Travel

The BC Aviation Museum - Victoria's Most Underrated Attraction

Likely due to the fact that we are a capital city and that we are just a little bit older than a lot of other places in the region, we have a great selection of museums despite Victoria’s smaller size. I am totally open to having more but overall it is a pretty great collection (On a related note I do think that we could do much better on the art gallery side of things but that is another article…) We have so many museums in the region that I know that there are a few that I haven’t visited and there might be a few that you have never even heard of. For many people, one of those forgotten ones is the BC Aviation Museum, yet as far as museums go, it is one of the best ones we have.

To get to the museum you essentially just need to head out to the airport, when you get to the closest roundabout to the airport (with the YYJ sign on it) head north. If you are on your bike you can get on the trail that circles the airport here and if you are driving just keep trying to go north. There is a small sign with a yellow Norseman aircraft on it that marks the driveway (Called Norseman Road).

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As you come down the driveway (painted like a mini runway… ), you will see a grey blue metal hanger and you may think that it looks pretty small. You then go inside the front door and there is a small entrance and gift shop and it still seems like you may just end up looking at models of planes rather than the real thing. The whole aura is of a little tiny community museum. There are usually a few volunteers standing around the front and after you pay your admission, they will offer you a tour, if this is your first time here definitely take them up on it. Each of them have provided me with information and stories that no matter how many signs you read, it won’t compare.

One of the best parts of your visit comes when they open up the one of the two crash doors leading out of the lobby and into the museum. In you go to a well laid out hanger holding at least 15 planes of various sizes. The size is actually surprising and there is a quality to it that is unexpected. There is really a lot to see: with old flight simulators, fighter aircraft from both world wars, and even some examples of planes from the origins of aviation. Even more impressive is that there is a whole other hanger next to this one with another selection of aircraft and that one seems to have filled up as they have moved a couple of the larger aircraft out onto the apron outside of that hanger.

Connected to the first hanger is a smaller hanger where the aircraft restoration work takes place. You sometimes, if your lucky, get taken in there to see whatever project they are working on. Right now the big project is restoring an Avro Lancaster built in 1944. The plan is actually to return it to flight though looking at it in its current condition, I can imagine this will be a long and expensive project. Also connected to the first hanger is a library and an ante room that is focused on the history of the airport at Pat Bay going back to the Second World War. When you visit make sure you find a guide to take you on the Vickers Viscount airliner. It gives you a great sense of what it was like to travel by plane when you still got some legroom. The plane is painted in the Trans-Canada Airlines Livery and is really a beautiful aircraft.

Now for those of us that have been to the Air and Space Museum in Seattle, this museum is going to seem small but that really isn’t a fair comparison as that museum is one of the best in the world. Still the BC Aviation Museum has to be one of the best of its kind in Canada, as with a lot of things in Victoria it could be so much better if we dreamt a little bigger. I would love to see the government put some money into a new lobby, gift shop and perhaps an extension to the display area so that they could bring some of those planes that have been squeezed outside back in. If you arrived to a modern entrance with some more light and I think that more tourists might be drawn in by looking at a picture on the website. Actually a smaller start could be a complete upgrade of the website with a focus on drawing people in. I wouldn’t want to lose the volunteer spirit of the museum, as that is one of the things that makes it so special, but at the same time I think that if it was polished up just maybe twenty percent it could bring in a larger amount of visitors and hopefully more money to do the restorations.

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As it is now, it is just a quiet jewel and one of the most underrated and likely under-visited museums on the whole island. If you are out in Sidney or heading out that way, stop in at the museum for a visit, you will definitely not regret it.

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Birds and Berries on Westham Island, BC

It has only been a few weeks since my last Delta post, that time on Centennial Beach. Family celebrations brought me back to the mainland again over the BC Day long weekend and on one of the days, we all went out to Westham Island. I hadn’t been there since I was kid. Back in the early 1990’s, a bike ride out to Westham Island was one of my favourite weekend adventures, usually with the plan to fish somewhere, but mostly just to explore. Visiting Westham Island by bike is still a great way to see it because just like the rest of the Fraser Delta, it is extremely flat.

From Ladner, the easiest way to get to Westham Island is following along River Road to the west; it is about four kilometres. There are signs that show you where to turn to get over the dike and onto the historic Westham Island Bridge that crosses the Canoe Pass of the Fraser River. This is a pretty amazing truss swing bridge. Originally built in 1911, it is partially a wooden truss and partially steel. It is also only one lane despite its length, so make sure you see if anyone is coming across before you start your trip.

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Once you are on the Island, if you are in your car there is really only one way to go. Apparently if you are on your bike there is a dike trail that takes you along another route along the western edge of the island. Both end at the main destination at the far end of the island. The George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary. I will get back to the in-between bit of the trip afterwards.

The George C. Reifel Bird Sanctuary (Or the Reifel Bird Sanctuary as we called it) takes up about 700 acres at the north end of Westham Island. This space and the next door Alaksen National Wildlife Area were gifted to the public by the Reifel family in the 1960’s. The Alaksen is managed by the federal government while the bird sanctuary is overseen by a trust. Both areas are a magnet for migratory birds and are extremely popular with bird watchers. That said, even if you are not an avid birder, the bird sanctuary is worth the visit. There are many kilometres of trails and most of them are along narrow earthen dikes with sloughs and ponds on either side. The edges of the paths are often tight with trees and hedgerow, giving the whole place a truly unique look. As you walk around you will see a lot of birds of course and there are also a few bird blinds and a large observation tower that you can climb and see all the way out across the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island. There is a small admission price, but it is well worth the cost for the tranquillity the place provides. At the entrance there is an information centre and gift shop, so if you know a birder and need to get them something special make sure you check it out.

In between the bird sanctuary and the bridge are about five kilometres of the most beautiful farmland you are likely to see. The fields are all full of corn, blueberries or pumpkins. You will even see some of the original farmhouses from the later 1800’s when most of the island was turned over to farms. On our way back from our walk we stopped in at Emma Lea Farms which has been in operation since 1885. Since it is berry season we had blueberry and strawberry milkshakes, which with the fresh fruit was absolutely amazing. Being the long weekend the place was packed with people buying berries and eating ice cream but it still felt relaxed and gave you a great perspective of the lush farm with the skyscrapers of Vancouver and Burnaby in the distant background.

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If you are looking for a place to go and feel the rush of the city fall away while also getting some exercise, I would highly recommend a visit to Westham Island! If I missed something great there, please let me know in the comments.

Centennial Beach at Boundary Bay Regional Park

Maybe today was not the best day for those that wanted to experience Centennial Beach, luckily I made my trip a couple of days ago while I waited to come back to Victoria on the ferry. I hadn’t visited Centennial Beach since I was a teenager growing up in Tsawwassen and I was amazed at how much had changed. Even more, I was inspired by some of the amazing elements that have been added and think that they could be used as inspiration for a couple of our local Victoria beach parks.

