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Must-See Sonoma County Itinerary

May 13, 2016 at 5:32 pm

Sonoma County is home to almost 60,000 acres of vineyards, and more than 450 wineries. The food-centric region boasts hundreds of restaurants, from historic roadhouses, to contemporary locavore pubs, to many Michelin-starred destinations. Like any great region, there are numerous natural landmarks here, as well, including historic state parks, and beautiful ranches dating back to the 1800s.

Adding to the pleasure, each geographical area within Sonoma County’s million-plus acres offers its own distinctive treasures, as diverse as coastal ocean cliffs to inland mountain ranges. Indeed, you could easily spend two or three days in each area, and only scratch the surface.

With so many wonderful choices, a first-time visit might seem overwhelming. But take a dip with our highlights guide, and discover a taste of the most celebrated experiences. Follow along as we explore the “must-sees” of Sonoma Valley, the town of Sonoma, and the Carneros area just south of it all.

Day 1

The birthplace of the California’s commercial wine industry in the 1850s, Sonoma Valley now covers more than 14,000 acres of vineyards, dotted with more than 50 wineries and tasting rooms. Rich with bucolic farms and some 13,000 acres of open parkland, Sonoma Valley also boasts some of the County’s best outdoor recreational activities.

So prime yourself for a busy day with a hearty breakfast at El Molino Central. It doesn’t look like much from the outside of its small white stucco frame, but inside, there are organic heirloom corn kernels being painstakingly hand-ground on a stone wheel for tortillas and tamales. Dig into the mouthwatering chilaquiles topped in soft-scrambled Field of Greens eggs, roasted tomato and Alma’s salsa verde, and be sure to add a side of refried Rancho Gordo heritage beans.

El Molino Central

El Molino Central

Other options:

  • Community Café, a Mad Men-like retro diner with modern dishes like Truffled Eggs & Toast, a sumptuous soufflé of thick-sliced toasted English muffin stuffed with egg yolks, draped in fontina cheese, broiled, then smothered in sautéed wild mushrooms, asparagus and a drizzle of truffle oil.
  • Sunflower Caffe Espresso & Wine Bar, where the specialty is sweet or spicy chai latte “dirty” style, with a shot of espresso added (great with the Peruvian spiced chicken omelet with cilantro lime cream, sweet-spicy aji chile crema and black bean chili).

A visit to Buena Vista Winery is next, to see the oldest commercial winery in California.  Founded in 1857, it’s complete with caves that are now historical landmarks. The buildings and cave have recently been renovated for modern safety measures, but remain elegantly dark and mysterious, with a new attraction: an interactive museum of ancient winemaking tools.

Buena Vista Winery

Buena Vista Winery

Now head to the 400-acre Bartholomew Memorial Park just over the hillside, which is also home to Bartholomew Park Winery. The on-site museum shares the long history of Sonoma winemaking, including a display of primitive agricultural tools used since the park’s original villa was built in 1861.

Other options:

You’re ready to catch your breath for a few minutes, so dig your toes into the grass beneath the shade trees in the eight-acre Sonoma Plaza (the largest such plaza in California). When you’re ready to get up, lunch is just steps away, at the famous The Girl & the Fig. The French-country restaurant has built its reputation on stellar, seasonal plates like duck egg ravioli with spring mushrooms, onion crema, green garlic, spring peas and baby carrots sprinkled in smoked paprika.

The Girl and the Fig

The Girl and the Fig

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The Plaza is great for shopping in the many boutiques, art galleries and gourmet food stores lining its sidewalks. You’ll also want to tour the National Historic Landmark adobe buildings right along the walkway, designed in 1834 by the Mexican Governor Mariano Vallejo. Stop, too, at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, designated as the largest visual arts organization in the San Francisco North Bay region.

Sonoma Valley Museum of Art

Sonoma Valley Museum of Art

That evening, stay at El Dorado, a 27-room luxury boutique hotel dating to the 1840s but completely modernized and charming with four poster beds and French doors leading to private balconies overlooking the Plaza and gardens.

