Yes, I live in Minnesota. No, I have never been to Canada. It's only a 6 hour drive, right? Yep, that's about right. And that about sums up my experience with Canada. Although I had a Canadian roommate in college studying abroad and had always figured I would get there at some point, almost 30 years later and it still had yet to happen.
Each year my husband and I try to visit somewhere outside of the United States, so this year we decided to go to Canada. We ended up visiting the west side of Canada (hellllooooo Vancouver), and it was absolutely stunning.
We flew in and out of Seattle and rented a car to get around. 10 days of seeing the sights, adventuring, eating delicious food, and drinking lots and lots of local wine and beer. Here is the breakdown of what we did, what we wouldn't do again, and what we highly recommend.
Day 1: Fly into Seattle from MSP.
Took the Link light rail from airport to University Ave. station. Requested Uber to get to airbnb. We stayed in the south end of Capital Hill off Seneca St. Highly recommend this area.
After checking in and dropping off luggage, walked to Taylor Shellfish Farms. Husband had a dozen oysters, I had the oyster chowder. We split the smoked oyster dip. Dip was ok, chowder was outstanding.
Met our friend Brit the Unicorn bar. Super funky place. Definitely worth a visit. And the corn dog with cream cheese and sriracha? Say no more. So deliciously unexpected!
Went to Canon for some whisky and late night food. Had to wait outside for awhile to get in, but it was worth it. Ordered the flatbread, gnocchi, and steam buns to split. All delicious, especially the flatbread. I had some kind of aged whisky drink in a bottle. I mean, it was my 30th birthday after all. :)
Day 2: Pike Place
Slept in a bit and then went to Stateside for brunch. Ordered the lychee mimosa. Loved the lychee pearls (not sure of their technical name but that's what I'm going with!). Split the crispy duck egg rolls (oh my Gawwwwd good). I ordered the Bahn Mi breakfast sandwich and the hubby had the charcoal waffle. Both delicious in their own right (I'm more of a savory breakfast kinda gal!).
Walked down to the Pike Place market. Bought myself a $44 hat because it was freezing with the wind (and yes, I know what freezing feels like!). Enjoyed all the locally handmade goods and food stands (and the flying fish!).
From there, walked all the way to the Space Needle side of town. Visited the EMP museum. Had some pretty neat exhibits (especially enjoyed the sound lab and the Jimmy Hendrix ones!) but I would say pass on it if you're short on time.
Walked back to the market to attempt to get some chowder but went to Piroshky Piroshky instead. Ordered the salmon pate, ground beef and cheese and potato piroshky (we were hunnnggrrryy). If you're going to get one, go for the salmon one. You won't regret it!
Went to bed early. We were exhausted from all the walking (and maybe a bit jet lagged!).
Day 3: Fremont and Bellingham
Got our rental car at Avis (hooray for Costco discounts!) and drove up to the Fremont neighborhood. Stopped into the Theo Chocolate plant and showroom. So many chocolate samples! Bought a few bars and a few truffles. Love that their chocolate is all fair trade.
Had brunch at Revel. Ordered the beef short rib dumplings, the Dungeness crab (with seaweed noodle, red curry, and crème fraiche) and the duck hot pot. The crab noodles were out of this world! Little bit of spice, little bit of sweet, little bit of salt, little bit of creaminess. Seriously one of the best dishes we've ever eaten.
Walked around the shops in Fremont. Hubby got a haircut at the local barbershop.
Started our drive towards Bellingham. Took the Chucanut (Hwy 11) scenic drive. HIGHLY recommend. Stopped in Bow, WA at the Breadfarm for a snack. Wanted to pair the bread with some local cheese and meat from the place nextdoor, but it was closed. Worth a quick stop. Also stopped at The Oyster Bar further up Chuckanut Drive for a glass of wine and light appetizer (oysters for the hubby, mussels for me). Can't go wrong with that view.
Made it into Bellingham. Stayed at the cutest airbnb yet. Converted garage with separate suana/bathroom. Very unique and oh-so-cute!
