Lake Havasu City converts desert dust to tourist gold

Upon first arriving in Lake Havasu City, it seemed like any other dusty desert town in Arizona, in need of a good hose-down and a fresh coat of paint. The town was incorporated in the early 70s and it looked like it hadn’t been touched since.

But first impressions are often wrong and this one definitely was. Just below that dusty surface is a whole treasure of experiences to be had.

For starters, there’s the London Bridge. You read that correctly. Lake Havasu City is the proud owner of the original London Bridge. It was brought brick by brick from London to Lake Havasu by Robert P. McCulloch, a chainsaw magnate and the town’s founder, to act as a draw for tourism–and it worked! There are boat tours, walking tours, and Segway tours, all based around the bridge as a focal point.

London Bridge in Lake Havasu Arizona

The London Bridge in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

We were there to walk the 5K in the annual London Bridge Half-Marathon and 5K. The race trail took us over the bridge twice and we got to see other parts of town as well.

London Bridge Half Marathon and 5K

Team Dryja ready to walk the London Bridge 5K!

The lake is what really brings people to the area, though. It is a big boating community, so you can bring your own, rent one, or take a tour on one. We were told by several locals that Lake Havasu is the second-most visited place in Arizona, thanks to the lake. The Grand Canyon is the first, of course. But for the lake, the bridge probably wouldn’t be there either. It is a reservoir lake, made up of water from the Colorado River which is contained by the Parker Dam.

Since the water is why people visit the area, most of the activities revolve around it, but boating isn’t the only way to experience it. There are hot air balloon rides, helicopter rides, and ultralight aircraft tours. Hikers can explore the surrounding hills. Gamblers can check out the casinos. Campers can roll out their tents and sleeping bags in one of the campsites dotting the lake. If you like lighthouses, take a tour that points out the many replicas of North American lighthouses around the lake. There’s lots to do.

Lake Havasu lighthouses

Lake Havasu is dotted by replicas of lighthouses that can be found in their original forms in other parts of the world.

Did you know that this town of just over 50,000 people is also home to three pretty spectacular breweries? One of our favorite things to do while in Lake Havasu City was the brewery tour we took through Arizona Brewery Tours. Mike Moreno, Regional Salesman for Northern Arizona at College Street Brewerhouse and Pub was our tour guide. He made us feel like VIPs as we rolled from brewery to brewery in our private SUV. Mudshark, Barley Brothers, and College Street all made us feel like honored guests as the owners and brewmasters shared their stories, served tastings of their current offerings, and showed us where the magic happens.

Beer tastings at Mudshark Brewery

Just six of the 14 tastings Scott Stocking at Mudshark served.

Scott Stocking with tour group at Mudshark Brewery

Scott Stocking with our little tour group at Mudshark Brewery.

Tour group with brewmaster of Barley Brothers.

The tour group with Keith, Barley Brother’s brewmaster. We think he looked like George Carlin.

Colby Hansen, head brewer at College Street Brewery with tour group

The tour would be incomplete without a bearded brewmaster and Colby Hansen at College Street Brewery fit the bill to a tee!

Table of beer tastings at College Street Brewery.

Our table of tastings at College Street! We were the talk of the restaurant.

Mike Moreno gave a tour of Lake Havasu City breweries.

The tour would not have been as enjoyable if our guide had been anyone other than Mike Moreno. Thanks, Mike!

Let this be a lesson. Don’t let the “vintage” look of a place fool you, especially this place. Lake Havasu City is a first-class charmer. Whether you’re there for the gorgeous lake, the London Bridge Half Marathon and 5K, the busy brewery scene, or any of the other activities around town, this is a place worth visiting more than once.

Quick trip to the London Bridge

I have just arrived in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. This is my first time visiting the city in the desert where the original London Bridge resides across a man made lake. Hubby and I will be walking across it on Saturday for the London Bridge 5K. I have to admit, it seems a bit odd to have a lake in the desert, much less the London Bridge, but it makes for some good tourism to a place no one would otherwise visit.

More to come!

Worldwide Recess Day is here!

Today is the big day: Worldwide Recess Day! What are you doing to get your 10-minutes of recess?

KEEN footwear is encouraging everyone to get out and play for at least 10 minutes today. Take a picture of your fun, upload it to Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #TAKE10, and you could win a pair of KEEN shoes!

Here are five ideas for a fun day of recess.

