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Todos Santos – Cabo’s Cooler Little Sister

Situated where the Pacific Ocean meets the Sierra de la Laguna Mountains, and the desert meets an oasis of palms and lush fruit trees, is the rustic Mexican coastal town of Todos Santos. With colorful aging buildings nestled beneath palm trees, cobbled roads, miles of endless unspoiled beaches and constant blue skies overhead, you could be mistaken for thinking Todos Santos is a quiet backwater set up only for surfer types looking to ride the Pacific Ocean swell.

However, such first impressions would be a little off the mark. While the surfboard-carrying carefree types do frequent the shoreline, underneath the palm leaves lies a sophisticated town that is well set up to serve those seeking to escape the crush of San Lucas or San Jose. Handicraft shops, art galleries, upscale restaurants and boutique hotels  all serve to meet the needs of the traveler seeking an authentic Mexican town experience without compromising on their home comforts.

Guaycura Hotel

Set in a restored colonial building, the boutique Guaycura Hotel would not be out of place in London, New York or Paris. With exquisite furnishings, beautifully decorated rooms, four poster beds, copper bath tubs and private terraces you feel as if you have just stepped inside your own palace.

A decadent breakfast menu including some wonderful eggs benedict is served in a beautifully appointed garden restaurant to the backdrop of Radio Mozart. A well-equipped reading room offers the weary guest the opportunity to relax while taking in one of the hundreds of travel books, while a roof top deck and swimming pool offers another attractive alternative for those wishing to enjoy the year-round warm climate.

Sky Lounge

Situated on top of the Guaycura Hotel, the Sky Lounge is the perfect location to take in a sunset over the Pacific Ocean with a pre-dinner cocktail in hand.

It’s worth staying a few minutes longer to enjoy the freshly cooked catch of the day paired with a local white wine.

El Faro Private Beach Club & Spa

Situated 10 minutes drive from Todos Santos is a beach lover’s haven – El Faro is a quiet oceanside club featuring an infinity pool, the best beach “hammock” the world has ever seen, a swim up bar, a spa and a restaurant servicing delicious local cuisine including some excellent fish tacos. The admission fee is waived for those staying at the Guaycura Hotel.

However, what really sets the beach club apart is the offshore entertainment provided by whales breaching on the horizon!

Turtle Hatching

At around 5pm each night hundreds of baby turtles are released into the Pacific Ocean from Playa La Cachora against the sunset backdrop. It is quite a honour to see these tiny animals take their first steps towards their new ocean home.

Sunset Watching

With a west facing location looking out uninhibited across the Pacific Ocean, Todos Santos is a perfect location for sunset seekers.

El Mirador

Located on the cliffs above the ocean and the town, El Mirador restaurant provides 360 degree views of the stunning geography that makes up the region.

However, the view is only surpassed by firstly the best margaritas we have ever tasted, and then secondly by the quality of the food served.  We were lucky enough to dine on a full moon for which a special set menu is served against the glittering ocean backdrop.

Getting to Todos Santos

Situated only 60 minutes north of San Lucas or 90 minutes from San Jose International Airport, Todos Santos is very accessible via a very new and quiet four lane highway.

If you are planning a week in Baja California Sur, we would highly recommend Todos Santos as it offers an authentic Mexican getaway for those seeking a personalized luxury experience without the traditional Cabo crowds.

 

 

 

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Nanaimo to Tofino Road Trip

There are two approaches to the 200 km drive from the Departure Bay ferry terminal at Nanaimo to Tofino…

Option 1: The Hare – Put your foot on the gas as soon as you leave the BC Ferries’ ramp and race the other long weekenders to Tofino in about 2 hours. Given that this is the preferred option of the masses you will probably spend the mountain pass section of the drive between Port Alberni and the Ucluelet / Tofino turn junction getting increasingly frustrated as you sit behind an impassable RV doing 20kph. There is another way…

Option 2: The Tortoise – Our preferred option is to take our time, make a day of it and stop at some magical places on route. Here are a few places you might want to consider hitting the brakes for:

Rathtrevor Beach

Located off Highway 4 just before Parksville, Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park features a wide, shallow beach that recedes over a kilometer at low tide combined with walking trails through old-growth forest. There is also a camp site there if you want to stay a little longer. A nice place to wake up to in the early morning sunshine, especially if you have caught the first ferry of the day!

