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South San Diego Camp ‘n Ride – Sweetwater Hills to the Sea

by Richard Fox

Here’s a fun Camp ‘n Ride, or an option if you are cycling around San Diego Bay (enCYCLEpedia Ride SD7 Option 2) and want to explore some new territory.

Sweetwater Summit Regional Park is located east of the southern San Diego suburb of Chula Vista.  This San Diego County Park has a large spacious campground on top of a hill with RV hookups, adjacent to the Sweetwater Reservoir, which is not accessible to the public.  A series of packed sand trails meander through the park, and down to a pedestrian bridge over the SR 125 toll freeway.  This is the only hill involved in the route, and the return back up to the summit campground may be strenuous for some.  The bridge leads to wide packed sand paths popular with cyclists, strollers, and equestrians, running adjacent to Bonita Golf Course and Chula Vista Golf Course, and past the town of Bonita where there are lots of restaurants. There is only one street crossing along the entire path to the sea.  Road bikers stick to the main roadway, Bonita Road.

After crossing under Willow Street the path veers away from civilization and becomes a bit narrower and more isolated but also more scenic with riparian riverbottom vegetation, and resting benches. At about mile 5 this “Sweetwater Riverbottom Trail” meets a paved path.  To the left leads to Bonita Road, and straight ahead continues to San Diego Bay.  It emerges at Plaza Bonita Road in front of the Plaza Bonita Mall with several restaurants, where it becomes a painted path on a wide sidewalk. It veers off onto the Sweetwater Bikeway that follows the channelized Sweetwater River for 2.5 miles to San Diego Bay at National City’s Pier 32 Marina, crossing under several roadways en route including I-805 and I-5.

Near the end it crosses and becomes part of the 26-mile Bayshore Bikeway route that encircles San Diego Bay by way of the San Diego-Coronado ped/bike ferry, discussed in another blog post. The Waterfront Grill at the marina is a popular spot for cyclists with its large patio, open for lunch and weekend breakfast.  At this point you’ve cycled a little under 9 miles.

Safety note: Except for the section between the campground and Bonita, this seems to be a “ride with a friend” trail because of the isolated sections in the thick brush, and homeless encampments as you get closer to Plaza Bonita.  The path along the Sweetwater River has a lot of graffiti and abandoned shopping carts, and the section between the freeway and the river has no exit options.  I rode it solo on a summer Saturday morning with no issues.


Sweetwater Reservoir, adjacent to Sweetwater Summit campground. It dams the Sweetwater River that starts in the mountains at Cuyamaca State Park.
Dirt paths meander around Sweetwater Summit Regional Park. Ride right from the campsites, across the bike bridge over SR125 to continue through Bonita on dirt paths. Road bikers use the roadways and connect to the Sweetwater Bikeway near the Plaza Bonita Mall.
Dirt paths past golf courses and riparian areas through Bonita connect Sweetwater Summit Regional Park with the Sweetwater Bikeway to the bay.
Sweetwater Bikeway runs 2.5 miles between the Plaza Bonita (Westfield) Mall to National City’s Pier 32 Marina and joins the Bayshore Bikeway that circumnavigates the bay. The river here has a natural bottom, and is tidal, attracting bird life. The last 2 miles are between the SR54 Freeway and the river, with no exit until Hoover Ave, just before I-5.
Sweetwater Bikeway rounds a bend to reach the Pier 32 Marina in National City. This section is part of the Bayshore Bikeway.
End of the ride at Pier 32 Marina and the Waterfront Cafe for an al fresco lunch. The one-way ride is under 9 miles. Of course you have the option of adding the 26 mile Bayshore Bikeway loop around San Diego Bay, which requires a ferry ride between downtown San Diego and Coronado.




Casual Cycling at Big Bear Lake, CA

Big Bear Lake sits ~7,000 feet above the urban valley floor in the spectacular San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California. Long known as a year round recreation playground with winter ski resorts and summer lake activities, cycling has mostly been of the hard-core variety, with little to offer to the more casual cyclist… until now.

The long-established Alpine Pedal Path runs ~2.4 miles along the northeast shore of Big Bear Lake, connecting campgrounds to the Stanfield Cutoff that leads to town.  It’s not flat, but it is easy enough, with plenty of gorgeous lake views and forest scenery.  In summer 2017 it was widened during a re-paving project making it much better for bikes and peds to coexist. Still, weekdays are much preferred in that regard. Meanwhile, the City of Big Bear Lake has developed a system of bike routes through serene residential streets, leading to the quaint Village, the hub of dining and tourist shopping. There’s even a new bike path that parallels Pine Knot Ave.

