Kauai: Where to Eat

I just got back from Hawaii. I visited Oahu and Kauai. Oahu certainly had more varied delicious restaurants from which to choose, but we were able to find a few gems in Kauai. Here are my recommendations.

Disclaimer: my husband and I begrudgingly acknowledge that we fit the “foodie” stereotype. We prefer restaurants that have high quality ingredients and prep with lots of vegetarian and pescatarian options.

North Shore, Hanalei: Bar Acuda ($$$)

It is the only tapas restaurant in Kauai, and has plenty of options for vegetarians and pescatarians, as well as the red meat fans.

This was on par with my favorite DC tapas restaurants, namely Zaytinya and Jaleo.

Since it’s a tapas restaurant, expect to pay around or above $100 for 2 people if you get drinks and 4 small plates–the standard amount they recommend. But it was by far the best food we had in Kauai.

Our drinks were the Hanalei Mule and the Concrete Jungle–the latter being quite high in alcohol, though we highly enjoyed both.

For the main course, we had the Mushroom Arancini risotto, Papas Ajo, Ahi Carpaccio, French Lentils, and Fresh Hawaiian Fish (Ono at the time).

We ordered the Honeycomb with goat cheese and Fuji apple for dessert. (It’s actually in the tapas section, but we don’t normally care much for sweet desserts anyway.)

Yes, we ordered 6 tapas total for the 2 of us. 🙂 On top of the divine free bread and butter they serve, we were more than stuffed.

East Shore, Līhuʻe: Fish Express ($$)

Recommended to us by a local, this is a takeout restaurant that honestly looked like a grocery fish stand. Like other poke restaurants, this place had tons of proteins and fixins from which to choose. The fish topped with seaweed salad and other goodies were fresh, not fishy at all. There is truly nowhere to sit, though: we had to order, pick up our food, and eat in the car in the parking lot outside. We were lucky we got there ahead of the lunch crowd–we were literally in and out within 5 minutes, though I’m sure when there actually is a line, it goes rather fast.

I’ve read some reviews that complained this place and other poke joints start to degrade in ingredient quality as the day draws to a close, so to avoid risking it, I’d stop by here earlier rather than later in the day. But *shrug* maybe this does not matter depending on the place.

It’s easy to miss this building. The sign was quite faded. and the building looked old. Keep your eyes peeled for it!

East Shore, Kapaa: Matcha-Ya ($)

We got an azuki matcha mochi bun here, and it was buttery delicious. I would love to come back and try more of their sweets and drinks.

South Shore, Hanapepe: Japanese Grandma’s Cafe ($$)

This is one of the few restaurants open a little later at night (until 9 p.m.) in the south shore that appealed to us. It did not disappoint. The fish tacos are a must: the “shell” is made of fried wonton. The sashimi selection was good as well. We especially liked the dessert of tart lemon “ice cream” (it was actually sherbet) with a dollop of sweet/savory azuki and a side of hot, bitter matcha tea. Oh, I love the complex combinations of flavors good Japanese restaurants produce.

Southwest, Kaleheo: Kauai Coffee (free – $)

This is the official estate of the Kauai Coffee company. They have unlimited free samples of all their coffee types and flavors. I didn’t think this would be that fun since I don’t consider myself a coffee connoisseur, but I was pleasantly proven wrong! I also have never liked flavored coffee black before, but here I did. However, our favorite was their Peaberry variety.

In addition to samples, they also serve prepared coffee, ice cream, sandwiches, and pastries.

Besides good eats and drinks, it’s also a nice tourist stop to do a free self- or pro-guided tour of their plantation and browse their gift shop.

Multiple Locs., Lappert’s Hawaii ($)

Not to be confused with the mainland joint of the same name. Yummy, flavorful ice cream, gelato, pastry, and coffee place. I had macadamia nut ice cream and hazelnut gelato, while my husband had mango and dark chocolate ice cream. I wish I had more of the mango (my favorite fruit) because it was just so fruity fresh delicious. But we enjoyed all the flavors we had!

Multiple Locs.: Dole Whip ($)

From our experience, we found Dole Whip in mango and pineapple flavors, though it looks like on the Wikipedia page there are many more. Each time, I loved it; I think my husband just really liked it 🙂 . It’s like an extra creamy and light fruit ice cream. We found an fruit/ice cream stand serving it in Oahu by Diamond Head, and another in the North Shore of Kauai.

Honorable Mentions

These restaurants didn’t knock off our socks, but they’re still solid choices.

Kapaa: Java Kai ($)

Good Kauai coffee! On the same block as Matcha-Ya.

Koloa: Puka Dog ($$)

This another famous hot dog stand Anthony Bourdain (RIP) endorsed. I hear it can get quite crowded, but when we went (early September, 2 p.m.), we waited no more than 10 minutes and easily got a seat.

They serve polish sausage and soy-based veggie dogs in a semi-fried bun that has no split opening, squeezed in with sauces and relish of your choosing.

Each dog is about $10 each. Husband got the polish sausage and I got the veggie dog. Both were similar, which I guess makes the veggie dog more impressive for its meat-like texture and taste, though there is slightly less of an umami taste (understandably). I was pleased nonetheless.

Each dog can either be dressed “traditionally” (ketchup, mustard, pickle relish) or Hawaiian style (with their special Hawaiian mustard). On top of those, you can also add a fruity relish (mango, pineapple, lilikoi (passion fruit), etc.) and/or their puka sauce, which has various spice levels.

We both liked our dogs, but we would’ve much preferred more veggies, such as chopped onions and more discernible pickle texture. We felt like we just had a bunch of protein and carbs. Truly this place stands out for its sauces and semi-fried bun, but these things won’t bring us back to it.

On the side, we got a bag of sweet Maui onion potato chips, and those were good!

They also apparently have good, not-too-sweet lemonade, but we did not buy that at the time.

Līhuʻe: Kalapaki Beach Hut ($)

This was within walking distance of our place. Solid french fries, good burgers, yummy fruit smoothie. Seating is a tad dirty and tight in front of the cashier stand; try to get a seat upstairs or take out and carry to the beach. Plus: they have hot and iced coffee.

Līhuʻe: Plantation Coffee Company ($)

This is an odd location–the lobby of an office building behind a post office and bank. We grabbed some sandwiches and coffee from here before heading to the airport. It was one of the few healthier breakfast options we found in the area (most places tend to serve heavier meat, gravy, and rice stuffs, like loco moco). While the name has the word coffee in it, I actually hated my Americano, but thankfully I liked my husband’s drip coffee, so we traded (he liked my drink just fine, by the way!). We both liked our sandwiches: I had a BLTA (BLT with avocado and toasted bread) and my husband had a salami & havarti sandwich, which had some yummy sprouts.

AVOID, please!

