Weekend Getaway: Victoria, B.C.

If you’re looking for an easy weekend get-away, Victoria on Vancouver Island is just a short jaunt from Seattle, and offers a wide variety of options for filling your weekend. Of course, if you’re going in the winter, you’ll still probably be greeted with rain, but sometimes rain in a new city is just less annoying. Sometimes.

Victoria, B.C

Getting There

You have a few options for getting to Victoria, and it depends entirely on if you want your car or not. If you do not need a car, you can take the Victoria Clipper, which is a passenger only ferry leaving 3 times daily from downtown Seattle. It drops you off in downtown Victoria, so it is actually possible to rely solely on your feet and cabs if you want to ditch the car. The ride takes around three hours.

If you want your car, you’ll need to take one of the car ferries. You can either leave on the Washington State Ferry from Anacortes, which will drop you off in Sidney B.C. (about 20 minutes away from Victoria) or you can take the Black Ball ferry from Port Angeles, which will drop you off in the heart of Victoria’s downtown.

If you want to splurge on fancy (and beautiful) transportation, you can always catch a Kenmore Air float plane straight to Victoria’s Inner Harbor.

What to Do

Victoria’s Fisherman’s Wharf

Victoria’s Fisherman’s Wharf

Fisherman’s Wharf – This tiny and colorful dock village is a cute place to check out! There are food and drink options, including seafood at Barb’s Fish and Chips and tacos from Puerto Vallarta Amigos. There are also a few souvenir shops, kayak and SUP rentals, fishing boats, and the coolest houseboats. You are allowed to walk around and admire the floating houses, but a sign reminds you that real residents live there and to keep things quiet so try to keep your commentary on the down low. Please note, Fisherman’s Wharf becomes a bit sleepy in the winter with a lot of the businesses closing down.

The sleeping moss lady at Beacon Hill Park

The sleeping moss lady at Beacon Hill Park

Beacon Hill Park – This place is by far the best of the best when it comes to city parks. The park is huge and located on the shores of the Juan de Fuca straight. It’s COVERED with numerous ponds and fountains and a pride of peacocks. Yes, real peacocks ambushing your picnic! It’s the best. There is also some pretty incredible art at the park including the sleeping moss lady, who might win for best park art of all time. Can this place be any cooler?

Inner Harbor – The harbor is where the ferry boats dock when dropping off passengers, and it includes many streets that lead into the downtown area. This part of downtown is littered with restaurants and bars, and is a perfect place for afternoon shopping and souvenir buying. You can easily stroll it on foot and make sure to plan plenty of time for shopping and pub crawling.

It might be small, but Victoria is home to Canada’s oldest Chinatown

It might be small, but Victoria is home to Canada’s oldest Chinatown

Chinatown – Also located downtown, this Chinatown is extremely tiny (really just one street!), but a fun place to checkout and take a stroll down. There is a large red arch that welcomes you to the area and an ornate and beautiful Chinese public school in addition to groceries, shops, and restaurants. Despite it’s small size, it is the oldest one in all of Canada!

Eat & Drink

Bao – Located in Chinatown next to the public school, Boa is a delicious Asian fusion restaurant with a warm vibe. Everything on the menu is amazing, so we recommend getting the truffle ramen and a mix and match of all the boa. Wash it all down with some sake and bring a friend to help you split more dishes!

La Taqueria Pinche Taco Shop

La Taqueria Pinche Taco Shop - It might lure you in because it has the most instagramable floor in the city, but once you taste the tacos, you’ll forget all about your Instagram feed. All of their meat tacos have delicious flavor, but they also have an awesome selection of vegetarian tacos. We loved the hongos and the rajas con cream. And for the love of God, please order one of their fantastic margaritas with the spicy rim.

Pagliacci’s – Not to be confused with Seattle’s pizza chain of the same name, Victoria’s Pagliacci’s is a cozy and fun Italian joint that has been around since 1979. They have a large menu featuring a variety of pasta dishes plus seafood and steaks and soft focaccia bread! They also have free music from 8-10pm nightly.

Victoria Public Market – While pretty small, the public market is a great place downtown to stop in for some light shopping and a snack. There are currently around 13 vendors that make up this little market, and you can get your fill on tacos, teriyaki, sandwiches, waffles, pie and more!

Big Bad John's

Big Bad John’s - No city is complete without a bonafide dive bar, and Big Bad John’s has Victoria covered. It’s a self-declared “hillbilly” bar that opened in 1962 where country music is played, stiff drinks are poured, and you can throw peanut shells on the floor. The walls are covered in dollar bills, interesting art, and the occasional bra or two. It has everything you want in a dive bar and is a great place to get your night started, people watch, or drown your sorrows in a dark corner.