Plans are in the works to make a better connection between Alpine Pedal Path and the rest of the city bike routes, but for now cyclists can carefully cross Stanfield Cutoff and hop on a sidewalk for a half mile to make the connection. Future plans also include a bike path from the Bear Mountain ski area all the way down to the lake and connecting to the existing bike routes, as well as bike lanes along treacherous Big Bear Boulevard, the main thoroughfare through the area.  Several agencies, including the US Forest Service, CALTRANS, Riverside County and the City have been coordinating all of these projects.

The other option for casual cyclists with fat tires is the Sky Chair lift at Snow Summit ski resort that leads to a choice of a fire road or the new Skyline Trail east down the mountain, as well as other options, depending on ability.  Unfortunately the lift cost has doubled in the last few years; still not too bad if you use it the whole day but the single ride cost is out of step.

We spent a month camped near the lake in July 2017, and enjoyed near perfect weather (high 70’s – low 80’s, sunny, with an occasional fun thunderstorm) while the valley below was baking. We rarely needed our truck; we just hopped on our bikes to explore the paths and new routes, which I mapped out for enCYCLEpedia’s 2nd Edition.  We look forward to experiencing the great cycling here again when more of the master bike route plan has been completed.

Newly paved and widened Alpine Pedal Path, north shore.
Steve relaxing at the west end of the Alpine Pedal Path along the lake. The Solar Observatory in the background offers free tours to small groups weekly in summer.
Rich pausing along the bike routes on the south shore near town.
Steve on Pine Knot, the main Village street, with horse and buggy going by.
The Towne Trail is a fairly hilly forest path, an alternate route to taking the city streets from the Snow Summit lifts west to The Village.  It also serves as a feeder for MTB’ers who descended the west side of the mountain, returning to the lifts.  




Desert Trip Music Festival By Bike

By Richard Fox, Author, enCYCLEpedia Southern California – The Best Easy Scenic Bike Rides

It was hyped as the biggest music festival since Woodstock,  and this baby boomer who grew up on Rock and Roll and just barely missed Woodstock (my parents wouldn’t let my older brother take me at 12 years old to the venue that was 60 miles away) was reeled in hook line and sinker. My partner Steve and I live in Palm Desert, and have resisted going to Coachella and Stagecoach over the years, but I couldn’t pass up this amazing lineup, even though I had seen them all before so couldn’t call it a “bucket list” event.  I purchased reserved seats for Weekend One when they went on sale in May at $1,100 (incl. fees) each. Although not general admission, they were the “cheap seats” in the grandstands, compared to the $1,700 seats closer up. General Admission tickets were around $400, but we didn’t want to have to arrive early and wait in the hot sun to get a good seat, which were all inferior to the reserved seats, the stage being just a blip in the distance for them.  All summer I wondered if I had made a mistake and been a victim of hype spending so much money on one concert festival. As it turns out, it was all worth it, as we had the most enjoyable weekend in recent memory.

deserttripticketboxLogistics of getting to a massive event (70-80,000 folks expected) was a concern, but as avid casual cyclists we decided to try and ride our bikes to the event. The venue maps that came in the Desert Trip box with the tickets (along with the 3D view master) showed designated color-coded routes and bike parking areas; it looked simple. On Day 1, we visited friends that live near the northeast corner of the venue, left the car there and biked in.  It was a nice and flat ride, only a couple of miles.  However none of the many people directing traffic knew where to direct bikes.  There was supposedly a “Yellow Path” starting near Madison and 49th, but we never found it.  Instead, we rode with cars through the very dusty dirt Platinum lot, for those that had purchased the $1,700 tickets. We were told to lock our bikes to a fence near the venue entry, and we went in with the VIP ticket holders, a short distance from the main venue.  Security was tight, with no liquids allowed, similar to airport security, only empty bottles with water fill up stations inside. They had metal scanners and guards with wands.  I was glad for the extra security, as this event would seem to be a high profile target.

