Thursday, October 30, 2014

alcatraz --- at NIGHT!

instead of going to a haunted house this october, 
we took a boat to NIGHT. ahhhh!
i'm willing to bet this was scarier than any haunted
house. we've both been to this prison island a few times,
but going at night has been on our bay area bucket list
forever. we figured, what better time than a spooky
october night? especially when there was a scavenger
hunt involved. we loved going with city experts to this!
and it begins... no turning back 
once you step on that boat!
i was already spooked on the dusky boat ride over ^^
the event was so well done by city experts,
we were lucky to be invited!
cheery faces on the boat before
the scares and spooks began.
then we arrived on the island -- 
you tell me how creeped out you
are seeing this prison in the dark!
^^ i tried to distract myself from the fright
with a hot chocolate while we chose teams...
this guy LOVES alcatraz. i'd call it a borderline
obsession with the amount of books he's read on it.
you can see here how happy he was to be here, and
happy to tell anyone around all the cool stories he knows :)
^^ this quote sums it up -- the worst of 
the worst criminals were sent to alcatraz!
audio tours with a scary portion at the end --
as if it isn't already scary enough!!!
i could barely be talked into stepping
into the cells in the dark hallways 
at night...scary music playing....... get the picture!
let's just say there were a few completely
dark ones with some scary things inside :)

phew - made it through!
this view of our city lit up orange
for the giants world series / october 
made the night even more festive.

and ... our spooky outing turned magical 
with this sparkly view on the way back.
truly, you must go to alcatraz at night --
not just for alcatraz, but to have the view at
night coming back to the city. i almost cried,
it was so beautiful! this city has my heart.

this fun, crazy night ended on a good
note with loving this city even more.
i think it was one of my favorite experiences
since living here to look back at SF at night
as we cruised back through the bay. i could NOT
get over it. how do we live here? so much love for this place. 

here's to october and halloween and getting spooked!


toronto by night

it's canada recap time! 
because we had originally planned this trip with the 
purpose of visiting niagara fallswe first flew into
 toronto so we could visit some other canadian cities 
as part of this trip. i knew we wanted to see niagara, 
but i always have to pack in any other fun, new 
nearby places on trips :) in this case, that meant 
seeing toronto, going to niagara, back to toronto, 
then using the rest of the weekend to go deeper into 
french canada to see montreal & quebec city...luckily
chase is used to me doing this and puts up with it!
for now, let's talk about toronto and our first night there.
we landed in toronto after flying east all day, so
our introduction to this city was at night. i already
knew i liked toronto even before seeing it in the 
daylight. the energy and different feel woke me
right up after the long flight from coast to coast,
and we were ready to go explore this place! i was
surprised at how much i instantly liked the vibe
of's somewhere i would even live!
it's hard to explain the feel of toronto.
it's a big city, but really clean. it has a little bit
of french flair because it's part of french canada,
but there's so much more to it than that. parts of it
feel modern, and other parts historic. the asian
influence came through to me, but every turn feels a 
bit different-- it's a unique place. i guess i'd say it 
almost feels like a mix between NYC, europe, and asia.
basically, a melting pot with it's own take on things!
all that is to say that it is a great city with so many
different sides to it. since we knew we were heading
much deeper into french canada later in the trip, we
embraced the asian culture in toronto by staying
at the shangri-la and eating at luckee -- the best 
chinese food i've ever had in my life -- hands 
down. but more on that below in this post :) 
when we travel, we like to stay at places that fit the city. 
sometimes this means renting a local apartment, 
sometimes it means hostels, but in toronto it meant
a high-rise right downtown in the center of it all:
the shangri-la is the perfect place to stay in this city.
it is so central, it's gorgeous, has lots of good 
restaurants and shopping around it, and it is a 
treat to stay here. the views of the high rise buildings 
out of the big windows show off toronto and make 
you know that you're staying in the right place. 
^^ it has a great upscale feel with iPads for ordering 
room service or getting more info, and of course
i was a sucker for these welcome macarons. favorite!
^^ i fell in love with these pretty chandeliers & you can
see them through the big glass windows from the street 
^^ i don't think chase was too mad about
having a TV in the bathroom mirrors! it
makes getting ready a lot more fun :)
the shangri-la hotel line is famous for top-of-the-line
accommodations and service, and it was fun to experience
such a great one in toronto. it made us love this city
and enjoy it from the get-go after that long flight!
after checking in, we were off to dinner. i had
heard rave reviews about luckee, the new
restaurant by susur lee. it is incredible chinese
food with a definite flair...just like toronto has a
unique twist on something familiar, this restaurant
did the same. i promise we both said it was the
best chinese food we'd ever had. you may know 
the chef from top chef master on the food network.
he is described as a "culinary genius," and i'd
have to agree. he has perfected a nouvelle-chinoise 
modern fusion that is unlike anything i've ever had.
he's also a judge on chopped if anyone watches that!

