Vancouver, BC Area (Victoria and Whistler)

3-Day Itinerary – Hike, Eat and Absorb the Beauty

How to prep for safe hiking with bears in the Vancouver/Victoria/Whistler area

Check out the Vancouver, BC area for beauty and adventure! There is such diversity in this coastal, seaport area from a lively, cosmopolitan, clean Vancouver that’s super bike and pedestrian friendly to beautiful forests and shimmering seas surrounding the land on Vancouver Island (including Victoria) and Whistler. I found friendly faces in every sector.

Things to do on Vancouver Island and Victoria

Rent a car at Vancouver airport and drive about 40 minutes to the Tsawwassen terminal to take the “BC Ferry” over to Vancouver Island/Victoria (Swartz Bay). Note that the ferries usually run at the top of the hour. If you happen to arrive an hour early for the ferry (like we did!) then you can eat and shop (from sushi to sweaters) right at the terminal. The ferry is a beautiful 90 minute journey mingling through many small forested islands. There is a nice coffee bar and restaurant on the ferry. Look for Orcas! (I spotted one spouting!)

Interestingly, Highway 17 connects Vancouver to Vancouver Island. The ferry route is “the highway” between Vancouver and Vancouver Island and then Highway 17 continues on! On Vancouver Island every single thing must be brought by boat or seaplane, so I expected a tiny and quaint area and a small town of Victoria. Nope! Every store, restaurant, supplier, automotive, building, etc. that you could imagine is there. Even Toys R Us and Bed, Bath and Beyond stores in 2022!

We stayed in the adorable James Bay section of Victoria which is a small peninsula on the coastal side of the city of Victoria. Our sweet hotel, James Bay Inn (, is a 100+ year old sweet inn with a lovely pub and restaurant underneath. Plus it’s a nice walk from there to Floyd’s Diner (fantastic and friendly staff) with standard to funky delicious breakfasts. Also walkable to the parliament building (Victoria is the capitol of British Columbia), seaport, shoreline and seaplane port. So many locals riding bikes and walking their way through this lovely small city. Fisherman’s Wharf is a sweet area with colorful houseboats that are actually shops and restaurants and also residences right on the Victoria harbor.

The Highlands area of Vancouver Island is hilly and tree covered with little towns sprinkled in between. The hike for the day was in the Highlands at Jocelyn Hill. A 5.5 mile hike through a gorgeous canopy of trees with views of the Finlayson Arm (the body of water) along the way. Bear spray* is a must as some bears have been spotted here. Use the All Trails app on “navigate” to follow the trail easier as some signs are missing. There is cell service throughout the hike. Hiking poles may be needed for a few all dirt steep downhills.  

*Bear spray cannot be taken on planes as it’s kind of like mace. I purchased mine at Canadian Tire which is a sporting goods store and seems to be everywhere in the Vancouver/Victoria area.

Things to do in Whistler

The drive from Vancouver to Whistler is absolutely beautiful on the Sea to Sky Highway. It’s right along peaceful waterways (Howe Sound and Squamish River) for the entire ride – up and down mountains and beautiful cliffs flanked by tall pine trees. I drove it in the fall; although, I imagine it’s quite treacherous when there’s any precipitation on the roads with all the twists and turns; and therefore, snow tires are required from October 1 to March 31. There is also a bus that travels the same route.

It takes about 2 hours to drive from Vancouver to Whistler. Whistler is ginormous – much larger than I realized. There are 2 villages connected by a path and a 10 minute walk (or shuttle). There is an upper village which is kind of small, as far as amenities go, and the Whistler (central) Village, which is huge and has a lot of everything. There’s upscale shopping, souvenir shops, condos, restaurants, pubs, etc. We ate at the delicious Mongolie Grill for a super healthy and delicious dinner!

The juvenile bear who was roaming the village of Whistler at 8pm!

Drinks were on the patio at Gibbons at the foot of the ski slopes where we saw a juvenile black bear saunter by at around 8pm looking for food. Crazy! Waitstaff were banging on tables, chairs and signs trying to get the bear out of there. The bear actually even climbed 1/2 way up the outdoor stairs to a patio restaurant before he changed his mind!

I’d recommend staying in central Whistler Village. It seems that every single accommodation is beautiful and well-kept. 

Hiking in Squamish, British Columbia

Stawamus Chief Trail

Squamish is an adorable town between Vancouver and Whistler. It is about 45 minutes south of Whistler, so we stopped, off the Sea to Sky Highway, on the way back to Vancouver for a hike. Breakfast/Lunch was great at Lil Chef Bistro which is tucked right off of the Sea to Sky Highway. 