Centennial Beach is part of Boundary Bay Regional Park. There is actually surprisingly little online about the origins of the park though I am aware that settler history would have likely started in the late 1800’s with some of the significant farming land, some of which still exists today. The Tsawwassen First Nations would have had significant history in the area for many millennia. Oddly enough it would appear that the Centennial in the name is in commemoration of the 1958 centennial of the Colony of British Columbia not the 1967 national centennial.

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For me my history with the park started in the early 1980’s as a child. My earliest memories of the beach are the endless sandbars and the weird jelly fish balls that are all over the beach (actually apparently a worm egg sack). In those days you accessed the beach park by driving down to Boundary Bay the community and cutting through, now road access is at the west end of the park which bypasses the houses. It appears that there is a bus stop being constructed outside the park entrance so there should be some limited bus access, but I would imagine it would be near impossible to use much like most transit options in Tsawwassen. You can also access the park along the dike to the north by walking or bicycle and this is definitely the nicest way to get there.

When you enter through the main car entrance you will see a large old house. This is Cammidge House, which was moved here a number of years ago from nearby and restored. It apparently hosts lots of parties and weddings. When you get to the beach this is where you will see a lot of really neat new additions (I am sure they are not new, just new to me).

There are a couple of beautiful group picnic shelters. What I really like about them apart from their cool design, is the fact that they have food preparation and BBQ space and even have special waste cans for charcoal briquettes. Nearby is a very large new playground for kids.

Perhaps the most visually stunning addition is the new washroom and change room building. It is a beautiful modernist structure with a cafe at the end closest to the beach. The space inside is airy and not your typical public washroom. Having a food service amenity at the end seems so obvious but it was a surprise when I saw it. Something like this at Clover Point or as a replacement for the Kiwanis building at Willows Beach would be amazing. At Clover Point it would add a great new food amenity to an area that needs it and also create a new revenue opportunity for the city. For Willows beach with its very gross washrooms, it could really create an opportunity to make something a little more pleasant.

Finally, the one new thing that I thought was most exciting may be the easiest thing to install. From near the cafe, which is surrounded by concrete sidewalk, stretching out onto the beach is a blue accessibility mat. This allows those in a wheelchair access beyond the parking lot and right onto the sand. It seemed be made of a sturdy plastic and was bolted down in several spots to what I would guess would be concrete bars. While it wasn’t being used when I was there, the idea behind it I thought was great. Something that most of us take for granted, walking on the beach is likely impossible with most wheel mobility devices. I could see something like this being popular again at Willows or possibly Island View Beach.

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This was only a short visit, I could see that there are extensive trails around the park that I hope to explore more on my next visit!

Have you visited Centennial Beach? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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Sidewalking San Diego and Temecula

Just over a month ago I spent a week in Southern California. I split the time between the area around Temecula, about an hour north of San Diego and the city itself for the rest. I have been to San Diego a couple of times before but it was my first time really exploring outside the city itself.

For those that haven’t been to San Diego, I would highly recommend it. The first reason is that it’s really close to Victoria by plane. Via Seattle, it is only about four hours travel time with the airport transfers if you get the right flights. Also when compared to Los Angeles, San Diego is a smaller more manageable city. The one stereotype that is fairly true about southern California is that you will need a car if you are going to go anywhere outside the main cities. As a bit of an experiment,we rented a car for the first few days of our vacation as we visited Temecula and drove around that area and then planned on living more of a pedestrian life for the last few days we spent in San Diego.

Temecula

For those that haven’t been to Temecula, it is about 90 kilometres north of San Diego and about an hour’s drive from the coast. The region is known for its wine and its old town area mostly focused along Old Town Front Street. It is a mix of a modern touristy town with a large swath of suburban housing. Beyond the suburbs the landscape is beautiful with large yellow grass hills and dusty little roads lined with cacti.

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There might be people that survive here in Temecula without a car, but it must be tremendously difficult, I think I saw one bus in the three days there and I am not sure I saw a single bike lane. Beyond the fact that it is a stereotypical southern Californian town it does have some real draws. The first one of these draws is the great wineries that extend out to the east past the town. There are apparently over 40 wineries, we spent an afternoon visiting them and stopped at three. It was a sunny Sunday and the ones we went to were all quite busy, one even had a band playing. I was quite impressed with the grounds that each winery had as they seemed like they were trying to not only draw in the connoisseur, but also likely the wedding party. It was beautiful countryside though.

The other thing that Temecula is known for is its Old Town which is really focused along a single street just to the west of the freeway and actually separated from where most of the main shopping and housing was. The Old Town Front Street is full of restaurants, bars, antique shops and tourist trinkets. Most of the buildings have a certain Mexican influence. There are quite a few good places to eat and it would appear that on a weekend night this was the place to go out to the bars. We went out for dinner for two dinners along here and enjoyed the vibrancy even if there was a little touristy feel to it, it was well done and fun.

San Diego

After a few days in Temecula we headed back to San Diego. On the way back we did a bit of a hop through the beach towns along the way and finally curved around to the Island of Coronado where we were staying. If you are looking at a map of San Diego, Coronado is the oddly shaped peninsula (not an island) just to the west of downtown San Diego. We chose to stay here because there were so few options left downtown and as we later found out this was because it was conference season in San Diego when rooms become pretty hard to come by. The hotel actually turned out to be pretty nice and it was only a short walk to the ferry back to downtown.

So I know that the perception is that San Diego is a car city, but there are still some pretty cool walkable aspects to it. As an example, we returned our car to the airport and then decided that we wanted to check out the Hillcrest neighbourhood and it wasn’t that far so we decided to walk. Really within a 10 minute walk of the airport car rental centre we were in the middle of a quiet and very nice residential neighbourhood. And I could easily imagine that due to the proximity of the airport to downtown that it would be quite easy to walk from this neighbourhood to downtown. Once we had seen the Hillcrest neighbourhood we hopped on a bus to Balboa Park. Seeing this very walkable residential area near the downtown definitely reminded me of Victoria in some ways and yet I have never seen that aspect of San Diego touted and maybe it should be.

Little Italy

One morning we spent walking around the Little Italy neighbourhood and this was truly enjoyable. We had hopped on the ferry for a ride to the Broadway Pier just to the north of the USS Midway (The giant aircraft carrier turned museum that sits in the harbour). From the pier it was about a fifteen minute walk. Little Italy used to be the home to the large Italian fisherman and stevedore population and that is likely why it was situated so close to the harbour. India Street is the main drag through the neighbourhood and it is full of little restaurants, bars, delis and other shops. There is a distinct sense of being in Little Italy especially as you move from the downtown of the city just to the south. On the day we visited there was a small outdoor market with local produce and flowers at the centre of the neighbourhood. We opted to go off the strip for our lunch to a little place called Pappalecco, it was absolutely amazing, I would highly recommend it for anyone that is visiting Little Italy and is feeling a little hungry.

