20 March 2019

Travel Guide: Marco Island, Florida

I should start by thanking my Mom and Dad for this trip - it was better than any Christmas gift I have ever received... even that Muppet keyboard I used until it literally exploded battery acid. Travel is better than any tangible item.

We were in Marco Island, Florida for a relaxing week over Christmas. A good thing to know is that most people LEAVE Florida for Christmas only to return on Boxing Day. I'm glad we were on Marco Island during a quiet time because it meant we got to experience SO much more, without the crowds and without outrageous traffic getting on and off the island.

Six of us flew from Toronto to Fort Myers on December 22 on a very quick (only 3 hours) Air Canada flight. Our airplane was HUGE! I have noticed that airplanes to and from Florida are always gigantic because it's one of the most popular destinations for Canadians -- granted most are retirees or families with young children!

Anyways, we arrived in Fort Myers and picked up our rental car and headed straight for the nearest Chick-fil-A... not a joke. After feeding our chicken craving (note: their grilled chicken nuggets are an amazing gluten-free menu option), we also hit up Target and Costco for some essentials (the Kirkland version of Bailey's is so yummy!) and then hit the highway for Marco Island.
Approximately 45 minutes south of Fort Myers, lies one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida. White sand and sea shells line the nearly 6 miles of beach surrounding Marco Island. Our rental home was located on the south end of the island right on the river. Boats, ski-doos, kayaks and paddle boards are often seen floating down the river, but more exciting were the many dolphins we saw swimming by our dock!

I absolutely loved having my own home, complete with a full kitchen and private pool. I definitely recommend booking a home through VRBO or AirBNB if you are going to Florida. That being said, I also highly recommend the JW Marriott Marco Island if you do decide to go the hotel route - read more about this Marriott property below.

Where to Eat:

Snook Inn
We love to ask family and friends for food recommendations in any new destination we visit. One of Tyler's friends recommended the Grouper Sandwich at Snook Inn and we were happy they did! Snook Inn is also one of the most happening places on the island, so expect a 45-60 minute wait to be seated, loud music, tight quarters but GREAT times!
Quinn's on the Beach
Quinn's was a lucky find one evening while we were checking out the Marriott property. I had heard it was a really nice hotel, but when I arrived I was even more impressed by the number of amazing restaurants and bars on the property. Naturally my favourite one was located directly on the beach and had a fire thrower perform every evening at sunset. The drinks are expensive, but worth it, and the food was delicious. We went here a few times!

Marco Island Brewery
The only true brewery on the island, Marco Island Brewery has the largest selection of draught beer on the island. They also have an extensive menu and some fun games to play!

NeNe's Kitchen
There is always a line-up to get into this place, which means it has to be good. I didn't go, but I read reviews that breakfast here is delicious. I won't lie, the line-up deterred me, I hate waiting in line especially on vacation. But if you want a great breakfast, I'd definitely suggest checking out NeNe's kitchen.

DaVinci's Ristorante
The best Italian food in Marco Island, DaVinci's is tucked away in a strip plaza near the north end of Marco Island, conveniently just a few blocks from our rental home. The food is so amazing, though very carb and dairy loaded. It's no wonder I gained at least five pounds on this trip considering all of the good food we were eating.

What to Do:
Tigertail Beach
Known as a secret beach that requires you to wade through a muddy swamp, we found a longer but much more desirable route to the beach. Head south along the beach and follow the curve until you reach the white sandy beach at Tigertail. It's a windy beach but the sand is beautiful and a lot less shelly than the rest of Marco Island Beach.
Kayak the Canals
If you love to see wildlife - and by that I mean dolphins - I suggest kayaking through the canals. The dolphin sightings in Marco Island are unreal. We saw at least 2 a day and they would linger and play in the canals for hours. If you take a kayak out you can get up close and personal with them. So fun!
Bike for Ice Cream at Sweet Annie's
Marco Island is an awesome place for biking. The roads have bike lanes and it's small enough for little adventures by bike. We took the bikes and rode for ice cream at Sweet Annie's a local ice cream shop that has so many dairy-free, nut-free options so the whole family can enjoy a cone - or cup!
Take an Everglades Airboat Tour
We did an airboat tour of the mangroves in the Florida Everglades. We chose the most popular tour company, Captain Jack's, because it had such great reviews. If I could have snapped a photo of my Dad's face the entire ride, I would frame it and look at it daily - it was just TOO good! Unfortunately, we had the craziest airboat driver who warned us that anything in our hands WOULD end up in the water, never to be seen again, so I couldn't get that shot. But basically it was the widest grin, and he possibly had his tightest grip on the seat in front of him. It was just SO much fun, and even though we didn't see any wildlife beyond a family of raccoons, this tour was a major highlight of the trip. The mangroves are stunning, and the boat ride was such a thrill. I even learned a little fun fact - Did you know? From December to April, the mangroves are full of salt water, and from May to November when the tide changes the mangroves turn to fresh water. Since Alligators thrive in fresh water, we didn't see any on our tour. If you go, ask for Troy to be your leader/driver and you're guaranteed to have a blast! Note: If you're there at the wrong time of year, like we were, and don't get to see much wildlife on the tour, with your airboat tour ticket you also get admission to the animal sanctuary where you can see SO many protected alligators and crocodiles.

