Cruising the Christmas Markets in Germany

Maintaining a gluten-free diet can be challenging in Germany

At first blush, the idea of peeling off all my clothes for an afternoon in Wiesbaden’s historic Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme bathhouse hadn’t seemed quite so outrageous.

But in the moment, courage was elusive, and the unisex changing room wasn’t helping matters. It looked like this might be more a matter of survival than relaxation.

“This is crazy,” I muttered, stretching a wee white spa towel around me on the nippy winter day.

On entry, I’d grabbed a handout titled “Bathing like the ancient Romans” describing the two-round, 20-step procedure to fully realize the bath’s potential. A few furtive glances around, and I tiptoed to an empty warming room for a read, hopeful no one would find me.

As I passed a few spa-goers, I realized just how fully uninformed I was about the niceties of buff bathing. “Do I look in their eyes, or avert mine?” I wondered, fumbling with my ridiculously small towel and the paper advice sheet. “Do I greet them? What do I say if I see them later, on the street?”

To bathe like an ancient Roman, it turns out, is rather onerous. From warming up to cooling off at precise temperatures, times and humidity levels, a proper spa day would clearly take more concentration than I could muster given my state of undress.

Although Wiesbaden is destination-worthy in its own right, my mission on this trip was the German cruise line A-Rosa’s annual Christmas market cruise. This year, it would be on the Rhine River, whose banks are dotted by vineyards and castles.


Wiesbaden’s thermal waters

A spring in WiesbadenTo shake off the fatigue of an overseas flight, though, I first opted for a few days in one of Germany’s famous spa towns. In its early days, Wiesbaden was a coveted Roman post, not for its northern latitude but for its thermal waters that remain a constant 66 degrees Fahrenheit.

With roughly 2 million liters of the stuff still bubbling out of dozens of springs every day, Wiesbaden has developed a reputation as a health and wellness destination specializing in orthopedic and rheumatoid diseases. Today the city is home to several world-class diagnostic medical facilities, including the Deutsche Klinik für Diagnostik, modeled after the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

During a walk around the city center I discovered several fountains churning warm, sodium chloride-heavy water from the ground. It’s bewitching even to locals, and some arrive, mug in hand, for their daily drink. Posted signs recommend no more than a liter a day for optimum health.

Not the least of modern-day Wiesbaden’s attractions is the pedestrian-friendly town center, an advantage when you’re hoping to bump into gluten-free dining.

Gluten-free dining at Zimt and KorianderAlthough I lucked out a few times, eating gluten-free required planning. An obvious choice was the Bohemian-styled vegetarian restaurant Zimt & Koriander, whose regional specialties are rotated every few weeks. I noshed on a papad starter with yogurt peppermint sauce and mango chili chutney, followed by kidney bean and potato curry and a rutabaga with chickpea dish.

At I Punkt, a restaurant across from my hotel, the food was classic continental, appropriate in a dining room with walls of paned windows, chandeliers and white tablecloths that give it a museum-like feel. The menu was in German, but with translation by my gluten-enlightened server I was able to have a cod fillet, comfortable that precautions were being handled in the kitchen to avoid cross-contamination.

I find fish dishes a good choice when traveling, particularly as my sleep and digestion cycles are interrupted in a different time zone. The relentlessly safe choice of balsamic and vinegar salad dressing is my go-to for salads, one I employed regularly on this trip.

Eating gluten free in GermanyMy digs for the weekend were the gorgeous 18th century baroque Hotel Nassauer Hof, a hub for international visitors. On the top floor, a mini wellness retreat takes advantage of the thermal spring bubbling below, offering wellness packages that go beyond a massage. Here, the line between medical therapy and relaxation blurs as wellness centers dip into the world of physical therapy, a strategy I’d love to see back home.

And while the restaurant with its abundant breakfast buffet and panoramic views is fabulous, the niftiest area is the lobby, which is hopping with international guests reclining, chatting and noshing.

Ready, set, shop

Annual open-air Christmas markets date back to the Middle Ages. They run during the four weeks preceding Christmas and mark the beginning of Advent. Originally held in Europe’s German-speaking regions, over time and with shifting borders the markets can now be found in historic city centers of neighboring Switzerland, Austria and France. The markets aren’t just for tourists. In fact, the number of locals far outweighed that of tourists when I visited—merrymakers arriving en masse to socialize and grab a mug of Glühwein, hot mulled wine with spices.

But shopping and eating aren’t the whole story. Choirs, a crèche and storytelling give an old-fashioned feel to the markets, a refreshing change from the over-hyped, consumer-driven holidays we’re accustomed to in the States. Wiesbaden’s market, with its four 33-foot illuminated lilies, was perhaps the prettiest we visited.

At 12 years old, Wiesbaden’s Twinkling Star market, Sternschnuppen, is a relative newcomer. In colorful little stalls in the Schlossplatz, or palace square, roughly 130 vendors sell handcrafted gifts, including carved wooden bowls, dipped candles and knitted wool scarves. There was also a small percentage of mass-produced items, which quickly lost their appeal as the trip went on, and we saw them again in other markets. Given the number of markets we visited, though, it wasn’t a surprise to see repeats.

Hot, steaming food such as traditional bratwurst and dried, candied fruit was everywhere and very tempting. For travelers with dietary restrictions, however, the markets are minefields requiring careful deliberation. As delicious as some of the food looked, I was generally unable to get a clear explanation of ingredients, relegating me to ubiquitous caramel-covered apples.


Cruising to Heidelberg

Arosa Cruises on the gluten-free diet

While I speak passable French and Spanish, German really is Greek to me. Thankfully, there was little cause for worry since getting along in Germany as a non-speaker is relatively easy. And while the country hasn’t quite caught up to its gluten-free friendly Scandinavian neighbors, it shouldn’t be verboten as a travel destination.

In fact, enormous strides made by the global gluten-free community to usher the issue into modern culinary thinking are paying off. My personal test remains whether a gluten-free meal is discoverable by happenstance, something that occurred a few times during my trip.

To get started after recharging in Wiesbaden, I boarded the 178-passenger Silva, a long, flat, barge-like ship plying the Rhine from Frankfurt to the Christmas markets between Strasbourg and Cologne.

Heading south on the Rhine, our first stop was Heidelberg, Germany’s oldest university town. Located in the heart of the Upper Rhine Plain, the area’s claim to fame are mild weather and vineyards.

It was raining as we stepped onto the bus that carries excursion-goers past the recently abandoned U.S. Army base into Heidelberg. This is one of the nicer towns, with several shops offering sumptuous gluten-free goodies.

Top on the to-see list here is the long defunct Heidelberg Castle, whose perch over the city’s oldest neighborhood, the Altstadt, is one of Germany’s more remarkable views in good weather. It was a short ride down the Heidelberger Bergbahn funicular and off to wander through one of Heidelberg’s six markets. Several of us chose the closest and most obvious in the Alstadt, its narrow cobblestone streets and squares lit like Disneyland on steroids.

To my surprise, the shops adjacent to the market were more noteworthy than the market. The little stores were decorated to the nines, and holiday lights exploded along the street as if to warn off the winter cold. Chocolate purveyors, pastry shops and home goods stores tucked stem to stern into the little storefronts that are so common in European towns. Behind the counters, relentlessly happy student offered assistance in perfect English, as window displays fought for visitors’ attention with some of the loveliest little Christmas villages and handmade wooden cuckoo clocks we found.Cafe Geoffnet has gluten-free baked goods in Germany

In a rare bit of serendipity I discovered Café Geoffnet, with its own displays of yummy-looking gluten- and lactose-free cookies. Success! Eager to try local food, I snatched up a selection of each, unsure what else I’d find and when. Chocolate hazelnut and almond cookies, crescent-shaped, iced almond and lemon iced cookies and coconut macaroons heaped on large platters were irresistible and delicious.

Life on board

Though cruising Europe’s inland waterways has been popular for decades, Americans are just beginning to have an impact. This trend has not gone unnoticed by cruise companies that, adept at catering to their established European clientele, are now scrambling to satisfy this new demographic that expects more, better and faster of just about everything.

This year’s Christmas Market cruise was marketed solely to Americans and was all-inclusive, with most food and drink included in the price. One of the first American-focused cruises for A-Rosa, ours served as a way for the company to sort out American travel habits. I was there to put in my two cents about successfully dealing with the issue of divergent dietary requirements.

While there were the occasional mix-ups, the largely Eastern European crew managed beautifully with things they could control. Problems like small cabin size, poor Internet connection while on the river and inclement weather weren’t in that category, though guests endlessly complained about the connectivity. In my experience, Americans are far more vociferous about their needs than Europeans and have become more addicted to their devices. In just a few years, we’ve gone from carrying a single device to carrying multiple ones and expecting 24/7 reception.

Cruise food was a mixture of great and terrible. Salads and breakfast were reliable and delicious. I had a long chat with visiting Corporate Chef Andre Jenczewski, who revealed the kitchen appropriately has a separate preparation area for gluten-free meals. Breakfast and lunch were served buffet-style, creating a direct line of communication with the kitchen if I had questions about ingredients in a dish. The maître d hovered around the serving line, and the kitchen staff became quickly adept at identifying gluten-free options for me.

Communication issues between the kitchen and guests, however, were most common during the few overly ambitious, multi-course seated dinners. This was not limited to gluten-free diners, either. Some ingredients were too far out for American appetites. When it came to gluten-free meals, confusion sometimes ensued because servers lacked a system to identify guests with dietary restrictions or allergies.