Līhuʻe: Lilikoi ($$)

This was also within walking distance of our place. We made the mistake of going here our first night… or at all. Incredibly overpriced for what we suspected were premade ingredients, e.g., Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup in my husband’s $21 “Chicken and Mushroom Vol-Au-Vent”, the same french fries we have had at several other restaurants, etc. (Other Yelpers have suspected their lava cake was pre-made.) I had fish tacos, and I found the Spanish rice, black beans, and tacos incredibly flavorless. Their “homemade salsa” was probably the only homemade thing, and it was pretty good. Drenching all of that over the rest of the plate made everything edible at least.

We were pretty excited to try this place because of the raving reviews and appetizing-looking menu, but alas.

On the plus side, our waitress was nice, and we liked our cocktails well enough. *shrug*

Post-trip packing list thoughts: Hawaii Aug-Sept 2019

You can also read about my packing list plan, pre-trip.

Personal item: Arc’teryx Mantis 26L

This bag held up well between airport and car rental commutes, as a daybag in the town, and as a hiking bag along short hikes. Below is the bag with what it held on the way back home, after some rearranging with my carry-on item to accommodate some souvenirs.

Contents

From top-left to bottom-right. Italicized stuff was acquired during the trip.

  1. 1 transparent detachable bag with liquids
    • from the Osprey Ultralight Zipper Organizer
    • 1 tube toothpaste, 1 bottle aloe vera gel, 1 bottle facial sunscreen, 1 tube body lotion, 1 bottle argan oil, 1 tube Abreva cold sore medication, 1 bottle Chi hair moisturizing gel
    • I kept as many liquids together as I could
      • in case they exploded in the air (this has never happened to me before, though)
      • in case TSA wanted me to take them out; I am part of TSA Pre-check so I normally don’t, but on occasion an airport will not practice Pre-check so then I do
      • essentially all the liquids are toiletry-related anyway
  2. 1 1oz hand sanitizer bottle
    • couldn’t fit in the transparent bag, but whatever (TSA Precheck)
  3. 1 10″ tablet with case
  4. 1 power brick
  5. 1 soft brace for ankle support
  6. 1 small purse
  7. 1 pen (in purse)
  8. A set of brochures and misc. paper
  9. 1 thin booklet
  10. 1 small notebook
  11. 1 rain cover for backpack
  12. 1 sunglasses case
  13. 1 point-and-shoot camera
  14. 1 1oz container sunscreen
    • couldn’t fit in the transparent bag, but whatever (TSA Precheck)
  15. 1 small wallet
  16. 1 thin detachable bag with 4-5 small charger cables, extra camera battery, extra SD card and camera clip
  17. 1 Vuori thin, quick-drying, comfy jacket
  18. 1 rolled change of clothes for comfort during commute home
    • t-shirt, merino socks, underwear
  19. 1 Ziploc bag of emergency kit items, a few bug repellant wipes, 4 mosquito repelling bracelets
  20. 1 poncho
  21. 1 Ziploc bag of sanitizing wipes
  22. Noise-cancelling headphones in Trakline belt bag
    • Bag was much lighter and thinner than the official headphone case
  23. 1 bag of granola
  24. (not pictured) 1 toothbrush case with electric toothbrush and 2 heads (1 for husband, 1 for me)
  25. (underneath emergency kit bag) 1 house key
  26. (not pictured, would be clipped to bag) 1 travel pillow
  27. (not pictured) 2 water bottles

Carry-on item: Samsonite Ziplite 4.0 16″ Underseater

I’m really happy with this bag. I got it at a good discount and it turned out to be plenty of room for me. Below is, again, the bag with contents rearranged post-trip for souvenirs.

Contents

Again, italicized items were acquired during the trip.

  1. 1 pair sandals
  2. Dirty clothes in sandals: 1 pair merino socks, 1 pair quick-drying underwear, 1 pair feet cushion things
  3. 2 bags of salt
  4. 1 quick-drying towel
  5. 1 misc. set of paper
  6. 1 booklet
  7. Dirty clothes below sandals: 1 bra, 1 shirt, 1 pair shorts
  8. 1 transparent drawstring bag (underneath sandals and dirty clothes)
  9. 2 small misc. souvenirs (wrapped in white and news paper)
  10. 3 quick-drying shirts (in packing cube)
  11. 1 regular shirt
  12. 1 pair shorts (in packing cube)
  13. 2 kukui nut leis (in packing cube)
  14. 1 misc. souvenir (wrapped in red paper)
  15. 1 mini umbrella
  16. 1 skirt/convertible dress (in packing cube)
  17. 1 scarf (in packing cube)
  18. 1 foldable fan (in packing cube)
  19. 1 sports bra (in packing cube)
  20. 3 pairs quick-drying underwear (in packing cube)
  21. 1 pair merino socks (in packing cube)
  22. 1 compression sock (in packing cube)
  23. 1 extra set insoles (in luggage bag)
  24. 1 set foldable trekking pokes (in luggage bag)
  25. 1 tripod (in luggage bag)

Wearing (not pictured)

  1. 1 pair quick-drying climbing/hiking pants
  2. 1 pair quick-drying underwear
  3. 1 pair merino socks
  4. 1 bra
  5. 1 regular shirt
  6. 1 pair hiking boots

In husband’s bag

  1. 1 drybag
  2. 2 waterproof phone cases

Disclaimer: there were minimal other souvenirs that we put into my husband’s eBag backpack, but he still had room to spare.

Analysis

I’m satisfied with the two main bags I brought. The combo of small roller and regular-sized backpack worked very well for me from the continental U.S. to Hawaii and back. Most places were indeed smooth, especially where we ended up dawdling in the airports for food and souvenir shopping. I was concerned about my husband’s pain dawdling around there since he just had a big backpack, but he seemed to tolerate it well. I know from past experience I would’ve struggled.

I’m largely satisfied with the clothes I brought. I didn’t bring too many and had room to acquire 3 new shirts and a new pair of underwear (it’s extra soft). However, I wish I brought 1 more sports bra. I hiked and swam a lot, both activities ideal for my sports bra. I could’ve done more laundry washing (we ended up washing twice in our 9 night-trip) to avoid wearing my dirty sports bra 2-3 times more than I would’ve liked, but I also wanted to be environmentally conscientious with washing. I guess I also could’ve hand-washed the bra, though, but I’m also lazy.

Especially useful things/decisions

A small umbrella. As predicted, Hawaii’s weather is really unpredictable (!) and not as bad as the forecast turned out to be in terms of rain. It rained maybe 10% of the time, and like Peru, in small bursts. The umbrella was good for those times as well as shielding ourselves from especially hot midday sun. I’m so glad we didn’t bring our rain jackets: it would’ve been even more uncomfortably hot wearing them.

Downgrading to a good point-and-shoot camera. It is just so much more compact and easy to use, but still good quality.

Sanitizing wipes. It felt good to be able to easily wipe down the airplane seat area with these things. It was also useful for wiping down my backpack after hiking.

Light jacket. It was nice to have this on the airplanes when it would get too cold, and also when we went on a helicopter tour with the doors off.