Drove dow to The Green Frog for open mic and comedy night. Had a few good WA beers and split a New Yorker (with house smoked pastrami). I got so excited, I almost signed up for open mic night (don't worry, I didn't). :)
Day 4: Mount Baker and Across the Border!
Slept in and went to Homeskillet in Bellingham for breakfast on our way out. Had to wait 25 minutes. Totally worth it. Eclectic little restaurant with some seriously delicious (and HUGE!) breakfast platters.
Drove east to Mount Baker and headed up the mountain (Fun fact: Mount Baker gets the most snowfall/year than anywhere else in the world!). It went from large mossy trees and raining at the bottom to crazy heaps of snow towards the top. The snow cleared off the road was higher than our car!
Drove back down the mountain and proceeded north to cross the border. After what felt like a gazillion questions, we made it across! First timers. :)
Stayed at the Hampton Inn on Robson St. downtown Vancouver and drove to the Kitsilano neighborhood to eat dinner at The Oakwood Canadian Bistro. Had the grilled squid (wouldn't particularly recommend), duck breast salad (meat and burrata cheese were good, also not outstanding) and kale salad. Kale salad was hands down the best dish we had, and maybe one of my favorite kale dishes ever (and that is saying a lot!!). Also shared the coconut custard, which was so creamy and delicious!
Day 5: Stanley Park
Woke up and had breakfast at the hotel. Checked out and checked into our airbnb (also in downtown Vancouver). Walked towards Stanley Park and rented bikes at Spokes Bicycle Rental. Biked around Stanley park and then to English Bay Beach. Highly recommend seeing both! Had a light lunch at Cactus Club Cafe. Returned our bikes.
Walked towards Canada Place on the water and then cut through downtown. Grabbed some intensely gourmet drinking cocoa at Mink Chocolates Cafe. Hubby had his with espresso and I had mine with chili + other spices (as they say - some like it hot!).
Went and rested at the airbnb for awhile before walking down to the waterfront to eat at Ancora. Hands down best overall dining experience of the trip. Everything was perfectly spot on. Husband claimed "best oysters of the trip!" and I had one of the best fish dishes I've ever tasted (it was the Aji Panca Glazed Sablefish). Also not the biggest fan of ceviche, but the scallop and prawn ceviche was melt-in-mouth good.
Day 6: Granville Island
Woke up and walked down to Meat and Bread for lunch. Attempted to celebrate St. Paddy's day but that was a flop (read: no one celebrating all day as the parade was held weekend before!) so we headed back to the airbnb and hang for a bit.
From there we stopped at Costco quick (story to come!) and then onto Granville Island where we checked out the market (I bought some candied salmon which was quite interesting!) and were entertained by a street performer. Jumped in our car and headed to the Kitsilano Beach Park area and walked around the point. From there, we headed west towards the sunset, and cut through Kitsilano until we make it to Peaceful Restaurant (the place on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives). The dumplings and beef rolls were pretty good as well. They are known for their hand-rolled noodles, so whatever you do, those are a must. They are also HUGE portions, so I would recommend splitting a noodle dish if you are ordering other items!
Day 7: Whistler and the Skandinave Spa
Our waiter at Ancora suggested we buy the Costco gift cards to Skandinave Spa in Whistler (thus our trip Thursday) and spend our one day of nothing planned up there. Boy, do I wish I could thank him in person.
First off, the drive from Vancouver is one of the most beautiful drives I have ever (and I mean EVER) seen. Beautiful mountains jutting into the ocean. Islands off in the distance. The kind of stuff you see in movies.
Once in Whistler, we drove up to the spa. Skandinave Spa is a spa in which you spend 10-15 minutes in a thermal spa pool, steam or sauna room, 20-30 seconds in a cold bath, waterfall or shower, and then 15 minutes relaxing on a deck, lounging room, hammock (although closed when we were there due to the snow) or outdoor fireplace. Then, it's repeat. 3-4 times. All while being completely silent. It was such a cool experience. And oh so relaxing! You can also add a massage to the package, which I would splurge and do next time. I cannot even imagine that level of relaxation!