1. Walk the dog!

If you don’t have a dog, volunteer at a rescue organization and walk some dogs who need it most. Better yet, adopt one of those dogs if you have the love and time to give a sweet pooch. You’ll receive far more from a rescued dog than you can ever give.

Don’t forget water and poopy bags to make sure your friend is well-hydrated and a good doggie citizen.

2. Invite a friend to coffee, and then walk there together.

Or, if you’re in Austin, Texas, walk to Gordough’s for a giant, made-to-order donut, then see if either you or your friend can finish one together.

You don’t feel so guilty about eating at Gordough’s if you walk there.

3. Play tourist for a day in your own town.

Put on some shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, and sandals with black socks, and go check out the sights! Don’t forget your camera!

If you’re in San Diego, Washington, DC or Stratford, Ontario, take a walking tour. You can also Segway around the hot spots of San Diego if you opt to go with Another Side of San Diego Tours.

One of the many memorable moments we had during a walking tour of La Jolla, California with Bridgette of Another Side of San Diego tours.

4. Do a photo scavenger hunt with friends.

See who can find all the public art in your town first. If you’re in Chicago, you may need a whole weekend for this!

Agora in Chicago.

5, Make today a day of courage by doing something you’ve never done before.

Bonus points if it’s something you’ve always wanted to do, such as riding in a hot air balloon or learning what it takes to be a dolphin trainer.

One of the most memorable days of my life was spent in a wet suit–and I’m afraid of the ocean!

Those are some of my ideas. Now, how are you going to play?

For more inspiration, check out KEEN’s Postano page.

New reason to get outside for Worldwide Recess Day

My husband and I have a new reason for getting outside on September 14th, which is Worldwide Recess Day. We just adopted a new dog!

Meet our newest traveling companion!

AZ R.E.S.C.U.E is an organization that rescues cats and dogs from the euthanasia list at the local pound. Our little guy came to them in very bad shape, in need of lots of medical attention, besides needing to be neutered. Three months later, he is shiny, happy, and hopefully ready for a life of love and adventure with his new bi-peds.

On the couch together, just a paw’s touch away.

Thank you to Vicky and Phil, his foster parents, for taking such good care of “The Big Guy”, giving him the love and attention he needed, to be ready to meet a new family. Your strength, compassion, and blessing on the world are beyond measure. Without the commitment of organizations like AZ R.E.S.C.U.E and foster parents, we would not know the pleasure of feeling his particular warm paw pads press against our elbow as he sleeps next to us, or the belly laugh that bubbles out when he races to the couch and bounds into our laps. May you all experience the rich blessing that you give to others.

5 ways to play in San Diego

A path along the beach on Coronado Island is one of the many places to play in San Diego.

For those who live in San Diego, there is always a reason to get out and play, but for those who are only allowed short visits, how do you pack all of paradise into a single weekend? Below are five ideas on how to get the most out of a weekend of play in San Diego.

1. Take a tour with Another Side of San Diego

If Another Side of San Diego doesn’t have a tour to fit your interest, time frame, and preferred mode of transportation, it doesn’t exist! Whether you’re in the mood for history, art, nature, food, or even beer, they’ve got a tour for it. Not only that, but you can pursue your interests by Segway, on foot, in a hot air balloon, on horseback, on a bike, or even in a boat! As long-time resident of La Jolla, Theodore Geisel (Dr. Seuss) said, “Oh, the places you’ll go!”

To explore their tour options, visit their website. To book a tour, you can use their website or call them at 1-619-239-2111.

Another Side of San Diego tours has tours by land or sea. In La Jolla you can walk, Segway, or kayak to learn about this jewel of a town where seals and sea lions call home.

A tour of Balboa Park will introduce you to the natural wonders of Southern California, but you may also catch a concert at one of the world’s largest outdoor pipe organs!

2. San Diego Botanic Gardens

To get outside and get away from it all, head up to Encinitas and visit the peaceful San Diego Botanic Gardens. There you can walk to the music of nature: birds chirping, lizards rustling in the brush, lacy bamboo swooshing in the breeze. Find a bench alongside the waterfall in the Tropical Rainforest, close your eyes, and listen to the sound of water carry all your troubles away.

San Diego Botanic Gardens brim with life in all shapes and forms. Some shapes have more form than others, like this incredible statue made up of succulents.

On Saturdays at 10:30am, the gardens provide docent-led tours of the splendid variety of plants living in each section. Also, check their calendar for classes and other events, such as making your own succulent art work or cooking with an opera singing chef.