Water bottles. Believe it or not, I only started carrying a water bottle with me on my travels on the trip before this one (Vancouver/Seattle). It was my husband’s first time on this trip. These seem like a no-brainer for most people, but yeah, having them was great in the airports to refill and force us to chug before security (more hydration!), as well as while adventuring to various places.

Priority Pass. (I have the mobile card.) We got free coffee and fruit during our first flight out of Baltimore and free fresh burgers and fries during our quick layover in San Francisco. I’ll do a bigger post on Priority Pass and the Chase Sapphire Reserve sometime later.

Things I didn’t end up needing

An extra pair of insoles. I used this trick in Spain when I wanted to avoid bringing an extra pair of shoes, and that worked well. But while I was quite active in Hawaii, I didn’t walk as much there as in Spain because Hawaii is generally much less walkable (hence rental car).

A full 1oz bottle of aloe vera gel. I knew I didn’t need this much in the beginning, but I didn’t want to buy yet another a smaller bottle or container. But maybe sometime I’ll find another small thing lying around I can reuse.

My tablet. It was nice to use it in the plane, but honestly I had some videos and games downloaded on my phone as well and was just as satisfied watching and playing on that, too.

A second umbrella (in my husband’s bag). Because it rained so little, we just shared my little umbrella whenever we needed it. When we did forget to bring an umbrella and it rained, again it was just so short and felt refreshing since we were hot and humid anyway. But I suppose this sort of thing is hard to predict whether you should or shouldn’t bring it, so I think I’d still have both of us bring an umbrella again next time, depending on the season.

A travel towel. Our accommodations always provided us with extra towels. Now that I think about it, the only time I would need this, really, is if I were hiking a long distance and needed to pack light and wouldn’t be able to access a towel for awhile for bathing or sitting down. But I’m not sure if I’ll chop this off the list for the future. It still seems good to have…

Waterproof phone cases. I got them for us to use while snorkeling with sharks, but 1) my husband got sick and didn’t go, and 2) I wasn’t allowed to use mine because I needed a pole/stick to separate my limbs from the camera device (my phone). The snorkeling instructors said this is because sharks are attracted to electromagnetic signals and may want to interact with the source by chomping on it. 😀

Noise-cancelling headphones (maybe). It was pretty amazing cancelling out the airplane humming, but… my husband and I like to lean against each other… and the headphones would always get in the way. I am used to just using cheap earphones, which don’t get in the way of cuddling, obviously. 😀 Maybe I’ll try to find some semi-noise-cancelling earphones instead. Obviously these have the added benefit of being much more compact, too.

Things I’d like to upgrade

Transparent drawstring bag. The one I got for free from a half-marathon race has been good to have for security-sensitive events and places, as well as a dirty shoe/clothes bag. But it’s become quite unruly to actually carry around because the strings/ropes have become too dangly somehow…

Things I should’ve brought

My Costco Visa credit card!!! It gets me 4% back on gas, and god damn it, there was actually a Costco gas station near our place in Kauai. Ugh!

To come: a post about our activities and what I recommend doing (and not doing).

Hawaii Aug-Sept 2019 packing list

Islands and Duration: Oahu (4 nights, 4.5 days), Kauai (5 nights, 5 days)

Considerations

pack as little as possible without sacrificing comfort

Since I’m still dabbling in minimalism, a few of my recent subreddit obsessions are r/onebag, r/HerOneBag, and r/ultralight. As a result, compared to previous trips, I’ve decided to

  • downsize my camera from a mirrorless* one to a still-good point-and-shoot one
  • invest in quick-drying clothing
    • merino socks, performance shirts/bras/underwear
    • the undergarments can then double-function as swimwear
  • downsize my toiletry bag
  • leave out shampoo and soap
    • I more intentionally checked whether my accommodations already provided these (they do)
    • I don’t trust hotel conditioner, though, so I’ll still bring that
  • downsize my umbrella
  • bring a small bag of disinfectant wipes
    • some Redditors suggested this for wiping down your plane seat area

Unfortunately, I am recovering from a sprained ankle. I can walk without crutches or a brace, but it’s probably not a good idea to run. That said, I can additionally leave out running shoes, running shorts, and a pair of socks.

But there are some additions I’m a bit ashamed to note. I’m still considering whether I should forego them:

  • noise-cancelling over-ear headphones vs. simple earphones
    • Sony WH-1000MX3 vs. some Minisos bought in emergency in Viet Nam
    • I’ve always used cheap-o earphones everywhere I go, but recently a coworker convinced me to splurge on those Sonys–thankfully I bought used for a discount and they are still good. I’ve heard they are amazing on planes for drowning out machine noise and people. Buuuut they’re so bulky!
  • trekking poles

Update 08/26: decided to bring both.

Still have room for SOUVENIRS

But resist as much as possible buying any. 😀 #minimalism

Tailor your packing style to your destination(s)

Despite the subreddits, for this trip (and my previous one to Seattle and Vancouver), I’ve decided to move away from one large 40L backpack to a small (~17in) roller bag and regular (26-28L) backpack combination. I have struggled with the one large backpack in terms of my back, even though I’m supposed to be a spry young adult still.

The mobility of one large backpack is amazing for sure, and it was especially useful when traveling in Mexico, Viet Nam, and Spain, where there aren’t as many smooth roads for rolling something around. Plus, in Spain and Viet Nam, I was changing lodging every few days, and typically not with a car readily outside my building–in which there were typically many stairs and no elevator. I may still go back to one bag if I go to a destination like these again.

But I have read that, Hawaii, like much of the continental U.S. and Vancouver, is very roller-bag friendly.

Still, I’m sure there will be times I will have to carry my roller bag, and this (along with wanting to pack light) is why I’m sticking to an almost-underseater roller bag.

Brace for mosquitoes

Kauai is kinda infested with them, I’ve heard, and I’m prone to getting bitten–unlike my blessed husband. I have plenty of DEET-filled towelettes I still haven’t used (remnants from a 2017 Peru trip), and I also will be trying out these funky-looking mosquito-repelling bracelets. Finally, for when I do get an inevitable bite or two, I’ve found it soothing to rub some aloe vera gel on my skin, so I’ll bring a little bit of that as well.

Brace for rain in a hot climate

Interestingly, in terms of humidity and temperature, Hawaii looks to be similar to the DC area right now. From my experience here, it’s definitely more comfortable having an umbrella vs. a rain jacket or poncho if you plan to be walking a lot. And unfortunately, it looks like most days in Kauai are forecast to have rain. Of course, these days with climate change getting worse, it’s hard to predict the weather, but even before this time, I’ve read that Hawaii weather is notoriously unpredictable in terms of rain.

Though, to be honest, I’m considering doubling up on a rain jacket and umbrella combo. Thankfully both items don’t take up much room.

Update 08/27: decided on just the umbrella.