What else do you love about Victoria? We feel like we have barely scratched the surface, and we can’t wait to go back and explore more!

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Woodland Park Zoo

Seattle is known for a lot of things - coffee, flying fish, needles that point up to space, our stunning geography, tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft, and lots of rain, but not so much our zoo. Nope, our zoo doesn’t get much hype. Well, we are here to hype it up, because although it is no San Diego Zoo, it is a fantastic zoo and a great place to spend an afternoon with friends, family, and kids. It is also on the CityPass so if you are visiting from out of town you can get in at a discounted price, which is a steal!

Grizzly Bear at Woodland Park Zoo

Here are our top five reasons to visit Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo.

1 - They Have Awesome Animal Feeding Programs - This one is enough to get us to go. For only $5 (be sure to bring cash) you can join a few other people and feed giraffes and penguins at different points in the day. When you stand that close to these animals and get to hear about their traits, likes and dislikes, and stories you feel connected to them.

Learning about and feeding one of the male giraffe’s at Woodland Park Zoo.

Learning about and feeding one of the male giraffe’s at Woodland Park Zoo.

2 - You’re Supporting Wildlife Conservation Around the World - Zoos do a lot for animal conservation and Woodland Park Zoo is no exception. They have programs around the world to help animals. Much of this you can learn about on their website or through their exhibits and programs at the zoo.

3 - Birds Will Get Up Close and Personal - In Australasia inside Willawong Station for only $2 each you can buy popsicle sticks covered in honey and birdseed and stand in the middle of a room while small parrots come and perch on your hand (or head) to help themselves to your treat. As adults, we have to say - this is SO fun. We bought more sticks than we probably should have before we deciding we should let some of the kids have our space.

You can make a lot of friends at the bird feeding with a little bit of honey and birdseed!

You can make a lot of friends at the bird feeding with a little bit of honey and birdseed!

4 - You Can Get to Know Gorillas and Tigers - There are several programs to help visitors learn more about the animals. Hanging out to learn from staff about the gorillas and tigers are our two favorite spots for obvious reasons. These animals are incredibly smart, beautiful, and also struggle for survival in the wild. It’s good to learn about what we are doing to protect them and also get a more up close view while they are fed and played with by staff while they educate the audience.

Tiger at Woodland Park Zoo

5 - It’s a Wonderful Way to Spend an Afternoon Outside - With the main loop being about .8 miles around this is a super approachable and easy zoo to visit. We always find ourselves amazed by the easy way-finding to all the animals. You can easily see everything and spend ample time at each exhibit in an afternoon. And, in true Seattle fashion much of the zoo is covered so that visiting on rainy days is still enjoyable and allows you to get outside and enjoy some fresh air and incredible animals!

Honorable Mention: The carousel is super old and cool - in the northwest corner of the zoo sits a beautiful carousel from 1918 which the zoo restored and opened in 2006. There are only 150 hand carved carousels (yes, we said HAND carved) left in the world. So this one is definitely worth checking out, even if you don’t go for a ride. Obviously if you have kids this is a pretty great stop in the day!

We hope this gets you excited to visit the zoo! Let us know your experiences at Woodland Park Zoo if you are a local or visitor!

36 Hours on Lopez Island

Sunset Bay

Sunset Bay

“Don’t change Lopez Island,” one cheerily hand-penned sign read in the window of a village shop. “Let Lopez Island change you.”

There is something magical about crossing water to reach a destination. Even when that location is only roughly 90 miles from home, I could not believe how different Lopez Island felt.

As the honorary contributing beverage writer for Rain or Shine Guides I wanted to pick a destination not too difficult to reach, but still within a day’s drive. One of the San Juan Islands seemed ideal, and after reading about a blazing newish restaurant (more on that soon), I booked a full weekend on Lopez Island to explore.

Spoiler alert: Do not travel to Lopez Island just for the beverages. Lopez Island Brewing Company may have a website and a physical address, but neither yielded tangible results. As for Lopez Island Vineyards, tastings are held as “pop ups” or at Summer Farmers Markets — neither of which we located on a November weekend. Our beverage scouting will have to wait for further developments.

Having said that, DO visit Lopez Island for everything else. Here are the top hitters.

The Scenic Calm

Lopez Island is quiet and dark with very few cars and unpolluted skies flush with stars. As my husband and I lay in the bed of our garden cottage next to a warm wood stove, we fell asleep watching The Milky Way tilt and slide above us through the skylights. If you need a place with 63 miles of stark, hushed coastline, you could do worse than Lopez Island.

TIP: Many businesses, and even Spencer Spit State Park, are fully closed during the offseason, (shhhhh! we hiked to the spit anyway). However, if solitude is what you seek, consider the lower cost and non bustle of booking a Lopez trip in the offseason.