i loved the vibe inside this restaurant. you step into what
feels like a completely different world! killer ambience.
the food is beautiful and fresh and so incredibly delicious.

i can't even begin to tackle the amazing menu, but a few MUST-orders include:
the chicken cheung fun -- the best and most unique appetizer that is the star
dish here. we could instantly see why! i am still dreaming of this creation.
it's a flavorful rice roll with a different texture and taste than we'd ever had.

we also loved the fresh soba noodle salad, and about died over the 
general tao crispy sesame beef. definitely chase's favorite. i loved the
wok seared chicken & shrimp, mostly because i wanted to drink the soy
glaze by itself. everything is just incredible and satisfying and unique.
do yourself (and your tastebuds) a favor and EAT HERE in toronto!

after ALL that food we went on a little walk 
around the city before heading back to the hotel.
^^ we walked by wayne gretzky's restaurant and realized 
how much canada REALLY does love their hockey! 
^^ we also walked through the theatre district and i found
a sign with dunn (my maiden name) so we had to document!
{dunn ended up being EVERYWHERE in canada, on street
signs, restaurants, etc. i don't know what the deal is!}
^^ after relaxing back at the shangri-la with these views,
we were exhausted with an early wake-up call to head
to we ordered room service breakfast on
the ipad provided in the room -- talk about luxury!
and then in the morning...although it was tough to wake
up at 7 AM {4 AM our west coast time} this perfect
breakfast delivery made it much better.
the shangri-la just does everything right! 
it is a treat to stay at one sometime in your life.

and then it was off to the coach station to niagara falls
which you can see here. more of canada to come!

i loved this view as we walked to the coach station -- 
it represents the old-meets-new feel of toronto.

thanks toronto for a great welcome!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


we finally made it to 
i already expected the falls to be amazing, 
but our day here exceeded all expectations.
thanks to lots of research, i feel like 
we really did niagara right and we
have lots of tips to throw your way 
if you ever go. we loved our visit!
first off, i had no idea that the canadian side is much
preferred to the american side. i'm so glad we came 
through canada. the canadian view is a million times 
better because you stand facing the full view of both
falls. there are also the best activities you can do as 
part of your visit to niagara through niagara parks
who we partnered with for this trip. before going to 
niagara i just sort of pictured it as visiting, seeing the
falls, taking a picture and that being that. i thought of 
it as more of kind of a "check off the bucket list," 
not a full-on experience...and was i ever wrong! 
the way we did it, we had the complete experience -- 
from walking behind the falls in tunnels, to a boat 
ride right in front of them,  to a 4D movie, to 
whitewater walk, to riding an aerocar over the canyon 
-- we had the most adventurous and memorable time 
in niagara. it made it worth the whole cross-country 
flight! here are some highlights with a little guide 
with our recommendations... a video including
we were able to do all of these activities with the 
niagara adventure pass through niagara parks. 
we fully recommend buying one of these here, 
because it's a better deal and includes everything 
you want to do so you don't have to pay for them 
individually! this always makes me more likely to 
do things when it's all included and you just pay 
once at the beginning. it also includes a bus pass 
to go all through the park. despite the falls being 
central, there are other attractions that are nice 
to take the bus to! here are some highlights that 
we did, and more pictures are below. sorry for the 
overload ... but it was niagara falls after all! i love 
these photos, but they pale in comparison to the
footage chase shot from our new copter camera.
you can see a sneak peek on his instagram here,
but let's just say the video he is making from 
this trip will definitely be my favorite yet :)
here are our favorite experiences at the falls:

•• journey behind the falls ••
 the very first thing we did was the journey behind the 
falls, which is exactly what it sounds like. i have no 
idea how i've never known that there are tunnels blasted 
in behind niagara falls, so you take an elevator down 
and literally walk BEHIND them. it is terrifying and
amazing all at once. i loved starting our day with this
rush! it really gave an idea of the power of the falls 
and later we could look at them and know that we
had stood right behind them! highly recommended.
inside of the tunnels there are lots of signs and stories of
stunts/rescues/survivals that have happened at niagara. 
they are fascinating. my favorite one is the man on wire!