3. Take in a play at the La Jolla Playhouse

If you’re in San Diego to explore the beauty of their outdoor paradise, but you wouldn’t mind taking in a play while you’re there, you can combine the two by attending a Without Walls play through the award-winning La Jolla Playhouse. Over the last year, their Without Walls program has literally led audiences out of the theater and through garden paths or into the intimate surroundings of cars and martini bars.

“The Car Plays: San Diego” was a part of the Without Walls program and one of many brilliant plays hosted by the La Jolla Playhouse.

If there isn’t a Without Walls program running when you visit, it is still worthwhile to see one of their plays with traditional-style seating. It should be stated, however, that none of their plays can be considered “traditional”. Better words might be provocative, cutting-edge, soulful, and unforgettable.

4. Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego

With two locations to choose from and plenty of docent-led tours available, at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego you can discover just how much you have in common with contemporary art. Take, for example, the current exhibit downtown by local artist Margaret Noble entitled “44th and Landis”. If you’re used to art being oil paintings hung on walls, you may wonder what you can get out of her paper dolls hanging from the ceiling and the wild noises crashing from her handmade speakers. But stop and look at the paper dolls. Listen to the sounds. Suddenly, you see familiar things, like the logo of a Peeps Marshmallow box or the chase of Ms. Pacman through a maze. You hear familiar sounds that take you back to 1982, when you lived for Space Invaders and chased the ice cream truck on your bike until it stopped.

If you didn’t grow up in the 80s, you may still connect with the artists that use light and space to evoke a feeling. Whole rooms are devoted to the sensations and emotions light can have on us. And, if that doesn’t do it for you, then perhaps you will marvel at the wall that breathes or connect with the massive iron heart that looks like a prison.

This Light and Space piece by Doug Wheeler is one you participate in simply by showing up and experiencing what shifts within you as a result of this space and its lighting.

5. FOOD!

San Diego is not only charmed with sunny weather and stunning ocean views, it is home to more than its share of talented chefs, fresh produce, and inspired craft beer brewmasters.

If you only have time and budget for one special restaurant, go without delay to Georges at the Cove in La Jolla. Chef Trey Foshee has won tons of awards for his California Modern cuisine, including the San Diego Chefs Hall of Fame and the Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate”. There’s a reason for all these accolades. His food is consistently knock-your-flip-flops-off delicious; the kind of delicious that you remember and dream about weeks and months later. Even vegetarians can get in on the making of great food memories because they offer an entirely vegetarian menu and many of the dishes can be made vegan.

Reservations are recommended and can be made online or by calling 858-454-4244.

Georges on the Cove is definitely high-end food, but you gotta love a place that rolls up its sleeves with The People by serving donuts and coffee for desert.

If you go to Encinitas to visit the San Diego Botanic Gardens for an afternoon of peaceful retreat, spend your evening having dinner at Union Kitchen and Tap just down the road. They offer a variety of high-end tavern food (including vegetarian and vegan options) and they offer about 20 craft beers on tap, many of which are locally crafted.

Depending on what time you go, reservations may not be necessary, but if time is of the essence, it may be worthwhile to secure a table by giving them a call at 760.230.2337(BEER).

Where to stay

Hotel Parisi in La Jolla offers elegant and convenient accommodations for almost any sized group and any length of stay. The main sights, restaurants, and shopping opportunities are located just beyond the doorstep of this hotel.

Hotel Parisi also offers Parisi Apart, corporate apartments decked out with full-sized refrigerators, microwaves, silverware and dishes for travelers needing extended stays or those wishing to eat meals in the comfort of their own apartment.

The convenience of this hotel does come at a price, however. Prices start around $300 a night for a basic room and go up to over $400 a night for the extended stay apartments. Parking is an additional $15 per night and other fees may apply.

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These are just a few ideas. The possibilities are endless.

How do you like to spend time in San Diego? Comment below or email me at srdryja@jetplanesandcoffee.com with your ideas! With your help, we can put together a comprehensive list that will help others plan their weekend at play in San Diego!

Recess in La Jolla

KEEN’s Worldwide Recess Day isn’t for another week, but I thought I’d get a jumpstart by playing on the rocks in La Jolla, California.

One of the many stunning views in La Jolla. This one was had standing just beyond the wave’s reach atop the continental shelf at low tide.

Stay tuned for more photos from my weekend at play, along with tips and ideas for how you can enjoy “The Jewel” of California!

