July 2011

We’re now on the West Coast of Vancouver Island in the small, yet very popular, town of Tofino (not Torino as the spell checker likes). It’s in a scenic part of the island and we take advantage of that.

Our first stop is the visitor center for the Pacific Rim National Park.  The folks there are helpful in giving us some tips.  They are always chatty folk and being science geeks we ask them about banana slugs and why they, despite being bright yellow, don’t get easily spotted and eaten by predators.  The ranger replies, in all seriousness, “Have you ever licked a banana slug?”  Let me think…no.  I ask the required follow up question of “Does anybody answer yes to that question?”   To paraphrase King Arthur in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Canada…tis a silly place. 

We’re loaded up with maps and spend the rest of the day along the Wild Pacific Trail in Uclulet (pronounces you-clue-let).  It’s a relatively easy trail with good views of the coast, mountains, and waterways.  We make an attempt to explore the mountain we can see, but can’t find the trailhead and the roads aren’t so great so we turn around. 


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Despite being on an island, the drive to our next stop on the west coast is lengthy and we plan on a couple stops to break up the driving. 

On our way out of town from Victoria, we stop at Goldstream Park, home of Niagara Falls.  No, not that one.  The waterfall is so named because it is the same height as the famous one in Eastern Canada and New York.  This one is not nearly the width of the “real” one.  In fact, it’s pretty small, but still pretty as it goes into a mostly dry riverbed and is only a short walk from the car.  We take in the view and photos and then head on our merry way.

For another break in the drive, we stop at the Kinsol Trestle, which we only recently read about the other day over lunch in Victoria.  This just opened to the public days earlier.  It’s is a large footbridge that connects a biking and hiking trail and is over 140 feet high.  It’s very neat to see and the wood is so fresh it still smells like Home Depot when we are there.  We wander a bit, take some pictures, and then head for lunch (a surprisingly good winery restaurant that we thought was a GPS wild goose chase until we actually got there). 

After lunch, we drive the rest of the way to Tofino. Luckily the drive was the only rain for the remainder of the trip. We arrived in time to check in to the hotel and go for dinner at SoBo which we enjoyed.  We have two full days of adventure in Tofino coming up.


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Our last full day in Victoria was action packed.  After breakfast, we walked to Craigdarroch Castle.  It’s not really a castle in the sense that Knights and Damsels in Distress lived there.  Rather, it’s a 25,000 sq. ft. triumph of a coal baron.  The Dunsmuirs made a fortune mining coal from up on the island.  A non-profit has been restoring and furnishing the house to look as it would have when the Dunsmuirs lived there (Mr. D. and friends only lived there 18 years and the house has been used as a school and infirmary among other things).  It was built as the world was transitioning from gas lighting to electric lighting so some of the fixtures support both.  The house had a lot of amenities like that, such as indoor plumbing.

We walked back towards the hotel and car and stopped for lunch in a nice food court in the huge atrium of a building.  The food at AJ’s Organic Café was good and Canadian portion size is definitely smaller than what we get in the States.  More important than the food, was we happened to see a local paper about the recent opening of the Kinsol Tressle and decided to add this as a stopping point on the way to Tofino tomorrow.

Now that we’re full, we head out of Victoria to the nearby Butchart Gardens.  It’s a world famous place as far as manicured gardens go.  They are very pretty and I’m pleased that I’m not having an allergy attack and the emergency antihistamines in my pocket are not required.  We explore the grounds, take lots of photos, and I enjoy a delicious soft serve ice cream (not as good as Carvel, but pretty close).

After we finished touring the whole place, we ponder returning for a free evening show, but don’t end up making it.  Instead we have a good pizza dinner at Pizzeria Prima Strada which is good wood fired pizza and a nice change from the fancier dinners of the last couple nights.  We walk to the water after eating and watch some crazy people “parachuting” for lack of a better term.  It’s windy enough that they just open their parachutes and hope the wind lifts them up, like a kite.  A few of them are successful.  Once it gets dark and cools off further, we stop for a drink and live music and then prepare for our departure tomorrow.

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After our second night in Victoria, we explored the area outside of town.    We headed west and a little south to the Sooke (the “e” is silent) area of Vancouver Island.  Our first stop was a visitor center to get some information on the local parks and how to get there.   After one wrong turn, we finally made it to the East Sooke Regional Park.  This park has a wide variety of hikes and walks.  You can take a fast walk straight to a beach or wander around the coast line and the forest.  We did  the latter with the walk along the coast.  This included a stop at Beechy Head, an odd marker about the boundary between the US and Canada.  The views of the coast and the Olympic Mountains in Washington State were all very scenic.



Following the park, we made our way back to Victoria, but stopped along the way at the Fisgard National Historic Site.   It contains the oldest lighthouse on the west coast of Canada.  There is also a military installation (Fort Rodd Hill) that had some interesting stuff to see like the disappearing gun and barracks.

We finally returned to Victoria.  For dinner we went to a local brewpub across the drawbridge.  The food at Spinackers wasn’t great and the beer not too cold, but the view from nearby of the harbor is very good.  After dinner, we returned to the hotel and rested up for our final day in Victoria.



