Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit - SMART train at the San Rafael station

Why is it so difficult getting from San Francisco to Santa Rosa and Sonoma County?

Cover: Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit – SMART train at the San Rafael station
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


San Francisco at sunset
San Francisco at sunset. Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Four years ago we decided we wanted to live near San Francisco. More accurately – we wanted to live in San Francisco but, to avoid the ridiculously high cost of living in the City by the Bay, we drew a circle around San Francisco taking in all cities located within 60 miles, and examined which cities seemed to have a somewhat reasonable cost of living (it’s California, so that is a relative term) with decent amenities.

Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, San Francisco
Golden Gate Bridge at sunset, San Francisco Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We chose Santa Rosa, a mid-sized city, with two Whole Foods, quite a few restaurants, and a location in the center of Sonoma’s wine region. We envisioned daily life amongst the vines and frequent day trips into San Francisco for lunch and shopping.

Then, we encountered life with the 101. For those not acquainted with California’s north–south highway route, in northern California the 101 connects San Francisco to the North Bay area and frequently achieves near standstill conditions. We only went into the city a handful of times and, after eight months in the North Bay area, we decided to move to Lake Tahoe to be closer to the mountains.  In the end, we still spent about as much time in San Francisco as we did when we were living in Santa Rosa.

San Francisco
San Francisco Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Even now with our nomad lifestyle, we still get back to the west coast multiple times per year and one thing that continues to amaze us is how few good/easy options exist for getting between San Francisco and Sonoma County. According to the San Francisco Tourism Board, over 25 million people visit San Francisco each year. I’m betting quite a few of them drink wine and would like to visit the beautiful wine region of Sonoma – so why is it so difficult to get there?

View of San Francisco and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
View of San Francisco and Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The one-day wine tour

Drinking wine in Sonoma
Drinking wine in Sonoma, Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

If you are in San Francisco and want to just do a one day Sonoma or Napa day wine tour, there are a variety of private coach tours for about $120-$150 per person available that leave San Francisco in the morning and return in the evening. However, if you are seeking a true wine country experience, spending a day or two (or more) while casually sampling wines and enjoying the slower pace of Sonoma County, a one-day tour just won’t do.

Sonoma County, California
Sonoma County, California Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Getting from San Francisco to Sonoma County by car

There are many cities where renting a car is as big a hassle as it is an expense. By the time you rent a car, navigate where you need to go, find parking, pay for parking, pay for in and outs, and pay for gas – that’s quite a bit of irritation and money that could have been used for taking Ubers or Lyfts – and nobody has to drive. For those opting for the rental car experience, once you leave San Francisco, you get to hop on the 101 and head north for a not so leisurely experience getting to Santa Rosa. While having a car in wine country is convenient, it also requires designating a driver, which if there are only two of you, takes a bit of the fun out of wine tasting.

Getting from San Francisco to Santa Rosa by Uber or Lyft – Cost: About $100 for 2

Lyft San Francisco to Santa Rosa
Lyft San Francisco to Santa Rosa

In the U.S., ride sharing, namely Uber and Lyft, is our typical mode of transportation. We’ve only had a few bad experiences (filthy car, bizarre driver, and, one of my favorites, the driver got lost and wouldn’t believe the app knew how to get there and just yelled back at the phone as we drove in the wrong direction). But, those are by far the exception – we take numerous ride shares every week of the year and most are great.

Uber San Francisco to Santa Rosa

That said, a long distance ride share can be expensive. A comparison of both Uber and Lyft fees revealed the ride to Santa Rosa would be about $100 + tip. Doable, but a bit pricey – so we continued exploring options.

Grapes on the vine, Sonoma County
Grapes on the vine, Sonoma County Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Airporter: San Francisco to Santa Rosa – Cost: $86 for 2

When we lived in Santa Rosa and we’d fly out of SFO or Oakland, we’d use the Airporter to get to and from the airport. The Airporter picks up/drops off at the Park & Ride near the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa or at the Santa Rosa airport. A one-way adult fare to/from either SFO or the Oakland airports and Sonoma County is $34 per person. The buses are comfortable and it’s a good option if going straight to/from Santa Rosa to/from either airport.

But, what if you want to spend a few days in San Francisco then head up to Sonoma for a few more days? The Airporter doesn’t run between downtown San Francisco and Santa Rosa, so you need to get back out to SFO or OAK from San Francisco to catch one. BART fare from downtown San Francisco to SFO is $8.95 per person or a Lyft or Uber runs about $35-$50 to the airport. So for two people, the trip to Santa Rosa from downtown San Francisco using the BART – Airporter route would run about $86.

Getting from San Francisco to Sonoma County by the SMART train – Cost: $75 for 2

SMART (Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit) train at the San Rafael station
SMART (Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit) train at the San Rafael station Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The first phase of the SMART (Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit) train, a 43-mile / 69-kilometer rail service between Northern Santa Rosa and Downtown San Rafael, began operating in June 2017. Over the next few years, SMART is scheduled to expand service to Larkspur on the south end of the route in Marin County and to Windsor, Healdsburg, and Cloverdale on the northern end in wine country.

