‘I’m-going-to-mug-you’ sort of way. Between the black eye our waiter was sporting and this attempt at intimidation, we started to realize just how sketchy New Orleans could be.
The next day was spent hitting all the major tourist spots like Café du Monde for fresh beignets and Bourbon street for live music. One of my favourite things about NOLA is the fact that just about every restaurant and bar will sell you cocktails to go. Walking around the streets drinking an extra large margarita out of a plastic cup is not frowned upon – it’s encouraged.
The food in New Orleans was definitely the highlight for me. Our airbnb hosts recommended we check out Frenchman street as the local’s equivalent to Bourbon street, and the delicious Italian restaurant Adolfo’s. We ate generous portions of mussels, steak and fettuccini Alfredo on checkered table cloths above a live music jaunt.
Our last night in New Orleans we would return to Frenchman street for live music including a late night sushi and lychee martini feast at Yuki Izakaya – a Japanese café which sadly closed its doors for good this week after nine years.
Louisiana as a whole and New Orleans in particular is famous for its southern comfort food. We dined on fried chicken, beef brisket po boys and gumbo at Joey K’s and ice cream from the Creole Creamery, both Garden District favourites. For brunch we ate Banana Foster’s French toast with pecan and butter cream, and creole eggs with Andouille and biscuits at Surrey’s Uptown, all Triple D recommendations.
Another favourite of ours was the St. Lawrence on North Peters Street. I hail from the might St. Lawrence River in Ontario and so anything related to St. Lawrence appeals to me. The service in this joint was top-notch, as were the margaritas, onion rings and buffalo chicken burger.
Aside from the live music, an openness to public drinking and rich, succulent food – New Orleans was truly amazing in terms of architecture. The French Quarter and the Garden District featured unbelievably elaborate homes with the quaintest of details. Gas lanterns framed every curb and doorway, and the innate detail of every home, modest or mansion, was breathtaking.
Our time in New Orleans did not go off without a hitch, though. In addition to arriving earlier than planned, our airbnb in Treme had a gas leak, and we frantically fled the place at midnight in favour of a hotel downtown. We ended up getting our money back from airbnb, which covered our hotel expenses, and gave us the opportunity to stay in two additional hotels in the Arts District: The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery which was top-notch and the Hotel Modern, an upscale Ibis in my opinion, but it did the trick.
We picked up our rental car from Louis Armstrong airport the next day headed back in the direction of Houston via St. John the Baptist Parish to visit the Whitney Plantation.
The Whitney Plantation is a museum housed on the grounds of an old indigo and sugar plantation, devoted to commemorating the history of slavery and enslaved individuals in the southern United States. Most striking of our experience there, aside from the slave quarters and the wall of honour listing the 350 different slaves who inhabited the plantation, were the Children of The Whitney statues. Sculpted by artist Woodrow Nash to represent real former slaves as children at the Whitney during the time of emancipation.
The plantation was an enlightened yet harrowing experience for us. Though I appreciate the uniqueness that is New Orleans, I definitely felt uncomfortable here. Between its history and its obvious racial tensions – felt more by me than Mark – I just couldn’t see past its history of enslavement and abuse. To me the culture, food, and architecture all celebrated a society that was built on slavery and the torture and imprisonment of innocent people. I know being Canadian of British descent likely means that my ancestors committed similar crimes against natives and/or colonized peoples, so I shouldn’t really indict an entire culture based on its history. But I did feel less at home here than anywhere else on our trip, and I think its proclivity towards racial discrimination is why.
We drove back to Houston and spent a few extra days with Mark’s cousin Nicky before embarking on the next leg of our trip…
Our first evening in Austin was a balmy, early summer night and we dined at the Bouldin Creek Café – a great first impression to the style and flavour of the city. By this point in our journey, the richness of Houston and New Orleans had caught up with me. Because of this I craved vegan food for most of our time in Austin.
The Bouldin Creek Café had a nice outdoor patio with equally laid-back patrons and their chilled out pets. I munched down on stuffed zucchinis and peppers with roasted tomatoes, vegan mozzarella cheese, quinoa tabbouleh and greens. Mark had an Asian-inspired rice noodle dish with miso and broccoli. We couldn’t decide whose was better.
Our airbnb hosts left us a handy guide of all the cool things to do in Austin, one of which was visit the Alamo Drafthouse in South Lamar. The Alamo – a restaurant, bar and cinema – was showing Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! Heralded as his follow up to the cult classic Dazed and Confused, we thought it only appropriate to watch a film about college kids in Texas whilst in Texas.
Our airbnb in the East Congress neighbourhood in Austin was perfect. Our hosts Catherine and Felipe and their two little French bulldogs, Stella and Messi, were gracious hosts. Their place also had a pool, which was perfect for those humid Austin nights. All-in-all it was definitely one of our favourite airbnbs we encountered on the journey and would highly recommend it to others.
One of the most highly recommended sites to see in Austin is the Congress Avenue Bridge bats. It seems like the whole city lines up along the bridge and the Colorado River below to watch the nocturnal creatures make their appearance at sunset. Apparently when engineers built the bridge in 1980 they left loads of little crevices for bats to hang out in. I remember vividly the smell as they started to emerge in drones. It was a musty smell, like dirty laundry or an old basement. “It’s the smell of urine…” Mark said.
Keeping with our vegan theme, we had brunch the next day at Counter Culture on East Caesar Chavez where I had the pesto rawviolis made with raw jicama ravioli topped with fresh pesto sauce and stuffed cashew cheese and lots of kombucha. Mark had the cornmeal crusted pizza with vegan chorizo. The service was just OK but the food was goooooood. I loved my rawviolis.
We cruised down South Congress Ave and browsed as many vintage and gift shops I could find. My favourite was Prototype Vintage, an upscale, well-curated boutique with colour-coded merchandise.
At this point in the trip we started paying more attention to the happy hours as a more cost-effective way of dining out. South Congress Café had a generous offer on $3 margaritas. I must have had at least three…
At this point in the trip we started bickering quite a bit over driving – mainly me complaining about Mark’s driving and being frustrated at the fact that I didn’t have driving privileges on our rental. We thought we were being clever by only adding one registered driver to our rental agreement, saving ourselves the equivalent of $15 USD/day. Our plan was to just call up and add me as a second driver later on in our trip. Turns out, not so easy.
