Travel: City Guide to Seattle, Washington

Seattle has been on our radar for a very long time, so it was nice to finally get away for Memorial Day Weekend after experiencing an unintentional traveling hiatus the last few months. As usual, we were able to get plane tickets for free, and if you’d like to do the same, here’s how! If you frequently fly Southwest, learn how to fly for free AND take someone with you (also free). The getaway consisted of only two days and to save on travel expenses, we’ve decided not to get a car. This meant that we got a lot of walking in (steep hills in the city resulted in sore (STILL!) calf muscles … but great exercise!) and this also meant that we were stuck in Downtown Seattle proper. For the length of our stay, that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but this trip IS a bit different from our other ones which are usually filled with nature and outdoor hikes. This trip was mostly about eating, and drinking, and mild site-seeing. If we were to return, I think that a trip to Mount Rainier would be the thing to do, seeing as how we pretty much saw and ate our way through Seattle. Regardless, I hope you enjoy this city guide, and may you go to Seattle hungry!


♦◊◊◊
Not worth the time.

♦♦◊◊
Good, but ordinary.

♦♦♦◊
Great. Worth a visit.

♦♦♦♦
Exceptional. A must-do experience.

$
Frugal friendly

$$
Reasonable

$$$
Pricey


Starbucks Reserve

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♦♦♦♦
1124 Pike St, Seattle, WA 98101
$$

I take the liberty in speaking for Mr. Debtist when I say that this was by far our favorite experience on our trip to Seattle. Before coffee snobs start to turn their noses up at the name Starbucks, may I just mention that Starbucks was historically the company that paved the way for third generation coffee roasters and allowed them to exist. They made it socially acceptable to pay $5 for a cup of coffee. Additionally, to this day, they source only coffee beans that are scored with 80 points or higher. I cannot say the same of other third wave coffee shops. As much as you’d like to look down on Starbucks as being heavily diluted, mass-produced coffee, you cannot fault them in the actual quality of the bean, from which everything starts. As I finish up that rant, I want to say that the experience at Starbucks Reserve was definitely not the same as the experience in a regular Starbucks shop. I would skip visiting the original Starbucks which is reminiscent of any Starbucks you’ll see around the world, and I would even suggest you visit this twice if you had the choice. My favorite part about this place was the bar that serves cocktails mixed with coffee and tea. Our first ever experience in drinking a cold-brew coffee martini was at a five course dinner at a restaurant called Roots in New Zealand. The taste was so clean and the drink went down so smoothly, it was like a moment of clarity. Until this past weekend, no alcohol paralleled that drink. At Starbucks Reserve, there were two that compared. The first was the Boulevardier, which is made up of barrel-aged vanilla syrup, Campari, sweet vermouth and bourbon poured over freshly ground Starbucks Reserve coffee, finished with lavender bitters. The second was a shot of whiskey barrel-aged cold-brew coffee. At $80 a pound, we only brought back 1 pound of beans to experiment with at home. The cold brew was reminiscent of root beer, without the carbonation, and with a hint of a caramel-y, vanilla-esque whiskey coffee. Obviously, it’s enough to inspire word invention. It has no alcohol content, since what little is obtained from the barrels goes up in smoke when the green bean is roasted and cracks open. Two other mixology drinks that we tried included the Whiskey Cloud (Pressed Starbucks Reserve coffee, Amaro Averna, orange-piloncillo syrup, local single malt whiskey and chocolate bitters. Served hot with shaken cream and nutmeg) and Cold Brew Spiced Rum (Teavana Dosha Chai rooibos tea, fresh lime juice, simple syrup, cold brew coffee, white rum and black lemon bitters. Shaken and finished with fresh cinnamon). In the hot afternoon heat, the affogato (espresso with a generous scoop of Mora’s locally made ice cream) was a delight! However, I prefer the affogato being served at Patricia’s in Melbourne. Either way, this isn’t a stop to be missed. I would skip the trinkets (famous last words of a minimalist), and head straight to the counter. Also, be prepared for the crowds.

Pike Place Market

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♦♦♦♦
85 Pike St, Seattle, WA 98101
$-$$

This is definitely a must-see, even if you do not buy anything from here. They have many stalls that showcase a number of products with samples. Walking around and tasting everything was a lot of fun – most samples use wooden sticks to taste. It helped that the weather was lovely. The market is by the water and you can walk along it down to the pier. There are also many eateries and restaurants, as well as vintage shops and artisan crafts. It took us about two hours to walk around, three if you include the pitstops we made. See below!

Ellenos Greek Yogurt

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♦♦
1500 Pike Pl, Seattle, WA 98101
$

I would love to give this more stars, but unfortunately, I think this place is over-hyped. I am not even docking it for the fact that everything comes in plastic. While I would agree that the yogurt has a unique, creamy taste, I think that it was short of anything memorable. We split a marionberry pie yogurt, and it was really OH-KAY. Not worth the plastic waste, though.

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese

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♦♦♦♦
1600 Pike Place, Seattle, WA 98101
$$

Get the World’s Best Mac and Cheese! The grilled cheese sandwich was a bit sub-par (unfortunately, I judge most sandwiches by the bread, and it made the taste of the sandwich a bit less than), but the mac and cheese was deemed BEST by Mr. Debtist. And he is a true mac and cheese fan! You can also sample a few cheeses, and buy any of their pre-packaged flavors. The line may be long, but the mac and cheese is worth the wait. Meanwhile, you can watch through the window the cheese being made, or in our case, listen to the two toddlers behind you driving their parents a little insane.

Daily Dozen Doughnuts

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♦♦♦♦
93 Pike St #7, Seattle, WA 98101
$

If one thing surprised me, it was these doughnuts. When you walk up to the stand, it seems like a dingy little thing. A green pushcart was all it was, and a small machine was making doughnuts behind a sneeze guard window. As someone who just recently delved into the making of doughnuts using a brioche dough at my bakery, I honestly was not expecting much. There were only six flavors to choose from, all mini-sized doughnuts, including the special for the day which was bacon topped maple. Since we were feeling full from lunch, we ordered six mini doughnuts with some repeats. We skipped the chocolate sprinkle doughnuts and instead ordered 2 powdered sugar, two cinnamon, one maple and one maple bacon. They were delicious! I liked the maple bacon least, followed by the maple and then the powdered sugar, with the cinnamon doughnut being the best. Reason being? The cinnamon and plain doughnuts were freshly made, and still warm! They grab fresh doughnuts and toss in a bag with cinnamon and sugar. The other doughnuts were already pre-made and have cooled slightly. If I could have a do-over? 4 cinnamon and 2 powdered sugar. But that’s just me. This doughnut cart totally took me by surprise, but it was one of my favorite stops during our trip!