But, first, you have to get to San Rafael from San Francisco. Option1 is taking a bus from San Francisco to San Rafael – not expensive, but rather slow with many stops. Option 2 is to catch the Golden Gate ferry from the San Francisco Ferry building to the Larkspur Ferry Terminal, then taking the route 31 shuttle to connect to the SMART train station. The ferry cost is $11.50 for each person. Option 3 is to take an Uber or Lyft to the SMART train station in San Rafael.

Uber from San Francisco to San Rafael SMART station
Uber from San Francisco to San Rafael SMART station Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Considering we needed to get from our hotel on Nob Hill to the ferry terminal or bus station and each had a large roller bag, we would have needed a Uber or Lyft to get that far, so we decided on option 3 for simplicity. The Uber to the San Rafael SMART train station cost $45 + tip. We then caught the SMART train to Santa Rosa for $9.50 per person using the mobile app. The train is about an hour ride from San Rafael to Santa Rosa. The train was clean, with plenty storage areas for luggage and bikes. Some seats on the train have tables, others are airline style.

Riding on the Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) near Petaluma
Riding on the Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) near Petaluma Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The train was packed – standing room only. While I tried to get a bit of work done on the ride, we had seatmates at our table and the train was very loud, so it was a bit challenging. I’m not sure if it is some sort of acoustic issue or we just had a car of extremely loud talkers, but we’ve ridden trains in 10 countries this year and I’ve yet to experience so much noise on a train. The kid behind me screamed most of the way and kicked my chair while his father stood in the aisle playing with a yo-yo. In the end, we got to Santa Rosa and it was fairly inexpensive, but not what I’d call a relaxing experience.

Lyft and Uber in wine country

Drinking a Larsen Projekt grenache rosé in Santa Rosa
Drinking a Larsen Projekt grenache rosé in Santa Rosa Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Once we arrived at the Santa Rosa airport train platform, we called a Lyft. Our wait time was only 3 minutes and the fare to our hotel was $10 + tip. We were a bit worried that ride share may not be plentiful in Sonoma Country but we used Uber the entire time during our three-day stay and typically only waited 5-10 minutes for the car to arrive.

Sonoma County wine tasting
Sonoma County wine tasting Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

That is good  – no, great news. If ever there was a place to not drive, it is in wine country. Uber provides the flexibility to craft your own tasting agenda – you pick the wineries, you chose the amount of time spent at each location, and everyone can sample the wines and safely return to their hotels without driving.

Fountaingrove Round Barn, Santa Rosa
Fountaingrove Round Barn, Santa Rosa Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Boutiques, galleries, bars, and restaurants along Rue Crescent, Montreal, Quebec

Eating (and drinking) in Montreal

Cover: Boutiques, bars, and restaurants along Rue Crescent, Montreal, Quebec
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


During our month long visit to Montreal in August, we sampled our way through quite a few dining and drinking establishments around the city. From quick and simple to celebratory fare, we found Montreal’s dining scene to be tasty and satisfying, with some excellent patio options. Here are a few are our favorites…

L’Avenue

L’Avenue Montreal Eggs Benedict, Montreal, Quebec
L’Avenue Montreal Eggs Benedict, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The first time we walked by L’Avenue we thought the long line out front was waiting for a bus (it was mid-week and there’s a bus stop there, so it was plausible.) Nope. It was the for the awesome food in this quirky eatery with a great staff. They bring skewers of fruit to munch on while you wait for your food to arrive and the Eggs Benedict is worth the wait.

L’Avenue
Time of day visited: Brunch
Location: The Plateau, 922 Mont-Royal Ave E

L’Avenue Montreal fruit skewers
L’Avenue Montreal fruit skewer, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Vegetarian/Vegan

General Copper Bowl at Copper Branch, Montreal, Quebec
General Copper Bowl at Copper Branch, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

It seems like hipsters and vegans/vegetarians seem to have a relationship that falls somewhere between dislike and hate, so the amount of vegan/vegetarian restaurants we found in the Plateau and Mile End was a pleasant surprise. We eat 70%-80% plant-based, so we gave quite a few in the neighborhood a try. Two of our faves – Copper Branch for quick, tasty options and Aux Vivres for a great selection of creative dishes.

Time of day visited: Lunch
Locations:
Copper Branch, multiple locations around Montreal
Aux Vivres: Mile End, 4631 St Laurent Blvd

Ikanos

Greg Hull, Ikanos, Montreal, QuebecWhen looking for a place to celebrate Greg Hull’s birthday, we chose Ikanos and were extremely pleased. Great service, comfortable atmosphere, and superb Greek seafood cuisine. We went early and had a couple of martinis at the bar, then moved to the dining room for dinner. Excellent flavors and the best grilled Octopus we’ve ever had.

Ikanos
Time of day visited: Evening
Location: Old Montreal, 112 Rue McGill #1

Pikolo Espresso Bar

Pikolo Espresso Bar, Montreal
Pikolo Espresso Bar, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Montreal has no shortage of coffee shops and we sampled our fair share of espressos and cappuccinos throughout the month. Our favorite was recommended by a friend that had been in Montreal just before us – Pikolo Espresso Bar. Small, pleasant and unique.

