Suitcase and Heels - Solo female travel and style blog
Suitcase and Heels is a female travel & style blog featuring travel tips, deals, fashion, and photography from around the world. I want to inspire you to get out there and see the world whenever and however you can, push your own limits, and look good while doing it.
If you’ve ever stayed at any of the Library Hotel Collection’s properties you probably know what I’m going to rave about after my recent stay at the Casablanca Hotel in Manhattan. The service! After staying at the Library Hotel and the Hotel Elysees I should’ve been prepared for the top notch service but I was still taken aback when I arrived around 10:30am and was offered breakfast while I waited for my room to be ready. Stellar.
I knew I was too early to properly check in but I just wanted to drop my bags and grab a bite to eat nearby before heading to Yankee Stadium to see my Blue Jays take on the Yankees. Instead, I got to take advantage of the continental breakfast in Rick’s Cafe and fuel myself up with fruit, yogurt, a bagel, and coffee before the ballgame.
These lounges are one of the things that set the Library Hotel Collection’s properties apart. At the Casablanca, breakfast is served daily, and you can even bring a friend to join you, compliments of the hotel. Very thoughtful. And if you get a craving any other time of day you can help yourself to tea, coffee, and some sweet snacks 24/7. There’s even a nightly wine & cheese reception from 5pm-8pm. And again, you can bring a guest to join you. You’re not getting that at an AirBnB are you?
While I was enjoying my pre-check-in breakfast I witnessed a group of guests leaving and they’d had such a wonderful stay that they sought out the staff to thank them, say goodbye, and give them hugs. I saw a similar scene play out the next day as well. If you want a memorable stay in New York, you need to look up the Casablanca Hotel.
I love how the hotel very obviously has a theme but doesn’t go overboard. There are hints and nods to Morocco, like dark wood shutters and beautiful tilework, but they never hit you over the head with it. Everything is very tastefully designed.
And can we talk about the rooms for a hot second? After pounding the streets of New York all day I loved coming back to my room and changing into a robe and slippers and sinking into that uber comfortable bed. I seriously had the best sleep that night. Another thoughtful touch were the complimentary bottles of water. Very much appreciated after walking 12km around the city.
The Casablanca Hotel is located right in the heart of Times Square which may give return visitors a reason to hesitate – I’m not a lover of Times Square – but the location actually turned out to be great. So close for Broadway shows, lots of subway lines nearby, and surprisingly, the rooms were super quiet so a parade could’ve been going by and it wouldn’t have woke me. So different from my very first visit to New York a decade ago when it took me a few days to get used to the constant traffic noise even with my hotel room windows closed. The silence at the Casablanca was blissful. But if you need a little extra help getting to sleep they have a whole menu of options like ear plugs, white noise machines, and extra foam toppers you can use. They do everything but come in and sing you lullabies to ensure you get a good night’s sleep.
So if you want to stay in the heart of the action but still sleep like a baby and feel completely taken care of and pampered, you need to book yourself in to the Casablanca Hotel. You won’t be disappointed.
Note: I stayed at the Casablanca Hotel while I was in New York as part of their Writers-In-Residence program. They didn’t ask that I write a favourable review or that I get ridiculously excited about slippers.
New York is a city of neighbourhoods. Each pocket of the city has its own identity, culture, and inevitably, unique food. One of the best ways to get to know a culture is to get to know their food and one of the best ways to get to know the food when you’re travelling is to take a food tour. New York has so many identities and cultures that it’s pretty impossible to take a generic New York food tour so you need to focus on the neighbourhoods. On my recent quick visit to the Big Apple I focussed on Little Italy and Chinatown with Ahoy NY Tours & Tasting.
It was the perfect re-introduction to New York after two years away. The three hour tour started at 10:30am at a restaurant a 10 minute walk from my AirBnB room in the Lower East Side. I loved that I didn’t have to wake up super early and could enjoy the morning sunshine on my walk…except I got my address wrong and walked two blocks in the wrong direction and then had to hustle. Oops.
I met up with Mike, our friendly and capable guide who’d lead us through the streets of Chinatown and Little Italy with aplomb, despite having a broken toe. A real trooper that Mike. The rest of our group was just as plucky. Ahoy limits tours to 12 people so you don’t have to worry about getting lost or not being able to hear the stories. One of the things I love about doing group tours as a solo traveller is the chance to meet new people and share stories.
The tour started off in just about the best way: cannoli in a fifth generation Italian family-owned bakery. We followed that up with mozzarella balls wrapped in prosciutto from the oldest cheese store in America, now partly owned by one Tony Danza. They make 4,000 pounds of fresh mozzarella each day and what they don’t sell gets turned into all kinds of great next-day treats like smoked mozzarella, mozza sticks, and scamorza. The smell in the shop alone will make you want to open your wallet. This is the real Little Italy and I love it.
We next popped next door for gnocchi with a tomato sauce so delicious and sweet you’d swear there was sugar in it but it’s just the pure flavour of the tomatoes. We learned all about how the concept of “Italian food” is a relatively new one as Italy did not become a unified country until 1861. Before that it was a collection of regional ingredients and dishes. When many immigrants came to New York they held strongly to those regional ties to build their new community but slowly they came together to make a new community. And just like that northern gnocchi paired with a southern tomato, the result is more than the sum of its parts.
These history snippets are another one of the things I love about doing group tours. It’s one thing to grab a slice of delicious pizza in New York but you have more of an appreciation for it when you learn about the history of the neighbourhood you’re eating it in and even the history of the food itself. The Ahoy food tour made sure that I not only left with a belly full of food but a head full of knowledge.
