Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Beach Review: Long Beach, British Columbia

Long Beach, British Columbia is the complete opposite of Long Beach, California.

Long Beach, California is known for:  Cargo ships, Pollution and the Home of Snoop Dogg,
Long Beach, British Columbia is known for:  Rugged Coasts, Lush Temperate Rain Forests and Surfing.

Long Beach, British Columbia sits on the western shore of Vancouver Island.  The drive from Victoria takes about 4 1/2 hours across the center of the island.  The drive alone is amazingly beautiful and gives perspective to how large the island is.  The road trip along the Pacific Rim Highway alone is a drive that rivals the most beautiful rides we've ever been on, passing Sprout Lake, following the Kennedy River and seeing Cathedral Grove with its 800 year old Douglas Firs.

Long Beach is the longest beach of Pacific Rim National Reserve and spans 10 miles along the west coast of Vancouver Island.  Tidal pools are homes to crabs, sea urchins, starfish and shells.  It is known as Canada's premier surf spot with crashing waves, but you won't a surfer without a wet or dry suit.  The powdery soft sandy beach is a very gradual drop off and you can walk 100 feet into the water and still be have waist deep water.

The beach is lined by a thick temperate coastal rain forest that adds a backdrop of vibrant green to the white sand, blue/silvery water, rocky islands and towering mountains.  At times, you're even lucky enough to enjoy clear blue skies, and then get to enjoy watching the transition as a storm rolls in.

The fact that Long Beach, BC is not within a 2 hour drive of a major city, keeps it slightly off the grid.  You won't have the beach to yourself, there happens to be a fair amount of lodging and camping in the area that draws a decent summertime crowd.  That said, the beach isn't lined with taco trucks, Quicksilver stores, or a seaside amusement park.  Couple the lack of typical beach side commerce with the raw nature with the width and length of the beach, even several thousand people on the beach seems quiet and peaceful.

Long Beach, BC

Long Beach, BC

Gwen and Mason building "sandcastles" at Long Beach, BC

Rustic beauty of Long Beach, BC

Gwen and Katie at Long Beach, BC

Mason weightlifting on Long Beach, BC

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Holiday Inn Express and Suites Langley

This was our first time staying at a Holiday Inn Express.  Apparently if you stay there, you're ready to perform brain surgery the next day.

The Holiday Inn Express in Langley was certainly adequate for our stay in Vancouver.  The staff was friendly and helpful at check-in.  The property was very clean.  It looks like the lobby and breakfast area were recently remodeled.  There was also a nice garden area in the back to enjoy breakfast if you're lucky enough to have a sunny day in Vancouver.

Likes: They had a washer/dryer that guests could use.  Free breakfast.  Very convenient to freeway access, restaurants, grocery store, movie theater and Tim Hortons.  Clean.

Dislikes:  The beds were not good.  The property is "dog friendly" which means we got to listen to our neighbors dog bark for an hour while they left it in the room to go to dinner.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Hotel Review: The Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa, Victoria

This is an excellent property for a golfer and above average if you're not a golfer.  I've said it before, we like to stay a bit outside the city and since I'm a golfer, this property was perfect for our family.

Bear Mountain sits about 20 minutes from Victoria.  It is convenient to the highway, grocery stores, restaurants and most conveniences, but is just a bit off the beaten path.  A road winds up Bear Moutnain, past several neighborhoods, until you reach the top of the mountain and find a few condo buildings, a couple restaurants and the The Westin Bear Mountain Resort & Spa.  It is also home to a two 18-hole Jack Nicklaus designed courses: The Valley Course and The Mountain Course.

The lobby of the hotel is gorgeous with huge rock balconies overlooking the golf courses.  The rooms themselves are a bit unusual, but very nice.  We stayed in the efficiency and were able to tell that the property was originally built as a timeshare and then Westin took on the management contract.  It is not marketed or sold as a timeshare and Starwood timeshare owners can't trade into the property.    Because it was built as a timeshare, there were a couple different things, both good and bad.

What we liked: Each room was longer and larger than normal.  Each floor had a shared washer and dryer.  The bathrooms were excellently decorated.  Complimentary (well if you ignore the steep resort fee) use of mountain bikes.  The room also had a bar, sink and dishes.  The beds were very comfortable.