We had to go all the way to the airport to find an Alamo chain that was open in order to register me as a second driver. I’m sure most people opt out of disclaiming multiple drivers and just take the risk. Our fear was that I would get in an accident and it would cost us thousands of dollars. We paid the $15 USD/day for equal driving privileges and peace-of-mind. It was worth the added expense.
The next day we drove to Zilker Park and Bartons Springs Pool. It felt like the hottest day of our trip but sadly we left our beach kit back at the airbnb, so we watched swimmers and sunbathers from a distance. We also considered venturing out to Lake Travis and dining at the fairly famous Oasis Restaurant but didn’t. Perhaps it was the lull that came with being on the road for two weeks, or the fact that Mark didn’t really dig Austin (his laptop broke at this point in the trip and he was annoyed with my backseat driving), but we didn’t do much more than eat, shop and drive around the city centre.
The Bartons Spring Pools would have been amazing if we had our swimsuits, and the drive out to Lake Travis in hindsight wouldn’t have been that big of a deal considering the lengths we would later go just to see sights. So if you ever find yourself in Austin during this time, please check out these places, bring your sandals, bathing suits and towels, and enjoy the less urban attractions.
The other thing we regret about our time in Austin is not taking more advantage of the food trucks. The city practically survives on food trucks, and I don’t think we ate at a single one. We also weren’t particularly organized when it came to planning our days, so we ended up going to some famed bbq spots once they were already closed. Because of this Mark didn’t get his daily requirement of BBQ that he was hoping for. He also didn’t get any crawfish, which was something he was really looking forward to from the moment we arrived stateside.
Needless to say, we left Austin in a bit of a slump. Despite our change in mood, I loved Austin’s weirdness. Considering it’s in Texas, and in the southern US, this was one of the few places where I felt at one with the people.
Marfa, Marfa, Marfa. Wow what an experience you were. We set out from Austin on a Saturday morning, prepared for the seven hour journey that lay ahead. My desire to go to Marfa, Texas was cemented in 2005 when the Prada Marfa installation came to be known and I was a communications graduate studying fashion.
A luxury, high-end goods store in the middle of the dessert amongst the cowboys? I love quirky little juxtapositions like that. Needless to say when Texas was considered the starting point for this trip, I knew we had to stop in Marfa.
Our crappy little rental car, a Nissan Note, barely made it there. Being relatively naïve (and a little too trusting of Alamo), we set out on our seven hour desert drive without checking the car’s coolant. By the time we reached Fort Stockton our air conditioning had ceased to work and fluid was pouring out of the engine. We called Alamo but they couldn’t help us as we were in the middle of nowhere.
They suggested we try to get to our next destination safely and get in touch when we do. They would then send someone out to help us.
The hour and a half trip from Fort Stockton to Marfa was a nerve-wracking one. Imagine breaking down in the middle of the desert? Talk about a road trip cliché. But we made the journey anyway, turned off our ac, rolled down the windows and enjoyed the lightening storms of west Texas.
We arrived in Marfa for one night only at 6pm. After spending 45 minutes on the phone with Alamo, we decided to just let things be and find a place to eat and have a drink.
I didn’t plan our evening in Marfa in advance. It’s a sleepy little town of about 1,200 people and basically three restaurants. At the advice of our lovely airbnb host Genevieve, we called the Cochineal to humbly ask if they could take us with no prior booking (apparently they are a little pretentious so it helps if you beg). Sadly, the restaurant was closed because of a death in the family. We then walked to the Hotel Saint George to see if they could take us. They too were closed for a private function (a costume-party wedding). Three restaurants in town, and so far two of them were closed. The odds didn’t look good.
At the advice of the hotel concierge, we walked to Planet Marfa, a weekend only beer garden that serves food. By this point I was getting hangry and we were in desperate need of comforting soul food. We approached the beer garden and read the sandwich board: “Kitchen is closed. No food being served because of an injury.”
At this point I was on the brink of panic. There were no visible grocery stores in town, everything was closed, and I was starving. Desperation started to sink in. But like our miraculous arrival in Marfa, the clouds parted and the heavens shined down on a gaggle of local guys hovering over a foldaway table and a giant pile of boiled crayfish. It was like a sign from God. Mark had long given up on his crayfish dream, and I had long given up on the prospect of eating at all in Marfa.
The guys invited us to join them at a cost of $20 USD per person, plus $5 for beer. In the span of a couple hours Mark devoured his and my share of salty, Cajun, crayfish – the last batch of the season delivered fresh from Austin that day. It was there that we met the Justice of the Peace for the town of Marfa, Boyd Elder, the artist behind the Eagles album covers and the caretaker of Prada Marfa, and a local Rancher and his young daughter from the neighbouring Alpine, Texas.
For the last two weeks, all Mark wanted was some crawfish. When we arrived in Marfa Texas today, all of the 3 restaurants in town were closed (one from an injury, the other two for a wedding, and a funeral). We rocked up to this food truck called Boyz 2 Men. They were having a private crawfish party for their friends (which included the justice of the peace, a rancher from Alpine, and the guy who designed two Eagles album covers). Luckily they invited us along, and Mark finally got his crawfish. #crawfish #Marfa #mudbugs #westcoasttastertrip
Across the street was the Museum of Electronic Wonders and Late Night Grilled Cheese Parlour. It didn’t open until after hours so we didn’t get a chance to eat there, but I did use their bathroom.
As the night came to a close we followed the troops to the Lost Horse Saloon for a couple of pints then went on our merry way, walking through the quiet, blackened streets. (There are very few man-made street lights in the desert, only supernatural ones, like the Marfa Lights that we didn’t get a chance to see on account of our car troubles).
The rental car company couldn’t find a tow truck to come save us. Apparently roadside assistance doesn’t work when you’re four hours from any major city. Their solution was to wait until the morning, at which point they would send a taxi to take us four hours east to the closest Alamo. We decided to get up super early and drive to the next Alamo branch in El Paso instead. If we set out in the early morning hours the temperature would be cool. It was the direction we were heading in anyway, and we didn’t come all this way to miss the Prada Marfa.
It’s called Prada Marfa but the actual installation is located just 20 minutes outside Marfa in a place called Valentine, Texas. I was like a kid on Christmas, waiting to pull up to the lone Prada boutique in the middle of the desert.
The store itself was a replicate of something you would see on Bond Street or Fifth Avenue. The carpet is now faded sea foam green from of years of desert sun exposure, and the commercial shop door has never been opened. The store displays handbags and shoes from the Prada 2015 collection, and a cctv camera which we couldn’t decide was real or fake.