We made another stop in Little Italy sampling cheese and olives before circling back near our starting point for a pizza tasting. And by tasting I really mean feast. Our group of 12 was served six brick oven cooked, thin crust pies! Despite their deliciousness, we just couldn’t finish them all, but we made a valiant effort.
Our pizza hunger satisfied we changed gears and headed off to Chinatown. After giving us the gruesome history of Doyers Street, the deadliest street in American history, Mike left us on The Bloody Angle while he went to get us treats from the popular dim sum restaurant on the street. Doyers Street is one of the few bendy streets in Manhattan. In fact, the short 200m street bends at almost a 90-degree angle and this geographical feature has made it a key part of New York gang history. Gang members could wait on one side and then attack their unsuspecting victims as they turned the corner, disappearing into underground tunnels attached to buildings on the street, leaving no trace.
In the shadow of this history we sampled egg rolls that give meaning to the word ‘extra’. I’m not sure I’d ever had an egg roll with actual egg in it before. We also got to try dumplings in a park, stopped to listen to some amateur musicians serenade us with traditional Chinese tunes, and spotted the cherry blossoms. For a hot second you could almost think you were in China. Mike dropped more history knowledge on us and we finished our tour with the divisive, but my personal fave find, sesame rice balls with a red bean paste filling.
I can’t think of a better way to spend three hours on a sunny spring morning than with a congenial group of strangers getting to know two of New York’s famous neighbourhoods through their food.
If you find yourself in New York be sure to look up Ahoy NY Tours and get yourself one of those delicious rice balls.
While I consider myself very familiar with the Baccalieu Trail in Newfoundland, I was shocked to discovered that I’d somehow not known about the existence of a jewel of a B&B in Harbour Grace. So when the Rose Manor Inn invited me to come stay and see what they were all about I had to take them up on it.
Rose Manor Inn is a 4.5 star, five room luxury inn that knows how to turn on the charm. It’s a cozy but stately property that’s well situated for exploring the Baccalieu Trail from tip to tail. The charming oceanside home will make your perfect vacation getaway. And you couldn’t ask for more hospitable hosts. Erika made sure that my every need and comfort was taken care of from the moment I checked in until she waved me goodbye at the end of the weekend. Before long, you start to feel like a long lost friend instead of a guest.
Whether you need a room with two beds, you love to sprawl out on a king, or if you’re celebrating a special occasion with a splurge, there’s a room for you at the Rose Manor Inn. I was treated to a stay in their Rose Suite, which is one of the nicest rooms in all of Newfoundland. Stepping across the threshold of the suite feels like stepping into the pages of a historical romance novel. It’s really a shame that I seem to be forever single. One of the first things I noticed were the high ceilings and the super high bed. The king bed was so extra I almost needed a step stool (which they have) to climb into it. I also loved the bay window overlooking the bay. Made a great place to do a little work in the evening. And you can never go wrong with a chandelier when you want to feel decadent. The Rose Suite had multiple. In fact, there were so many different kinds of lighting in the room that I needed a little tutorial to learn where all the switches were. Whatever your mood, there was a light for it.
My sleep was wonderful but because I’m predictable I’m going to say that my favourite feature of the whole room was the soaker jet tub. I love baths but my tub at home is on the smaller, more shallow side of standard so it’s hard to have a satisfying soak at home. Which is why I love staying in hotels with soaker tubs. I made sure I was back each night in time to pour myself a G&T with some Newfoundland Distillery gin I picked up on the way to Harbour Grace and make good use of the bath bombs I got in my Christmas stocking. Seriously, my tub at home isn’t bath bomb worthy. The tub in the Rose Suite most surely is.
But there’s more going on at the Rose Manor Inn than their fantastic rooms. They also host a range of different social events and cultural experiences. You can take part in an authentic boil-up on the beach with a Screech In, spend a weekend foraging and learning about holistic health and local folklore, or even spend a day immersed in local pirate lore and legend.
One of their popular events are Saturday night murder mystery dinner parties. Guests get to dress up and act out characters, trying to solve a murder, all while enjoying a three course gourmet meal cooked by Chef Tanner. During my stay we had a 20s themed party and while I managed to pull together a passable costume from items in my closet, the other guests really went all out. Impressive. Everyone was assigned a character and given updated sets of notes as the night progressed. From drinks and introductions to entrees with a side of murder, it was a hoot. Leave your inhibitions at the door and let your fun side out to get the most from the evening. The toughest thing everyone found was trying to stay in character the whole time. We had such a great group we just wanted to chat! It was a really fun way to spend an evening.
Photo: Rose Manor Inn
The next day was Easter Sunday and I was treated to Rose Manor’s famous Victorian high tea. I got dressed up in my Easter best to join the others in the dining room for my first high tea experience. It did not disappoint. Erika did a tea tasting menu so we got to sample a half dozen of the dozens of different kinds of tea on hand at the inn. She even sent me off at the end of my stay with a little sample of my favourite from that day, the blueberry tea. There were stuffed mushroom caps and finger sandwiches, scones and cupcakes, cookies and squares, and even a duff: a traditional Newfoundland boiled dessert that Chef Tanner is really making his own. Pro tip: arrive with an appetite.
On the morning that I left I’d forgotten to tell anyone what time I’d be down for breakfast and I was getting short on time but they still managed to pull together a delicious breakfast of fresh scones, cream, berries and coffee in no time at all so that I could get on the road. The scones alone are worth a stay.
Whether you’re visiting the province and exploring the Baccalieu Trail or you’re looking for a more local staycation you’ll be doing yourself a favour by booking a room at the Rose Manor Inn. Come for the soaker tub, stay for the scones.