Once inside we saw a row of diverse food stands, all with long lines.  We got large slices of Spicy Pizza for $7 each, which were delicious and turned out to be one of the best values in the venue.  Our seats were in the north grandstands,  about 2/3 back and 1/3 up in the giant structure.  I was disappointed that the floor section was so wide that the grandstands were much farther from the stage than in a typical arena.  Even those with $1,700 grandstand seats were not that close.  However, we liked our position being able to see the stage, all the giant screens, fireworks that erupted at the end of each night’s performances, and across to the entire venue, the psychedelic lit carousel, desert sky, and the moon after dark.  We needed binocs to see the performers in person, although they were shown on the giant screens, except for Roger Waters’ Pink Floyd show, where all the front screens were reserved for special effects; only the screens facing the general admission section showed the performers. The sound was great, loud but not deafening, and the seats were padded with backs and fairly comfortable.

From the grandstands, looking across past the rear floor seats toward the general admission section and carousel.
Looking toward grandstands and the stage.

Bob Dylan started on time, much to the chagrin of many who were caught in gridlock traffic on the first night. Even some of the shuttles were stuck for hours, with people missing part or all of the Dylan show.  Neither of us are big fans of Dylan’s voice, although I respect his songwriting and poetry as one of the all time greats.  I was hoping he wouldn’t do the set list of his current tour, which included Sinatra covers, and he didn’t.  Instead he gave us many of the classics including Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 (and yes the smell of pot wasn’t uncommon in the venue).  Interesting black and white videos were displayed on the three huge building-sized screens behind the stage, showing 60’s scenes, cars, highways (to Highway 61) and lots of birds. He never spoke to the audience, and just left the stage when he was done, although those in front realized what was happening and generated enough applause to call him back for a Masters of War encore (the lucky Weekend Two people got Like a Rolling Stone instead, but not with Mick Jagger, a duet that was on my wish list and even seemed like a requirement for this event! The Stones did a great version of it on their Stripped acoustic live album). During the first break between acts, I was glad that Golden Voice had provided enough high end air conditioned bathroom trailers so that there was no waiting.  Food lines were once again long, but soon enough we had spent $27 on a couple of tacos and bowl of chile verde from the Jackalope Ranch stand, putting our food total for the evening at $41.

The Desert Trip app provided photo frames. This is looking at the stage from our seats.

The Rolling Stones came on next with a flurry of flashing lights and “Ladies and Gentleman the Rolling Stones!” announcement. Mick Jagger was in top form and the show proved to be phenomenal.  I melted hearing the cowbell intro to Honkey Tonk Woman, and was blown away by the back to back Gimme Shelter with an amazing female vocalist pitching in, and Sympathy for the Devil, with Mick in his smoking jacket backed by a huge devilish pulsating video screen.   Encores included a choir singing the intro to You Can’t Always Get What You Want, and of course Satisfaction.  I went away thoroughly pleased with our first day of Desert Trip.  We exited easily, hopped on our bikes, and rode through the parking lots, along the closed lanes of Monroe, and back to our car in our friends’ driveway.  The ride back was much easier and less stressful since we knew where we were going and didn’t have a concert deadline. We were then caught in about 15 minutes worth of traffic backups in the car getting out of the area,  not too bad.

On Day 2 we decided to ride our bikes directly from Lake Cahuilla Regional Park, where we were staying in our RV. (Featured photo, Steve with Desert Trip T-shirt getting ready to leave). We reserved a spot as soon as rumors of the festival emerged, as this camp books solid during festivals, and even has a shuttle stop.  Although 5 miles away and not as convenient as staying in the RV on site, the cost of $120 for 4 nights contrasted to $1,000+ for staying at the venue with electric hookups. Lake Cahuilla is a public park, whereas most of the private campgrounds in the region gouge for Coachella festival weekends. Tent campers, however, can stay in a 10’x30′ spot at the venue for tent and car for $100, although you can’t take your car out for the 4 days and have to rely on shuttles (or bike!) to get around the area or use the venue’s general store for supplies.

It was 98F on Saturday when we rode in to the festival around 4-5 pm.  We rode slowly, mostly on safe sidewalks along Madison Street with shade, and it worked out well, we weren’t drenched in sweat upon arrival.  The “Green” ped/bike route to the venue starting at Madison and 52nd was easy to follow, although the route was on packed sand and grass, fine for our Townies but no picnic if you had a skinny-tired bike.  We had to take our bikes through a preliminary security checkpoint (water, food and alcohol allowed since it’s the security level for the campgrounds), then continued riding.  We locked our bikes to a row of bike racks located where they were labeled on the venue map, and started walking.  After a while we saw a sign that said “Bikes This Way.”  It turns out the bike parking area for the Green Path was just outside the main venue entrance.  We could have saved about a quarter mile of walking had we known from any of the employees that watched us lock our bikes there, or if the map had been labeled properly. After the concert though, the way was so packed with pedestrians that we would’ve had to walk our bike much of the way anyway.