El Dorado Hotel

El Dorado Hotel

Other options:

For dinner, the AAA Four Diamond Award Santé  restaurant at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa is a worthy, and most memorable indulgence in upscale California cuisine. Treat yourself to the 7-course chef’s tasting menu including amuse and cheese plate — sweet butter poached lobster is an entree signature. Sip, too, since the wine list features more than 500 Sonoma and Napa wines.

Day 2

Carneros spans 8,000 vineyard acres with more than 20 wineries, tucked atop San Pablos Bay just south of the town of Sonoma. There’s lots to see, so fuel yourself with a big breakfast at The Fremont Diner, where chef-owner Chad Harris fills our bellies with Sunset magazine award-winning comfort food like fried chicken and waffles, fried fruit pie, chicory coffee, fluffy biscuits and creamy gravy.

Schug Carneros Estate Winery is another nearby treasure, internationally renowned for its Pinot Noirs. The place is classic, set on a hillside of vineyards bordered by rose bushes, a German chalet-style winery, and stone caves lined with wine barrels.

Zip over to another icon, Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards, to toast your adventures with the signature sparkling wine at just around the Hwy. 121 bend. Established nearly 30 years ago, this winery was the first sparkling wine house in the Carneros area, though you’ll learn on your entertaining, educational tour through the caves and vista terrace that the Ferrer family has been making sparkling wines for more than 150 years.

Gloria Ferrer

Gloria Ferrer

Other options:

In December of 2013, St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in Santa Rosa was named the No. 1 restaurant in all of America, courtesy of Open Table. So what better place for a star-studded lunch, featuring a six-course tasting menu prepared by executive chef David Bush paired with wines from St. Francis’ artisan collection? You might have bouillabaisse of fresh fish and shellfish, fingerling potatoes, fennel fronds and grilled crostini topped in rouille with a glass Cabernet Franc, for example, plus grilled bavette of beef with Bloomsdale spinach in sesame-miso vinaigrette, baby turnips, garlic chips and truffled ponzu alongside a glass of Merlot.

Other options:

  • Madrone Vineyards Estate, originally built in 1887, but recently remodeled with a new small bites pairing
  • Hamel Family Wines with breathtaking glass and wood architecture; try the Reserve Experience with a cheese-charcuterie board and small bites

Soak up even more beauty at Jack London Historic State Park just minutes away, which the renowned 19th Century author himself called “Beauty Ranch.” You can easily spend at least three hours here, strolling around the House of Happy Walls museum, London’s famous writing cottage, the Wolf House ruins, the delightful and innovative Pig Palace, barns, the lake and bathhouse. Hikers and horseback riders share the 26-mile trails, too, marked by a 2,000 year-old redwood tree.

Other options:

All this exercise means you can reward yourself with an extra fine dinner, and there is little finer than Glen Ellen Star, where former French Laundry talent Ari Weiswasser draws crowds nightly for his award-winning California-Mediterranean cuisine. The menu changes frequently with the seasons, but always celebrates a fire-fed wood oven for favorites like wood roasted heirloom baby carrots smoothed in Oaxacan mole and topped in sesame seed brittle; and wood oven roasted lamb meatballs atop couscous, red charmoula and preserved lemon. Save room for a sweet finish of homemade salted peanut butter ice cream.

Glen Ellen Star

Glen Ellen Star

Other options:

Need more information, please visit sonomacounty.com.

If you need help in planning your getaway, check out our Napa and Sonoma Valley vacation package.

Carey Sweet is a food, wine and travel journalist based in Sonoma County. You can read her work in the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Time Inc. publications, airline travel magazines, Gannett newspapers and numerous travel magazines and websites. Follow her on careysweet.com.

Montreal & Quebec City: Romance at its Best

May 5, 2016 at 6:46 pm

Before visiting Montreal for the first time, my enthusiastic friends gave me a list of things to do while trotting about in the Canadian city.  The common thread among them was to consume a Montreal smoked meat sandwich.  When my foodie friend Jane insisted, I stared at her blankly and asked,  “Why?” 

“Montreal has the best smoked meats anywhere. So juicy and tender. You have to try it, and you have to go to Schwartz’s!”  she stressed. 