Pikolo Espresso Bar
Time of day visited: Afternoon
Location: Just off Sherbrooke West at Park Avenue, 3418b Park Ave

Les 3 Brasseurs

Beers at Les 3 Brasseurs, Montreal, Quebec
Beers at Les 3 Brasseurs, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We came across one of the four Les 3 Brasseurs at St Catherine and Crescent on a Sunday afternoon and stopped for a beer (we eventually found all four Montreal locations). The last time we’d been to a Les 3 Brasseurs was almost 20 years ago in Tahiti, so it was a bit nostalgic. We didn’t eat, but it has a nice patio to enjoy a beer or two.

Les 3 Brasseurs
Time of day visited: Afternoon
Location: 1356 St Catherine West

Sea Salt and Ceviche Bar

SeaSalt & Ceviche Bar, Montreal, Quebec
SeaSalt & Ceviche Bar, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We had a very late lunch at Sea Salt and Ceviche Bar, which is located just across from Alexandra Pier in Old Montreal. Great patio with comfortable teak furniture and a nice view. After cocktails – they only serve Grey Goose vodka, so that simplified things in the vodka selection process – we started with ceviche. We were a bit surprised at the limited ceviche offerings given the restaurant name, but it was quite good. Next, we both had the Citrus Salad which consists of kale, spinach, Mujol dates, Kalamata & Cerignola olives, grapefruit, oranges & toasted black rice. Spectacular! We whiled away the rest of the afternoon with a bottle of rosé wine, which made for a pretty nice finish to a relaxing, enjoyable lunch.

SeaSalt & Ceviche Bar
Time of day visited: Late afternoon
Location: Old Montreal, 351 Place Royale

Dirty Pizza

Dirty Pizza on Mont-Royal, The Plateau, Montreal, Quebec
Dirty Pizza on Mont-Royal, The Plateau, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Our apartment was located directly across from Dirty Pizza on Mont-Royal and after watching the sheer volume of people that frequent the place, we decided we needed to indulge in a pie. We were pleased to find creative combinations and opted for the Angry Goat which is topped with goat cheese, roasted red peppers, pesto sauce, a balsamic reduction. Great crust and super tasty pizza.

Dirty Pizza
Time of day visited: Late evening
Location: Plateau-Mile End, 25 Mont-Royal Ave E

Taverne Gaspar

Taverne Gaspar, Auberge du Vieux-Port, Montreal
Taverne Gaspar, Auberge du Vieux-Port, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Located at Auberge du Vieux-Port, Taverne Gaspar is casual, comfortable and has a great patio in Old Montreal. We had cocktails and dinner on the patio and then moved inside to the bar for after dinner drinks. Service was good both inside and out, the food was ok, but it’s a really great spot to meet for drinks.

Taverne Gaspar
Time of day visited: Evening
Location: Old Montreal at Auberge du Vieux-Port, 97 de la Commune St E

Mange Moi

Cocktails in the Plateau, Montreal, Quebec
Cocktails in the Plateau, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Mange Moi was the first place we visited after arriving in Montreal. Great patio for martinis. Inside is very nice and rustic, with lots of wood. The nachos are good and abundant. The place is continually busy.

Mange Moi
Time of day visited: Late afternoon
Location: Plateau-Mile End, 35 Mont-Royal Ave E


Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Old Montreal, Quebec

August in Montreal

Cover: Strolling through Old Montreal
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


What’s Montreal like in August? Rainy, breezy, muggy, sunny, cloudy … and that’s all before lunch. Weather fluctuations aside, Montreal is beautiful in August, with average daytime temperatures peaking at 81°F / 27°C and lows averaging 57°F / 14°C. So, for those wanting to escape the hotter summer temperatures of the U.S., August in Montreal is the perfect cooler getaway.

Hôtel de Ville de Montréal / Montreal City Hall, Quebec
Hôtel de Ville de Montréal / Montreal City Hall, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

August is also peak tourist season so, in the areas of the city where tourists are prevalent, such as Old Montreal and Downtown, it can be very crowded. Both districts are fun areas to visit, but preferring a less touristy neighborhood for daily life, we selected the Plateau for our home while in Montreal.

View of Downtown Montreal from Hôtel de Ville de Montréal / Montreal City Hall
View of Downtown Montreal from Champ de Mars, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Plateau and Mile End

Cocktails in the Plateau, Montreal, Quebec
Cocktails in the Plateau, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Plateau is the hipster, artsy neighborhood filled with color, life, and attitude. Our apartment overlooked Mont-Royal near Saint-Laurent Boulevard – a perfect perch above the bars, cafés, specialty boutiques, and resale shops that line the streets in abundance.

Morning, Mont-Royal in The Plateau, Montreal, Quebec
Morning, Mont-Royal in The Plateau, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Mont-Royal divides the Plateau and Mile End districts, so technically we stayed in the Plateau and looked across Mont-Royal to the Mile End neighborhood, both of which are part of the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough.

The best thing to do in the Plateau? Wander. Stroll the streets, have a coffee, take in the daily life, and admire the colorful buildings and the fabulous street art.

Street art in the Plateau, Montreal, Quebec
Street art in the Plateau, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Getting downtown from the Plateau is simple – it’s just a straight walk down Saint Laurent Boulevard. The journey from Mont-Royal to Rue Sherbrooke is about a mile / 1.6 kilometers.