We wandered around the grounds. There was not a whole lot to do besides buy food or merchandise, ride the ferris wheel, or visit the giant rock and roll photography exhibit tent, which had a long line to get in.  Since the food stand lines were fairly short around 5:30, we spent $26 on a Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwich and a way overpriced bowl of fried rice.

Classic albums to pose next to.

Neil Young’s show started 30 minutes later than the advertised 6:15 start time.  Neil and his band Promise of the Real were incredible. Neil was in top voice as he played a mix of classics, especially from the Harvest album, a thrilling 22 minute superjam to Down by the River, and several newer well done socially conscious songs, ending with Keep on Rocking in the Free World.  During intermission we had another slice of Spicy Pizza (food total now $40 for the evening) and got together with a childhood friend that I used to go to lots of concerts with in the 70’s, and his wife. I hadn’t seen them in 25 years but had recently re-connected via Facebook.  It was apropos and fun to reminisce about old times during this monumental celebration of classic Rock and Roll, really adding to the total experience of the weekend.

Steve and I had seen McCartney in 2002, which was one of the biggest concert thrills ever, it was like being at a Beatles concert.  This time though his voice had weakened significantly.  It was still great to hear the master Macca do his songs from A Hard Days Night to Blackbird and Band on the Run, sing along to Hey Jude, and watch all the special graphics and the explosions to Live and Let Die, but the highlight was when Neil Young came on stage to duet on A Day in the Life/Give Peace a Chance and Why Don’t We Do it in the Road.  This was the only collaboration during Week One, despite rumors of guest stars like Eric Clapton and Bono.  Guest stars weren’t needed though, the shows were great just as they were.  Weekend two attendees were treated to Rihanna singing a duet with McCartney.

By the time we had walked all the way to our bikes and gotten out of the venue and onto Madison Street heading south, it was past 1:00 AM.  I was concerned about riding in the bike lanes at that hour on a Saturday night, so I stuck to the sidewalks, which was a bit of a challenge at night, but doable with my bike light.  Steve got fed up and just rode the bike lanes.  We found it a “moment of zen” to have just ridden our bikes back and forth to the show with no vehicles, although we were very tired after the long day/night and not a lot of sleep the night before.

On Day 3, we spent the day with my childhood friends, having a lovely brunch at Lulu’s in Palm Springs. Temps were the warmest yet, near 100F, helping sway our decision to forget the bikes and just carpool with our friends from their AirBnB rental in Palm Desert. They had found easy access to Lot 2A (free with admission) by going south on Jefferson and turning left on 50th Street, and we got in around 4:00pm with no traffic.  The walk from there along the Red Path was long, but a good way to burn off some calories.  For those not up for walking, bicycle cabs provided rides along the path.  Once inside, the line to the photography exhibit was very long once more, but then someone came by and said “There’s no waiting if you go in the side entrance.”  So we did. It was an extensive and fascinating exhibit of all the performers from the 60’s to the present.

Old friends Elizabeth & Gary pose as part of Pink Floyd.

We explored the food booths behind the General Admission area, which were even more interesting than those behind the grandstands.  Lines were about 10 minutes long, and we had a delicious chicken aoli sandwich and date bacon whole wheat flatbread ($27).

This was my favorite day of music.  The Who played all greatest hits including several songs in a row each from Quadraphenia and Tommy, most of my favorite Who album, Who’s Next, and a bunch of 60’s oldies. Roger Daltrey hit almost all of his trademark notes, and Pete Townsend was in a feisty mood, playing a mean guitar as well. I enjoyed this performance much more than in 1997 when I saw their Endless Wire tour show at the Hollywood Bowl.  Intermission was once again spent reminiscing with my old friends, leading up to the highlight of the weekend for both of us, Roger Waters’ Best of Pink Floyd set.  The venue rumbled with surround sound of a beating heart, helicopters, trains, sirens, alarm clocks, and beautiful spacey music, while amazing graphics displayed on the giant screen, including the Animals album cover stadium sized factory with smokestacks and steam coming out of them.  They played most of the albums Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and selections from The Wall (with kids singing on Another Brick in the Wall) and Animals, including an over the top condemnation of Donald Trump as a giant floating pig, which angered some in the crowd, like the man in front of us who shouted a few “What about the Lies?” (ie Hillary) before he stormed out (g’bye!). Waters’ band has a David Gilmour sound-alike singer and two Sia-looking backup singers who wailed on The Great Gig in the Sky.