Scan for activity-specific stuff

We plan to visit Pearl Harbor, which bans bags of any kind unless they’re transparent. Thankfully, I have a transparent drawstring bag (from a crowded race that demanded similar security measures). I can substitute a few packing cubes for this.

We also plan to visit a Hindu monastery, which demands conservative clothing. While they provide free sarongs, I would feel less embarrassed if I came prepared myself.

We definitely want to ride in an off-door helicopter, and while these tours tend to go a little slower and thus be less windy, I myself get cold easily so I’ll want to bring a light jacket (which will be useful anyway in the plane).

Some people also think about bringing their own snorkeling gear if they plan to snorkel a lot (especially on their own), but I think my husband and I will only be going out no more than twice, with each time the gear already being provided for us by a tour guide.

Seek advice from locals

r/HawaiiVisitors, r/Hawaii, r/Kauai!

And now, the list

Bags

  1. Samsonite Ziplite 4.0 16″. underseater
  2. Arc’teryx Mantis 26L
  3. Transparent drawstring bag
  4. Small Kindle-sized purse
    • doubles as camera bag

Misc.

  1. 1 minimalist wallet
  2. house key (remove extra keys)
  3. 1 point-and-shoot camera
    • with case, extra battery, charging cable, extra SD card
  4. 1 small tripod
  5. 1 old Nintendo DS bag for camera
  6. 1 pair sunglasses
  7. 1 pair eyeglasses
  8. 1 pair earphones
  9. 1 6L drybag
  10. 1 waterproof phone case for underwater pics
  11. 1 tablet
  12. 1 smartphone
  13. 1 charging cable between tablet and smartphone (yay!)
  14. 1 travel pillow
  15. 4 granola bars for emergency
  16. 1 small insulating water bottle
  17. 5 mosquito-repelling bracelets – 1 per limb, and 1 for husband
  18. 1 small umbrella
  19. 2 foldable trekking poles
  20. 1 pair over-the-ear headphones
  21. 1 set of emergency first-aid things
  22. 1 Ziploc bag for first aid and mosquito-repelling items

Clothing

  1. 3 pairs Darn Tough merino wool socks*
  2. 1 Zensah sports bra for hiking and swimming
  3. 2 regular bras*
  4. 5 pairs performance underwear*
  5. 1 skirt, which can convert to a sundress (!)
  6. 1 pair sandals
  7. 1 pair hiking boots*
  8. 1 pair shorts
  9. 1 pair quick-drying pants* – casual/hiking
  10. 1 scarf
  11. 1 light quick-drying jacket*

(*) Wearing 1 on plane.

Toiletries

  1. 1 menstrual cup 😦
  2. 1 small bottle conditioner
  3. 1 small container sunscreen – share with husband
  4. 1 small facial stick sunscreen – share with husband
  5. 1 small bottle facial lotion
  6. 1 small bottle aloe vera for mosquito bite relief
  7. 1 contact lens holder of Tylenol, ibuprofen, allergy pills
  8. 1 mini toothbrush
  9. 1 mini toothpaste tube
  10. 1 razor
  11. 1 small bottle Argan oil for face
  12. 1 small capsule foundation
  13. 1 toiletry bag
  14. 1 pack of insect-repellent towelettes – share with husband
  15. 1 pair earplugs
  16. 1 eye mask
  17. 1 Ziploc bag with disinfectant wipes
  18. 1 small brush
  19. 2 hair ties
  20. 1 tweezer
  21. 1 nail clipper

And maybe

  • 3 pairs contact lenses for swimming, helicopter
    • though my vision is thankfully not bad to begin with

But remember your companions

In this case, my companion is my husband (as usual), and he is naturally very simple in terms of packing. We share on some things–he won’t bring a separate tablet, insect repellent, transparent bag, disinfectant wipes, or toiletries (except literally just a toothbrush and toothpaste), for example. He probably at most fills up 25L of his 40L bag (and I’m being generous). So, I can consider sneaking in some of my maybe items into his bag 😉 and definitely some things we both share.

Update 08/26: Husband and I did a preliminary pack-up last night, with me consolidating some items. Indeed, he has a good ~20L free in his 40L bag, and surprisingly I have about 10L free in my backpack (with trekking poles)! This is after a lot of “maybe” stuff moved to the “definitely” list. That said, packing list has been updated (anything in italics).

Coming soon

Pictures of everything laid out! And a post-trip analysis of this list.

Deuter SL Trans Alpine 28L vs 26L Pro

For the past month, I’ve been searching for the perfect bike EDC/hiking/traveling backpack. I have gone through 11 bags. Finally, after learning and relearning about all my preferences, I settled down on the Deuter SL Trans Alpine 26L Pro. Before purchasing both the Deuter SL Trans Alpine 28L and the 26L Pro to try in person, I did some research on these. However, I could not find a straight-forward comparison between the two. Here’s my contribution.

  • Deuter SL Trans Alpine Pro 26L vs (regular) 28L - "airstripes" back panels

Similarities

(See their official product pages for more detail, links above ^.)

As Slim Line bags, they are designed for women. They have a smaller frame, S-shaped shoulder straps, waist strap that fits snug around your feminine pelvis, and an adjustable sternum strap that can move around your bosom as you see fit.

They are designed for the bike commuter with a helmet pouch to hold your helmet. I like this so much more than Osprey’s lidlock clip. The pouch is stretchy enough to expand for your helmet, but can be cinched down enough to function like an Osprey shove-it pocket for quick access to whatever you want to put in there, like a rain jacket.

They have a built-in rain cover.

They have their patented Airstripes system for ventilated back support.

They have a thick waist strap for load-bearing support and comes with a hip pocket on each side.

They have comfortable shoulder straps part of the Airstripes system that are adjustable from the top and bottom. They have little loops for things like your water bladder tube and sunglasses.

They have two water bottle holders that, yes, actually can hold water bottles without them falling out.

They have side hidden pocket between the back and one of the water bottle holders that is big enough for a modern-day smartphone (for me, my OnePlus 6)).

They have a collapsible bottom compartment separated by a flexible zippered fabric that you can unzip to expand the main compartment.

They have compression straps to slim down your pack when it’s not fully loaded.

They have a front compartment with organizer pockets for small things.

They have a main compartment with a few organizer pockets. This compartment includes a pocket for a water bladder which can loop through a hidden hole in the top back.

Differences

Pro 26L28L
Capacity: 26LCapacity: 28L
Colors: red/blue mixColors: red, blue
Weight: 3lbs 7oz (heavier)Weight: 2lbs 10oz (lighter)
Front pocket is deeperHelmet pouch can be stowed away; front pocket is shallower
Blinker light attachment
Fewer compression straps, but may not need moreMore compression straps, but get in the way of zippers
Hip pockets are stretchy enough to fit my smartphone$20 cheaper (MSRP $50 cheaper)
The Airstripes system is the “pro” version

For me, the 26L Pro wins in almost every category that matters. I like the colors more, I love that the compression straps that get in the way for the 28L are not there in the Pro, and I love that the hip pockets fit my phone! I’ve seen far too many hiking backpack reviews that complain about the opposite to the point where I just expected this kind of feature to not exist. But gee was I surprised with this pack.