One of the interesting aspects to Little Italy is how close it is to the airport (Almost everywhere in San Diego feels close to the airport) and yet it remains a very quaint and walkable urban village. I would bet that you could make it from the northern part of the village to the departure gates in a twenty minute walk if you hustled. And yet in a location that in other cities would be a vibrancy killer, Little Italy was perhaps one of the most lively and well rounded neighbourhoods in and around downtown.

Gaslamp Quarter

On two different days we spent time walking around the Gaslamp Quarter which is just to the southeast of downtown. The neighbourhood is similar to Gas Town in Vancouver or Old Town in Victoria, an area made up of buildings from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and it is a fairly cohesive zone with a somewhat touristy edge to it. The area that the Gaslamp takes up is quite large actually, that said one thing that would have been nice would have been a few more shops. The area is dominated by food and drink enterprises and there are not a lot of places if you want to shop. Actually strangely enough most of downtown San Diego on the whole seemed bereft of shopping. It made me think how lucky we are to have the extensive amount of clothing stores that we have here in Victoria and that so many of them are independent is even better.

The Gaslamp is bordered to the south by Petco Park the home to the Padres. It was pretty cool to see how integrated the park is into the urban framework and it certainly drew me to wonder how we could do more to make Royal Athletic Park a cohesive part of the city. With the parking lot next door to RAP being looked at for redevelopment, I will certainly be pushing for this. One afternoon we sat in a brewpub right under Petco as the fans starting streaming in and it gave the whole area a lively feeling.

If you are ever in San Diego and staying on Coronado, you should become familiar with the ferry schedule and you should also know that the southern route that leaves from the convention centre is a shorter trip (only five minutes) and seems to leave more often too. Both routes leave from the same place on the Coronado side. Either way unless you are really concerned about getting back to your hotel quickly it seemed like a good option if you want to shave some cost off your accommodations.

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I think that on my next trip I would want to explore some of the communities closer to the border as I expect it would give you a great flavour of Mexico.

In this trip we also checked out La Jolla, Ocean Beach and Coronado also on a previous trip we visited Mission Beach and Pacific Beach. What are some great areas that I have missed in San Diego and that should be put on a list for next time? Conversely, what are some places near by like Temecula that you would recommend?

Sidewalking Steveston!

It was pretty cold and a little bit misty this last Victoria Day when we started walking around Steveston. I hadn’t visited since I was a kid, so I was looking forward to seeing it again. Steveston, for those that haven’t visited, is at the southwestern corner of Lulu Island in the Fraser River (Also known as Richmond). According to Wikipedia, Steveston was founded in the 1880’s by a William Steves. It has been the centre for salmon fishing along the Fraser River for decades. As a kid, I remember well going there with my parents to buy seafood off the dock.

The exciting part of heading here was that I didn’t know what to expect. In my mind, I had pictured the Steveston of my youth and then imagined that with all of the growth in Richmond there would be a lot of added density. I also knew that Steveston was home to one of the only pedestrian scrambles in the province.

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We parked a few blocks from the water so that we could get a good walk in and see some of the sights. We were there to go to a specific store that turned out to be closed on holidays, so we did decided to find a place eat instead.

First stop along our walk was to see the infamous pedestrian scramble. With the one in Victoria getting close to being done, I wanted to see one in action. When you get to the intersection of No. 1 Road and Moncton Street you will see the crosswalk making a giant square with a big X in the middle. The pedestrian space itself is covered with painted braided ropes. I stopped and watched a few light cycles. I want to acknowledge that it was later in the morning of a holiday and there were not huge pedestrian or vehicle volumes at the time, still it did not really work how I thought it would. The biggest challenge for me was that every pedestrian direction including the middle scramble was controlled by beg buttons. I also found the delay between vehicle and pedestrians cycles to favour the vehicles. Again this was not a busy time of day, it could very well be that the light cycle has been timed to deal with the expected pedestrian volumes. I am really hoping for a better implementation in Victoria and I am thinking that due to the higher pedestrian movements at Humboldt and Government that we can easily keep it with automated light signals for most of the day and avoid the suburban feeling of adding buttons. That said, with the poorly designed intersection at Pandora and Store any outcome is possible.

After checking out a few of the options. We decided on the Steveston Bakery because it looked like it would be both good and fast and it was. The chicken corn chowder was delicious! After lunch we headed for the main attraction the waterfront.

The waterfront was exactly what you would expect; docks, fishing boats and touristy restaurants. With my built up images of what I thought I would see I was surprised that it was still very quaint and small. I was expecting condos and shops along the street with ground floor shops but there was even still surface parking lots right across the street from the main docks. I think I had pictured something a little more like Sidney. And to be fair there are parts of Steveston that are a very similar in built form as Sidney but further from the water. I think the grey weather actually added to the feeling of being in a fishing port and seeing the boats brought back lots of memories of my childhood.

Despite not needing any seafood, I did the obligatory walk down to the dock and amongst the boats with the tarps up and the people buying their spot prawns right right off the decks. There was certainly a romantic and foreign feel to it that I think could easily be added to the feel at Fisherman’s Wharf in Victoria, though you would have to increase the number of boats that are selling products and likely encourage locals to go down and buy stuff occasionally. Still even the strong seafood smell was pretty enthralling. The way that the tarps made the collection of boats into an almost indoor market was part of the magic of the place as well.

After the docks, we walked along the board walk towards the Gulf of Georgia Cannery. We didn’t go in as we didn’t have the time this time, however, having looked at their website online it certainly seems like it would be worth it, with lots of interactive displays on the former fishing and canning industry.

Walking north past the cannery you will pass the Steveston Hotel which is one of the most storied places in the little village. Beyond there you begin to see a lot more modern residential development though for the most part it looks as though they are trying to be sensitive to the scale and nature of the place.

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Steveston definitely left me with a want to come back on a nicer day when more of the shops would be open as I would expect it would be a very vibrant and busy place.

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6 Things to Do in Point Roberts, Washington in the Spring!

If you read my original post on Point Roberts (Here), you would know that I spend a fair bit of time there with my family. My original post goes into some of the history and idiosyncrasies of this strange but wonderful little place just a few kilometres from the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal or a forty-five minute drive from downtown Vancouver (Well not during rush-hour).

If you are in Point Roberts right now and you want some things to do beyond filling your tank up with gas, here are some of my favourite places to visit and things to do.

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Monument Park

Monument Park is probably the least known of the parks on this list, but it is absolutely stunning. It is called Monument Park because by the parking lot for the park is a large granite border monument recognising the the 1846 treaty of Oregon between Great Britain and the United States. The monument was erected in 1861. Near here is one of the more comical borders with only a two foot cement barrier preventing cars from driving across. Near the monument are some great views looking towards Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands with the ferry terminal in the foreground.