Imagine, packing just 6 things and having over 15 outfits at your fingertips. That would be the ultimate for travelling light right? It’s not just wishful thinking though. With Vacay’s collections plus one or two essential items from your closet you can make it a reality.
So many travel dresses claim to give you a dozen outfits with one piece but all it really ends up being is different ways to tie the straps so one outfit looks almost the same as the next. It makes me skeptical. Vacay follows through on their promises though by focusing on mix ‘n match pieces rather than trying to find a million ways to wear one thing.
All of their jumpsuits, rompers, and dresses are actually two pieces that can be worn together, apart with a basic like white pants or a tank, or mixed with each other. I recently got the chance to try out their romper while in Costa Rica to see how it would fit in to my vacation wardrobe.
I picked out the black & white Gold Coast 2-piece romper and went on the site to figure out what size to order. The size guide said that their large is equivalent to a US 12/14. It’s also the largest size they offer. Since I’m a US 10/12 I figure this was a safe bet. When my package arrived I eagerly tore into it, pulled out the pieces, looked at the shorts and thought, “Huh. This looks…small…and short.”
I immediately tried it on and let’s just say it was a bit of a struggle. Once up over my bottom, the shorts looked alright and weren’t quite booty shorts like I’d feared with their 2.5” inseam, but there wasn’t any leeway for an extra taco at dinner either. The fabric doesn’t have any stretch so it was a bit of a tight fit over my chest as well (for reference I wear a 36D bra so not everyone will have this issue). If you’re a US size 14 or larger, I’d say put your wallet away unless they come out with larger sizes.
My only other issue was the fabric itself. Both the lining and outer fabric are 100% polyester so it was sweat city in Costa Rica’s humid 30C climate. If I were travelling somewhere a bit cooler or drier, this wouldn’t be an issue. On the flip side, the romper was very packable and didn’t wrinkle. Important when you pack with compression cubes like I do. It was also quick to dry after being hand-washed.
Not every item is made with the same fabric so these are very outfit-specific comments. I can’t speak to how the other pieces might fit. You can check the fabric on their website before you buy.
If this romper had been made with a breathable fabric with some stretch it would’ve made all the difference in the world. Ok, and my 30-something self would like the shorts to be another inch longer.
I love Vacay’s collection approach to their clothes. They specifically design pieces that will work together. Pick a collection and their website will suggest a couple of basics you should include from your own wardrobe and then show you all of the outfit possibilities. Packing made simple. The approach is a good one: pick one colour pallet, include mostly solids, and throw in a pattern to liven things up. This approach also simplifies your shoe and jewellry packing since you just have the one colour pallet to contend with.
Bonus: you also get a nice discount if you purchase an entire collection at once rather than individual pieces. It completely takes the guesswork out of putting together a travel capsule wardrobe.
Do you look for mix ‘n match clothing when you travel? What are your packing hacks to get the most out of your wardrobe?
Santa Teresa, Costa Rica is mainly known for one thing: surfing. But what if you’re not into surfing? Should you still visit? Will you be bored? While I’ve taken a couple surfing lessons in the past, and I thought I’d take another while in Costa Rica, it turns out I just wasn’t in the mood to spend a day getting bruised and inhaling salt water so I skipped the main attraction. So if you don’t surf should you still consider visiting this off the beaten path town on the Nicoya Peninsula? Sure! There’s still plenty of cool things to do in Santa Teresa that aren’t surfing.
If you’re not in Santa Teresa to surf, you’re probably there for yoga. There are a number of yoga retreat centers and a handful of places where you can do drop in classes. I enjoyed the sunrise and sunset yoga classes on the beach offered through Selina.
If you’re looking for a unique yoga experience, try aerial yoga, also known as anti-gravity yoga. It’s a mixture of yoga, pilates, and some dance while being suspended in a cloth hammock. It’s a really great way to get some inversions in if you can’t do a full headstand. Again, you can do this through Selina.
Zip Line/Canopy Tour
If you didn’t do a zip line in Costa Rica, were you really even there? Like just about every town in the country, Santa Teresa has it’s own zip line option. However, Canopy Mal Pais has something the others don’t… a surfboard zip line. ;)
Selina also offers a beginner’s class in aerial silks in case you want to live out your dream to run away and join the circus. You’ll learn some basic acrobatic skills while using a long piece of fabric to hold you up in the air.
Stand up paddleboarding has been gaining popularity in years and as a result there are no shortage of places in Santa Teresa to rent a paddleboard, take a lesson, or go on a tour. You can paddle out in the ocean or even do some river paddling for a calm, wave-free experience. If you’re feeling adventurous you can even learn to ride waves on your paddle board. Blue Surf Sanctuary offers a wide range of different SUP tours and lessons.
Costa Rica is choc-a-bloc full of waterfalls and, lucky you, some of the best are near Santa Teresa. The most famous set is the Montezuma waterfalls. The best way to see them is to pack a lunch, rent an ATV, and take yourself on an adventure.
Snorkeling day trip to Tortuga Island
One of the best things I did in Santa Teresa was to book a day trip to go snorkeling at Isla Tortuga. Your day trip includes transportation from Santa Teresa to Montezuma where you’ll hop on a speed boat headed to Isla Tortuga. You’ll snorkel at two different spots and then enjoy beach time on the island with a full lunch. Pretty stellar way to spend a day. I did my trip with Cocozuma Tours.
From Playa Santa Teresa to Mal Pais there are miles of beach to walk. I absolutely love just strolling along the shoreline, dipping my toes in the sand and surf, and letting my mind wander as stress rolls away. If you want a relaxed activity in Santa Teresa, take yourself for a beach walk.