(Mostly minor) cons for the Pro 26L:

  • 2 fewer liters, but I don’t actually need them day-to-day. Will see about travel, though.
  • Weighs more by 13oz, but the excellent load-bearing support makes the weight difference (and any of its weight) a non-issue.
  • No blinker light attachment. This is the one thing that really sucks.

hello, world!

I’m a software engineer. I’m also obsessed with travel accessories, doing outdoor things, and the idea of traveling. Sometimes I also actually travel. On my original personal blog, I wrote about whatever I wanted, which normally included (but was not limited to) personal musings, software things, minimalism, travel stuff, video games, and photography. However, I started realizing the travel stuff was kinda overpowering all the other stuff more than I liked. Finally, today, I decided to create a separate travel blog. I will be migrating old travel posts from my original personal blog to here.

Finding the perfect EDC/hiking/travel bag

(This was originally posted on jasna.me, so it appears before my inaugural hello, world! post.)

As I mentioned in my retrospective, I’ve been quite obsessed with travel accessories, bags, and ironically, anti-consumerism and minimalism. (I thought the latter two were synonymous, but in practice, they are often not. I’ll write about my thoughts on this sometime.) I have watched way too many Youtube videos and read way too many comparison articles on the best bags for this and that since before my recent trip to Seattle and Vancouver. I bought two new bags (a backpack and a roller bag) for that trip, and while they held up fine, I ended up returning them. Since then, I’ve been on this shamefully consumer-driven journey on finding the one perfect bag (minimalism, haha!) that can function as my EDC, my personal item on a plane, and also my hiking bag.

(I have already found 2 contending roller bags. I’ll write about them sometime.)

In the past few weeks, I have gone through 12 bags:

  1. Osprey Radial 34L (2017 ed.)
    • $128.37; down to $79 Osprey close-out
  2. Osprey Radial 26L (2017 ed.)
    • my size (S/M) is actually 24L so I’ll list it as such from now own
    • $103.99; down to $84 Osprey close-out
  3. Osprey Radial (2019 ed.),
    • expands from 26L to 34L$180
  4. Osprey Metron 26L (2019 ed.)
    • $160
  5. Osprey Questa 26L (2019 ed.)
    • $89.99
  6. Osprey Talia 30L
    • $111
  7. Osprey Momentum 32L – coming in a couple days
    • $103.99 – $50 gift card = $53.99; down to $79 Osprey close-out
  8. The North Face Surge (Luxe Ed.)
    • $125 – 15% discount = $106.25
  9. The North Face Recon
    • $99 – 15% discount = $84.15
  10. Arc’teryx Mantis 26L – coming soon
    • $149.0
  11. Deuter Trans Alpine Pro 26L – coming soon
    • $180 – 20% discount = $156.99
  12. Deuter Trans Alpine 28L
    • $130

All of the above are either “unisex” or women’s fit.

What I was looking for

Throughout this journey, I learned about what I valued and looked for in the perfect bag, in descending order of importance:

  1. high-quality material
  2. between 25L and 30L
  3. comfortable for long walks in the city or trail
    1. load-bearing waist belt
    2. load-bearing sternum strap
    3. comfortable shoulder straps
    4. comfortable back panel
  4. lightweight, though not compromising all other things
    1. ideally, no more than 2.5 pounds. but the lighter, the better.
  5. in line with 2 and 4: not too bulky
    1. would like to use this bag daily in crowded metro trains without being an ass
    2. would also like to use as a personal item on international flights
  6. simplicity in # of main compartments: no more than one
    1. I don’t want a more typical fancy school backpack that has 3 or four smaller vertical compartments, one for laptop, one for books, one for other shit, etc. Instead, I want…
    2. A large main compartment for helmet and whatever else.
    3. A secondary compartment just wide enough for a 15in. laptop that raises the laptop for safety. Maybe even a slim book too.
    4. A tertiary compartment for smaller things I need quick access to, e.g., pen, wallet, phone
    5. A small pouch to safely store my sunglasses that’s easy to access
    6. An easy way to access a rain jacket and rain cover (or have bag be waterproof for latter) from the front: a “shove-it” pocket or shoe compartment are perfect
  7. useful side pockets
    1. at least one must be able to hold a water bottle/umbrella upright without trouble
      • many bags have shitty side pockets in which bottles/umbrellas fall out or don’t fit at all
    2. the other must be able to comfortably hold a few knickknacks (keys, ID, earphones) securely and be easily accessible. normally if both are #1, then both are #2 for me.
  8. SOME way to harness my helmet from the outside without it swinging around in case I need more room inside
    1. I do not like Osprey’s Lidlock. It is just too stiff and a pain to use. It also seems to be placed in inconsistent heights across its bags.
    2. usually if there are compression straps or daisy chains, on the outside, I can find a way to do this without a lidlock. I prefer this.
    3. the lazy person’s way is to just strap the helmet onto the bag’s top handle, but that has the helmet annoyingly swinging around.
  9. not ugly. see the Osprey Momentum 32.
  10. blinker light attachment
  11. bonus points
    1. NOT The North Face
      1. only because, at my college, EVERYONE had TNF products, and I vowed to never join that bandwagon because it pissed me off for some reason. maybe just that so many people were obviously unoriginal in this way.
    2. NOT black but still cool-looking
      1. everyone loves black, including me. but it’s kinda overdone and I want my bag to be easily identifiable but still not sickly-looking.
    3. fatter waist belt for better load-bearing. seems to be rare in EDC bags; basically essential in hiking bags.
    4. NOT expensive! but the prices above are all in the range I’d be willing to pay, so not a big issue. (in fact, it is the last issue listed!)

Lessons learned

I thought I was down to the wire with the Osprey Questa and the Osprey Momentum. However, the Questa’s bungee cord system was just a no-go, and the Momentum’s “unisex”/MEN’S fit was just too unwieldy (plus, it’s ugly). Finally, I just couldn’t deal with Osprey’s lidlock system.

I think I would’ve settled with The North Face Recon (perhaps more of a true “unisex”), but it’s just not as comfortable as Osprey. It’s stiff (and the Surge even stiffer). The Recon is quite good in most other ways, though.

Almost getting tricked by the Osprey Radial 24L (2017)

This bag was in my second batch of bags I was comparing, and I got woo’d into the fancy kickstand. I also thought it was comfortable around me. I found it for about $20 less on Osprey and ordered it, returning the Amazon one. But then I realized the next day that my shoulders were hurting a lot. Not positive it was the bag but it seems to be the culprit. I also had reservations about it because it was one of the heavier bags for all its bells and whistles, and I didn’t like that it had essentially 3 main (smaller) compartments instead of 1 (big one, with 2 smaller ones). Finally, it was much less bulky than its 34L relative, but still bulkier than all of the other bags.