Hiking was right in Squamish – a meca for climbers! The famous hike is Stawamus “Chief Trail.” This hike consists of about 2 miles of steep, uphill hiking over stone steps, boulders and even man made stairs all in a very large pine treed forest. Precariously located boulders abound – you know, the ones that are on the edge and just thinking about tumbling down while you’re underneath them (but they’ve probably been like that for 100 years)! 🙂

The Chief Trail is definitely a popular one, so worries about bears were lessened, but I was prepared nonetheless. It was a challenging but beautiful trek in the vast, dense Stawamus Chief Provincial Park forest with 2 sets of stairs and 2 sets of chains to assist with hoisting over the boulders near the top. Once at the top of the first peak there’s a peaceful view of Howe Sound and surrounding mountains.

Bear Preparation for Day Hikers

After my large momma bear/bear cub encounter in Montana, I’m NOW prepared for a bear encounter. I carry:

  • Bear bell (A bell that hangs off my backpack – used so the bear is not startled and/or hears the sound and moves out. It has a magnet that stops it from ringing when not needed.)
  • Bear spray (Note that you cannot take bear spray on a plane. It’s basically mace that shoots really far, so purchase it at your destination and give it away to another hiker if you don’t use it.)
  • Smell proof bags (I carry my snacks in here and apple cores, pits from fruit, etc. after eating.)
  • Satellite communicator/GPS system (When I encountered the Montana bear there was no cell service at all in that national park. No one knew where we were, and there was no one on the trail at all. I worried that if we had encountered the bear on the way out of the out-and-back trail (fortunately, we were still going “in” when we saw the bears) then we would have difficulty finding another route back to the car. This satellite GPS would have solved that issue.)
  • And I know what to do in the future (DON’T RUN – my mistake) – National Park Service has some good info on encountering bears

Helpful links to book your travel here

Kandersteg, Montreux & Zürich, Switzerland Travel (summer and fall)

How I love Switzerland! Everything is beautiful, picturesque and stunning whether in the cities (Zürich or Montreux) or in the Alps (Kandersteg). There’s a feeling of welcoming here as well. I am consistently impressed with how pristine things are in the villages and cities. Here’s how to visit these beautiful areas and still be budget-conscious.

Day 1: Take the 2-hour train from Zürich Airport (“Flughafen”) to Kandersteg.

How to easily take the train everywhere in Switzerland

Things to do in Kandersteg

The sweet Alpine village of Kandersteg doesn’t seem to have changed in hundreds of years. There’s only one main quaint road (“innere dorfstrasse” meaning “inner village street”) with flowers blooming on each dark wooded chalet. All is quiet and calm in the village – it feels as though all the townsfolk must be out picking flowers, tending to the sheep or wading in the babbling brooks. It is a location set for outdoor adventures in the summer or shoulder seasons with hiking trails, biking and climbing throughout the spectacular mountains and lakes.

Everything, including hotels, are walkable in Kandersteg. Drop off the luggage at your hotel and be on your merry way hiking up to the gondola. Just pick up a hiking map at every hotel’s front desk. The paved sidewalk with a gondola sign is right in the middle of the town and hard to miss. Either take this Oeschinensee gondola lift (~$20 each way) up to the top or hike your way up. It’s mostly paved and very steep. At the upper gondola mountain station there is Restaurant Bergstubli and several little booth options for ice cream, etc. Hike your way to the shimmering and teal Lake Oeschinen (mostly a wide paved path) about 20 minutes away. This gorgeous lake is fed by the glacial Hotels.comstreams. There are options to rent a kayak here. To continue hiking – choose a hike from your map and continue on.

Day 1 continued: I stayed in the quaint Hotel Alpina from which was Swiss through and through with a warm welcoming and warm atmosphere to the old-fashioned keys of the small but clean and functional room. A traditional Swiss breakfast was included.

In Kandersteg the lunch at Hotel Alpenblick was a wonderful traditional Swiss dish – rösti. To me it seemed like very delicious potato hash browns (which I always struggle to make well). I also enjoyed their local beer – Feldschlösschen.

Dinner in Kandersteg was on patio of Chalet Hotel Adler- delicious pizza and great service! There was a good variety in their menu from pizza to steak to fish to pasta.

Simple instructions on how to take the train everywhere in Switzerland

Day 2: Hop on a train and head to Montreux. How to easily take the train everywhere in Switzerland.

Things to do in Montreux, Switzerland

Montreux is a clean, safe and small city that sits on the eastern shore of glistening Lake Geneva. Although it is in Switzerland, I found most everything from the language to the food to be French. As it happens, Lake Geneva is 1/2 Swiss and 1/2 French with the country borders being only a 25 minute drive away.

Explore the French Swiss village of Montreux. Take a walk on the beautiful flower-lined promenade along the sparkling waterfront. Note that the weather changes constantly so be prepared for light rain to cool overcast to sun! All in 30 minutes! (My trip was in September.) Visit Queen: The Studio Experience (free) located in the casino. My trip here was for the annual Freddie Mercury Celebration Days, a weekend long celebration of Freddie and Queen, which included outdoor concerts, parties, dances, etc. with fans from all over the world. Don’t forget to visit the Freddie Mercury statue on the Riverfront. (Freddie loved the serenity of Montreux and stayed there often. Queen also owned a small recording studio there which is now free to visit inside the casino.)