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Cathedral Grove

This is a popular tourist spot signposted by slow down signs and cars waiting for a parking spot. If you are lucky enough to find a space, you will be rewarded with a beautiful walk through an ancient forest of giant Douglas fir trees.

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Port Alberni

A note of caution – despite its coastal location on an inlet and being surrounded by a stunning mountains, there is very little here in the way of local authentic eateries – your only real options are the fast food chains you see from the highway.

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Sproat Lake

This is a nice spot to stop for lunch, and to have a paddle in the relatively warm waters. If you are lucky you might get chance to watch one of the famous water bombers take off or land on the lake. There are also a few camping spots around if you want to stay longer.

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Rocks & Mini Waterfall

As you start your drive through the mountains you will pass by a pull out next to a river and a large mass of smoothed rocks. Take a few moments to pull over and explore the waterfall, and admire the power of the river – don’t get too close though!

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Kennedy Lake

Often this lake is mistaken for the Pacific Ocean by the weary traveler as they descend from the mountain pass. However, with its pristine calm waters, surrounded by mountain peaks, disappointment will be quickly replaced by the clicking of the camera lens. IMG_0248IMG_2587

Long Beach

Situated in the majestic Pacific Rim National Park a few kilometers before Tofino, Long Beach is the jewel that draws visitors to this westerly point on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. With miles of sandy beach, predictable swell to surf and a rainforest backdrop you may never want to leave.

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Road Trip to Cannon Beach, Oregon

On the coast of Oregon lies a hidden gem, a place so stunning in its geography but so tranquil in its environment that it is a must visit for any true West Coast traveller!

We discovered the oasis that is Cannon Beach when our Vancouver friends invited us to spend New Year’s Eve with them in Oregon. Knowing absolutely nothing about this seaside town a 600 km drive from Vancouver we agreed to get involved in the road trip as we knew there would be a great party at the end of it!

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Getting To Cannon Beach

After an overnight stop off in Seattle to take advantage of the US’s super cheap (relative to Canada) shopping at Seattle Premium Outlets, Alderwood Mall & Bellevue Square, we put the pedal to the metal and headed down the I5 through Washington to the Oregon border where the mighty Columbia river separates the 2 states. We quickly realised the flaw in our plan to stop for lunch in Longview when we discovered that the town might have an attractive sounding name for tourists but was actually more of an industrial wasteland which you would want to escape as quickly as possible…so we did, over a very dubious steep, narrow and old bridge called the Lewis and Clark Bridge.

The final leg of the inbound journey along highways 30 to Astoria and 101 to Cannon Beach was relatively slow given that these highways are only single lane roads and Astoria has about 10 miles of 20mph speed limits!! Why you may reasonably ask? You probably want to give yourself 2 hours to cover the 75 miles from Longview to Cannon Beach.

Our Accommodation

With a mixed group of 14 people and 4 dogs of varying obedience (Helena was greeted by a big lick to the face by one pooch) we stayed in 2 separate houses close to the beach which were surprisingly inexpensive.

The “mothership” house had 4 bedrooms, an all-important 8 man hot tub with a view of the ocean, sufficient entertainment space to hold a New Year’s party, a large flat screen TV for playing MTV and a table long enough for a beer pong tournament – the locals did not like the rookie Brit taking the title! We paid around $400 a night for the whole place.

The “overflow” non-dog dominated house slept 6 (2 bedrooms), was nicely furnished with a gas fire, had 2 bathrooms and an outdoor bbq. It was $130 a night for the house in January and was super quiet. This would be a great place to stay in summer with a family.

Cannon Beach

Cannon Beach is geographically stunning and the ambience relaxing. The town planning has been carefully managed to create a kind of charming chocolate box feel with pretty low rise wooden architecture which is in contrast to some of its seaside neighbour towns.