“Yes, you HAVE to go to Schwartz’s,” added Susan, another cohort who was sitting with us during on of our semi-regular lunches.  “Don’t come back until you do.”

I noted it on my three-day itinerary.  My husband Frank and I had managed to squeeze in some vacation time since the kids were in college, and we decided to visit to Montreal, Quebec in the winter.  Okay, not the best season as it was facing one of its worst blizzards in years, but once we set about exploring, we realized this city was irresistibly romantic.  As snowflakes piled in pyramids on the rooftops of Victorian houses and bronze monuments, we squealed at the delightful, serendipitous scenes. On top of that, we found much to conquer in spite of the weather. And if we came in the summer, I know that we would have a different experience given that Montreal’s surname is the “city of festivals.” In fact, next time I intend to arch my neck at the exploding smiley faces in the night sky during the fireworks festival, an international extravaganza that takes place in June and July.

Montreal, dating back to 1642 as a French colony, is diced into distinct neighborhoods, each wonderful for walking, or in my case, trudging through the snow.  Probably the most frequented is Old Montreal, previously the town epicenter with iconic churches, colonial mansions, and government institutions.

Old Montreal

Old Montreal

Meandering past Victorian street lamps on narrow cobbled pathways, we would duck in and out of minute clothing stores, toy boutiques, and cafes.  On warmer days, I’m told, couples can take a horse-drawn carriage ride and go in style through the streets. 

Given that it was 20 degrees below zero, we were thrilled to find out about the Underground City otherwise known as RE′SO (short for the French word reseau meaning network).  Go anywhere downtown, and you will spy a sign and a set of escalators taking you below to a hidden world where everyday life resumes. No one thinks it is weird to go to the post office or do banking underground in Montreal.  After we entered and removed our caps, mittens, and scarves, we understood why this was built. It’s just too cold in the winter, and Montreal’s citizens need a break from the frosty chill. The wind can certainly feel like it cuts through your body! 

Busy Montreal Street

Busy Montreal Street

The world’s largest underground network, RE´SO is an engineering feat of 20 miles of tunnels linking apartments, shopping malls, hotels, banks, universities and museums. Some parts take you above ground for fresh air and then back down again.

Another indoor attraction is the Biosphere, a hands-on science center fun for kids and jaw dropping for adults. The dome features four ecosystems and is operated by the Montreal Nature Museum. For those who cannot get enough of nature and education, you can go to the Montreal Insectarium, botanical garden, and planetarium.

Anyone who has visited Montreal will tell you it has an incredible dining scene, and restaurants from every country can be found throughout the city. You can eat for a few dollars or drop several hundred. It is not hard to find a candlelit restaurant with mouth watering entrees, excellent service, and warm atmosphere. Be sure to taste ice wine, the region’s specialty. 

For more amour, if you can stand it, head to the Port of Montreal, based on the St. Lawrence River. This major port is where over 2,000 ships pass annually.  Watch the cruise ships come in to dock or take a sunset boat ride. 

Yes, and I did promise Jane and Susan I would partake in a Montreal smoked meat sandwich at Schwartz’s Deli, Canada’s oldest delicatessen, opened in 1928. We found the original, humble small deli counter with non-descript tables and chairs in an unassuming block of town. The original smoked meat sandwich is actually beef brisket piled high (about six inches) between two slices of white bread.  In fact there is so much meat that the top slice of bread tends to teeter. It was moist and flavorful as Jane has reported, and I could barely fit it into my mouth.     

But no one told me that Montreal would have so much to offer in terms of lodging. In Montreal, nesting havens for the romantic are plentiful. Victorian bed and breakfast inns will charm your earmuffs off.  One historic stone bank has been turned into a hotel.  You can also stay in a modern high rise hotel with views of the St. Lawrence River. 

And speaking of views, you can visit the Montreal Olympic Stadium and zip up to the tower observatory for a city panorama.  If I can give a thumbs up to this city during one of the worst blizzards of the decade, I know that you will thrill to Montreal even more in the spring, summer, and fall. 

Quebec City: Seven Most Romantic Spots

If you are in Quebec as a couple, you have come to the perfect place to commemorate lasting love.