Rachel’s Ginger Beer

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1530 Post Alley, Seattle, WA 98101
$$

As much as I’d like to say this place was great, I think it was another case of being over-hyped. Firstly, may I clarify that neither of us drink soda. And while Mr. Debtist can appreciate ginger beer once in a while, these flavored drinks were similar to Fanta flavors. We just couldn’t be appreciative of it, especially for the cost. If we got the boozed version, maybe it would have been different. Joking aside, this is the only place on this trip that I gave such a low rating for.

Pinball Museum

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♦♦
508 Maynard Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104
$$$

I love pinball. If I was born in another decade, I would probably become one of those pinball addicts. The type who stands by the machine so as not to lose one’s spot and refuse to eat or drink for as long as my body stays upright? Yeah, that’s me. So making this pit stop was definitely in the books for us. I did dock it in rating because it’s fairly pricey ($15 per person)  and unless you are planning to spend your entire day there, I am not sure it is worth it. There are about 30 machines, a few of which were broken. There are two levels, and plenty of people, so sometimes you’ll have to wait patiently for a pinball machine that you’d like to try if someone is continually using it. The plus side is, after the entry fee, all machines are free (except one). So if you played more than 60 times, then it was worth your fee. Since we got there a bit late, I doubt we reached 60 plays. But! If you are a pinball fan, it was absolutely cool to see the difference in handling of the machines. Some were very old and only had two plastic flippers that lagged when you pressed the buttons. Playing pinball back then must have been extremely frustrating! Others were seizure inducing. Overall, though, I had a great time and would go again. PS: There’s a sweet labrador who walks around and greets you right when you walk in. Make sure to say hi to him!

Ramen Danbo

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♦♦♦
1222 E Pine St, Seattle, WA 98122
$$

Not one of my top five ramen, but still, really good! We got the white sesame seed oil ramen, and it had a lot of flavor. What we liked most about this place was how customizable the ramen is. You can choose from noodle thickness, noodle firmness, thickness of broth, richness, and the level of umami spicy sauce. As customary, I ordered Kaedama (extra noodle) and a side of egg. Also, the service was fast, but the wait time was pretty long since it’s a popular place. Our wait time was thirty minutes at around 7pm on a Sunday night.

Molly Moon’s Ice Cream

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♦♦♦
917 E Pine St, Seattle, WA 98122
$$

It’s not Salt and Straw from our Portland City Guide, but it was still good ice cream. I got the Earl Grey ice cream, which the guy behind the counter very accurately described as tasting like the left-over-milk in a Froot Loops bowl. I would say it is worth swinging by just to try, but then again, I am heavily biased towards ice cream consumption.

Elysian Brewery

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♦♦♦
1221 E Pike St, Seattle, WA 98122
$$

On the way home from an extremely long day of walking and eating and drinking, we stopped by this brewery and ordered a flight. They showcased a number of different types of beers. I ended up liking a Gose that Mr. Debtist ordered, as well as an Elderflower IPA. They also had pub food which looked very good, but we were not able to try after all the ramen and ice cream! I would go back to this brewery though! Very lively, a great place to meet up with friends.

Elm Coffee Roasters

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♦♦♦
240 2nd Ave S #103, Seattle, WA 98104
$$

Our second day began with coffee from Elm Coffee Roasters. The decor of the shop was just my style. Located in an assuming part of town, the inside was bright, and there were surprisingly not many people. Those who did stay seemed to be enjoying their Memorial Day off, reading newspapers and typing on laptops. The crowd seemed to be slow livers who preferred enjoying their coffee, rather than quick passer-bys taking their drinks to-go. They roast their coffee in the back three days a week. My favorite part of the menu is the flight version of coffee. You can order One & One (espresso and machiato), One of Each (espresso and brewed coffee), and One of Everything (espresso, brewed coffee, and a machiato). Plus they house pastries from Macrina Bakery and Cafe, so it’s a one stop shop if you also were trying to try their pastries!

Salumi

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♦♦
404 Occidental Ave S, Seattle, WA 98104
$$

Another sandwich place, getting another mediocre review from a baker. I am judging the entire sandwich as a whole, but the salami was mediocre. I got the Salumi Salami which is a cold sandwich with peppers and cheese, and Mr. Debtist got a hot sandwich with pork belly, which looked too greasy. The upsides? The servings were pretty big (we should have split!) and the cold sandwich kept well until the next day (refrigerated) and I was able to eat it for breakfast. But I wouldn’t say I’d rave about this place after the trip.

The Elliot Bay Book Company

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♦♦
1521 10th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122
$

This is the Seattle version of Powell’s Bookstore, or so they say. It’s much smaller and resembles the size of a Barnes and Nobles, but with a better book selection and book features. We enjoyed perusing the shelves and even sat down to read. We spent probably an hour and a half here. I ended up finishing this book, and collected a long list of ones to read. This would be a good stop for book lovers, or if you are trying to kill time. Not exactly a must-see.

The Pink Door

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♦♦♦
10662 Garden Grove Blvd, Garden Grove, CA 92843
$$

We ended our trip with a dinner at The Pink Door. Close to the Pike Place Market, this restaurant repeatedly showed up in all the reviews. The food and drink was better than average, but not outstanding. There was an aerial performer and we stuck around for her first show. If you come for the show, do ask to sit at the bar rather than on the patio. It happened to be a very sunny weekend in Seattle (which the locals never failed to comment on) and so sitting on their rooftop patio would have been lovely too. I would likely come back, for the food more than the vibes. We ordered the Tajarin (prosciutto cotto, asparagus, sugar snaps, green garlic, organic egg), the Linguine Alle Vongole (baby clams in the shell, pancetta, garlic, chilis and white wine), and doughnuts which reminded us of the Ableskivers in Portland.