Despite the name the best part of Monument park is the beach. You do have to take quite a well maintained yet steep trail down the bluff, don’t worry it is worth it, especially as the sun sets. The beach and park has huge fir and cedar trees and you can get a feel for how the entire Tsawwassen peninsula was just a couple hundred years ago. You will not regret the visit.

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Saltwater Cafe

There are not a lot of places to sit down and get something to eat in Point Roberts, especially in the off season but the Salt Water Cafe is an exception. This great little cafe is located on the southwest corner of Gulf Road and Marine Drive. If you want a coffee or something fresh and delicious to eat, I highly recommend it. On sunny days you can head out to a beautiful west facing patio and enjoy the weather and the food.

As of last week, the cafe is open 8am to 4pm everyday except Mondays. I would highly recommend trying some of their baked goods, they are delicious.

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Lighthouse Park

Lighthouse Park is just about a kilometre down Marine Drive from the Saltwater Cafe. Don’t get too excited about seeing an amazing lighthouse here because you will be disappointed, but despite the somewhat misleading name, this is a great park. There is a boat launch here with trailer parking and a floating dock that is put out in the summer however even in the spring the beach-side trail is a perfect place for a walk. Being on the southeast corner of the point means that you get amazing views from Galiano Island to Mount Baker and everything in between. It is not uncommon to see orcas right off the beach here.

Once the nice weather gets a bit more consistent, Lighthouse Park is home to the only public campground in Point Roberts. There are both single and group sites available.

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Point Roberts Marketplace

This may be just me, but when I visit other countries one of my favourite stops is the grocery store because no matter where I have been in the world they follow a similar format, but the products define the culture. Here in Point Roberts that is still true despite being only a couple of kilometres from Save-On-Foods. Here you will see chocolate bars you can’t get, a great selection of Mexican canned goods, pop bottle sizes unfamiliar to you and then to top it off an amazing selection of american beer and wine. It is generally not too busy and it is fun to wander the aisles and just see what products you can get here that you may not be able to get at home.

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Lily Point Park

Lily Point Park is the Stanley Park of Point Roberts. At more than 275 acres, this is a massive public green space. There are two walks that people go on here or if you are looking for some adventure combine both. Just about 150 metres from the parking lot is the Lily Point lookout which has amazing views across to Mt. Baker, White Rock and Blaine. The trail continues past the lookout to a second lookout that looks more to the southwest towards Seattle. From here you can continue on the loop trail back to the parking lot with the whole walk taking about 25 minutes or you can take the beach trail down to the flats and the base of the Lily Point sand cliffs.

One hundred years ago, Lily Point was home to the massive Alaska Packers Association Cannery. Once you take the trail down from the beach you will walk across a broad flat piece of land. While no buildings are left, you can see many of the ground depressions where buildings were and even the odd piece of rusting machinery. On the waters edge at low tide you can see the wooden remnants of the old piers. For those more into natural beauty than historical interest, once on the beach walk to the left and you will see the beautiful multicoloured clay cliffs looming over the water. As you get closer you can touch some of the loose sand at the bottom. While it is popular to cut your name into the bluff, it certainly does not help with the erosion issues here and so it is best to leave it alone and just enjoy the picturesque majesty of it.

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The Reef Tavern

In Point Roberts, if you want a real American west coast experience you can have it in surplus at the Reef Tavern. This is a laid back pub right on the water, only a block from the Saltwater Cafe. Go in, order a pint of Rolling Rock; if it is raining sit at the pull tab bar or play a game of pool. If it is sunny, head out to the absolutely breathtaking beach-side patio and enjoy the view, play horse shoes or chat with some of the locals. Just make sure you have some sunscreen on, I have seen some people get pretty burned out here, mostly because it is hard to leave.

If you head to the Reef this time of year, check that it will be open. They are limited to just Friday to Sunday for the next few weeks before expanding into their summer hours.

There are many other things to do on the Point right now, but I will leave them for you to find on your own. If I missed an complete show stopper please let me know.

The view from the patio at the Reef Tavern.

The view from the patio at the Reef Tavern.

Sidewalking Gabriola Island

I had booked a weekend getaway to Gabriola Island a number of weeks ago, before there was any hint of the snow storm that has descended upon Victoria this week. In fact at that time it looked as if spring had almost arrived. I had assumed that by the time I went over to the island it would be balmy. Unfortunately things changed, but it somehow made the visit to Gabriola more of an adventure and certainly more magical.

Gabriola Island is at the northern end of the string of the main Gulf Islands. It is relatively large, while I am not certain on its actual measurements, I would guess bigger than Mayne and maybe half the size of Salt Spring Island. It is located just a few kilometres off the coast of central Vancouver Island. The ferry actually leaves right from downtown Nanaimo to make its 25 minute crossing to Descanso Bay on Gabriola Island.

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Once you are on the island there is a familiar Gulf Island feeling. There is a small pub right at the ferry terminal and then a hill climb up towards the main shopping area. Past the village you can take a north or south road which loop the island, connecting in Silva Bay which is the population centre on the far east end of the island. The northwest of the island has some more populated areas with Berry Point, the area near the Malaspina Galleries and at the end of the road, the Wood Hood. It was the last of these that we had rented a cabin to stay in.

I would say that my first misconception that I had broken was that I imagined Gabriola as a much more populated island than it is. With just a short ferry crossing right into the downtown of a large city, I expected there to be a large suburban commuter population. While there are certainly some people that do commute to Nanaimo, it is smaller than you would expect and this has not had an impact on that Gulf Island feel at all. It might be the less than frequent ferry schedule, but even with that in most other cities I would have thought you would see a cluster of housing right near the ferry, but not at all.

The first day we arrived was snow free, but we had seen the weather report and knew that some of the places we wanted to see may not have been accessible in snow. So we quickly got our bags into the cabin and went right back out to explore this new place.

Our first stop was the Malaspina Galleries. I feel conflicted even writing about it to be honest. I am certain most of you would already know about it, I had certainly heard about them previously and wanted to see them, but honestly, I had no idea how amazing they actually were until I saw them in person. Even more important, I didn’t realise how fragile they would seem. One part of me wants to say that everyone needs to get there and see them before they surely collapse into the sea. The other part of me wants to see them encased in glass and not let anyone go there at all! For those that don’t know, the Malaspina Galleries are a sandstone rock formation that was apparently caused by a combination of surf and frost (don’t ask me for the details because I just don’t know). The rock curves around you and hangs over like being in the curl of a massive wave. Unfortunately, you can see places where people have carved their initials into the sandstone which is just tragic. In any event, definitely one of the most beautiful places I have visited across our amazing islands.

The rest of the first day was split between a visit to the village, a walk along Brickyard Beach and Descanso Regional Park. The village has everything and maybe a bit more than you would need and expect on a Gulf Island. A couple of restaurants, a grocery store, a hardware store, a cafe and likely about 15 to 20 more stores and services. We had a couple of great meals at Mad Rona’s Cafe, on another trip will have to check out the others.