And then its successor, the Osprey Radial (2019)

The new Radial is definitely better for me than the old models. This one only has one main compartment. The flexibility in expanding from 26L to 34L is great. The fancy back panel seemed to work a lot better for me in the REI store than the old models’. It is a stretchier mesh material. It is adjustable, making this model a one-size-only one.

A small gripe about the older models is the sunglasses pouch is between the main compartments on the top; I think (?) I prefer it in the front so my stuff doesn’t crush it in between. The new model moved the pouch to the front!

Another small difference is the new model does not have the cheap but fun and useful retractable key chain thing in one of its side pockets. This doesn’t really matter to me; I guess it helped trim the weight, because…

A major con to this bag is it is even heavier than the old models at 3.31 pounds, making it by far the heaviest bag in the list. Granted, it is supposed to have the most superior back panel / load-bearing support.

Let’s not get too needlessly fancy

But I reasoned late in my assessment that, to be completely honest,

  • I am not biking THAT far every day–at most, 5 miles; normally, 2 miles. I don’t need a heavy-duty bike commuting bag.
  • I am not hiking THAT far when I do–normally, I’m pretty spent at 5-6 hours of hiking. I’m not really into overnight/multi-day hiking anymore, so I don’t need such a hi-tech back panel for this. (Anyway, I already have a bag for that.)
  • One thing I am succeeding at in minimalism is minimalist packing, and I don’t need THAT much space, really.
    • With my Questa 26L (and accompanying roller bag), I still have probably 10+L of space after trial packing for a 10-day trip.
    • For EDC it is about the same, with helmet clipped on the outside, that is. (Stuffed inside, it works, though a little tight.)
  • I HAVE LIVED WITHOUT A KICKSTAND ALL THIS TIME!

The other minor point about the new Radial is it is WHEW! $180! That is literally double the price of the Questa and more than double the Momentum.

So, once the new Radial and the old Radial arrive, I’ll be promptly returning them. (Again, I feel very ecologically irresponsible about my carbon footprint in all this…)

Problems with the other bags

I’ll sort these in order from best to worst.

  1. Osprey Questa 26L
    • +++ most comfortable bag
    • + nice design
    • + not too fancy: 1 main compartment
    • + nice water bottle pockets
    • — don’t like bungee cord system. One time my rain cover bag fell out of it.
    • ++ it’s really light: 1.62lbs
  2. The North Face Recon
    • + more comfortable than the Surge
    • – not the most comfortable though 🙂 Questa wins
    • – laptop compartment less bulky than Surge but still too bulky
    • ++ thick, wide waist belt!
    • +++ shove-it pocket!!!
    • – a little heavy (2.7 lb) but not as bad as the Surge
    • – TNF
  3. The North Face Surge Luxe
    • ——– VERY uncomfortable. straps were rigid. no air ventilation.
    • ——– 3.1 pounds?!
    • – the random fleece-like material inside. clearly contributed to the weight, and while it was luxuriously comfy to my hands, I was worried about dirt, etc. in the long term.
    • – laptop compartment was too bulky
    • +++ the colors
    • + big main compartment
    • ++ thick, wide waist belt!
    • +++ 2 big front pockets for rain gear!
    • – TNF
  4. Osprey Momentum 32– “Unisex”, so big and bulky for men
    • ++ still comfortable
    • — pretty ugly
    • +++ shoe compartment for rain jacket
    • + built-in rain cover
    • — realized I just don’t like Osprey’s lidlock system
  5. Osprey Metron 26L
    • + not too fancy like the Radial
    • + lidlock
    • ++ thick, wide waist belt
    • ———- more designed like the Farpoint/Porter stuff, i.e., dedicated travel bags. Has those large compression belt things in the front.
      • Not sure if I would use those as areas for my rain gear. Seems weird and not secure enough.
    • ? unsure about comfort. Was too turned off by design to spend more time with it.
  6. Osprey Talia
    • ——– too many main compartments
    • —– too bulky
      1. large
      1. has kickstand
      2. has fancy back panel
    • +++ two large front pockets for my rain gear

The final (?!) round of bags

This includes the Deuter Trans Alpine 28L, the Deuter Trans Alpine Pro 26L, and the Arc’teryx. Mantis 26L.

Deuter Trans Alpine 28L

I just received this today. I LOVE it. It has everything I want except a laptop compartment, but this is not a deal-breaker because I already have a laptop case. Bonus: it has waist pockets that fit my metro and work IDs and my headphones. Not my phone, but there is still an easily-reachable and secure side pocket for that. I love the dedicated helmet pouch. It is high on the pack, which I discovered I greatly prefer over bottom or middle. I LOVE the collapsible bottom pouch. You can unzip the divider between it and the main compartment so your main compartment can have more room. You can stuff the bottom pouch since the divider is stretchy, so I can not only fit my rain jacket but also my comfy hoodie for easy access. Built-in rain fly is separate. Holy smokes. This bag is just right!

Minor setback: the compression straps get in the way of unzipping the main compartment, but at the same time they work really well for what they’re there to do: compress.

Deuter Trans Alpine Pro 26L

Have not received yet. Clearly contending directly with its non-pro version. On the screen, it looks prettier than the non-pro, and I think the materials are supposed to be nicer. But we’ll see who wins. Obviously a let-down is the 2 fewer liters, but with the amazingly easy-to-use and well-positioned helmet pouch on this model and its non-pro sister, I still have plenty of free space for my daily commute. I may not need those 2L if all other “pro” features are worth it.

Update: see comparison between the Pro 26L and the 28L.

Arc’teryx Mantis 26L

Have not received yet.

I don’t know what to expect with this one now that I’m just blown away by the Deuter. I can imagine myself keeping it if it is somewhat packable and I want a simpler bag to use without the bells and whistles of the Deuter’s waist pockets, back panel, and helmet pouch. But if I want to be more minimalist, I should return it if it doesn’t beat the Deuter. We’ll see…

Update: yup, I really don’t need this bag! But I like it… Partly because of the brand, partly because of the great reviews on its durability, partly for its looks, partly for its simplicity and still nice, deep side pockets. Will I keep it?

Seattle/Vancouver 2019

I made a trip to Seattle (3 nights, 3 days) and Vancouver (3 nights, 4 days) in early July. Here are my general recommendations:

Late June-early July’s a nice time to go.

This is still considered dry season. I got rained on once (and sadly, with hail and during a hike) this entire time. Temperatures were a comfortable 50-70 degrees Farenheit and low (for me) humidity at around 70%. I was able to do a lot of outdoor activities in comfortable, sunny-cloudy weather.

Plus, July 1 is Canada Day! So traffic is less, and there’s some fun celebrations to be had in downtown Vancouver (and probably elsewhere).

There are probably other good times to go in the year, but I am just speaking from my own experience.

Keep a light rain jacket handy.

While it’s dry season, you’re still in the Pacific Northwest, and showers are to be expected at some point.

Take a bus or train between cities.