A walk along Sherbrooke Street West

Queen Victoria statue, MISQA, Pollack Concert Hall, Montreal, Quebec
Queen Victoria statue, MISQA, Pollack Concert Hall, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Rue Sherbrooke / Sherbrooke Street a major Montreal thoroughfare, with Saint Laurent serving as the divider between east and west. A stroll along Sherbrooke Street West is a beautiful way to spend an afternoon.

Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal
Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

In addition to numerous hotels located along the street, including the Ritz Carlton Montreal, Sherbrooke West is home to galleries, boutiques, McGill University and the Musee des Beaux-Arts de Montreal museum.

Ritz Carlton Montreal on Rue Sherbrooke, Montreal, Quebec
Ritz Carlton Montreal on Rue Sherbrooke, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

From June 5 -October 29, 2017, Sherbrooke is also the site of a public art exhibition in celebration of Montreal’s 350th anniversary, the 50th anniversary of Expo 67 and Canada’s 150th anniversary.

Flags from the 13 Canadian provinces and nearly 200 countries flutter above Sherbrooke Street during the exhibition, named La Balade pour la Paix: An Open-Air Museum. The kilometer-long exhibition features 72 works of art from artists from around the world.

Art along Rue Sherbrooke Montreal
Pumpkin by Yayoi Kusama, La Balade pour la Paix in Montreal along Rue Sherbrooke Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Even if you can’t make it to Montreal during the exhibition, permanent works of art can also be found in the Sherbrooke West area, such as Ugo Rondinone’s Human Nature, which evokes the Inukshuk, a symbol of Canada’s Inuit peoples.

Ugo Rondinone, Inukshuk amongst the buildings along Rue Sherbrooke, Montreal, Quebec
Ugo Rondinone’s Human Nature, evoking the Inukshuk, along Rue Sherbrooke, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Another interesting installation just off Sherbrooke on Avenue McGill College is The Illuminated Crowd by Raymond Mason. The work is said to represent the flow of man’s emotion through space.

The Illuminated Crowd by Raymond Mason, 1985, Montreal, Quebec
The Illuminated Crowd by Raymond Mason, 1985, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Downtown Montreal

Avenue McGill College, Downtown Montreal, Quebec
Avenue McGill College, Downtown Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Heading along Avenue McGill College towards the heart of Downtown Montreal, the buildings turn into skyscrapers and the shopping begins.

Shopping in Downtown Montreal, Quebec
Shopping in Downtown Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

In addition to the thousands of outdoor, above-ground retail stores located in Downtown Montreal, one can head inside to malls such as Complexe Desjardins on Rue Sainte-Catherine or underground to access the 30+ kilometers of interconnected areas and passageways leading to hotels, shopping centers, and businesses.

Complexe Desjardins on Rue Sainte-Catherine Montreal, Quebec
Complexe Desjardins on Rue Sainte-Catherine Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Chinatown

Chinatown, Montreal, Quebec
Chinatown, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A vibrant area near La Gauchetière Street, Le Quartier Chinois de Montréal / Montreal’s Chinatown, is home to many Asian restaurants, import stores, and food markets. A great spot to grab a bite or take a stroll, Montreal’s Chinatown is one of the oldest Asian communities in North America.

Old Montreal

Hôtel de Ville de Montréal / Montreal City Hall at night
Hôtel de Ville de Montréal / Montreal City Hall at night, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Dating back to 1642, Montreal, or Ville-Marie as it was first known, was established in the area that is now referred to as Vieux-Montréal / Old Montreal.  A major tourist attraction, Old Montreal is one of the oldest urban areas in North America.

Countless restaurants, cafés, bars, hotels, galleries, and shops line the winding, narrow paths of Old Montreal. Popular attractions include the beautiful Hôtel de Ville de Montréal / Montreal City Hall, quaint Saint Paul Street, the lively Bonsecours Market, and the stunning Notre-Dame Basilica.

Notre-Dame Basilica Montréal

Notre-Dame Basilica, Montréal, Quebec
Notre-Dame Basilica, Montréal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Notre-Dame Basilica Montréal was dedicated in 1829 and is located at the corner of Saint Sulpice and Notre Dame West across from Place d’Armes Square. Notre-Dame was the first Gothic Revival style church built in Canada and was designed by New York architect, James O’Donnell. O’Donnell is the only person buried in Notre-Dame’s crypt.

Notre-Dame Basilica Montréal interior, Montreal
Notre-Dame Basilica Montréal interior, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Intricate wood carvings are set against a backdrop of gorgeous hues of blues, purples, and golds inside the grand cathedral. In 1982, Notre-Dame was raised from a church to the status of a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II.

Notre-Dame Basilica pipe organ, Montréal
Notre-Dame Basilica pipe organ, Montréal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Casavant et Frères of Saint-Hyacinthe pipe organ dates back to 1891 and has 7,000 pipes, 92 stops distributed over four keyboards, and a pedalboard.

Candles in Notre-Dame Basilica Montréal
Candles in Notre-Dame Basilica Montréal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

St Lawrence River Cruise

View of Montreal from the St. Lawrence River, Montreal, Quebec
View of Montreal from the St. Lawrence River, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After walking miles and miles exploring Montreal, we felt we needed a break and decided to relax aboard a river cruise on the St. Lawernce River.