Descanso Park is just a couple of minutes from the ferry terminal. It has some beautiful little beaches, arbutus trees and some trails to walk along. I can imagine it would be a nice place to spend some time when the weather is a bit warmer. Brickyard Beach on the other hand was fun even on a cold winter day. If you have ever been to Sidney Island campground and seen the bricks on the beach there, this is very familiar though a different brick company (Dominion). You can see in the eroded banks that the bricks must be quite deep across a large area. The bricks obviously haven;t heard the wildlife though as could be attested by the number of people out collecting shellfish along the shore. The last place that we stopped on the first day was the Ravenskill Orchard and Cidery. It was a beautiful setting, with the apple trees curving across the hillside with the light snow from earlier in the week between the trees and a newly built but old looking barn-like cider house. I of course went in for a tasting and left with two bottles of deliciously crisp Granny Smith apple cider. Definitely worth a stop if you are visiting the island.

The second day was a bit more of a challenge for island exploring. There was a bitter wind and the continuing threat of snow seemed to be coming to fruition. Still we managed to loop the North and South roads while stopping at lookouts, visiting the marina at Silva Bay and Drumbeg Provincial Park. I would imagine that on a day that there is not 15 centimetres coming down that there would a better opportunity to explore more places. We did take advantage of the weather to spend some more time in the coffee shop and in some of the stores, including the Hive Emporium which had a great art show going on. It also pretty nice to be able to enjoy being in the cabin with a warm fire and looking out at the snow.

What great sites did I miss out on Gabriola Island that I need to put on the list for next time?

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Boardwalking Atlantic City

As you saw in my last post about Philadelphia, I recently took a trip to the east coast of the United States. In between visiting family in Philly and New York City, I decided to stop in for a day in Atlantic City. So first off to be clear, I am not a gambler and I since I was on a trip with my kids so this was not about seeing Atlantic City as most people would, but instead as a family getaway location.

With booking in advance, one of the great things about going to Atlantic City, at least in October would appear to be the extremely cheap accommodations. We stayed at the Tropicana and there were rooms for all budgets. You should note that the Tropicana is at the southern end of the boardwalk so travelling to all of the other destinations along here by foot can be a bit of a walk but that is also kind of the point.

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For me the biggest surprise about Atlantic City was just how amazing the beach was. The sand was pristine clean, there were showers near the boardwalk for cleaning off your feet and the water was unbelievably warm. It was hot out, about 27 Celsius, but still the water was the temperature you would expect in Mexico, not New Jersey. I could easily have spent the day sitting on the beach with a book but we didn’t have that kind of time.

To keep the kids entertained, we did a walk north along the boardwalk to Ripley’s Believe or Not, this was one of the highlights of the trip for my kids. Unfortunately, due to it being a weekday and the beginning of the shoulder season, the nearby Steel Pier Amusement Park wasn’t open. Given the weather, you would think that the shoulder season wouldn’t begin until at least mid-October. In any event we missed out on that fun. While you walk along the boardwalk there are lots of stores, restaurants and tourist shops as you would expect. The casinos were much more extravagant than I had pictured for Atlantic City in my head. They had a little bit of the Las Vegas wonderland to them. Certainly the interior of the Tropicana was quite a surprise in that the lobby was a large mall laid out like a part of Old Havana, with fountains and false facades. While it didn’t really look like Havana, it was neat nonetheless.

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In the evening we went out to the huge buffet at Caesar’s Palace, called the Palace Court Buffet. I hadn’t been to a gambling city buffet since my childhood but it certainly seemed a lot better than my memories. After dinner we took in the light show at the Atlantic City Convention Center. This was cool with a music video projected onto the arches and alcoves of the building.

I am sure that off the boardwalk there are some better local restaurants to search out but with the limited time we had, we just walked along the boardwalk. Despite getting to see Philadelphia, Manhattan and Brooklyn, it was actually Atlantic City that my kids keep bringing up. I would definitely recommend it for family, though you have to be aware that even if you are not gambling, it is still the main reason Atlantic City exists as a destination, so you will at times have to walk through parts of casinos to eat or go to the swimming pool. My main regret about our visit to Atlantic City was that I didn’t stay two nights so that I could have had a full day at the beach with the kids.

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Sidewalking Philadelphia

I hadn’t visited to Philadelphia since I was a kid, however, I was lucky enough to get to spend a few days there visiting my Aunt recently. The great weather certainly helped, but I am sure it wasn’t the only reason that I enjoyed it so much. While I didn’t get to walk all over the the city as much as I might have liked if I had more time, I did get to spend some time walking around the Italian Market and the nearby neighbourhood of East Passyunk. We also visited some of Central Philadelphia and its historic monuments.

First off, East Passyunk and the Italian Market areas of Philadelphia are almost completely made up of row housing. It is dense, vibrant and walkable. The Italian Market itself is a pretty amazing place, it is also known as the the South 9th Street Curbside Market. This name actually may be a more accurate moniker for the market now as the area is no longer predominately Italian, but actually has a very diverse immigrant population. The idea behind the curbside market is that the produce could be easily offloaded by trucks and that with most of the customers of the market being commercial enterprises like restaurants, that they would also likely pick up the produce in vehicles. There used to be a number of these markets around the United States apparently, however now the Italian Market is one of the last remaining ones. There have been attempts in the past to have it removed, because to some it was considered unsightly. In the last few years the market has won out and has received historical place status.

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To me the market reminded me of the fresh produce markets that I have visited in many other places in the world outside of North America, this is not Granville Island. It smells a little bit like rotting vegetables mixed with car exhaust and that made it seem truly authentic. While we were there, we did stop into the Villa di Roma Italian restaurant, all you need to do is picture an Italian restaurant from your childhood or a movie and this was the place. It had both the faux brick walls and excellent Italian food. Next door is one of the most impressive cheese shops I have ever seen as well. It is worth it to just step inside the door and smell the amazing array of cheese.

Just to the south of the Italian Market are two of the most iconic food staples of Philadelphia, Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s King of Steaks. These two cheesesteak places stare at each other across an intersection, and while they are a little kitschy and touristy, you should still make the trip to try them. While I was there, my son and I each shared one cheesesteak from each, I am not entirely certain which one was better, but they both were pretty delicious. Walking around this area known as East Passyunk, you can tell that while it is certainly on the border between working class and hipster cool, that it is a tight knit community. There are murals celebrating the area, community gardens and shared little libraries. Definitely seemed like a great place to live.

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The other area of the city that we walked around was the main historical area. In Central Philadelphia, which is both the central business district and the birthplace of the United States independence movement from Britain in the late 1700’s. In a very small area is Independence Hall, where the american constitution was signed, a small museum where the liberty bell can be viewed and a newer museum called the National Constitution Center. While I didn’t subject my kids to any of the museums, the grounds and parks of this area are well worth a walk around. About a block to the east you can see the house the Thomas Jefferson lived in at the time. It is currently being renovated but it is still quite impressive to see it.