Lovely Quebec

Lovely Quebec

More French than most Canadian cities, there is plenty of French ambiance, architecture, and French language lingering in the atmosphere to make you feel as though you are in Europe.   I’ve selected seven romantic spots where you can propose, renew your vows, kiss, or hold hands.    

1) The Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac: In my opinion, this is Quebec’s most famous and most beautiful landmark, and it is so large it dominates the city with its castle spires. Early construction began in 1899, and after several additions and renovations, it has maintained its Old World feel and European elegance. With 611 guestrooms and suites, this is THE hotel to book for an unforgettable visit within the walls of Old Quebec. 

2) St. Lawrence River: This epic waterway includes several great lakes and touches a variety of Canadian cities.  Here in Quebec, the river is popular for a day cruise or an overnight ride lasting several days.    

3) The Hotel de Glace Ice Hotel: Stay the night or take a daytime tour in the winter. This is the only ice hotel in North America, and if you want bragging rights, be sure to reserve one of its  44 hotel rooms literally made and carved from ice months in advance. Also on the property is an actual ice cathedral – a cool place to get hitched or have a recommitment ceremony.  I came here once and spent the evening although I couldn’t sleep. More than five years later, my friends still remember my stories!

4) Old Quebec: Come to the fortified, historic part of town to buy a special souvenir to commemorate your stay. A print from one of the local galleries or a piece of handmade jewelry will mean a lot in years to come.  Aside from shopping, quaint outdoor dining can be found along the Rue du Petit Champlain: breakfast croissant, anyone?

Old Quebec City

Old Quebec City

5) Choco-Musee (Chocolate Museum) and Creative Chocolate Shop: Located downtown, you will find that even though it is small, it is the most frequented and aromatic museum in town. You can learn to make chocolate candy or enjoy watching the process. It is a free destination which also features a chocolate retail store. Remember, chocolate is the food of love!

6) Promenade Samuel-De-Champlain:  Picnic, stroll, or bike together following the banks of the St. Lawrence River.  This is a 2.5 KM promenade, and you can take as much or as little time as you want taking in natural views. 

7) Montmorency Falls Park: The sight of this major waterfall will take your breath away.  The falls are 275 feet high and 150 feet wide, and along with the thunderous gushing, this spectacle proves to be the Number One drama in town.  You can board an aerial tram or cross a suspension bridge for a close-up view. In the summer, the annual fireworks show utilizes the falls as its backdrop And in the winter, sections of the waters freeze, creating interesting icicles and formations. 

Want romance? Get to Quebec!

Quebec Evening

Quebec Evening

If you are interested in visiting Montreal and Quebec, check out  our Montreal & Quebec Vacation package and start planning your next vacation!

Kathy Chin Leong is a world traveler and also editor of www.bayareafamilytravel.com, a website for families who love adventure.

Sonoma County: A Guide to the Perfect Family Friendly Vacation

April 27, 2016 at 5:18 pm

The secret to a successful family vacation, as any parent knows, is variety. Balancing things the kids want to do, with adventures that will keep mom and dad loving life, is that sometimes elusive charm. It’s a truth no matter what thrilling part of the globe you’re tripping.

In Sonoma County, with more than a million acres to explore, there’s something to engage everyone from the tiniest traveler, to picky teenagers, to world-traveled adults looking forward to indulging in authentic Wine Country.

Here, landscapes brim in gorgeous diversity, with sandy beaches and rugged ocean cliff hiking trails beckoning, alongside grassy meadows tempting for picnics, lakes and ponds promising boating and fishing, and mountain trails perfect for hiking as they soar to scenic peaks amid lush forests.

In the many tiny towns anchored by relatively large city of Santa Rosa (172,000 pop.), there’s plenty for families to do indoors, as well, like ice skating year-round, visiting world class art galleries, and playing state-of-the-art arcades.

Certainly you could spend a week or more in Sonoma County and just scratch the surface of its many joys. But even a two-day getaway comes packed with delights the whole family can enjoy – all together!

Day 1

Fly into Sonoma County Airport (STS), right in the heart of the Santa Rosa vineyard region, and convenient as a connection from major hubs like Los Angeles, Seattle and Las Vegas.