I will say, as a family of shoppers we found it hard to get our shopping fix in while in Marco Island. That being said, if you drive into South Naples (20 minutes away) there are a few great stores, but for the best shopping head to the Miromar Outlets in Estero or the Waterside Shops in Naples.
The Shops at Old Marco
If you catch it at the right time you might be able to shop the colourful shops at Old Marco. Most of the time the shops seem to be closed though ... Island time! So if you go and nothing is opened, don't be surprised. But there is a really great seafood restaurant that is always open that you could sit out on the patio and enjoy.

Where to Stay:
If you aren't booking a vacation home through VRBO or AirBNB, I highly recommend staying at the JW Marriott Marco Island. We spent nearly every evening watching the sunset from one of their beach bars or on their beach. They have so many amazing restaurants on site, and 2 gigantic pools. If we weren't going with a large group, we'd stay at the Marriott, but house rentals are easier for large families, and I liked that we had our own pool and boat dock.

A Day Trip from Marco Island:

Did you know you can take a CRUISE from Marco Island to the Florida Keys? I didn't until I was reading some local magazines on the island. It's $150 per person for a one way trip to the keys and around a 3 hour boat ride! So worth it to see some of Florida's most sought after real estate! We didn't have time for it this visit, but maybe on our next trip ...

In the meantime, here are a few more shots from our trip!


04 March 2019

York Region's Best Gluten-Free Spots

I've been gluten-free for a year now, I've also been Toronto-free for a year now. Well, not really... I work Downtown during the week so I still get my city fix, but we moved to York Region last January and I've really been trying to embrace the suburban life. Finding little gems outside of the city is one of my favourite pastimes. There is nothing more exciting to me than being able to feel like a city girl, without actually going into the city.

In the past year I've been able to find so many sweet little spots that still cater to my otherwise complicated dietary needs. Here are a few of my favourite gluten-free spots in York Region.

1. The Layered Shop; Nobleton, Ontario
Inside an old home on King Road is Layered Shop, a cute little gluten-free bakery and housewares store. I love the customized products you can get there, like cutting boards and outdoor mats. The real reason I go there though is for the gluten-free cupcakes, which you can't tell are gluten-free. Even Tyler can testify to that - which is rare.

2. Humble Roots Organics; Newmarket, Ontario
Located inside Market and Co. in Upper Canada Mall, Humble Roots is a trendy little pit stop for some amazing healthy warm drinks, smoothies and gluten-free, vegan treats. You can also preorder cakes for special occasions. My favourite item on their menu is the Ginger Chai Tea Latte. Yum! (My only complaint is the black plastic lids they use!)

3. Sorelle and Co.; Maple, Ontario
With two other locations in Toronto, Sorelle and Co. has become a popular spot for gluten-free treats. It's far for me to go to grab treats, but I love going for High Tea. It's such a great spot for birthdays or mother's day, and especially gorgeous to rent out for showers!

4. Nature's Emporium; Newmarket and Woodbridge, Ontario
I have loved the juice bar inside Nature's Emporium Newmarket for years. The Carrot Orange Zinger was my go-to for years, and I still have them make it for me even though it's been taken off their menu. Besides the juice bar, Nature's has a great little salad bar and pizza oven, which both offer organic, gluten-free options which never disappoint.