Eating in Montreux:

Breakfast in Montreux was perfect at Zurcher with French pastries, quiche and fancy sandwiches on crusty French bread and, of course, coffee (café Americano) with an option to sit outdoors. Lunch at Lucky Chinese with very big portions and fresh vegetables with an option sit outside on the patio with overhead coverings. 

Day 3: The CGN Riviera cruise is a beautiful, leisurely trip on the peaceful Lake Geneva between the forested mountains that surround this gentle lake. The cruise leaves right from the Montreux lakeside promenade. One side of Lake Geneva is Switzerland and the other is France. There are many options – the cruise that I took had the option to disembark at either Vevey or Lausanne. Vevey is a smaller, more quaint village while Lausanne had more action and is more of a city. Check out the lakeside walk, Olympic Museum or Lausanne Cathedral. Hopping on the train to return to Montreux – I was pleasantly surprised by the beautiful vineyards on terraced farms right out of the train window during this trip!

Day 4: Hop on a train and head to Zürich. How to easily take the train everywhere in Switzerland

Things to do in Zürich, Switzerland:

Discover downtown Zurich!

(Travel Tip: Take the train to the Zürich Airport [Flughafen] and take the airport shuttle to your hotel to drop off your bags. I always stay at the Holiday Inn Express in Ruemlang on It’s a short walk to the Ruemlang train station – simply take the train to Zürich HB.) I

It’s a lovely and safe walk in the historic district, Altstadt, as you head toward the Limmat riverfront. If fondue at a restaurant on the cobblestone streets of Zürich is on your bucket list (as was mine) then walk 8 minutes to Swiss Chuchi restaurant for a delightful, delicious and reasonably priced fondue. This area boasts many high end boutiques (bring your large Francs), quaint shops, hotels and loads of restaurants with outdoor and indoor seating. Don’t forget to go down the cobblestone alleyways for more shops and restaurants.

How to easily travel throughout Switzerland on the train

It’s so easy to get around the entire country of Switzerland on their super efficient train system. Here’s step by step instructions:

  • Upload the SBB app
  • Add info as a guest or make an account (to stow credit card number)
  • In Timetable, type in origination and destination
  • Tap on the option to purchase ticket (no need to buy it at the kiosk)
  • A conductor will come through, while on the train, to check the ticket while the train travels
  • To change trains en route, consult the app for the platform to disembark and the one where the next train will depart. Note the change time – it’s often 5-10 minutes. It’s usually via a tunnel underground.
  • Note that the conductors usually stand outside the train doors, so signal them if you’re running to catch that train at departure time, if needed.

I don’t get the Swiss pass as I’m usually on a quick trip – 4 days or so. (Note that the train station at the Zürich Airport – “Zürich Flughafen” – is right across the street from the terminal and is easily walkable with great signage and also has an indoor mall with food options before you head down to the tracks.)

For places to stay check out VRBO,,, or

Helpful links to book your travel here

New Jersey Shore (Lavallette Area)

New Jersey shore points

Why I Love the New Jersey Shore

If you were raised in New Jersey (as I was) then the Jersey Shore is gold. It’s the ultimate vacation spot. The place to go yearly, or more, with familiar and local spots (that are also locally owned) – bakeries, ice cream shops, surf shops, delis, beach stores, boardwalk rides and arcades. It’s all there for the taking and welcomes you back. I love this place so much, but I’m not sure if I love it because it’s got everything with such beach charm (walkable mom and pops everywhere) or because I grew up going there every summer. Probably both.

“Down the Shore” is how you would indicate that you were going to the beach/boardwalk area if you live in the northeast where the NJ Shore is your closest beach.

There are about 130 miles of shoreline in New Jersey. The particular area of the shore that I love is the Barnegat Peninsula; although, almost no one calls it that. See below.

The Barrier Island (or Barnegat Peninsula) *

*Note that most people just refer to it by the name of the community**, and each community is small (maybe 2-8 streets).

**Includes: Chadwick Beach, Ocean Beach, Normandy Beach, Lavallette, Ortley Beach and Seaside Heights

This seaside barrier island is perfect for those who love both the beauty of the ocean and the peacefulness of the bay, since you can easily walk from the ocean to the bay from almost any house on this “island.” When the main north/south road, Route 35, splits (just below Mantoloking) is where my heart lies. Here houses have traditionally been small “bungalows” where families jammed in for summer vacations from North Jersey and the surrounding areas. After “Superstorm Sandy” in 2012, many of the homes were destroyed by flooding and many of the communities allowed larger homes to take their place. Most homeowners tore down their home or raised it, but there are still some bungalows to be found. Homes are jammed together down streets that connect the ocean to the bay and people are out and active – walking, riding bikes, flying kites, or on kayaks, surfboards or boats.