For those who are interested, what I packed:

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Travel: Brekkies in Melbourne

When you go to Melbourne, you don’t just go for the coffee and the graffiti. You also go for the brekkies.  Plates that turn dishes of norm into elevated versions, bursting with fresh ingredients and well-balanced flavors. It seems the coffee shops take as much pride in serving delicious brunch menu items as they do their high quality brews. This we already knew. So each day, we focused on visiting the best places to join the brunching crowd – university students, businessmen catching a lunch break, creative artists trying to nourish souls – with a cup of decent brew on the side. Here are some of our top spots!


♦◊◊◊
Not worth the time.

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Good, but ordinary.

♦♦♦◊
Great. Worth a visit.

♦♦♦♦
Exceptional. A must-do experience.

$
Frugal friendly

$$
Reasonable

$$$
Pricey


Proud Mary

♦♦♦♦
172 Oxford St.
Collingwood VIC 3066, Australia
$$

The Potato hashrusset potato hash, poached eggs, thick cut bacon, kale salad, bagna cauda (garlic, cream +anchovy sauce)
Avocado + Kim chi Toastsmashed avo, wombock + daikon kim chi, kohlrabi, fermented sago, sesame vinaigrette, sourdough

Seven Seeds

♦♦♦♦
114 Berkeley St.
Carlton VIC 3053, Australia
$$

Lavender Brioche French Toast with Honeycomb
Roasted Cauliflower Salad with Almonds, Tofu, Yogurt Sauce, and Herbs

Top Paddock

♦♦♦♦
658 Church St.
Richmond VIC 3121, Australia
$$


Western Australian Kingfish Sashimi – Soba Noodles, Seasonal Greens, Daikon, Fresh Lime, Toasted Kombu

Flinders Island Pressed Lamb Shoulder – Flatbread, House Made Pickles, Farm Greens, Garlic and Mint Labne

St. Ali

♦♦♦♦
12-18 Yarra Place
South Melbourne VIC 3205, Australia
$$

Koo Koo Ka ChooCrispy potato hash, roasted mushrooms, porcini puree, poached eggs, 1000 day aged gouda cheese, shitake mushroom & charcoal vinaigrette
My Mexican CousinSecret recipe corn fritters, poached eggs, halloumi, sweetcorn salsa, kasundi, dressed leaves

La Lune Bakery

♦♦♦♦
119 Rose St.
Fitzroy, VIC 3065, Australia
$$

CroissantTraditional French croissant, prepared over 3 days
Twice Baked Almond Croissant The original Croissant aux Amandes, prepared with almond frangipane & garnished with a healthy amount of flaked almonds
Ham + Gruyere A croissant baked fresh with a filling of shaved ham, Swiss Gruyere & seeded mustard

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Travel: The Hooker Valley Track, New Zealand

There are countless day hikes to choose from in New Zealand, especially in South Island. It was difficult to narrow down which ones we were going to do on such a short agenda, but I knew that The Hooker Valley track had to make our list of day walks this time around.

Located in the Canterbury region of New Zealand, the Hooker Valley track is an hour’s drive from Twizel or Tekapo, two perfect places to stay if you want to explore the Mt. Cook area. The track starts at a campground and makes its way past Mueller Lake and ends at Hooker Lake. The entire time, you have magnificent Mt. Cook as your backdrop.

The start of the track.

The track begins as a flat path through some shrubbery and trees. You will look back and see the valley floor, and when you look forward you will see Mt. Cook. There are three bridges to take you across wide glacial rivers. The first one crosses Mueller Lake, and is a fantastic sight to behold.

The first of three bridges.
Mueller Lake and what’s left of the glacial wall.
Me crossing the second bridge, which was my favorite.

The track is well maintained. I would say that even beginner hikers and young children can enjoy this track. A majority of it is either gravel or a wooden walkway with a wire mesh to improve footing in the colder, icier months. Most of the track is open, which makes for great views, but could get hot on a sunny day. Make sure to pack layers of clothing, as weather in this region can change very quickly.

Views from the third bridge.
A well-maintained track makes this hike doable for beginner hikers, the elderly, and children.
A man contemplating life.

If you are lucky like us, you will encounter Kea along the way. A special New Zealand dove, these Kea are known for their curiosity and smarts. They say that a Kea’s brain is as developed as a two year old human’s brain. These fun and flighty birds will come up to you real close, but be careful. They are mischievous, and love stealing personal belongings or trying to get inside your cars. You can’t help but love them though, what with their beautiful green color and bright red under-wings. Plus, they’ve got a beautiful bird song, to boot.

These guys are not shy!

At the very end of the track, you reach Hooker Lake. There are picnic tables for eating lunches, and an opportunity for you to walk right down to the water’s edge. Along the lake, you will see icebergs floating, even on a warm summer’s day. Mike made use of the quiet lake and skipped some rocks that he had been collecting on our trip.

Rock skipping on this serene lake. Can you spot the icebergs?
Quiet and calm at sunrise.

The best time to walk the track is very early in the morning. We headed out at 6 am, and were rewarded with the sun peaking out from behind the mountains. It was such a treat to be able to walk the track peacefully, what with just us two to enjoy most of the way. Be aware that especially during peak season (December to February), the track can get very busy as early as 8 am. For us, it isn’t as enjoyable with the crowds, so it was good that we set out so early.

Benefits of an Early Start
Postcard Photo

I think that this was one of the best day hikes that we’ve done in New Zealand. It had rewarding views without being too strenuous. There was animal encounters, as well as plenty of great scenic views. If you are staying in Twizel or Tekapo, this is definitely worth the drive! I would highly recommend this hike to anyone exploring the Mt. Cook area, and would love to return and do it again in the future.

Travel: City Guide to Portland, Oregon, Part Deux

Portland the first time around was so enamoring, that we decided to take back our dearest and share with them this awesome city. Unfortunately, that makes the creation of a sequel to the original city guide quite difficult, because no one wants to hear a long list of repeats. Although we did share with them our most favorite pit stops, we were also able to squeeze in a few fresh experiences, some of which surprisingly topped a few of our faves from our last visit. Overall, I enjoyed this trip much more than the previous, due to the cheerful company and the extensive amount of disconnecting from things that do not matter, and reconnecting with non-things that matter most.