City of Montreal viewed from the St. Lawrence River
City of Montreal viewed from the St. Lawrence River, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

While there are multiple companies offering different cruise options, we opted for a late afternoon cruise that departed from Alexandra Pier in Old Montreal. Food and beverages were available with waiter service aboard the boat allowing us to sit back and enjoy the views while sipping on a lovely Viognier. Cheers!

Enjoying wine aboard Montreal river cruise, Montreal, Quebec
Enjoying wine aboard Montreal river cruise, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Olympic Park

Statues of adolescents wearing sports jerseys at Pie IX-Sherbrooke, near Olympic Stadium in Montreal
Statues of adolescents wearing sports jerseys at Pie IX-Sherbrooke, near Olympic Stadium in Montreal. The statues represent 1608 (founding of Quebec City), 1642 (founding of Montreal), 1967 (Expo 67) and 1976 (the Montreal Olympic Games). Photo: Kim Hull © Chasing Light Media

Montreal hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics, with 6,084 athletes participating from 92 countries. During the games, Nadia Comăneci scored the first perfect 10 in gymnastics and Bruce Jenner won a gold medal for the decathlon, setting a world record of 8,634 points.

Today, visitors to Parc Olympique de Montréal / Olympic Park can ride a cable car to the Observatory at the top of Montréal Tower, attend one of the many events held throughout the year, or visit the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium, Botanical Garden, Montréal Insectarium, or the Biodôme.

Biodôme at Olympic Park

Originally used as the velodrome (cycling stadium) during the Olympics, the building was converted to the Montreal Biodôme and opened to the public in 1992.

Penguin swimming at Biodôme, Olympic Park, Montreal
Penguin swimming at Biodôme, Olympic Park, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Visitors to the Biodôme de Montréal explore four ecosystems found in the Americas – the Tropical Rainforest, the Laurentian Maple Forest, the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the Sub-Polar Regions.

Atlantic Sturgeon at Biodôme, Olympic Park, Montreal
Atlantic Sturgeon at Biodôme, Olympic Park, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Montreal Biodôme replicates the different eco-systems, providing visitors an up-close encounter with over 4,500 animals from over 220 different species and thousands of plants. 

Jellyfish at Biodôme, Olympic Park, Montreal
Jellyfish at Biodôme, Olympic Park, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Fish at Biodôme, Olympic Park, Montreal
Fish at Biodôme, Olympic Park, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Eating in Montreal

Boutiques, galleries, bars, and restaurants along Rue Crescent, Montreal, Quebec
Boutiques, galleries, bars, and restaurants along Rue Crescent, Montreal, Quebec Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Montreal has a vast selection of dining options with cuisines from around the globe and available at all prices. We dined on excellent Greek, Italian, seafood and vegetarian fare, along with finding some fabulous spots for coffee and cocktails. Check out a few of our favorites in Eating (and drinking) in Montreal »

Know before you go to Montreal in August

Bring your walking shoes. While Montreal has good mass transit, it is a highly walkable city. If visiting during the warmer months, bring a good pair of shoes and enjoy the sites while getting some exercise.

Rainfall. August is typically Montreal’s most rainy month, with a historic average of 100 mm of rainfall over 15 days of the month. Comparably, the least rainy months are January-March, with an average of 60mm of rain each month.

Bring the sunscreen. Montreal averages almost 8 hours of sunshine per day in August.

Language: Montreal is a bilingual city, with French spoken as the primary language, but 56% of the population speaks both English and French.


Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

View of Miami & Miami River from Icon at Brickell,

Not a fan of South Beach? Try Miami Brickell instead

Cover: View of Miami and the Miami River from Icon at Brickell, Miami, Florida
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


We recently needed to be in Miami for a week and decided to stay in Brickell instead of out at the beach. We’ve never been a fan of the South Beach party scene and on our last visit, we stayed in quieter North Beach. However, we’d heard quite a bit about Brickell lately – it’s currently one of Miami’s hottest areas – so, we gave it a try.

Heineken boats on Miami River, Brickell, Miami, Florida
Heineken boats on Miami River, Brickell, Miami, Florida Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Brickell is located just across the Miami River from downtown and north of Coral Gables and Coconut Grove. Known as the financial district, Brickell has a high number of banking institutions and is sometimes called the “Manhattan of the South.”

Skyscrapers under construction in Brickell, Miami, Florida
Skyscrapers under construction in Brickell, Miami, Florida Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Brickell is also one of the densest areas in the United States and is home to a vast amount of high-rise condos, with numerous more under construction. The buildings offer amazing views of either downtown Miami, the Biscayne Bay, or both and typically have rooftop or elevated pools and common areas. We rented a condo in one of the towers with city views and lived like a local. There are also a few hotels in Brickell, including the JW Marriott and East at the newly opened, Brickell City Centre.