Pink Floyd combined Pigs and The Wall and made it all about Trump.

They concluded with the Dark Side of the Moon finale Brain Damage/Eclipse, followed by Vera and Bring the Boys Home, a Roger Waters Poem and one of my favorites, Comfortably Numb.  Meanwhile the moon had moved across the sky from one side of the venue to the other.  It was a stellar end to a stellar weekend.  Weekend Two folks were treated to a super full moon under which to enjoy the Dark Side of the Moon spectacle, but hey, we got see the actual dark side of the moon the previous week!  We were on such a (natural) high, not wanting the evening to end, that we went to the nearest 24 hour restaurant, IHOP, for more laughter and reminiscing with our old friends.  There were a lot of people with concert wristbands in there, as well as other restaurants across the valley throughout the two weekends, indicating the economic impact these festivals have on the local economy during the shoulder seasons. Concert goers had to leave their wristbands on throughout the time of the festival.

It took a day or so for this 59 year old to recover from the excitement of the event, the amazing music, camaraderie, late nights (4AM the last night) and little sleep, however, I don’t feel like an “Oldchella” person by any means. If anything this experience revitalized me, and the energy of the performers proved that they are going to rock ’til they drop.

I do recommend biking to the festivals at the Polo Grounds if possible.  However the problem with taking your bike may be where to park your car if you’re not staying within reasonable biking distance.  If you have friends who live in the vicinity who don’t mind you parking at their place, that’s a good option.  Or, if you are staying in an accommodation in La Quinta/Indio /Indian Wells, you can find bike routes leading from there.  Keep in mind you will be riding home late at night in the dark, so make sure to have the best bike light possible and ample rear light, and take them with you into the venue to prevent theft.  I don’t trust drivers on the road late at night, so I will always stick to the sidewalks. Try to notice any sidewalk hazards along the way when you ride to the show in daylight so you can avoid them when it’s dark. It goes without saying, don’t drink too much! It’s unsafe, and actually illegal to bike drunk, so if you plan to drink, consider Uber /Lyft or buy a shuttle pass (in advance) instead. In the future the CV Link Bike Trail will run through the region along the Whitewater River, and I hope festival promoter Golden Voice participates in creating a safe route from the trail to the venue, about 3 miles south of its closest point.  A connecting path along the Coachella Canal may do the trick, and while they are at it they can continue that path to Lake Cahuilla!



A Taste of Pender Island, BC, A Gulf Islands Paradise

By Richard Fox

Updated August 2018. Much has changed in 3 years since the original post.  This is now more like a snapshot in time than an up to date restaurant review.  

While Pender Island, British Columbia is not necessarily an easy cycling destination, many brave souls pedal the scenic hilly winding roads with no bike lanes populated by bounding deer and questionable drivers, some of whom think a center line means you center your car on it. Many of us “locals” prefer to take our bikes on the ferry and cycle the flat rail trails of the Saanich peninsula (see If you do cycle Pender Island, perhaps tackling The Tour de Pender as described in the Pender Islands Handbook, where does one stop to eat?

Scenery like this makes Pender Island magical.
Scenery like this makes Pender Island magical.

I spent two wonderful weeks exploring my beloved haunt in August 2015. While far and away our best meals were the home cooked masterpieces of friends, including lots of freshly caught pink salmon, Steve and I also sampled most of the restaurants, and I now present my unbiased amateur food critic’s review based solely on our drop-in experiences, with some comments from locals thrown in where appropriate. Most places are open for other meals besides the ones that we sampled.

Many local restaurants proudly use local produce whenever possible. What surprised me was that only Hope Bay Café and its Café at Large food truck, Pender Sushi, and Tru Value’s coffee stand serve the fabulous local Moonbeans coffee, some of the best we’ve ever had. The new owners of Poets Cove Resort dumped the long-standing contract with Moonbeans in favour of Starbucks. Others have their reasons; perhaps price being one of them to not “buy local” in this instance.  Hope Bay Café and Pender Sushi have closed.

