I'm playing detective and discovering new things to do in and around Ottawa.
When the cat is away, the mouse will play... or something like that! This week, Ryan is traveling to warmer shores to do something I would never be brave enough for (okay, he's on a cruise - but that's a boat and we all know that boats top my list of travel enemies. So the bravery comment stands). Regardless, it's good motivation for me to plan my own amazing staycation. And it's even better that it's happening during Ottawa's festive Winterlude season.
Ottawa is a wonderful winter travel destination and it's the perfect place for a February vacation or staycation. But, I must admit, skating and other outdoor activities aren't always my strong suit. But that's not going to stop me from having a memorable time in my hometown! You don't have to strap on some skates to join in my staycation plan. Here's what's making me love Ottawa lately.
PS Canadian readers, we have a special giveaway for you at the end!
Doing Something Out Of The Ordinary: Escape Manor.
The great thing about vacations and staycations is that you get to shut down your worries. For me, the perfect way to do just that is to visit an escape room.
Escape rooms are my new favourite thing. Remember the first time I visited one -I was actually really scared until I finally went there! (Yep, I still don't know exactly what was going on in my brain!) Escape Manor is Ottawa's premier escape room company. They have properties in several parts of the city and have even partnered with museums -how awesome is that?! We were excited to visit their property in Ottawa's Hintonburg neighbourhood (not too far away from my next discovery, below).
Hintonburg is a fun, funky neighborhood and it makes sense that Escape Manor's property would reflect that style. Their lounge area is fantastic. It reminded me a cool, jazzy kind of 1940s hang out, complete with plush leather furniture and great props. There's a fun selection of puzzles and brain teasers that Ryan especially loved - yep, I made sure he didn't miss it, even though his cruise was right around the corner! And, as I was soon to find out, the lounge area doubles as an excellent spot to relaxing and sipping wine during for your escape room postmortem.
Yes, I said postmortem. Because debating what you should have, could have done is nearly as fun as the challenging rooms themselves. The permitted time to "escape" or "solve" your room is 45 minutes, but you should count on hanging around for an extra hour or so. You're going to love sinking into the cushy furniture as you rehash every step and misstep from the room. In our particular case, we were in the "Psycho" room- and it was the perfect fit for my kind of puzzle solving, with an imaginary crime and some intriguing detective work. We were SO CLOSE to solving our scenario when we ran out of time. CRAZY CLOSE! My heart was pounding with excitement - and a bit of exercise. I was scurrying around our room like a cat, searching for anything we might have missed.
I can't imagine a situation where an escape room scenario isn't a great moment of 100% delightful play. It doesn't take an expertise in puzzles or detective work - just people who are kids at heart and are eager to dive right in. I cannot wait for my next Escape Manor visit.
Discovering Something New: Beyond The Pale Brewing Company (and YOW Popcorn).
Ottawa is well known for its excellent craft beer scene. Alas, it's a scene that I don't know much about. I'm not the beer drinker in our family - that would be Ryan! But the fortunate arrival of an out of town friend offered some perfectly timed motivation to explore.
We chose Beyond The Pale Brewing Company on a bit of a lark. We exchanged some worried glances as we pulled into their location (Unit 106 - 250 City Centre Ave). What exactly were we driving into? The exterior of the building is ....hmmm.... unique in appearance. "Industrial" might be the kind way to describe it. "Run down warehouse; potential lair of a serial killer" might be more apt. But you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, nor a brewery by its building exterior!
We stepped into one of the friendliest, funkiest, most relaxed bars in Ottawa. It wasn't yet noon but the small bar and even smaller retail store were humming with couples, families, even a few dogs (with their owners, of course!). The high ceilings and wildly creative wall art were an Instagrammer's dream.
Just one thing marred our visit. I was so blinded by new found love, I didn't realize that when I ordered "My Bourbon Milkshake" that I was ordering a BEER, an oatmeal stout to be precise, that was reminiscent of a creamy, vanilla, and cocoa bourbon milkshake and NOT an actual milkshake. Opps! In all honestly, I didn't like it, which isn't surprising given that I don't really like all beer, but the blame lands entirely on me. Fortunately, my taste buds were happy soon again.
