TRAVEL GUIDE: Sonoma – Portland – Vancouver


SONOMA

We spent three days in Sonoma where we met up with a group of friends and rented out an Airbnb.  Touring the wineries and laying out by the pool were just what I needed to relax and reset!  We only spent one day in town.  Here’s what we did:

Kenwood Winery, Kenwood, California

WINERIES:

Below are the wineries we visited:

  • Sebastiani – This winery was my favorite and we became members! We ordered the Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Merlot and the Cherrywood.  Can’t wait to enjoy these again and also gift them to friends and family for the upcoming holidays.  [We only did the tasting at this one and did not tour.*]
  • Benziger Family Winery – we took a gorgeous tour in a tram through the property and hillside vineyard.  The tourguide was wonderful and we did a wine tasting in the middle and end of the tour.  We finished at the gift shop where we could try various olive oils and chocolate along with the wine, which was a treat!
  • Kenwood Vineyards – at this winery, we sat at the bar and did our tastings.  We didn’t take a tour.  This was a very easy-going winery and was close to our Airbnb in Kenwood.

*After completing our tasting at Sebastiani, we took a short 15 – 20 min walk to Sonoma Plaza.  The area is home to many local shops and restaurants.  My favorite store was Global Heart – a fair trade store where I snagged a neat, artsy necklace!

Kenwood Winery, Kenwood, California

RESTAURANTS:

  • Girl and the Fig (dinner) – This restaurant is located in Sonoma Plaza and we ate there after walking around and doing some shopping.  We sat on the patio, which was beautiful.  The food was excellent! I had the flounder on a bed of mashed potatoes, which is one of their most popular dishes. Highly recommend!

STAY:

We stayed in Kenwood in an Airbnb, which we loved.  Renting a house when you’re with a group can be really fun. It allows you to hang out altogether, enjoy the pool, cook and generally feel the comforts of being “at home.” The only con to staying in a house is having to clean up after yourself [dishes, etc]. 🙂

TIP: From what I learned, Sonoma is significantly cheaper than Napa Valley.  So if you’re looking to try out wine country, but want to do it in a slightly more affordable way, you might want to start with Sonoma first!

PORTLAND

DAY 1

We flew in around 7 pm and got situated at our hotel, which was centrally located in Downtown Portland.  We then walked over to Tasty n Alder, which was a delicious Tapas-style restaurant that did not disappoint. [We came here for dinner but also heard it was a great brunch place!]

DAY 2


Voodoo Doughnuts, Portland, Oregon

Breakfast: We got up early and walked to Bijou Cafe [Downtown]. They had a yummy breakfast with a friendly staff.  Then we started our tour around the city and hit up the following spots:

  • Voodoo Doughnuts – Although the donuts here are nothing to write home about, you should definitely make this a stop on your trip. Get here early because otherwise a line forms outside of the shop and around the corner.  A fun and eclectic interior décor adorns the small pink shop, and it’s a great place to snap a pic! I got the ‘Voodoo’ donut which was in the shape of a voodoo doll, had jelly on the inside and chocolate on the outside. My hubby got the chocolate with cocoa puffs – he didn’t love it.  [Side note: I loved my donut probably because of the shop itself…and did I mention it was pink?!]
  • Public Domain Coffee – Portland (as well as its sister cities in the Pacific Northwest such as Seattle, etc) is known for its independent coffee roasters. We made a stop here to have a cup of Jo after our donuts. Coffee was great!
  • Pittock Mansion – beautiful home owned by the Pittocks in the early 1900s [Henry Pittock was a Portland Pioneer]. It’s located at the southern tip of Forest Park and the view from the front yard is beautiful.  [There are various hikes you can do in Forest Park and the Wildwood Trail will take you directly to the Pittock Mansion if you’d like to come via hike.]
  • Portland Japanese Garden – Honestly, I don’t think this placed lived up to the hype. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nicely orchestrated garden, with a lovely waterfall in the center of it.  I also loved the gift shop where I bought incense, chopsticks and fans. However, if you’re only planning on seeing one Asian garden while you’re in Portland, definitely check out the Lan Su Chinese Garden [described in day 3.]
  • International Test Rose Garden – Loved this incredible garden!! How cool is it that this is the spot where they test roses to see which ones should be grown for mass production across the globe? This little oasis smelled heavenly [as you can imagine!] and we covered its grounds leisurely in about 30 minutes.
  • Nob Hill – this is a great neighborhood to stroll around and window shop (or actually shop if you’re on the hunt for some vintage clothes or jewelry). There’s also lots of little local restaurants to try out if you’re hungry along your walk.
Japanese Garden, Portland, Oregon