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Don’t forget to upload your photos to Twitter and Instagram on September 14th with the hashtag #TAKE10, for a chance to win a pair of shoes by KEEN footwear! And, although I can’t offer you a pair of shoes, I would still love to see what you’ve got planned for recess, so be sure to go to my Facebook page and post your photos there too!

Test driving SlimKicker.com

If you have read articles from my Walking America Series, you know that I use FitBit to track my steps each day. Recently, though, a new website came to my attention: SlimKicker.com. It is similar to websites like MyFitnessPal.com and FitBit’s website, which are built on the idea that if we track what we eat and how active we are, we have a better chance at achieving our diet and fitness goals.

The difference in SlimKicker seems to be that they offer “points” for each activity. Eat a serving of veggies? That’s a point (or more). Walk for 30 minutes? That’s 30 points. Add up the points and you make it to a new level. Make it to a new level and you’ll be reminded to reward yourself with something you choose as rewarding. For example, my first reward will be to buy myself some new traveling shoes for fall. Once I hit Category 2, boots, here I come!

Oooo. Boooots. But which color???

You can also set up challenges for yourself, friends who join SlimKicker, or people you meet through the site who want to take the same challenge. From everything I can gather, it is meant to make dieting and exercise like a game.

The idea of it sounds like a lot of fun. In the first evening I got excited by the number of points I racked up in a day. I will admit, though, that having to upload all my info and track all my food in order to get these points is a bit tedious, especially given that these days I’m in Maintenance Mode and not actually striving to lose weight or run a marathon.

So, that’s where you come in. I’d like to hear from you and know what your experiences are with SlimKicker.com. Have you used their website before? If so, for how long?

Drop me a comment in the section below, or email me at srdryja@jetplanesandcoffee.com. I’ll compile the responses into an article, giving you credit for the information you provided, and share it with the rest of my readers.

Waiting for the recess bell

Worldwide Recess Day is just 10 days away!

Here are some inspiring ideas from readers on Twitter and Facebook:

Becky from Arizona will spend the whole day in recess that day. She’s taking the husband and kids to Disneyland!

What better place to spend a whole day of recess than Disneyland? (Photo by Wikipedia User: RAGB.)

Maryellen from New York plans to go old school playing hopscotch and jump rope.

Magpie hopscotch at Morecambe Pier, England. Taken by Wikipedia User:Lupin, 11/Apr/2004.

She also liked the idea of calling all the school chums together for a rousing game of kickball.

Girls playing kickball in Central Park in New York in 1973. (Photo from the National Archives and Records Administration.)

I like the idea of walking to Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone.

Vintage neon Dairy Queen sign, Ottawa, Canada. (Photo by Ian Muttoo.)

Or heading to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum to spy lizards and hummingbirds.

A trek through the Boyce Thompson Arboretum is my idea of recess!

Or how about a hot air balloon ride?

How about a hot air balloon ride?

How will you get out and enjoy being a kid again on September 14th? Send in your ideas and I’ll post them here!

For more excitement, upload a picture to Twitter or Instagram on the 14th with the hashtag #TAKE10. You may win a pair of shoes from KEEN footwear! KEEN will announce one winner every hour.

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Jet Planes and Coffee is not affiliated with KEEN footwear and will, therefore, not be giving away shoes. We do love a great opportunity to get outside and play, though, so get out there, have some fun, and share your experiences!

Walking Stratford

While at first glance Stratford, Ontario may seem like any small, historic town in North America, it has a lot to offer the traveling walker. For those used to city life, Stratford moves at a slower pace, but it won’t disappoint in the way of world-class entertainment and restaurants. For the tourist who likes to walk and see the places they visit, Stratford is perfect as well, offering many walking tours, excellent paths to stroll along the river, a long street for shopping, and several gardens to explore.

Stratford, Ontario is about a two-hour drive from Toronto or a three-hour drive from Detroit. Although Detroit is an hour longer, crossing the border by car seems to be quicker than going through customs at the airport in Toronto. From Phoenix, prices for flights are cheaper to Detroit than they are to Toronto as well. Still, Toronto is a fabulous city with all its own reasons for visiting, so make sure to choose to visit Toronto, either on its own, or as a path to Stratford sometime.

To enter Canada by flying into Toronto, US citizens need to have their passports. To drive up from Detroit, you must have either a passport or the US Passport Card.

The U.S. Passport Card can be used to enter the United States from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda at land border crossings or sea ports-of-entry and is more convenient and less expensive than a passport book. The passport card cannot be used for international travel by air.