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We arrived late last night on our flight.  It’s so nice flying on a smaller plane and into a small airport.  It’s much less crazy.

For our first day in Victoria, the capitol of British Columbia, we walked from our hotel down to the harbor.  It’s very scenic down there with a couple large ornate buildings adjacent to the water – the Empress Hotel and the Parliament Buildings.  We meet for a tour of the Parliament Buildings and are surprised that there is no fee and no security.   Granted, the government was not in session, but I can’t see this happening in the U.S.   The tour is interesting, but not being Canadian, not as meaningful to us Yanks. 

We head over to the nearby BC  Museum which is large and well done.  It has exhibits on the First Nations Peoples (the term Canada uses instead of Native Americans; I don’t know why they didn’t use Native Canadians).   We learn that Canada treated their natives about as well as we did down in the U.S.    We also check out the nearby Helmcken House (first occupied in 1852) and St. Ann’s Schoolhouse, another old building.

After all the touring, we browse through the Empress Hotel on our way back to the hotel for the all important nap.  Once we are rested, we head over to a nearby restaurant (Brasserie L’Ecole) that is highly recommended but does not take reservations.  We put our name on the waiting  list, wander nearby Chinatown and then return about when our table is ready.  Dinner is very good and we’re ready for our next day of the trip.

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For the long 4th of July weekend, we spent some time on the Central Coast.  After learning that Santa Barbara is a lot further than it seems like it should be, we settled on staying in Santa Maria, about an hour closer.  It’s a bit past San Luis Obispo that we visited a few years ago.  The central attraction in the area are the numerous wineries, but we squeezed in hiking and sightseeing as well.

santamaria060On our first day, we headed towards the Oceano Dunes Recreational Area.  This is primarily an area for ATV’s, but there is a preserve adjacent that is vehicle free, protected, and open to hikers.  The dunes are upwards of 500 feet of sand, so this isn’t your ordinary beach.  It was more of a struggle to find the hiking zone than it should have been, but we made it in through a back way and were delighted with a nearly empty place.  Lots of sand and one of the more unique things to be hiking through.  The photos don’t do it justice.

After a lunch stop, we went to the town of Arroyo Grande for lunch and, more importantly, a stop at Doc Bernstein’s Ice Cream Lab.  Doc’s does have times when they design new flavors before your eyes, but today it was just a regular ice cream shop with phenomenal ice cream.  The oreo cookie mint ice cream was fantastic.   After ice cream, we did a short walking tour of the downtown area.

With full stomachs, we headed back towards Santa Maria to a winery (McKeon-Phillips) that was listed on the AAA winery map.  It was really a hole in the wall in an industrial section of town.  We were surprised that there were others there and that the wine was actually good.  After our wine tasting, we returned to the hotel for showers and then went for dinner. 

santamaria107On our second full day, we started at the La Purisima Mission State Historic Part, the location of another California Mission.  This one has an informative visitor center and we then tour the grounds and buildings.  The buildings were rebuilt in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp since the original ones were destroyed in an 1812 earthquake.

After a quick pizza lunch in the nearby town of Lompoc (surely you’ve heard of it), we head to a wine tasting room that is not too far away.  We enjoyed our wine at dinner last night and found that the winery was virtually on the way to our next stop.  And how could we not go to a winery called Flying Goat whose winemaker is also the “Chief Goat herder”? 

santamaria118Following wine tasting, we went to Solvang whose claim to fame is that it is a Danish town in the middle of California.  Being inland, it’s hot – 100 degrees.  As the cliché goes, it’s a “dry heat”, but 100 is hot regardless.  We wander the streets (which feel like Epcot center) and then do a tour of another mission,  Mission Saint Ines.    This one is a mix of original and rebuilt, but is interesting nonetheless.  It was damaged in the same earthquake that destroyed the La Purisima Mission. 

Now that we are good and hot, I get a scoop of ice cream to cool off before we depart for some afternoon wine tasting.  This time we’re going on the Foxen Canyon trail of wineries. It’s getting late and the wineries close early so we only had time to stop at Fess Parker.  As Lionel Hutz used to say, you might remember him from such TV characters as Davy Crocket and Daniel Boone.  The wine here was also good. 

Stopping at the hotel to shower, we then go for dinner in Pismo Beach.  We finally had a really good meal on the trip as we dined at the Ventana Grill.  Service was a little slow, but the food was good and the fog cleared out for a spectacular ocean view. 

santamaria153For our last day, we started our way north with a stop in San Luis Obispo and a hike up Bishop’s Peak.  It was a well graded, moderately steep climb of 1000 feet over two miles.  The view from the top was good, but we are so used to hiking in cool weather, that the mid 70s and full sun felt hot. 

We have lunch in SLO and then make one final wine tasting stop on the way home.  L’ did some research and found a well rated winery on yelp.  Their website is quite entertaining so we figure we should check it out (my comment was that they must smoke a lot of good cork).  The bathroom at Le Cuvier Winery confirmed their funkiness. The wines are mostly unusual blends, but they also include food with the tasting and we enjoyed a few of the vintages. 

It’s now time to return home as the three day weekend comes to a close.  We had a fun time on the central coast and are returning home with our biggest haul from a wine region. 

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