Lunch: we ate at Ken’s Boulangerie Pattiserie in Nob Hill [Please note: there are two locations of this restaurant – this one and a pizza place]. This was one of my favorite restaurants in Portland! It’s a casual little bakery with delicious breads and pastries.  We split a salad and a croissant tuna sandwich, which was perfectly flaky and scrumptious.  I also got a coffee and a tart for dessert.  Great lunch spot if you’re exploring Nob Hill and get a hankering for baked goods!
After lunch, we headed back to the hotel to rest for the remainder of the afternoon.

Dinner: We walked across the street from our hotel to Little Bird Bistro.  We loved it! We had the oysters [super fresh!] for our appetizer.  For dinner, I ordered the chicken fried trout [who knew you could chicken fry a trout? Asks the Texan 😉 ] and my hubby got the fried chicken.  We both loved what we ordered and the service was great! It’s also super convenient if you’re staying downtown.  Definitely recommend this place.

DAY 3


Tao of Tea Teahouse, Portland, Oregon

Breakfast: We walked to Kenny & Zuke’s deli. It’s been open for 10 years and is an authentic New York-style deli [where they boil the bagels! See my NYC itinerary here.] We loved it and it was kid-friendly if you’re travelling with your babes!

Then we did the following:

  • Pearl District / Powell’s City of Books – We explored Pearl District, which is an area filled with shops, restaurants and condos. Powell’s City of Books is definitely the highlight of this neighborhood. The bookstore takes up an entire city block and has multiple levels, all genres of books (new and used) and great kitschy gifts.  I’d probably move in if I could! 😉
  • Lan Su Chinese Garden – This was the most beautiful Asian garden to which I’ve ever been. The beautiful architecture, landscaping and general design of the garden made it a calming zen retreat. We enjoyed a tea at the Tao of Tea Teahouse during our visit and I bought some tea (for gifts) as well.
  • Steel Bridge – We walked here to see the double decker bridge and walk along the water, which led us to Governor Tom McCalls waterfront park. [I think this is something that you could skip if you’re looking to prioritize what to do. It’s a pretty view of the bridge and the Willamette River, but not much else.]
  • Governor Tom McCalls Waterfront Park – we walked about 100 feet of this waterfront path, but I don’t think we made it to the Park, which is supposed to be a great place for bikeriding and strolling!
  • Coffee at Caffe Umbria – Definitely recommend this Italian coffee house! It was started in Seattle by a 3rd generation Italian coffee roaster. The cappuccino was awesome [and so was the ‘cinnamon crown’ pastry we got]!

Lunch: After our relaxing coffee break, we walked across the street to Piattino.  This Italian eatery left us full and happy!  Hubby got the delicious margerita pizza you see below, and I got the linguini and meatballs.  The owner came out and talked to us and was very warm and inviting.  Definitely recommend!

Piattino, Portland, Oregon

After lunch [and upon entry into food coma-ville], we headed back to the hotel to sleep and relax.

Dinner:  Another great downtown find! We walked to Thai Peacock and could not be more pleased.  This intimate Thai restaurant served up delicious Thai food – tom yum soup & thai basil fried rice and fish was what we ordered. Loved it!

STAY:

We stayed at the Marriott Courtyard Downtown on SW Oak St.  While it was a great location and central to everything we wanted to do, I would recommend exploring other areas of Portland to stay in.  The room was nice, provided everything we needed and didn’t cost an arm and a leg.  Some streets in the downtown area aren’t the nicest [as is very common in many large cities].  Just something to consider as you research where to stay!

VANCOUVER

DAY 1

We flew into Vancouver around 10 am and got situated in our hotel by around noon.

Lunch: We walked next door from our hotel to Medina, a Mediterranean inspired breakfast and lunch spot.  It’s famous for its waffles, so make sure to try one!