Over the years the Prada Marfa has been subject to considerable vandalism. By the time we were there someone had tried to break through the glass display window, as it was cracked and covered with tape. A family of cockroaches was trapped and deceased inside.
Marfa, and the Prada installation, won our trip to Texas.
Our drive from Marfa, Texas to Bisbee, Arizona was certainly a unique experience. The first leg of our journey was basked in worry: Would we make it to El Paso? The fact that signs like “Don’t pick up hitchhikers: Prison Area” lined the highways didn’t do much to ease our worries.
Once we arrived at the El Paso airport safe and sound, we high-fived each other and quickly switched cars for a Nissan Ultima. We grabbed a taco from some random takeaway joint and set out for the Arizona desert.
Leaving El Paso we turned right on the New Mexico State Road 9 and drove endlessly for three hours before merging onto Route 80 just past a tiny little village on the state border called Rodeo. Luckily we had a full take of gas and plenty of water as there wasn’t a gas station or rest stop the entire length of that trip. There was one cow, though, who walked right onto the road as we were speeding towards her at 80 miles an hour. The atmosphere was like a scene right out of Breaking Bad. Nothing or no one for miles. Other than border patrol SUVs and cows.
Voted the Best Historic Small Town in America by USA Today, Bisbee is a tiny little town close to the border of Mexico. It has a rich and eclectic history as a copper mining town, but it’s world famous Copper Queen Mine closed down in the seventies and bohemians, artists and hippies replaced the miners to make Bisbee what it is today: An eccentric, laid-back desert community with affordable housing.
Bisbee is probably not a place we would have discovered on our own. It wasn’t until Dan and Mel came to stay in our home as airbnb guests that we came to learn about Bisbee and all the quirkiness it has to offer. They graciously invited us to their home, introduced us to their daughter Emily and her husband Steve, and showed us around town.
They also took us up to the mountains and showed us some old, European ruins. Mark, hoping to see a snake, and was lucky enough to find a coral snake in an old mine shaft.
Our last night in Bisbee we sat around a bonfire at Emily and Steve’s in the quirky little suburb of Lowell and snacked on marijuana lollipops – the perfecting ending to our short but sweet time with Mel and Dan in Bisbee, Arizona.
We didn’t leave without getting a few pictures of Erie Street – a completely retro-outfitted block in the suburb of Lowell. Part of the Lowell Americana Project, locals have banned together to restore the area back to its original aesthetics of its 1950s and 60s heyday. It was like walking through the set of Back to the Future.
San Diego, California
I still can’t think of San Diego without my stomach turning. It was here that I contracted food poisoning, which would inevitably impact the majority of our time in southern California. By the time we left San Diego I just wanted to go home. But what kept us moving forward was the coastal destinations I was dying to see. I was also looking forward to buying weed in Oregon and Washington, and I wanted see Vancouver again and meet my friends in Calgary. So we continued the journey as planned.
That’s not to say San Diego was bad. We had only two nights there and it was a great place to see. Our airbnb host Michael was a very interesting man. He was a former POW in Afghanistan and a product entrepreneur. He wrote a play-by-play schedule for us on his whiteboard and even offered to drive us downtown.
We started our day at the Mission with pancakes and a burrito breakfast, then drove down to the USS Midway, a giant former air craft carrier stationed at Navy Pier in downtown San Diego. From there we walked along the marina, browsed the Seaport Village and got a selfie at the Unconditional Surrender Statute – a giant, 25 ft statue of the famous kissing photo following V-J Day. We boarded a ferry to Coronado Island, had cocktails and calamari at the Hotel Del Coronado and walked along the beach at sunset.
Heading back to the ferry for the next leg of adventure, we walked all the way to the other side of Coronado Island along C Avenue. Coronado is home to a large US Naval Airbase, and as we walked down the quaint little street lined with American flags and southern California charm, it was clear to see the homes that belong to US Naval Officers – for they made it well-known to passerbys with signs in their yards, “A US Marine and his family lives here!” So patriotic.
We headed back to mainland and drove to Extraordinary Desserts for some lavish cake. After waiting 30 minutes for a table and experiencing a rude waitress, we decided to go elsewhere and ended up at Counterpoint in Golden Hill. Despite the fact that it was 11pm on a Wednesday night, the staff were beyond accommodating to us. I ordered mac ‘n’ cheese, caricature board and a giant glass of cabernet sauvignon. I was amazed with how much food came and was delighted with the overflowing portions of meat and cheese. I even sampled a healthy portion of homemade sausage and chicken liver pate, against Mark’s advice.
We headed back to our airbnb to get a good night’s sleep for the jam-packed day ahead. Our plan was to head to La Jolla Beach in the morning to see the dolphins, have breakfast on the beach and a drive onwards to LA.
Then food poisoning hit me at 3am, and all our plans went to shit. (No pun intended).
Los Angeles, California
As we set out the next morning I did my best to contain my vomit and diarrhoea by loading up on Imodium and Gravol. The worst possible feeling in the world is having food poisoning with no toilet to call your own. The second worst possible feeling is being stuck in a car for hours in such a state.
It wasn’t long until the drugs kicked in and I passed out. We arrived at our airbnb in Mar Vista and I went to bed for the night.
Poor Mark not only had to do the drive by himself, but he basically spent the first day in LA by himself too. That didn’t stop him from exploring the area and the infamous Venice Beach by sunset though.
The next morning I started to feel better, though not 100%, so we opted for vegan again. Where better place in the world to get vegan food than Venice, right? Coincidentally my good friend Karen was also in California for an extended stay, and we met up for one of my most favourite days of the entire trip.
We had brunch at Café Gratitude and was recommended the macrobiotic bowl with braised garnet yams, adzuki beans, sea vegetables sautéed greens, kim chee, garlic tahini teriyaki almonds. It was definitely healthful, and appreciated, given my delicate state.
The three of us walked along the beach to Santa Monica pier and were baffled by the amount of homeless people living in makeshift shantytowns.
After the pier we strolled along the boardwalk and made our way to the Firehouse for 2-4-1 cocktails and sushi. In hindsight it probably wasn’t the best idea to eat sushi and drink bottomless margaritas less than 24 hours after my food poising, but when you’re in the company of great friends, it’s easy to get carried away!