Other options:

Head first to the storybook town of Occidental, and check into the Inn at Occidental, a cozy, 28 room retreat nestled at the base of a beautiful redwood forested hillside that’s perfect for letting kids burn off steam with Mother Nature. Theme rooms are fun, like the Safari suite boasting a giraffe mural. There’s a seasonal swimming pool, and you’re just steps from the Village’s restaurants, Friday Night Farmers Market, Performing Arts Center, and eclectic shops like Mad Hatter Toys, or Hand Goods, offering a fine selections of locally-crafted works such as pottery, hand knits and jewelry.

Inn occidental safari room

Inn at Occidental Safari Room

Other options:

After a morning touring the village, enjoy lunch at the Union Hotel, founded as a railroad saloon and boarding house in 1879, and now home to a lovely Italian café, bakery and pizzeria. Run by the property’s owners since 1925, the café is pure charm, from the red-checkered tablecloth tables set with candles dripping over Chianti bottles, portraits of the original owners on the walls, and whimsical touches like a jukebox. Favorites include chicken Parm, grilled rib eye with mushrooms, Margherita pizza, a mouthwatering spaghetti/ravioli combo smothered in Bolognese, and an appealing kids menu.

Other options:

Next, amble over to Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in nearby Guerneville. This 805-acre oasis is a quiet place for a leisurely stroll among towering coast redwood trees. As huge as the park is, it’s easy to navigate, over the mostly flat, mile-and-a-half long round trip Pioneer Nature Trail. Some of the most pop­u­lar trees include the Ici­cle Tree, with its mys­te­ri­ous “burl” for­ma­tions, the Colonel Arm­strong Tree, esti­mated to be over 1,400 years old, and the Par­son Jones Tree, towering to 350 feet (that’s taller than a football field is long).

armstrong woods

Armstrong Woods

Other options:

Downtown Guerneville offers plenty of amusement for everyone, as well, browsing eclectic toy stores, vintage shops and art galleries, and a romp at Johnson’s Beach, just beneath Guerneville’s entryway bridge. Here, you can lounge on the spotlessly clean river sandbar with rentable umbrellas and beach chairs, or on the water, meandering its gentle currents with by-the-hour canoes, kayaks and pedal boats.

Other options:

For dinner, Three Alarm Grill on Main Street satisfies everyone with its tasty prime rib specials, chicken pot pie, and the River Dog, an all beef Vienna hot dog wrapped in bacon, with BBQ sauce and fries.

Other options:

Finally, after the kids are tucked in at the hotel, mom and dad can head to Barley and Hops Tavern, to sip local craft beers, nibble on big, warm German pretzels dunked in spicy mustard, and groove to live music on weekends.

barley hops

Barley and Hops Tavern

Day 2:

Welcome morning with a delicious breakfast at Howards Station Café, a quaint Victorian home-turned-restaurant complete with a dine-in porch. The menu is expansive, ranging from corned beef hash and homemade biscuits, to smoked salmon Florentine omelets, crab Benedict, and even tofu rancheros with soy cheese.

Howard's Station Cafe

Howard’s Station Cafe

Other options:

Fueled up, it’s time to zip over nearby Sonoma Canopy Tours, for zip-lining. The course wings you up to 25 miles per hour through an Occidental redwood forest, over a ravine 300-feet below, and along a creek. Part of the fun is just getting to the jump canopies, since eleven different platforms test your clambering skills, too, daring you to scale a skinny spiral staircase 30 feet up, and wobble across a 175-foot-long sky bridge.

Zip lining!

Zip lining!

Other options:

Next, channel everyone’s energy  to Scandia Family Fun Center in Rohnert Park, near Santa Rosa. This is a kid’s fantasyland including two 18-hole miniature golf courses complete with tiny buildings, bridges, and waterways, 18 batting cages with slow pitch and fast pitch, bumper “blaster” boats equipped with water sprayers, a Lil’ Indy Raceway, and an indoor game arcade.