Then we stepped out to explore:

  • Stanley Park: If you do one thing in Vancouver, you have to see Stanley Park. It’s approximately a 5-mile walk along the English Bay and Vancouver Harbour.  We didn’t do this walk all in one try.  We split it up into two days.  It’s beautiful and provides many picturesque photo opps along the seawall! Make sure to check out the “mermaid” on your walk.  If you need a break, there’s a teahouse along the way [which we skipped].  Also, don’t be intimidated by the length of the walk – you can turn around and cut through to the starting point at almost all sections of the walk.
  • Downtown / West End

I was pretty pooped on this day and we went back to our room and relaxed.  We ate a low-key dinner at the hotel.

DAY 2

Breakfast: We had breakfast at our hotel and then took off to catch the mini aquabus ferry to Granville Island.

  • Granville Island – I highly recommend coming here! We ate our way through the Granville Public Market [our lunch]. We had a little salad from Zara’s and then a pastry filled with beef and onion from Laurelle’s.  [Both were delicious!] Then we got a fruit basket and a berry tart from two difference vendors. We also tried fudge that we watched being made! There’s an area outside of the market that’s right on the water where we sat and ate our feast. 🙂 We watched the beautiful sailboats and yachts pull in and out of the dock.  After lunch, we went and did a tasting at the Liberty Distillery (vodka & gin) and Granville Island Brewing.   I recommend both if you’re into that sorta thing!
  • Yaletown – we walked around this trendy neighborhood and popped into some stores. Ladies – the Cross Décor and Design store was gorgeous!! Loved everything they have.

Afterwards we retreated to our hotel to relax for the afternoon.

Dinner: We ate at this upscale waterfront restaurant and enjoyed the meal and view.  Miku has creative dishes with uniquely paired flavors and sauces.  We chose the 6 course fixed menu where they selected the plates for us.  While almost everything was delicious, I think I would’ve preferred ordering our own dishes as some of the flavors were not my absolutely favorite.  The sushi was incredibly fresh and the service was excellent.

DAY 3

Breakfast: We walked to Jam Cafe and got there 5 minutes before it opened.  We were probably the 30th people in line.  Glad we got there when we did so that we didn’t have to wait in line once it opened! I wouldn’t say it was anything spectacular, but the interior was cute and the breakfast was good.

  • Gastown – We loved this area of Vancouver. It’s a beautiful neighborhood with lots of shops and restaurants.  If you walk around at night, all of the trees are lit up with twinkle lights. 🙂 There’s also a Steam Clock that goes off every quarter of an hour and on the hour, that’s a fun site to see.
  • Chinatown – honestly, do yourself a favor and skip this part. The only thing that we saw that was nice was the opening to Chinatown or Millenium Gate.  I did not feel very safe walking these streets during the day and even the travel guide book says to avoid walking there at night.  Aside from safety, there’s just not much to see here.

Lunch: We walked to Café Artigiano and had coffee and a sandwich.  Nice little Italian shop for a quite bite.

Afternoon was spent resting at the hotel!

Dinner: Since we loved Gastown so much, we went back and had dinner right across from the Steam Clock at Water St. Café.  We had a kale salad to start and I had the cioppino.  I have only had Cioppino in Dallas a handful of times but this was by far my best experience with the dish. I loved it!

STAY:

Hotel L’Hermitage – we splurged on this hotel as a special treat for us on this trip.  The service was impeccable from the front desk to housekeeping.  There are plenty of hotels in the Downtown area that are affordable and will provide you a central location for your sight-seeing.

Side Note: We definitely did not do everything that I had planned in Vancouver as we decided to just take it easy and do only what sounded fun and relaxing.  Below are some other sites that came highly recommended from my Fodor’s travel book and TripAdvisor that might be something you would enjoy:

  • Art Galleries: There are tons of art galleries all over Vancouver. Fodor’s recommends the Vancouver Art Gallery as well as the Bill Reid Gallery (amonst others).
  • Kitsilano or “Kit’s Beach”
  • Museum of Anthropology
  • Science World on the East Side
  • Capilano Suspension Bridge
  • Grouse Mountain

I hope that these travel guides help you if you’re planning a trip to any of these lovely cities! If I missed anything (i.e. sites / restaurants / etc.), please let me know!

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