I rode a BoltBus for $33 from Seattle to Vancouver, which was 4 hours long. The person who sat next to me takes this bus at least once a month, and she is able to occasionally get it for $1. I had to pay more for booking only 2 weeks in advance, but it was still $130 cheaper than the cheapest plane. So no complaints from me.

Greyhound also has bus services, but I heard BoltBus stops are less frequent and pickup points are in better locations. BoltBus pickup points in Seattle and Vancouver are both in their respective Chinatowns, near public transportation. There was only one stop (in Bellingham, near a Dairy Queen and bathrooms) other than the border crossing.

BoltBus claimed WiFi availability on the bus, but I could only get it to load Google and run a search; it could not actually load the resulting websites, and I could not text anyone on WhatsApp.

Regardless, it was a very comfortable and quick ride, especially on traffic-free Canada Day. I lucked out at the border crossing because no one on my bus got detained (I heard everyone has to wait if someone is), and we only had to wait for one other bus in front of us before entering the building. In total the crossing took about 15 minutes. Everyone has to get off the bus with their things and talk to a security officer.

I have also heard the Amtrak train between these cities is on a very scenic route, and you don’t have to get off the train during the border crossing. It’s also surprisingly affordable–at the time of this writing, a train ride is only $68. However, there are typically only two trips–one in the early morning, and one in the evening that arrives late at night. The early morning one seems to get sold out quickly.

Go outdoors!

In/around Seattle, I ran through parks and beautiful neighborhoods and hiked 9 miles to and from Lake Serene. I walked around the city, University Village / UDistrict, and the University of Washington campus, watched the sunset at Golden Gardens, and found a good local non-Starbucks café. There are plenty of other hikes and beaches I didn’t get around to, though.

In/around Vancouver, I walked downtown, kayaked in Coquitlam, wandered around Burnaby Mountain, survived the Capilano suspension bridge, and hiked through Golden Ears Park. Again, there’s many more I didn’t get to do, such as the Grouse Grind.

(In my previous trip to Vancouver, I visited Whistler and Victoria Island, home of Butchart Gardens. All beautiful places as well.)

Eat Asian.

Something that’s hard not to notice is the concentration of Asians in the Pacific Northwest. Naturally, this means Asian restaurants are queen here. I’ll list specific recommendations below.

Use public transportation!

It’s really cheap and abundant in Seattle (light rail, buses) and Vancouver (SkyTrain, buses, West Coast Express (like Amtrak)).

Seattle also has Lyft and Uber, and sometimes has free shuttles to popular hiking trails. Vancouver does not have Lyft or Uber.

Both Seattle and Vancouver have public bike shares. Seattle also has scooter shares (but I have a personal bias against them.)

And yes, there are trains available directly from both cities’ airports.

Consider purchasing several-day passes if it’ll be your main mode of transportation.

Seattle specifics

Try those small roadside family-owned burger/hot dog joints

(Probably not vegan-friendly! 😦 )

These have the kind of meal you’d crave for after a long hike. There are many on the way to/from Serene Lake hiking trail, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there were others near other trails. The one I tried was Zeke’s Dine-In. Here I had my taste of a real Seattle dog with cream cheese, jalapeños, and fried onions. While the Seattle stuff was alright–I wouldn’t order it again–I was pretty impressed with the dog itself, and I don’t even normally care for hot dogs. Their fries were also on point.

Hike to and dip in Lake Serene! (or other alternatives)

There is an elevation gain of 2,000 feet or so, and in total, with the detour to the Bridal Veil falls, it is about 8 miles (though my friend tracked us at 9.2). It is a moderate to hard hike. But the top is well worth it. We dived into the lake water, and while it was quite cold, it felt incredibly refreshing after doing the uphill climb. It’s also beautiful.

Lake Serene is about an hour drive from downtown without traffic. There are other comparable or longer hikes that are farther away.

Visit the Chihuly gallery… if you’ve never seen his work before

The second phrase is because I had seen and loved his work at a temporary exhibit in Toronto a few years ago. As a result, I was a little disappointed to find that I had already seen about 40% of the works in his permanent gallery in Seattle. While his works always wow me, it wasn’t worth my $33+.

That said, his glass sculptures are amazing and shouldn’t be missed. Be sure to bring a set of headphones (and smartphone 🙂 ) to listen to the free audio tour. It’s just found on their website. Also be sure to get there early to beat the crowds and buy your tickets in advance or while waiting in line (online). I got there at around 11:30 a.m. on a Saturday, and there was already a short line outside the gallery for people who already have tickets. By the time I left at around 12:30, the line had probably tripled or quadrupled, and I imagine the gallery itself was becoming crowded.

If your schedule allows it, though, you can get tickets for $10 less after 6:00 p.m.

Next to the gallery are the Space Needle and the Modern Pop Culture Museum. (I didn’t go to these places.)

Visit the Living Computers museum, if you’re into that!

As a software engineer, I really enjoyed this museum–but it is definitely more hardware-focused than coding-focused. When I went, they had a free tour of their supercomputer from the 1960s that only has 1mb of core memory but takes up probably 1,000 sq ft or so and needs its cooling system to vent out of the roof. I learned about the history of IBM, Apple, Microsoft, and computers and hardware in general. There’s a lot of interactive stuff as well. You can take a stab at BASIC, play some PC games from the ’60s to early 2000s, tinker with robots, design a video game, and more. Pretty kid-friendly, too.

It’s a bit less touristy compared to the other museums, and consequently more on the outskirts of the city. I’d recommend getting a bite to eat before or after entering the area of this museum rather than nearby. On the plus side, they have free parking!

Visit University Village

Lots of small shops and restaurants, nice to walk around. They even have community-shared umbrellas for that surprise Seattle rain!

Visit University District

Within walking distance of University of Washington. Lots of Asian restaurants.

Eat here

There are many other good spots, but the ones I had and really liked are

  • Boba Up, University District – make your own bubble tea. I loved the taro slushie and tea mix.
  • Sizzle and Crunch, University District – excellent Vietnamese* banh mi and rice bowls. Banh mi second only to Viet Nam itself.
  • Ba Bar, University Village – excellent Vietnamese* food, though a bit overpriced. They make their own noodles and rolls. I had the oxtail pho and my friend had the Ha Noi-style banh cuon.
  • Molly Moon’s Ice Cream, University Village – they have some fun flavors, and yes, you can sample them!
  • Street Bean Coffee Roasters, downtown – well, I’m not really a coffee snob so I don’t know just how great this place really is, but I enjoyed my Americano here, and it’s a nice alternative to the always-burnt and too-ubiquitous Starbucks. It’s very close to the Space Needle / Chihuly gallery / Modern Pop Culture museum.

(*) My Vietnamese-native friend but new Seattle local recommended these!