~ From the US Bureau of Consular Affairs website

Where we stayed and why

If you read my previous article, you know we stayed at one of my favorite places in the world, The Verandah, a vacation rental owned by Debbie and Denis Harrison who rent out one side of their duplex home and live in the other side. The Verandah is perfectly situated for anyone wanting to visit Stratford mostly on foot. We were able to walk to all the theaters and restaurants from our home away from home. In fact, the only place we didn’t walk to was the grocery store, which was just a tad too far for carrying loads of groceries.

The Verandah has two bedrooms, both with queen-sized beds, and one-and-a-half baths. It has a full-size kitchen filled with glasses, dishes, pots, pans, and utensils–pretty much anything one might need to cook at home. There is an office with a large desk for those who must work while in Stratford, and they have high-speed wireless internet. For those times when you need to wash a load of clothes, there is a washer and dryer on site. For more images of The Verandah, go to my previous article.

All distances and step calculations mentioned below are measured from the front door of The Verandah, which is located at 29 Church Street.

The Verandah.

Groceries and other necessities

If you’re staying in Stratford for any length of time and you have a kitchen available, you may wish to visit one of the many farmers markets or local food marts to take advantage of the fresh produce available in the summertime in Ontario. Thanks to groups like Slow Food Perth County, and others equally interested in eating locally and seasonally, there are several options available.

Sunday Slow Food Farmers Market: This market is open on Sundays from 10am to 2pm during the summer months. Be sure to check with them online for their schedule, as they close when temperatures start to cool down. While they are in operation during the summer, they sponsor special events, including a Food Truck Event and a Pork Party, celebrating Stratford’s history with all things pork.

The Slow Food Farmers Market is in the Market Square, just behind City Hall, between Downie and Wellington Streets. It is just over a quarter of a mile from The Verandah, making it about 600 steps one way.

The Slow Food Farmers Market is located behind City Hall. (Look closely and you can see a food truck.) Take the road left, and you’ll come upon the Co-op. Take the road right and you’ll find the LCBO.

Your Local Market Cooperative: This little grocery shop is owned and operated by the employees. Almost everything they sell is produced and/or processed in Ontario, the only exception being that their soymilk is from Quebec because they haven’t yet found a local producer. Breads are made onsite daily.

Regular hours are Monday through Saturday from 8am to 8pm, Sunday 9am to 5pm.

Located at 129 Downie Street, this store is .3 miles, or 600 steps, from The Verandah.

The Gentle Rain Natural Health Food Store: This store has been serving Stratford for 30 years. They provide all manner of organic groceries, natural household products, supplements, and other items you may need to eat and live healthily. Their selection and variety is a little bigger than the co-op downtown, but both stores have the same desire of providing local, seasonal, healthy choices.

Their hours are Monday through Friday from 9am to 7pm, Saturday from 9am to 5:30pm, and Sunday from 11am to 5pm.

The Gentle Rain is located at 30 Rebecca Street, which is approximately .5 miles from The Verandah, or 1000 steps.

Zehr’s: If you can’t find what you need at the farmers market, the co-op, or The Gentle Rain, Zehr’s will have it. This is your typical grocery store with a produce department, a frozen foods section, and a meat department. They have a variety of fish available, much of it local to Ontario, and they have a lot of familiar brands, such as Pepsi, Kashi, and Kellogg’s.

They are open Sundays from 8am to 11pm, Mondays from 10am-4pm, and Tuesday through Saturday from 7am to 11pm.

Zehr’s is located at 865 Ontario Street, which is not quite 2 miles from The Verandah. We did not walk there, but if you did, it would give you not quite 4000 steps one way.

LCBO: Need a bottle of wine for a dinner party? How about some unique beer choices? The Liquor Control Board of Ontario, known as LCBO, is a store located just off of downtown Stratford. It has a very good selection of wines, beers, and other spirits. If you’re looking for something specific, go to their website before visiting the store. Select “Products” and do a search for the item, along with the store location, and they’ll provide an inventory of what is available.

LCBO is located at 91 Wellington Street and is closed on Mondays, but open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 9pm, and on Sundays from 12pm to 5pm.

To walk there from The Verandah will earn you about 400 steps one way. The store is .2 miles from your home away from home.

Shoppers Drug Mart: For all those odds and ends that come up in a trip, there’s Shoppers Drug Mart. Similar to a Walgreen’s or CVS in the States, this chain store carries headache medicine, a variety of snack foods (including some fresh fruit!), umbrellas, sunblock, and much more.