Dinners at the buffet on board were a snap, though I always specifically asked which dishes were gluten free. As desserts go, puddings were frequent throughout the trip. I gave the crème Catalan, a peach pudding, a try. A bona fide cheeseaholic, I found the after-dinner cheese tray wasn’t half bad, and when I requested a soft Epoisse with a wink, never expecting they would be able to produce one, I was promptly rewarded.



Ornaments and candles at a typical market stall

Mainz is one of those cities that you remember long after others have dimmed. It marks the point where the Rhine turns west toward Bingen and Rudesheim, an area renowned for producing the best Riesling in Germany. It’s also roughly where the country divides in half religiously, with the northern part being Protestant and the lower portion Catholic.

Mainz, home to a large Catholic population, annually celebrates the “fifth season,” or Carnival, in the Schillerplatz on Nov. 11.

It was just a short walk to the market square from our berth, which nicely allowed for mini excursions to the historic market square, known locally as the Liebfrauenplatz. The impressive, six-towered Romanesque Mainz Cathedral and Gutenberg Museum ringing the square are worth every minute you can devote to them. The latter, a multi-story modern building, pays tribute to native son Johannes Gutenberg, the 15th century inventor who revolutionized printing through the development of movable metal type.

I opted out of a prolonged museum tour and instead went straight for the top floor’s vault housing three Gutenberg bibles. They were stunning even behind thick layers of glass. I took a quick jog down to the basement, where a replica workshop gives visitors a rare chance to see—and smell—what it was like to mass produce the written word 550 years ago.

The 1,000-year-old cathedral required more guidance, and with the ubiquitous headset provided as I departed the ship, I was able to slip in with a group just moving inside.

Set in the shadows of the cathedral, the Christmas market here spreads over several streets and winding paths. Around every corner a more enticing stretch of hot bratwurst, chestnuts and handicrafts awaits. More than the others we visited, Mainz’s market had a refreshing emphasis on fresh, made-to-order florals. Wreaths, Advent garlands and center pieces were fashioned with fragrant live greens. If I were a Mainzer, this is where I would shop for my holiday decorations, hands down.

By this point I’d gotten into the habit of grabbing a caramel or chocolate-covered apple anticipating I would not find much else to snack on in the markets. They were among the few places I’ve traveled where I felt having celiac disease was a bummer.

Back on board, dinner included a smooth, creamy mushroom risotto alternative to ravioli, crisp veggies and crème brulee for dessert. In haste, my server delivered a gluten-free soup with croutons, which I promptly sent back. This kind of mistake makes me suspicious of what I can’t see, like many others who are gluten free.



Located on both sides of the Rhine, Cologne is a vast metropolis and was the farthest northern point on my journey. Perhaps the most obvious choice of excursions is to the Cologne Cathedral, conveniently located next door to the Christmas market. Constructed in the Gothic style and better known as Dom of St. Petrus, the Roman Catholic cathedral has been designated as a World Heritage Site.

The market itself was a madhouse and after fighting through the throngs there I wasn’t up for more crowds at the packed cathedral. But then I hit pay dirt. As I was leaving, frustrated by the lack of atmosphere and inability to move, I walked straight toward a stand selling gluten-free apple and cinnamon scones. And just a few feet away I found a stall bathed in steam where fresh, naturally gluten-free organic mushrooms and onions in garlic sauce—bio champignons mit Knoblauch sauce—were being cooked. A full belly can do a lot to improve your perspective.



As we were sipping piña coladas in the ship’s lounge, a fellow cruiser used some pretty strong language to criticize the market at Rudesheim.

I’m not sure where she got her intel, but the market would, in fact, turn out to be the best one we visited. It was also the last one on the trip, and we arrived in the late afternoon, giving us a chance to experience the revelry like locals.

But first we had to get there, which meant cruising down the Rhine in the morning. I was up at dawn, giving me time to sit quietly. I’d begun to feel I’d missed a lot of the river since we did most of our traveling at night. Nestled at the front of the ship in the warmth of the lounge, I watched white, mustard yellow and pale blue houses slip by in the near dark. The occasional tree trimmed with twinkling white lights next to baroque and half-timbered houses was a reminder of the season. Thin spires of town churches and the odd chimney puffing wisps of smoke into the early morning air lent the scene a sort of fairy tale feel.

True enough, the main drag of Rudesheim was a bit of a tourist nightmare with its bricks-and-mortar retail stores capitalizing on the Christmas market idea but failing to pull it off with an ounce of charm. But as I turned up a low hill onto a narrow cobblestone alley, I found a hidden gem—the Drosselgasse, originally used as a passageway to the river from homes lying behind the city.

Today cheerful little shops and wine gardens are tucked along the way. When I stumbled upon it, there were just enough people lingering to make the scene festive but not overwhelming. Sweater stores, nutcracker stalls and pony rides were unique to the Rudesheim market experience. I felt like I’d been transported back to the Middle Ages, and I wandered for hours, stopping to examine ornaments, toys and even the organ grinder’s monkey before reluctantly heading back to the ship.

Winter cruises are an admittedly interesting travel choice, not least because of the weather. Since the ship docked during the day and moved at night, there was little scenery to watch. And gray, rainy days blotted our view of landscape even when we were off the ship, a pity given how lush and verdant the Rhine’s countryside is.

But the unique opportunity to experience the build up to the holidays German-style is priceless and one I’ll be reminded of every year.
Travel Editor Andrea Kitay is no stranger to winter excursions, having previously written about a snow hotel in Norway for Gluten-Free Living.


Rolling on the River: A Gluten-Free Whitewater Trip Through Idaho

“Spin to win!” yells our tanned guide, Lenore Perconti, from her perch below Loma Lulu, a Class II whitewater rapid that is doing a remarkable job chewing me up along the right wall.

It’s obvious I’m fighting the current, and experience informs the buff 24-year-old with a quick smile that the water’s pull trumps effort almost always.

And here I am, thinking if I just paddle a little faster, a little harder, my inflatable kayak will do my bidding. I’m dripping sweat, tense, leaning forward into each stroke when I register her meaning: Quit fighting the water. Go with it.

I snap my paddle out of the water and go into reverse, paddling lightly, backward. My kayak responds as if it wanted to do this the whole time, spinning me around and out of the powerful flow into the river’s calm pool below.

It’s day three of five whitewater rafting with Row Adventures on their Family Magic Rafting Trip. We — my 11-year old son Nicholas and I — are kayaking down the Lower Salmon River Canyons in Northwestern Idaho with four other families.

Guide Peter PiIcetti Rudders a raft through rapids.

Gluten-free a common request

I’ve chosen Row Adventures not just because they are widely known for running some of the best rowing adventures around, but because they also advertise their ability to accommodate different diets, gluten free being one of the more common requests.

While I’m the only guest dining gluten free on this particular trip, several of the guides are as well, and their competency creating three stellar meals per day over five days is impressive. In fact, every meal is mostly gluten free, and I’ve given up the idea I might lose weight on this trip.

Salt-rubbed prime rib makes a delicious last night’s dinner.

As for the rafting, it’s not the rapids as much as the eddies that require constant vigilance, areas where water is still or pushing back upstream. Mastery over them means scanning forward beyond the kayak and down river. It’s all about anticipating rather than reacting. While eddies are generally calmer areas, they’re also dead zones where I work twice as hard to get anywhere. Fortunately, the river’s relentless pool and drop feature provides an excellent backdrop to hone this skill.

Perconti is rowing the lead boat in our little flotilla of two self-bailing oar-powered rafts and two inflatable kayaks, or “duckies,” slicing down the river as we maneuver through the basalt and limestone cliffs of the Lower Salmon River Canyons. Single and tandem duckies are launched as father and son, brother and sister, and singles shoot down rapids with names like Devil’s Slide and Eye of the Needle.

A follow boat strapped with potable water and safety gear takes the rear, the cargo boat having gone ahead to scout and set up camp. July and August are busy on the river, but not packed. A nod or wave to an occasional group of kayakers is the extent of our experience with the outside world for one magical, unplugged week.

We’re paddling through Cougar Canyon this morning, notable for its long, fun “wave train” and Class II rapids like the Lower Bunghole and Pipeline. Further downstream, bouncing, splashy rapids like the Class IV Snow Hole and Class III Gobbler await. The lower the class number, the less difficult the rapid is to traverse, generally.

It’s a long day; we log 17 miles on a river dubbed “The River of No Return” for its sometimes harrowing rapids and narrow canyons, which have proved nearly impossible to navigate upstream. A few guests are decent paddlers, but no one is gung-ho enough for Snow Hole, so the guides scout the rapid on foot before we tackle it in the safety of the big boats. The duckies are tied behind, and we watch as they bob and splash through the roiling water.

According to seasoned guide Peter Picetti, a rapid’s class designation can be misleading. “It’s a lot about the technical aspect, not just its size,” he tells me before we head down Snow Hole. In fact, the water’s width, presence of rocks, irregular and numerous waves, congested passages and maneuverability are just some of the factors taken into account when determining what class a rapid should be labeled.


Lunch on the beach

Guide Lenore Perconti serves green beans with a smile.

As usual, lunchtime involves a stop on a glistening sandy beach for a dip in the 70-degree water to cool off while the crew sets up a quick kitchen.

Thankfully simple, this meal is always almost entirely gluten free. There are, of course, the obligatory pb&j sandwiches, a hit with the littler ones and, well, me. The trip’s shopper has purchased a crazy delicious gluten-free bread. Nutty and heavy, it’s just dynamite as the peanut butter melts into its recesses. Lunch is more than enough with fruit wedges, tortilla wraps, excellent salami, fresh veggies, chips and ready-made dessert-like cookies set out for noshing.