You could watch the sunset in Santa Teresa sitting on the beach or you could watch it from horseback as you amble along the shore towards Malpas. I just love doing horseback tours when I travel to new places and this was one of the best I’ve done. I did a sunset ride with Ollie’s Adventures.
Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve
Another great day trip out of Santa Teresa is the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve. This was Costa Rica’s first national park and remains a jewel of the Nicoya Peninsula. The park is open Wednesday-Sunday and for $10 you can explore two hiking trails. If you move quietly you just may spot coatis, monkeys, anteaters, and maybe even a wild cat.
“I’m probably the biggest woman staying at this hostel. Probably the oldest too. And no doubt I’m the least cool person here.”
It didn’t take long after arriving at Selina Santa Teresa for me to develop a bit of a body image complex. It seemed like every girl had flat abs and perky bottoms and endless confidence as they lounged around the pool in their itty bitty bikinis. The guys were just as beautiful. Tanned skin and biceps and pecs to make you weep. Every girl looked like a yoga instructor and every guy looked like a surfer. In truth, they very well may have been. Yoga and surf are Santa Teresa’s two main draws after all.
I wanted to get in the pool. It was hot. I was sweaty after the four hour shuttle from Monteverde. Club music was pumping out of a poolside speaker which usually makes me want to groove. But I couldn’t bring myself to change and get out there. Not until 5pm when the pool was all but vacated. So I put on my one-piece suit (it covered the most) and slunk down for a cooling sunset dip. The next morning I made sure I was the first one in at 8am so that I had it to myself.
Why was I being so hard on myself? I’m not particularly heavy. I’m 5’9 and wear an American size 10/12. The average American woman wears a 16. I think the average woman at Selina wore a 6. I used to be an 8 in my mid-20s but my metabolism took a nosedive in my 30s. Nothing unusual there, but for some reason I just couldn’t shake the negative feelings. Quite often I think body image issues have nothing to do with actual measurements. I’m sure even top models still have moments of doubt and low confidence.
I was self-conscious of my thighs, which now touch and rub together in short shorts, jiggling as I walked down the beach. But you know what, even skinny girls’ thighs jiggle some when they walk. I was convinced that everyone seated in the sand for sunset were eyeing me up. The truth? They weren’t. No one gave a damn if I was a size 6 or 16. For some reason, I just couldn’t shut off the negative tapes. It was frustrating. I was actively having arguments with myself in my head.
“Sorry horsey that you got the heavy tourist.”
“Seriously Mel? Stop being ridiculous. You’re actually smaller than the average woman your age.”
“Ugh, I bet everyone on the beach is looking at my belly. So embarrassing.”
“C’mon, give it up. You wouldn’t let anyone talk to your friend that way so why would you let yourself?”
I was so frustrated with myself that I couldn’t seem to let it go. The whole point of vacation is to just let it go and have a good time right? I had two choices: keep mentally beating myself for something I couldn’t change in that moment or self-acceptance. It took me a few days, and a change of hotel, but I finally got to the latter.
How did I deal with my body confidence issues on vacation?
Check in with yourself
I don’t normally have these same thoughts racing through my brain so I knew something was off. Do a gentle check-in. “You seem off Self. What’s up? Everything ok?” When I thought about it, I realized I was actually feeling a bit lonely. I hadn’t geared up for a solo trip and I hadn’t made any travel friends at the hostel. Once I realized that that was probably the root of my self-defeating attitude it made it easier to ease up on the negative thoughts and be a bit gentler with myself. I booked a few group activities and checked in with friends back home which made me feel more connected.
Bodies are pretty amazing things. Even if you wish you were a different shape or size, the fact that you’re breathing and reading this means that you have a pretty amazing body. It helps to remind yourself of all the great things your body lets you do. Take a few minutes to think of all the things your body does for you.
My body is capable of some pretty awesome things. It’s taken me up mountains. It’s walked 20km around London in Converse sneakers and not divorced me. It’s let me kayak in oceans, ride horses, jump off cliffs, slide down waterfalls, jump waves, explore underwater worlds, cycle countrysides, and so, so much more. Reminding myself of that erased a few more of those negative patterns.
Rewire your brain
Information and thoughts move through your brain via neural pathways. The more your thoughts follow a specific pathway, the stronger that pathway becomes. Think negative things about yourself on a daily basis and that pathway becomes really strong. But the good news is that the same is true about positive thoughts. So each time that negative thought crosses your mind, correct yourself by thinking “that’s not true” and think of a positive thought.
Stuart Smalley was on to something. “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me.”
If I had a negative thought, I’d try to instead replace it with two good ones.
“My thighs are too big.”
“My legs are strong. My calves look great in heels.”
Eventually these more positive thoughts got stronger than the negative ones.
By the time I got to Isla Tortuga I was back to feeling like myself. I was just fine with spending the whole day in my bikini. I was more interested in fresh pineapple and a cold beer than trying to hide my perceived flaws. I chatted with people on my tour and enjoyed swimming in the ocean.
While it’s a bit too bad that negative thoughts chased me for a few days in the paradise of Costa Rica but if I look for the silver lining, it’s that it gave me a chance to practice and sharpen some self-care tools.
Have you ever had something similar happen on a beach vacation? How did you deal with it?
Over the past two summers the Bonavista Peninsula has seen a surge in tourism. The town of Trinity has been popular for quite awhile with its photogenic streets and excellent theatre, but in recent years there’s been a surge in new businesses opening up and down the peninsula that’s breathing new life into the rural area.