They are open from 8am to midnight everyday. The one in Stratford is located at 211 Ontario Street, which is about .4 miles from The Verandah, or 800 steps one way.

Coffee

It could be that Stratford is one of my favorite places in the world because it is host to some of the best coffee I have ever had. Starbucks does not exist in Stratford, at least not downtown or within walking distance. At first this may seem as a disappointment, but once you get a taste of Balzac’s or Revels, you’ll be glad you didn’t have access to Starbucks.

Balzac’s: This coffee house, which got its start in Stratford, has gone on to become a successful small chain throughout Ontario. Be sure and buy a pound or two of beans to stash in your suitcase so you can have a little taste of Stratford wherever you call home. I particularly enjoy the Atwood Blend.

“Alas, poor Yorick! We brew him well.”

Balzac’s is a place to go lounge with friends. There is plenty of seating indoors and a few tables outside as well. If you are walking with a puppy, there is often water available for them just outside the door and they are allowed to sit on the patio with you.

Sidle up to the counter for coffee drinks, beans, tea, and more.

Hours are not listed on their website, but you may call them at 519-273-7909 for more information. In Stratford, they are located at 149 Ontario Street, which is .3 miles from The Verandah, or approximately 600 steps one way.

Revel Caffe: Restaurants around Stratford agree, the coffee brewed at this coffee house devoted to fair trade is one worth experiencing. The rich roasts will make such an imprint in your culinary mind that, weeks later, you will think wistfully of the warm smell of the brew and the bold flavors.

The owner, Anne Campion, will surely be part of that memory as well because she is passionate about her coffee and will happily talk with you to answer any questions you may have. While in Stratford, do as Steve McElroy from the New York Times did, and visit Revel Caffe often. Then, if your love affair has not been satiated, buy some beans to take home. You’ll be glad you did.

Revel Caffe is open on Mondays from 8am to 5pm, Tuesday through Thursday from 8am to 6pm, Friday and Saturday from 8am to 7pm, and Sunday from 9:30am to 4pm.

You can start your love affair by going to 50 Wellington Street, which is a mere .3 miles from The Verandah, or about 600 steps.

Sputnik: This little coffee bar tucked inside the skinniest building in Stratford is also tucked beneath what is rumored to have been the apartment Thomas Edison lived in when he worked in Stratford for a short time. The coffee here is good, although Balzac’s and Revel are just a little bit better. Sputnik is just one of those places that immediately makes a person feel at home, like you’ve been going there for years, even if it’s your first time in. The baristas make Sputnik special, that and the mid-century atomic atmosphere.

This coffee house is so small they don’t even have a website. They also don’t take credit cards, so be sure to take cash. For hours and more information, call them at 519-273-6767. Sputnik is just a hop from The Verandah at 46 Ontario Street, which is .1 miles away, or about 200 steps.

Sputnik Espresso Bar

Saw this cartoon last year at Sputnik. It is applicable to me any day of the year. Thankfully, there are places like Sputnik all over Stratford to help make things better.

For more information about these and other coffee shops in Stratford, visit the food blog, Kitchen Dilettante.

Restaurants

It is important to note that many restaurants and shops are closed on Mondays in Stratford since the theaters are dark on that day. If they are open during the day on Monday, chances are good they will be closed on Monday evening. Be sure to check with the restaurant or shop for current hours.

The (OLD) Prune: Long ago, this restaurant was called The Old Prune, hence the parenthesis and the word “OLD” in the middle. Some still call it that. I did for a while because it was The Old Prune the first time I went there. Whether it is old or new, this has to be the best restaurant in Stratford. And that’s saying a lot because you can almost throw a stone from anywhere in town and hit a great restaurant. The Prune, though, is extra special. If there is one place in the world where I am bound to not only eat every crumb off my plate for every single course, but also to threaten to lick the plate itself, it is The Prune. Having left you with that pleasant image, if you only go to one high-end restaurant in Stratford, make it The Prune.

Calling all vegetarians: I know what you’re thinking. “If it’s that good, they probably make everything with duck fat and bacon.” Take heart, however. At The Prune, they offer an all vegetarian prix fixe menu. It’s true! And it’s all amazingly spectacular. Maybe that’s why this is my favorite restaurant.

Reservations are recommended, especially if you have a show to go to. They can be made by calling 519-271-5052, emailing reservations@theprune.com, or online at OpenTable.com.