This day is  particularly hot and dry, into the 90s, making Nicholas irritable. He’s also looking dozy, which I take as fatigue. While the guides make a point of taking drink breaks, singing drinking songs with the kids or having competitions to see who can chug the most water, Nicholas has slacked off, and now they have their collective eyes on him. After he shows little interest in lunch, head guide Landon Moores won’t take no for an answer and takes him to the water’s edge to dunk and hydrate.

It dawns on me just how critical safety on the river can be. The guides are so competent that we, as guests, have been a little lulled into not worrying about what might go wrong. Guide Neil Comeau explains that all the guides have medical training: one is an EMT, the others are certified Wilderness First Responders. And while they don’t advertise it, their medical kit includes a satellite phone for extreme emergencies, and guides are keenly aware where we are on the river in the event of an emergency extraction.


Triumph and tragedy

White sandy beaches along the Salmon River.

The history of the Lower Salmon River is rich with triumph and tragedy. In the 1860s, gold was discovered along its banks, leading to a large influx of miners. As was common through the West during the gold rush era, poor Chinese emigrants arrived to both mine and service the needs of the miners. Their modest rock houses are still scattered along the river today. Telltale rock piles, vertical banks and ditches left just as if they were mined yesterday are further evidence of the miners’ system of using pressurized water, or hydraulics, to separate gold from the rocks.

Perhaps the most tumultuous period was during 1855 when the Nez Perce Indians, long-time inhabitants of the area, signed a treaty with the U.S. government providing the tribe would retain control of the area they had used for centuries, including the lower portion of the river. But greed prevailed when gold was discovered, leading to demands that the treaty’s boundaries be reduced in size. The disagreement eventually led to the rather short Nez Perce War.

For five long months, the tribe moved more than 1,170 miles, zigzagging their way northward toward the Canadian border in an attempt to outrun the American army. Just a few miles from the border, they were captured. Today, the same rugged trail they navigated has been designated the Nez Perce National Historic Trail.

The 425-mile Salmon River is one of the country’s longest free-flowing rivers. This rare dam-free status means that rocks and debris tumbling downstream create natural sediment, replenishing the river’s white sand beaches. Infinitely more comfortable than sleeping on rocks or in the woods, the beaches are also great spots for camp, lunch breaks and swimming.

The Lower Salmon River, the section we have been journeying down, meanders nearly 110 miles on its way to the confluence of the Snake River. Named “Natsoh Kooh,” meaning “Chinook Salmon Water,” by the Nez Perce, the Salmon River is an important habitat for Chinook salmon and steelhead trout.

The river jester

River Jester Audrey Larkin officiates a balancing game.


Our group for the week includes five families with children ranging from ages 5 to 14, four very energetic and athletic guides, and the wildly popular river jester. The jester is a dedicated babysitter of sorts who accompanies all Family Magic trips, keeping kids entertained, allowing parents down time from the constant vigilance required with children near water.

Other parents with young children tell me that the idea of the river jester was a big part of their decision to take this particular trip rather than any of the other rafting trips offered by Row.

Our river jester, Audrey Larkin, rides ahead with the cargo boat. When we arrive at our destination in the late afternoon, tents will have been set up, tables and chairs with umbrellas organized, and our only job will be to tote our waterproof bags up to a tent, roll out our sleeping bags and relax with hors d’oeuvres until dinner is served. Larkin is waiting for our arrival, ready to engage different age groups in games, nature explorations and, on occasion, prevent the inevitable meltdown.

This is the best of two worlds, where a full day of activities ends with an epic dinner prepared by someone else. Kitchen duty? Not here.

Breakfasts are as abundant as lunch. Both gluten-free and regular pancakes and waffles are made to order on separate grills with separate utensils. Eggs, bacon, cold cereal, including a well-marked gluten-free variety, and fresh fruit are ready by the time we’ve had the morning’s first cup of coffee.

Despite being the solo gluten-free guest, I’m never made to feel as if I must make the best choice from a selection of bad ones. I’ve had more choice on this trip than in many restaurants. The nifty thing is the guides tell me it’s just as easy for them to prepare gluten free as gluten filled.


No fashion show

Tents offer a front row view to nature.

When it comes to vacation wear, this is no fashion show.

It’s mid-summer and sweltering in the sun. As the week wears on with no shower in sight (the guides bring a hand-held gizmo, but it’s complicated and just doesn’t seem worth the hassle), the warm river seems a reasonable replacement, and throwing the same shorts on every morning becomes downright sensible.

Our group has bonded. Faces and personality are what we seek as we stumble out of sleeping bags each morning. Three day-old shorts are as irrelevant as makeup and iPhones. In fact, a consensus grows among the adults that next time, eliminating 75 percent of our gear will be a top priority. This may be luxury rowing, but that doesn’t mean we need to look the part.

Dinners are complex affairs prepared in Dutch ovens. Masterful in quality and quantity, they include chicken tagine with fresh green beans and chocolate cake with a coffee chocolate ganache, seared salmon with mashed potatoes and stuffed Portobello mushrooms.

The cake is good but the ganache is stellar, and I ask Picetti for the recipe. Most of the food is gluten free, but in the event something is not, the guides make sure that I am aware. In fact, they seem delighted to be able to show off their gluten-free meals and happily inquire how I liked each meal. Our last evening’s meal is salt-rubbed prime rib with a Chilean salad, followed by a pineapple right-side-up cake compliments of Moores.

I have never had some of the more obvious symptoms of celiac disease save for one. When the upper portion of my stomach bloats and feels sore after a meal, I suspect I’ve eaten something I shouldn’t have. This is rare, because I am insanely cautious. As promised, my trip was entirely gluten-free and I wasn’t “glutened” once. I rowed, ate, laughed and relaxed for the week safely gluten free.

Row Adventures, named by Travel and Leisure as the World’s Best Tour Operator, has been running kayaking trips for more than 30 years. That goes a long way to explaining why they are comfortable offering gluten-free and other allergen-sensitive dining.

And true to their words, they understand that kids are relentlessly hungry, so a nutritious, kid-friendly dinner is served well before the adults eat, quick relief for rumbling stomachs and tired parents. The guides tell me it is equally easy to create children’s gluten-free meals.

Kale Elmhorst picks up a few hoola hoop tricks from guide Lenore Perconti.

At the later adult dinner, kids wander in and out for a hug or busy themselves with the river jester and each other. In the morning, the river jester and any early risers go quietly from tent to tent with a canteen of hot coffee and hot chocolate, filling up the personal mugs they’ve given us to leave by the door of our tents. Coffee in bed and a babysitter — what’s not to love?

After an initial safety briefing and demonstration on how to paddle, use the portable toilet, and adhere to the Boy Scouts’ “leave no trace” philosophy, life gets into a rhythm. Row’s policy of requiring a child come with each family ensures the week has a strong family-focus.


Under the stars

Camp routine is easy to follow as the guides manage just about everything other than the goings on in family tents. During our week, a family decided to sleep under the stars, and it caught on.

By the last night, nearly everyone has pulled their tarps and sleeping bags outside in front of their tents to watch an incomparable stellar display, difficult to come by with today’s light pollution. With a soft sandy beach underneath and nighttime temperatures dipping into the 60s, sleeping conditions are near ideal. Watches become an afterthought, and we’re now on river time.

The smaller oar-powered raft, nicknamed “the party boat,” is where most of the kids spend their week. Here they can opt in or out of paddling through rapids with the safety of a guide doing the bulk of the work and navigating through sometimes tricky rapids. Our flotilla makes an occasional stop on the river when guests feel peckish, and snacks are passed from boat to boat, including gluten-free cookies or chips.

The joys of an afternoon power nap aren’t lost on Kurt Elmhorst.

Our fourth day on the river is spectacular. Golden eagles soar across the water and river otters sun themselves on a distant bank. More remarkably, I stealthily paddle underneath a solitary tree with a bald eagle perched on a branch just above me.

Increasingly competent with whitewater rafting, the adults are taking the duckies out more regularly. Toward the end of the day, we meet up with the Snake River and turn north before camping for the night.

It’s a big night, and the guides produce a trunk with fun, funky clothes and accoutrements for a sort of “formal” river dinner. Larkin takes the kids aside to help them create a post-dinner talent show. Silly yet endearing, it’s perhaps one of my favorite memories because by this time, friendships have been forged and people who a week ago were strangers are now close friends.

As we move down the Snake River on our final morning, we are now paddling on twice the volume of water. The river begins to form state lines with Oregon and Washington on our left side and Idaho on the right. Our final stop is somewhere ahead. Civilization is calling. Do we really want to answer?


Andrea Kitay was not a paddling neophyte when she started her trip on the Salmon River, but she did discover she had a thing or two to learn.


This article was originally published in our May/June 2014 issue. All information was correct at time of publication.

Oh, Canada!

CanadaSavvy travelers usually start planning a trip by figuring out the fastest and best way to get to their destination. But my quest to find gluten-free eateries in Eastern Canada is a little trickier.

Since the province of Quebec and surrounding coastal areas is vast, for this go-round I concentrate on a few large cities and a coastline dotted with picturesque fishing villages. Still, how to get a look-see at not just historic old Quebec and Montreal cities but also the smaller port towns from Nova Scotia to the Gaspe Peninsula and up the St. Lawrence River?

Short of a hovercraft, it’s going to require a little ingenuity, and the only reasonable solution to dip in and out of the shallow ports is by ship.

So an old friend and I find ourselves amidst a bevy of rather dapper French tourists on the Le Compagnie du Ponant’s 264-passenger Le Boreal, bound together in search of a common history and some gluten-free grub.

By journeys end we will have found some gluten-free shortages but mainly a surprising array of delicious choices including hazelnut cake, savory crepes, and apple cobbler.