We had the chance to try YOW Popcorn for the first time. I'm so glad we have our very own, homegrown popcorn company in Ottawa. Remember how very excited I was about a similar concept in Lake Placid, New York? YOW Popcorn is just as delicious and our bag of sriracha lime popcorn was extremely tasty.
Shaking Up the Food Routine: Nokham Thai and other yummy treats.
I don't visit Nokham Thai (UPDATE: NOW CLOSED) nearly as often I want to but it's been on my 'favourites' list since I first moved to Ottawa. The small restaurant is always humming with couples, friends, and families and the staff are always really friendly. It's a lovely blend of comfort food and conversation.
Nokham Thai serves Thai food and they do a darn good job of it. Their creamy soups are absolutely delicious! I love that they have popular dishes, like Pad Thai, and also things you might not see everyday. For this week's visit, my friend and I ordered something new- a steamed young coconut filled with chicken, shrimp, and basil - and we discussed such serious matters as her evil pet fish (she knows who she is - I shan't shame her here!)
Of course, it wouldn't feel like vacation without some yummy treats! I've been busy discovering new bakeries and trying sweets - including some that honor Canada's Prime Minister. Yes, Ottawa sells Justin Trudeau cookies- who knew!
Roadtripping to the Ontario Highlands.
While Ottawa has plenty to offer within the city limits, sometimes it's hard to resist the temptation to sneak in just a wee road trip to a nearby community. For me, that temptation is the Ontario Highlands region. It's Ottawa's next door neighbour and the scene of my triumphant first snowshoeing adventure.
The area's lovely scenery always coaxes me back for more but I have an extra motivation to visit again because I got a sneak peak at their new Come Wander itineraries (complete with an amazing care package that included all the fun treats you need to organized a winter trip!) I took their online quiz and it confirmed that I am a "Creative Cruiser". No surprise there! Based on my last trip, which was filled with fine food and funky arts projects, this seems pretty accurate to me. My past trips lasted for several days but there's still plenty that a short day trip can offer as well - perfect for spicing up a staycation.
Savoring Staycation Breakfast Fuel: Sous Vide Egg Bites.
(Every good adventure, at home or on the road, needs a proper breakfast to kick off the day. I was thrilled when Starbucks sent me a gift card to try their new sous-vide egg bites. The egg bites are smooth, creamy, fluffy, soft, and served piping hot. I really liked both the flavors (red pepper with Monterrey jack cheese and bacon with Gruyere cheese). And, as I'm so dedicated to my research, I tried them both twice just to make sure that you would love them as much as I do.
They're the perfect fuel for staycation adventures and also for trip planning. The day after we booked our latest reward-points based trip, I went to my neighbourhood Starbucks with my favourite travel mug, ordered a latte and egg bites, and settled in for a cozy session of travel planning. Lovely! You couldn't ask for a nicer start to a winter day.
Now you can enjoy your own snug travel daydreams and fuel your next adventure. Our friends at Starbucks Canada are sponsoring a generous giveaway for one lucky Canadian TurnipseedTravel reader. The lucky winner will receive a $25 Starbucks gift card, a beautiful S'well water bottle, and a Starbucks tote bag. (Contest Now Completed.)
To enter, fill out the ballot below and tell us what you like to do to make your winter staycations special! (CONTEST NOW CLOSED).
If you enjoyed this article, you'll also like:
Heating Up Winter in Haliburton
Vanessa Goes Snowshoeing
Ottawa Girlfriends' Getaway Guide
Our visit to Escape Manor was provided at no charge as a result of a Travel Massive event. The care package from Ontario Highland was provided at no cost and with no obligation to me. All research, writing, and opinion are my own- as always.
5/2/2018 09:38:21 am
Give me a mocha (in my special green cat mug from Prague!) and a good book and I'm happy to staycation in my house. :)
5/2/2018 09:53:37 am
It's all about the awesome mugs. We got rid of over half of ours. They were nearly never being used and we were always reaching for just a few of the same special ones over and over. Right now, my preference is a yellow chunky one from my university days (true story that all my fellow frugal travelers will love - it was normally VERY expensive, like over $20, but I got it for $1 because it missing a rubber 'cap' that snapped over the bottom ridge of the cup's base and acted as a built in coaster..... So every time I use the mug I remember what a great deal it was!)