Where to Stay at the Jersey Shore

I love to stay in a home with the bay in the backyard (“on the lagoon”) so even mornings and evenings can be spent in the presence of water. Days are spent on the beach or in the many lagoons on rafts, paddle boards, kayaks or boats. Or crabbing right off the dock! Nights are spent at the Seaside Heights boardwalk, playing mini golf or out for ice cream!

Boat rentals at Aqua Rentz.

Many of the homes are rented through the community’s local real estate agency. Many do things the old fashioned way with paper contracts, checks and cash even. I do not recommend renting a house in Seaside Heights or Seaside Park even though the rentals are typically less expensive here – the atmosphere there changes throughout the day/night.

Local rental agencies:

Ocean Beach rentals: Ocean Beach Sales and Rentals

Chadwick Beach rentals: Chadwick Beach Real Estate

Lavallette and Ortley Beach rentals: Lavallette Vacation Rentals or Premier Rental Listings

Ortley Beach rentals: Shore Summer Rentals

Other options: VRBO

Beach badges – beach badges are required to enjoy most NJ beaches. The badges are usually about $35 per week or $12 per day. Purchase the badges (typically cash only) when entering the beach.

My list of favorite beaches, in order, are: Ocean Beach, Chadwick Beach, Ortley Beach, Lavallette, Normandy Beach and Seaside Heights.

Below are some of my favorite spots:

Colonial Bakery – there are 2 Colonial bakeries and my favorite is the smaller one in Ocean Beach (3091 Route 35N). When you walk through the door, in the morning, you will be overwhelmed by the fantastic aroma of freshly baked deliciousness. Wonderful cannolis, cream puffs, eclairs and many Italian treats.

Lasolas Market/Deli – This is the epitome of the little Italian market with a beautiful, mouthwatering array of prepared Italian foods, the best cold and hot sub sandwiches, delicious entrees and much more including Italian bakery delights and even anything you’d need to cook Italian at your house. (One day I bought the chicken parmesan, stuffed artichokes, eggplant parmesan, and broccoli rabe.)

Ocean Hut Surf Shop outdoor sign on Route 35

Ocean Hut Surf Shop – This surf shop is my absolute favorite shop at the shore. They have very nice casual clothing and accessories and they even have their own brand of surfboards – cream – with very cool matching apparel. The same owner since 1975!

Seaside Heights Boardwalk – I hope you have not watched Jersey shore. Seaside is so much more than those kids and their drama (sorry, NJS fans). The Seaside Heights/Park Boardwalk is a 2-mile long family friendly* boardwalk that’s action-packed from lively arcades (Lucky Leos and Casino Pier are my favorites) that include classics (skee ball!) and tons of games! There’s a large pier (Casino Pier) with loads of rides for everyone from “kiddie” to “thrill” rides. As you walk down the boards, there are games calling your name – frog bog, darts, water gun competitions, balloon busts and candy wheels. There are also wonderful delicious foods like Kohl’s ice cream, Midway’s Italian sandwiches (sausage, peppers and onions!), 3 Brothers pizza (gigantic slices), and funnel cakes!

*Now to end this paragraph on the Seaside Boardwalk – you’ll want to go during the day to the boardwalk (and not on the beach because it’s packed with people and a little crazy sometimes) and only stay until 9:00pm or so. Fireworks start at 9:00pm on Wednesday night – that’s a good time then leave soon afterward. After that the family atmosphere seems to diminish.

The Crab’s Claw – The best restaurant to go for crabs, clams, oysters, shrimp, flounder, etc. with a lovely and fun atmosphere and just a block from the beach.

Sunny Hunny By the Sea Pancake House – a beach tradition for delicious breakfasts, especially the pancakes

B&B – B&B in Lavallette has the best sidewalk sales on the weekends. It’s where I bought my swimsuits each summer plus they have the cutest beachwear and gifts.

Outside of Ben Franklin on Route 35 in Lavallette, NJ

Ben Franklin 5&10 Store – If you’ve forgotten anything needed for the beach then you can find it here at reasonable prices. I’ve been going to Ben Franklin for many years for kites to fly on the beach at sunset!

Z Line – Z Line has very reasonable shirts, sweatshirts, souvenirs and even hermit crabs (which we have unfortunately purchased various times throughout the years :] )

**Note that many of the local restaurant establishments only take cash!

What I Love about the New Jersey Shore

  • Rolling down the windows over the bridge on Bridge Avenue, as you arrive at the shore, to smell the delightful salt air
  • The cool breeze right when ascending the sand dunes at the beach
  • Sand that’s perfect for building sand castles
  • People walking or biking around in bathing suits with beach chairs strapped to their back
  • Walking to the little ice cream shops and waiting in the long but fast moving lines.
  • American flags waving in the wind
  • Walking to local pizzerias, delis and sub shops
  • The local bakeries!
  • Families carrying blow up boats to the bay beach
  • Flying kites at dusk in the summer breeze
  • Houses crowded together – not a spot of land wasted

How to Get to the NJ Shore from the Newark Airport

From Newark (EWR) Airport terminals – take the AirTrain to the last stop. Follow signs to NJ Transit and NJ Coastal Line (NJCL). Get NJ Transit app and pay for the ticket to Bayhead (most likely you’ll have to change trains in Long Branch). At the Bay Head station take an Uber or a taxi to your rental property.