Let them eat cake

Cake2Underway from Boston, we steam up the Eastern seaboard toward the historic Canadian town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, whose rows of brightly colored buildings slowly come in to view as we anxiously watch from the ship’s red chaises. The town is a perfect example of a planned British colonial settlement in North America.

Unbelievably, 95 percent of the wooden stores, houses and workshops washed in bold reds, blues and yellows standing along the water’s edge and on the town’s hill are original. Despite a cool breeze, the sun is shining so we go explore, and are utterly surprised to find a bustling main drag more akin to Bar Harbor, Maine.

Like most of the coastal towns in this part of Canada, the waterfront is the heart of the city. Fishing, shipbuilding and social life revolved around some of the richest stocks of both fish and fur — including the now fished-out walrus – when these towns were built in the 18th and 19th centuries. Other than tourism, the same is still true of many today.

But quaint little Lunenburg is also known for its folk art festival, and we wander the few streets that make up the port town. Lucky for us we’re visiting on a Sunday, when local performers take a turn belting it out in King Street’s outdoor pavilion. It’s not the Hollywood Bowl, but the folk music, Woody and Arlo Guthrie-style, couldn’t be better.

We needn’t join the crowd on the grass – the music is just loud enough to take in from the Shop on the Corner, where I’m ecstatic to find several gluten-free goodies. I dive into a piece of Sharon’s Gluten-Free Hazelnut Cake and a hot latte. I’m always amazed to discover fantastic gluten-free pastries and goodies, so I’m completely absorbed by the light texture and subtle hazelnut flavor.

I’m not sure how the next few days will go so I make a rash decision and snap up the rest to go. Turns out to be a good bet, because as we head up and around the Gaspe Peninsula the gluten-free pickings get a little slimmer.

Fish, fur and friends

Iles de Madeleine
Iles de Madeleine

Even in the bright sunshine of a fall day we feel a chill and wonder just how cold it gets the rest of the year. “Oh, it’s pleasant during the summer,” our chipper, bilingual guide, Hugo Petitpas, tells us at our stop at Iles de la Madeleine, a long and barren-looking group of islands.

On a quick ride to the summer tourist town of La Grave, where there is a remarkably sophisticated artist community, Petitpas takes us up the road to the Musee de la Mer for a tour by his docent friend. Exhibits trace the history of the islands from their occupation by the Micmacs through Jacques Cartier’s arrival and their colonization by the Acadians from western France during the 1600s.

On the way back to the ship, we stop at a café where once again there are hugs and hellos all around for Petitpas. Ah, it begins to make sense. These communities are small, tightly knit and rely on themselves and the sea. Somehow asking about gluten-free anything seems over the top, so we grab a yogurt and fruit cup and mum’s the word.

While Le Boreal has the unique advantage of being able to pull into nifty little ports unavailable to larger ships, it also makes stops in larger towns like Tadoussac and Saguenay, deep in the heart of the Saguenay Fjord. Despite the towns’ size, we are going deeper into the land of the Quebecois, and finding dedicated gluten-free anything is becoming more difficult.

It isn’t much of a surprise – the rise in awareness of the gluten- free diet is relatively recent, and it’s fair to say we’re in the boonies. But we’re enchanted by our smiling servers’ attempts to help us decide what is safest, and we learn to dial back our expectations. No gluten-free menus here, but the enthusiastic desire to please trumps, making eating part of the adventure.

And the land is mystic. We’re convinced as we watch pods of beluga whales slipping along the fjord’s edges and dolphins jumping through the bow’s waves that what is below the surface may be vastly more interesting than what is above. And that’s saying a lot.

North America’s Paris

Artist's Alley
Artist’s Alley

In Quebec City, it’s off the ship and time to explore this largely Francophone city. With a history of military and political who’s who so long I’m scribbling notes to sort it out, it would be fair to simply say that in the end the parties split the pie.

A handful of sea captains representing king and country spent decades searching for the Northwest Passage, in the meantime settling coastal areas. The result is that today’s people are a jumble of French, British and First Nations. The old city is divided into an upper and a lower portion, with classically European stone buildings made cheery with flower-draped window boxes, colorful operating shutters and shiny doors lining the cobblestone streets.

It’s also the only fortified city north of Mexico and is as close to a European city as you’ll find short of crossing the pond. Most people speak both French and English, so translation isn’t normally difficult in either Quebec City or Montreal, but written material is often only in French, which can cause some difficulty.

We’re booked at the Hotel Le Germain-Dominion, a medium-size boutique hotel on tony rue Saint-Pierre in the historic old city’s lower area. We couldn’t be better located, and the hotel’s simple façade hides a quiet but comfortable elegance. Dark wood tables, bookcases and a massive fireplace surrounded by overstuffed light linen sofas are masculine but cozy.

To our delight, on arrival we’re shown the massive cappuccino/latte maker available for guests’ use any time of the day or night. Innovative — and it doesn’t malfunction once. A few quick instructions, and we’re happily sipping perfect gluten-free lattes by the fire.

A morning cold breakfast is provided for guests. It’s a tray of American-style cold cuts, boiled eggs, fresh fruit, juice and, sadly, screamingly perfect croissants: warm, soft on the inside and golden crunchy on the outside. I curse gluten under my breath, silently swearing an oath to eventually locate the perfect gluten-free croissant.

Because this is our first time to Quebec City, we opt for a city tour to kick things off. A few hours with a good local guide can make the difference between a destination being a pretty but meaningless place or having everything fall into place.

There are group tours, but I find them difficult: too many people, hard to hear and impossible to ask questions. So we arrange a private morning tour of the city with a guide and car and get a rip roaring experience.

We jet by the Parliament building on Parliament Hill with its bronze statues tucked into the façade; wind through the 270-acre park, The Plains of Abraham; get an overview of the city’s architecture; and finally visit the Marche du Vieux- Port, a huge year-round market which turns out to be just a 10-minute walk from our hotel.

According to our guide, local chefs come to buy fresh goods from the farmers and producers who’ve come across the bridge from Ile d’Orleans with their wares before the rooster crows. The artist’s alley, a narrow street permanently playing host to artists selling paintings, water colors and other media usually depicting a romanticized view of the city, is one of the quainter finds at the market. It’s a little like walking along the Seine in Paris, but more compact and colorful.

Next door to our hotel is the Musee de la Civilisation, a museum we visit twice during our stay, once to do the self-guided tour of the permanent People of Quebec Then and Now exhibit, and another to visit the kids’ Discovery Zone in the lower floor. Innovative, engaging and thoroughly fun for a couple of tired adults, the exhibits captivate us just as much as the ones upstairs.

Up on the hill

FairmontLooking chic in new hats and sweaters we bought in Saguenay, we throw on flats and head out for a rambling stroll up the winding streets, past upscale boutiques, trinkety tourist joints and the occasional bookstore. We’re heading to the upper city where the famous Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac hotel sits like a queen on her throne.

The Quebec Funicular Railway is a kind of trolley car on rails that chugs up the steep hillside to the top of the city and back down. A tourist attraction, it is jam packed most of the time. We try it once for kicks, but with so much to see we usually bag it in favor of hoofing it. By the time we’ve left Quebec, we can practically race up the hill.

We hear that the Chateau’s Café de la Terrasse has gluten-free dining, but our excite- ment is squelched when we inspect the menu and see that, in fact, there are just a few very expensive gluten-free options. Turns out the shrimp appetizer is only a very small portion of shrimp cocktail.

Famished, we leave hungry and irritable and head to Pain Beni, just at the top of the artist’s alley. Joy! Modern, efficient and pronouncing their ability to prepare every dish gluten-free on the front of their bilingual menu, the restaurant makes us all warm and cuddly, and ordering is a snap.

I start with the Greek-style salad with feta and olives and follow with a very artfully prepped chicken breast on a bed of jasmine rice and julienned fresh vegetables. Light, filling and healthy. It fits the bill, and we revisit the restaurant again before jumping on the train to Montreal several days later.

Despite a pretty rigorous Internet search in advance, and armed with recommendations from our hotel concierge, we work our way through a list of restaurants declaring themselves gluten-free. Some are impossible and others seem spot on.

One of these is Cosmos Café, and to get there we board the nifty little Ecolobus, a public bus system that runs a circuit around the historic city all day. Cosmos is just a few minutes’ walk from the Parliament stop and is a vibrant little contemporary surprise, lit in neon pinks and blues. Our waitress hands me a dedicated gluten-free menu, explaining that the food is actually prepared in a dedicated facility and re-warmed at the restaurant. Sounds odd, but my friend has heard about this, so we give it a go.

My vegetarian lasagna is sublime, as is the chocolate cake we decide to share. The crispy tart, a sort of Quebecois version of apple cobbler, is lighter and good, but do ask to have both the cake and cobbler heated or you’ll be disappointed. It’s become clear that despite advance preparation, eating gluten-free in Quebec requires the usual diligence in digging into details with servers and knowing when to say no.

Montreal metropolis

Chicken, green beans, blue potato & goat cheese salad
Chicken, green beans, blue potato & goat cheese salad

A roughly three-hour trip on the efficient VIA Rail Canada, complete with drinks and a small, gluten-free lunch of a piece of chicken, salad and fruit, takes us straight to Montreal. Not a four-star meal but quite nice, with a glass of white or red wine.

We stay at the Hotel Nelligan, named after Quebec’s most celebrated poet, Emile Nelligan. It has sleek lines, with to-die-for beds and a similar breakfast setup to our Quebec City hotel. The morning continental breakfast is once again stocked with dastardly delicious-looking croissants and pain chocolate, but I’m getting used to the psychological abuse and move on to the fruit, eggs and yogurt.