Scandia Family Fun Center

Scandia Family Fun Center

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amy's

Amy’s

 

 

 

By now, you’re hungry, so skip over to the new Amy’s Drive-Thru just up the street. It’s fast food with burgers, burritos and pizzas, but everything is purely vegetarian and made from scratch. You don’t even have to tell the kids – they won’t notice it’s not meat in the divine Amy’s Burger of two veggies-grains-mushrooms patties topped with double cheese, tomato, onion, Sonoma Brinery pickle, and Fred Sr.’s regular or spicy secret sauce all on a toasted bun.

Other options:

Scamper over to Petaluma now, for a complimentary (reservations, please) tour of Mrs. Grossman’s Sticker Factory, the oldest and largest sticker company in the United States. You can admire some of the millions of stickers getting printed, plus there’s a sticker museum, a gift shop, and a class where kids — young and old — can decorate postcards using the signature stickers.

Next, head into nearby Santa Rosa, for a tour of the Charles M. Schulz Museum. The entire family surely adores Peanuts, and this is a true museum celebrating the longtime former Santa Rosa resident cartoonist. Spanning 27,000 square feet of whimsy and art, including about 7,000 original cartoons, it’s the largest collection in the world. The Peanuts crew was often seen skating in popular strips, so in tribute, Snoopy’s Home Ice operates year-round just around the corner from the museum, too, with open public skating and skate rental daily.

Snoopy's Den

Snoopy’s Den

You’re ready to put up your feet for a bit by now, so check into your rooms at Flamingo Conference Resort & Spa in Santa Rosa. Newly remodeled luxury rooms attract modern guests for sleek fixtures in cozy palates of gold and cream, yet the property is still a beloved heritage destination for its stylish wood-trimmed rooms that once welcomed celebrities like Jayne Mansfield.

The low-slung style of dramatic stone and glass spans several wings of suites around a lavish pool and expansive gardens, now designated a Historic Landmark, and still 1950’s retro-chic marked by a

revolving, neon trimmed 50-foot tower capped with a spindly legged pink bird neon sign.

Flamingo Pool

Flamingo Pool

Bonus: all stays include a breakfast buffet and free wine tasting passes at a rainbow array of nearby wineries, while mom and dad will like the salsa dancing lessons in the ballroom, too.

Other options:

Finish for dinner at Flavor Bistro, located on Old Courthouse Square. This Cal-American bar and eatery is a see-and-be-seen destination for business folks, politicians, neighborhood regulars, and the occasional very lucky tourist who happens to discover a local (secret) treasure. Dinner is a particular jewel, starting with the extensive Sonoma-centric wine list, and luxurious entrées such as pan-roasted quail, center-cut short ribs, or roast duck in honey-balsamic reduction.

On Farmhouse Wednesdays, the kitchen sends out full, first-rate family style suppers with a glass of wine included, for a jaw dropping $18.95. That might mean chicken Parmigiana, creamy garlic potatoes, arugula pasta, winter veggies, sautéed spinach, Blue Lake beans, heirloom tomato soup, organic romaine salad in lemon-Romano dressing, warm stone oven bread with butter, and pear tart with Chantilly cream.

Other options:

As you’re ready to fly home, keep this in mind: Alaska Airlines invites you to check up to a case of wine for free when you depart from the Sonoma County (STS) / Santa Rosa Airport.

Need more information, please visit sonomacounty.com.

If you are looking for a vacation package, please check out our Napa and Sonoma Valley Package, and start planning your next getaway!

Carey Sweet is a food, wine and travel journalist based in Sonoma County. You can read her work in the San Francisco Chronicle, USA Today, Time Inc. publications, airline travel magazines, Gannett newspapers and numerous travel magazines and websites. Follow her on careysweet.com.

Toronto, Ontario and Niagara Falls: Two Ontario Cities Compared

April 22, 2016 at 7:08 pm

Next time you are in Ontario, be sure to say hello to Toronto and Niagara Falls. Just go to feel the vibe in these two opposite, but not opposing cities. While one is a busy metropolis touting culture and architecture, the other delivers on natural wonders stunning and powerful.