The charming Hope Bay Café closed, replaced with Philly’s Cafe that also closed.  A new spot just opened and is not reviewed.  This space has awesome water views to the east.

Great presentation but not much meat on the bones. Hope Bay's rib night.
Great presentation but not much meat on the bones. Hope Bay’s rib night, now a piece of Pender history.

Port Browning Pub is now Bridgemans Pub and Bistro.  This review now relegated to Pender history as well since they have made a lot of changes:  When it comes to ribs, Port Browning Pub’s “2 for $25” Saturday rib night is still a great value. They serve a Flintstones size portion of delicious meaty pork ribs with fries (sub a salad for $1) and coleslaw. We also went for Turkey Tuesday, once the popular bounteous bargain, where heaps of yummy turkey and fixin’s for $8 drew huge crowds. Now at $15 for a much smaller portion, the rush has subsided, although it did taste good. Steve had a salad with chicken added for $16.50, which is way overpriced. So Browning is not necessarily the inexpensive everyday restaurant it once was except for some of its specials, and perhaps breakfast, burgers, or pasta, such as the butternut squash ravioli ($13), given a thumbs-up by a friend. I love the ocean views from Browning, and it seems to be much cleaner than in the past, but as an avid water drinker I despise the taste of their well water. Even though I ordered a club soda it was made with the same water. I recommend beverages out of a bottle here, or BYO water!

Generous portion of delicious ribs, Port Browning's rib night.
Generous portion of delicious ribs, Port Browning’s rib night.

The Inn on Pender and Memories restaurant finally sold in spring 2015 and is now the much hipper Woods on Pender with its Airstream trailer accommodations and Coffee+Kitchen restaurant. Several friends had gone when they first opened and did not wish to return, but we wanted to try it ourselves as businesses can improve after first opening, and they have. We went for brunch on Sunday when their breakfast menu is extended to early afternoon. The skillet dish for $11 was very good, a tasty combo of eggs, potatoes and choice of meat or vegetarian. It comes with toast with homemade jam or Nutella. The $12 waffle special of the day contained eggs and bacon atop a fairly dry waffle that was OK, but not something I’d get again. We saw banana bread French toast go by that looked ultra thick and awesome, a must to try next time. All in all it was a very pleasant and satisfying experience in a relaxed atmosphere. If you’re there for intimate conversation however, the long family style tables may not be what you’re looking for although they do have a few smaller tables. Our only complaint was the coffee. For decaf drinkers like us the only option was a $3 no refill Americano. I liked the coffee but Steve hated it. Time to get local Moonbeans’ coffee, especially their Swiss-water decaf! Others have said lunch is good here, and that dinner is good but pricy for what you get. We didn’t make it to those meals ourselves, so more non-biased recent opinions are welcome. This is an innovative new Pender business that I’d like to see do well.

Delicious breakfast skillet at Coffee+Kitchen
Delicious breakfast skillet at Coffee+Kitchen

The Pender Island Bakery (now Vanilla Leaf Bakery) has been in Driftwood Center forever, but we had never tried their burger bar. I ordered a turkey burger for $9 with a small potato salad, while Steve paid the same for the “large” plate of their salad bar. Luckily Steve ate really slowly, since the burger took a long time on the grill. Although expensive with not much variety, Steve complimented the taste of every salad bar item. When my bbq’d burger finally arrived, it was excellent, especially with all the build-your-own ingredients including chipotle mayo, tomato, pickles, etc. I’d definitely get that again. The selection of pre-made panini’s, my former stand-by for a quick hot lunch, was not that great when I looked, perhaps it was late in the lunch hour at 1:30. When selecting goodies from the bakery I typically request the most recently baked, but I forgot to this time, and our cappuccino gluten free brownie tasted good but seemed like it was a day or two old. Unfortunately local Moonbeans coffee is not served here.

Slow Coast Coffee in the Magic Lake center with nice views of the Medicine Beach waterfront makes its own flour for its baked goods. We tried to go once to sample its crepes based on friends’ recommendations, but the party in front of us was told they’d have to wait 30 minutes for theirs, so it would’ve been an hour for ours? No thanks. We went back again on a less crowded day when there was no wait. My feta and sundried tomato crepe was delicious, though a bit sparse; I would order a third optional ingredient next time. Steve raved about his East Indian chickpea dosa (gluten free crepe-like rice flour pancake) ($8). We also sampled two kinds of gluten free cookies and they were fresh and fantastic. Slow Coast also surprisingly does not offer Moonbeans, roasted just up the road. Cash only.