Once in Montreal, we come to realize it’s a whole other ball of wax from Quebec. An island metropolis with as many neighborhoods and things to do as any large American city, Montreal offers a much greater area to cover, and we’ll have to work harder to get to gluten-free digs.

We lunch at the Musee d’archeologie et histoire de Montreal in the Restaurant L’Arrivage. The upstairs, glass-walled space has fabulous views of the Old Port, and while there is no specific gluten-free menu, they accommodate. And based on a few questions I generally quiz servers with, I feel pretty confident all is well.

I order a delicious mixed salad of green beans, blue potatoes, chicken, goat cheese and grilled almonds with a homemade maple syrup dressing. With a glass of Chardonnay, a tasty meal and great company, it’s a memorable lunch.

Feeling chipper, we try out the city’s clever new public bike system known as BIXI. Using the system that offers 5,000 bikes in 400 stations throughout an increasing number of neighborhoods, we each grab a bike, make a note of the station number where we pick them up and tool around the city.

We figure we deserve a little energy pick me up and head to La Creperie du Marche, which serves up savory and sweet traditional French crepes. Only the savory are made with buckwheat, and they are masterful. The sweet would have been awesome, but since they’re made with wheat flour they’re out. The restaurant says they do not have cross contamination, and apparently the owner learned his crepe skills at La Creperie du Josselin in Paris. Can’t get better than that.

Known as the city of festivals, Montreal comes alive in the summer. There are few days when a fete isn’t underway, and the city’s youthful drumbeat keeps people outside and moving. The Grand Prix kicks off the summer as streets are blocked and endless free performances are rotated in.

The much-touted Underground City with an astounding 1700 shops is accessed via a Metro system. On the day we visit, we do a brief run-through, but not being bona-fide shopaholics, once we get our bearings we’ve had it and head up and out to lunch at the Latin Quarter’s hot new allergen-free restaurant Zero8, named for Canada’s main allergens.

The area is artsy, up and coming, and teeming with students from the University of Quebec at Montreal sitting in cafes, madly working their cell phones and grabbing a bite in the sunshine. The place is smashing – a completely allergen-free restaurant with hip, knowledgeable owners and chef. Everything is worth eating, period.

Another interesting restaurant nearby is Crudessence, an organic, gluten-free, vegan, and living restaurant. With dishes like sushi, wraps and BLTs, you could spend a week eating there and not make it through the menu. It and Zero8 are must-go’s in Montreal, hands down.

Not heading home empty handed

KitayOn our last evening, tired and needing to pack to leave, we head across the street from the hotel to the humble little Indian restaurant Taj Majal. I eat Indian food at home safely and am curious what we will hear about gluten-free food at this restaurant. According to our server, not only is the menu gluten-free – aside from the Naan bread – but even the chips brought to the table as a sort of starter are made of lentil flour and the companion sauces are fresh mango, tamarind and a yogurt-mint mixture. We order simple Tiki Masala and Vegetable Korma and, with a long flight back pending, pack it in early.

I realize I still have a few bags of emergency granola and rice cakes I brought from home, a great sign that traveling with a gluten-free restriction is not only doable but can be pretty simple. I think I will most remember Sharon’s Hazelnut cake in Lunenburg and the way the light hit the colorful buildings and buoys on the wharf. And of course, the Canadians. Always friendly, intelligent, and willing to lend an ear – we couldn’t have hoped for more.

Andrea Kitay, a former Los Angeles Times columnist, is thriving gluten-free in Southern California, where the temperature is quite a bit warmer than the Canadian north. She is a regular travel contributor to Gluten-Free Living

Where to Eat:
Pain Beni
Cosmos Café
Restaurant l’Arrivage
La Creperie du Marche
Taj Mahal

General Info:
BIXI Bikes
Tourism Quebec

Getting There:
Le Compagnie du Ponant’s Le Boreal Fall cruise
To fly direct to Montreal
To book a ticket on VIA Rail Canada

Where To Stay:
Hotel Le Germain-Dominion (Quebec)
Hotel Nelligan (Montreal)

Hip to Homey: Gluten-Free Eats & Adventure from Vancouver to Victoria

I can count on one hand the times I’ve shushed down a blissfully powdery slope in the morning only to end the day wriggling my toes in the ocean.

On a recent trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, home of the 2010 Winter Olympics and playground of a new breed of wholesome foodies, I manage the effort with time to spare.

With a dynamic downtown scene akin to a more gentile and certainly smaller version of New York City, this little metropolis is Canada’s “it” place for a new generation of urbanites. Located on the Pacific Ocean just west of the Coast Mountains, Vancouver is wet in the winter, giving in to a spring exploding with 40,000 blooming cherry trees. No wonder nearly half of British Columbia’s population call it home.

It’s also a melting pot with a strong Chinese influence whose history of immigration closely parallels the United States’. Add to the mix cheeky Mayor Gregor Robertson, co-founder of Happy Planet Juices whose brainchild is the growing number of bike lanes throughout the city, and comparisons with Seattle can’t be denied.

Vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free: What’s not to love?

What surprises me is the depth of the city’s commitment to vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free lifestyles with an emphasis on sustainable local farming. The latter isn’t necessarily original, and advocates have been accused of being trendy, but in Vancouver’s case there is a palpable intensity around the subject. In this town with a big-city feel and small perimeter, the lifestyle feels ubiquitous rather than just a tired fringe concept.

Better still, this thriving community has wrapped its proverbial arms around the gluten-free world, making locating something to nosh on less of a chore than many I’ve visited. Toss in hip eateries, yoga studios and soothing spas on just about every corner and what’s not to love?

It looks like I’ll be doing lots of eating on this trip, so armed with a list of restaurants and bakeries to check out I map them, delighted to see they are scattered throughout Vancouver’s eclectic neighborhoods. In fact, I’m so excited to begin my culinary exploration, the minute my bags hit the hotel floor I’m out the door and on the way to Lemonade Bakery in Cambie Village. The little gluten-free shop with cafe tables is running low on honey & 5 seed bread and demi baguettes at this hour. But the pastry display case is where it’s at.

Lemon Meringue Tarts, profiteroles and tiramisu with traditional lady fingers are so artfully designed it feels downright Parisian. Why the name Lemonade? According to pastry chef and owner Tracey Kadanoff, whose wheat allergy appeared after working 22 years as a pastry chef, “When life hands you lemons …”

I indulge my senses with a decadent vanilla chiffon cupcake loaded with raspberry Italian meringue, then buy a boxful of cranberry almond biscotti to go with my morning coffee.

Since I’m here to assess the gluten-free scene it seems silly not to stop in at Vancouver’s second annual Gluten Free Expo. It’s my first, and it’s only sheer serendipity that I’m here during the event. I head over to the Convention Centre only to find the expo is a madhouse. It turns out the number of attendees was four times the amount anticipated. Fortunately, I’m here early and get a chance to run through the aisles, trying both new and familiar products, some of them available only in Canada.

The queen—and a little poutine

Still, on arrival I’ve worked up a mental lather about skiing and sunning on the same day, so on a cloudy morning I toss on a coat and trudge over the Granville Street Bridge linking downtown Vancouver to the sandbar-come-island better known as Granville Island. The public market is culinary central, and the shops are a big draw for visitors. It’ll give me a chance to check out a gluten-free meal and also stop in at a sporting goods store to get the skinny on the local mountains.

I’ve arranged a market tour with Edible Canada, a full-service bistro with a spiffy open-kitchen layout whose menu is more than 50 percent gluten free. Scrawled in pink on a chalk board, a message boasts “We love local food” with lists of producers from nearby Fraser Valley.

Famished—the walk to Edible Canada took longer than I thought—I settle in for a meal at the bistro before my tour. Contemplating the menu I linger with La Messagere Rousse, a red ale hailing from Quebec. I think of ales as strong and unapproachable, but this is light, one I’d happily serve guests at an informal party. Since it’s still chilly outside, the Quebec split pea soup seems spot on. Filled with respectable-sized lengths of smoked ham hock, tarragon crème fraiche and chives, it has a spicy finish and a yellow tint that can only mean yellow peas.

Roasted Winter Beet Salad at Edible Canada Bistro
Roasted winter beet salad

It doesn’t take long to devour and I’m on to the roasted winter Beet Salad. True to my server’s word, the salad is loaded with red and yellow beets, local Okanagan pears, hazelnuts from the Fraser Valley, and goat cheese, tossed in an orange, shallot and thyme vinaigrette. It’s magical and abundant.

Just before leaving, I overhear the table behind me inquiring about the gluten-free duck poutine, that notorious Quebecois dish whose origins are hotly debated. I’ve never seen it gluten free and dilly dally long enough to hear the report; it’s a smashing success. I grab a quick picture, my heart sinking a little that I didn’t try it instead.

As guides go, Bob Sung is a master. My culinary guide on my market tour, he leads me from stall to stall, explaining that not only is the market visited by 12 million people a year, but it’s also where local chefs come to source meats, produce, cheese and chocolates. Sung has carefully pre-identified gluten-free stands for me, like The Market Shop, where soups and sauces are available fresh daily. The kitchen keeps noodles in the back for those who don’t have celiac disease, a rare twist on priorities.

There is a homey yet artisan feeling to the market. A French butcher, Asian produce sellers and Belgian chocolatier all have a home here. We chat it up at ChocolaTas, where vegan and gluten-free chocolates are lined just so. The Granville Island Tea Company, whose walls of small, bitter brown cubby holes are filled with black tins of loose tea, gets my vote as the coolest 200 square feet since Harry Potter’s Ollivander’s Wand Shop in Diagon Alley. Fancy a cup of Queen Elizabeth’s favorite tea? That’d be Lapsang Souchong, which Sung explains she favors for its smoky aroma and peaty flavor.