After 2 hours of our spa experience we were famished! We walked to Pasta Lupino for some homemade pasta. Hubby had the chicken parmesan and I had the off-menu ravioli. Both filling and delicious! Love that they make all their own noodles there.
Then it was driving home and relaxing for a few hours in our airbnb before heading to Kingyo Izakaya for a late dinner. Deep fried tempura corn on the cob? Yes please! Husband had some outstanding raw tuna dish (I was trying to stay away from raw fish that night due to a belly ache!) and melt-in-your-mouth Kobe beef. They give you the little rock to cook your own meat on - so crazy! I had never seen that before, but apparently it's a thing. :)
Day 8: Back to the US and the Sounders game!
Time to say goodbye to Vancouver! Drove to the border (took us two hours to cross - booo!) and then stopped at Boomers Drive-In in Bellingham for a quick lunch. Love old school drive-ins that you never see anymore! The burgers were delicious (I had the teriyaki pinneaple burger and the hubby the guacamole bacon burger).
Once back and checked into our airbnb in Seattle, we met a friend for a drink and went to the Sounders Soccer game. I have never seen so many people that into soccer! And as a former player and coach myself, that was super cool to see. They lost, but it was still a really good time. After that we headed to Brouwer's Cafe for some brews and food. I had the Stoofviees - Belgian stew with beef, bacon and beer - what more could you want?!
Day 9: Fremont Troll and Ballard Locks
Woke up and drove up to Paseo in the Fremont neighborhood. Their #1 Pork Loin sandwich is easily one of the best I've had. Ever. You could share it, but you won't want to.
Walked down to the Sunday Markets and then over to see the Fremont Troll. Markets were cool for a leisurely day, but not a must-see. Troll is pretty interesting though if you're up in that neighborhood already.
Drove to Ballard to check out the Ballard Locks. Not very interesting as it is not the time the salmon are swimming upstream (or whatever they do!) and we couldn't see any fishies. Definitely don't go unless it's that time of year. Unless locks are your thing. And then in that case you could come to the Mississippi River here in MN as well. :)
Drove back home and got ready for dinner, which was at RockCreek back up in Fremont. Cauliflower salad = pass on. Calamari 'Kari Out' = must have. I don't typically like calamari, but this was outstanding. The presentation, the sauce, the tenderness, the crispiness, the sweetness, the spice. You name it, this dish had it. And it just works! Hubby and I both ordered black cod dishes and they were good, but not as good as our fish dishes at Ancora.
After dinner we went and checked out a place called Conor Byrne's, which had an open mic night going on. Super talented musicians were playing and we were really impressed! Nothing like live music and a couple drinks to pull you into the present moment...
Day 10: Chowder and sea lions and bluegrass - oh my!
Woke up and took an Uber down to Salumi so the hubby could get a sandwich at this well known hot spot in downtown Seattle.
From there we headed to Pike Place Markets to try the chowder (and on the way stopped at the Gum wall - so gross!). The Pike Place Chowder. Yes, it was some of the best clam chowder I have had, but it was almost a bit too creamy (is that a thing?! it is for me!). I prefer my chowder with a little less cream so the seafood can be the real star, which is why I really enjoyed the oyster chowder I had Day 1. You try both and let me know your thoughts!
Stopped into the Seattle Aquarium. We were actually decently impressed with this as they focus solely on NW Pacific and have a lot of good info on conservation efforts, etc. I'd say it's worth a visit, especially if you have kiddos!
We then walked up to The Wines of Washington Tasting Room to taste some WA wine. Small little place on Pike Place St. Neat that they have only WA wines, but probably cooler to go to the actual wineries!
Ubered (that's a word now right? Like Googled?) to Kerry Park to take advantage of the tiny bit of sunshine we were experiencing so we could see the view. Was still cloudy in the distance (so no mountains!) but a good view regardless.
Dinner at Serious Pie with our friend Brit. Oyster pizza was fab and a definite must. Stinging nettles pizza was interesting. Good, but maybe not something I would order again!
Then the hubby and I headed back to Conor Byrne's for one last night to check out their bluegrass night. Bunch of people playing instruments that just come and go as they please. Perfect end to a perfect trip.