We just got back from our latest trip: The Mommy & Me Adventure Express!
The MMAE was a trip down the west coast by train with me, Colin, my mom and his mom. Adorable, right? Not only were we going old school and travelling by train but we were doing it with our moms. None of us had travelled extensively by train before (actually, I did a train through France and an overnight in Spain) and our moms had only met once before. But despite that, the trip was a huge success!
We started our adventure bright and early, arriving at Pacific Central Station for 5:30am on September 15th. We boarded our train and got to watch the sun rise over the coast. It was stunning!
Many hours later, we arrived in Portland, Oregon – our first stop of the trip! We took an Uber to our AirBnB, an adorable basement suite just a few minutes from downtown. That night we walked over to the local Hillside area and had a delicious Mexican feast (complete with giant margaritas, of course) and locally made ice cream. Yum!
The next day we headed out to pick up our rental car and then spent the rest of the day exploring Portland. We hit up Powell Books, which was amazing. It was a bit overwhelming; I can’t imagine actually just browsing for a random book in there. Next we walked over to Voodoo Donuts, but couldn’t justify the line (don’t worry, we get to Voodoo eventually). So we settled for some delicious oysters and a glass of wine.
Next up was the Saturday Market. By the river, a huge multi-block market sets up every Saturday selling food, crafts, clothing and everything else. It was awesome! We enjoyed browsing, picked up a few things, and then hit the food stalls when we got hungry.
After eating, we walked over to Old Town Brewery, which is supposedly haunted. It wasn’t quite as eerie or tourist friendly as we were hoping. In fact, the only creepy part was the bathroom. But we enjoyed a tasting flight of beer nonetheless.
By this point, my mom and I had pretty much converted Colin and Margie (his mom) to our preferred family-style sharing techniques. And by that, I mean that instead of each ordering our own beer or even splitting up the tasting flight so everyone got their own beer, we took each tiny tasting glass and passed it down the line, each taking a sip. We all gave our rating and the person who enjoyed the beer the most, got to finish it off. Genius, no?
After our beers, it was on to even more food (you’ll notice a theme over this trip). Our first Uber driver recommended the Portland City Grill, a restaurant on the 30th floor of the US Bancorp building. We arrived just before the 4:00pm happy hour to find a line up in the lobby. The elevators don’t start operating until 4:00pm but we learned quickly that you have to get there early if you want a window seat.
Despite being in the second or third elevator car up, we didn’t manage to snag a coveted window seat. But we did get a booth with some views. It was awesome to see the city and the happy hour food was really yummy. Would’ve been better if Portland wasn’t so smokey, but it was still great.
After eating, we walked to the downtown area and decided to pop into Target for a quick shop. Of course, we ended up spending a good 2+ hours at Target. They have everything! I honestly could’ve spent a day there. But we all packed only carry-on sized luggage, so we had to be careful not to overdo it.
With full stomachs and full bags of Target goods, we walked back to our car and drove home. We watched some Netflx and then headed to bed.
The next morning, we got up bright and early to start our day. The plan was to drive down to Florence, about three hours southwest of Portland, to check out the famous sea lion caves and sand dunes. Then we would drive east an hour to Eugene for lunch and to catch our train.
Sadly, the weather and the roads weren’t so cooperative. The way down to Florence was pretty much one single laned winding road. And while the scenery was nice, save for the rain clouds, the car sickness was not.
Even worse, there were no sea lions to be seen in the caves! But since we had driven all that way, we headed down to the cave anyway. Even without the sea lions, it was a very impressive cave. And at the viewing points, we saw a few sea lions playing in the waves and a whale!
We didn’t have time to do the sand dunes – and weren’t so interested in doing them in the rain. So we went into the old town of Florence for lunch (such a cute spot!) and then drove some more winding roads to Eugene. In Eugene, we stopped into the other Voodoo Donuts location where we only had to wait behind five people, instead of 50. But even with five in line, it was a long wait. We picked out a few interesting looking ones and enjoyed them on the train. Like many people had told me, the donuts were a bit overrated. Or maybe we just picked the wrong ones. I liked them, but I wouldn’t stand in line for them.
And then it was back on the train! We boarded our train around 5:00pm in Eugene. This time, we were in Business Class where we got a couple seats each to ourselves that reclined way back and had a foot rest. It was almost as comfortable as you can be on a train.
The train experience was interesting. The WiFi was spotty and the steak dinner was scary. But the scenery was awesome. We sat in the Observatory Car for a while, which is all windows, and it was so cool to see the sights of Oregon passing around us. Of course, sleeping in reclined seats on a moving train right next to the dining car doors that kept slamming wasn’t ideal for a restful night. But it wasn’t the worst sleep I’ve ever had!
We pulled into Emeryville around 8:00am where we got off the train to take a bus into San Francisco. Our bus was supposed to drop us off in SF for 9:30, giving us an hour to make it to our Alcatraz tour at 10:30. Sadly, that didn’t happen. The bus took FOREVER to leave the station and then forever loading and unloading people at each stop before ours. When we did arrive in SF, we had to run to drop off our bags, use the bathroom and rush onto the boat. We just made it!