Breakfast on the slopes, tea by the sea

Tuckered out from everything food, I pop into a sporting goods store and chat it up with an athletic-looking kid. “For sure, there’s snow on all three mountains, sometimes into May,” he says. He’s referring to Grouse, Seymour and Cypress, three mountains that take under an hour to get to. It seems that skiing and beach combing in the same day is attainable, so I save a day. When I slide from the cold heights of a mountain and finish the same day on a warmer beach, it’s as extraordinary as expected.

But adventures in Vancouver are hardly limited to skiing. Because the weather is mild most of the year, there are soft adventures open just about year-round: kayak English Bay, clamber along North Vancouver’s mini suspension bridges, or hike the rainforest. On a warm day, grab some grub to go at The Noodle Box and head out for a bike ride and picnic on one of Stanley Park’s sandy beaches.

Or bag the outdoors and go for a wellness visit. Grab a drop-in facial at one of the city’s Skoah spas or join a Pilates class at one of eight Yyoga studios around town. Both are slickly designed with a welcoming staff. For locations and times, download Yyoga’s app or check Facebook for Skoah. Prices are reasonable and their drop-in policy is flexible.

I have another first in Vancouver, dinner at the city’s first vegetarian restaurant. I find The Parker in up-and-coming Chinatown, where it’s packed when I visit on a weeknight. Other than Indian food, I don’t normally eat vegetarian so I’m initially a bit baffled by both the menu, which co-owner Steve Da Cruz tells me is largely gluten free, and the portions. As dishes are whipped on and off the table, though, it quickly becomes clear that variety will easily provide both taste and quantity. I try the chickpea fries, kim chi, kohlrabi, barbecue mushrooms and pear William sabayon. They are all foreign-tasting to me, yet entirely delicious. Who’d have thought?

Opened in late 2012 by Da Cruz and co-owner Jason Leizert, the restaurant features an ever-changing menu based on the season and their sources, one of which is an urban farm down the street. “In Vancouver, we’re food snobs,” says Da Cruz. “We’re not a fast food place. We want our food well-prepared and affordable.” Sounds good to me, and I make a mental note to check out some vegetarian restaurants when I return home.

Westward ho!

The weather is relatively calm when my floatplane takes off from Harbour Air’s terminal outside the Convention Centre in Vancouver, making the 30-minute trip to Victoria a snappy affair. It turns out Victoria, capital of British Columbia, enjoys the mildest climate in Canada.

No surprise, then, that it’s also been nicknamed the country’s fittest city. With an annual average snowfall of just under 10 inches and 45 inches of rainfall, it’s also the driest, which makes whale watching, biking and hiking doable most of the year.

I’m staying at the Oswego Hotel, a relative newcomer to the Inner Harbour area whose service ethics and stylish décor keeps occupancy stable. Lucky for me, it also turns out to be ideal for walking the downtown area. I spend a little time in the lobby bar before dining at the hotel’s restaurant, O Bistro. General Manager Suzanne Gatrell tells me she and Executive Chef Jeff Muzzin worked together to modify the menus so that nearly half of the items can be made gluten free. I tuck into a rib eye and half a glass of red wine, the steak so light I could have used a butter knife.


British Columbia’s gluten-free ambassador

I’ve heard that Victoria is Canada’s hot spot for gluten-free dining so I’ve arranged a tour of the city’s gluten-free highlights with the founder of Celiac Scene, Ellen Bayens. This is the first city I’ve been in with a bona fide gluten-free ambassador bee-bopping around town. She has parlayed her immense energy and social media talents into providing a comprehensive website listing celiac-trusted restaurants across Canada and fast food chains in both Canada and the United States.

In Canada, her website lists restaurants “test-driven by members of Canada’s Celiac Association.” The Celiac Scene has also been involved in Canada’s growing gluten-free expos, which are exploding in attendance across the country. A renegade for the gluten-free cause, Bayens has been instrumental in encouraging, mentoring and even occasionally cajoling restaurants to offer safe, wholesome and delicious meals to their gluten-free guests.

She’s waiting in the lobby, dressed in a bright green jacket, with an enormous smile on her face. “Hi, I’m Ellen. I hope you’re hungry,” she greets me. As we step into her white Smart Car, I see the entire back window has the imprint “Celiac Scene” and “Free maps to restaurants celiacs trust” across it. I’ve hit the mother lode!

Our first visit is a quick stop by the future home of 2GF Kitchen, a deli that Chef Leslie Davies and husband Miles Davies are busily working to open this spring. Purveyors of gluten-free goodies at the local farmers’ markets, the Davies, who “live the (gluten-free) life 100 percent,” have a sort of cult following. Miles Davies presents us with a sample dish of rigatoni with tomatoes, broccoli, mixed peppers and spinach—grown all year in Victoria, Leslie Davies explains. It’s thickened with sorghum flour and it’s out of this world. So good I have a second helping despite it being just 10 in the morning.

With its designation as a deli, 2GF Kitchen will be able to offer both dine-in at its 10 seats and to-go ordering. The menu expands on their current mainstay of breads and sweet treats, adding pasta, pierogies and pizza. If the rigatoni is an indication of what’s to come, I’m tempted to head back for the grand opening.  I’m well stuffed, but Leslie Davies produces a gorgeous blood orange, olive oil cake with a blackberry ginger balsamic glaze, the oil sourced from local store Olive The Senses. Dense and delicious, the cake is devoured as I inquire about Leslie Davies’ training.

“I’m a Red Seal Chef, trained in Italy,” she tells me. Turns out the Italian training made her a pasta expert, which explains why the rigatoni tastes, well, like rigatoni. I’ve had lesser pasta at fancier places. “This is our way of bringing our customers back to the table,” she explains.

It’s time to move on for what turns into a very prolonged stop at Santé Gluten Free Cafe where owner Hanna Kofman offers an intriguing variety of vegetarian, gluten-free soups, salads, wraps and sweets. The café is staffed with knowledgeable young servers Kofman mentors, and it bustles with energy. She’s serious about allergen contamination, and outside food is strictly prohibited, even for staff. Bayens and I start with lattes. Then we are treated to homemade, dairy-free kale-coconut and salmon soups, delicious and satisfying. We chat through three waves of customers, giving us a chance for yet another course, the Paleo Bowl. With roasted vegetables, grilled chicken and spinach, the dish makes it clear why the caveman diet is appealing. Kofman plies us with Nanaimo Bars, a Canadian specialty, before we bounce out the door.

It’s been a long day of chatter and consumption, and I take Bayens up on her offer of a short tour of Victoria. We end the day with a drive along the coastline just as the sun begins to peek out before finally dipping behind the horizon.

The next day the good people at the Oswego grab a “Walk & Run” map for me. Routes start from the Fairmont Empress area and splinter off in different directions. With names like Secret Passages, Juan de Fuca, and City of Trees and Gardens, they could keep you busy for weeks. But do take advantage of the city’s endless gluten-free eats when planning your route by checking out the Celiac Scene’s website before you begin.


Taking time for tea

Since I’ve forgone anything registered “high” on the thrill meter in Victoria—the city is more of a soft adventure kind of place —walking is my mental health replacement, and the cool air reduces my sluggishness. Shopping in Victoria is tempting, but swing by the Parliament Buildings, spend a few hours in the Royal BC Museum or head up Government Street to Canada’s oldest Chinatown. Only a block long, Chinatown offers the real treat next door at Silk Road Tea, where you can indulge in aromatherapy or take a tea flight—a sampling of teas.

Silk Road Tea
Preparing for a tasting at Silk Road Tea in Victoria

I sidle up to the Tea Bar, where Tea Master and owner Daniela Cubelic instructs me in a tea and chocolate pairing. “Take a sip, then a small bite of chocolate,” she pronounces in serious tones. “And repeat.” Indeed, each time I am more focused on the combination of flavors, which seem to deepen. In this pairing we’re tasting the Mast Brothers’ gluten-free Papua New Guinea chocolate with a smoky flavor.

Silk Road is visually intriguing, its “Great Wall of Tea” stocked with more than 100 locally made, organic loose teas. An homage to Chinese culture, the space above our heads is filled with purple, green and yellow lanterns and umbrellas. But most importantly, the teas are 100 percent natural, with no artificial flavors that Cubelic tells me can contain gluten, usually in the form of barley malt.

Another way to spend a few hours between walks along the shore and kayaking is to don your best and experience a gluten-free British high tea at the Fairmont Empress. Sister to the Quebec Fairmont and other hotels throughout Canada originally owned and operated by the Canadian Pacific Railway, Fairmont Empress cannot be missed. The hotels were built as a way to encourage tourism and house passengers along CPR’s railways and are now operated by Fairmont. With its massive granite walls and high-pitched copper roofs, it’s an imposing sight at the end of the Inner Harbour.

Though my experience at the Fairmont in Quebec, which I wrote about in a story about Eastern Canada in the Jan/Feb issue, was less than remarkable, this sounds too good to be true. I’m a sucker for scones with clotted cream and jam, but I’m also fussy. Good is good.

Tea is held in the Empress room with its wide windows overlooking the entire harbor scene, so try and grab a seat by the window if you go. I’m impressed with the effort, and the sandwiches are okay. But the scones are more like hard biscuits and the clotted cream is more like cream cheese in texture. If Fairmont wants to raise the bar—who wouldn’t in this city—collaborating with one of the dynamite local pastry chefs who bake gluten-free all day might help them bring up their game. To my way of thinking, excellent gluten-free scones with clotted cream are entirely doable.