What we didn't like: Shared balcony. Gym and pool were in a separate building.  The resort fee was steep.

I would absolutely stay at this property again.  Gwen and I used the resort mountain bikes to climb to the top of Bear Mountain and get a good look at Victoria below.  Mason loved the pool.  The only regretted the fact that I didn't have my clubs, the courses looked amazing.

Hole 1 on Valley Course at Bear Mountain Golf Resort

The back side of Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort

Nearby Butchart Gardens

Mason and Gwen at Butchart Gardens

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hotel Review: Water's Edge Resort at Pacific Rim Ucluelet, British Columbia

Ucluelet is one of two small towns on either side of the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, a beautiful national park on the western coast of Vancouver Island.  Ucluelet sits on the south side of the National Park and Tofino is about 40 miles north.  Ucluelet is a bit more "blue collar" of the two towns, but not in a bad way.  The whole area is amazingly gorgeous.

Ucluelet and Tofino are Canada's "surf towns."  The national park has a a couple beaches, the most popular being Long Beach which is a wide soft sand beach featuring several rocky islands.  Many people venture out into this freezing water donned in wet suits to surf.  The national park surrounding this beach has some amazing short hikes going into the rain forest where you can see trees over 600 years old.  We also did a short 2 mile "lighthouse" hike that provided excellent views of the thick vegetation and gorgeous rocky shore lines.

As for the Waters Edge Resort, we loved this property.  It is a condo style resort with a full kitchen and family room that included a pull out couch.  The deck out the back of our room overlooked a very scenic cove.  The rooms were clean and although the furniture was a tad dated, it the room had a cozy/cabin feel to it.  There was large buck deer that seemed to be the hotel mascot and hung out in the parking lot.  I would definitely stay here again or recommend the property to other families.

Pros of this resort: Clean, roomy, excellent views.

Cons: the beds were a bit uncomfortable.

Gwen next to 600 year old tree on a rainforest hike in Pacific Rim

Katie and I on Long Beach, British Columbia

View from our room at Water's Edge Resort

Exterior view of Water's Edge Resort at Pacific Rim

Picture from Lighthouse Hike in Ucluelet

Gwen and Mason on Lighthouse Hike in Ucluelet, BC

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Hotel Review: The Best Western Sooke

Our stay at the Best Western Hotel in Sooke ended up being one of the best travel surprises our family has ever had.  It was our intention to stay in Victoria, but when our daughter saw pictures come up of this property, she insisted we book it.  Good call.

We had no idea how large Vancouver Island is.  Sooke looked so close to Victoria on a map, but turns out it's a good 45 minutes away.  That distance turned out to be ideal.  I feel like we saw a part of Vancouver Island that many tourists don't see.  Our goal when we travel is to always try to settle into an area and do our best to make ourselves "local."  Sooke is a community that allows you to quickly feel local and makes outsiders feel welcome.  The people are friendly and helpful.  The scenery is amazing. Plus the strawberry rhubarb pie at Mom's Cafe was an awesome find.

On to the hotel.  From the outside, the hotel looked a little out of place with the surrounding area.  It sits right next to the boat docks and I was afraid it was going to be a mistake staying here.  But once we got inside, the lobby had beautiful dark hardwood floors, a book exchange, lovely hotel restaurant, sushi bar and business center.  The rooms were large, quiet, very clean.  There was a ceiling fan, A/C, high ceilings and very good beds.

Behind the hotel was a nice waterfront grass area which was nice to sit back and enjoy the sunset.  The fact that the hotel was next to the dock was convenient for booking tours or fishing guides or even kaiaks.  Really, the only semi complaint was that the indoor pool was small and sort of sterile.  

Our family got exactly what we were looking for in a trip to Vancouver Island by staying in Sooke and the Best Western in Sooke is a nice hotel to absorb Victoria Island charm.  It's a charming town with so much beauty that I know we'll be back at some point in our lives.

Evening walk with the family on Whiffin Spit

Sunset on Whiffin Spit

Sooke Potholes

View from the back of the Best Western Sooke Hotel

Best Wester Sooke Hotel

Galloping Goose Regional Trail

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