no big deal, that is just NIAGARA FALLS behind him...
 after you walk through the tunnels right behind the falls, 
you can go out on a deck on the side and get this close 
up {wet} view. i could NOT stop staring at the beauty. 
^^ walking back through the tunnels with cute holly from
niagara parks. we loved meeting her and having her 
show us around at the start.. she has lived in this area 
her entire life, so she is an expert on all things niagara!

canada's version of the "maid of the mist" is the 
hornblower cruise. we did this second and it was 
definitely my favorite part of the day. it was the most 
magical and thrilling experience that everyone NEEDS 
to do. fun fact about this part -- i realized i had leather 
TB flats on, and since i knew we'd get soaked i decided 
to go barefoot. haha everyone was laughing at me, but
it worked and i was the one laughing when we got off 
the boat and everyone else's shoes were soggy! hehe. 
(i would recommend bringing flip flops for this part)
 i felt like a little kid running out on the deck barefoot 
and beholding niagara in all her glory. it's one of 
those experiences that you can't believe is real while 
it's happening -- i was smiling a mile wide and yelling 
to chase over the pounding water how much i loved this. 
it is a must-do for sure. we were soaked but loved it!
we love hornblower because it's in SF too! 
fun to experience the niagara version.
^^ nerdy in my poncho on the boat ride back, 
snacking on our FAVORITE canadian sour cherry 
candy gummies that we discovered. seriously they 
were the BEST. my mouth is watering for one now! 

•• whirlpool aero car ••
 okay i also had no idea this existed, and of course we 
were so excited to ride the little antique cable car over 
the gorge & niagara river! this ride is a little ways from
the falls, but you can look down on the whitewater -- 
and in our case, see all the gorgeous fall leaves on the 
side of the canyon. it's just a short ride, but another fun 
and unique adventure if it's already included in your pass.
of course we got stopped halfway across on the way back... 
a titch scary to wait for a few minutes just hanging there, 
but we survived -- and got extra time with the view!
taking in those fall colors and getting my fix...
the one thing we really miss this time of year living
in california! (not complaining, love our weather :) 

•• niagara's fury 4D experience ••

this isn't something we would normally go to, but 
the fact that it's included in the pass made it a no-brainer 
to go! we loved it -- first you learn about how niagara 
was formed in a cute little movie, and then you're 
given a movie??? i was so confused! 
we were ushered into the next room and that's where 
the 4D comes in-as you watch the falls thundering, 
the ground shakes, mist rises, & water splashes all over. 
it's fun and little kids would especially love it!

•• skylon tower observation deck ••

if you want to truly see it all, this observation deck
is a must. it's not part of the adventure pass, but it's
worth doing. i felt like i was on top of the empire
state building, but looking at all of niagara instead!
you ride little elevators up with the stomach-dropping
view the entire time, and then you can walk around
and see a 360 view of everything from the top.

^^ this view is of the american side & american falls. 
^^ pretty cool reflection, i'd say!
 that little yellow elevator is what you ride
up the skylon tower for this great view! ^^

and for a few more photos from the day:

^^ this view made me nervous!! i can't
believe we could stand so close to the drop.
 ^^ our barrel ride over the falls :)
the classic niagara picture...
that cloud of mist is my favorite.

i'm sure any time of year here is beautiful,
but we really loved seeing it in the fall.
the canadian side has put so much effort into preserving 
the park and keeping it from getting too commercialized. 
it is a natural wonder after all! they have done a great job.

again -- i cannot WAIT to show you the footage 
chase got here and throughout our entire trip! 

there is nothing quite as amazing as seeing natural wonders
in real life. i love big cities and man-made wonders too, 
but when you see something naturally amazing like this 
it is so powerful + memorable. BIG BIG CHILLS.

we just did the basics and packed it all in since we had
planned an entire canada vacation around our visit
to the falls ... so lots more from canada to come!
toronto, montreal, & quebec city to be exact :)

*we did not stay over in niagara as we did a day trip
 from canada, but the marriott gateway on the falls
is my recommendation :) if you stay longer, you can
do even more things in niagara park ranging from golf
to botanical gardens to the butterfly conservatory, etc.

thanks to niagara parks for welcoming us
and making our experience so great!