Bonavista is bucking the trend and growing, not shrinking. Young people are moving in and making it their home. There’s a healthy craftsperson and artisan community which I just love. While it’s got tons of history as the landing spot of John Cabot’s ship, The Matthew, the Bonavista peninsula can also give us a glimpse of what the future of rural Newfoundland could look like.
Keep in mind that many businesses are seasonal and will only be open between May and October so it’s best to check with them directly if you’re visiting in either of those months.
The Discovery Trail is a keyhole-shaped driving route that can be accessed either from Port Blandford or Clarenville.
While it’s possible to get to Trinity and Bonavista from St. John’s daily on a shuttle, you won’t be able to fully explore the Bonavista Peninsula without your own vehicle. Shuttles run from Bonavista at 7am and from St John’s at 2pm.
If you’re looking to save some money and meet new people, book your stay at the Skerwink Hostel, a member of Hostelling International. They have two dorms and also private rooms. They’re located in Trinity East near the head of the Skerwink Trail and only a 15min walk from Port Rexton Brewery.
Located directly in historic Trinity, Trinity Eco-Tours Lodge has cozy, affordable rooms and an equally cozy restaurant/breakfast area. You can also book your whale and iceberg zodiac tours directly with Skipper Bob.
If you’d like to stay in the town of Bonavista instead, check out the Russelltown Inn. Located over several restored heritage properties the rooms have what I call a “cabin chic” feel – rustic and upscale all in one. Your stay also comes with breakfast, which is always a bonus.
If you’re looking for family accommodations or you’re travelling with friends, check out the Linthorne Loft, which has two bedrooms and three beds to accommodate a bigger group. It also has a fully equipped kitchen, but with Sweet Rock Ice Cream on the street level, I’m sure you’ll be tempted to get out and sample their wares.
Ever since they opened almost two years ago, Port Rexton Brewery has gone from strength to strength. They are a destination unto themselves and the first in the new wave of Newfoundland craft breweries. Be sure to stop by for a taste and to pick up a growler for your trip.
Located near Port Rexton Brewery on the main highway, Two Whales Cafe were one of the first to offer espresso based drinks on the peninsula. They also have an array of delicious baked goods, which includes many vegan or gluten-free options.
Who would think that you’d find crepes and quiche at a tiny restaurant and shop by the ocean in Bonavista. If you’re looking for something light and tasty for lunch, make your way to Neil’s Yard. You can also pick up a souvenir from their shop before you go.
Sometimes simple is what you want. Trinity Mercantile serves up straightforward but hearty and tasty sandwiches, chips, and coffee. All you really need for a good lunch. They roast the coffee themselves which adds to the charm. You can even get it to go for a seaside picnic.
If you like pizza, and who doesn’t, you’ll want to make the journey to the Bonavista Social Club. They have the only commercial wood-fired bread oven in the province, which makes for truly spectacular pizza. Get one with a glass of rhubarb lemonade and grab a seat outside to watch the sunset. Magical.
What summer day is complete without an ice cream cone? Sweet Rock has two locations, one in Bonavista, and a smaller stand atop a beautiful lookout in Trinity. All frozen treats are made by hand on site in small, 5 litre batches. Flavours change up daily so I recommend multiple visits. ;)
What to Do
Hike the Skerwink Trail
The Skerwink Trail is a roughly 5km hiking trail in Trinity East. It’s a moderately easy trail that goes from spectacular view to spectacular view. You’ll see seabirds, sea stacks, and great ocean vistas. Pack a lunch from Trinity Mercantile and a few cans from Port Rexton Brewery and make a day of it.
Visit the Matthew
Back in 1497, John Cabot discovered Newfoundland and the Grand Banks. A replica of his ship was built in 1997 to celebrate 500 years since the discovery. It was sailed across the Atlantic and you can now visit it and step on board yourself in Bonavista. It’s amazing to see how small it really was to make such a big voyage.
See a Show from Rising Tide Theatre
Rising Tide Theatre is a premier theatre troupe based in Trinity. Every summer they present several different plays and dinner theatre shows. One of their most popular events is the Trinity Pageant which is held outdoors in locations around the town. No matter which show you see, you can’t go wrong.
Visit the Puffins in Bonavista and Elliston
Want to get up close with some puffins? The little clowns of the sea like to hang out in two main areas on the Bonavista Peninsula: an island colony near the Bonavista Lighthouse and a second colony in nearby Elliston. It’s the latter where you’ll really get to see them up close.
Explore Port Union
Port Union boasts itself as being North America’s only union-built town. Founded in 1917 by Sir William Coaker, it’s worth a trip just to see the remaining union row houses and take a tour of the factory building and home of the Fisherman’s Advocate.
Visit the set of Random Passage
Back in 2002 a mini-series was filmed in Trinity Bay. The set for Random Passage remains to this day as a tourist attraction and history lesson. Though the buildings are not historic themselves they’re very true to what outport life was like in the early 1800s.
Go whale and iceberg hunting in Trinity
Trinity is one of the best places to see icebergs and whales in Newfoundland. I recommend booking tour with Trinity Eco-Tours. You’ll get suited up in a warm flotation suit and take a spin out in a zodiac so you can really get up close and personal with the wildlife. Ask Skipper Bob if Finnegan the humpback has been around lately.
Explore the abandoned Trinity Loop
In the 1980s a theme park was developed in Trinity East. It had a train, ferris wheels, mini golf, cabins, and a petting zoo. The park was closed in 2004 but never dismantled. If you’re looking for some interesting photo ops and a bit of spook factor you can still visit the park, but be careful as nothing has been maintained so there could be hazards.