We spent hours at the Firehouse and ate endless amounts of tuna and philly cream cheese rolls. After which we grabbed a half-opened bottle of red from the trunk of Karen’s car and strolled down to the beach to watch the sun set. It was a magical, drunken time.
We took Karen back to her airbnb, but not before a quick stop at McDonalds for McFlurries and Quarter-pounders. Again, not a great idea, but when in America…
On our last full day in LA we decided to take in some iconic sites like the Hollywood sign and Melrose Avenue. So we drove from one end of LA to another. Rookie tourist mistake. We went to Melrose first, and scrambled to find a parking space. After about 15 minutes I decided I was in no state to go shopping, least not down one of the most materialistic streets in American. My intention was to finally check out Nasty Gal after reading Sophia Amoruso’s book #girlboss, but I just felt sick and poor. So we vamoosed.
We drove around Hollywood and Little Armenia on our way to the Griffith Observatory to see the Hollywood sign. It was Saturday afternoon in LA and Griffith Park was packed. There’s supposedly free parking lining the mountain, but there were so many cars and people that we went all the way to the top to find parking but nothing was available. It was mayhem. By this point I was feeling discouraged and car sick, so we turned around and headed back to Venice. In total we were in the car for roughly 3 hours, and didn’t see much accept traffic.
Back in Mar Vista, we decided on vegan again. So we drove to Abbot Kinney Blvd and dined at Matthew Kenney’s Plate, Food and Wine. Inspired by my raw-violis in Austin, I opted for a raviolis dish. It was a lovely meal, not too filling, but definitely a fine-dining experience.
We left Plant Food and Wine and walked down the boulevard. I kept thinking to myself that Venice was such a cool neighbourhood, I wished we had just stayed here and explored it more.
LA Tip: Stay in a neighbourhood you find appealing, and just stick to it if you only have a short time in this city. I was always inspired by Venice Beach and Santa Monica style, from the 1970s Dogtown Z-boys and Kelly and Donna’s Santa Monica beach house from the 90s series Beverly Hills 90210. Though both neighbourhoods are quite different, they each have their own laid-back vibe, which I think comes from their sheer proximity to the ocean. Anyone who lives by water is chilled out – at least in my experience!
We spent our last morning in LA eating breakfast at Flake, an All-American type café, which I’m sure the Netflix inspired series Flaked was based on. We both had bagels, cream cheese and coffee and did some people watching in the tiny, 100-square-foot café. After breakfast we set out on the road to Cajon Pass in San Bernardino Valley to meet Mark’s family.
Cajon Pass, California
Cajon Pass is a little rest stop between the San Bernardino and San Gabriel Mountains in Southern California. It has a Best Western, a McDonald’s, a gas station and direct access to the Pacific Crest Trail – the infamous trail that spans from Mexico to Canada that all hikers aspire to conquer. (It was also the trail that Cheryl Strayed wrote about in her book Wild).
Mark’s uncle was hiking the PCT, so we drove to Cajon Pass to meet him and his cousin Nicky for one of his rest days. We arrived early so we headed out on the PCT for three hours and encountered loads of friendly hikers, all of whom knew Mark’s uncle Michael.
Though we ended up heading back to Cajon Pass before we came in contact with Michael, it was an honour to experience even a tiny stretch of the trail. It also started a trend for the rest of our trip: Whenever we had the opportunity to hike, we did.
The thing about road trips of this magnitude is you really don’t get much exercise sitting behind the wheel of a car. So the opportunity to take in beautiful, desert mountain scenery by foot was just what we needed.
We spent the night with Michael and Nicky, who flew in from Houston for the occasion. We ate sushi (again) in a nearby town and spent several hours at a pub just outside Cajon Pass. Though our time here was short lived, the hiking, the sushi and the time spent with family was a nice departure from our time on the road.
Malibu, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, California
We set out the next day to meet Karen in Santa Barbara, and drove along Highway 1 through Malibu and Ventura. This was one of the most beautiful stretches of road we had seen to date and our first real taste of what we would encounter on the road ahead.
We met up with Karen at her airbnb and went for a hike along the Jesusita trail to the top of Inspiration Point.
After our hike we ventured out to yet another vegan restaurant, Mesa Verde. It had an extensive menu with delicious mains, desserts and wine. We shared the polenta fries with smoked zucchini, tomato and white beans to start. I had the spaghetti and sprouted wheatberry meat balls with san marzano marinara and tree nut parmesan, which was amazingly delicious. And of course the three of us split the chocolate cake ganache for dessert.
Instead of setting up camp in Santa Barbara, we decided to head back on the road to gain more ground. We drove as far as San Luis Obispo and booked a room at the Sands Inn & Suites via our Hotel Tonight app. The front desk had vintage posters of Big Sur and Carmel-by-the-Sea, some of the most highly anticipate stops of our journey – I knew we were getting close to the sights I spent months envisioning.
We checked out the next morning, grabbed some take away bagels and coffee from BlackHorse Espresso and Bakery, and hit the 101. We were due for dinner with a friend in San Francisco, so we had to cover a crazy distance and lots of attractions in a few short hours.
Looking back on this part of the trip, I have mixed feelings. It really wasn’t enough time to take in all these amazing sights. The 300 plus miles that stretched between San Luis Obispo and San Francisco were some of the most amazing views I’ve seen in my life. The road itself looped in and around the mountains so miraculously. The fact that man built a highway into this mountainous terrain, high above the coast, just makes me realize what humankind is capable of.
The roads were winding, and the traffic was intense. It seemed like everyone but us had a convertible. We stopped at the Nepenthe restaurant in Big Sur, perched right on the mountain. The food, though overpriced, was delicious. I ended up with a beetroot salad and Mark had the French dip. What I loved about dining in this part of the country was the wine selection. We were just a hop-skip-jump from the one of the most famous wine regions in the world, so every restaurant we went to had a large selection and very knowledgeable staff to boot.
We stopped along the way to take in the famous Bixby Bridge and the views of Carmel-by-the-Sea. Though our time in this region was short lived, it left a lasting impression on me. I highly recommend a trip to this part of California to anyone. But my recommendation comes with a caveat: spend a week here!
San Francisco, California
As you recall, one of our primary motivations for taking this trip was to visit some of the locations we’ve always dreamed of living. Namely, San Francisco and Vancouver. Ironically we only ended up spending a night in each city, and on both occasions arrived late and left early. So though we did visit these destinations, we really didn’t get to know them.