While I may not have explored Philadelphia as much as I might have wanted to, it certainly has made me want to go back and see more and I most definitely will.

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Boardwalking Bamfield and Pachena Bay

I was lucky enough to get to go on quite a few getaways this summer. One of my favourites was heading off to the west coast of the island to stay on the beautiful Pachena Bay, which is just a couple of kilometres outside of Bamfield.

I will be upfront, the trip to Bamfield from Victoria is not for everyone. There are two routes, one via Port Alberni and one via Lake Cowichan, neither is easy. I have never taken the Port Alberni route, but I have heard that it is preferred for those that want to maximise their time on a paved road. The Lake Cowichan route takes anywhere from four to six hours from Victoria depending on your vehicle and your comfort on backroads.

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To break up the journey and allow for some lake swimming, we spent a couple of days camping at Nixon Creek on Lake Cowichan. That forestry campground is about 20 kilometres down the unpaved part of South Shore Road. The rest of the journey from Lake Cowichan to Bamfield is approximately another 90 kilometres. I know it doesn’t sound too far, but it is a long slow trek. When we went, North Shore Road was closed and there was a bypass to get on the road that takes you to the Nitinat Lake junction. From there you turn north crossing a very cool one lane bridge. A little past the bridge you actually hit a paved section, however it is in worse shape in some ways than the gravel road. The pavement takes you to the old site of Franklin Camp, once a thriving forestry town, now just a dusty field. From Franklin, you get onto the Bamfield road and this road is slow going in a car. Perhaps in a truck you can cruise down it a little faster. After almost an hour on the last part of road we pulled into our campground, though one of my tires was looking a little flatter. (Luckily you can tires repaired at Breakers Marine in Bamfield).

We were camping at Pachena Bay Campground which is run by the Huu-ay-aht First Nation. It is a truly beautiful campground and it has been significantly upgraded since my last trip there. Of course, the magical part of Pachena Bay is the beach. With a very narrow opening to the Pacific Ocean, Pachena Bay is both calmer and warmer than other west coast beaches, such as those in Tofino. Pachena Bay also has a beautiful fine light coloured sand that is great for walking on. Likely due to the significant challenge in getting to the area, the beach never seems too busy. It is pretty easy, especially on a warm summer day, to spend many hours just playing in the waves and sitting on the beach.

The small town of Bamfield is about a ten minute drive from the Pachena Bay campground. Bamfield is split into East and West Bamfield by a narrow inlet. West Bamfield doesn’t have a road over to it and the only way to move between the two parts of town is by boat.

East Bamfield has a small grocery store, cafe, pub, motel and marine repair business (and yes tire repairs). Also a couple of hundred metres past the repair shop is a visitor info centre that also houses the town museum. While it doesn’t have too much there, it is worth the visit. You can learn about early Bamfield, including how it was the Canadian terminus of a the British Australian Telegraph line, the longest telegraph line in the world when laid.

West Bamfield actually feels like the real town in some ways, despite (or because of) its lack of road access. There are two water taxi companies that are ready to whisk you across the harbour. The ride is about seven dollars each for adults and kids are free. Once you are in West Bamfield, you have a narrow boardwalk that moves between both small cabins and stores. In between some of these buildings are a spots littered with thousands of keys, another with coins all over the ground, and a mystical little garden filled with gnomes. Near the north end of the boardwalk you will run into a general store (with ice cream) called Bamfield Mercantile and Marine and the coast guard station. There are more places to walk to nearby like Brady’s Beach, but I haven’t been that far yet. You can pop into the general store and they will call a water taxi for you to take you back to East Bamfield. West Bamfield is truly enchanting. It is what you think of when you picture the perfect west coast fishing village.

Despite the long overland journey, Bamfield and Pachena Bay are one of the most spectacular places to visit anywhere on Vancouver Island. In some ways, the benefit of the lack of a paved road has kept this place more original than it would be if it was easier to get to. The Huu-ay-aht First Nation are working with Hyundai International to build an LNG plant in the nearby town of Sarita and one can bet that, if completed, it would mean a better road. Of course, for the people of the area more visitors would be a great boon. Maybe a good choice for next summer before things change too much!

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Sidewalking Pender Island

A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I got away to Pender Island. I hadn't been since I was a kid, so I was really looking forward to it. 

From Victoria, taking a ferry from Swartz Bay is the main way to get to Pender Island. The great thing is that on the multi-island ferry hop, it is the first stop. For this trip we got to take one of the new Salish Class ferries, so it was a very comfy ride over. 

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Pender Island is actually two islands joined by a bridge across a small channel. North Pender is where most of the population and services are, with South Pender being almost exclusively residential and parkland. 

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For accommodation on this trip, we chose the eclectic resort of the Woods on Pender, which is made up nearly completely of refurbished trailers. There are also some more conventional cabins and hotel rooms on the property. There is also a very nice restaurant located on the grounds, which also has a games room for rainy days above it. I know there are many other types of accommodation from the fancy and expensive at Poet's Cove to several national park campgrounds, both drive-in and hike-in. 

There are likely hundreds of things to do across the two islands but here are the top three that we did over the three days we were there. 

Roesland

Roesland is part of the Gulf Islands National Park. This was originally a small resort community made up of a collection of cabins. Only a few of them are still there now. Some have been fixed up and some are almost ruins. The park is located at the northwest end of North Pender and has amazing views looking out at Salt Spring Island. The park has very nice little walk across Roe Islet which is only accessible at low tide. If it is, make sure you do it, there are some absolutely amazing arbutus trees and a lovely bench overlooking the water.

The nicest of the restored cabins is home to the Pender Island Museum. It was unfortunately, not open on my visit but even the artefacts on the deck surrounding it showed that the island has been a bustling place for quite some time. 

Sea Star Vineyards

Located on the southeast edge of the north island, Sea Star Vineyards is a gorgeous winery. The tasting room is in a very modern brutalist building with an industrial edge. It is really quite stunning. Outside there is a large collection of tables for enjoying a glass or two of the wine right on the property. While I was there, I certainly took advantage of the tasting menu making my way through the five wines on offer. Like most island wines, the whites are the strongest and most local, with the reds consisting of mostly of grapes imported from the Okanagan.  

One interesting tidbit I learned during the tasting was that they had recently purchased the defunct Saturna Island Vineyard. This property is just across Plumper Sound from Sea Star Vineyard which gives them an opportunity to make some pretty unique varietals between the two properties. Even if you just want to enjoy a beautiful place, Sea Star Vineyard is an amazing place to visit. 

Brooks Point Regional Park

Located at the farthest point of South Pender, Brooks Point Regional Park is a great place to explore. The park overlooks Boundary Pass and across to the San Juan Islands of Washington State. This is the main shipping channel in to Vancouver so also a good place to watch some larger boats pass by. 