Helpful links to book your travel here

Bozeman/Big Sky, Montana (summer)

Things to do near Bozeman/Big Sky, Montana (summer)

Lush green mountains with snow capped peaks leading down to fast running rivers and emerald colored valleys with long grasses flowing in the wind. Montana! So much beauty in one place filling up all the senses! Wildlife is abound – deer, peacocks, sheep, and even bears (more about that later). The rolling hillsides and babbling brooks are also scattered throughout this very alive landscape.

Everything around this area of Montana seemed to be very well maintained from the state roads to the interstates (surprisingly as their winters are rough) as well as the towns in between. I usually enjoy the backroads; however, even the highways had stunning views. I found the roadways to be mostly flat throughout most of the areas that I traveled.

Accommodations near Bozeman

Although it is probably easier to find a place to stay in downtown Bozeman, I highly recommend staying at a VRBO outside of town to get more of a feel for the Montana lifestyle. I stayed with an extraordinarily amazing couple who maintain their own road, build their own barns, fell their own trees, make and cook their own food, and many etceteras. They have a yurt on their property to stay in during your visit.

Downtown Bozeman and Downtown Livingston

Downtown Bozeman

Downtown Bozeman is much larger than I expected it to be with upscale shops, restaurants, pubs and art galleries all within walking distance. I loved the Western Cafe for breakfast – it was a traditional old school diner with mouth watering breakfasts saloon style. MacKenzie River Pizza Company had delicious pizzas and lots of options (including gluten free crust).

Downtown Livingston

Downtown Livingston is a small town with eclectic, locally owned shops and funky restaurants. I loved Pinky’s for breakfast (quick service, good food and friendly staff) and Neptune’s for dinner with a funky vibe, rooftop bar and large, spacious restaurant. The menu is diverse with sushi and American options. Locals recommended Faye’s Cafe for breakfast (limited hours and closed on Friday) and Murray Hotel Bar.

Hiking near Bozeman

So many options for hiking — long, short, easy, difficult. Remember that you are at a bit of an altitude (5,000-7,200 feet high) so you may be breathing a bit heavier at times. If you’d like to go the non-planning (of the hike) route then take a spectacular scenic drive between Bozeman and Big Sky on US191 through the Gallatin National Forest and there are many signs for hiking right off of that road. Just stop, get out and hike from that trailhead. Note that once you enter the National Forest there is no cell phone service.

Hyaline Creek Trail – I chose this trail as it was moderately challenging with a good distance and pretty waterfalls. However, not sure I really recommend it. The signage at the trailhead is confusing. Turns out you should go toward Grotto Falls if you’d like to see waterfalls and not follow the creek trail sign from the trailhead. Going the other way (creek trail sign) we only saw one very small waterfall (albeit, pretty) and at 3.1 miles into the trail (by the reservoir) we startled a very large mother bear and her cub. Fortunately, she did not come after my son and I, but it was a terrifying experience. I learned that if you hike in Montana that you should carry bear spray (you have to purchase it locally – it can’t fly on a plane) and put a bear bell on your backpack as not to startle the bear. Also, you should make yourself look large while talking, facing the bear, and backing away to make the bear realize that you’re human and not threatening. We did none of those things. You are NOT supposed to turn and run, but let me tell you something, when every cell in your body tells you to run, you run. (Maybe role play it before you go out there – idk – just a weird thought.)

Ousel Falls Park Trail – We actually chose this trail as we had to “face our fears” after encountering the mother bear and cub on the Hyaline Creek Trail the day before. Although, this waterfall was just beautiful and the trees were giant and abundant, this trail was very popular with people. And the trail was gravel but practically paved. So, I would recommend it only if you have just a short time and would like to see a pretty waterfall and then go to the next activity which, for us, was whitewater rafting. This trail is less than 30 minutes from Montana Whitewater Rafting.

Lava Lake Trail – this trail was highly recommended by locals. Moderate 6-mile hike.

Whitewater Rafting near Bozeman

Montana Whitewater is closer to Big Sky than to Bozeman; however, if you’re coming from Bozeman the ride is so beautiful that it is well worth the trip. There were 3 rafting options to choose from at the time of our trip – more challenging, less challenging and least challenging. Note that water levels change often so the rafting levels do too. If you’d like to whitewater raft at a place that is all about safety then Montana Whitewater Rafting is the place for you – they provide the helmets, life vest, jacket, full wetsuit and booties. Also, they have many other adventures to add to your experience like zip lining, fly fishing, horseback riding, kayaking, etc.