Plan to spend at least two days exploring the area, but really four would be better. There’s enough to see and do so I guarantee you won’t be bored.
Will the Bonavista Peninsula be your next Newfoundland road trip?
Just about every visitor to Newfoundland and Labrador will spend some time in St. John’s, and they should. The most eastern city in North America has a lot to offer. It’s both urban and rural with hiking trails only minutes drive from downtown. There are intellectual cultural offerings next to the shenanigans of George Street. Some of the world’s finest dining and also some of the best greasy spoons. There’s something for everyone in St. John’s. So what do I think are the best things to do in and around St. John’s? Take it from a local.
The top of Signal Hill has one of the best views of St. John’s. It’s always windy but it’s worth a trip up to the spot where Marconi sent the first wireless signal. Stop at the visitor centre on the way up for gelato from the Newfoundland Chocolate Company Cafe.
Johnson Geo Centre
On your way back down from Signal Hill, keep going down…and down…at the Johnson Geo Centre where you can actually touch the rock that sits under Signal Hill. Most of the building is underground which is a perfect place to learn about our unique geography. Don’t miss the intro video hosted by Gordon Pinsent.
While it’s not right in St. John’s, visiting the most Eastern point in North America should be on your St. John’s bucket list. They’ve just finished some reno work on the walking paths so it’s better than ever. If you really want to be a rockstar, visit for sunrise so that you can be the first to greet a new day on this continent.
Housing the province’s art gallery, museum, and archives, The Rooms has the other best view of St. John’s from their 2nd floor bank of floor to ceiling windows. This is the best place to get a feel for Newfoundland history and culture all under one roof. The on-site cafe is also top-notch. Tip: admission is free between 6pm-9pm on the first Wednesday of every month.
Hike the East Coast Trail
One of the best things about St. John’s is that you’re never far from nature. The East Coast Trail is a series of 26 connected trails going all the way from Pouch Cove to Cappahayden. There are even a few trails that run along the water’s edge through the city. If you’ve never hiked through the woods with a simultaneous view of the ocean, I highly recommend it.
Brunch at Quidi Vidi
St. John’s has a bustling and somewhat unexpected food scene. Our small city is currently home to three of Canada’s top 100 restaurants. You should make it a point to get yourself to Mallard Cottage in Quidi Vidi for their weekend brunch. Not only do they serve up the most local of dishes in one of the province’s oldest wooden buildings, but they have an all you can eat cake table that needs to be seen to be believed.
Picnic in Bannerman Park
A St. John’s summer right of passage is the Bannerman Park picnic. Get some sandwiches and coffee from Rocket Bakery or a takeout pie from Venice Pizza and find a spot in the sun to lounge and people watch. Bonus points if you bring a hammock to string between the trees. You may even want to take a dip in the outdoor pool.
Sample Craft Beer
The craft beer scene in Newfoundland is a bit behind the rest of the country but we’re picking up steam fast. There are currently eight microbreweries brewing and over a dozen more in the works. In St. John’s you can get your beer right from the source at YellowBelly, Quidi Vidi Brewery, or Mill Street. You can also head up Torbay Rd on the weekend to pick up a supply of Port Rexton Brewery’s beer at their retail shop. If you’re looking for a bar with the best selection of local beer though, it’s not on George Street. It’s at Jack Axes.
St. John’s Beer Tours
If you want to learn more about the local beer scene and get to sample at least a dozen different brews with a fun crew, sign yourself up for a St. John’s Beer Tour. Want to know how we make beer from icebergs or why we have funny shaped bottles? Kayla, tour guide extraordinaire, will share all she knows…which is a lot. Perfect way to spend an afternoon in St. John’s.
Throw Axes at Jack Axes
Axe throwing is a sport (game? hobby? pastime?) that many people are surprised to find is not only real, but available outside of hipster enclaves like Austin, Portland, or Brooklyn. St. John’s has a local axe throwing joint, and they also serve great beer (just leave your pint in the bar before you throw). You don’t need to be Jason Momoa to have a good time either. They run a league but you can also just drop in and give it a try. Plaid shirt no required.
Every good party city has their main bar zone. New Orleans has Bourbon Street. Nashville has Broadway. St. John’s has George Street, a pedestrian street lined on both sides with nothing but pubs, nightclubs, and dives with live music every night of the week. If you want the insane George Street experience coming in late July for the George Street Festival where bands play on the outdoor stage every night and for one cover you wander from bar to bar with drink in hand. It’s madness.
Zipline over Petty Harbour
If you want to combine an adrenaline rush with scenic views, zip lining with North Atlantic Ziplines in Petty Harbour is the way to do it. Get harnessed up and fly from platform to platform on Canada’s longest zip line course. You can also get your learn on from the displays on each platform that describe the area you’re looking at. Fun and educational!
St. John’s Haunted Hike
Any city as old as St. John’s is bound to have a few ghost stories. The best way to hear some of the best ones is to sign up for the St. John’s Haunted Hike. You’ll be led around downtown with a spooky captivating guide who will take you to the exact chilling spots where the stories happened. Duck into back alleys and hidden squares while hearing about our supernatural past. Let me know after if the dueling ghosts of Military Road came out to say hi.
Catch a Trad Session
If you’ve ever been to Ireland then you know all about the session. Folks gather around at a pub with a pub and play tunes. It’s not a performance, they play for themselves and for the love of the tune. But that doesn’t mean you can’t hang around and enjoy their talent. Newfoundland is chock-a-block full of traditional musicians so there’s bound to be a session on the go somewhere. Erin’s Pub is one of the best places to check but ask around when you get in town to see if any more are on the go.
Go Whale Watching and Iceberg Hunting
St. John’s might not be the epicentre for whale watching and iceberg hunting in Newfoundland but there are still plenty of opportunities to get out there. Book a tour with Iceberg Quest and you could find yourself scooping bergy bits out of the ocean to drop in your drink or watching a pod of humpbacks feed on capelin.
Bonfire at Middle Cove Beach
One of my favourite summer traditions in St. John’s is to pick up a load of firewood, a case of beers, some hot dogs and marshmallows and get slightly out of town for a bonfire on Middle Cove Beach. On a typical night you’ll see the light of over a dozen fires. Get here early to get a fire pit, but if you’re late and you really want a fire you can make your own circle of stones and have at it. I just love roasting marshmallows while listening to the ocean roll on the shore.
Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium
Get up close and personal with our local sea life at the Petty Harbour Mini Aquarium – a unique catch-and-release aquarium. There are hands-on touch tank exhibits, live animal displays, and one-on-one science interpretation. Perfect if you’re travelling with family.
Go for a Bounce
Get Air is an indoor trampoline park with a ninja course, foam pit, slam ball, and more. It’s a great activity if you find yourself facing one of St. John’s rainy days.
Play Jenga at Mochanopoly
Another great rainy day activity is head to Mochanopoly Board Game Cafe downtown. They have a huge selection of board and card games to go with your coffee and cookie. There’s no wifi here because they want you to unplug and interact with your friends.
Axtion Climb Adult Night
If you’re looking for a way to get the blood pumping before heading to George Street, try the aerial course at Axtion. Test your fear of heights and hand-eye coordination with the eight different challenges. Or maybe play a little smash ‘em up with their dryland bumper “boats”. Or maybe the Axtionator is more your style. Newfoundland’s only indoor amusement park ride is a giant pendulum that spins as you go higher and higher. Check out their calendar for adult night.
Pet the Goats at Lester Farms
Who couldn’t use a little goat therapy? Head out to Lester Farms and take a stroll through the petting barn. Feed the goats and say hi to the alpaca. You never know what animals you’ll see. From mid-summer into fall you can also test your wits in their corn maze. Don’t forget to stop by the Harvest Hut food truck and get yourself a grilled cheese and tornado potato.
Test Your Puzzle Skills
Want to test your logical thinking, teamwork, and general ability to think out-of-the-box? Get yourself to BreakOutNL where you’ll have 45 minutes to think your way out of a ‘locked’ room. Pick your theme from a cabin on the Titanic to a dungeon or being abducted by aliens. Makes a great rainy day option.
Float Your Stress Away
I’ve written before about floating and I’m a big believer in it’s restorative, energizing effects. I longed for the day that Newfoundland would get a float tank. Well, the day has come. The stunningly beautiful Winterholme Wellness Centre & Spa is home to St. John’s first sensory deprivation tank. If you’re visiting from far away, give it a try to beat the jet lag blues or sooth post-airplane pains.
“I’d like to book the Montezuma Falls tour.”
“Oh, we don’t offer that. You can rent an ATV and take yourself though.”
“Hmm…the guy here yesterday told me about the tour. Oh well. How about aerial yoga? Is that tomorrow at 9am like on the poster?”
“No, it’s Wednesday at 9:30am.”
“Can I sign up now?”
“Naw, just come beforehand and you can pay then.”
*arrives the Wednesday morning at 9:15am*
“I’ll like to sign-up and pay for aerial yoga.”
“Did you pay already? The class is full.”
<in my head>”Motherf*$%er”
Such is life in the sleepy surf town of Santa Teresa, Costa Rica, or as I started to call it, the town that was all flow, no go. Where you see multiple ATVs parked in front of No Parking signs and no one so much as shrugs. Where a string bikini is an acceptable outfit to go grocery shopping in. Where you can never trust the information you see on any poster or schedule – the event is bound to actually be a different day and time.
Santa Teresa is a small town on the Nicoya peninsula, in Puntarenas Province. It has world-class surfing and has smartly restricted beachfront development. You won’t find hotels and bars cozying up to the beaches’ edge like you will in many other towns. Instead, everything is on the main road, which sits about 100m back from runs parallel to the beach. When I say main road, I pretty much mean only road. There are a few short offshoots leading to guest houses, restaurants, or other dwellings but they’re more like very long driveways than true roads.
One of the nice things about a vacation in a place like Costa Rica is getting away from the hurried pace of life in the city, even small cities like mine. It’s a country that encourages you to take it a bit slower, appreciate your surroundings more. Where people stop what they’re doing at 5:30pm to go watch the sunset. It’s a go with the flow kind of place. A place to slow your roll. But Santa Teresa took it to another level.
When the server in the restaurant where you’re having dinner may or may not be wearing shoes…or a bra. When “sunrise” yoga really means 8am, two and a half hours after the sun rose above the horizon. When there’s no official bus stop. You just stand on the side of the road, anywhere along the road, and wave at the bus when it approaches.
After two days in town it also occurred to me, I hadn’t seen any families, despite passing a school. Or old people. It felt as if the entire town was populated with tanned people in their twenties, and mostly foreigners at that. Where were the locals who weren’t working in restaurants or as guides? Santa Teresa is a town of tourists…but hardly a gift shop in sight, which is a real rarity. People visiting couldn’t even be bother to shop for knick-knacks.
Service could be another head-scratcher.
One day I noticed that a local sushi restaurant followed me on Instagram. Their food looked pretty good so I thought I’d check them out. Social media works, yo. So I pedaled up from my hotel, I slowed near where the spot should be… I saw the sign… but then only metal shutters. Huh. I rode up the road a bit and circled back. It seemed they were closed. I checked their social but saw no notice. So I messaged on Instagram. They’d had some “technical difficulties” and were closed for the day but should be open tomorrow. Uh, ok.
I got my sushi from Nami the next day. It was worth waiting for.
So then I decided to head back to the spot where I’d had a pretty decent slice of Hawaiian pizza a couple days before. This time I decided I’d get a small pizza so that I could have leftovers for breakfast before my snorkel trip. I cycled the kilometre and pulled up just as the Immigration Police arrived. Uh-oh. I hung around by the door for a minute. They didn’t seem to be closing or ushering guests out so I asked one of the two people serving. “I’ve got to deal with this, but yeah, just take a table.” So I did.
I sat for over 20 minutes watching the uniformed police check the kitchen and then the apartment upstairs and then back to the kitchen, back up the stairs, while a woman with a clipboard oversaw the whole thing. Eventually they left but I never did get a menu. One of the servers took a seat at the bar and chatted with some folks. No menu for me. So I took myself to the takeout window and placed my order there instead. 15 minutes later I was cycling back to my hotel with my pizza. Sitting on my balcony, I opened the box to discover the weirdest slicing job. It looked like they’d managed to cut my pizza in 5 pieces: 2 huge, 3 small.
I was starting to think that the Costa Rican sun was making people so laid back that they just didn’t give AF anymore. Pura vida indeed.
I love Costa Rica and I enjoyed my time in Santa Teresa for the most part. I could also see how easy it would be to slip into that laissez-faire attitude after spending more than a few days there. But as a person on a 10 day vacation who has trouble letting go of schedule, it sometimes rubbed me the wrong way. I like scheduled things to happen on that schedule. I like knowing what I’m doing when and having a plan. Clearly, I just needed to spend more time watching sunsets and sipping beers. A few more yoga classes and a massage wouldn’t hurt either. If you’re in the zone, there’s something relaxing about not having plans. I just couldn’t get into that zone. So really, Santa Teresa, it’s not you, it’s me.
While I know I could stand to learn a bit more “flow”, Santa Teresa might benefit from a little more “go”.
I have to admit, I wasn’t all that enthused about spending an afternoon in San Jose. I’d contemplated either staying in Alajuela, closer to the airport, or taking the afternoon bus from Santa Teresa so that I would minimize my time. I decided against Alajuela because I wasn’t even sure if the bus would stop there since the bus stop I’d used when heading to Monteverde had been on the other side of the highway and asking the driver about it gave me anxiety. And I decided against the afternoon bus from Santa Teresa since it would involve having to get off and change buses in Cobano and the potential for getting the wrong connection or missing it entirely gave me anxiety so I opted for the 6am direct bus which landed me in San Jose at 1:30pm.
After checking into my room at Selina San Jose I popped open Google Maps to see what was nearby. I didn’t want to mess about with taxis or buses but it seemed a shame to just hang out in the hostel lounge, no matter how chill the place was. It turns out there was more than enough to occupy me until sunset.
National Museum Learning
According to Google, both the zoo and the national museum were about 500m from me, in opposite directions. I opted to visit the museum since I like learning something about the place I’m in and zoos present me with ethical quandaries.
The National Museum of Costa Rica is located in the former Bellavista military barracks. It was handed over and converted to a museum when the army was abolished in 1949. Through the various exhibits you can learn about the natural, social, and military history of the country.
My favourite part though was the butterfly garden just after the admission desk. Since the old military barracks were built before accessibility was a concern, some adjustments had to be made when the museum was installed. As a heritage building they couldn’t just install elevators so they built a big meandering concrete ramp to the main courtyard and exhibits and turned that area into a butterfly garden. I would’ve happily paid my $9USD just to hang out there for an hour.
Street Art Viewing
After the museum closed I wandered down 17th Street and discovered a plethora of great street art between the museum and 1st Avenue. I love street art. It gives a street colour and character and can give you some insight into local issues if you can interpret the pieces.
Big sections of wall had been turned into the equivalent of a free art gallery and the art was impressive. I don’t care much for graffiti but the work you’ll see here is definitely in the art category.
Next up I had a little meander through Democracy Square and spotted a souvenir shop on the corner of the square and 2nd Avenue. I can’t resist souvenir shops even though I wasn’t actually looking for any souvenirs. I ducked in and lo and behold, it was actually a large market. It was like the TARDIS of shops. Bigger on the inside.
I’d actually stumbled upon the Mercado Nacional de Artesanias (National Craft Market), which ran the length of a block. There was tiny stall after tiny stall selling the same sorts of souvenirs I saw throughout the country. If you saw something in a previous town but didn’t buy it and now you regret it, there’s a chance you’ll find it at this market. Plush sloths, t-shirts, fridge magnets, hammocks, coffee, wooden mugs, wooden boxes, traditional coffee brewing stands, you name it.
Tip: don’t buy your coffee here. Britt coffee was selling for $18 USD/lb here but $11 USD/lb at the airport.
I kept up my wandering and discovered Plaza de la Cultura, which was on a pedestrian shopping area of Avenue Central. It was full of people at 5pm and I had a lovely wander around the area and then hung out in the plaza for awhile just people watching. It seemed to be a popular hangout spot. I joined the locals until sunset and then headed back to Selina.
All in all I think I had a pretty full afternoon in San Jose. And I discovered that I was a bit wrong around the place. I’d actually like to come back for a day or two and see what else there is to discover.