♦◊◊◊
Not worth the time.

♦♦◊◊
Good, but ordinary.

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Great. Worth a visit.

♦♦♦♦
Exceptional. A must-do experience.

$
Frugal friendly

$$
Reasonable

$$$
Pricey


Afuri

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♦♦♦♦
923 SE 7TH AVE
PORTLAND, OR 97214
$$

In my opinion, Afuri was the best place we ate at on this trip, and that’s after revisiting places like Pokpok and Lardo. We had finished a day of hiking and were eager to retire. Ramen sounded like a good, quick way to stock up on carbs and fat. What we found when we walked into the restaurant in our dusty hiking gear was an industrial space that made this the most hip ramen joint I have ever been in. The decor should have been an indication of the ramen as well, but I have only tasted ramen within the limited confines of what California was serving and thus was not expecting the twist of the ramen I was about to consume. The menu seemed unassuming, with only four variations of hot ramen, and four variations of cold ramen. Half of the table got the Yuzu Shio, and the other half ordered the Tonkotsu Tantanmen. I preferred the Yuzu Shio, with it’s lemongrass-like taste due to the citrusy yuzu. It was extremely unique, unlike any ramen I have tasted before. And the noodles, too, tasted like freshly milled wheat spaghetti pasta, which ended up having the perfect texture to pair with the light, limey broth. Delicious! The boys liked the Tonkotsu Tantanmen, which included garlic ginger pork crumbles in a spicy sesame miso tare and pork broth. It seemed a bit too fatty to me, but hearing them slurp assured me that they did not agree. This was definitely my favorite meal of the trip.

Never Coffee

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♦♦♦♦
4243 SE BELMONT STREET
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

Last time we were in Portland, Mike and I couldn’t help but rave about Jory Coffee Co. This time around, Never Coffee took the prize. Whereas Jory was all about the purity of the coffee extracted from an optimized and calibrated pour, Never coffee is the farthest thing from pure coffee. They pride themselves in creating the magical spaces that only exist when opposites collide. It was like drinking unicorn dust out of a KeepCup. Every drink was espresso based, but there are five signature concoctions that require one’s exploration. I ordered the Hug, which tasted of spicy cacao, smoked chilies, and cinnamon. “It’s warm and holds you close. It makes you drop your guard. At the moment of bliss, it wakes you up with a bite, a kick, and enough fight to keep you coming back for more.” It’s got me saying “Amen”. Meanwhile, Mike was sipping on The Holy Grail, with tumeric, ginger and orange blossom water tastes topped with local cherry wood smoked honey, jacobson sea salt, and tellicherry pepper. Drinking Never coffee in the early morning inspires even the dullest to become poetic. It’s like creative juices, being shared via a latte mug. It’s got us re-thinking life. Next time, I will be back to taste the Midnight Oil – fennel seed, star anise, and black licorice awaits.

Cascade Brewery

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♦♦♦
939 SE BELMONT STREET
PORTLAND, OREGON
$

After a second day of hiking and epic ping pong battles, the family wanted to unwind at Cascade Brewery prior to dropping off my sister at the airport. In the two times that we have been to Portland, this is still the only brewery we have visited. We chose this place because of their selection of sour beers. I can guarantee you, they brought the sour. My favorites were the Honey Ginger Lime (Nitro) and the Vintage Cherry Bourbonic. Frankly though, a few of the sours were just way too sour to enjoy. Thank goodness tasters are only 2 oz portions, so there were no regrets.

Fifty Licks

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♦♦♦
 2021 SE CLINTON ST #101
PORTLAND, OR 97202
$

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? I’m not quite sure, but I am certain it took only a few to devour Fifty Licks ice cream. After trying Salt & Straw, the fam wanted to get ice cream again but was interested in trying something different. Well, Fifty Licks specializes in different, and in a good way! I would say that Salt and Straw serves trendy ice cream flavors that are based off of more traditional ones and which evoke a sense of familiarity. Fifty licks, on the other hand, is entirely new. I sampled a good number of their flavors, all of which had me wanting more, and none of which reminded me of ice cream. The ones that piqued my interest the most were Thai Rice and French Toast. It literally had pieces of toast in the ice cream! Off course, I went with Hood Strawberry, which seems the most basic flavor upon reading, but there was something about it that was not Strawberry-ice-cream-esque at all. Unfortunately, if I had to choose between Salt & Straw and Fifty Licks, I would still choose Salt & Straw.

Screen Door

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♦♦♦
2337 E BURNSIDE ST
PORTLAND, OR 97214
$$

Mike and I had many people recommend Screen Door. My sister, who also went on this trip with us, chose this breakfast joint as the number one place she wanted to eat at, so we decided to give it at try. Originally, Mike and I were hesitant, because the food looks very heavy, and we usually prefer fresh farm to table type stuff for our food (like Milk Glass Mrkt from our previous trip). The verdict: The food was ridiculously amazing, but veryyyy heavy. We thought it was delicious, but our bodies felt slow afterwards, a feeling that we do not like. Hence the three star rating. The pecan candied waffle and bacon though was soo good, but I made the mistake of eating ALL the whipped cream that went with it. If we were to return to Oregon and someone in the group wanted to visit this place, we would happily go, but Mike and I would not choose to return here if it was just the two of us. Consider it a preference for the type of food, rather than the food itself. If you love to eat and get full, then this may be the place for you!

Por Que No?

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♦♦
3524 N MISSISSIPPI AVE
PORTLAND, OR 97227
$$

On the way to the airport, we decided to swing by this joint for some chips and tacos. I wanted to rate them higher, but coming from SoCal where there are taco joints aplenty, unfortunately, this only rates as mediocre. We did luck out at arriving right when happy hour started, which lasts from 3pm to Close on Tuesdays. And the one thing that they do have that I appreciate are five different house sauces to pour generously over your tacos and the like. But other  than that, the tacos were pretty standard.