On my short list is Fisherman’s Wharf, so on my last afternoon in Victoria I walk the few blocks to check out The Fish Store’s gluten-free fish and chips, made with fresh-caught halibut, of course. At one of many cheerful little metal-sided restaurants painted in vivid blues, reds and greens on the piers, owner Peter Gregg is cooking when I arrive. “Ah, she told me you might stop by. Let me get you something whipped up,” he says. The “she” is Bayens, who was instrumental in helping Gregg when he decided to add gluten-free tacos, fish and chips, and deep-fried Fanny Bay Oysters to his menu.

This welcoming attitude has been one of the highlights of my time in the city. Where Vancouver is hip and vibrant, Victoria feels more like home. As he cooks, Gregg tells me he’s not only developed a sorghum-based batter but has also reorganized the little kitchen to create space for a dedicated fryer.

As I hunker down on a bench with my red fish-and-chip-filled plastic basket, homemade tartar sauce and coleslaw perched on my lap, I watch passersby feed sea lions who apparently are only interested in fresh fish. French fries won’t do. No surprise, I think, as I take another bite of delectable battered halibut. After all, we’re in British Columbia.


Andrea Kitay, a former Los Angeles Times columnist, is travel editor of Gluten-Free Living.

California’s Coastal Cities

Flavorful Gluten-Free Portals to the Pacific

It’s that time of year when I am reminded that living just miles from the Pacific Ocean may make my family among the luckiest people in the world. I ponder the ecological marvel that is the California coastline and its diverse cities, each a portal to the Pacific with its own flavor. And I plot a plan to explore a few of my favorite California haunts, this time with a fresh eye toward gluten-free dining.

San Diego’s sun, surf & satisfying eats

Due south just a few hours from Los Angeles is the saucy border town of San Diego, which I visit first. The first mission in a vast system spanning the state was built in San Diego in 1756, but in recent history this growing border town is better known for its strategic military port and eclectic neighborhoods, from quirky to top drawer. Today, vast ridges and valleys have been slowly built up to accommodate an increasing tide of new residents seeking the sun, surf, and jobs. And the balmy weather beckons.

Since the metropolis is so huge, I choose two neighborhoods to focus on in my gluten-free quest. Both are compelling for their forward-thinking, gluten-free cuisine and appeal as destinations for travelers: downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter and the beach community of La Jolla.

If you have the energy, San Diego has the activity, from exploring museums to trekking through its world-class wild animal park or just hanging out at white sand beaches. As a base, I choose the 40-acre Rancho Valencia in northern San Diego. A subdued resort with Mediterranean-style cottages tucked into a rustic residential area it’s a perfect home away from home. As I’ve traveled with celiac disease for a little more than a year now, I’ve discovered that where I stay is critical to a successful trip, both practically and emotionally. Maybe it’s age. Or maybe it’s a general nervousness about going hungry. But when I have been unable to find safe food, it’s grounding to have a place to return to.

Advance research and a few phone calls confirm that the resort’s restaurant Veladora accommodates gluten-free diners at all three meals. In the afternoons, so does the lobby bar, where in a quiet corner of the sunny outdoor patio I relax with a generous Cobb salad upon arrival. Breakfast off the buffet is a no-go due to the incredible spread of pastries and muffins, but the menu is full and their gluten-free Deanna’s bread not only tastes sublime with fresh jam but it’s multigrain, a rare treat.

The Gaslamp Quarter

Our first outing is to downtown’s historic Gaslamp Quarter. Navigating San Diego’s winding freeway systems with the “Maps” app on my iPhone, we quickly locate the one-time red-light neighborhood with a shady past. Today, the area’s restored brick warehouses dating from the late 1800s are breathing new life. Independent shops like Nothing Sacred Tattoo and The Hopping Pig Gastropub rub shoulders with national retailers. At night the scene bounces. During the day, restaurants put out tables for European-style street dining in the Southern California sunshine.

It doesn’t take long to locate a handy selection of gluten-free eateries. We pop into the Old Spaghetti Factory in a tri-level building with a distinctly Italian feel. The pasta is a Heartland brand fusilli noodle, and the menu indicates which sauces and dishes are gluten free. It looks worthy of a try, and would be great for families with loud kids whose racket will get lost in the din. But I’m more interested in Saltbox, the Hotel Palomar’s restaurant I’ve heard is intensely committed to providing guests gluten-free meals. General manager Alex Desquiron tells me guests can even order gluten-free from the room service menu. I give the curry chicken salad a whirl and am pleasantly surprised by the lime yogurt vinaigrette’s bite.

Another restaurant getting attention is Jsix in nearby Hotel Solamar. The restaurant takes a holistic approach, and I’m impressed with its efforts at re-use (coasters are cut-up menus), sustainability, and accommodations for guests with food allergies. “We treat our guests as if they were our grandmothers, so let us know if you have a gluten-free requirement,” Executive Chef Christian Graves tells me as I sip a cocktail in the well-lit bar. The kitchen uses every part of an animal in the prep of homemade chorizo, lox and sausage. We dive into their charcuterie board, a mix of cooked meats that’s a great option as an appetizer or for a quick protein pick-me-up.

Riding artificial waves at WaveHouse

But a little activity is in order, so we head to WaveHouse in nearby Pacific Beach, San Diego’s top artificial wave destination. The place is party central for twentysomethings, and with bikini-clad beach revelers and loud music blaring, I feel like I’m stuck in the new millenium’s version of Beach Blanket Bingo. I should mention that although we live in California, I am not rid of every woman’s distaste for swimsuits past the age of 40. But the time has passed for squeamishness, so I suck it up, don a one-piece with board shorts and take a run at the FlowRider, a milder version of the FlowBarrel (pitched as “the mother of all artificial machines”).

Flowboarding combines elements from a variety of board sports and sounds like a hoot. I’m not disappointed when, at the push of a button, 20- to 30-mile-per-hour water blasts straight at me. In a nanosecond I’m riding a wave, cutting back and forth trying to keep afloat. Better for the uninitiated and older crowd, it’s still a challenge. But it also creates, incredibly, an endless wave. Imagine those few blissful seconds when you’re up and riding a wave in at the beach, but the sand never arrives. I go until my legs start shaking, reluctantly crying uncle after a few minutes. Shazam!

Meanwhile, the kids run off to the FlowBarrel, a whole other type of wave that simulates Hawaii’s pipeline by pumping 100,000 gallons of water per minute, challenging guests from Olympic gold medalist Shaun White to surfing world champion Kelly Slater. Pooped out and starving in only the way an afternoon in the water can do, I inhale a tuna tataki salad with sliced tuna on a bed of mixed greens, tossed in a tangy peanut dressing with buckwheat noodles, snow peas and carrots while the kids grab burgers and fries.

La Jolla

Another day finds us in La Jolla, the quaint beachside neighborhood on a peninsula that has such an impressive number and variety of gluten-free restaurants. At Bubba’s Smokehouse, we chow down on ribs slathered with a rich, dark barbeque sauce. According to its owners, everything on the menu except the macaroni and cheese is gluten free, but be sure you ask for the gluten-free barbeque sauce. Unbelievably, directly across the street is Roppongi, a contemporary, hip Asian fusion restaurant and bar with a dedicated gluten-free menu. The bartender doesn’t seem surprised at all by my request for a gluten-free beer and produces a Bard’s with a smile. I’d be a regular if I lived here.

Father and son at hip Puesto Mexican Street Food in La Jolla
Father and son at hip Puesto Mexican Street Food

A quick stroll around the city center finds us at Puesto Mexican Street Food. Combining the flavors of Mexican street food with a hygienic, warm environment free of greasy floors and day-old chips, Puesto is a Mexican food lover’s dream. Bowls are prepared in a buffet-style line, starting with a woman whipping out bona fide, homemade corn tortillas on the same type of press you see on the streets of Mexico. I even love them with butter. With the exception of the carne asada and soy chorizo, the entire menu is gluten free. Hip and delicious, the restaurant displays local graffiti artist Chor Boogie’s works on the walls. Don’t miss this one. If you don’t like spicy food, be sure to indicate as you move through the line.

Always on the lookout for a decent gluten-free dessert, we practically trip over Cups as we saunter around town. A teeny-weeny, all-organic shop baking cupcakes on-site daily, it has three gluten-free varieties in the case every day. I pounce on a chocolate and peanut butter one, which is a little like a Reese’s peanut butter cup with more bite. It’s heaven on earth. To get a greater proportion of the chocolate and peanut butter, order several of the smaller cupcakes rather than a regular-sized, which give you more cake. They’re rich, though, and like most gluten-free goodies, don’t last for very many days.

The sky is a searing blue on our last day in San Diego, so we get some light picnic goodies at La Jolla’s Whole Foods, grab a kite and head over to Balboa Park, a two-acre urban cultural park with walking paths, open green areas, museums and gardens. Lying on the grass in the sun, we all agree a return trip is a must.


Santa Barbara – the American Riviera

Head north an hour from Los Angeles up winding Pacific Coast Highway and you’re in Santa Barbara, tucked between ocean and mountains referred to as “The American Riviera.” The well-deserved moniker comes from its 100-plus miles of coastline, Mediterranean weather and bustling downtown scene. Think Nice, France, on a smaller scale. The city’s main drag, State Street, is lined with a mixture of trendy boutiques, open-air restaurants and the occasional dive bar pumping out loud music, college kids spilling into the street on weekend nights.