This was my 3rd visit to Alcatraz in the last five years. But I still really enjoyed it! The tour was the same but there were lots of parts I had forgotten. And as a cool bonus, an ex-prisoner of Alcatraz was in the gift shop signing copies of his book! We bought a copy so it will be interesting to learn more about his perspective.
After Alcatraz, we met back up with my mom and headed to Boudin for the famed clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. You can’t come to SF and not have a Boudin bread bowl! We then walked over to Pier 39 to see the sea lions and do a bit of browsing. The sea lions were so adorable! It totally made up for missing them in Florence.
Next, we went to Enterprise to pick up our rental car. It was convenient having a car, but such a headache to rent one. Once we finally got everything sorted there, we headed to Lombard Street to show Margie the most crooked street in the world. And then it was on to Ghiradelli Square for some more shopping!
After shopping, the last iconic SF site on our list was the Golden Gate Bridge. It was super foggy in the morning so we hadn’t been able to see the bridge yet. But because the weather in SF changes every time you blink, it was nice and clear when we decided to drive over. We drove over to the other side of the bridge and checked out the views from Battery Spencer. I’ve never been to that viewpoint before. It was GORGEOUS! It’s clear to see why all the SF postcards get their shots from this angle. The wind was insane but it was so worth it.
We then drove to dinner. Colin and I wanted to take our moms to Surisan, the Korean fusion restaurant we had really enjoyed during our July visit to SF. The moms loved it too! It was a delicious dinner and we got to try lots of new things. My mom liked it so much that she’s heading back again on Friday.
After dinner, we drove out to our hotel in Vallejo, which is just outside Napa. The hotel had some issues (broken phones, broken toilets) but it was nice to be in a big king bed, especially after spending the night before sleeping on the train.
The next morning, after breakfast at the hotel we drove out to Artesa, a winery in Napa that boasted the best scenic views and a reasonable tour price. We were blown away by the views. It was so stunning! Artesa is up on a hill so you can see all the wineries in the area.
After picking our jaws up off the floor, we went inside to join our tour. We got to see the cellars, bottling process and hear from someone who had worked in wine production for 10 years. It was interesting to learn a bit more about wine. We also got to do a tasting of five wines, plus one to drink during the tour. Sadly, the red wines were wasted on me but I’m sure my mom and Margie enjoyed my leftovers. We also met a very sweet couple from Florida who were heading to Vancouver and Victoria.
We drove out to Sonoma for lunch at The Girl & The Fig. It was such a cute place for lunch! We sat in their beautiful little back patio area and enjoyed really yummy meals (steak, scallops, duck confit!). After lunch, Colin and Margie checked out the square while my mom and I indulged in some chocolate-y goodness.
Next was a quick trip to the Cornerstone, a nearby outdoor mall. It was a bit out of our price range ($50 placemats? Hard pass) and we were losing steam, so we didn’t spend too long there. We headed back to the hotel for a bit of a break.
For dinner, we had a mish mash of leftovers from Surisan and our take-out order from Red Lobster. It was way too much food, as usual. We had also stopped at Kohls while we waited for our Red Lobster order, and couldn’t wait to go back in the morning.
The next morning, us ladies got up a little bit early (well, early for me) so we could get to Kohls for their 9:00am opening. That gave us one hour of shopping before we had to be on the road at 10:00am. We walked out at around 10:15am with baby clothes, leggings, shoes, dresses and more. A successful shoppng trip indeed! I think a Bellingham trip is in order soon because there are just some things in the States that we can’t get up here. And now that we’re moving, there’s so many home goods I want to buy!
We then drove to Alameda, a suburb of SF, where we were meeting our family friend, Kaitlyn, for lunch. Kaitlyn is from Toronto but is out in Alameda for a semester of co-op. We met her at Hang Ten to enjoy a seafood boil lunch.
It was Margie and Colin’s first time doing the seafood boil, and they loved it. We all did! It’s so fun to eat with your hands and, of course, the fresh and flavourful seafood doesn’t hurt. We finished off our big meal with cute little macaron ice cream sandwiches.
And then it was time for the Mommy & Me Adventure Express to come to an end. We said goodbye to Kaity and drove back to SF. Next, we dropped my mom off at her AirBnB (which was in a classic SF building with views of Alcatraz!) – she is staying in SF a few more days, going to Santa Barbara, then to Santa Monica and flying home to Toronto from LA. We returned our rental car and took an Uber out to the airport. Sadly, our flight was delayed by a couple of hours, so we just got to hang out at the airport for a while. We finally arrived in Vancouver around 9:30pm.
The Mommy & Me Adventure Express trip was so much fun. It was very cool to take the train and see parts of the west coast I’ve never seen before. Highlights definitely have to be the food – we ate so well! And I still have to say that SF is my favourite city in the States. If I had to live anywhere in the US, it would be San Francisco (as long as someone else can pay my rent to live in the city).
Of course, it was awesome to spend that much time with my Moo (who I’m sure is reading this. Hi Mom!). It’s been a while since I’ve seen her last so it was great to spend time with her here in Vancouver and then on our train trip. The whole trip was her idea and her planning, so thank you Moo for doing such a great job! It was a blast!
And now it’s back to real life! Which for us means all of the crazyness of moving into our first home in a couple of weeks. There’s been lots going on with that (which probably means another Becoming a Homeowner blog post coming your way) and it’s getting so real. We’ll have the keys in just over two weeks!