Saddle Mountain Trail

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♦♦♦♦
$

This tops the charts when it comes to day hikes that we have done in Portland, OR. I would consider this a moderate trail, since my parents were able to do the majority of it. The last leg which was about 0.5 miles of steep climbing would be considered difficult. But the views are so worth it. This is an alpine trail that opens up to many views of the valley floor below. When you get close to the end, there is this amazing span of mountain ridges to walk out on to  get different vantage points. This may even be top 3 day hikes that we have been on, and trust me, we have been on plenty. Round trip, it took about 4.5 hours with plenty of breaks for the parents and while climbing at a slow pace. Walking sticks would definitely help older hikers, because of steep and gravelly hillsides. Also, they’ve placed wiring on the slopes to help with the footing, so I would recommend wearing hiking shoes, to prevent wires from snagging through your city sneakers. A must-do hike when you are in Portland! It IS an hour and a half drive away, but VERY worth it.

 

 

 

Travel: Places To Eat in Calgary and Banff

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

On our first visit to Canada, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. On top of extremely hospitable people, we were surprised at how low key the every-day seemed to be. Used to the rush of daily living in California, a visit to Calgary showed us that city life could be slow, too. The openness of the people we met was also a surprise, one that I was not accustomed to, but that I was also very in love with. Calgary, to me, was a bit sleepy though, and if I could have a do-over, I would have gone straight to Banff, because I can never have enough time in the wild. Banff was everything the pictures showed us, and even more. We were actually surprised to rate Banff as an equivalent to our beloved New Zealand. We will definitely be returning here again to explore more of the sights we haven’t seen (with the hopes of encountering bears and moose and the like).


♦◊◊◊
Not worth the time.

♦♦◊◊
Good, but ordinary.

♦♦♦◊
Great. Worth a visit.

♦♦♦♦
Exceptional. A must-do experience.

$
Frugal friendly

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Reasonable

$$$
Pricey


Alforno Bakery and Cafe

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222 7 ST SW
CALGARY, AB T2P 0E4, CANADA
$$

Always in search of bread, Alforno Bakery and Cafe has been on my radar since we first set eyes on visiting Calgary. It was a rainy morning on our first day, but we chose to walk a mile along the river anyway to the cafe shop. The bread was absolutely delicious! The baguette was amazing, not at all what I expected. The outside was crisp and light, not the typically heavy crust that you would expect. The inside though was extremely soft. My husband had a sandwich on toast and his bread was great too. I definitely would go back! They had so many sandwiches on the menu that I wanted to try, and loaves of bread on the shelves. Can we open one in SoCal?

Analog Coffee

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♦♦♦
740 17 AVE SW
CALGARY, AB T2S 0B7, CANADA
$

As a Californian, a summer in Calgary was cold for me. Add to that a bit of moody drizzle, and it wasn’t long before our quest for fresh-out-of-the-oven bread became a quest for coffee. We swung by a large food court area where Analog coffee was housed, got two lattes, sat down, and watched the World Cup with fellow Canadians taking a lunch break from their work day. It WAS a Tuesday, after all! It’s always hard to judge coffee in a latte, so I am not even going to try. I liked the drink, worth coming back to try the actual coffee. But on this particular dreary day, I wanted the comforts of a mug full of milk.

Tuk Tuk Thai

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♦♦
636 17 AVE SW
CALGARY, AB T2S 0B4, CANADA
$

Tuk Tuk Thai was rated as one of the best cheap eats in Calgary. It may be that we were extremely tired from walking ten miles in the city, but we found the food to be okay. It was good, but definitely not even close to being memorable. In fact, the pad thai was a bit bland, and the beef was doused in a vinaigrette. I do give them props for their lotus flower paper bowls, and extremely eco-conscious restaurant though!

Wild Flour Bakery

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♦♦♦♦
211 BEAR ST #101
BANFF, AB, CANADA
$

Off course, we had to stop by the highest rated bakery in little old Banff. I loved it so much that we actually ate breakfast there TWICE! This was the very first stop we made since we had driven up to Banff in the morning. Once you walk into the place, you knew that this was a place for gathering with a group of friends over hot bowls of soup, warm sandwiches and coffee. That morning, we ordered coffee and two panini sandwiches, perfect for our hungry stomachs after an hour drive.  Interested in the bread loaves sitting on the shelves, we took one home for our peanut butter lunches during the hikes. They always say that you know the bread is REAL when it only lasts 2-3 days. It bothers me to see bread on shelves lasting more than a week, and I shudder thinking about how much preservatives we put in our food. This definitely passed the test. Since we were only in Banff for three days, it hardened up right when we were finishing the loaf. Just the way our home made bread lasts! We returned on our final day here, interested in the warm porridge that we had seen the first morning we came, but we mistakenly ordered granola instead, which was actually a blessing in disguise because I remade this exact same granola and ate it every day during our first week back from our trip. It was so delicious! Next time though, I’m going to definitely get my hands on that steamy bowl of porridge. Between this and Al Forno, it is evident that this is not the typical commercialized bread that you would normally buy. This bakery focuses on making really nourishing bread. They use only organic flours, natural starters, and bake in a stone heart oven for that beautiful crust. They are a kindred spirit, and their passion for leavening is apparent in their product.

Banff Ave. Brewing Co.

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♦♦
110 BANFF AVE
BANFF, AB T1L 1A9, CANADA
$$

After a day of hiking, we thought we wanted to eat bar food on our first night in Banff. Turns out, a day of hiking followed by bar food only makes you groggier and sloth-like. The food was very typical, with my fish and chips and fries taking similar to one I would order at a diner back home. The view though was great, since the balcony of the bar looks down on the main street. Lots of people watching opportunities, followed by an early night in.

Plain of Six Glaciers Teahouse

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TO GET HERE, YOU MUST HIKE THE PLAIN OF SIX GLACIERS
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This was by far, my favorite eating experience on our trip. Getting to this teahouse means hiking up the Plain of 6 Glaciers Trail. After trekking through flat land, icy mountain slopes, and gravelly dirt paths for four miles, reaching this teahouse two thirds of the way up was just extreme paradise. To this day, they carry all their supplies up and down the mountain via donkey or in backpacks. It was summer, but still cool enough to drink tea, so I cannot imagine how heavenly this must feel after a trek in early spring or late fall. They housed a lot of tea options from Banff Tea Co. and Mike and I loved ours so much that we visited Banff Tea Co. in downtown Banff and got some tea to take home for our house and as a gift for my sister’s upcoming birthday. Mike got some homemade tea biscuits (more bread!) that was extremely delicious! Meanwhile, I was resisting the urge to get a slab of chocolate cake, until the picnic table next door ordered one of their own and I caved. It came cool, moist, and with a generous dollop of chocolate icing on top. Absolutely no regrets. This to me was almost as cool as the hike itself. I think just being out in nature and stripped from things we take for granted make reaching places such as this a great opportunity for finding gratitude in something as simple as a slab of chocolate cake.