The Prune is located at 151 Albert Street, which is a lovely half-mile walk from The Verandah. Walking there will give you approximately 1000 steps one way. Walking back will help you feel better after having embarrassed yourself by slurping up that last bit of malted chocolate ice cream. (Don’t worry. I did it too.)

Bijou:  The experience at Bijou is tres unique, at least in this part of North America. It is not unlike a comfy bistro in Paris and the food is just as good (if not–dare I say it–better). A new menu is born out of the changing seasons and availability of local produce. Because it changes so often, the only menu available can be seen on a chalkboard right outside the kitchen window. The menu is prix fixe. Choose two courses for $48 or three courses for $55.

Remember the vegetarian thing I mentioned earlier? Well, although Bijou does not always have vegetarian options on their menu, if you mention to the hostess while making reservations that someone in your party is vegetarian, they will go out of their way to prepare something wonderful for you. And it will knock your socks off.

Reservations are recommended, especially for dinner. They are not open on Mondays but for the rest of the week they have two seating times for dinner. The first seating is from 5pm to 6pm. The second seating is from 8pm to 9pm. Call 519-273-5000 to make reservations and to ask about lunch hours.

Bijou is located at 105 Erie Street, which is only .2 miles from The Verandah, or 400 steps one way.

Pazzo Ristorante, Pizzeria & Bar: This two-in-one restaurant/pizzeria can be a little confusing, but it’s worth checking out both options during a trip to Stratford. The restaurant, which is located at street level when you first walk in the door, is for those times you’re dressed up for the theater and want something a little more upscale than pizza. The pizzeria, downstairs, is where to go when you’re a little more casual and just want to satisfy that pizza craving we all get now and then. You can dress up at the pizzeria too. Lots of people go there before a show, but whether you go to the restaurant or the pizza place, make reservations by calling 519-273-6666 or 1-877-440-9666.

Pazzo is located in the heart of it all at 70 Ontario Street. This will earn you 400 steps, being that it is just .2 miles from The Verandah, so be sure and go to the restaurant one night and the pizza place another to get double the steps.

Chocolate Barr’s: This chocolate boutique may not be a restaurant, but it is definitely gourmet and deserves to be highlighted. It is a perfect place to buy handmade (and delicious) gifts, along with the best dark chocolate I have ever had. For those on Weight Watchers, this is good news because dark chocolate is not only good for you but, when broken in to bite-sized pieces, only costs a Point or two.

But there’s more good news! If you walk there from The Verandah, you can get around 600 steps one way! It’s located at 136 Ontario Street, which is about .3 miles away. Stop by for some chocolate, then walk across the street to Balzac’s for coffee. What more do you need?

Things to do

Stratford Shakespeare Festival 

With 14 shows playing at various times in four theaters, many of which are populated by names you are familiar with if you watch any movies at all, the Stratford Shakespeare Festival will steal your heart and create a longing to return year after year. It is high-quality theater, but not highfalutin and pretentious. Tickets can be had for a reasonable price, some starting around $30 per person. Even if you can only do it once, the experiences had, the stories told, the emotions felt are unforgettable and will last you a lifetime.

The Festival Theatre with its tent-like peaks.

There are four theaters and a theater annex which house the different plays in Stratford. The Festival Theatre, is the largest theater in town. It is is located at 55 Queen Street. It is what gave Stratford’s theater festival its start. What started as a tent in 1953 is now a lovely building with tent-like peaks around its roof. The start of each show and the end of each intermission at The Festival is punctuated with the sounding of horns urging you in. It makes the event feel like an event from the very beginning.

The trumpeters and drum call guests to the show from the balcony of the theatre.

To walk to the Festival Theatre from The Verandah will earn you not quite 2000 steps since it is almost a mile away. Imagine what that will be like when you return to your home away from home with a total of 4000 steps, and the breath of fresh air you can breathe not having to fight for parking!

The Avon Theatre is a bit closer to The Verandah. It is located at 99 Downie Street and, so, is right around .3 miles (or 600 steps) one way. The Avon used to be a vaudeville theatre and then a movie theater, but in 1963 was bought by the Stratford Shakespeare Festival and made officially a part of the festivities.

The Avon Theatre lit up at night. This was the night we saw Christopher Plummer in “A Word or Two”.

The Studio Theatre and its Annex are not far from the Avon Theatre and, therefore, only add a few extra steps from The Verandah. It is located at 34 George Street East and is .4 miles, or about 800 steps from home. Both the Studio Theatre and the Studio Theatre Annex are more intimate spaces and are generally used for experimental plays and cabaret style shows.