We arrived in San Francisco around 7pm. Originally scheduled to stay two nights, we had to cut our trip short on account of our evening in Cajon Pass. We went straight to dinner, opting for a Korean restaurant for a change, but settled on sushi yet again on account of the wait.
We dined at Ryokos Japanese in Nob Hill. My friend Josh couldn’t meet us in the end, so we sat and enjoyed our sushi feast to some live beats (the restaurant had a DJ). And so was our time spent in San Francisco. Again, way too short-lived, but we had an aggressive schedule so wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am to San Francisco and on we went.
Napa Valley, Mendocino, Fort Bragg & Fortuna, California
Our time in these lovely northern California destinations was spoiled by a massive fight. Looking back now it was totally silly, but at the time we weren’t speaking to each other for a good chunk of the journey. Mark was driving, and because I was the chief navigator and orchestrator of this trip, and because I wasn’t speaking to him, we ended up driving past many of the stops on my list. We didn’t get to taste any wine in the world-famous wine region, but we did finally make amends by the time we passed Mendocino and entered Fort Bragg.
Mendocino and Fort Bragg are just a 15 minute drive apart along the coast. I first discovered Mendocino through the documentary Marijuana Inc.: Inside America’s Pot Industry on Netflix. Mendocino is part of the Emerald Triangle, which is the largest cannabis-producing region in the United States. Between the chilled-out vibes, cool people and picturesque scenery in that film, Mendocino became one of my most highly anticipated stops on this journey. (I suppose I was secretly hoping to score some weed, but alas that did not happen.)
Compared to more southern cities in California, the further north you go, the grungier you get. At least that was my impression. Personally, I really started to feel more at home in this part of the country than anywhere else on our trip. Unlike Malibu, Big Sur and San Francisco, where wealth and materialism was more apparent, Mendocino definitely had a more back-to-basics, one-with-nature, hippy vibe. Perhaps the film influenced my perception of the place. Between the houses, the roads, and the people – everything just felt a little bit more relaxed and mellow to me.
We actually drove right through Mendocino the first time. It wasn’t until we reached Fort Bragg that I finally broke my vow of silence. I had been waiting six months or more to see the famous Sea Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, and this was something that I did not want to miss. So we parked the car, made up, and walked out to the beach and watched the sunset.
I was expecting millions of vibrantly coloured, smooth sea glass sediments in place of actual sand, like many of the pictures on Google. But after thousands of tourists visiting the site every year, much of the sea glass has been removed. Still, there was quite a bit left, and out of respect for the beach, we didn’t take any home with us. In truth, sea glass is really the same wherever you go.
Also unexpected was the large quantities of crap that had not only managed to make its way up on the beach, but had embedded itself into the rocks. We saw an entire car wheel axle and fuel tank, as well as a weed wacker, lodged into the rocks as if they had been there for decades.
We walked out along the rocks as far as we could go, until I discovered a family of white seals resting in front of me. At previous stops along the coast, where seals were a natural part of the habitat, we were advised us not to disturb them. So with that in mind we stepped back and watched them from a distance.
After that amazing experience we decided to head back to Mendocino for dinner. We walked along the quiet streets of the sleepy little town in search for a restaurant. We turned right down Albion road and stumbled upon this Victorian-era hotel and restaurant called the MacCallum House Inn. After our emotional day of not speaking to each other we decided to burry the hatchet and celebrate with an elaborate dinner. And that’s exactly what we got at the MacCallum House Inn.
Mark had the bavette steak and I the carbonara, we split a calamari as a starter and a cherry soufflé for dessert. The most memorable aspect of the meal was my pinot noir, and sadly I have no record of the vineyard or year to show for it!
Like the night before, we decided to gain ground at dark to get a head start on the following day. At the advice our waitress, a gothic teenage girl with a love for ghosts and a hate for Fort Bragg, we decided to drive to Fortuna and stay the night. We booked the Redwood Fortuna Riverwalk Hotel and set out on the road.
We ended up driving through the infamous Avenue of the Giants, a stretch of the highway near Humboldt Redwoods State Park, in absolute darkness. I can’t tell you how creepy those gigantic trees look at night when you’re driving through a forest, on a winding road, with your high beams on. Every peak and valley in the road brought a mystery as to what lay ahead. I suppose that was half the fun!
Ashland, Gold Hill, Eugene & Cape Perpetua, Oregon
Much like my knowledge of the PCT, I discovered the small-town of Ashland through Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild. Her stop in Ashland played a significant part in her journey and her portrayal of the town was so amorous, I wanted to stop there on our way to Portland.
Route 199 to Ashland ebbed and flowed through tree-lined mountains and crystal-clear rapids. Logging transports piled high with tree trunks and Douglas Fir license plates drove by our side. Up until this point our trip consisted of driving through the desert heat of Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California. As we entered the state of Oregon, we felt a chill in the air. We unpacked our sweaters in Mendocino, but we actually wore them in Ashland.
For the first time in what seemed like forever we arrived at our destination during daylight. My first port-of-call was to find a marijuana dispensary. Many people don’t realize this, but like Colorado and Washington, Oregon permits the sale of marijuana for recreational use. All you need is ID. You don’t have to be an American citizen; you just need to be 21 years of age.
We stopped in at House of Leaves and I purchased three pre-rolled joints of different varieties. We parked the car and strolled to Ashland Creek Park, found a bench, and sparked one.
Being able to walk into a store off the street and buy weed was an amazing experience. Those who have been to Amsterdam, or any of these American states where it’s legalized, know what I mean. You get to engage in genuine conversations about marijuana with experts who are just as passionate about the different strands and side effects as they are about finding you the right blend for your needs. It’s a very cool experience, and a dramatic departure from the original business model where one girl or guy dispenses whatever he or she can get, and customers hope it’s a good product.
With that being said, during our time in Oregon, I struggled to find suitable places to smoke. It’s prohibited from consuming in public. The only acceptable place to smoke is at one’s home, as I seem to remember it being illegal to consume in one’s personal vehicle, too. Neither of those situations were suitable for me, as smoking is restricted in most hotels and airbnbs, and well, we didn’t want to be fined for smoking in our rental car.
I spent a lot of time scouting locations, and even though it was legal to purchase, the circumstances of my situation made it practically illegal to consume it, which kind of sucked.
After I blazed up in Ashland Creek Park, we headed to the city cente for dinner and dined at the vegetarian restaurant Green Leaf. Mark had an amazing pasta dish of fettuccini Alfredo with warm, gooey garlic bread straight from the oven. I had a bland Caesar salad with a vacuum packed baguette and a cold, takeaway container of butter. Why they serve one customer fresh made garlic bread and not the other remains a mystery to me.