Even if you are not interested in boats there are some amazing vistas over the water and also tide pools to explore; even a lighthouse that you can go right up to. 

If you are looking for a place to escape to that is close by but still feel far away, Pender Island is an amazing choice. If you have been, do you have a favourite place?

 

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Sidewalking Seattle Washington

If you are wondering why Sidewalking Victoria has been so quiet, it is because I have been on vacation! Needing somewhere to get away to for Spring Break with my kids, I settled on Seattle, which despite being so close to us, I had really not spent any time in since I was a teenager. 

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market

Since I had my kids, we spent a lot of time going around to some of the sights and I will go through some of the best ones. Another thing that is fun about Seattle, especially if you are a bit of a transit nerd are the sheer amount of fun ways to move around the city. Finally, I will give you an overview of two of the neighbourhoods that I actually spent some time in, I know that there are a lot of places I didn't get to but that just leaves lots of opportunities to go back. 

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Sights and Things to Do

There are so many options of things to do in Seattle that it was hard to choose which ones to see in a limited time and which ones to skip. Wanting to keep my kids entertained played a part, but I honestly enjoyed each of the places that I visited. The first place, which is a bit of a way out of downtown, was the Museum of Flight. As you will see on their website, this is the largest independent, non-profit air and space museum in the world. That definitely means it is not the biggest, but it is huge! There are multiple galleries, each with dozens of real full sized aircraft including a building that has a 747, a 727, an original Air Force One and a Concorde. You could spend a day if you wanted to really read and do everything but even going relatively quickly it takes about 2-3 hours to go through. 

Less exciting for adults, but fun for the kids was the Pacific Science Center. When I was young this place was absolutely amazing, having recently gone to Science World in Vancouver, I found it to be fairly similar. Still lots of different activities. My personal favourite was the Smell Synthesizer which must have had about 20 pre-loaded scents that you can mix up. Lots of fun. 

Amazon Headquarters

Amazon Headquarters

We also visited the Museum of Pop Culture (formally the Experience Music Project). This place was amazing for kids and adults. I loved the sci-fi movie props. There are still all the interactive music parts that I first heard about and it seems they have broadened the focus to allow more gaming and movie exhibits. 

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We also made a stop at Pike Place Market and the Amazon Go store. I know that there are other places like the Seattle Underground that are supposed to be amazing so lots to still do on the next trip.

Transit Fun!

If you love riding on different types of transit, Seattle has you covered. On the day we went to the science center, after walking from our AirBNB we hopped on the South Lake Union Streetcar which conveniently takes you to Westlake Center. Here you can hop on either the LRT line that heads out to the airport or you can head up above and ride the monorail that was built for the 1962 World's Fair. I thought that the monorail would be kind of slow, but it got going really fast. The best part is its retro cool look though. There are of course buses and ferries as well if you really want to go crazy. 

The Lenin of Fremont

The Lenin of Fremont

If you bring your bike, it seems like everywhere we went there were lots of protected bike lanes, so it would be pretty easy to get around. 

Queen Anne and Fremont

We were staying on the east side of the Queen Anne neighbourhood which was a pretty cool place. The centre of the neighbourhood is Queen Anne Avenue. This area has lots of little places to eat and shop. Keep in mind that this neighbourhood is built on the top of hill and depending on which street you walk on, you can be in for quite a climb. If you need to stock up a kitchen there is both a Trader Joe's and a Safeway. 

Fremont is the neighbourhood just to the north and across the bridge from Queen Anne. Fremont is definitely more the hipster cool to the Queen Anne yuppie. There are lots of coffee shops, noodle bars, taverns and quirky little stores. Fremont is fun to walk around as you kind find all sorts of funny landmarks. Within about a five minute walk you can find a rocket ship, a statue of Lenin and a giant troll hiding under a bridge. 

If you are looking for an urban getaway from Victoria, Seattle is one of the best options we have. 

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San Juan Island - Our Closest Island Neighbour, Yet So Far Away

Just eight kilometres off the east coast of Victoria sits San Juan Island. That is closer to downtown Victoria than Sooke or even Sidney, yet it is much harder to get to than Salt Spring Island. The easiest way to go is to take the Washington State Ferry from Sidney. It leaves once a day at noon (only April through December). The ferry is about an hour and a half and arrives at the south east end of the island at the town of Friday Harbor. From here the ferry continues on to Anacortes, which is about twenty minutes west of the I5.

Friday Harbor is the largest town on San Juan Island, or even in all of the San Juans. That said, it is still small and very walkable, though you will get a workout on the hills. For this trip though, we sped right past Friday Harbor and travelled the rest of the island first.

The Pig War

Despite the fact that by the 1850's the border between British North America and the United States had been defined. The delineation had ended at Point Roberts and from there was to follow "the strait to the Pacific Ocean. This left the San Juan Islands in limbo as there are two straits, Haro and Rosario. In 1859, an American settler killed a pig owned by a British farmer on San Juan Island and things quickly escalated to a armed stand-off. The dispute was finally settled in 1872. No shots were fired during the thirteen years, but it was the closest the US and Britain got to another war after the end of the war of 1812. 

For the first few nights we stayed in a small cabin just a couple of minutes walk from Roche Harbor. The small, yet beautiful little village of Roche Harbor is actually all part of a self contained resort at the north end of San Juan Island. Roche Harbor owes its beginnings to the Pig War of 1859, when the British set up large kilns to produce lime. After the the end of the Pig War, the harbour and lime operation was sold and for a time it was one of the largest producers of lime in North America. It is likely that much of the brick mortar in Victoria came from Roche Harbor. 

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In the 1950's the limestone quarries and kilns were closed and the land sold to the Tarte family who turned it into the beautiful resort that is there is now. The resort is still growing though it is being being done very tastefully. The harbour is full of beautiful yachts, there are a couple eateries and a general store that actually has an excellent selection of food for its size. 

Near the entrance to the resort is one of the most interesting sites on the island, The San Juan Island Sculpture Park. This place is huge, there are over twenty acres of grounds covered in sculptures both large and small. Most of the sculptures are for sale though a little out of my price range. Entrance is by donation. I would highly recommend setting aside at least an hour to wander the grounds and take in all the creativity and beauty. 

During the Pig War both the Americans and British set up encampments at opposite sides of the island. Together these two camps make up the San Juan Island National Historic Site, which is maintained by the US National Park Service. You can visit both sites for free and see most of the island while driving between them. The British camp sits on Westcott Bay near Roche Harbor and is a very picturesque setting, with large maple trees and beautifully maintained buildings. At the south end of the island, the American camp is set in a large field overlooking nearby Lopez Island. It is actually quite amazing how different the landscape is on such a relatively small island. 

If you do the drive between the camps, you can also stop at Lime Kiln Point State Park, which has a beautiful lighthouse and is known for being a good spot to see orcas. It is also a great spot to look back and wave at Victoria. From this spot it is easy to even make out buildings in our city. 