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The highlight for us was simply a walk along the beach on a sunny day. The views of the 235ft Haystack Rock were simply phenomenal as the water crashed around it creating a hazy, almost mysterious,  effect. The memory card on the camera was quickly filled up (see below). We were told the stack is accessible at low tide in the summer, but you need to be careful at high tide as your boots may get covered by the onrushing waves!

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The Pacific Ocean also offer visitors the chance to try their hand at surfing, although given the size of the 20ft winter waves it was something us novices chose not to chance!

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The town is also recognised as being one of the Northwest’s best art towns, and every June the town hosts a famous sand castle building contest.

Where to Eat

On our first night in Cannon Beach we ate at Lumberyard Bar and Grill. The wooden décor inside is visually impressive. The food was decent without being outstanding. The Northwest Fish Tacos were a tasty choice!

After our long 3 hour walk on the beach we stumbled upon the super friendly and homely Seasons Café where the staff served up some delicious eggs benedict with proper hash browns and unlimited coffee.

The Scenic Drive Home

Nursing the excesses of New Year and facing a 600km drive along the less than friendly Interstate, we decided to take the scenic route home along the coastal highway 101.

This involved crossing the spectacular Astoria – Medgar Bridge which is about 5km long and very windy, but has stunning views of the estuary and surrounding mountains.

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On our route north we also stopped off at Cape Disappointment State Park whose name is definitely ironic!

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After that followed 50km of scenic coastal driving along twisty highway roads where every corner was a photo opportunity. We eventually lost the scenery at Raymond (no need to stop) before heading up to Aberdeen (commercial). We did have one brief stop at a viewpoint just outside Aberdeen but the sound of hunters shooting left us running back to the car!

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Summary

A great road trip to a beautiful and relaxing beach town; Cannon Beach is definitely a great place to enjoy with friends and family all year round.

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Long Beach Lodge, Tofino

A relaxing beachside lodge overlooking Cox Bay was our accommodation of choice for a long weekend trip to Canada’s surfing capital, Tofino. A conservative 3 hour drive from the BC Ferries dock at Nanaimo, the Long Beach Lodge offers visitors a luxurious yet relaxed break surrounded by lush temperate rainforest on one side, and the vast Pacific Ocean on the other.

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Reasons to stay at Long Beach Lodge

– The view from the Great Room over Cox Bay at any time of the day is great, but during sunset it is spectacular, especially with an evening cocktail in hand!

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– The food served in the Great Room is excellent as evidenced by the 45 minute wait for a table with a reservation – the smoked albacore tuna & island scallops were sensational on the taste buds.

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– The newly built and bear proofed hot tub (apparently they like the smell of hot tub cover) is open to 11pm every night for all guests to enjoy. This was a welcome surprise usually reserved for ski resorts and was well needed after a day of getting worked by the Pacific Ocean waves!

– The Cox Bay beach front location makes access to the waves very easy and there is storage for your surf gear. Just remember though that you need the full wet suit and boots to go surfing as the water is a balmy 6 degrees (something to do with currents and proximity to Alaska we guess!)

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– The young staff are extremely friendly and helpful – nothing is too much trouble!

–  The resort has some magical cottages hidden in the trees which would be perfect for a family / group get away. Alternatively, you can stay in the spacious, relaxing and very comfortable Lodge rooms which have luxurious bathrooms.

–  The Great Room is a nice place to chill out on a comfy sofa with a drink and enjoy a good book.

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Things to watch out for:

– It’s not easy to rent surf gear from the Lodge unless you book a lesson with them. Your best bet is to head into town early (to avoid the weekend crowds) and rent from 6 hours to 3 days from establishments such as the Long Beach Surf Shop (630 Campbell Street)

– Watch out for rooms near the Great Room – Breakfast starts at 7.30am and so does the unwelcome wake up call of other guests moving in for their complimentary continental offering!

– It’s about 7km to get to Tofino – if heading out for dinner you will need to grab a cab or appoint a designated driver, walking back in the dark on the busy main road is not recommended!