After dinner we strolled around Calle Guanajuato Park and sat along Ashland Creek. Mark meditated, and I smoked another doobie. Who’s the bad influence in this relationship, eh Mark?
We booked a night at The M Ashland – a “totally refurbed classic motel”. We showed up to the front desk, which looked more like someone’s private home office than a motel reception. When we complimented the front desk staff on her handwriting she blatantly asked us if we were “fucking” with her…
Having been stoned for the last several hours, I was oblivious to the hard-edged nature of Ashland. It wasn’t until police were banging on the motel room next door that Mark pointed it out to me.
We left Ashland the next morning a bit conflicted. Should we drive east to Crater Lake or west to the coast, Thor’s Well and the Heceta Head Lighthouse? By this point I was sick of driving and wanted to get to our next destination as quickly as possible. We’d make one concession, however, and checked out the Oregon Vortex and its House of Mystery.
Driving from Ashland to Portland, we took Interstate 5, turned onto Sardine Creek road in Gold Hill and pulled into the official entrance to the Oregon Vortex and the House of Mystery, an area believed to exhibit paranormal properties.
The entrance to the Vortex is a log cabin set on the creek, complete with a ticket window and turnstile. Once inside there are various spots marked as significant for their unexplained characteristics. If you stood on one these spots you would feel your body begin to sway in a circular motion as a result of the vortex.
The Native Americans have long regarded the area as a sacred space and animals refuse to enter it. It’s also considered a no-fly zone for the US Air force (apparently their odometers cease to work when flying over this space). The property was acquired during the gold rush at the turn of the century and the house, built on top of the hill, served as a gold essay office. A decade later the house slid from its foundation and came to rest at a weird angle – where it currently sits today. Inside the house, golf balls and empty glass bottles roll up hill, and optical illusions make people seem smaller (or bigger) than they actually are.
My favourite part of the experience was looking at all the photographic evidence of paranormal activities that people had sent in from their visits over the years. Photos dating back to the 70s and 80s lined the interior of the gift shop, each one showcasing strange orbs, light refractions, and one photo, taken by the rear of the house, seemed to display a black portal opening in the ground. It was spooky.
Two cool things happened to us afterwards. My watch stopped working, as I was warned it would, and one of Mark’s photos displayed an unexpected beam of light. Whether you believe in this stuff or not, the folklore and tour was entertaining to say the least.
Back on the road, we headed north towards Portland on the Interstate 5, and settled on the Cornbread Café in Eugene for lunch. Another Triple D recommendation, and another vegan restaurant. Only this time, we would feast on vegan “comfort food.”
Hands down, this was my all-time favourite meal of our entire journey. Blame it on the munchies, but the food was just out-of-this-world good. I ordered a BBQ Jo seitan with “sassy” slaw on a grilled bun, a corn muffin and uncle Todd’s greens. It was basically like a sloppy jo, minus the meat, but 100 times the flavor. Mark had the Chik’n-fried tempeh, cashew gravy and mac uncheese, also to die for.
The ambiance of the place also added to the experience. Like Erie St. in Lowell, Arizona, sitting in this diner was like travelling back in time. I shared my meal instantly on Facebook and within minutes the staff responded. To me that shows they really care about their customers and the experience they’re delivering.
The meal did wonders to raise my spirits, and with a new lease on life, we decided to drive out to the coast to catch the sunset and see the Heceta Head lighthouse and Thor’s Well. It was early in the afternoon and the sun was flooding our windshield with warm light as we drove west into the setting sun. It was a beautiful time of day and we were so grateful to have changed our minds.
Our first stop was the lighthouse. I have a thing for lighthouses.
Growing up on the St. Lawrence River – a major seaway dividing Canada and the US – I was exposed to many lighthouses, two of which are still in close proximity to our family cottage. There’s something just so appealing about a port in the storm, it symbolizes strength, guidance and resilience. They have always been so quaint and novel to me, I can’t help but get excited like child when I see one.
We parked the car and climbed the trail to the Heceta Head lighthouse. The views over Cape Cove were spectacular. It was by far my favourite stretch of the pacific coast. Having travelled all this way, I could start to see subtle differences the further north we drove. The blue tones from the water and rocks were a deeper hue, the trees were greener, fuller and more robust. Even though it was an early summer afternoon, there was chill in the air.
We drove to Thor’s Well next and instantly fell in love with its volatile charm.
South of Cape Perpetua in Cook’s Chasm is a giant sinkhole in the rocks of the Oregon coast. Also known as the drainpipe of the pacific, Thor’s Well is approximately 20 feet deep, with one or two holes gouged from its side. As the waves wash up on the coast, the well fills with water. As the minutes pass and more waves rush in, the well explodes like a volcano. The entire process is mesmerizing. The constant rush and explosion of water was an amazing energy to experience. There was a peacefulness to it, and yet an undeniable exhilaration.
Funnily enough, Thor’s Well is entirely unmarked. Had we not discovered it on Pinterest, pinpointed its exactly location on Google Maps, and visited during low tide, we would have completely missed this natural wonder.
By this point in the trip, we had a very glowing view of Oregon: the food, the nature, and the people. Needless to say, we loved Portland too and saw it as a mecca of the state and all its distinctiveness.
Looking at its history, the city’s reputation as being hip and alternative makes sense. As a frontier and seaport town, it housed all the usual characters and attractions: saloons, boarding houses, gambling dens and brothels. A refuge for the gold rush miners and sailors alike, it was known as one of the most dangerous and violent port towns in the northwest. Now it’s considered one of the safest cities in America. And unlike New Orleans and parts of LA, we definitely felt safe here.
We stayed in an airbnb in the Woodland neighbourhood near the Alberta arts district and it was perfect. The host was gone, the flat was clean, and the bed was comfortable. It also had a nice deck in the front and back of the house, so I could smoke joints undisturbed. Though I didn’t purchase any weed in Portland, dispensaries were abundant.
Looking back on this part of the trip, I remember it being such a good time. I felt at home in this city, and I appreciated its parks, its people and the amazing food and drink we had here. But I can’t for the life of me remember it! Must have been the weed, but the details are a bit of a blur. It just goes to show you that marijuana does, in fact, impact memory.