Nourish Bistro

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♦♦♦♦
110-211 BEAR ST
BANFF AB T1L 1B4
$$

This was by far the BEST restaurant we ate at. We learned our lesson after the first night of bar food. This place was SO good that we actually ate here two dinners in a row. It is a vegatarian oasis, serving a number of different cuisines. They support local farms and you can absolutely tell in their fresh farm to table food! Elegant, GMO free, Organic, Gluten Free, Raw, Local, Seasonal, Compassionate, + Green. They even take their sustainability to the bar, serving organic cocktails as well as house juices, elixirs, smoothies and locally crafted teas. If that was not enough, the food itself was extremely creative! I mean, the loaded nachos had everything from strawberries and mandarins to beans, quinoa and lentils. The roasted cauliflower is also pictured above. Not pictured but worth mentioning are the King Kong Noodles and the Mac and Squeeze. I think when we go back to Banff, this would be the first place we visit.

Other places worth visiting:

 

The Positives of Airbnb, An Insight Into Drool-Worthy Upcoming Stays + A Way to Get $40 OFF Your First Booking!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

I would consider Mike and I as frequent travelers. Travel is one of our top priorities, and it makes sense that a good portion of our lives is dedicated to being away. But being away does not mean that I like to feel displaced. I still want to be a part of the whole. For me, the best part about traveling is seeing different cultures, learning how other people live, noting how they speak and how they act. Sometimes, I pick up their accents, although Mike would say I make up my own. Truth be told, a part of me pretends to be one of them, in an effort to immerse myself even further. Part of that immersion depends on where we choose to stay. That’s why we choose to stay at Airbnb‘s (this is an affiliate link that will give first-time Airbnb bookers $40 OFF their next booking!) for a majority of our trips.

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Why Airbnb is Better Than Hotels

The Feeling of Being Home:

Staying in a hotel can make a trip feel a bit touristy. Having someone greet you as you walk into a lobby isn’t as satisfying as turning a key in the lock of an actual home. Plus, relaxing in a room is difficult when the next-door neighbors decide it’s time to get the party started! Airbnbs give you the option of choosing an entire space, which is usually what Mike and I opt for.

Airbnb gives you more options

We have found that there are more AirBNBs than hotels in most places. Hotels are usually grouped together in very touristy areas. If we want to be a bit away from the hustle and bustle, or if we want to experience a typical day in a particular residential street, Airbnb gives us more options for our stay.

They tend to be cheaper as well, especially for big groups!

On our first trip as a married couple to New Zealand, I am embarrassed to say that we stayed at hotels for three weeks straight. Not knowing much about travel at the time, I can tell you that our cheapest night was over $200. Our most expensive night was over $400. Now that we are doing New Zealand again, the AirBNBs that we have booked are cheaper than $100 per night. You live and you learn. What a huge difference, mostly attributable to the island’s attraction of tourists! (Fun fact: Queenstown is 20% locals and 80% tourists).

You might have a kitchen in your Airbnb … and a washer and a dryer!

Airbnbs are clutch if you want to save a little money by making your own food at home. Also, even more awesome is when they have a washer and dryer available. My plan for our upcoming 2.5 weeks in Australia and New Zealand is to bring with me only one carry-on! Every Airbnb we booked has a washer and dryer available, which makes my packing decisions very easy.

Your host may be super hospitable and provide free stuff:

Hotels will have fridges with snacks and select drinks, but they’re hardly ever free. We have stayed at Airbnbs where the host provides cereals, fruit, milk, coffee, and other breakfast items. One particular farm that we are planning to stay at in January, I hear, provides all their guests farm fresh eggs from their chicken coop, every day!

Wonderful for pets.

Our family dog is a Yellow Labrador. It is hard to find a hotel that allows big dogs to stay in the rooms. Usually, if we bring her on a trip, we will need to opt for a motel instead. There are plenty of Airbnbs that are dog friendly.

But the biggest reason why I favor AirBNBs is the variability.

Usually, the homes that we pick on Airbnb are representative of what we think an average home would be. Middle-of-nowhere New Zealand? A room at someone’s farm! Moody-weather Melbourne? A minimalist and equally gray apartment! Airbnb’s provide a way for me to romanticize the vacation that much further. This is why I absolutely adore browsing through Airbnb’s. It isn’t to say that we choose very pricey ones either! Esthetically pleasing spaces are much cheaper when your interest lies in tiny living. In essence, I live the dream homes I wish I had (Airstream fantasy and all) in countries I wish I could move to.

For our upcoming Australia & New Zealand trip, a couple snapshots of our most drool-worthy, booked Airbnb spaces.

Sydney, Australia

A bright, cheery garden room, perfect for summer sun in January.

$132.29/night for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in SYDNEY. For comparison, a search on booking.com shows the cheapest hotel to be $189 on these dates. To stay at Hilton hotel is $1,124, to stay at Four Points by Sheraton is $913, and to stay at Best Western is $643. Airbnb for the win! And it’s way cuter, more quaint, more isolated, and in the middle of residential Waverly.

AirBNB Sydney

 

Melbourne, Australia

Straight out of a Kinfolk magazine, this tiny apartment boasts minimalist gray, reflective of the city’s moody weather. The bed is in the closet, what isn’t there to love??

$80.34 per night.

airbnb melbourne

Wanaka, New Zealand

Timbered lodging by the waters of Lake Wanaka, for those wilderness, cozy vibes.

$89 per night.

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Christchurch, New Zealand

Garage turned into a bright, modern retreat for South Island’s largest city.

$75.60 per night.

airbnb christchurch

If you haven’t tried Airbnb before and have an interest in doing so, sign up using this link to receive $40 OFF your first booking! If you are already a fan, I would love to hear some of your favorite Airbnb destinations!