Toronto is the country’s largest city with over 2.6 million very busy Canadians. It operates as a financial nerve center as well as a cornerstone for filming movies, TV shows, and commercials.  Over the last few years, the city has grown into a hip destination with a food scene that rivals that of New York City.  It’s got a fantastic skyline of blocky high rises and buildings designed with unorthodox geometric shapes . Whereas the community of Niagara Falls is all about nature, you go to Toronto to dive into man-made treasures.

toronto Large

Be sure to visit the CN Tower,  the world’s second tallest at over 1,000 feet high, boasting clear glass floors, a 9,000-bottle wine cellar with Ontario wines,  an arcade, and a rotating restaurant. Note: CN stands for Canadian National and is designated as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

Those who hanker for an adrenaline rush should sign up for the Edgewalk and feel what it is like to be outside 116 stories above the ground. Yes, some folks think this is fun; others say it is crazy. During this excursion,  you are hooked to the CN Tower’s exterior and walk around on a platform for 30 minutes.

Dundas square

Dundas Square in the daytime

Feel more secure on the ground? Satisfy your shopping urges at the St. Lawrence Market to find over 100 vendors selling cheese, produce, meat, baked goods, and more.  It’s foodie eye candy at its best spread across three buildings.  Spend at least a couple hours meandering through the stalls. More than 200 years ago, the brick buildings served as a police station, a jail,  and then government offices.

St. LAW MKT TCVB

Photo of Toronto Tourism

Other must-sees in the area include the Royal Ontario Museum, the nation’s largest museum of natural history and world cultures.  The building itself with its geometric triangles and trapezoid architecture is worth the journey just to see it up close.  And folks cannot leave without paying homage to Casa Loma, an Edwardian castle built in the early 1900s.  Mysterious secret passageways, storied rooms, tunnels, blooming gardens brings out the imagination in everyone.

Photo of Toronto Tourism

Photo of Toronto Tourism

After all this hubbub and excitement, you are probably ready to dial it down, way down with a visit to Niagara Falls.  The city of Niagara Falls is much smaller with only a population of 82, 997.  It’s a cozy community covering only 82 square miles and is filled with hiking and walking trails. Bicycling is popular as well.

Popular neighborhoods include Lundy’s Lane, Fallsview Boulevard, and Clifton Hill.  Lundys Lane is dubbed as the town’s favorite ‘hood filled with more than 75 shops and boutiques and outlets, and more than 30 places for lodging. Kids will love Waves Waterpark.

The Fallsview Boulevard can be dizzying, I warn you.  This adult playground is populated with casinos and  posh restaurants. It’s billed as hip and happening, and you will get more than your fill of nightlife. Hotels include brand names such as Embassy Suites, Hilton, Holiday Inn and Wyndham Inn.

toronto evening

The Clifton Hill District is minutes away from the falls and offers a litany of restaurants, shops, and touristy attractions.  This entertainment district features the Rock Legends Wax Museum, a Ripley’s Believe it or Not,  and a variety of family-friendly eateries such as T.G.I Fridays. At night, the streets are lit in neon.

But it’s the actual Niagara Falls that lures millions of onlookers.  Estimated to be about 12,000 years old, it flows at 35 miles per hour and is so large it is split into two falls- one is the American Falls on the U.S. side, and the other is Canadian Horseshoe Falls along Ontario.  The Horseshoe Falls, 180 feet high, sees about six million cubic feet of water go over the edge every minute.

How to see it? Book a trip to Niagara on a cruise boat and get splashed by the famous overspray.  Or go during the night on an evening cruise where the waters are illuminated with colorful lights setting the stage for a romantic evening, weather permitting.  You can slice and dice the Niagara visit in so many different ways. Experience the Niagara by helicopter, private plane, or even jet boat.

Give yourself at least four days to a week to enjoy the pleasures of both Toronto and Niagara Falls.  The bookend cities will make your travel story complete.

If you are interested in visiting Toronto and Niagara Falls, check out our Toronto and Niagara Falls package and start planning your next vacation!

Kathy Chin Leong is an award-winning travel journalist who has trekked the world. As founder of www.bayareafamilytravel.com, she is passionate about helping people step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves to try new things and visit new places. Her work can be found in National Geographic Books, Sunset Magazine, and many others.