Finally, the Thomas Patterson Theatre, which is named for the founder of the Stratford Festival, is another intimate theater which showcases both contemporary and classic shows. In the last two years, I have seen a vivid telling of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and an emotional Elektra by Sophocles, both of which could be argued as classic stories portrayed by the Stratford Creatives in very contemporary lights.

This theater is located a half a mile from The Verandah at 111 Lakeside Drive. You can earn 1000 steps walking along the lovely river to get there.

Walk along the river to the Thomas Patterson Theatre and you may catch site of beloved swans with their cygnets.

Stratford Summer Music Festival

If there is one thing I wish I had participated in more during my two-week stay in Stratford this year, it is the Stratford Summer Music Festival. All the locals I spoke to had been to at least one show and they all raved, especially about Jan Lisiecki, a young pianist who apparently put on an almost spiritual performance at St. Andrews Church.

Truly, music seemed to pour out of every crevice in town, but unless it was right there, I seemed to miss much of it. It was a pleasure to walk along the river and catch one of the shows happening at the barge, and soon after I left, the Play Me, I’m Yours street pianos arrived for anyone to enjoy.

Should you be a bit wiser than I am, go to Stratford during the the Summer Music Festival and soak it up, as well as the theater. Many shows and activities are free for the listening. You just have to be at the right place at the right time. I’m already planning for next year.

Walking Tours

One of the things that makes Stratford a walker’s paradise is the sheer number of walking tours offered through the Visitor Center. They have historical tours and architectural tours, garden tours and culinary tours. They even have a tour map for those interested in hitting all the favorited spots of local “It” boy, Justin Bieber, many of which are walkable around town.

The Visit Stratford website is a bit difficult to navigate. There’s just so much to do in Stratford that it seems they’re having a hard time knowing how to organize the information. My advice is to go to the Stratford Tourism Alliance when you get into town and ask them for information about walking tours. Some are free, others are between $6 and $8, depending on who is hosting them. The Tourism Alliance, though, will have all the information you need. Their main office is located at 47 Downie Street, or you can call them at 1-800-561-7926. There is also a small Visitor Centre located along the river, just beyond the Veterans Memorial plaza.

You can also do a small amount of searching with the free Visit Stratford app for your iPhone or Android phone. Although I couldn’t locate the free walking tours on the app, I did see information for all the places mentioned in this article, including The Verandah, restaurants, and other points of interest. It’s a good place to start.

The Avon River

The Avon River has some sort of magical, hypnotic powers. When walking along the meandering paths, a person can’t help but forget that time exists. All other pressures are massaged out of the shoulders and brain, thanks to the gentle roll of the water, the golden light of the sunset, or the fluttering leaves of the lazy trees. Add to that the bagpipes wafting from the Veterans Memorial plaza or the dixie music playing off the barge, and time definitely stands still.

The Avon River, the stone-arch bridge, and the courthouse are three icons of Stratford.

The Avon River

Cross under the stone-arch bridge to get from one side of it to the other and you’ll experience a picturesque view you only thought possible in England or France.

This is the oldest stone arch bridge still in use in Canada.

Walk under the bridge for a different way to The Shakespeare Gardens.

Once on the other side of the bridge, take in the Shakespeare Gardens. Be sure to walk all the way past Anne Hathaway’s house and the little gazebo. The trees grow tall and provide comforting shade on a hot summer’s day.

The Shakespeare Gardens sit right next to the Avon River.

Keep walking the path past the gazebo, into the trees and back around again.

This article only scratches the surface when it comes to what to see, do, and eat in Stratford. That’s why it’s a good idea to visit as often as possible, so you can see and do that much more the next time.

Have you been to Stratford? If so, where did you stay? What advice would you give someone going there? Do you have any questions about Stratford, The Verandah, or walking around town? Leave your questions and ideas in the comments section below. I look forward to hearing from you on one of my favorite subjects!

Recess is Back! Who wants to play?

Recess is Back and KEEN challenges you to get out and play for at least 10 minutes on September 14th. Take a photo of your playtime, upload it to Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag of #TAKE10, and you could win a pair of KEEN shoes!

A new winner will be announced every hour on that day from midnight to midnight on September 14th!

How will you get your recess on? Inspire others with your ideas in the comment section below for a chance to be featured in JP+C’s Top Ten Ways to Recess, to be published on this blog September 13th!