We were in Portland for Memorial Day weekend, but only had one day to explore the city. We took public transport for the first time in what felt like ages, and really enjoyed leaving the car at our airbnb.
The weather could not have been better and we spent most of the day wandering around downtown and the Pearl District on foot. We bought some salt water taffy at Rocket Fizz, wool ankle socks from Bridge and Burn and lunch at the Alder Street Food Pod trucks. We strolled by the Portland Saturday market and saw a homeless woman pull her pants down and pee right in the middle of the street. That was quite shocking, and a reminder of Portland’s hard-edged side. We climbed the steps to the Burnside Bridge and crossed into east Portland by foot, grabbing a drink at Eastburn.
The next morning we set out for a smoked brisket and buttermilk biscuit breakfast at Podnahs BBQ Pit – another Triple D recommendation. The food was amazing, though I would have reserved this place for dinner as the BBQ menu, which was the main attraction for Mark, was only available after breakfast. Still, we had a sumptuous meal in preparation for our day of wine-tasting.
That’s the great thing about Portland, it offers everything you could possibly want and more. It’s a major cultural hub with a very quirky sense of taste and style, but just outside the city limits is an abundance of national parks, mountain hikes, waterfalls, and vineyards. The added bonus of legalized marijuana means there’s something for everyone. I, personally, was in heaven.
Because we didn’t spend much time in Napa Valley, I was keen to check out the vineyards of Oregon. Mark doesn’t drink or do drugs, which is perfect for me because it means I always have a designated driver. Despite his sobriety, Mark is never one to judge or shy away from social activities involving drugs or alcohol, and he’s always supportive of others who want to have a great time. He genuinely believes you don’t have to drink to have fun (an enlightened perspective and a testament to the fact that he’s ahead of his time).
This was our first proper wine-tasting experience, so we decided to order two flights at the Adelsheim Vineyard tasting rooms so Mark could at least taste and spit. But the spittoon grossed him out, so I ended up drinking his share of the flight.
Next we went to the Penner-Ash Wine Cellars, which was by far my favourite experience. Their flight of the day featured eight different wines with several pinot noirs. We ended up with the best seats in the house; two Adirondack chairs facing endless hills of grapevines. A group of mothers and daughters started speaking to us after we offered to take their pictures. They loved our life story, took pictures of us in return and invited us along to their next tasting. Unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to meet them again, but their enthusiasm definitely added to our experience.
After Adelsheim and Penner-Ash, I thought it wise to squeeze in just one last tasting at the Erath winery. By this point I was unable to distinguish the notes and flavours and just tried to sample as many wines as I could before closing time.
We headed back to Portland for dinner and grabbed some chicken wings at Fire on the Mountain – again, another Triple D recommendation. Their homemade BBQ sauce and flavour selection was Mark’s equivalent to my day of wine tasting. After dinner we checked out Voodoo Donuts across the street. There was a massive queue of people waiting to get inside. My rule of thumb is usually to avoid queues, but when locals are lined up at a local establishment, you know it must be good.
To celebrate their 13th anniversary, Voodoo donuts were selling a dozen of their crazy, elaborate, over the top donuts for $13. Why two people would need 12 donuts is beyond me, but when in Rome…
We spent our last day in Portland outside the city centre at Multnomah Falls in Mount Hood National Park. I had recurring dreams about a waterfall that resembled Multnomah Falls as a child, so it was a must-see for me. Our only regret was making this journey on Memorial Day, as it seemed like every American intended to do the same. We ended up parking 10 miles down the road and shuttled into the falls – a process that would take us two hours, there and back.
The falls itself was packed with families and children. But we hiked up the mountain and after a mile or two began to lose the masses. This was such a beautiful hike, with loads of falls scattered along the trail.
This was our last day in Oregon. By evening we would be in Seattle, Washington. Though we only spent five days in the state, I felt like I found a second home, and was sad to leave it. We finished our last meal at Shirley’s Tippy Canoe and headed north.
We arrived at our airbnb quite late. It was a nice little cottage on the banks of Lake Washington with a cool host named George. He worked in a coffee roasting startup and had a really nice, laid-back vibe. We immediately noticed how steep the streets were and struggled to carry our luggage up hill.
We ate our first meal at the Steel Head Diner in the heart of the famous Pike Place market. Sitting on the root top patio, we soaked in the mid-morning sun and ate poutine. The food was nothing special, but the atmosphere and service were top-notch.
We ended up scouring the Pike Place market, and getting a coffee from the first ever Starbucks. The highlight of this market for me was the Gum Wall. Just as gross as it sounds, it’s a wall filled with bubble gum. I made the mistake of getting too close for a picture and got stuck in a giant wad of freshly-chewed gum.
We walked around downtown Seattle aimlessly, looking for a place for me to smoke. Unlike Oregon, Washington is a lot more lax on smoking marijuana in public. So long as you’re not blowing smoke in people’s faces, you’re free to be. But that didn’t curb my discomfort with smoking in public, so we wandered down to the Myrtle Edwards Park, and sat on the rocks by Elliott Bay. The lake and scenery, minus the snowy mountains in the distance, reminded me of my home in Ontario. Soon we would be there, and soon our trip would be over. Though I was excited to spend the summer with my family, I couldn’t help but feel melancholy about the passing of time and the end of our trip.
For dinner we ate sushi at Umi Sake House, walked around the city, and drove back to the cottage on the lake. The next morning we dropped our rental car off and headed to the Amtrak station to board the 11am train to Vancouver, British Columbia.
Not long after we boarded and the train left the station did we realize we were headed for the wrong Vancouver (Vancouver, Washington instead of Vancouver, British Columbia). Despite the fact that this mistake happens once a week, the conductor did his best to make us feel foolish. He dropped us off on the next platform and told us to wait for the next train. Forty-five minutes later, a train arrives on the opposite platform. But there wasn’t enough time to cross over, least not do as he instructed: beg to be let on. So we booked an uber to the Greyhound station and vowed never to travel with Amtrak again.
Vancouver & Revelstoke, British Columbia
I had been to Vancouver once before during an eight hour layover. Like the last trip, this one would be far too short – and wet – to enjoy.
We arrived around 7pm, got in a cab and drove straight to our airbnb in the east of downtown. I booked this particular airbnb last minute, and gave little consideration to the area. I was familiar with the Gastown district and thought it would be a good idea to stay nearby.