Rooftop patio view of Biscayne Bay, Brickell, Miami,
Rooftop patio view of Biscayne Bay, Brickell, Miami, Florida Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

It was a particularly rainy week during our stay and each day we’d watch the clouds roll in from our Airbnb in one of the towers. To that note, it rained nearly every day, which is not that surprising in south Florida in the summer. What was surprising was that during our stay Brickell flooded. It had been raining most of the day and while walking home from Mary Brickell Village in the afternoon, the streets were flooding. Over the next few hours it grew worse, cars stalled in the high water, and traffic was at a standstill for hours.

Storms approaching Brickell, Miami at sunset
Storms approaching Brickell, Miami at sunset, Florida Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Speaking of Mary Brickell Village, it is the heart of Brickell, with boutiques, restaurants, bars, and a Publix grocery store. While we tried out quite a few of the Brickell Village eateries, a couple of our favorites included Rosa Mexicano and Toscano Divino.

The Scorpione Fuoco: Vodka, basil, grapefruit juice, jalapeño & ginger at Toscana Divino, Brickell, Miami
The Scorpione Fuoco: Vodka, basil, grapefruit juice, jalapeño & ginger at Toscana Divino, Brickell, Miami, Florida Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Toscana Divino is a lovely Italian restaurant with good service, delicious food, and creative cocktails. The Scorpione Fuoco is fabulous – a mix of vodka, basil, grapefruit juice, ginger, and jalapeño.

Chile relleno at Rosa Mexicano, Brickell, Miami, Florida
Chile Poblano Relleno at Rosa Mexicano, Brickell, Miami, Florida Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Another good option is Rosa Mexicano. Try the table side guacamole, margaritas, and the massive Chile Poblano Relleno – a roasted poblano chile filled with goat cheese, rice, sautéed mushrooms and grilled chayote. Tasty.

View of Heineken boats on the Miami River, Brickell, Miami
View of Heineken boats on the Miami River, Brickell, Miami, Florida Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Redsox vs Mariners, Safeco Field, Seattle

Buy me some peanuts and…

Cover: Redsox vs. Mariners, Safeco Field, Seattle
Photo:  Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


Move over peanuts and Cracker Jacks, food at MLB ballparks has definitely improved in recent years. Sure, peanuts are still readily available (and consumer), but these days going to a ballgame doesn’t have to mean abandoning food preferences or simply not eating at all.

Bags of peanuts at Safeco Field, Seattle
Bags of peanuts at Safeco Field, Seattle Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We stopped by Seattle on our way to Miami from Vancouver and ventured to Safeco to watch the Redsox lose to the Mariners last night. Fortunately, the food was better than the outcome :).

We attended the game with our son, Ryan and his friend, Kate, so we split up and sampled several of the many drink and food options at Safeco Field. Here’s how it went…

Edgar’s Cantina and Edgar’s Tacos in The Pen

Safeco Field fans are welcomed to The Pen area of the stadium early during batting practice, so we started the evening a little early with margaritas at Edgar’s Cantina and Edgar’s Tacos in The Pen during batting practice.

Margaritas at Edgar’s Cantina and Edgar's Tacos in The Pen, Safeco Field, Seattle
Margaritas at Edgar’s Cantina and Edgar’s Tacos in The Pen, Safeco Field, Seattle Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Edgar’s is also home to the newest food offering at Safeco Field in 2017, Chapulines or toasted grasshoppers. We did not partake of any insects and, although the person at the next table ordered some, I thought it would be rude to ask her if I could take a photo.

View of the bullpen from Edgar’s Cantina in The Pen, Safeco Field, Seattle
View of the bullpen from Edgar’s Cantina in The Pen, Safeco Field, Seattle Photo: Ryan Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Edgar’s is located next to the bullpen, providing an up close view of any activity during the game – as you can see captured during the 5th inning by Ryan and Kate.

The Natural

Healthy eats at The Natural at Safeco Field, Seattle
Healthy eats at The Natural at Safeco Field, Seattle Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

As Greg and I are mostly vegetarians, eating only a bit of fish here and there, we chose to dine on food from The Natural which offers hummus, salads, fresh fruit, veggie trays, sandwiches, cheese trays and veggie dogs.

Veggie dog at The Natural at Safeco Field, Seattle
Veggie dog at The Natural at Safeco Field, Seattle Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The dogs are reportedly Field Roast vegan dogs and were quite good. The fruit was fresh and the line was short at the Natural.

Hit it Here Café & Bar

View from Hit it Here Café & Bar, Safeco Field, Seattle
View from Hit it Here Café & Bar, Safeco Field, Seattle Photo: Ryan Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Ryan and Kate made their way out to center field to the Hit it Here Café & Bar, which offers dining in a restaurant-style environment overlooking the field.

Prosciutto and arugula flatbread pizza, Hit it Here Café & Bar, Safeco Field, Seattle
Prosciutto and arugula flatbread pizza, Hit it Here Café & Bar, Safeco Field, Seattle Photo: Ryan Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Selections include a variety of burgers, sandwiches, soups, salads, and pizza, as well as nachos, fish and chips, and hot dogs. Ryan and Kate enjoyed the prosciutto and arugula flatbread pizza and a bánh mì sandwich.

Bánh mì sandwich, Hit it Here Café & Bar, Safeco Field, Seattle
Bánh mì sandwich, Hit it Here Café & Bar, Safeco Field, Seattle Photo: Ryan Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Thanks go Ryan and Kate for the assist with the article and pictures. See you soon at Fenway!