Tubing near Bozeman

Madison River Tubing – I did not tube as I chose to whitewater raft instead. However, this tubing place came recommended by locals, so I thought I’d throw it in if tubing is more your speed.

Hot Springs near Bozeman

After a long day of hiking, the Bozeman area has 2 hot springs to enjoy to ease your sore muscles. Note that the hot springs are captured in more of a swimming pool (with both spring water and added water) to make it more comfortable to soak in. (I think I was expecting a Romanesque bathhouse which it was not.) We went to the hot springs in Chico. The springs were a soothing 99-100+ degrees. There is also the Bozeman Hot Springs.

Helpful links to book your travel here

Gruene, Texas

Gruene is a splendid, charming, rustic-yet-upscale Historic District (of New Braunfels) in the Texas Hill Country – less than an hour south of Austin. There’s a lot to do in Gruene (pronounced: “green”) for a long weekend or a couple of days: entertainment, shopping, antiquing, wine tasting and active options for all ages in this pleasant district that is very well-kept and surrounded by large, beautiful trees and rivers.

I was in Gruene in May and the weather was right for all the outdoor activities plus hanging out in town, and it wasn’t too crowded. Fall and winter are also usually pleasant in Gruene – typically highs are in the 60s (winter).

Downtown Gruene:

Downtown Gruene is walkable from one establishment to another with many upscale boutiques, outdoorsy-type shops, wine tastings along with cute, tasty restaurants and bars sprinkled throughout this historic district. Bonus: to-go drinks are allowed in most of the shops. Gruene was established in the 1800s by German immigrants and some of those remnants remain and have been re-vitalized in the downtown.

Live Music in Gruene:

Live Americana and blues music happens every night at the historic and oldest music hall in Texas (1878!) – Gruene Hall – right in downtown Gruene. It’s super cool and Texas-y with wooden floors, wooden long picnic tables near the stage and an overflow area outside, under the trees, with tables as well. Dancing is encouraged in and out! It’s really a fun place to experience and to discover new, old and popular musicians. Note that not much has changed at the hall since it opened in the 1800s including any type of climate control (read: no air conditioning), so keep that in mind and dress accordingly and bring your cash as that’s all that Gruene Hall accepts.

Outdoor Activities in Gruene:

Tubing in Gruene:

Tubing is a wonderful way to spend the afternoon gliding down the cool, mostly tame Guadalupe River where the Bald Cypress trees with their expansive root system majestically frame the clear river. Many options are available depending on the river you choose (Comal vs. Guadalupe) and the length of the trip. I chose the Rockin’ R River Rides tubing company which has well-maintained tubes (open and closed bottom), professional employees, timely and clean vans for the transport back. The tubing company sells beer, canned drinks, pre-made sandwiches and snacks to purchase before your trip at reasonable prices. Bring your own cooler (and rent a tube for the cooler) – and you can make it through the sets of rapids (fun and not dangerous) with your drinks intact if you keep the cooler tube close to you.

Cave Near Gruene:

Natural Bridge Caverns are a spectacular U.S. Natural National landmark and only a short 25 minute drive outside Gruene. There is an extensive 2-mile cave with many open rooms, underground river, various beautiful stalagmites, stalactites, curtains, etc. I learned quite a bit during the Discovery Tour which was about an hour and 1/2 long. There are other types of tours available including the adventure tour where you’ll need gear for more of a “caving” experience. The entire area is beautiful! On the property there’s also a ropes courses with zip lines. Also the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch, a wildlife safari drive-through tour, is right next door.

Fly Fishing on the Guadalupe is also an option for trout, bass, carp, etc. Check out Gruene Outfitters for equipment, guides, and locations.

The Grist Mill Restaurant is another must-do. It sits high above the Guadalupe River and has outdoor (tiered patio) and indoor seating (in an 1878 cotton gin) with delicious meals at reasonable prices and a Texas-y flair. Expect to wait some time if it’s high season – perhaps go at odd hours (between lunch and dinner rush) to reduce your wait time.

The Gruene River Grill is another good option for an American menu and was highly recommended to me by a 29-year local resident (so “loved by locals”).

Cantina del Rio is a fun, funky and colorful Mexican restaurant with a tree-covered outdoor space as well as an indoor dining room. Great food and good prices and burgers for those who aren’t Mexican foodies.

The Gruene Mansion Inn has been “gently resisting change” since its opening in 1872. Each cottage has its own porch and patio with unique Victorian style rooms dating back to the Gilded Age. Some cottages have a view of the river far below. I loved the Pantry which has a simple and tasty breakfast menu and a nice, peaceful outdoor space to eat it under the mansion’s back covered patio area.

things to do in Gruene, Texas

Helpful links to book your travel here

Zermatt, Switzerland

Things to do in winter in Zermatt:

When in Zermatt you actually feel immersed in all that is Switzerland. Zermatt is a well-kept Alpine village surrounded by majestic mountains with warm, traditional Swiss chalets abound. Narrow, windy roads are easily walkable throughout this relaxed and comfortable community. My experience was in winter (February), and I found Zermatt to be appealing for both outdoor adventurists and for those who would like more of a relaxing/sightseeing trip.