Vancouver (and surrounding) specifics

Don’t bother withdrawing cash (if a foreigner with CCs)

Like the U.S., credit cards are accepted at almost every location. But some places, especially small Asian restaurants (or booths at Canada Day!), only accept debit or cash. I have a TD Bank (U.S.) debit card and was given a little bit of a hard time at one restaurant, and I read somewhere that the debit card network is slightly different in the U.S. than in Canada, but *shrug* I still got away with it. If you want to avoid these situations, though, perhaps don’t go to these restaurants or just withdraw $30-100 CAD depending on how much you think you’ll need for you and your party.

Remember conversion rates!

Back in the day, I remember the USD being weaker than the CAD, but as of 2019, it’s the other way around. (Lucky me!)

Tipping is a thing.

But if you pay with card, at least all the machines I worked with have an automatic calculator for 15,20,25%.

French is not queen.

It’s largely English language here, plus those of dominant Asian populations, namely Korean and Chinese.

Visit the Museum of Anthropology at UBC

The University of British Columbia (UBC) has a lovely campus, though it is a little far from downtown. It took me about 50 minutes to get there by bus + walking from Waterfront Station (though you can also go to VCC-Clark station and bus from there). The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) is unique. It has a lot of impressive totem poles, artwork, and artifacts from the First Nations. I spent an hour and a half there, though if I had more time, I probably would’ve spent at least another hour. Around the museum are gardens, another museum (Beatty Biodiversity Museum), and the campus itself. Admission is very reasonable at $18 CAD per adult, with discounts for students and senior citizens.

Hike, Bike, Run, Picnic, Aquarium around Stanley Park

Stanley Park is huge at 405 acres and located just outside downtown. Large parts of it are surrounded by water. There are wide sidewalks suitable for biking, walking, and running along the perimeter, and in between are children’s playgrounds, fields, tall trees, and hiking trails. I was driven around this park and it took a good 10 minutes. I’d like to come back and just spend a few hours running, hiking, or picnicking here. I’d also like to see if the aquarium’s worth it. In addition, there are a few restaurants overlooking the water.

Visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge

The price for this “tourist trap” is a steep $53 CAD per adult (with usual discounts), but at least there are convenient free shuttle buses every 10 minutes to and from downtown, in front of the Canada Place info booth. They pass through Stanley Park and Lions Gate Bridge.

I spent a good 4 hours here taking my time–I had to backtrack partway on the bridge because I kept spotting trails I had missed. I took a free nature tour (every half hour), saw some predator birds up close, and bathed in the glory of some hundred-to-thousand-year-old trees. If you’d like, be sure to grab a map of the area and keep an eye out for stamp locations–at the end you can earn a free “I did it!” certificate when exiting the park. Some people were quite terrified while on the bridge… Not for the faint of heart, but at the same time many kids enjoyed in the area.

Do come early! I got there at around 8:52 a.m. on a cloudy Thursday, and there were already some people there. By the time I started heading back to towards the exit at 11:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m., it was packed. There was a lot of traffic on the bridge. At the exit at around 12:52 p.m., the line for tickets (I think? or even the entrance itself?) was very long.

If you’re a Vancouver resident, you can get a year-long membership for the same price as a non-resident day pass, with discounts for your guests.

Hike at Golden Ears Park (and other alternatives)

It is about 50 minutes driving from Coquitlam. Lots of trails to explore. I did an easy trail to Golden Creek Falls, which was quite a relief after Lake Serene. While the weather was colder here than in Seattle, my cousins and I still enjoyed dipping into the even colder, clear water! There are more challenging hikes in the area as well.

Go kayaking and do other outdoor things

I went to Rocky Point for kayaking, which was pretty neat and had a great ice cream place in the vicinity. I’d be interested in other places, though, since kayaking itself is just fun.

Make a side trip to Whistler and Victoria Island

I did this 12 years ago so my memory on specifics is hazy, but I do remember that both places were beautiful. Victoria Island also has the Butchart Gardens, which knocked off the socks of other gardens in U.S. I’ve been to.

Eat here

Unfortunately, most of my recommendations are in Coquitlam, where my extended family lives. But here they are:

  • Miku Vancouver, downtown – this is by Canada Place. I got the Shokai lunch which consisted of 10 different kinds of sushi and sashimi and solid miso soup (not the watered-down trash some restaurants give). The sushi and sashimi were some of the best and most different I have ever had. Nice view of the harbor as well.
  • Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, Coquitlam – please ignore the low reviews. Park after 6 p.m. at a nearby garage (free) or take public transportation (near the SkyTrain). Original and spicy broths are awesome, add some hot chili oil and peanut sauce on the side.
  • Snowy Village, various locations – I went to the one in Coquitlam, close to Little Sheep. They have delicious fried taiyaki (Nutella, red bean, etc.) and Korean bingsoo (shaved, snowy ice + lots of fun toppings, not the American ice + artificial syrup trash). Debit or cash only.
  • Vesta Grill Korean fried chicken and bbq, Coquitlam – come here with at least 2 other people if you’re getting a chicken plate. The chicken with cheese is surprisingly delicious. It’s all fried but not that oily.
  • Rain or Shine ice cream, various locations – Solid homemade ice cream, similar to flavors at Molly Moon’s (different but not wild). I went to one on the way from UBC to VCC-Clark station.
  • Rocky Point ice cream, Port Moody – Similar to Rain or Shine and Molly Moon’s, really good after a few hours of kayaking in the same location.
  • (Granville public market as well, according to many sources, but I unfortunately haven’t been yet.)

Honorable mentions

Vancouver

  • The Hive Climbing Gym, outside city – only bouldering, but really good problems and all nicely spaced out, color-coded, and fully matted. There are several locations. “Honorable mention” since it’s not necessarily unique to Vancouver. I’d definitely come back if I’m in the area, though.
  • Pho Capital, Coquitlam – solid Vietnamese food, though it did not “wow” me. Debit or cash only.
  • Canada Place, downtown – free and has a great view of the mountains and water. But you can only do that for so long. 🙂
  • Earls Kitchen + Bar, various locations – I went to one in Burnaby. Solid North American fare, but didn’t “wow” me. I surprisingly loved their field greens salad, though. Nice break from Asian food.

Seattle

  • Golden Gardens beach and park – really nice to watch the sunset here, picnic, play ball, etc… but really, it’s just a beach. 🙂 But to be fair, perhaps I didn’t explore it enough. There are also hiking trails, which I did not do.
  • University of Washington campus – it’s a beautiful campus, but it really is just that: a campus. 🙂 What surprised me was in their student building, in their basement was a full bowling alley, board game section (with a decent selection–some less-common but still not-too-intense games), PC gaming section with VR, console gaming section, and arcade booths. Above that was a nice selection of student dining options, mostly Asian-themed–though I didn’t try them since I was opting for University District instead.

Still to do

  • Sea to Sky gondola in Squamish
  • Climbing, white water rafting, and hiking in Squamish
  • Gastown, downtown Vancouver
  • Granville Island market, downtown Vancouver
  • More hiking, climbing in Seattle

This post was originally featured on jasna.me.