Ryan and Kate, Safeco Field, Seattle
Ryan and Kate, Safeco Field, Seattle Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

July in Vancouver

Cover: Downtown Vancouver at night
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


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After 45 days of roaming around England, Scotland, and Ireland, we were ready to settle in one spot for a month. Seeking cool temperatures to avoid the summer heat and some good dining options, where better than Canada?

We found a great Airbnb in the heart of Vancouver with stunning views and settled in for a month of relaxation. We arrived the last of June, and with a little over a month to explore the bustling, diverse city that frequently makes livability top five lists, we planned on taking it slow, simply experiencing Canada’s west coast jewel at our leisure.

Downtown Vancouver at sunset
View from our balcony in downtown Vancouver at sunset Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Vancouver International Jazz Festival

The Vancouver International Jazz Festival was running the weekend we arrived, with the main stages in Robson Square, which our balcony overlooked. While the sounds faintly wafted into our apartment along with the breeze, we decided to pay the festival a visit for a closer look and headed downstairs.

Vancouver International Jazz Festival
Vancouver International Jazz Festival Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Produced by the Coastal Jazz and Blues Society, the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival actually occurs over two weeks each year at venues in and around Vancouver, with free public performances and paid shows at clubs throughout the area. While it was unseasonably warm during the event, the cool sounds and cold beverages kept the crowds chilled out and entertained throughout the event.

Happy 150th birthday Canada!

Canada 150 celebration

Canada celebrated its 150th birthday on the 1st of July with country-wide festivals, fireworks, events, and exhibitions.

The second largest celebration in Canada was held in Vancouver at Canada Place, with music, food, parades, and fireworks. Vancouver’s official celebration, named “Canada 150+,” recognized the much longer history of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations peoples of the area. Proud Canadians turned out in red and white attire and Canadian flags were in abundance throughout Vancouver during the celebration.

Canada Day 150, Vancouver, Canada
Canada Day 150, Vancouver, Canada Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Vancouver’s neighborhoods

As the most densely populated city in Canada and the fourth most in North America, towering skyscrapers loom above in much of the downtown area – yet tree-lined streets below soften the city and beckon strolls. We spent hours walking in the beautiful city under bright blue skies, enjoying the summer days.

Holy Rosary Cathedral
Holy Rosary Cathedral Vancouver Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Along the way, we’d pop into an antique shop, grab a coffee, or stop to admire the flowers, gardens, and fountains so abundant throughout Vancouver.

Fountains in Yaletown, Vancouver
Fountains in Yaletown, Vancouver Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

All that walking can work up an appetite and Vancouver’s diversity provides the backdrop for a dynamic food scene. From high-end restaurants to sidewalk cafes to a vast amount of food cart options, we found creative, tasty dining in each neighborhood we explored.

Downtown Vancouver

Downtown Vancouver is filled with restaurants, bars, theatres and a wide-range of shopping options. From Gucci to independent boutiques to department stores – you’ll find it in Vancouver. CF Pacific Centre is several blocks long and offers indoor shopping and a good food court that even has some healthy options like Living Foods, which offers fresh, creative salads.

Robson Street, Vancouver
Robson Street, Vancouver Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Robson Street is a vibrant, three-blocks of boutiques, restaurants, and bars. A great spot to spend a few hours and grab a bite and/or a beverage, we liked the Robson Street Cactus Club – especially the patio for great happy hour fish tacos, cocktails and people watching.

Fish tacos at Cactus Club, Robson Street, Vancouver
Fish tacos at Cactus Club, Robson Street, Vancouver Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Yaletown

If you want to eat, drink, get your hair styled or do a little shopping, head to Yaletown.

Yaletown, Vancouver
Yaletown, Vancouver Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

In a former warehouse and railyard district, Yaletown is located between Homer Street and Robson Street, along the north side of False Creek. A fun area, Yaletown is a great spot for lunches, with an abundance of restaurants with patios.

Wildtale Coastal Grill in Yaletown, Vancouver
Friday Fish special at Wildtale Coastal Grill in Yaletown, Vancouver Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

After a leisurely lunch, a walk along the waterfront is a perfect way to work off those extra calories. A multi-use path runs right along the water, with splendid marina views, and access to David Lam Park and George Wainborn Park along the way.

False Creek waterfront Yaletown, Vancouver
False Creek waterfront Yaletown, Vancouver Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Granville Island

Downtown Vancouver at nightHome to the massive Public Market, restaurants, shops, galleries, artist studios, theatres, waterfront activities and boat tours, Granville Island is a must visit when in Vancouver.

Vancouver Fish Company, Granville Island, Vancouver
Cioppino, West Coast Super Salad, and Sockeye Salmon Burger, Vancouver Fish Company, Granville Island, Vancouver Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

We arrived in time for a late lunch  – the only issue was choosing which restaurant. Public Market has a large selection of vendors and an outdoor dining area for enjoying the food along with some sun, and there is also a huge variety of restaurants ranging from casual to upscale within the community. We decided on the beautiful patio of Vancouver Fish Company and enjoyed a fabulous lunch overlooking the harbor.