For places to stay check out VRBO,,, or Budget travelers – check out Hotel Adonis. Perfect location and so much more (additional info below).

I have observed that, unlike in the United States, people at Zermatt will utilize the ski lifts (gondolas and trains) to go up to the summits (Gornergrat or Matterhorn Glacier Paradise) to take in the views, eat in the restaurants or shop and then take the gondola back down the mountain. There are not only skiers and hikers on the gondolas.

How to Get to Zermatt

The Swiss make it super easy to travel within their beautiful, picturesque country. Fly into Zürich and just hop on the train at the airport – easily follow the signs both in Swiss-German and in English. Purchase a ticket at the kiosk (near the train) or use an app on your mobile device for the ~3.5 hour trip to get to Zermatt. The SBB mobile app is my app of choice in Switzerland as it gives the platform (track) number of the train. There will be at least one change of trains going to Zermatt and, on many occasions, there are only 5-6 minutes to change trains, so knowing the platform number in advance is helpful. Purchase a ticket as either a full day pass (no times are on it) or for the exact time of the train you’d like to get on which is a little less expensive. No need to validate the ticket at the station – the conductor will check the ticket on the train. Also it is best to purchase tickets ahead of time as the closer it gets to the date of travel the more expensive the ticket seems to get. 

Tip: The luggage cart (trolley) is free at the Zürich airport and can be pushed right down to the train. I have even seen people take the cart onto the train; although, I’m not sure if this is actually allowed.

Snowshoeing, Hiking, Downhill Skiing or Sightseeing in the Mountains in Zermatt

The Gornergrat train is a beautiful cogwheel mountain train that lifts riders up on a 4,900 foot journey (33 minutes) from Zermatt up to the mountain ridge of Gornergrat to begin skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, gazing from the observation points, dining at the restaurant, shopping or checking into the hotel. Beautiful views, at 10,285′, of the Matterhorn and Gorner Glacier await the passengers at the upper station. To get there take the train from Gornergrat train station (everywhere is walkable in Zermatt) which is right across from Zermatt train station to purchase a ticket on the train up the mountain.

Tip: When on the Gornergrat train – sit on right side, and you’ll be treated to magnificent views of the Matterhorn! You will go through a few other brief stops at other stations – wait to disembark at Gornergrat (last) station.

To downhill ski, start your trek right there when you exit the Gornergrat train.

To hike or snowshoe, stay on the left side of the ski slope/”piste” on the same slope as the skiers. If you are snowshoeing, at this point, you can either stay on the edge of the slopes, or you can go through the deeper snow off to the sides of the slopes. There will soon be deeper snow to traipse through – stay patient. After you get to the Rotenboden tiny station, go under the bridge and stay hard left to follow the pink arrow to Riffelberg. This is a hikers’ trail. (Sign is in photo collage above.)

After the bridge, while you’re on the “hiker only” trail, just go off the trail and trudge through the glorious sparkly snow and up and down the hills with a view of the Matterhorn and gorgeous mountains all around you! (Only go off trail if you are wearing snowshoes – the snow is way too deep for hiking boots only.)

To continue snowshoeing follow the pink poles which will take you through the deep snow but within view of the hiking trail. The Riffelberg station comes too soon. Then you must take the train (gorgeous views again) back to Zermatt. 

Downhill Skiing in Zermatt

Zermatt is a downhill skiers’ paradise. Miles and miles of groomed ski slopes/”pistes” with options for off-piste skiing. Even the gondolas to get you to the pistes are beautiful and include many interconnections to get skiers from one side of the mountain to the other with the option to even ski to Italy. The map of the ski pistes is available pretty much everywhere in the village.

To start your downhill ski day: walk (there are lots of skiers walking the streets in ski boots) or bus to the Matterhorn Glacier Express enclosed lift/gondola. To reach the summit, at 12,740 feet, will take approximately an hour. At the Furi station change lifts to Schwarszee. At the Schwarszee station change lifts to Trockener Steg to the very top of “Matterhorn Glacier Paradise” (also called: Klein Matterhorn). At the top you’ll find ski slopes (“pistes”) as well as lookout areas, restaurants, shops and amazing views of the Alps including those in Italy and France! This is where the large wooden cross is located. Then start skiing down while utilizing the map to get to a variety of pistes as well as aprés ski locations! (Alternatively, the gondola also goes back down for those who do not wish to ski.)