Finance: How to Budget for Travel

This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

It’s no secret that the number one priority in our lives from a financial standpoint are my student loans. Off course, more important matters such as health, relationships, and happiness trumps that, but really not much else is prioritized before the loans. However, even before paying down the student debt entered the picture, Mike and I had decided early on in our relationship, before we even got married, that a top priority of ours would be travel. That hasn’t exactly changed, as you can probably tell from all the travel posts on this blog. Today, I wanted to go through how it is that we have the means to travel on a very tight budget.

Related Posts: 

Set your priorities

Our ability to travel the world is built on a clear understanding that travel will remain a top priority for both of us. By defining this activity as extremely important, it makes it easy for us to give up less important things if it means that we will be able to travel. From the very beginning, even before we started paying down student debt, this is something both Mike and I felt strongly about. In fact, it was at the very forefront of our conversation when we started to check the feasibility of paying down over $550k in ten years. The first question to answer was, “Will we have enough money to still travel?”

Since this is such a high priority for us, we would give up almost everything in order to make it happen. The only exception, off course, is being free from my student debt. We were willing to give up buying a house, buying things in general, dining out (if it means dining out when we travel), the newest tech gadgets, and so much more. We were already frugalists before, but having travel as a motivating factor makes us even more successful at being frugal weirdos. When your priorities are clearly defined, the budgeting part becomes easy.

Set a budget

It is very important, especially in our particular situation, to plan for travel. I think that budgeting is useful for every category of spending, but it becomes imperative for those categories that will make your life happier. We don’t want to leave the decision of whether or not we can go somewhere to the whims of everyday life. In other words, we want to avoid the excuse “Life happens”, and we actually want our lives to happen.

Our budget for travel changes according to where we want to go. Typically, we decide on an amount to set aside every month using our favorite budgeting tool, YNAB! We will probably continue that trajectory for a couple of months. We treat it like money stashed away in an envelope. We use the “cash” in this envelope to pay for anything that involves travel expenses. If we ever go over, we would have to borrow from another envelope that month. As an example, overspending $50 in travel would require us to pull $50 from our allocated grocery money. In the past six months, we have not over-drafted from our travel envelope. When calculated, 2.6% of our income each month went towards travel.

Keep in mind that this is our top priority! Yet only 2.6% of our income went towards travel. That’ll give you an idea of how frugal we’ve been and how focused we are on paying down my student debt. 100% of my post-tax income in our first year of student loan repayment went towards the loans, plus help from Mike too!

To be fair, the budget is changing every once in a while. For example, since we have a huge three-week trip planned for the beginning of next year (where we will be visiting ten cities and two countries halfway across the globe!), we will be increasing our travel budget to 3.5% of our income for the last 6 months of this year. Nothing wild and crazy, but it is fluctuating as needed.

Have a plan

Call me Type A (and you would be right in doing so), but I don’t like to travel without a plan. Mostly because I find that travelling without a plan can sometimes be very costly. Choices will need to be made in the spur of the moment, and while that is fun at times, it also means limited research can go into choosing the best financial option. Plus, not having a plan makes the previous goal of setting a budget very, very difficult. It is hard to guess just how much money you need to allocate if you have no idea what you are allocating your money to. That being said, this isn’t to say our plans are entirely rigid. We have flexibility and I am the first to admit that our recent trip to Banff did involve cancelling an entire day of hikes in exchange for napping on a hammock lakeside and resting sore legs. And if we come across an ice cream shop that we want to grab ice cream at, we aren’t going to say to ourselves, “Oops, not in the budget. Can’t.” But typically, these changes aren’t so drastic that it throws our financial game plan out the window entirely. Within the budgeting, we have already budgeted for the possibility of a change of plans.

Save for the big stuff.

Usually, when we go someplace, there is one activity that we are uncompromising on. We don’t just visit a place to randomly visit. We went to Germany for Oktoberfest. We visited Mexico City because we wanted to eat at Pujol. I wanted to go to Banff to see what was left of the glaciers while I can. We went to Oregon after hearing about how a devastating fire last year wiped out all of its beauty. And we are going to Australia to celebrate our two year wedding anniversary on New Year’s Eve in Sydney. These are the big things. If you have a particular reason to go someplace, then go ahead and go for that reason! But go knowing that it requires you to save for the big stuff. We scrounge up the savings by giving up some of the everyday spending that a normal couple would make. I always say how easy it is for me to give up dining out regularly, if it means I can dine out when I am traveling elsewhere, and eat local food in a different country. We had no problem celebrating our first year wedding anniversary eating pizza, if it means that on our second year, we will be watching fireworks over the Habor Bridge in Sydney. Interestingly, even THAT is a free event! But you see what I mean. Don’t skimp on the big stuff, especially if there is a specific reason for your travels. Skimp on the little stuff that you could do without. I promise, it’ll make the big stuff that much more valuable.

Be frugal, still.

There is no need to skimp on every adventure. What’s the point of seeing a country when you don’t want to spend to see a country? Off course, there’s transportation that we need to pay for to get around, and food to be eaten. But, where you can, be frugal still. Our budget would not be the small sliver of a fraction of our income that it is without us being frugal, still. Here are the ways in which we save quite a bit on travel money.