Our host told us that Vancouver was a sleepy little town and there wouldn’t be much to see or do at this hour. Not knowing any better, we heeded her advice and opted for a bite to eat at Nanaimo Sushi down the street. It was very delicious and super cheap – our feast came to £27.
After dinner we went for a walk in the pouring rain. It was dark, dreary and we ended up drenched. We headed back to our airbnb a bit disheartened at the turn of events and decided to make good on the next day by starting early and seeing the city by foot. We had to pick up our rental car in the morning, so why not run there and see Gastown on the way? After which we could drive to Stanley Park, head back to our airbnb, pick up our stuff and go.
By this point there was no wiggle room in our schedule. We needed to see Vancouver, Lake Louise and Banff National Park, and drive nearly 1000km to visit friends in Calgary before our flight on Sunday morning. It was ambitious to say the least.
We set out for our morning run down east Cordova street. Not five blocks pass that we’re engulfed by this horrific odour. I couldn’t stop gagging, my eyes were watering, and the stench was unbelievable. The area was industrial, so I chalked it up to the smell of rotting fish. Mark later suggested it was the smell of a dead body. Others suggested it could have been a rendering plant. Either way, it was ominous.
We continued down east Cordova and came to an intersection with a pretty, young Asian woman standing idly by. She was smartly dressed with stacked platform boots and a military-style jacket. I suspected she worked in a fashionable boutique in Gastown and was on her way to work. Mark thought she was a prostitute.
We approached the next intersection and saw the same thing; only this time the woman was dressed in bright orange fishnets and very much looked the part. At this point I’m beginning to think we’re heading in the wrong direction, and suggest we go one street south, taking us in to East Hastings – the centre of skid row.
We looked pretty out of place, jogging along with hundreds of homeless, drug-afflicted people staring at us. Some people were eating out of trashcans, others were hunched over in drug-induced comas. We did our best to dodge the sick and decay that surrounded us from all angles. It took everything I had to stop myself from gagging and to focus on the road ahead.
Once we approached the fringes of Gastown and it was safe to stop, we asked for directions to the steam clock and headed a few blocks north to Water street to bask in its glory.
After taking the wrong train to the wrong Vancouver (WA instead of BC) – Mark and I finally ended up in Vancity, but only for 15 hours. In that time we had the cheapest meal of our entire trip, went for a morning run down skid row (oops), and visited the first ever steam-powered clock in Gastown. Tonight we do Revelstoke.
Next we headed towards Canada Place to pick up our rental car. We grabbed breakfast at Tim Hortons and, feeling nauseous from our traumatic experience, headed back to the airbnb. After that treacherous journey we were ready to bid farewell to Vancouver and get back on the road. Sadly we missed Stanley Park, but vowed we’d come back to visit. And just like that we were on the road again.
This time our goal was to cover as much distance as possible between Vancouver and Calgary, making sure we hit the key sites during daylight hours. We settled on Revelstoke as our stopover, booked a room at the Best Western and dined at Zalas Restaurant on pasta, pizza and pinot noir.
Our drive through the Rockies was short but spectacular. We didn’t stop much, only for bathroom breaks, bypassing the amazing mountains and waterfalls, committing them to memory only. We were focused on the road ahead and making it to our final destination.
Lake Louise & Banff, Alberta
Years ago I visited Lake Louise and Banff with my friends Laura and Luke and was amazed that a place so beautiful existed. Needless to say I wanted Mark to experience the same wonderment, so we planned to stop there for a few short hours on our way to Calgary.
The air was crisp and the sun was warm as we hiked 3.6km up to the Lake Agnes Tea House. Perched 1,312 elevated feet above Lake Louise, the climb takes roughly 1 to 2 hours. Pressed for time, we did it in 45 minutes.
The Tea House is a little log cabin on the edge of Lake Agnes, a mountain lake set in the Canadian Rockies. Built in 1901 by the Canadian Pacific Railway, it now serves tea to hikers throughout the summer season. The staff lives above the kitchen and in two cabins behind the teahouse and supplies are hiked up daily.
Sitting on its patio, overlooking the Bridal Veil Falls that descend into Mirror Lake, we had a relaxing lunch of quinoa, green tea and warm apple pie.
On our descent we stopped to take in the beauty of Mirror Lake. Between Lake Louise, Lake Agnes, Mirror Lake and the surrounding beauty of the mountains, we felt like if ever there were a God, this would be her country.
On the whole, Lake Louise is a very busy tourist location. If you ever have the chance to visit it, I suggest you hike or rent a canoe. If you can see the sights from a different perspective and break away from the masses, then do. It will be so much more rewarding.
We climbed down the mountain, got in our car, drove onwards to Banff.
Nine years ago, Laura, Luke and I pulled up to the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel to have top-shelf cosmopolitans in their four-star lounge. We spent the day driving from Calgary to Lake Louise, Banff and then onwards to Canmore where we stayed in a chalet overlooking the Three Sister mountains. We were the tender age of 22 but I remember it like it was yesterday.
Hoping to re-live that experience and to show Mark the hot springs surrounding the hotel, we went back to that same place. Only this time the service and ambiance were nowhere near as grand as I once remembered. So we left after one drink and headed on our merry way. Sometimes you just can’t recreate the magic of the past.
We arrived later that afternoon in Calgary. It was a warm, early summer evening. Laura, Luke and their toddler Anna greeted us. They had just sold their house and were due to have their second baby the following week. Looking back, a lot had happened between the two of us from the last time I visited her nine years previous. Her and Luke married, bought a house, conceived two children and were in the process of moving back to our hometown of Brockville, Ontario.
Since that time I had completed my Masters, moved from Ottawa to Kingston to Montreal and then abroad to London, England and met my husband, Mark. It’s amazing where life can take you in nine years.
Our time in Calgary was short but sweet. I had only seen Anna once when she was a baby, so to see her as a toddler was a real treat. We spent our Saturday walking along the Bow River in the East Village of downtown Calgary, just a short ways from their home in Ramsay. We ate lunch at the Sidewalk Citizen Bakery, a great little spot with freshly baked breads, cakes, salads and sandwiches.
We enjoyed the last night of our trip with a home-cooked meal – something we hadn’t had for ages – and an early evening walk around the Calgary Stampede grounds just behind their house.
We woke the next day at 4:30am, packed into our rental car and headed for the airport. Our time with friends was the perfect ending to our otherwise perfect journey together. There were bumps along the way and things I would do differently next time, but the experience was truly a life-altering one, and worth every single penny.