Gluten free chick pea dosa crepe at Slow Coast Cafe.
Gluten free chick pea dosa crepe at Slow Coast Cafe.

The Café at Large, a food truck affiliated with Hope Bay Café is a new highly touted establishment that hangs out a couple days a week at the new exciting Sea Star Vineyards, which is doing well, congratulations to them.  The food truck is now at Southridge Farms.  We unfortunately didn’t have a great experience a few years ago, but I’m sure that was just an off time….  Perhaps a case of ordering the wrong thing at the wrong time, we were a bit disappointed with our experience compared to our high expectations. They were slammed on Wednesday when there is a small outdoor market present, and we had a long wait for our food, although by the time it was ready a precious table had opened up. Out of four, two of us got the beef burgers ($11), which were fairly dry and OK, albeit healthier and less greasy than a typical burger. The vegetarian in the group complimented his cauliflower burger.  Steve had the eggplant tacos ($7). His first bite was cod, so luckily he’s not vegan. He said it tasted very good, though the portion was small with just one taco, not a meal on its own, so hearty eaters would need at least two. We also got the fries with gravy ($5), which were fine. For two of us with two small bottles of water (no tap water offered) our burger, taco and fries came to $31. Does that mean they charged $3 each for those tiny bottles of water?  We hope they do well and plan to give the café another try someday, perhaps ordering their grilled cheese ($7) and tomato soup recommended by friends.

Pender Sushi  is always a delight but is gone.  We like their new location at the golf course, scenic deck over the first hole, and always-pleasant service. Their $12 (including tax) bento box is delicious, filling, and a good value. I’ve also enjoyed their salmon teriyaki in the past, but had been having a lot of salmon while on island this visit. They weren’t offering our favorite, the Korean bibimbap bowl, more of a winter thing now we were told. I can’t comment on their actual sushi, but others swear by it. The only negative is that it took us about 30 minutes to get our food on each of our two visits, so go for conversation and relaxation rather than a quick bite.

The Bento Box at Pender Sushi.
The Bento Box at Pender Sushi.

Finally, we have always liked the food at The Stand at the ferry terminal. Now under new ownership, prices continue to creep up, as have food prices in general, so like most places it’s not the bargain it once was. Their once famous beef burgers are $7 – $10 and fries are $3 extra. Steve had the deluxe burger, and based on his memory of their fabulous burgers of the past, he was disappointed with the meat patty that he thought had filler.  I had the lamb burger ($12), and it was OK, but I won’t order it again.  We also got fries, which were fine. Granted, our taste buds were distracted by orcas going by, which ended up following the Queen of Nanaimo halfway across the Georgia Strait!  We’ll continue to patronize The Stand, perhaps next time re-visiting the chicken burger we used to love, and of course their AM breakfast sandwiches.

We did not make it down to Poets Cove Resort on South Pender this time. We used to go to Syrens bistro and its scenic patio as a fun destination when we had our boat, or to combine with a walk at Brooks Point or Greenburn Lake. Aurora’s former $20 Sunday buffet brunch was exquisite and a decent value including omelet bar, and served with carafes of local Moonbeans. Alas, under new ownership, gone is the brunch buffet, and the Moonbeans, substituted with a daily $17 hotel style basic breakfast buffet. The former upscale Aurora restaurant is only open to private parties for lunch and dinner. Prices at Syrens keep going up for its pub fare, and we did not hear good reviews from locals, but did not try it for ourselves so can’t comment on the food.  We did make it to Syrens in 2017.  The bacon fries were awesome.

We also did not get a chance to sample food items that may be offered at the Islands’ stores/markets (Tru Value, Southridge Farms, Pender Market, Otter Bay Marina). Offerings may be seasonal, so call before your ride.

Jo’s Place opened at Driftwood Centre after this post was published.  We’ve had many good meals there, real home cookin.’  I love their skillet breakfasts.

All in all, there is still great food available on Pender Island, at what I’d call “resort prices” compared to the mainland. But then Pender restaurants have to take a seasonal market, high ferry fares and other expenses into account when setting their prices.

I welcome others’ non-biased opinions of their recent experiences!