Friday Harbor

The last couple of nights we stayed in a very cool modern place in Friday Harbor, the Island Inn. As the town is built on a slope above the harbour, it feels like things are all quite compact and easy to walk to. Lots of places are connected by little passages and staircases. About the farthest you could walk in the town would be to the airport, which actually does have service to Victoria, and even that walk would only take you about twenty minutes. 

There are a quite a few restaurants in the town to choose from, though you should note that in the off season it seems that they all work to together to arrange when they will be open. This means that a restaurant might be open on Monday but closed Tuesday and Wednesday, just make sure you look ahead at menus. The best dinner we had was at the Backdoor Kitchen, which is right next to the brand new and also very good San Juan Island Brewing

For during the day, there are lots of shops to visit, most with a bit of island life flair. There is also an apparently excellent art gallery, though it was closed on the day we tried to visit. Just on the edge of town is the town museum, which is more of a historical park with a number of old buildings and farm equipment. 

In my opinion though, the best part of Friday Harbor was looking out over the bay at the boats and watching the ferries come in and leave. It is in a truly magical little spot, which despite living so close to it for the last twenty plus years, I had never visited. I would encourage you not to wait that long!

Sidewalking Port Townsend, Washington

I am recently back from a week long camping trip to Washington State. One of my favourite places that we went to along the way was the very Victorian Port Townsend.

Port Townsend is at the north eastern corner of the Olympic Peninsula. From Victoria, the easiest way to get there is taking the Coho ferry to Port Angeles and then driving for about an hour to the east. Port Townsend is actually quite close direct by water from Victoria, only about 60km away, which is much closer than Tsawwassen is.

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Going to Port Townsend is almost like visiting the old town part of Victoria if pretty much no other part of our city existed. The town is split between a downtown along the water and an uptown part which is literally up a hill and looking over top of the downtown. The port was first mapped by settlers in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver, who named the port after his friend, the Marquis of Townshend. At some point the 'h' was taken out of the name. The town itself, was founded in 1851. Soon after there was a push by the new settlers to draw the terminus of one of the continental railways to Port Townsend. At the same time ships from around the world began to be drawn to the port to pick up wood and other supplies. Over the next few decades a frenzy of building took place as those that lived there believed that the town would become the 'New York of the West'. As the century drew to a close, a depression crossed the continent and the railway terminus was solidified in Seattle. Port Townsend was left with an amazing collection of Victorian buildings and for our benefit most have been well preserved.

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We stayed a few minutes outside of town at Fort Townsend State Park, a nice forested campground about five kilometres to the south. Nearer to the town and much more popular is Fort Worden State Park. Fort Worden was the setting for the Richard Gere movie, An Officer and a Gentleman. If you have time, Fort Worden has a lot to explore with gun placements similar to Fort Rodd Hill but also a fully restored military base, a lighthouse, beautiful beaches, stores and a pub. The camping sites are not quite as nice and quiet as Fort Townsend, but it is a beautiful spot with lots to do. 

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Wherever you stay, once you are in town you will need to get out of your car and explore. The downtown part of town is where the bulk of the commercial area is and it is really beautiful. You feel a little bit like you are on a movie set, that is how well the buildings have been kept up and how out of place they feel. There are quite a few restaurants, bars and cafes, but the really interesting places seemed to be the antique stores. There is also a complete and functioning movie theatre. I peeked in the windows of the Rose Theatre (it wasn't open) and the concession stand alone made me want to go in and see a show. 

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At the north end of Taylor Street is a staircase to Uptown Port Townsend. Once at the top, you can walk about four blocks and get to the other little commercial district. If you do get to this part of town, I recommend, Lanza's Ristorante. It had really good family Italian food that I was lucky enough to have for my birthday. 

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If you are looking for a place that is not that far away but that will give you a feeling of being somewhere, I would highly recommend Port Townsend. 

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Sidewalking Powell River

I recently went on a week long camping trip to the Sunshine Coast. While it is not the easiest part of British Columbia to get to, it is certainly worth the effort. 

From Victoria, one of the best ways to see the Sunshine Coast is by making a loop. Ours started by driving through Vancouver and taking the Langdale Ferry and finished by taking the ferry from Powell River to Comox, then driving down the Island. While on the trip we stayed in three different places and tried to stop and visit each little village along the way. Our last stop was in Powell River. It turns out, it is a pretty cool place and certainly worth a visit.

The town has at least three distinct parts to it that I visited. There is a great commercial strip along Marine Avenue, there is a newer commercial area for shopping centred around Joyce Avenue and there is the Powell River historic townsite that is about 3.5 kilometres to the north.

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If you are staying a couple of nights in and around Powell River, you will likely need to do some shopping around the Joyce Avenue area, it has grocery stores, strip malls and gas stations and anything else you are likely to need on your trip. 

In town, if you are wanting to go out for something to eat or just want a beautiful walk, I would highly recommend Marine Avenue. I was quite surprised and impressed by it. There is a port feel to it, as it looks over the ferry terminal and marinas but there is also a strong West Coast cool vibe that you wouldn't necessarily think about when you hear "Powell River". There was a great coffee shop called Base Camp Coffee and quite a few restaurants that looked good. We went to the excellent, Costa del Sol Restaurant that focused on Latin American cuisine. We had just an appy and a main and it was way too much, but also delicious.

If you are visiting Powell River and like architecture and history, a visit to the historic Townsite is a must. It is just a short drive from the rest of Powell River. 

The townsite was recognised in 1995, as an intact historic district by the federal government and it is evident why. Originally built by the Powell River Company starting in 1911, the townsite was to house and serve those working at the paper mill. The townsite was completely pre-planned and continued to follow that plan for many decades after the first buildings were constructed. The central townsite is on a hill rising above the enormous mill, which at one time was the largest producer of newsprint paper in the world.

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Make sure to walk around the central part of the townsite, there are beautiful Arts and Crafts Houses, old wooden churches and in the commercial district, well kept brick buildings (One of which is home to the very popular Townsite Brewing Company), and the longest continuously running movie theatre in British Columbia

The design and the implementation of the plan for the townsite is considered a good example of the Garden City movement that grew in popularity in the late 1800s. The central elements are a completely planned community with parks, industry, commercial and industry in their own portions of the plan and completely surrounded by a green belt. As you walk around the townsite you can certainly see the thought that had gone into it.

As I have read about and then seen the Powell River townsite, I can see that there is a lot of opportunity to make the townsite in particular, though the whole town would benefit, a significant tourist destination. With a couple of recreated buildings in the centre and some effort by the province, the experience could come near the same level as Barkerville, Skagway, Alaska or Virginia City, Nevada. 

That said even now Powell River is definitely worth a visit.

A beautiful example of the Arts and Crafts houses in the Townsite.

A beautiful example of the Arts and Crafts houses in the Townsite.