– Not that you come to Tofino to watch TV, but don’t expect crystal clear pictures in your room…nothing to do with the quality of the machinery provided, probably more location of the Resort on the edge of the Pacific Ocean surrounded by mountains! We think Usain Bolt won the 100m at the London Olympics but it was a bit fuzzy!

– Grabbing a bite at lunch while in your wetsuit can be a bit tricky as there is no surf shack on Cox Bay Beach and the surf club café only serves coffee! Our solution was to order takeaway lunch from the Great Room which was a bit of a hassle but was achievable with the help of a friendly receptionist who delayed her trip home after her shift to make sure we got our fish and chips!

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Facts you may want to know before you arrive:

– A standard room was $299 before tax on the August Long weekend (Tofino is often noted as being the most expensive place to stay in Canada)

– 2 course dinner for 2 with a bottle of wine with tip and tax was $150

– A yummy continental breakfast is included with your stay but upgrading to a hot breakfast is $4 per item. Smoothies are $6 each

– A fish and chip lunch will set you back $26 including tax and tip

– Check in is at 4pm (we checked in at 1.30pm without issue), check out is 11am (we made it 11.30 given how comfy the bed is)

– Parking is free and fairly secure

– Surfing lessons cost $189 for 2.5 hours for 2. Wet suit and board rental is $39 per person (but only if you are having a lesson)

Insider Tip:

– If you’re a pro surfer ask Mike at the bar about his secret spot…..you’d better be good though, this place is for pros (unlike us)!!

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Useful links

Other Photos

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A Naked Sunset

Vancouver is a geographically stunning city where the coastal mountains of British Columbia meet the Pacific Ocean. The city is blessed with many beautiful natural sandy beaches which offer a great place to relax during the warmer summer months. One of the city’s most famous beaches (for reasons which will become clear as you read on) is Wreck Beach which is situated about 25 minutes’ drive from Downtown Vancouver on the University of British Columbia (UBC) peninsula.

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Situated on the headland where the giant UBC campus sprawls, this place has a reputation for being Vancouver’s only clothing is optional beach. The Wreck Beach Preservation Society has more information if you want to know a little more about the naked truth.

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Wreck Beach offers a great spot to watch the sunset given that it is the most westerly point in mainland Vancouver and has a spectacular backdrop provided by the mountains of Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast

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The beach offers some of the cleanest sea water to swim in around Vancouver given its distance from the ports and exposure to the currents / tides. Just be ready to brave a sea where the mercury reaches a maximum of 16 degrees in September!

The beach has a certain chilled and relaxed vibe, promoted by its liberal occupants!

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Watch Out for….

Finding the entrance to Wreck Beach can be a challenge given that it’s somewhere on the huge UBC campus and the beach itself is about 200m below the level of the road! For those of you who are bright enough to print out a map, it’s actually located at the bottom of trails 3, 4 or 6 just off NW Marine Drive.

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It can also be a challenge finding somewhere to park given the popularity of the spot on a warm’s summer’s evening. With all street parking taken we eventually stumbled upon a UBC car park which costs $6 for as long as you like after 5pm.

The next obstacle to our treasure hunt was to navigate the 300 (slight exaggeration but who’s counting when you’re gasping for air) steps down to the beach. Top tip, leave the cool box at home and bring a rucksack, you will appreciate it on the upward return leg especially if you’re heading home in the dark with lots of other sunset seekers!

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This beach has a reputation as a party place – this was confirmed when we observed 15 guys dressed in mankinis doing all sorts of circus tricks. As a result the 6 police officers walking in military formation checking cool boxes for illegal liquor was not unexpected.

The beach has a policy of optional clothing – try to stick to beach etiquette which is signposted as you enter the site!

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Facilities – there is a small food cart at the top of the steps, but nothing at the beach front 200m below.  As for the washroom, lets just hope you have had all your injections recently…these portaloos are NOT recommended under any circumstances!

Top tip

Don’t forget your camera to capture the spectacular sunset, but be careful what you snap!

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