Gluten-Free Breakfast Acai Bowl in Santa Barbara
A breakfast Acai bowl with fruit freshly chopped to order

On a long weekend, we head to downtown to put our stomachs through a test run of the local gluten-free goodies, spending the day popping in and out of restaurants and shops. Our first stop is Backyard Bowls for a breakfast Acai bowl. All the rage in healthy California cuisine, they’re made using the small, purple Acai berry known for its antioxidant properties. An Acai bowl is a blend of the berry’s frozen pulp and other fruits, topped with honey, fresh fruits and granola. I check and their oats aren’t gluten free, so I toss a little of my own on the top. The mixture is filling and delicious yet doesn’t weigh me down, good news for the rest of the day.

Thai chicken pasta fits the bill at Silvergreens

From the mountains that loom behind it to the glinting blue ocean below, Santa Barbara is pure eye candy, and by lunch we’re ready to take a run at a health-food version of the classic American diner, Silvergreens. I’m standing in line with businessmen and surfers, which feels oddly normal. As does the menu, which includes pasta, hamburgers, salads and sandwiches, all made from scratch and with fresh ingredients. The menu indicates vegan and vegetarian, but ask to see the laminated gluten-free menu they keep at the register. I try the Thai chicken pasta, which is served in a generously sized bowl. Not too spicy and topped with grilled strips of chicken breast, it’s heavenly. And inexpensive, a bonus in pricey Santa Barbara.

Tops on my list, though is La Super Rica. I’m practically giddy anticipating the locally beloved Mexican joint that drew the national spotlight after Julia Child raved about it. The handmade corn tortillas and fresh pico de gallo are so delicious there are literally crowds of diners waiting to get in well after the “closed” sign is hung on the front door. That we’re sitting on a concrete floor in plastic chairs seems beside the point.

Sundays are particularly fun in Santa Barbara. We splurge on breakfast at the Biltmore Hotel. Looking at the hotel’s long lawn and grand views of the Pacific in classically Spanish-style buildings, you and your money will be quickly parted. But this one is splurge-worthy so be sure to linger. Then spend a few hours at the Arts and Crafts Show. A weekly event since the dawn of man, local artists hocking everything from leather earrings to mixed media set up their wares along the sidewalk, leaving plenty of room to keep moving or stop for closer inspection.

For a quick treat, Blenders in the Grass on State Street is a good bet. The smoothies are either fruit- or ice-milk-based, and in an email to the company I learn the manufacturer of the ice milk can’t guarantee the corn syrup is 100 percent gluten-free. But there is a Blender’s where I live, and since it is widely understood corn syrup is, in fact, gluten free, I have their smoothies regularly with no apparent problems. My favorite is the Red Banana, a mixture of strawberries, bananas and ice milk. I do avoid the add-ons like protein powder and vitamins just in case. Rather than loitering, take your smoothie down to Stearns Wharf and watch the boats bobbing up and down in the harbor, sun glistening off their bows. If you have kids, it’d be silly not to check out the Museum of Natural History’s Ty Warner Sea Center, where they can crawl through a tidepool tank and learn about wave action, investigate a live shark touch pool or play with the interactive exhibits.  My 11-year-old gives it an energetic thumbs up. Bingo!

For all its Mediterranean tranquility, Santa Barbara’s real deal are the people who’ve built a community with top-drawer educational and adventure activities in an incomparable physical setting. Rent a Vespa or surrey and explore, check out the Natural History Museum, or kayak the Channel Islands sitting just off the coast. Were I one of the original explorers, this is where I would have dropped anchor.

San Francisco on the cutting edge

San Francisco

Further afield but within a day’s drive of Los Angeles is San Francisco, probably the only American city regularly compared with London. Despite its diminutive size – after all, its hills are boxed in between ocean and bay – it can take days to do a thorough reconnaissance. No surprise, then, that the focal point for most visitors is the wharf area and nearby neighborhoods.

And so on arrival we follow the path well traveled, heading directly to the Ferry building at the bottom of Market and California Streets. Hungry and ready for a morning sugar rush, we note the Ferry Building is home to San Francisco’s best gluten-free and certified green bakery, Mariposa.

An open atrium, gourmet marketplace and farmer’s market share space in the building, whose primary mission is as a terminal for ferry commuters. I’ve been slathering in anticipation, and we practically rush the counter when we see warm cinnamon rolls being laid on shelves. The house specialty, it’s light, moist, and infused with just enough cinnamon that it melts in my mouth. I can’t get enough. At last, I lick my lips, and looking up am tickled by the breadth of Mariposa’s products: baguettes, cakes, endless pastries and breads. The good news? I can order online – and so can you.

Gluten-free Japanese Bop with rose rice, egg, spinach & umeboshi plum at E&O Asian Kitchen, San Francisco
Japanese Bop with rose rice, egg, spinach & umeboshi plum at E&O Asian Kitchen

Ready to get out in the cool morning air, we head across the trolley tracks and up California street for the 10-minute walk to Union Square, where we can’t resist jumping on the outside elevator up to the 31st floor for a quick view of the San Francisco skyline. At this height it’s spectacular. The rest of the morning is spent strolling around the square until it’s time for lunch at E&O Asian Kitchen, an Asian fusion restaurant. We settle into Ahi Tuna Poke, Japanese Bop, Black Pepper Shaking Beef and a Prawn Salad. The food is spot on, the setting with several contemporary rooms filled with art is a treat, and we blow off two hours relaxing and tasting. Try ordering Chinese-style and share plates. It’s a guaranteed gluten-free dream meal.

Gluten-Free Ahi Tuna Poke at E&O Asian Kitchen in San Francisco
Ahi Tuna Poke at E&O Asian Kitchen


Well fed, we head to Powell Street to take a quintessentially San Francisco cable car ride back down to Pier 39, hanging our heads off the sides just enough to feel a good breeze.

The city is rife with activities. And despite looming clouds and a decent breeze, we rent bikes at the wharf, pedaling over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito, a charming little town on the Marin county side of the bay. The views as we cross are really more like vistas, beautiful but somewhat nerve wracking due to the height.

Gluten-Free Tortilla Soup at Copita Tequileria y Comida
Tortilla Soup at Copita Tequileria y Comida

The day is warming up and we’re headed to Copita Tequileria y Comida, a restaurant whose 100 percent gluten-free menu, we’ve heard, would be a crime if missed. On arrival, we’re famished and overjoyed. We dig into tortilla soup with roasted chicken, zucchini, avocado and carrots. With offerings nothing short of spectacular, Copita Chef Joanne Weir stops by the table. She tells us she eats gluten-free herself, and the kitchen’s veggies and herbs are sourced at their organic garden up the street.

Gluten-Free Empanadas from Copita Tequileria y Comida
Gluten-Free Empanadas from Copita Tequileria y Comida


What more can I say? With like-minded folk, I’m feeling as close to normal as it’ll get. We soldier on, trying the Mexico City Style Quesadillas and 24 Hour Carnitas – both loaded with flavor. The open fireplace and warm tiles are so cozy we linger, but the place is packed and we feel compelled to let others in on the secret. It’s hard, but the day’s getting on so off we trot, bikes in hand to catch the ferry back.

One must-do in San Francisco is a trip to Alcatraz, the infamous former prison on an island in the San Francisco Bay. Another is to wander Pier 39, a hub of restaurants, ferries and gift shops. Keep an eye out for the now-famous sea lions that came ashore after an earthquake and decided to stay. While there, be sure to nip into the Fog Harbor Fish House for a 100-percent sustainable seafood restaurant serving their “stars,” seafood that is not depleting fish populations, destroying habitats or polluting the water. That includes Dungeness crab, king salmon, mussels and Oregon pink shrimp. The restaurant’s panoramic views of San Francisco Bay make dining a double pleasure, and more than half the menu items have gluten-free indicators, so go wild.

Being back in the city gives me a chance to visit the earthquake simulator at the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, and despite being in quakes regularly I still have a ghoulish fascination for them. The park is massive and home to botanical gardens, museums, even a flower conservatory. But it’s the simulator I’m curious about. Staged in what looks like a typical family room, it indeed delivers a high-magnitude jolt as promised, and turns out to be a must-do. We also check out the immersive planetarium show that has us flying over and into the planet as we explore the impact of the historic 1906 earthquake and fire. What more could a ghoulish gal hope for?

Our days are busy with walking and eating and riding various cable car lines. Really, it would be easy to morph into this life with its easy transportation, forever views and something interesting on every corner. But home beckons, and at this rate I may have to move the button over in my coat.


San Diego Dining

Veladora Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa

➥ Saltbox


The Old Spaghetti Factory (Italian)

Humphrey’s (breakfast)

La Jolla Dining

Bubba’s Smokehouse (BBQ)

Roppongi (sushi & Japanese food)

Puesto (Mexican)

Cups (cupcakes)

San Diego Resources


The Bike Revolution

Balboa Park

Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa

Hotel Palomar in the Gaslamp District

Hotel Solamar in the Gaslamp District

Santa Barbara Dining

Silvergreens (healthy American)

Backyard Bowls (Acai bowls)

➥ La Super Rica (Mexican)
622 North Milpas Street
Santa Barbara, CA805-963-4940

Blenders In The Grass (smoothies)

Crushcakes & Café (cupcakes)

Savoy Café (American)

Chipotle (Contemporary Mexican)

Santa Barbara Resources

Santa Barbara Botanic Gardens

Santa Barbara Museum of
Natural History

Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau

Lodging options

San Francisco Dining

E&O Asian Kitchen (Asian Fusion)

Fog Harbor Fish House (sustainable seafood)


Copita Tequileria y Comida

San Francisco Resources

San Francisco Travel: San Francisco’s official website

Alcatraz Cruises


California Academy of Sciences

San Francisco Railway Museum

Andrea Kitay, a former Los Angeles Times columnist, is thriving gluten-free in Southern California, where the temperature is quite a bit warmer than the Canadian north. She is a regular travel contributor to Gluten-Free Living