Driftwood at Spencer Spit

Driftwood at Spencer Spit

The Wildlife

Stepping out of our cottage I was surrounded by friendly jackrabbits. Just by walking 300 feet to the coastline, I spotted a lazy seal turning somersaults in Fisherman Bay.  A clear day yielded to a stunning salmon and terracotta-streaked sunset featuring a lone, gliding bald eagle. Nature envelopes you at every turn on Lopez Island, from quaint farms filled with braying goats to fish leaping from brackish ponds.

TIP: For an unadulterated coastal vista filled with sea birds, seals, and sometimes orcas and porpoises, visit Shark Reef Sanctuary on the south-western end of the island. Leave your car in the tiny pullout and hike a half mile to the cliff edges along a well-marked and maintained trail. Nature favors those who wait, so bring a sandwich, perch on a rock, and see who decides to pass by.

Vista at Shark Reef Sanctuary

Vista at Shark Reef Sanctuary

The Charm

Famously nicknamed “Slowpez,” nothing moves quickly on Lopez Island. Being open to adventure will serve you well. Cafe closed for the winter? No worries! Just a few miles down the road at Sunnyfield Farm we encountered the Lopez Island Little Winter Market. Crowded with local vendors peddling fresh bread, herbed cheeses made right on the property, and spiced cider, you can support the thriving local farm trade while enjoying a string band playing in the hay rafters.

TIP: Don’t be alarmed when everyone on Lopez waves at you from their cars. It’s polite, customary, and becomes completely natural within an hour or two. It’s just another piece of local charm that solidified Lopez Island’s place in my heart.

Little Winter Market inspired lunch

Little Winter Market inspired lunch


But the number one reason to visit Lopez is to try Ursa Minor, a creative agrarian Northwest restaurant right in the heart of the village. Recently featured in Edible Seattle, this rustic and imaginative dining experience did not disappoint and ranked as highly with us as our recent experiences at Michelin-starred restaurants in France. This is the closest to food terroir I’ve had yet in the northwest.

Ursa Minor

Make Ursa Minor the star of the evening and stay late to share plates like the burnt cabbage, sunflower seeds, wild onion & chestnut dish or tide-tumbled fresh oysters topped with frozen kimchi. Our entree of chicken, potatoes, chanterelles & black garlic was artfully presented and quickly devoured. And for a lady who doesn’t like dessert, I struggled to share the hay ice cream, poached quince, malt, and honey crumbles with my date. I will seriously dream of those honey crumbles for weeks to come.

A fairly priced and solid wine list made pairing easy with glasses of sparkling Fruili to start and a 2013 bottle of Crozes-Hermitage to take us the rest of the way through the meal.

TIP: While there’s no tasting menu (YET) at Ursa Minor, do talk to co-owners Chef, Nick Coffey and Front-of-House, Nova Askue to hear what’s good right now. Most items are sourced on the island so they will know what’s showing best when. Reservations are recommended, so book ahead.

Lamb leg, roasted koji, daikon & mustard greens at Ursa Minor

Lamb leg, roasted koji, daikon & mustard greens at Ursa Minor

So close to home, yet so very different, try Lopez Island. Do reserve your space on the outbound ferry as passage is never a guarantee. Bring binoculars for the amazing sights you will see far and wide. And let me know if that brewery ever opens its doors to visitors. Salud!

Amy L. Dickson is a communications professional, freelance writer, Level 1 sommelier, and a contributor to Rain or Shine Guides. Follow her at @amyldickson75

Neighborhood Guide: Maple Leaf

We may be a bit biased on this post. We do live in Maple Leaf after all. We roam these streets and drink in these bars on the regular, so when we give a recommendation you know it is based on years of experiences. Our little neighborhood isn’t as bustling as some of the other big ones (Ballard, Fremont, etc.), but where we might be smaller, we have some mighty little businesses that make it a great place to come visit!

Maple Leaf Water Tower

Where to Eat

Cloud City Coffee

Nine times out of ten this is the coffee shop we head to in Maple Leaf. They have a wonderful selection for breakfast, lunch, and coffee and have a really genuine and kind feel the second you walk in the door. Also, they have Oatly for your lattes!

Cloud City Coffee

Blue Saucer CAFE 

Another coffee shop in the neighborhood that pulls us in every once in a while is Blue Saucer. And why do you ask? Their bagel sandwiches are To. Die. For. They also do great specials for their coffees. Plus it’s also a little quieter since this is a smaller cafe and some mornings you just can’t beat relaxing with a nice bagel while you do the crossword!