5. Copper Branch; Newmarket, Ontario
This is a chain that has recently expanded into Newmarket. With one right near my work, and one by home, I love to hit up Copper Branch when I am too lazy to cook dinner. I never feel bad eating their Aristotle Bowl, because their Carrot Keftedes are gluten-free and so delicious.

6. Lil Brew Hops; Newmarket, Ontario
With so many vegan and gluten-free options, Lil Brew Hops has quickly become one of my favourite spots for dinner and brunch. I love brunch ... one of the reasons I really miss Toronto is because Sunday brunch was really our thing. So finding Lil Brew Hops was a saving grace for our new suburban life, and I love it even more because there are so many options for me to eat!

7. The Maid's Cottage; Newmarket, Ontario
The Maid's Cottage isn't a gluten-free restaurant, but they have some of the most delicious gluten-free baked good. Their gluten-free butter tarts are my favourite EVER. I also love the gluten-free bread they have as an option with their breakfasts. If you go, prepare to wait. They are a hot spot on Newmarket's Main Street because their breakfast is delicious and affordable. But it's well worth the wait!

8. Rawlicious; Markham, Ontario
The Rawlicious cookbook is one of my favourites on my shelf! But there is nothing better than having it made for you. I love visiting the Rawlicious in Markham. Growing up Rawlicious in Newmarket was one of my favourite spots for a girl's lunch, but when it closed I was heart broken. Since moving back to the suburbs and finding their newer location in Markham, I can safely say I get my raw, vegan, gluten-free fix every now and then.

9. MidiCi; Newmarket, Ontario
A great little pizza spot inside Market and Co. in Upper Canada Mall, their gluten-free pizza dough is hands down the most amazing gluten-free dough I have ever tried. For just $2 you can upgrade to gluten-free, and if I can make a suggestion ... try the Truffle and Prosciutto pizza, it's to die for. For a lower carb option, I also love their salads. They are large portions as well so you could even share a pizza and salad with your bestie or beau!

01 March 2019

Surviving the Last Few Weeks of Winter

I know what you’re thinking because I'm thinking the same - how much longer until Spring? Well, at the time of publish, today marks three weeks until the official start of Spring! Which means we still have three miserable weeks of Winter to get through! OR we can look at it differently... They say time flies when you’re having fun, so why not make the most of the last three weeks of Winter with a few of these ideas:
1. Go for a hike
Have you downloaded the All Trails app yet? It’s pretty awesome. It’s an app that shows you hiking trails nearby. I downloaded it only to discover that where we live has thousands of trails, and our goal is to try all of them. By when? We’re not in a rush. But we started with a few of the flatter ones this Winter. Be warned: Even on cold days the trees can’t protect you from that windchill. Brr!
2. Get organized
You’ve probably seen everyone you know Marie Kondo-ing their life. So why not get organized yourself. The Winter months are a great time to clean up inside. Go through your wardrobe and get rid of stuff that doesn’t fit, or you haven’t worn in the last year. Tidying up and letting go of things that you don’t need can make you feel good. It can also make room for Tip #4 (see below - and apologize to your other half for me).
3. Watch some Oscar-winning films
You’ve probably already spent too much time on the couch this Winter, but that’s with good reason. We have had one of the worst Winter’s in the GTA with more snow days than ever before. But even with all of these snow days, I still haven’t seen all of the 2019 Oscar-nominated films. Since I don’t want to be bogged down for the next three weeks I decided to make a list of the top 3 winning films I want to watch and catch one a week. My list: Bohemian Rhapsody, Mary Poppins and A Star is Born. Can you believe I still haven’t seen those?!
4. Shop for some Spring essentials
The stores have already switched over seasons, so why not get a head start on your Spring wardobe? Winter is a great time to get in FitBit steps at the mall. A few of my must-haves for Spring 2019: White Gucci mule slides, a Goyard St. Louis tote, LeSpecs sunglasses and a light grey plaid blazer - perfect for work or play! 
Plan a weekend getaway
If nothing else, get away! Winter staycations in the city can be fun - have you checked out Hotel X yet? I am dying to go! Prince Edward County is also a cute Winter destination with plenty to do! But there are also a few great warmer destinations that aren’t too far. Escape to Miami for a long weekend at the beach, or bar hop in Nashville and catch a show at the Grand Ol’ Opry ... both cities are a quick flight from Toronto!

Have any more ideas for beating the next three weeks of Winter? Leave a comment below - I love hearing from you!
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