Farmers Market, Granville Island, Vancouver
Farmers Market, Granville Island, Vancouver Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Following lunch, we wandered through the Granville Island galleries and stores and shopped at the Farmer’s Market, which is held on Thursdays in the summer, with plants, fruits, vegetables and local artisan crafts, before heading into the Public Market.

Double smoked salmon, Granville Market
Double smoked salmon, Granville Market, Vancouver Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

A foodie’s dream destination, Granville’s Public Market is internationally recognized as one of the top markets in the world. Aisles and aisles of fresh produce, baked goods, gourmet items, meats and fish of every type are available. Our favorite find – double smoked salmon. Absolutely heavenly.

To get to Granville Island on foot, head down the end of Hornby or to David Lam Park in Yaletown and take the Vancouver Aquabus across False Creek.

Gastown

Gastown clock, Vancouver
Gastown clock, Vancouver Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood, Gastown, dates back to 1867 when “Gassy” Jack Deighton began pouring drinks in a tavern there. Today, the district is one of the most popular destinations in the city.

Unique boutiques, souvenir shops, jewelry designers, galleries, artisans, bars and tasty restaurants line the streets, some of which are still cobblestone, in Gastown. The centerpiece of the community is the musical steam clock, which draws tourists every quarter hour as it comes to life steaming and whistling.

Hungry? Head across the street to the Water Street Cafe on the corner and grab a table on the patio. Start with the warm Mediterranean olives, then move on to the Linguine Alle Vongole. Splendid dining – and you’ll have a front row seat to watch the clock and the Gastown happenings.

Linguine Alle Vongole at Water Street Cafe, Gastown, Vancouver
Linguine Alle Vongole at Water Street Cafe, Gastown, Vancouver Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Know before you go to Vancouver in July

Temperature: The average temperature in Vancouver in July is 17°C / 64°F, with an average high of 21°C / 70°F and an average low of 13°C / 55°F.

Rainfall. July is typically Vancouver’s least rainy month, with a historic average of 40mm  of rainfall over 9 days of the month.

Plenty of sunshine. Bring the sunscreen – Vancouver averages 13 hours of sunshine per day in July.

Watersports. Water temperatures average 14°C / 57°F in July.

Air-conditioning (or lack there of). As with many locations where the highs are generally pleasant, unseasonably warm temperatures may occur, as they did during the first two weeks of our stay. Many apartments do not have air conditioning. When booking an Airbnb, check if fans are available in case you need them.


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Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.

Kansas City Plaza Lights, a spectacular holiday tradition

Cover: Kansas City Plaza Holiday Lights
Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media
Article by Kim Hull


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While there are many spots around the world that transform into winter wonderlands during the holidays, the Midwest is home to one of the United State’s most beloved annual holiday traditions – the Plaza lights in Kansas City.

Plaza lights in Kansas CityPlaza lights in Kansas City Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media


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Dating back to 1925 when a single strand of lights was hung at the nation’s first suburban shopping district, the Kansas City Plaza lights have grown into a magical display that is now known worldwide for its beauty and grandeur.

Tower decorated with lights at The Plaza in Kansas City
Tower decorated with lights at The Plaza in Kansas City Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Beginning on Thanksgiving, when the lights are illuminated in a huge lighting ceremony complete with fireworks, the Plaza lights shine brightly through mid-January. Each night beginning around 4:30 the 15-block shopping district is filled with festive, twinkling lights. Stores stay open late during the season and the shops are decked out with dazzling window displays.

Plaza lights after dark in Kansas City Plaza lights after dark in Kansas City Photo: Greg K. Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Visiting during the Plaza lights season is also one of our favorite times for a stop in Kansas City, having done so numerous times over the past decades. While planning our December calendar this year, we discovered some available time between Cabo and Cuba, and happily scheduled a Kansas City Plaza lights visit.

Visiting Kansas City at Christmas
Visiting Kansas City at Christmas Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Having stayed at the Intercontinental since it was the Alameda Plaza in the 70s, it is always our hotel of choice when visiting Kansas City. Conveniently located across from the Plaza, the hotel has a great staff, large stately rooms and stunning views of the Plaza lights.

Hotel Intercontinental at Christmas in Kansas City Hotel Intercontinental at Christmas in Kansas City Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

Strolling through the Plaza in the crisp early evening air is a wonderful time to simply enjoy the joy of the season.

Carriage rides at The Plaza in Kansas City Carriage rides at The Plaza in Kansas City Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The clip clop of the horses pulling carriages, the sound of laughter as friends headed for drinks and dinners, the wide eyes of children as they marvel at the magic of it all, and, of course, the shoppers as they bustle from store to store – it’s as if a holiday card has come to life.

BM3V8934 Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza at Christmas Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

The Plaza is a beautiful setting for a beautiful season. Happy holidays!


Disclosure: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used. Some posts on this website may contain links to our partners’ websites and Chasing Light Media may be compensated by those partners.

Kansas City Plaza Lights
Kansas City Plaza Lights Photo: Kim Hull, Cool Adventures © Chasing Light Media

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Disclaimer: The content & opinions expressed are entirely our own. We received no compensation for this article. Reviews are opinion only and Chasing Light Media accepts no responsibility for how the information is used.