Cafe Javasti

We are lucky that we have so many great coffee shops in the area, and we definitely can’t leave out Cafe Javasti. They have the best selection of crepes you could ask for (sweet and savory!) while serving Olympia’s Batdorf & Bronson Coffee.

The Maple

This neighborhood pub has a great happy hour and is located in a great converted house, so what couldn’t be there to love? While we usually don’t go there for dinner, we love to hit it up for their brunch (mimosas anyone?) or happy hour (burrata + wine specials!). Bonus points for all the outdoor seating and cute garden you can access in the warmer months!

Rainy Art in Maple Leaf

Rainy Art in Maple Leaf

The Shambles

This is a relatively new spot to the neighborhood, but it immediately stole our hearts. They are a butcher, so they source incredible meats from local farmers and they also craft an awesome beer list from local craft breweries. We love getting their meat and cheese boards, sharing one of their amazing sandwiches and getting a side of the crushed potatoes with beers to top it all of. Boom.

Judy Fu's Snappy Dragon

This is probably Maple Leaf's biggest claim to fame. Judy Fu is famous in the city for her delicious dumplings and homemade noodles. This restaurant has won best Chinese in Western Washington by King5 like a million times. Get the dumplings and noodles, plus whatever else catches your eye on the menu - it's Chinese food at its best! The restaurant fills up fast on weeknights and weekends, so if you don't feel like waiting order it to go or for delivery and enjoy at home! 

Flying Squirrel Pizza 

This is our neighborhood pizza joint. Everyone has one, but we think ours is the best. Flying Squirrel has a few locations around Seattle and all of them are equally great, but we frequent this one the most. We always start with the castelvetrano olives and meatballs then move on to any of the pizzas. They source the best meats and veggies so really you can’t go wrong. Their pepperoni is classic, the pulled pork is something different and delicious, and their seasonal specials are always unique, too.

Kona Kitchen

This place is a beloved Hawaiian and Japanese restaurant (owned by film actor Yuji Okumoto!) and has a wonderful family feel. We highly recommend the Katsu Loco, which is a more delicious version of the Loco Moco made with fried rice and a panko breaded chicken thigh. And on the weekends there is karaoke because duh.

Where to Drink

Old 5th Avenue Tavern

The greatest dive bar in the history of dive bars (our blog, our opinion!). It has everything you could want…stiff drinks, cheap food, fun locals, pull tabs, pool, a jukebox, and you can find the owner, Tara, slinging drinks most nights. We love to come on Tuesday for their tacos (2 for $1) that are old school style with Old El Paso hard shells and ground beef like your Mom used to make. Spaghetti Wednesday is in stiff competition where you get a big plate of spaghetti and slices of garlic bread. Can’t.be.beat.

5th Avenue Tavern

Growler Guys

This spot has like 1 million beers. Ok, their website says 60, but we always feel a tad overwhelmed when trying to choose. For those of you who don’t suffer from decision anxiety this place will be beer heaven! They also have good beer food (pizza and wings, duh) and food trucks on site often. We also love keeping tabs on their events - they do a great job of having unique events to bring the community together.

The Reservoir Tavern

Slightly more seedier and smelly than the Old 5th Tavern, this dive bar wins points for its location. It sits right across from the Maple Leaf Park meaning you can easily grab a drink after your Frisbee game. They also have a back patio and pool if you feel up for a bar game, but we highly recommend getting an order of fries, which they make with duck fat and shake with some sort of seasoning that takes them to the next level. Truly the best fries in town.

Things to Do

Maple Leaf Park 

Maple Leaf has an incredible park right smack dab in the middle of the neighborhood and you can’t miss it because it has a ginormous water tower with painted maple leaves right next to it. The park has a paved running track (about .5 mile = 1 lap), some pickleball courts and what is basically the coolest kids playground ever (it has a zipline!). When you visit on a clear day you can see views of downtown Seattle and also Mount Rainier.

Bead World

Okay, so maybe you need to be a jewelry maker to fully appreciate this shop, but even we get joy out of browsing all the cool beads here. They have too many types to count in every style you can possibly imagine. Need a Buddha head bead? They’ve got that. What about sparkly beads? Hundred to choose from. They even offer classes for jewelry making including basic bead stringing all the way up to 3D etching. Check out the full schedule here.

Reckless Video  

We saved the best for last here - Maple Leaf is home to one of the last of the dinosaurs - a real, live, video store. For such a tiny house, they have managed to convert it into a space that holds a crazy amount of movies! If you want to support a local business and have a walk down memory lane we definitely recommend heading to Reckless and hunting for a few videos to watch on a rainy night. Grab some Red Vines on your way out.

The best place to grab a movie in the city of Seattle!

The best place to grab a movie in the city of Seattle!

Alright - come visit us in Maple Leaf and let us know what you think!