Nordic/Cross Country Skiing near Zermatt

Although there are no Nordic ski trails/tracks right in Zermatt, the Swiss make it so easy to hop on the train (12 minutes) to Täsch and rent Nordic skis right in the Täsch train station. The grooved cross country ski tracks, for “classic” Nordic skiing, are right outside the door of the station with pretty views of the surrounding mountains and the Matterhorn in the distance. The soundtrack to the cross country ski experience is the babbling river near the train tracks. The area is mostly flat, so it’s suitable for beginner Nordic classic skiers. There are also trails alongside the tracks for skate skiers. 

To get there from the Zermatt train station take the “Zermatt Shuttle” train to Täsch. It’s the train on the far left track. You can buy a ticket at the kiosk or at the manned booth. Again, it’s just one quick 12 minute station away. The ski rental store is located within the train station with reasonable rates for boots, skis and poles. There are lockers (2 CHF) within the station if you need to store your stuff.

Hiking from Zermatt to Z’mutt

The scenic ~5 mile round-trip hike to the hamlet of Z’Mutt is well worth every step. The path wanders through forests and meadows with Swiss huts sprinkled in while majestic mountains surround you. The Matterhorn grows larger in your view as you hike closer to the hamlet of Z’Mutt. Bonus: When reaching Z’Mutt you are transported back in time into a quiet, tiny village with sturdy huts huddled close together and a central church. The adorable mountain restaurant/cafe at Z’Mutt has rave reviews; however, it’s closed one day – Monday (the day that I went). 🙁 Even so, their patio was a fabulous place to sit and soak in the views.

Begin your hike from Schwarzsee cable car station in Zermatt. Walk directly across the street from the station and take the set of stairs going down to cross the pedestrian bridge over the river. (It took me 10 minutes to find the stairs, but they are right there – in plain sight!) Once you are at the road, turn left then stay to the right side of the median through the bus stop lot. The path will soon turn into a hiking path with a gradual ascent all the way up to Z’Mutt. There is one Y with a pink signage (photo above) – just stay to the right. I took this same trail back. An alternative route is to take the road.

Budget Accommodations in Zermatt

Hotel Adonis is where I stayed on my Zermatt adventure. Although it is a budget hotel, it is in a perfect location to both the main strip and ski lifts (walkable in ski boots to Schwarzsee cable car station), super clean, full of amenities with beautiful Swiss architecture. I can’t say enough good things about it. The lobby area included a reasonably priced and well-stocked bar with tables, chairs, and couches to hang out in. There is a ski room downstairs with a separate entrance to store skis and hang boots on a heater overnight. A delicious buffet breakfast was served every morning (pay for it when booking hotel – it’s less than paying each day). There is also a microwave, tea kettle and tableware available if you’d like to eat in your room. 

Transportation in Zermatt:

Zermatt is car free but has many electric taxis to cart you from the train station to the hotel (if you packed heavy items like skis) or if you’d just like a ride. Although most of the town is pretty much accessible by foot. There are also a few electric buses. A note of caution – the electric taxis seem to have the right of way. It is shocking how fast they zip no matter who is on the side of the narrow streets – kids, families with strollers, no exceptions. When you hear that electric buzz – seriously get out of the road. 

Eating in Zermatt:

If you are a budget traveler then you can most likely get away with breakfast at the hotel, an appetizer during your après ski time, and dinner. If you love pizza then the North Wall Bar Pizza is exceptional. They’re tossing the dough right there in the seating area which stirs the appetite and the taste is worth the short wait. The raclette (a yummy native Swiss dish consisting of gooey cheese and such (photo on right in block above) was delicious at Weisshorn Restaurant. Hotel Adonis’s sister hotel, Hotel Jägerhof, offers a ton of food for reasonable prices.

Traveling from Zermatt to Zürich

If traveling back to Zürich for the flight out the next day, staying at the Holiday Inn Express near the Zürich airport is your best bet. The hotel rate is extremely reasonable, it’s exceptionally clean with a restaurant and bar, and there’s a frequent and free shuttle from the airport. It’s also just a 10 minute walk to the Rümlang train station for an afternoon trip into downtown Zürich.

An afternoon in Downtown Zürich, Switzerland:

From Rümlang station take the train to Zürich HB station and head in the direction of the water (Limmat River). Cross the river and head south toward Zürich old town where there’s culture and history as well as restaurants and shops right along the river’s edge and up through the alleyways. That area of Zürich has a very safe feel, even on weeknights in the dead of winter, there were a lot of people out dining and enjoying the night. 

An afternoon in Bern, Switzerland:

A different option is to stop in the historic and beautiful city of Bern on your way back to Zürich. The train will pass through this city – just get off. There are lockers at the train station to store your luggage for a small fee. I hadn’t planned this stop, so I just got off the train and started walking. The city had a lovely, warm feel to it. I passed the Medieval Clock Tower, cruised over to the Bear Pit, strolled along the river and filled up my water bottle in the fountains lining the street.

Helpful links to book your travel here