  • We travel hack in order to buy our flights. I have written about the pros of travel hacking and what that has afforded us in this year alone. Long story short, we have used only points to book all our flights for this year! Our favorite travel hacking credit cards are Southwest Rapid Rewards, Chase Sapphire Preferred, and the Chase Ink Business Preferred.
  • We opt for AirBNB whenever we can. Typically, we find that those rates are cheaper than most hotels.
  • We book with Turo to save money on car rentals. Turo is the car version of AirBNB and we have had a great experience thus far with this company.
  • We reach out to friends and family in the locations we travel to. Some of our favorite trips are made more special by the company we keep. A plus side would be a place to stay, or a way to split the costs. I stayed at an old college roommate’s apartment when I visited Salt Lake City, UT. We stayed in my high school best friend’s extra bedroom when we visited New Orleans. Both of these friends drove us around everywhere we went! My sister provided an air mattress and shared her bed when we went to visit San Francisco. She also lent us her car for the weekend. Our Munich trip meant a free ride to the Castle Neuschwanstein when we hit up a friend’s cousin’s family. Also, we were invited to their house and got served the most amazing dinner, which to this day, remains one of my favorite memories while traveling. We reached out to my family to see if they wanted to go to Oregon with us, thus splitting the car rental fee and the AirBNB costs among seven people. All of this to show, not only is group travel more fun and entertaining, it saves you money as well!
  • We skip the touristy stuff. As I become better versed in traveling, I have found that less and less attraction lies in the touristy stuff. We would rather fill our days with free tramps through nature, exploring the city by foot, people watching as we eat at a café, and so on. We have found ways to see cities without having to spend much. I used to book excursions on every trip, until I realized that some of the best excursions are free. Our most recent Banff trip was focused around hiking all day. Trips to Calgary and Munich involved mostly walking around the city. Oregon was a mix of both. Skipping the touristy stuff also means that you can explore your way, without having to adhere to someone else’s timeline.
  • We don’t buy souvenirs to take home. Most of the stuff they sell in souvenir stores are absolutely useless and unnecessary. Unless we come across something that we think someone back home would really like, we do not shop for souvenirs for the sake of bringing something back. What we bring back to our friends and family are photographs and stories, mostly.
  • We borrow “just-this-once” items. When we go on camping trips, we borrow sleeping bags. I borrow my dad’s camera lenses when I go on big trips. I borrow clothing from my mom if I don’t have it in my minimalist wardrobe. Borrowing is such an important life hack, because it prevents us from purchasing things that we will only use once for travel.
  • We choose to disconnect. Going to a different country may require signing up for an additional payment plan in order to use your cell phone and other techy gadgets. Whenever possible, we simply go without. A trick would be to just opt for signing into the WiFi in cafes or our AirBNBs. Since a majority of our days are spent soaking in every last little detail of our current surroundings, we don’t really have a need for our cell phones. Planning the night before by looking up directions or the next day’s itinerary makes it a lot simpler too. Choosing to disconnect saves us not only money, but also, time since it keeps us from wasting time being “plugged in”.

These are just some of the ways in which we remain frugal while we travel. But like I said before, none of this equates to deprivation. It simply requires you to analyze what parts of travel you actually value, and what parts are simply excessive consumption. Once you’ve identified those priorities, it is very easy to cut down the spending in some areas in order to have enough in your budget to be able to see that one item on your bucket list. And if you need to, you can always borrow from other “envelopes” throughout the months leading up to your trip!

What about you? What are some ways to squeeze in a little extra money towards travel on a tight budget?

Travel: Hiking through Banff National Park

Crystal blue lakes, sheer glacial faces, lush evergreen valley floors, and powerful roaring waterfalls. Falling into a glacial lake, swinging on a hammock, canoeing towards glaciers, a million mosquito bites. These are only some of the memories from our trip to Banff National Park. Most of all, I will never forget the thunderclap sound a glacier makes, as avalanches of snow tumble off the cliffs. The main reason I wanted to go to Banff was because I wanted to see what was left of the glaciers before our deleterious effects on the environment and contributions to global warming result in nothing left to be seen. What we found was way more than could be seen in the meager few days that we were there. Obsessed with seeing the most beautiful parts of the world since trekking through the Routeburn Track in our New Zealand honeymoon, Banff did not disappoint! This was probably the most exhausting three days that we have ever done, but the views were so worth it. My photos cannot do this place justice, and I definitely wish I had more time to go on even more hikes. At least that’s incentive to come back!

For the curious:

Hikes that we did included:

  • Johnston Canyon
  • Plain of 6 Glaciers
  • Lake Agnes Trail
  • Johnson Lake
  • Fenland Trail
  • Ink Pots

How we did the hikes:

Johnston Canyon Lower and Upper Falls and on to the Ink Pots – This is a very easy hike leading up to the lower and then upper falls. There is a designated path that is well-traversed, so be ready for crowds especially in the summer time. Viewing the falls did result in a few lines, but to be fair, we started the hikes mid-afternoon, which is pretty late in the summer-time. After the Upper Falls, there is a 0.6km trail that leads to the beginning of the Ink Pots, which is a moderate trek. I would really recommend for people to continue on, because the Ink Pots are a sight to see. Plus, it ends in a beautiful valley that is right next to the river, surrounded by looming mountains. The entire trip is approximately 6km one way.

Lake Moraine – We did no hikes in Lake Moraine. We headed here before 7:30am and barely made the cut off before they closed the road down. I would suggest getting there even earlier, maybe by 6am in the summer time, in order to get a spot in the parking lot. We had to park 2 miles away from the lake and walk to the car and back, which was fine. Once the road is closed, it will remain closed for the rest of the day. We bee-lined straight for the canoes and got one of the last canoes in the first batch going out to the lake. It was a hefty fee (about USD $90) but it was so worth it to glide on the glacial waters and eat croissants on the boat. After the canoeing, we attempted to climb the boulders to get a view of the lake but didn’t get far before once of us fell into the freezing glacial waters! After that, we decided hiking was not in the cards for the day, especially after a grueling 10 miles yesterday. We hung a hammock up lakeside in a secluded area, took off wet boots and socks and laid them out to dry on the sun, and took naps and a two hour break at the hammock. Socks and shoes still wet, and a couple mosquito bites later, we called it a day and hiked back up to the car.

Lake Louise – We did a loop, starting with the Plain of 6 Glaciers and returning via Lake Agnes. I would recommend doing it this way, since the Lake Agnes trail has a very steep climb for the majority of the trail. The Plain of 6 Glaciers is a very mellow flat walk for the first 2 km along the lake, beautiful for the morning. We started at 7am, which was great because by the time we got to the Plain of 6 Glaciers tea house, it was not yet crowded and we easily got a seat. Breakfast entailed tea and chocolate cake and biscuits (yes it was amazing!) before we continued on to the glaciers. Afterwards, it was downhill until we took the connecting trail to Lake Agnes. A slight uphill climb that afforded amazing views of Lake Louise and the hotel was worth it. You will also have the option of going to the Lake Agnes teahouse on the way down, but we just continued to journey on, eating peanut butter sandwiches as we took the steep descent to the lake.  

Hikes on my bucket list, for next time:

  • Larch Valley/Sentinel Pass
  • O’Hara Circuit Trail
  • Healy Pass
  • Bourgeu Lake/Harvey Pass
  • Parker Ridge Trail

Other related posts: