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best foods of vancouver

 

Vancouver is a foodie city with a lot of Asian influence, a very hip culture and a very unique and innovative taste. So I’m gonna take you on my top must try foods of Vancouver and where to find them!

Must Try Foods Vancouver Foods

On my Vancouver food tour of filming Vancouver foods, I explore foods Vancouver is known for in fresh sustainable seafood, Asian food which have inspired re-known trends and Canadian foods with a Vancouver twist.

1. Sushi and Seafood

Vancouver is known as the “sushi capital of North America” and famous California Sushi Roll ( crab, cucumber, avocado). Invented in 1971,  by Hidekazu Tojo– a Canadian- opened his own restaurant in the city Tojos. You’ll find sushi rolls named after the city– from “B.C roll” (an homage to Vancouvers abundance of wild salmon)  to “Victoria”. There are many sushi joints to explore. I had my sushi experience in Richmond (keep reading or watch my video). As a Pacific Northwest coastal city, Vancouver is proud of their sustainable and fresh catch, so seafood is fresh here.

2. Maple Syrup infused foods

When in Canada, you’ll notice a lot of maple leaf syrup in souvenir shops. But maple syrup isn’t only for tourists- locals love it too. Maple syrup is one of the signature condiments of Vancouver and Canada. You’ll certainly find some foods inspired with maple syrup; however, they may not always leap out at you. Where to find this: Granville Island Public

3. Candied Salmon Sticks

Candied Salmon sticks are a tender jerky like stick that is candied either with sugar or maple syrup and it is a must try snack of Vancouver. As a Pacific Northwest coastal city, Vancouver is proud of their sustainable and fresh catch.  Wild salmon is Vancouver’s most abundant stock.  Where to find this: Granville Island Public Market, seafood section.

4. Asian Cuisine at Aberdeen Centre

Aberdeen Centre is a three-story, 180 store mall in Richmond with western and eastern stores. You’ll find Asian restaurants and shops like Tony Moly and Daiso.  I couldn’t decide what I wanted to eat so I went to Aberdeen Centre food court to see what types of Asian cuisine it offered and there was a lot of options to choose from: Chinese to Japanese, Korean and Asian desserts (directory here).  There are 20 food stalls  with food vendors covering various flavors from across Asia . I chose bubble tea with boom boom pearls from Bubble Waffle and a Vancouver roll from Kuroson.  Here’s more ideas of things to eat there.

Getting there: Aberdeen station, mall is right outside

eating at richmond vancouver aberdeen centre

 

5. Richmond Night Market

Although this is not a food, Richmond Night market has to be mentioned here. Started in 2000 by entrepreneur Raymond Cheung, the Richmond Night Market has grown into one of the largest North American night market festivals. It occurs annually during the summer, bringing out the best in innovative, Asian-inspired fusion foods that will propel year round jaw-dropping instagram food shots. Follow the hashtag #VancouverFoodie. Even though it’s off-season, those Instagram photos are still floating around.

6. Japadog

Ever tasted seaweed or bonito flakes on a hot dog? Well, how about plum sauce inspired dog, an avocado hotdog or one with salmon or kimchi? The Japadog is the Vancouver’s favorite Japanese hot dog, with different fixing reminiscent of your favorite Asian flavors. Each Japadog location sports something a little different.  I was on an okonomiyaki mood, so I ordered a veggie dog (aka a vegetarian hot dog – the beauty of Vancouver is that they have vegetarian foods) flavored with okonomiyaki sauce, Japanese mayo with seaweed and bonito flakes. Yum!  Location: Website

7. Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons is a ubiquitous coffee and donuts stop you can’t miss- it is literally EVERYWHERE!  It’s actually more abundant than 7 Elevens. Popular with locals who call it “Timmie Hortons” or “Timmie’s” it’s like a Canadian Dunkin’Donuts but better. From quick breakfast pick-me-ups like english muffin with egg and sausage to donuts dripping with sweet flair… order yourself the local favorite- a Double Double (double cream, double sugar) coffee. Located: Everywhere

Tim Hortons english muffin cheese sandwich and a double double coffee at 12am ©grrrltraveler

8. Salmon n’ Bannock

A popular First Nations restaurant I wish I had time to look into is Salmon n’Bannock.  The restaurant serves wild fish, game meat and bannock bread ( a flour and water type of bread). The menu is quite interesting sourcing foods locally and made with the indigenous palate in mind. Check hours.  Location: 1128 W Broadway #7, Vancouver, BC V6H 1G5, Canada, Map here

9. Tacofino Tacos

Originating from a food truck, Tacofino has carried its taco food truck legacy into trendy and  restaurants.

The Gastown Burrito Bar restaurant location has a large menu and at night it is packed with a  buzzing and youthful Vancouverite crowd reminiscent of a Soho restaurant patrons. Light dimmed, music blaring, I almost mistook it for a bar. The tacos can range from simple to complex. I had the spinach and mushroom that looked like a vegetarian loaf.My friend Henry had the Pork El Pastor and the Fish tacos. I’ll let you watch the video to see the results. Location: Tacofino Gastown, 15 W Cordova St

Eating tacos at Tacofino

Tacofino Mushroom and Cheese tacos ©grrrltraveler

 

10. Tacofino food truck

Tacofino Blue food truck located in downtown/Broadway tech has a limited menu but its evident what the most popular tacos are- fish, chicken, pork and bahn (a tempura fried tofu). I like the no-nonsense atmosphere of the food truck best. Highly Recommended the fish taco–  it is the juiciest batter-fried fish taco i’ve tried with wakame salad, lime juice, japanese mayo… it’s a symphony of flavors. It’s outta this world! Location: Downtown Vancouver, you can track them down here.

Tacofino fish tacos ©grrrltraveler

11. Poutine

Canada is known for its poutine (fries, gravy and cheese). But at Pomme Frites in Downtown Granville street, poutine is taken to a Vancouverite level of asian infusion.

Frites Vancouver, has a varied and remarkable list of waffle sandwiches to poutine, ranging from pulled pork to kalbi and kimchi. They even have their own Vancouverite style of fries aptly named after its flavored toppings, such as Okonomi, kimchi, falafel and pad thai. They even have special gourmet sauces to dip your fries with!  Menu here. Hours: 11:00 AM – 12:00 AM Location: 1011 Granville Street,  Location: Granville Station metro near

Fritz European Fry House, Vancouver, British Columbia.- From Quebec

Frites Vancouver: best things to do vancouver, Photo ©grrrltraveler

 

12. Sweet & Savory Bakery Desserts

Located in Gastown, Purebread is a popular bakery cafe with locals in the neighborhood. It sells wonderfully baked goods both sweet and savory.  Get before 6p when it closes.

Best Places to Eat these Vancouver Foods Granville Island Public Market

Wanna sample some best foods of Vancouver? Head out to Granville Island to visit the Granville Island Public Market.I like to think of it as a large indoor farmers markets with stalls of local craftsmen and foods that are fresh from ocean to farm.This hip and lively market features Vancouver’s foodie scene in a locally owned, locally sourced and unique way. Granville Island Public Market and Artist village, are all locally owned and is the second most tourists place in city loved by locals. Here you can find unique Vancouver deserts, produce and meats. There is a lot to see and eat here. It’s an ideal spot for lunch.

Getting to Granville Island:  Take Bus #50 over the bridge to the Granville Market stop (it drops you nearly under a bridge) and walk in.  You can catch the sightseeing Aquabus from the pier outside the market.

Richmond

Richmond is said to be Vancouver’s new Chinatown. Located about 20 minutes from Downtown Vancouver by metro, Richmond’s community is largely a diversity of Asian ethnicities from Hong Kong Chinese, Chinese Indian, Japanese, Camobdian…

Started in 2000 by entrepreneur Raymond Cheung, the Richmond Night market has grown into one of the largest North American night market festivals. It occurs annually during the summer, bringing out the best in innovative, Asian-inspired fusion foods that will propel year round jaw-dropping instagram food shots. Follow the hashtag #VancouverFoodie.

Getting to Richmond: Aberdeen Station (25 minutes from downtown Waterfront Station). For traveler’s, Richmond is more like what Orange County is to Los Angeles than what Chinatown is to New York. Meaning, you’ll can’t just jump off the metro and wander around. It takes some Google research as its mostly suburban, with some popular streets with restaurants and malls.

Gastown

Gastown is the oldest and most historic neighborhood of Vancouver, Gastown is where Vancouver first settlement was birthed, when Yorkshire seaman, Gassy Jack Deighton arrived to open the first saloon in the area.  Today, Gastown is a mixture of hip boutiques, restaurants, pubs and galleries mixed with 1860s architecture, cobblestone streets. Old landmarks are still preserved and have plaques commemorating their historical value to the area. Two famous landmarks are a bronze statue of Jack Deighton and a 1977 steam-powered clock  (located on the corner of Water and Cambie Streets). Take a food, bar and wine tasting tour of Gastown .

Best Food Tours for Exploring Vancouver Gastown Walking Food Tour

Burn calories while you eat on a 2.5-hour walking food tour of Vancouver’s historic Gastown. 9 eateries to sample while you learn about the founding district of Vancouver.

View this tour North Van Shipyard Food Tour

This 3 hour tour takes you on the scenic seabus across the bay to North Vancouver’s Lonsdale Quay’s Market and the surrounding shipyard to sample ten delicious and iconic specialty foods from candied salmon sticks, British Columbia wine, pizza, calamari and more!

View this tour Granville Island Market Tour

A 2 hour food tour of Granville Island Market. You’ll tour Edible Canada, while sampling fine foods from local famers and vendors at the Granville Public Market.

View this tour Gastown Food, Craft Beer and Wine Tasting Tour

If you’re a beer or wine connoisseur, this one is for you. This 3 hour food tour of historic Gastown takes you to enjoy local craft beers, wines, and cocktails. Certainly a fun way to kick back and socialize with travelers while doing your sightseeing.

View this tour Little Italy Walking Food Tour

Burn calories while you eat on a 2.5-hour walking  cultural and culinary tour of Little Italy. You’ll explore 8 food specialties while learning how the Italian community flourished in this city.

View this tour

 

Where to Stay in Vancouver Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel  

Located inside Vancouver Airport above the check-in counters for domestic flights, sits the lofty Fairmont Vancouver Airport Hotel   (Read my review)an in-terminal  airport hotel. I stayed here for three nights on my Arctic Ocean trip! My room had an epic view of the airport runway. I could pretty much watch my plane come in  before I ran to board it.

Check out another traveler favorite in the heart of downtown Vancouver, Fairmont Vancouver

View on Booking.com Samesun Hostel

 Samesun Hostel can look a little unkept at first glance, but the hostel is pretty efficient, is a great location on Granville Street and is a good deal for budget travelers who don’t mind hostelling. There are lockers for storage, fresh linens and free continental breakfast in the morning. They also have a luggage storage area for large luggage such as snowboards, skiis etc. The hostel also has a daily activities outting list for solo travelers or friends looking to sightsee under guided wing. Tip: If you’re a light sleeper, bring your earplugs as its located next to a nightclub.  Location: 1018 Granville Street, V6Z 1L5 Vancouver, Canada

View on Booking.com Best Travel Insurance for Vancouver

American travelers often pay a premium on travel insurance.  World Nomads offers economic solutions for travelers who seek security and peace of mind.  It covers 150 countries.

Top Vancouver Foods

 

Watch Vancouver Travel Guide (Video Playlist)
First Impressions of VANCOUVER + FIRST 48 HOURS | Vancouver Travel vlog - YouTube
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 Let me know what you would add to this list of must try Vancouver foods!

 

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Best Things to do in Chicago

 

Under our expert traveler series, this guest post is written by travel blogger, Valentina of Valentina’s Destinations. Valentina has lived in Chicago for the last 7 years, exploring Chicago’s attractions, restaurants and events. She is your guide, showing you the best things to do in Chicago.

Chicago is the heart of America’s Midwest. In 2018, it was the second most visited city in the United States (after New York). Millions visit Chicago every year because of its world class museums, vivacious culture, unique architecture and exciting events. Whatever time of year you decide to visit Chicago, you can rest assured knowing that you’ll have a good time!  Okay, let’s check out this Chicago Travel Guide:

Best Things to do in Chicago

Chicago is most famous for the Art Institute, Magnificent Mile and Sears Tower (now Willis Tower). Also, the city has a huge immigrant population making it very much a melting pot for art, music, food & expression.  Chicago is a great place to have unique experiences, so lets take a look at Chicago’s top attractions…

Visit the Museum Campus

A Chicago trip is not complete without seeing the Museum Campus. Chicago’s Museum Campus is where you’ll find the famous Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum and the Adler Planetarium. These museums are situated within an enormous park just south of Chicago’s Loop neighborhood.

The Shedd Aquarium is one of Chicago’s most popular tourist attractions. It’s one of the largest aquariums in the world and displays more than 1,500 species of marine life. Right next to it, the Field Museum offers vast collections of natural history exhibitions. The Field Museum is most famous known for it’s display of a dinosaur named Sue. Sue is the largest and most complete Tyrannosaurus rex specimen ever discovered. Every Chicagoland area kid gets taken to see Sue on a class field trip at one point or another. She’s a Chicago icon!

A short walk from these two museums, you’ll find the Adler Planetarium. The Adler is famous for being America’s very first planetarium!

Tip: If you plan on visiting many of Chicago’s museums, it may be worthwhile to purchase the CityPASS. Chicago’s CityPASS gives you access to 4 of Chicago’s top museums and an observation deck for $108. Paying for each separately would cost more.

Hangout at Millennium Park

Millennium Park is Chicago’s most popular tourist attraction. It’s located right in the Loop (or city center). It is Chicago’s cultural hub, and the setting for many of Chicago’s free public events. Besides being a beautiful landscaped park & venue, it is most famous for its two weird installations —Crown Fountain and “the Bean.” The official name for the Bean is Cloudgate. Taking a selfie at the Bean should be on every Chicago bucket list!

Insider tip: the best place to take photos is at the east side of the BP Pedestrian Bridge. This is the bridge that joins Millennium and Maggie Daley Parks.

Just a short walk away from Millennium Park is the Art Institute of Chicago. The Art Institute deserved a special mention. It’s one of the oldest and biggest art museums in the US. The Art Institute’s permanent collections include works by Picasso and Grant’s Wood’s American Gothic. Hours: Daily 10:30–5:00 and Thursdays until 8:00.  Admission: $25 General /$19 Students

Best Things to do in Chicago: Millennium Park

 

Best View of the Chicago Skyline

While you’re doing Chicago’s Museum Campus Loop neighborhood,  the walk to the Adler Planetarium is spectacular– you can see the whole Chicago skyline stretched out before you. It’s a fantastic photo op location.

Check out more free Chicago skyline views

Best Things to do in Chicago: Chicago Skyline. Photo credit: Pixabay/Plexels

 

Divvy Bike Along the Lake

Divvy bikes are an excellent option for sightseeing in Chicago. I don’t recommend biking on the roads (it is dangerous especially if you don’t have a helmet and are not experienced… American cities are unfortunately not set up to accommodate a strong biking culture). However, it’s perfectly safe and fun to ride the Divvy bikes along the lake shore. The Lakefront trail is only for walkers, bikers and other non-vehicular traffic.

With over 500 stations in the city, you can grab a Divvy bike practically anywhere! Pricing is reasonable at only $6 for an hour ride and $15 for a day pass.

Option 1:You could start near Oak Street beach and bike north to Fullerton Avenue (Lincoln Park neighborhood). Visit Lincoln Park Zoo and the Lily Pond. This route would give you beautiful views of the northern skyline. Option 2: Bike south from Oak Street beach to Navy Pier. Continue to the Museum Campus. View the city from up close, and then appreciate the skyline from the south.

Check out the Lincoln Park Zoo

Lincoln Park is a beautiful public green space just north of the Loop. It’s famous for its free zoo, the Lincoln Park Zoo. Although, there’s a lot more to Lincoln Park than the zoo! It’s a great space to bike, stroll & get back into nature. There’s a beautiful Lily Pool and a nature sanctuary.

One cool sculpture in Lincoln Park is the People’s Gas Education Pavilion. This spot is commonly used by locals as the backdrop to wedding or engagement photos. Also, you can find beautiful Chicago skyline views at the Bridge over South Pond.

 

Best Things to do in Chicago: People’s Gas Education Pavilion . 

View Chicago from Above

There’s no better way to experience Chicago than from up above. For this, you can either visit a touristy observation deck or a local rooftop bar.

Top Spots for the Best View of Chicago John Hancock’s 360 Chicago . Book here Willis Tower’s Skydeck    Book here.

Some popular local rooftop bars and clubs include ROOF on theWit Hotel, Apogee Lounge & IO at the Godfrey Hotel. You may have to pay cover to visit these places in the evening on weekends. Although, it never hurts to be a girl!

See A Show

Every weekend in Chicago brings new and unique opportunities for music and entertainment. Whether you’re into theater, comedy, music or festivals… Chicago’s got something you.

For comedy lovers… check out Laugh Factory or Second City. Second City is a famous comedy club known for being the starting point for actors such as Amy Poehler, Tina Fey and Stephen Colbert. Their “main stage” performances are always impressive.

For theater enthusiasts… Check out the CIBC Theater, the Chicago Theater or the Cadillac Palace Theater.

For music lovers… Trendy, hip and EDM style performers play at the Aragon Ballroom, the Concord Music Hall and the House of Blues. Top Pop artists visit Solider Field, the United Center & the Allstate Arena.

Take in some Shows: Photo by Chait Goli from Pexels

Shop on Michigan Avenue

The Magnificent Mile of north Michigan Avenue stretches from the Hancock Building in Gold Coast all the way to the Chicago River. It’s a beautiful commercial avenue where you can find street performers, art installations and endless shopping. The three big malls along this street are 900 N Michigan Shops, Water Tower Place & The Shops at North Bridge.

Cruise Along the River

There’s a few ways that you can enjoy Chicago’s riverfront. One popular way to gain access to the river is the Chicago Riverwalk. It is accessible from most of the downtown bridges, including: Bataan-Corregidor Memorial, DuSable & Irv Kupcinet. The staircases down to the Riverwalk are on the southern end of each bridge.

Another popular way to enjoy the Chicago River is to take an Architecture Cruise. This fun activity is popular among tourists and locals alike. It’s an excellent way to learn more about Chicago’s history, architecture and landscape. If you don’t like organized tours, a great way to explore the river alone would be to kayak. There are a few riverfront kayak rental agencies to choose from. This option provides independence, some exercise & a unique perspective on the Chicago’s skyscrapers.

Best Things to do in Chicago Photo credit: Chait Goli on Plexels

 

Ride the Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier

While Navy Pier is a popular destination for many reasons, the top attraction here is the Ferris Wheel. Navy Pier’s Centennial Wheel gives a cool, front and center, view of the Chicago skyline.  The wheel has an incredible history, as it was first built when Chicago hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. This original wheel was eventually destroyed, and 100 years later, a new Chicago Ferris Wheel was born.

Photo: Pixabay

Eating “Chicago Style” Food

Chicago lays claim to a few specific foods. That includes deep dish pizza, the Chicago-style hot dog & the Italian Beef sandwich.

Restaurant Recommendations:

The best place to eat deep dish pizza is Lou Malnati’s Pizza or Pizzeria Uno. Although, I highly recommend a unique type of deep dish pizza served at Chicago Oven Grinders. The Chicago Oven Grinders pizza is distinct because the depth results from a monstrous layer of cheese.

You can get great Italian Beef at Al’s Beef, Portillos or the Billy Goat Tavern.

Visit Devil Dogs for a traditional “Chicago Dog.”

Chicago Tips for Foodies:
  • Avoid traveling during rush hour. Traveling in Chicago, whether by cab or public transit, can be a nightmare between 3 and 6 PM on weekdays. Try to avoid it! Expect many delays and trains packed like sardines.
  • Make restaurant reservations far in advance. Chicago has a particularly enthusiastic dining culture with many Michelin rated restaurants. Tables at popular restaurants need to be booked weeks in advance! Don’t expect to be able to walk in and get a table at anything ‘hot right now.’
  • Don’t give money to homeless people. If anything, give them food. Take them to a store and buy them food… don’t give them your money. Homeless people in Chicago go to great lengths to get your attention (from using children and pets, to displaying wounds or yelling). They’ll use your money for cigarettes and alcohol, so don’t bother.
  • Take a Chicago Food Tour
    Being a foodie city with quite a history, Chicago has a variety of food tours for foodies to chow out on.  Wanna taste Chi town’s favorite neighborhoods? You can find explore Chinatown, Wicker Park and River North through your stomach. Or you can bike, bite and get your craft brew on all in one afternoon, biking through historic neighborhoods while tasting their iconic dishes.
Where to Stay in Chicago

Chicago is a huge busting city with many great neighborhoods to stay in.

If you are looking for a local vibe... stay in Lincoln Park. Lincoln Park is a charming, and somewhat posh, neighborhood. It’s most known for it’s free zoo & enormous Lincoln Park, as well as DePaul University. It’s one of the safest neighborhoods in Chicago home to college students and families with golden retrievers. It’s just north of downtown and only a 20 minute walk from Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.

Tip: The best place to stay in Lincoln Park is the Hotel Lincoln – an ultra cute boutique hotel located right on the park. I especially recommend this hotel because it has a hip rooftop bar called the J Parker. From the J Parker, you’ll be able to see beautiful skyline views of the city.

If you are looking to be close to shopping, nightlife and restaurants… stay in River North or Gold Coast. In Gold Coast, you’ll be steps away from the Magnificent Mile shops and a fantastic restaurant scene. River North is known for nightlife and bars and great restaurants. These two neighborhoods are near one another just north of the Chicago River.

Tip:  The Waldorf Asoria is the top luxury pick in Gold Coast. Two great affordable luxury options in this area are Moxy Chicago Downtown and the Godfrey Hotel Chicago.

If you want to be central to tourist attractionsstay in the Loop. The Loop is Chicago’s busy and super touristy area. Although, I warn that this part of town is “dead” at night. Stores close early, and there’s not as many restaurants or bars. However, there are a lot of homeless people hanging around and sketchy characters. I would not walk around in this area at night (especially not alone). It’s fine to stay, and be close to daytime activities, but uber or get a cab from your hotel!

Tip:  My favorite hotel in the Loop is the Chicago Athletic Association. This hotel has a lively bar & a very popular rooftop with views of Millennium Park (Cindy’s).

Solo Travel Safety Tips for Chicago

Many people ask, How Safe is Chicago? You may have heard scary stories on the news about death and violence, or have heard people refer to the city as Chiraq… I assure you, Chicago is no more dangerous than San Francisco or New York. While there is a staggering amount of violence, almost all of violence is concentrated within a few “shady” neighborhoods… neighborhoods that you’ll never even go near as a tourist!

While you shouldn’t fear violent crime in any of the places I discuss here, it is important to exercise standard precautions to avoid pick pockets and mugging situations. Don’t have your hoodie up, don’t have earbuds in your ears & don’t be on your phone while using public transportation (criminals can grab your phone and quickly exit the train just before the doors are about to close). Also, be aware of your surroundings and walk confidently. Stay out of the Loop neighborhood at night. Lincoln Park, Gold Coast and River North are relatively safe at night.

Read our Safety Tips for Solo Travelers

 

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24 Top Things to Do in Vancouver | Vancouver Travel Guide | Canada - YouTube

Vancouver is not a city whose name you’ll hear surface often, when it comes to sexy international cities. I’m not sure why…  It should be.

San Francisco, New York, Chicago… all these cities come to mind when you walk Vancouver and yet, Vancouver’s British Columbian sensibilities will call upon more. As a progressive melting pot of cosmopolitan sensibility, innovative foodie tastes and  eco-awareness, Vancouver has all the wonderful BE attitudes to fall in love with. It is also the gateway to pristine mountains, rivers and wilderness.  By the end of my three days, I wanted to move there!

Ironically, Vancouver was the one city I knew least about. I was told it was a lovely but expensive city and that I’d like it.  But lovely is something you’d say about an ugly friend and Like is not as strong as an impression as love. The way it was being communicated to me, I got the impression Vancouver must be bland. Just before flying out to do my Arctic Road trip with Mazda, I panicked and cut my trip from a week to four days.

I regretted that change.

Best things to Do in Vancouver 1. Downtown Vancouver

If you just wandered around downtown Vancouver on foot down from Granville Street down to the Waterfront,  you’d find a lot to see and do. It feels like the lifeline of downtown heading into major music and nightclub venues like The Orpheum.   Downtown Vancouver can feel a bit like San Francisco or Chicago in its pedestrian feel. The architecture alone is phenomenal as it culls from architecture reminiscent from many major cities. As a foodie city, you’ll find a surprising amount of places innovating off normal foods, as if each cafe has its signature style or theme. While you will find fast food joints dedicated to poutine, why not try Vancouver’s version of poutine at Frites Vancouver where you can choose your toppings from Okonomi, kimchi, falafel and pad thai. Or why not find the Tacofino blue truck (the original food truck which birthed the popularity of Vancouver’s fish taco-fusion.

A lot of ground can be covered on foot, metro and bus. From Vancouver City Centre Station and Granville Street, Granville Island is around 10 minutes by bus and Richmond is about 35 minutes by SkyTrain. Getting out to Capilano suspension bridge can be done by finding their free shuttle drops (there is one at Canada Place).

Frites Vancouver: best things to do vancouver, Photo ©grrrltraveler

 

2. Shopping on Robson Street

Robson Street is Vancouver’s poshest and biggest shopping district in downtown. It feels a small Rodeo Drive of stores like Armani Exchange, Zara, Sephora, Lush and Vancouver favorites which offer Canuck inspired clothing.

3. Stanley Park

Stanley Park is a 405-hectare island park, surrounded by Vancouver Harbour and the English Bay.  The park is 5.5 miles long, and you can visit the Seawall which loops around the park. The island is beautiful with many lovely spots and Vancouver Aquarium (get tickets here), which is a home for marine research, conservation and marine animal rehabilitation. If you have time, you can explore Stanley Park on a rented bicycle.

Getting there: Take the Skytrain to Burrard Station and connect to the #19 bus on West Pender at Burrard Street, where you are dropped 5 minutes from the Aquarium.  Or rent a bicycle at Denmon Street.

4. Stanley Park Totem Poles

The Stanley Park Totem Poles are one of Vancouver’s top tourist attractions and I couldn’t understand why until I got there. These crafted monuments are a contribution from the First Nations community – British Columbia’s original native inhabitants. The monument is a symbol of cultural heritage and pride. The poles themselves were crafted to tell stories passed down through traditions. It is said that telling the story of one pole can take over three hours to read and translate.

Stanley Park Totem Poles

5. Lions Gate bridge

Lions Gate Bridge was constructed by the Guinness family and  named after The Lions, the two mountain peaks north of Vancouver.  It is said that two Squamish sisters invited friends to a birthday party against their father’s wishes so he turned them to stone to watch over Vancouver. Constructed in 1938, it connects downtown Vancouver with North and West Vancouver.  There are two lion statues guarding the entrances of the bridge.

Where to take this photo: Prospect Point is the highest part of the park, with a  lookout where you can capture a photo of the bridge and the Harbour.  This is also a wonderful spot for wedding photos.

Lion’s Bridge ©chrsitinekaaloa

6. Prospect Point Lookout

A 5 minute walk from the Lions Gate Bridge lookout in Prospect Point area,  is Stanley Park’s Prospect Point Lookout (map here), one of the best views of  English Bay, North and West Vancouver coasts

Lions Gate Bridge, Vancouver from Prospect Point

7. Granville Island & Granville Public Market

Granville Island is a man-made island that is like an artist village. It was once an industrial part of False Creek until it got redeveloped into a culture, theater and arts type of complex and is now the second most touristy place in Vancouver, loved by locals.  All shops and eateries there are locally owned and shops are proud of the fact many foods are locally sourced. Exploring its small village of boutique shops can take a little time if you’re in shopping mode. The headliner of Granville Island is the Granville Island Public Market. There are over 50 food vendors there selling anything from meats and fish, produce and sweets, crafts and gourmet home-grown dishes. It’s a great place for lunch or to buy food souvenirs.

granville public market

 

There is a lovely wharf area outside the Public Market where seagulls vy for your feeding attention and you can see a lovely cityscape view.  Foods to Try: Maple Syrup infused foods and candied salmon sticks.

Getting to Granville Island from Downtown Vancouver: take Bus #50 to Granville Island. It will drop you under a giant steel bridge. The entrance of Granville Island is a five minute walk from the bus stop.

granville island public market wharf landsea tours

8. GasTown

Known as the old core of Vancouver, Gastown is where Vancouver first settlement was birthed, when Yorkshire seaman, Gassy Jack Deighton arrived to open the first saloon in the area.  Today, Gastown is a mixture of hip boutiques, restaurants, pubs and galleries mixed with 1860s architecture, cobblestone streets and unfortunately, there are parts that are stricken with poverty. But there is a charm to Gastown. Old landmarks are still preserved and have plaques commemorating their historical value to the area. Two famous landmarks are a bronze statue of Jack Deighton and a 1977 steam-powered clock  (located on the corner of Water and Cambie Streets). Take a food, bar and wine tasting tour of Gastown or get great tasting tacos at Tacofino (it was born from a food truck and has grown with popularity to have restaurants and food trucks at various locations). Want to finish the evening off with dessert? Purebread is a cafe with wonderful baked goods both sweet and savory. Nearest station: Waterfront Place

Vancouver travel guide: Gastown steam powered clock . ©grrrltraveler

9. Vancouver Lookout Observation Deck

At Vancouver Lookout Observation Deck atHarbour Centre, you get a fantastic 360 degree view of Vancouver. The glass window ride alone, shooting up 430 feet, is pretty thrilling to feel the breadth of the city so close to you and in your face.  Then stroll around the observation deck which takes you around the entire building. There are plaques to show you where some of the famous city landmarks are. Your admission is good for the entire day, which means you can take many rides up the elevator or view the city during the day or at sunset.  There is also a revolving restaurant below.

Hours: 9A- 9P daily, Admission starts at $18.25. Check websiteBook all day tickets.  Location: In front of Waterfront Station.

10. Capilano Park & Salmon Hatchery

Capilano Salmon Hatchery is located in Capilano Regional River Park, next to Capilano River. Although the facility is quite small with limited information, it was was something I wish we had more time for. The river’s current near the hatchery is powerful and is a spot where you might spot jumping salmon. It is really some place that can only be reached by car, bus tour or bus ride (and 1 Km walk).

This was a stop on my tour. Our tour bus guide pointed out that the moss dangling from trees and which grows in abundance in that area is a special type of moss which only survives in pure air environments. In fact, Vancouver is one of the top ranked cities for clean air and with its surrounding nature and a community that is cognizant of its environment and preserving its wildlife and natural resources, it’s not hard to understand why.  Check the park website for seasonal schedules and directions.

11. Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

The Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is a part of Capilano Park. The suspension bridge  is  140 meter long and it is suspended 70 meters over Capilano River. Once you cross the bridge, there is a Treetops Adventure of seven suspension bridges connecting between trees. There is also a Cliff walk (this was a little scary for me, as its a half circle walk that clings to the outside of a granite cliff.   At night, there are canyon lights and decorations to create a wonderful glow. The park is a man-made park which can feel a little Disneylandish but still a fun place to take family and friends.  I went towards sunset into nightfall so I could experience the Canyon Lights which lit the bridges and tress like Christmas. There are half day Vancouver + Capilano Bridge tours .  Admission:  $47 Adults Hours: 9:00 AM – 7:00 PM

Getting to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park: The park is 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver. You can take public transportation or their free shuttle service which does pickup/drop-offs at specific locations (the easiest is Canada Place near the info kiosk). Directions and seasonal schedules on their website here.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

 

12. Chinatown

Chinatown used to be the spot where Vancouver went for its Asian fusion food fix. The food was once said to be just as good as going to the country itself.  Unfortunately, I’ve heard it has turned into a neighborhood which has attracted its share of poverty, drug dealers and folks with mental health issues. It doesn’t mean that there aren’t great restaurant spots and nice people there. But the new and better Chinatown is now in Richmond just south of Vancouver.

12. Canada Place

Canada Place is Vancouver’s iconic waterfront landmark and venue where all the big convention and events are held. At night it is lit up beautifully and is a walk away from the Vancouver Observation Lookout and Gastown. Nearest Metro: Waterfront.

13. Richmond: Vancouver’s New Chinatown

Richmond is little Asia, with a large Asian community, restaurants and shopping. It’s said that some of the best food comes from Richmond and it can compete with Asian food in Asia. The thing about Richmond is that it’s almost like a neighborhood with things spread out. I decided to go to one of the top five biggest malls in Vancouver, Aberdeen Centre. The mall itself is big with a variety of western and Asian branded stores (i.e. Korean skin care shops) and Asian restaurants– some with lines rolling out the door! There is a Daiso, which wasn’t as stocked-with-cool-finds as I hoped but nevertheless, it’s a Daiso.

I was recommended to visit the Aberdeen Centre food court for a sample of Richmond foods. Although it is a mall food court, the food court has a surprising variety of food options from all over Asia. Some of those foods look pretty authentic for mall food, so I knew this was the real stuff. Meanwhile others there are fun and popular options for Asian youth (i.e. boba tea drinks etc..).  Hours: Mon-Sat 10A-9P, Sunday 11A-7P

Getting to CF Richmond Centre Mall: Take metro to Richmond–Brighouse station, Zone 2 fare.

eating at richmond vancouver aberdeen centre

14. Richmond Night Market

Although this is not a food, Richmond Night market has to be mentioned here. Started in 2000 by entrepreneur Raymond Cheung, the Richmond Night Market has grown into one of the largest North American night market festivals. It occurs annually during the summer, bringing out the best in innovative, Asian-inspired fusion foods that will propel year round jaw-dropping instagram food shots. Follow the hashtag #VancouverFoodie. Even though it’s off-season, those Instagram photos are still floating around.

15. Lynn Canyon Park

If the crowds at Capilano Suspension Bridge feel overwhelming and you were looking to explore a more authentic Vancouver hiking spot, Lynn Canyon Park is a worthwhile adventure. It’s not only a nature park but there is a 30 foot swimming hole,  twin falls and hiking trails. You can spend hours here exploring nature, breathing in fresh air and crossing the suspension bridge over a gushing gorge. The bridge is a little smaller than Capilano but the feeling is more authentic here. Note: This is wilderness so there may be animals on this trail to be cautious of.  Admission: Free

Getting to Lynn Canyon Park:  From Downtown Waterfront Station take the sea bus across to Lonsdale Quay. As you get out from the terminal into the covered garage, you’ll see buses. Take either bus #228 to Lynn Valley Center and walk 15 minutes, or take bus #229 (transfer to Bus #227 at Lynn Valley Center and you’ll be taken to the entrance of the park. More directions on their website.

lynn canyon

 

16. City Day Tours

There are many reasons to book day tours. I wanted to cover a lot and get an overview of Vancouver city, so I took the Vancouver Delights Tour sponsored by LandSea Tours & Adventures. My tour had an onboard bus guide and often you’ll get a 15 minute stop at locations. Granville Island was our lunch stop and the Capilano Suspension Bridge for the special night Canyon lights was a highlight, so you’re given a little over an hour to explore those. For some travelers, a day tour can feel rushed. But for the average traveler, where a couple of quick photo snaps will suffice so you can skirt around Stanley Park, Capilano hills or across town to Vancouver Lookout Observation and more…  you’ll be grateful to cover a lot of locations in a narrow time. Independently, it would take much longer to see these things. The tour gave me a overview of spots I might want explore deeper if I had time.

17. Trip to Whistler

Wanna enjoy snow and skiing? Whistler is a mere 1.5 hours from Vancouver, making it a perfect day trip into nature.  For shuttle schedules and how to get to Whistler, check here.

18. Adventure, Yoga & Glamping

Vancouver’s British Columbia backyard is ripe with epic mountains, crystal calm lakes, wildlife and clean air. It is great for hiking, glamping and yoga adventures. If you have a bit of time and want a retreat into the natural beauty British Columbia is known for, check out some of these 3-5 day yoga adventure tours.

19 Grouse Mountain

Don’t have time to go to Whistler for your winter powder? Grouse Mountain is a ski and adventure mountain just 15 minutes from downtown Vancouver. Along with skiing, it offers gondola rides up the mountain, a wildlife refuge, lumberjack performances and a 2.9 kilometer 853 vertical meter hike which locals lovingly call “Nature’s Stairmaster”. Admission: $59/adults See Website.

20.  First Starbucks International

Sitting unassumingly in Waterfront Station is a hole-in-the-wall Starbucks which happens to be the first international Starbucks. Build in 1987, it is the first Starbucks outside of the United States.

Must Try Foods in Vancouver

Vancouver is quite possibly the foodie capital of Canada, with a rich ethnic melting pot of Asian to western influences.  Vancouver foods can feel progressive and cosmopolitan welcoming all diets from vegetarian, vegan and more; in fact, it reminded me of Los Angeles in that regard.

21. Local Seafood & Stock

Being coastal, Vancouver’s Pacific Northwest region has an abundance of seafood and salmon. Vancouver is proud of its sustainable catch and farming, so fish (specifically salmon) and wildlife will occupy a special place in its dishes.  Head to Granville Island Public Market to sample a variety cuisines made from local stock. Visit Salmon & Bannock, a restaurant featuring First Nations food, consisting of seafood, game meat and bannock breads.

22. Asian Food

Vancouver’s Asian foods stem from its immigrant culture (i.e.Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Cambodian ) and the dishes are re-known for being very good.

23. Fusion Foods & Japadog

Furthermore Vancouver has fusion foods with ethnic inspirations, such as Japadog (Japanese inspired hot dogs), Tacofino tacos and Vancouver’s flare for Asian and Canadian poutine fries.

24. Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons is a ubiquitous coffee and donuts stop you can’t miss- it is literally EVERYWHERE!  From quick breakfast pick-me-ups like english muffin with egg and sausage to donuts dripping with sweet flair… order yourself the local favorite- a Double Double (double cream, double sugar) coffee.

Read my Must Try Foods of Vancover  (coming soon)

tacofino truck downtown vancouver

Where to Stay in Vancouver Fairmont Vancouver Hotel

Located inside the Vancouver Airport at the domestic/U.S.A wing, sits the lofty Fairmonth..

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My Don Quijote Experience: Japan’s Best Discount Store for Travelers

 

If you’re doing souvenir shopping or even if you have travel needs or wanna pick up a Japanese snack, Don Quijote is your one-stop discount store for anything you can imagine.  From souvenirs to anything from household supplies, beauty, medical, clothing, electronic, food and entertaining Japanese products which will make shopping feel like an amusement attraction. Best of all, you’ll find discounted prices and travelers can find tax free shopping.

What can you buy at Don Quijote? Japanese Snacks

The snack section in Matcha Green Tea Twix, (umeboshi) plum candy, dried seafood. They carry a surprising amount of imported candies as well.

limited edition japan kit kats

Japanese Health Products & Supplements

The health and supplements section is fairly stocked with a lot of health aids to help you with muscle and joint aches to vitamin supplements.

Recommended items:

I’m a fan of the DHC vitamin supplements . Japan uses quality products and ingredients and the pills are very tiny. You can practically swallow them without water. Each time I’ve visited or passed through Japan, I’ve bought packets of DHC supplements! Vitamin mixes vary from  collagen, B-mix, E, etc… and supplements to help with diet.  I’ve also found the muscle relief aids to work pretty well

Japanese Beauty Products

Japanese beauty products is where Don Quijote excels if you’re female…

I love visiting the beauty aisles because there’s always a lot of curious inventions here.  As a westerner it’s easy to misinterpret a lot of this. YOu’ve got anything form face slimming, posture enhancers and … uh… beauty aids to firm your cheeks.

Recommended items:

I am in love with disposable eye warming masks. The masks heat up to a comfortable warmth when you remove them from the packet and they cover your eyes. Very relieving after a long day on the computer. Also, I bought one of those facial yoga mouthpieces below. The next time you see me on YouTube I’ll have nicely firmed cheeks.

Don Quijote Stores Tokyo: Products for facial yoga and muscle exercising

Don Quijote Stores Tokyo: Face slimming masks

 Japanese Adult Toys

In the mega Don stores are larger and are more likely to have an Adults Only Sex toys section. There’s a thin cloth door with the sign ‘Adults Only’ to shield this section from casual viewers and children. It’s a small section with dildos and dress up costumes and … okay, I was embarassed to be there filming so I didn’t stay very long to notice the finer points. It wasn’t nearly as unusual or as seemingly sexual as the Japanese beauty care aisles.

Don Quijote Stores Tokyo

 

Costumes, Stationary and Household goods

The costume section is interesting and a humorous.  If you’d like a unique and interesting costume to surprise friends with during Halloween visit the costume section. Products range from stuffed animal headwear to colorful wigs and  fun occupational dress up costumes like policeman, samurai, nurse. It’s a little kinky and offbeat.  Some of it can be random, like dressing up as Mount Fuji or a sushi.

Grocery Store & Discounted Foods

It’s unlikely you’ll be grocery shopping but travelers may want to visit the bento or ready-made food section where you can buy anything from mixed bento boxes to rice balls (aka onigiri).

Tip: Prices get discounted closer towards closing.

Don Quijote’s Tax Free Counter for Travelers

Japan charges an 8% sales tax on items, but not only does Don Quijote have discounted products but also tax free counters (you must show your passport to get exempt) .

At Don Quijote, travelers are exempt from Japan sales tax if they go to the Tax Free counter and show their passport. It’s like duty free and generally, you’re not supposed to use the items you just bought, but no one checks at customs. Save all your receipts as you might get asked for them at airport customs.

Mega Don Quijote is a mega store

I’ve visited Don Quijotes all around Tokyo, but Shinjuku had a mega Don Quijote! (It is literally called mega Don Quijote or Mega Donki)  This location is open 24 hours.  Browsing through Don Quijote, I get the impression that Japan can have a wacky, and occasionally risqué sense of humor. Which is interesting for such a polite, mannerly and seemingly quiet culture. I found the costume section in the Shinjuku location quite big, as if it’s Halloween all year round.

Don Quijote Locations in Japan

Don Quijote and Mega Don Quijote locations in Tokyo here.

Japan’s Best Discount Store for Travelers

My Don Quijote Experience (Video)

 

 

Japan Travel Series for Solo Travelers (Video Playlist)

 

Best Travel Insurance for Japan

American travelers often pay a premium on travel insurance.  World Nomads offers economic solutions for travelers who seek security and peace of mind.  It covers 150 countries.

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10 Must Try Japanese sakura sweets & snacks

 

Sakura sake Kit Kat, anyone…?  How about Limited Edition Coca Colas, edible sakura, bamboo ice cream… the list of must try Japanese sweets goes on.

I was in the Kansai region to experience Cherry Blossom Season in Japan. Initially in my video, I quoted 10 must try Japanese sakura snacks. Unfortunately found out later, that two of my snacks were Ume and one was strictly matcha tea. The truth is, I didn’t know how to title it — everything on my list are must try Japanese sweets.. and the majority of it are sakura.

During Sakura season, should you only look out for sakura foods?

Due to the fact Sakura season is so short and the blossoms last barely a week, cherry blossom season is a special celebration for Japanese, with hanami gatherings,  sakura sales at stores and you’ll also notice seasonal products emerge. You’ll also find traditional Japanese sweets (aka wagashi ) infused with flavors like sakura, matcha tea,  strawberry and peach.

10 must try sakura snacks

What is wagashi?

Wagashi is a Japanese sweet that is prepared with plant-based ingredients and which can be served with tea. Wagashi can be mochi, daifuku, manju or fruits.  Often, wagashi can have special symbolic meanings which invite good feelings and memories to those who eat it.

Sakura Season in Japan

10 Must Try Japanese Sweets for Sakura Season 1. Limited Edition Japanese Sakura Sake Kit Kat

Kit Kat must have a home in Japan because they certainly have Limited Edition flavors you won’t find in any other country. How about Sakura Sake Kit Kat ?  Sakura sake is a product sold in stores around sakura season, but I’m not sure if Kit Kat pulls it off smoothly with its liquor version.  Unfortunately, sakura sake seems to only come out during sakura season.Where to buy this: Don Quijote; Daiso, sometimes, Family Mart/7Eleven

2. Matcha Tea Kit Kat

Matcha Tea Kit Kats are popular with tourists and you can buy them by the bag at Don Quijote, year round. But did you know that Match Tea Kit Kat has a milk chocolate and dark chocolate version? I’ve tried both!

The match milk tea version is milder and milkier in flavor, while the matcha dark tea chocolate tastes a bit like you’re sucking on a matcha tea grinds…  you might even get your dose of antioxidants in one bite.  I preferred the milkier version.  Where to buy this: Don Quijote; Daiso, sometimes, Family Mart/7Eleven

 

limited edition japan kit kats

3. Sakura & Matcha Tea Pocky

Japan loves Pocky. Pocky is a thin and long pretzel wafer stick dipped in chocolate, but in the Sakura Match Tea Pocky version, the wafer stick  is sakura-flavored while the tip is dipped in matcha tea milk chocolate. A beautifully delicate combination of soothing flavors.  (Watch my video below!)

Where to buy this: Don Quijote.

4. Sakura Jelly

Sakura Jelly is the lovely taste of a first spring and is a sakura flavored gelatin-like dome wagashi.  You buy them at confectionary shops in Japan. The taste is a magnificent romance and celebration of spring. The added highlight is the open and edible sakura blossom which sits beautifully preserved, soaking in the heavenly flavors around it. It’s a work of edible art! Where to buy this: Confectionary shops.

10 must try sakura snacks: sakura jelly ©grrrltraveler

 

5. Sakura (Rice) Mochi

Sakura Mochi is a popular wagashi you might have with tea. I call this Sakura Rice Mochi, just to distinguish it from all the other mochis, because this mochi is different. While mochi is typically pounded rice, served in a balled paste, the sakura mochi is similar to a small mochi-sized onigiri.  The rice is cooked with sakura flavor, accompanied with a sweet red bean paste filling and wrapped in a picked cherry blossom leaf.

When I stayed with my Japanese girlfriend Yuko on my first visit to Japan, her mother – a tea ceremonialist- prepared tea and sakura mochi. Sweet, light with a tinge of sour, it only invites warm feelings and delightful memories. Where you might find this: tea houses, traditional markets, grocery markets, (sometimes) convenience stores

10 must try sakura snacks: sakura mochi ©grrrltraveler

 

6. Japan Limited Edition Sakura Coca Cola

Japan has Limited Edition Coca Cola and when I was there, sakura, peach and Osaka were standouts for the 2019 sakura season. Unfortunately, I never tried the Osaka version as they were being sold as a package rather than individually (almost like a collector’s item) Where to buy this: Don Quijote; Daiso, convenience stores

limited edition japan coca colas

limited edition japan coca cola osaka

 

7. Bamboo & Sakura flavored ice cream

Soft serve or Ice cream in Japan is fairly prominent and generally it costs 300 yen. Soft serve is soft and creamy, but it will not feel milky (I never felt very snotty after eating them)!  In Arashiyama (Bamboo Forest)  I stumbled upon bamboo and sakura ice cream! Of course, I had to try it. The sakura ice cream tasted a bit like a mild cherry-flavored ice cream. The taste was light and not heavy. Definitely a must!

Sakura & Bamboo Ice Cream in Kyoto, Arashiyama

 

8.   Sakura Salt seasonings (Substituted for Ume chips )

The Ume chips I mistook for sakura chips due to the packaging and I loved the sweet, sour, salty flavor. I thought I’d substitute it for the Sakura salt seasonings.  Sakura can also come as a salt seasoning which can be used to flavor things like onigiri or chazuke. I was tempted to buy one and they are small enough to carry, but I honestly was not sure if TSA would see the sakura blossoms as seeds or confiscate it for being from a plant. I guess I’ll never know!

Where to find this: Specialty and confectionary shops.

Sakura salt seasonings, ©grrrltraveler

 

9. Hanami Dango

Hanami Dango is a three flavored dango stick and the colors represent the nature and season. Pink for cherry blossom, white the snow which has just melted to be spring and green for freshness of the greens in the spring season. My hanami dango flavors were: sakura, regular and matcha tea.

( Note: the Matcha can also be Mugwort, an herb with a slightly bitter taste but with known health benefits to Japanese) Where to find this: Dango is found in many places, but the hanami one might be special. General places for dango: traditional markets, park vendors, occasional convenience stores, small shop vendors selling mochi items.

 

10. Sakura breads at cafes and bakeries

Visiting bakeries and cafes, you might find sakura desserts and breads. With Japanese cooking,  bread desserts do not look like sugar-coated donuts as they do in western countries. You’ll wonder what the fascination with them is, but often there is either a surprise filling, like custard, red bean, creme or it might just taste surprisingly great!  The breads below were at the Miffy Sakura Bakery in Kyoto.

Where to find them: Japan also has a lot of character cafes. Whatever your favorite cute Japanese character, you might find a character cafe in their honor: Pokemon Cafe (official website– tickets are highly sought after. This cafe is in Tokyo), Gudetama Cafe (there is one is Osaka), PEANUTS Cafe, Hello Kitty Cafe, PomPomPurin Cafe, etc…

Miffy Japanese sakura salt bread

Miffy Japanese sakura salt bread

Bonus: Umeko Candy

Ume candy is made from the red umeboshi plum, which has a sour, sweet, salty taste. They sell a lot of these in Don Quijote.  It’s a popularized taste although westerners will find it unique and maybe odd. You’ll either like it or you won’t.  These plums are ubiquitous fillings for onigiri (aka rice balls). Either way, ume candy is a fun and strange discovery you will find in Japanese candy.

In candy packaging, sakura and plum blossoms look similar and can easily be confused with its pink blossom packaging. The way you might tell sakura and ume blossoms apart is by the flower petal. Sakura flowers have a split at the end of the petal, while ume blossoms do not. Where to buy this: Don Quijote, Daiso, convenience stores.

Where to find wagashi and Japanese sakura sweets ?

Wagashi is found in every city and isn’t hard to find as you might think.  You’ll find them at tea houses, cafes, specialty sweet shops, character cafes, markets… you might even find some at Japanese konbinis (aka convenience stories) like 7 Eleven, Family Mart, Lawsons, etc..  Don Quijote has a huge selection of products ranging anything from sakura sake and liquors to Limited Edition Kit Kats and Coca Colas, Pocky and more.

Watch the Experiential Taste Test of 10 Must Try Japanese Sweets for Sakura season

➱ YOUTUBE PLAYLISTS:  Tokyo Travel Guides: http://bit.ly/play-tokyo

I love eating Japanese snacks- do you? What are your must try Japanese sweets? Leave your recommendations below!
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48 hours ho chi minh travel guide

 

Under our expert traveler series, this guest post is written by travel and food blogger, Markus Kampl of The Roaming Fork. Based in Ho Chi Minh City for the past 18 months but a lover of this city for years, Markus documents his travels through his food explorations of following ingredients to the final dish. He is your guide, showing you the best things to do in Ho Chi Minh in 48 hours

 

Ho Chi Minh City is a rapidly modernizing city that is both exciting and fast-paced, yet continues to hold onto some traditions through colonial architecture and an impressive range of museums.  48 hours in Ho Chi Minh City will allow you enough time to visit a number of these institutions whilst making time to enjoy the delicious and fresh food with a late night cocktail on a rooftop bar.

9 Best Things to Do in Ho Chi Minh in 48 hours 1. War Remnants Museum

One of the highlights in Ho Chi Minh City are the many museums that capture different aspects of Vietnam’s past. With much of Vietnam’s history being centred on conflict, one of the best places to visit is the War Remnants Museum (28 Vo Van Tan Street, District 3, Open 7.30am to 6.00pm, Entry Fee 40,000VND) which catalogues the conflicts of the 20th century through the eyes of the Vietnamese. On the grounds there a number of fighter jets, tanks, and helicopters on display, whilst inside over three levels, various rooms are dedicated to the stories of the wars over the last 100 years, with a particular focus on the Vietnam War (known in Vietnam as the American War). The displays are often raw and graphic in nature and provide an excellent way to learn more about the conflicts and their devastating impacts on the local population.

War Remnant Museum, Ho Chi Minh ©Markus Kampl

 2. Cu Chi Tunnels  (optional day tour)

Cu Chi Tunnels are a 120 km network of underground tunnels and trapdoors used during the Vietnam War. The site is located 40 km northwest of Ho Chi Minh and is often combined as a War Remnants Museum and Cu Chi Tunnels day tour.

3. Independence Palace

A short walk away is the Independence Palace (135 Nam Ky Khoi Nghia Street, District 1, Open 7.30am to 11.00am – 1.00pm to 5.00pm, Entry Fee 40,000VND) also known as the Reunification Palace. Perhaps the most enduring image of the palace is the vision of the North Vietnamese tank crashing through the gates to mark an end to the war in 1975. The interior of the palace has been maintained from 1975, and it really is like stepping back in time. The communications centre in the basement is a must-see display within the palace.
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4. Ben Thanh Market

Ho Chi Minh City’s best known market is the centrally located Ben Thanh Market (Le Lai Street, Open 6.00am to 6.00pm, Entry Free). There are all sorts of handicrafts, jewelry, shoes, souvenirs, and clothes to buy as well as many stalls selling local produce such as rice, noodles, meats, seafood, spices and nuts. If shopping isn’t your thing, the market is worth visiting for the food court, where all the famous local delicacies are available in one handy spot.

At night, the streets surrounding the market building transform into a lively night market.

Check out these 5 Best Markets in Saigon   

 

Ben Thanh Market . Photo ©Markus Kampl

5. Binh Tay Market

If the touristy nature of Ben Thanh puts you off, then head out of the centre of Ho Chi Minh City to District 6 where the huge Binh Tay Market (57 Thap Muoi Street, District 6, Open 6.00am to 7.00pm, Entry Free) is located. You will find all the same products on sale as with Ben Thanh Market (and probably more) but with lower prices and less hassle from the vendors. District 6 is also home to the city’s Chinatown.

6. Ho Thi Ky Flower Market

And for lovers of flowers and unique market experiences, head to Ho Thi Ky Flower Market (Hem 52 Ho Thi Ky, District 10, Open 24 hours) where you can wander the many colourful and perfume filled laneways where flower wholesalers operate in one of Ho Chi Minh City’s more serene atmospheres.

GP Ho Thi Ky Flower Mkt

7. Explore Ho Chi Minh’s French Architecture

One of the legacies of the 60-year French colonization of Vietnam are the wonderful examples of French Architecture, that not only have stood the test of time, but continue to be an important element of daily life.

The Notre Dame Cathedral (Cong xa Paris, District 1, 6.00am to 7.00pm, Entry Free) and Central Post Office (125 Cong xa Paris, District 1, Open 7.00am to 7.00pm, Entry Free) are conveniently located next to each other and are great examples of the unique French design. A further short walk away is the upmarket Dong Khoi Street, where in the immediate area classic French designed buildings such as the Opera House, The Majestic Hotel, and the Museum of Fine Arts are located.

Notre Dame Church, Ho Chi Minh, Photo ©Markus Kampl

8. Sky Deck at Bitexco Tower

Dominating the skyline in Ho Chi Minh City is the Bitexco Tower (36 Ho Tung Mau Street, District 1, Open 9.30am to 9.30pm, Entry Fee 200,000VND, you can book in advance ) with the helicopter landing pad jutting out from the side. Here you will find the Sky Deck on the 49th floor which offers visitors 360 degree views of the city. Grab your camera and head there for a sunset to remember.

Trips to Mekong Delta can be gotten through Ho Chi Minh. Read my tips on finding budget tours in Vietnam without getting scams.

Skyline at Sunset, Ho Chi Minh Photo©Markus Kampl

9. Rooftop Bars

With the year-round warm night time temperatures, there is no shortage of rooftop bars to enjoy a few drinks after a heavy day of sight-seeing. Whether taking a step back in time at one of the classic hotels such as the Rex Hotel (141 Nguyen Hue, District 1, Open 24 Hours) or partying the night away at the Chill Sky Bar (AB Tower, 76A Le Lai, Open 5.30pm to 2.00am), there will be a rooftop bar to suit your needs.

Must Try Foods in Ho Chi Minh

Vietnamese cuisine is world famous, and although most visitors will have tried a few Vietnamese dishes prior to arriving, there is nothing like experiencing the food from the source.

And despite many Vietnamese dishes originating from different regions throughout Vietnam, they can pretty much all be found and eaten in Ho Chi Minh City.

Some of the classic not-to-be missed Vietnamese dishes include the classic beef noodle soup Pho, the French inspired filled bread roll Banh Mi, the fried spring roll Cha Gio, and the fresh version Goi Cuon.

More dishes to add to the list are the breakfast staple, grilled pork and broken rice Com Tam, beef rolled in betel leaves, Bo La Lot, and the fiery noodle soup from the imperial capital of Vietnam, Bun Bo Hue.

GP Bun Bo Hue ©theroamingfork

 

These dishes, and more, can be found everywhere. From roadside stalls, to small speciality hole-in-the-wall type establishments, in market food halls, through to restaurants offering the full range of dishes.

A great way to explore the depth of Vietnamese cuisine is to take part in a motorbike food tour, where you can taste a range of dishes in multiple locations all while experiencing sitting on the back of a motorbike through the hectic streets of the city.

When friends visit, the one restaurant that I always take them to is The Secret Garden (158 Pastuer Street, District 1 Open 11.00am to 10.00pm For bookings call 090 990 46 21). This local restaurant serves delicious and fresh Vietnamese cuisine, in comfortable surroundings, with a great rooftop view and at affordable prices.

Must Try Vietnamese Food: Pho in Ho Chi Minh

Getting around

A large majority of sights worth visiting in Ho Chi Minh City are located in District 1, which means it is easy and cheap to get around.

Walking: Many of the attractions are within walking distance of each other meaning that a little pre-planning will allow you to visit a few places within the one outing.

Taxi: Taxis are plentiful and cheap, and are the most comfortable option for getting around. To avoid taxi scams, only use the two main companies, Vinasun and Mai Linh, and ensure the meter is on before departing.

Grab Motorcycle: Grab motorcycles are everywhere and offer the cheapest form of transport. A ride can be booked via the Grab App however they can be easily approached on the street and will work out the fare in advance before heading off for the trip.

Grab Taxi: Grab Taxis exist and are cheaper than normal taxis however are not always easy to book. They will usually call ahead to confirm your location so if you don’t have a local mobile number, or don’t speak Vietnamese, then the drivers will sometimes not pick you up.

Xe Om: These are private motorcycle riders who usually wear a blue shirt and wait on street corners for customers. Prices should be agreed on before starting the trip and be prepared to negotiate.

Buses: There is a bus network running through Ho Chi Minh City and it is very cheap, however if your time is short then the cost saving will not stack up against the inconvenience of working out routes and timetables.

There is no subway in Ho Chi Minh City

Read my Top 5 Tips for Traveling Vietnam

Motorbikes in Vietnam, ©grrrltraveler

Safety tips for solo travelers

On the whole, HCMC is a very safe city to visit with very little danger to your personal safety. There is, however, an issue with petty crime such as phone and bag snatching and pick pocketing, especially around nightclubs and busy tourist areas.

To reduce the chances of falling victim to one of the petty crimes, follow the usual safety tips such as leaving any valuables in your hotel safe, not leaving bags sitting in places where they are easy to snatch, and if you need to wear a bag, ensure that it is strapped across your body, not sitting off your shoulder. Read Solo Travel Safety Tips

Another precaution to take is with the local currency. Keep larger notes separated from smaller notes, as they can look the same. For example, 10,000 Dong notes look very similar to 100,000 Dong notes, whilst 20,000 Dong and 500,000 Dong Notes are both blue. And sometimes when paying a vendor in a rush, mix-ups can occur.

And finally, when using your mobile phone, or camera for that matter, make sure you are aware of who is around you, and if possible, avoid using your phone casually as you walk around the streets, as phone snatching occurs more often than it should. Please don’t think this can’t happen to you.

It’s highly recommend to get  travel insurance for added peace of mind during your time in Ho Chi Minh
.

Read 15 Things to Know Before you Go to Vietnam

Where to Stay in Ho Chi Minh

As a majority, if not all, of your 48 hours in Ho Chi Minh City will be spent in District 1, it makes sense for your hotel to be located there. There are few areas within Ho Chi Minh City where you can consider staying depending on your plans and budget, with the following two areas covering all budget and location needs.

Pham Ngu Lao (PNL)

This area, also known as the backpacker district, has plenty of cheaper accommodation and hostels. It is an especially popular area for those looking to spend more time socialising in the local bars, restaurants, spas, and night clubs. PNL is home to the (in)famous Bui Vien Street.

Stay: Saigon Hub Hostel (1.1 miles from Ben Thanh Street Food Market) or Lotus Boutique Hotel (55/29-31-33 Le Thi Hong Gam Street, District 01, District 1)

Around Dong Khoi Street

This area has a majority of the more expensive hotels as well as being next to an area known as the Japanese Quarter, which is a quieter area with many mid-priced hotels.

Stay: Paragon Saigon (22-24 Thi Sach , District 1, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam –)

AirBnb: Ho Chi Minh City is awash with AirBnb options (get $40 credit by using my GRRR link) from shared accommodation, entire apartments, to large houses for groups. There are options all across the city.

Photo Permissions by ©Markus Kampl of TheRoamingFork

What would you recommend in best things to do in Ho Chi Minh City in 48 hours? Related Posts on Vietnam Travel

Things to Know before you go to Sapa
Things to know about budget tours in Vietnam
Tour of the Mekong Delta Floating Markets

 

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Best foods to eat in San Diego

 

Penned under our expert traveler series, this guest post is written by San Diego based travel and food blogger, Angelica of Things to Do & See, who shares the best budget-friendly activities and the most delicious local foods from places she’s traveled. She will be your guide to showing you the best things to eat in San Diego.

 

San Diego is one of the best places to eat.

That’s not me being biased because I live in San Diego. Yelp recently ranked San Diego a #5 in best foodie destinations around the US! The huge increase in signature dishes and talented chefs secured its spot on the list, according to the study.

But if you ask me, San Diego has been a foodie destination for years. It has access to so many fresh ingredients. It is a melting pot of different lifestyles and cultures and that mix created so many unique dishes.

What should you eat in San Diego, if you want to try the things that foodie locals would say really represent the taste? It can be hard to decide, because there are so many popular restaurants, favorite dishes, and great places to eat! So I put together this list of some of the many foods and restaurants that represent the flavors of San Diego or are popular with the locals. When you finally make it to your trip, check out these 10 best things to eat in San Diego!

10 Best things to eat in San Diego

Note: If you’re vegetarian or just aren’t used to eating a ton of meat, you might notice that food in San Diego is extremely meat heavy. Some of the dishes in this list are meat-free, but for the meat-full ones, I added some delicious vegetarian alternatives when possible!

1. Carne asada fries

Carne asada fries started in San Diego, so you have to try them when you’re here. If you don’t know what these are, picture crisp fries topped with flavorful, perfectly grilled carne asada, shredded cheese, cotija cheese, guacamole, and sour cream. It’s a little like Canadian poutine! The toppings can vary a bit depending where you go– sometimes there’s pico de gallo, and sometimes there’s grilled shrimp!

Lolita’s Mexican Food usually takes the credit for being the original restaurant that created this dish, but it’s only one of the many places you can try them. Another popular restaurant to try carne asada fries and my personal favorite is La Puerta. Go during their happy hour if you’re on a budget!

For a vegetarian alternative, check out Pokez Restaurant, a vegetarian friendly Mexican spot, and order the tofu fries. Their tofu is full of flavor and while the vegetarian version is arguably a bit better for you, you’ll still have that super full feeling like with the carne asada fries, even if you split them.

Carne Asada Fries

2. California burritos

California burritos are basically the above but in a burrito– so carne asada, fries, guacamole, etc. But don’t be deceived by the name– different cities in California have their own style of burrito. And California burritos are the ones that started in San Diego.

You can find these almost everywhere- from 24 hour taco shops, to bars, to high end restaurants. A popular local favorite and my personal favorite is at Taco Surf PB. Their carne asada is perfection, and their prices are so reasonable! Also if you aren’t used to finishing 1 lb burritos on your own, you might need to split these with a friend.

To get a tasty vegetarian version, check out Ranchos Cocina! While they don’t exactly have a vegetarian California burrito, their vegetarian version of carne asada burritos are amazing! These are like the California burrito, but without fries.

best foods to eat in san diego: California burrito

3. Fish tacos

With the ocean and Mexico so close by, it’s not that surprising that amazing fish tacos are so popular and easy to find in San Diego. Again, every taco shop and bar will have these, and they’re another can’t miss staple in a San Diego diet!

For people who love affordable, fresh, and creative fish tacos, check out the local Fish Shop restaurants, with locations in Point Loma and Pacific Beach. These have a rotating freshly caught fish that you can base your taco on and is a popular spot for a quality fish taco. For the classic, authentic Baja-style fish taco that San Diego is known for, you need to check out the food truck Mariscos German. It can be a little out of the way if you’re just focused on staying in the main parts of San Diego, but it’s a quick, must do trip for any foodie!

4. Avocado toast

If you’re anything like me, you might roll your eyes at this section. Yes, you can get avocado toast in many places around the world, but trust me- it won’t taste the same as avocado toast in San Diego!

Because did you know that California grows 90% of the US’s avocados and San Diego County grows 60% of that 90%, according to SanDiego.org? The avocados are so fresh here, which makes the toast next level. I didn’t think there would be such a noticeable difference until I moved to San Diego. Trust me!

You can find these almost anywhere, from brunch places to coffee shops. I personally like Parakeet Cafe, a ridiculously cute, local coffee shop with a few different San Diego locations like La Jolla and Little Italy. Their avocado toast is great, but they also have other creative toasts- like mushroom toast! And for a full on, avocado toast bar, check out Son of A Toast.

Best foods to eat in san diego: avocado toast

5. Bacon Cheeseburger at Hodad’s

Hodad’s is San Diego’s hyper local fast burger joint. Like In N Out for California or Dick’s for Washington, state- except Hodad’s has actually made it on a ton of “top burgers in the US” lists- from Zagat’s to Men’s Journal’s to Insider’s, etc. Its double bacon cheeseburger is its signature burger, and they even offer mini sizes for people with smaller appetites. Be prepared for a long line full of both locals and foodie tourists!

Note: People will kill me for saying this, but I prefer Burger Lounge for another extremely popular, local Southern California fast burger. Their beef is all grass-fed, and they have an amazing quinoa veggie burger!

6. Donuts from Donut Bar

If you’re looking up “can’t miss places to eat in San Diego”, Donut Bar is almost always on everyone’s list. And for good reason- their yeast donuts are amazing and creative! I didn’t even like donuts or sweets until I had their donuts. You can’t go wrong with any of their donuts, but some of the more popular ones are their French toast donut and their pop tart donut (yes, it does have an entire pop tart inside).

Don’t be daunted by the line because it moves quickly, but do head early because they close once they run out of donuts. Since it’s also a bar, if you end up craving donuts for dinner, they reopen at 5 on Fridays and Saturdays and have beer and milk on tap!

7. Brunch at Hash Hash A Go Go

Did you know that Hash Hash A Go Go, one of the restaurants that’s on food shows like Man vs Food, is actually from San Diego? The Las Vegas location gets a lot of press in food media because it’s in Las Vegas and delicious, but you have to check out the original location in San Diego!

Known for delicious, gigantic portions of “Midwest” style brunch, their creative Bloody Marys (like their BLT Bloody Mary – which could pass for a meal) and their fried chicken eggs benedict (aka the definition of perfection) are my personal favorites. Their red velvet waffle is a close second too. Make sure you go with a group, because their portions will probably be too big for you to finish on your own!

8. Pork Sandwiches at Carnita’s Snack Shack

You might think that good pork is more of a Southern or Midwest US thing, but the pork sandwiches at Carnita’s Snack Shack are a massive local and national favorite. This is the place to get a sandwich that has way more flavor than what you actually paid for. Their sandwiches range from pulled pork, bacon, and pork loin to pork belly, ham, and bacon. It’s pretty ridiculous, but there’s a reason that so many top food magazines have written about them.

Unfortunately there are no good vegetarian main dish options or analog here, but if you love pork, you have to check out their sandwiches!

9. Fried chicken sandwiches at The Crack Shack

More of a chicken person than pork? Then you have to check out The Crack Shack! This is one of the most popular restaurants in San Diego, and for good reason, because their sandwiches are awesome. It’s like Carnitas Snack Shack for chicken lovers. If you want something lighter than a sandwich, get the chicken oysters, which are basically like adult chicken nuggets, made with real chicken.

10. Acai Bowls

The perfect way to cool down along the beach (besides with a margarita) is with an acai bowl. Because they were popularized in this region, they’re so cheap and delicious here compared to other cities! If you haven’t had them before, acai bowls are almost like smoothie bowls made with a super fruit berry called acai, then topped with anything from fruits to nuts to chocolate. You can find these almost anywhere along the beach, and they make a quick and satisfying snack.

If you want Instagram food, get an acai bowl inside of a pineapple from Rum Jungle Cafe. If you want one of the most popular, less sweet acai bowls check out Everbowl when you’re in Little Italy.

best foods to eat in san diego: Acai bowl

 

What did you think of these 10 Best foods of San Diego? What would you add to this list? Comment below.

 

 

 

 

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Cherry blossoms (aka sakura) in Japan- is it on your bucket list?

For a long time, I thought sakura season in Japan was just travelers hype. I mean, I did not discount the rare occasion to celebrate cherry blossom (aka sakura) beauty. I just thought– yeah, cherry blossom flowers. I’ve seen them in Korea, so what’s the big deal.  You see, I’ve never been a flower-type of person nor do I travel much during peak tourist season.

After experiencing sakura season in Japan, I retract that bit about it not being a big deal. It is.  Whether I thought i was a flower type of person or not… it is something Japan and its sakura transformed me into while I was there. In this post I’ll be sharing a Kansai travel guide of my Top 10 Cherry Blossom Spots of Kyoto, Osaka, Nara.

Best Cherry Blossom Spots of the Kansai region

This was my first time experiencing cherry blossom season in Japan. Sakura season typically occurs between the months of March and April.   I’ve already visited Tokyo. Now wanted to explore the Kansai region for its picturesque and diverse beauty.  When I arrived, the sakura in each city was just starting to go into full blossom, which meant I had about a week, to chase them down.

My Japanese girlfriend in Tokyo sent me this map to track the dates: https://sakura.weathermap.jp

Read my Japan Budget Tips

What is hanami ?

Visiting the best cherry blossom spots may be important to foreign travelers like myself. But for the Japanese the focus is different. During cherry blossom season in Japan, the Japanese celebrate hanami (otherwise known as cherry blossom viewing, while picnicking under the cherry trees ). Due to the fact cherry blossoms last for a short time after they bloom- a week if you’re lucky- sakura season is a time where Japanese are reminded of the precious beauty and fragility of life and how it should not be squandered. Thus, Japanese celebrate with hanami gatherings of family and friends to picnic, drink and eat while celebrating the fragrance and  beauty of this short season.

Seasonal Foods & Celebrations during Cherry Blossom season

During sakura season there are also sakura discounts and special Japanese foods made with sakura.  I noticed the seasonal fruits to try in the Kansai region around this time where strawberries (they even have light pinkish white ones!), sakura foods and well, there is an abundance of matcha green tea popularity.  Matcha desserts seem to work hand-in-hand with sakura ones and you might find chocolates or soft serve with a combo of both. As far as sakura foods go,  I’ve tried and/or seen anything from sakura sake, jelly, candies, soft serve, snacks, mochi and limited edition drinks from Coca cola and Starbucks.

hanami in murayama park kyoto ©christinekaaloa

 

Top 10 cherry blossom spots of Kyoto, Osaka, Nara

You’ll notice most of my top cherry blossom viewing spots are in Kyoto. While there are certainly lovely cherry blossom viewing spots that I did not mention of Osaka and Nara, I made my top 10 list from cherry blossom locations that were easily accessible for independent solo travelers.  I also planned it to maximize time as not only did I have a little over a week to get around but I was also dealing with bad back issues and plantar fasciitus in my feet.  I needed to be smart with my walking and filming time. Thus, at least half of my Kansai travel guide listings will be at/ near major sites, so you can maximize time. They are top cherry blossom spots as well.

Best cherry blossom spots in Kansai to experience hanami 

These are cherry blossom locations where you will find Japanese relaxing and enjoying a picnic or interacting with cherry trees.

1. Osaka Castle Park / Osaka

Osaka Castle Park was my welcome intro to Osaka and my first favorite sakura experience and my first understanding of hanami. As the second largest park in Osaka, the park is quite large and I did not even make it to Osaka Castle.  The park winds around the moat with cherry blossoms leading the way. Meanwhile Osaka Castle is a good 20-30 minutes walk further inside. It’s easy to get distracted as there are almost 600  cherry trees.  Immediately the trees will welcome you into the park like a canapé.  Blue tarp mats are laid out at Osaka Park under the trees for hanami and so family, colleague and friends can gather, eat, and drink while enjoying the beauty of this short but beautiful season.

osaka-castle-park-cherry-blossom-spots ©christinekaaloa

2. Maruyama Park / Kyoto

Located in Higashiyama district next to Yasaka Shrine of Gion, sits Maruyama Park, a popular social spot for hanami. There are over 680 cherry trees of different varieties and a restaurant area where you can gather with friends to enjoy a meal.   The most popular gathering spot is at the iconic weeping cherry tree which is lit up at night.  At night the park has illuminations (or tree lightings) so you can continue their merriment under the sakura stars.

As Yasaka shrine is neighboring, it’s ideal to explore the shrine grounds, where there is a shrine dedicated to fertility and to beauty. The latter is said to be one that many maiko and geisha like to visit. During sakura season, you may find food vendors lining the path from the shrine grounds to Maruyama Park.

Getting there: 10 minute walk from Gion Station (towards the direction of the Opera house; not bridge).

hanami in murayama park kyoto ©christinekaaloa

3. Togetsukyo Bridge / Kyoto

Togetsukyo, or ‘Moon Crossing’ Bridge is Arashiyama’s iconic bridge crossing over the Katsura River . Next to the bridge is a  river park lined with dozens of cherry trees, where you can picnic against the scenic beauty and romantic location.

Getting to Arashiyama: These metro station stops arrive in or near it- JR Saga-Arashiyama Station, Keifuku Arashiyama Station and Hankyu Arashiyama Station. Or take bus #23 to Arashiyama-Tenryuji-mae

togetsukyo bridge kyoto ©christinekaaloa

togetsukuyo bridge kyoto ©christinekaaloa

4. Keage Incline / Kyoto

You can’t quite picnic here, but maybe you can pack a sandwich!  Keage Incline is an abandoned railway, which used to transport ships between the Lake Biwa Canal to the Okazaki Canal. The cherry trees create a kind of a tunnel over the tracks. When it is not sakura, the tracks make for a popular Instagram spot.

Getting to Keage Incline:  4 min walk from Keage Station , Higashiyama,

Sakura at Keage Incline ©christinekaaloa

Keage Incline Kyoto ©christinekaaloa

Honorable Mention Sakura Moments

These cherry blossom locations are notable ones but you might not want to linger long in one place with them. Unlike other locations where you can enjoy hanami or the sakura area fully, these can be more like one-offs where you’re on your way to somewhere else. The one exception may be the Kiyomizu-dera temple which is a substantial attraction you will spend time in.. just not necessarily for hanami. My timing might have been bad, but the sighting of cherry blossom trees were not as full as promised.

5. Kiyomizu-dera Temple

Kyoto’s Kiyomizu-dera Temple is known for its wish-granting waters, but it’s also houses 1500 cherry blossom trees on its hilly slopes. I didn’t see that many blossoming trees when I arrived but it is possible the area was not blooming at that time. The iconic temple shot is said to be a panoramic shot from behind the temple looking out. Unfortunately, the temple is currently under construction.  But as a temple grounds, you can explore the area, enjoy the three story pagoda, wishing waters and find your own sakura moments.

Note: The streets leading up to Kiyomizu-dera are lined with souvenir and snack shops but the architecture is reminiscent of an old Kyoto.

kiyomizu dera temple, best sakura spots in kyoto ©christinekaaloa

kiyomizu dera temple ©christinekaaloa

6. Okazaki Canal

Okazaki Canal, located a stone’s throw from Heian Shrine, is a waterway that connects to Lake Biwa Canal, the main canal that brings water to the city of Kyoto. The cherry trees lining the sides create a semi canape over the canal.

Getting to Okazaki Canal: Take bus 5 or 100 to Heian Shrine. It is right before the giant red torii gate that stands as a welcome towards the shrine grounds.

okazaki canal kyoto ©christinekaaloa

7. Kiyamachi Dori or Kiyamachi Street

Last but not least, you can always find wonderful impromptu spots around the city. One of my favorite but lesser known spots and one that tourists don’t know about is Kiyamachi Dori or Kiyamachi Street. In the heart of Kyoto, near Gion, parallel to Pontocho Alley and the Kamo River, Kiyamachi Street is a popular local nightlife and restaurant walking street with a river canal running through it. If you get lost, just follow the barbeque scent which permeates the area. Lit at night with lights of its surroundings, its buzz is almost romantically electric.  Nearest Stations: Gion Station / Higashiyama Station

Unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime sakura experiences

These are definite musts if you visit the Kansaii region. I would definitely add Osaka Castle Park to this category as well. The park is overwhelmed by sakura trees and the most impressive by sheer number. But it is also a great hanami experience which is why I placed it there originally.

8. Sagano Romantic Train Ride, Kyoto

Beautiful at all seasons is the Sagano Romantic Train Ride. This is a sightseeing train which runs through the picturesque Arashiyama-Sagano area to Kameoka Torokko station. Once at Kameoka Torokko station you can either take a lovely boat ride back down the river gorge or take a return train. Unfortunately, I went on a day the boat docks were closed due to the rain.  You can tell me how your boat ride went- I’ll bet it’s jaw dropping!

Admission: roughly around $12 roundtrip ticket; $6 one way ticket. The only way to book advance tickets is through a tour aggregator site like Klook and each vendor will have a limited supply. The rest is sold through the station.

Getting to Sagano Train Ride station: You can take the Sagano Train from either direction- Saga Torokko or Kameoka Torokko. The easiest is from Kyoto Station, take a train to JR Saga Arashiyama station (there is a train that goes direct to Kameoka Station as well). The JR Saga Arashiyama station is right next to the Saga Torokko Station (you can’t miss it). In the station you can purchase tickets to the Sagano Romantic Train RideDirections here.

saga torokko station kyoto

saga torokko station kyoto

9. Nara Park, Nara

Free roaming Sika deer, pretty girls in kimonos, three world heritage sites (Todaiji– it has a giant buddha- Kofukuji, and Kasuga-taisha) and over 1700 cherry trees of different varieties, Nara Park is a mixed bag of unforgettable experiences. To be honest, when I went I was too preoccupied with the deer to explore the entire park in search of sakura.   But I couldn’t go wrong either way. This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I’d recommend to anyone during all times of the year. Best yet, it’s only 45min from Osaka by metro train.

Nara Park is large but walkable. Things are much closer than they appear on a map. The deer in Nara Park are wild but are special Sika deer and they bow for the crackers.  You can buy deer crackers (which are specially made for deer consumption) to feed the deer. Some of them can get aggressive and nip at your clothes to draw your attention. Expect to be swarmed.  Please do not feed the deer anything other than the deer crackers as they can get sick on people food or trash. Also, do not tease the deer. If you are not going to feed them, it is unkind to tease them in that manner.

Getting Around Nara: Straight off Nara station, there is a tourism information office where you can buy a pass for the circular bus (it’s a specific yellow bus). While the main deer parks, Japanese restaurants and Nara Park are within walking distance, the bus will move you around faster and only cost around $5 for unlimited rides. The office can give you a map to show you where the main attractions are.

nara park temple deer ©christinekaaloa

todaiji nara temple ©christinekaaloa

10 . The Philosopher’s Walk

Noted as one of the Top 100 Paths of Japan, The Philosopher’s Walk is a path running along a canal stretching two kilometers with 500 Yoshino cherry trees lining the way. The path was named after a famous philosopher who used this walk as his meditation.  The path runs from Ginkakuji temple to Nanazenji Temple.

Philosopher’s Walk

 

Best ways to get around the Kansai region

  The travel distances between these cities are close, with Osaka being 45 minutes from Nara and an hour to Kyoto. It’s so close, it is like taking a subway train from Manhattan to Queens.  You do not need a JR metro pass but can suffice with your ICOCA card, PASMO or SUICA. So I planned my crossover into each city in a sort of circular progression- Osaka, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka. I knew that -at thevery most- I might have seven days to experience hanami and sakura in the cities. But given a storm or strong winds and rain, I assumed those flowers could fall within a day, as well.

Osaka is the best strategic home base for visiting nearby cities it seems. Intercity it is well connected with trains, metro and bus and it has two airports which can both be reached by metro, bus or train.  While Osaka is not as lovely as Kyoto and its mountains and rivers, Osaka has a fun character, great food and you’ll easily find a lot to do and shop in Osaka.  Tip: Get an Osaka Amazing Pass (unlimited rides and free attractions- I got a two day pass)

Nara is a MUST. It is a day trip and a much smaller city to navigate. From Nara station, you can get to the main attractions and Nara Park on foot. However, it’s much easier and inexpensive to just get the unlimited circular bus day pass (the loop buses are yellow), sold at the Bus Information Center right outside the station.  One day passes cost around 500 yen (under $5); otherwise, individual bus fare is 210 yen.


Kyoto is a large city but it will feel like a pedestrian one due to the fact the metro and train system is smaller than Osaka and buses are used more readily. It is relatively easy to use the bus as a foreigner as there are English translations and many bus drivers can have a slight understanding of the language. There is no airport in Kyoto.

Read my Budget Tokyo Tips

Watch my video: Top 10 cherry blossom spots of Kyoto, Osaka, Nara

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What would you add to this Top 10 cherry blossom spots of Kyoto, Osaka, Nara?  What best cherry blossom spots of Japan would you like to visit?  Comment below.

 

 

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I’ve always felt at home in airports. Some travelers love arriving at their destination, but i’ve secretly always loved airport layovers. Airports have always felt like a place of transition for me. It has movement and is a place, where travelers cross paths with an impending sense of excited anticipation of a destination.  It is as if it is a midway point to a long-awaited and much saved-up-for dream. Yes, I love staying in airports so much that I didn’t mind sleeping in them on occasiona for layovers.

Until now, the only type of airport hotel I’ve ever known, were defined as hotels conveniently located in the neighborhood of the airport. Generally, they have free airport shuttle service for door to door pickups and drop-offs at the airport. I’ve never considered the worth of staying at one of those hotels because I know mostly, i’m paying for a pillow vs an experience. Feeling fully rested would be unlikely, because I cringe at the idea of oversleeping and missing my flight.

For my Mazda trip to the Arctic Ocean, I had a layover in Vancouver International Airport. I was conveniently booked at an airport hotel. Normally, I try to research where I’m staying- at least how to get there- but the trip planning was running at the last-minute. Being this was a trip with Mazda, I also knew I was traveling in a corporate way, which typically means they will get me to the place I need to be at, fairly efficiently, conveniently and with least fuss. I knew there was a priority of getting me to where I needed to be, so I could be well-rested and give my top performance. If they were booking me into an airport hotel, it would likely be the closest hotel to the airport so I would not miss have an opportunity to miss my flight!  My travel itinerary said:  Fairmont Vancouver Airport- for a night’s layover and then two days upon return.

Hotel Service

Arriving in the airport, I went to the airport information desk to ask about my hotel’s airport shuttle. To my surprise I was directed upstairs, “No, your hotel it is in the airport”.

Whuuuh? I had to be hearing incorrectly… inside the airport?

“Yes, inside the airport… above the U.S. check-in area in the International wing.”

This… couldn’t be right. But those were the only directions I had.

At the end of the international check-in terminal was an escalator and walkway to my hotel. It was mind-blowing pushing my airport luggage rolling cart over a walkway suspended above airport check-in counters. Entering my hotel lobby never felt so good.

The Fairmont Vancouver Airport is an airport hotel with a boutique feeling. There’s a warmth and liveliness to its atmosphere and a cheery professionalism to its staff.. as if walking into a spa.  You can drop your airport luggage cart at the door’s entrance.

Read CNN as One of the World’s Most Luxurious Airport Hotels.

A Deluxe Room

I was booked into a deluxe room with a king bed and a floor to ceiling window to a most wonderful view of the runway and the North Shore Mountains.  Walking into my room, there was a pleasant fragrance and light music playing from the television monitor which was on and set to the hotel TV channel.

The room is boutique chic for business travelers.  The flat screen television is set up to accept plugin from your laptop or DVD player in the case you want to test out your powerpoint presentation on the television screen ( I freelance in A/V, so it was a surprise to see they had a decent hookup for business professional needs). There is a mobile charging port by the bed and daily turndown service.

Knowing the airport check in counter was located below my airport gave me peace of mind. I knew I’d be able to rest fully and roll out of bed into the baggage check-in line!

fairmont vancouver airport hotel room ©grrrltraveler

The VIEW

Okay, let’s talk about the view. What makes this hotel unique and one of the best airport hotels in the world is the room view. If you are an airport lover like me, you’ll squeal as I did when you look outside your window.  I love staying in airports, even if its staying in less than comfortable means like a seat, lounge or a bench (okay, comfort would be nice).

How would you love to wake up to this view of the airport gates and runway … without having to have slept on an airport bench?!

Pretty cool. Despite the front row seats, it is as if you’re in a sound-proof world… a peace bubble. The windows are soundproof so you don’t hear a thing from the runway or airplanes outside.

fairmont vancouver airport hotel room view ©grrrltraveler

Hotel room view of an airport hotel ©grrrltraveler

Eye mask not included

Bathroom Facilities

I had a spacious western style bathroom. The bathing and showering area was separate from the toilet. The toilet was in its own room furthest from the bedroom- from the outside you might mistake it for a closet!  I found this weird because a toilet is one of the headliners of a bathroom experience,  but at Vancouver Fairmont Hotel, it was being treated like an ugly kid brother or a dark family secret.

The toiletries were premium quality- Rose 21 brand  . The brand is a lightly scented floral and fruity scent. It was the same scent as the air in my hotel room. The shampoo and conditioners were amazing and softened my thick and wiry Pacific Asian hair- I wished I could bring home more! You can buy it on Amazon here or at the Fairmont store. (I’m buying some as soon as I finish writing this post!)

It’s not often that I remember hotel toiletries. I’ve only felt this way about two other hotels in my lifetime… one, was the Fairmont Copely Plaza hotel in Boston (another bucket listable hotel that I lived in for two weeks during my television producing days) !  Apparently, I should shop Fairmont hotel toiletries more often!  I bought my mom that hotel’s citrusy shampoo and moisturizer and she loved it so much she made it last two years when it was discontinued (FYI, I have a very frugal Asian mom who is good at making things stretch).

fairmont vancouver airport hotel bathroom

 

Hotel Facilities

The Jetside Bar was the first thing I noticed when walking through the lobby. The floor to ceiling windows opening to the airport tarmac is impressive. The bar is the largest I’ve seen stocked to the hilt, with carefully chosen wines, craft beers and liquors.

GLOBE@YVR restaurant is discretely tucked next to the bar/lounge in a quieter area next to an open kitchen. It serves a menu of locally sourced ingredients from British Columbia. It is not your standard menu but is quite creative with cuisine, which is flavored to give you a taste of the Pacific Northwest and Canada. There’s an  impressive selection of seafood appetizers such as pacific mussels, dungeness crab cakes, and beef braised ravioli, while the main farm and sea dishes own names like Sakura Pork Tomahawk, Pan head Steelhead Salmon, Vegan Beet Rissoto.

The hotel facilities :

  • Day Use Rooms – Rent a room for shorter periods (4 hours, 6 hours, 8 hours)
  • Jetside Bar- serves wines, cocktails and beers. Live music nightly. Floor to ceiling windows to the airport tarmac.
  • Globe Restaurant & Afternoon Tea – The restaurant at Fairmont Vancouver Airport prides itself on freshly sourced, sustainably grown ingredients.  It even has a period where it holds afternoon tea.
  • Spa, Gym and Indoor Pool

fairmont vancouver airport hotel lounge and bar ©grrrltraveler

Airport Location

The Fairmont Vancouver Airport is conveniently located in the Vancouver International Airport (YVR), above the U.S. departures check-in counters.  It is about a 10 minute walk from the domestic airport wing.  The domestic and international wings are fairly close together.  Vancouver Airport itself has a lot of convenience options.

From a basement level 7 Eleven store to food courts, an outside Japadog vendor on ground level outside the metro station (highly recommended), and a metro into downtown Vancouver, it was a perfect location for a layover visit.  With my love for being in the airport, this hotel definitely makes me hungry to try more airport hotels.

 

Fairmont Vancouver Airport Information

Book Fairmont Vancouver Airport 
Ratings: Five stars
Location: Vancouver International Airport, 3111 Grant McConachie Way, Richmond , British Columbia, Canada

 

Note: All photos are ©grrrltraveler 2018. This article is not to be reproduced on a site other than grrrltraveler.

 

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izakaya cooking class with Local Bites JP Tokyo

 

If you ask travelers about their bucket list for Japan, one thing might be~ taking a Japanese cooking class.

When I passed through Shinjuku’s Omoide Yokocho I was disappointed I was unable to experience ikazaya food (aka bar food), because it is mostly all grilled meat.  Luckily, Local Bites JP reached out to let me know they offered Japanese cooking classes in Tokyo. I couldn’t ask for a more perfect timing!  While tasting Japanese food, I began developing questions about the flavor, the food culture and  the sentiments behind Japanese cooking. What better way to enhance my understanding of food than to take a cooking class !

making gyoza

What is Community Home Cooking with LocalBites JP?

Local Bites JP offers community home cooking classes. These are authentic cooking classes hosted in Japanese homes with locals teaching you their tradition.  The service allows the local community to share their culture, while also earning a little income for their hospitality, resources and time. Classes range from how to make sushi, teriyaki, tempura, vegan ramen... and they change according to the availability of hosts and their cooking specialty. As the classes take place in a local home, your host can modify the recipe according to your dietary restrictions.

The cooking class I chose was… you guessed it– an Izakaya cooking class!   My host teacher Satoru-San customized my class with vegetarian – pescatarian friendly substitutes.

The Art of Japanese Soul Food

I emerged from Shinjuku East Station, harried, uncertain if I was at the right exit. It was mid morning.  My cooking sensei, Satoru San stood waiting for me with a sign.  There he was, a kind-looking man, with gentle eyes and a youthful soul. There was a harmony and delightfulness to him. Satoru San was someone you’d definitely enjoy cooking with.

Satoru san led us through the flavored streets of Shinjuku. The grilling smoke from izakaya bars from the night before, were long dissipated and the alleys of Golden Gai were deserted like old jazz bars shut in their coffins in avoidance of daylight.  The character and flavor of the environment had to touch the soul of any food created here, if not stir it.  Aferall, Izakaya food is bar food, a lusty bed partner of beer and sake.

“Yes, many of the streets here are run by Yakuza… they just had a big fight last night”.  I asked Satoru if they were problematic  landlords. “No, they don’t bother residents. They are just concerned with their own matters”.

Satoru explaining parts of Golden Gai

The back alleys of Golden Gai

 

Finally, we arrived at his humble but retro-stylish Tokyo apartment.  Food ingredients were neatly laid out on his table and there was a lot of it. I wasn’t sure if we could fit all this into 3 hours and Satoru felt it might take a bit longer. On our cooking class Izakaya menu was:

Miso with tofu

Shrimp gyoza

Wakame rice

Wasabi salad.

As Satoru instructed each step, we also talked about his upbringing in Hokkaido farmlands to his grandfather’s miso factory, his move to San Francisco and his cooking inspirations. The soul of the food we were creating was imbued with Satoru’s memories and his grandmother’s home cooking and family tradition.  It wasn’t just miso soup flavored with bonito flakes but miso made with a bit of his family’s specially-aged miso, a secret quality of familial pride.

Japanese Craftsmanship: Precision and Presentation

One thing I learned was there is a great deal of pride that goes into Japanese cooking and it went deeper than my American mass consumptive consumer mind could fathom. . Did you know that making a beautiful gyoza is a reflection of how you value or respect your guest?

( I will apologize to any of my future guests right now ~  my gyoza does not mean I think you’re ugly.)

Satoru explained that due to Tokyo’s differing quality of water, many popular ramen masters in Hiroshima, will never move to Tokyo to open a shop. This is because Hiroshima is known to have the highest quality water of Japan, and the change to Tokyo water will change (if not ruin) the signature taste of their ramen. No one wants to ruin their flavor or reputation.

Japanese cuisine emphasizes high quality craftsmanship.  Watching Satoru preparing the rice, I began to understand. He took meticulous care to measure everything exactly, so that his rice would be just right… cooked to be both, firm yet sticky. Tasting Satoru’s rice was comforting,… a subtle flavor of the wakame seaweed opened in my mouth, enough to flavor but not impose its taste.  The rice alone was distinct and yet, seemingly uncomplicated.  Satoru’s rice was perhaps one of the most “perfect rice” I’ve eaten!

making shrimp gyoza

Cooking Japanese Gyoza in Japan- the act of forming a beautifully ridged dumpling is symbolic of how you care about your guests.

Cooking in a Tokyo home

Pressure cooker Japan to fry up the gyoza, while rice is cooking next to it.

Wakame Rice

When it came time to flip the gyozas from the frying pan to the plate while keeping them perfectly char-crisped on one side while lightly crisped on the other, I realized it was going to get dangerous if I did it, so I handed that job over to Satoru.  This is what he performed in one flip. The gyozas were deep fried but not oily; they were brown enough for crunchy, but nothing got burnt.

japanese gyoza 2: One flip from frying pan to plate

wasabe salad- enoki, Japanaese mayonnaise, tuna, with veggies

Japanese cuisine and palette

Japanese cooking can feel so refined with subtle flavors. The food is not overpowering, too spicy, seet, sour or even too hot or cold. Everything is temperate and ingredients seem to find a harmony with each other– an ensemble vs a cameo.

Satoru pointed out is that there are no knives in table place settings. That is because if anything served needs to be cut, the host will cut the food into bite-sized pieces for his guests! Mind-blowing, right?

He also explained that Japanese people are very picky about their food. “They like good food.. they like their foods to be pleasing…. they like it to complement the seasons.”  Japanese feel that foods must make them feel warm during the winter and cool during the summer.

Finally came eating time and I don’t have to tell you that it was all delicious. I won’t go into the ingredients, because you’ll have to take the class. I was learning more than just cooking dishes. I was learning how the Japanese care about their food as much as their guest.  The ingredients you won’t visibly see going into Japanese food is a host’s history, family tradition, environmental influences, respect and hospitality.

Thanks to Satoru san and Local Bites JP for sharing all these things with me so I could understand how Japanese cuisine is a precious art.

Disclosure: Special thanks to Local Bites for sponsoring such a wonderful cultural experience! As usual, all opinions are my own.

Wanna take a Japanese Cooking Class in Tokyo? 

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