5/2/2018 10:18:58 am
You'll have to make plans for a return visit!
5/2/2018 09:53:05 am
My ideal staycation involves delicious dinners out with friends, a walk around the Byward Market and beavertails!!
5/2/2018 10:19:32 am
Oh, I LOVE Beavertails!!
5/2/2018 11:24:18 am
Staycations for me are a balance of reading (and let's face it, napping) coupled with visits with friends for dinners, shopping and other adventures!
9/2/2018 08:40:41 am
Oh, a snowy afternoon spent in bed with a good book. Yes please!
5/2/2018 11:31:26 am
Love your post - I’ll have to look in on Beyond the Pale.
9/2/2018 08:41:17 am
I've never been to this place before and I love lattes! I'm going to have to check it out!
5/2/2018 02:48:30 pm
My trick for making a staycation special is to remember to enjoy the city as carefree as I would were I travelling. Try a new restaurant just because it looks cozy or quirky or because a menu item outside looks delicious instead of the same old place. Enjoying our festivals, museums or a play. Winterlude is my favourite staycation occasion!
9/2/2018 08:42:03 am
We are definitely making an effort to try new restaurants instead of automatically heading back to old favourites. We've got a long list to check out!
6/2/2018 11:00:09 am
Truly enjoy not being in a rush and walking around a local hood and discovering new things in the area that I never noticed before... like an art gallery or a small shop. Never been to Nokham Thai but sounds delicious & adding it to my must-eats list! Cheers!
9/2/2018 08:42:42 am
I love lazy staycation days where you might pop into a wee shop you've probably passed dozens of times before but you never really saw it.
6/2/2018 03:06:41 pm
It's only been the last few years that I really started to embrace "staycations" in Ottawa. I'm always on the lookout for interesting activities. Canada 150 was great. Love to park at the Nac and just walk around the market. Go to Landsdowne for the farmers market. Take in the Museums, winterlude, tulip 🌷 festival, casino, shopping...all great!
9/2/2018 08:43:36 am
The NAC is a great place to park and use as a base to explore into the market or down into Centertown!
6/2/2018 07:57:38 pm
Im in Toronto so theres quite a lot to do. I would pretend to be a tourist for a day and visit some of Toronto's landmarks
9/2/2018 08:44:18 am
I have to pretend I'm a tourist too - there are new museum exhibitions that I haven't seen and they're almost closing now.
6/2/2018 07:59:12 pm
I would book a hotel with my wife and spend a day downtown and relax.
9/2/2018 08:45:06 am
I got to visit some friends who were staying at Ottawa's Andaz hotel last week who were doing exactly that! They had amazing views of downtown and it totally felt like they were in an entirely different city.
6/2/2018 10:16:13 pm
Lots of stuff here in Vancouver to explore, many new places I haven't been even though I live here
9/2/2018 08:45:54 am
I find I get a bit lazy about living here in Ottawa. I know there's great stuff, I recommend it to others, but I have to actually go out and DO IT.
6/2/2018 11:32:18 pm
10/2/2018 10:03:29 pm
Hard to argue with this.
7/2/2018 05:15:21 am
I like to wander the local market and try new goodies.
9/2/2018 09:02:40 am
Yum - like all the little food stops in the Byward Market.
7/2/2018 10:53:53 am
a great staycation is checking out local events, restaurants and seeing the latest movies
9/2/2018 09:02:10 am
I love staycation movie nights!
8/2/2018 05:02:06 am
Walk the length of Ottawa's Bank Street!
9/2/2018 09:01:45 am
I have been meaning to do this for year and year!
10/2/2018 10:07:01 pm
10/2/2018 10:05:29 pm
Sounds like a great plan.
9/2/2018 09:25:45 pm
I like to enjoy festivals and special events, like Winterlude, the Tulip Festival, museum exhibits, etc. I like to visit new restaurants that I have heard lots about but have never visits.
10/2/2018 10:01:14 pm
I can't wait for Tulip Fest and warm spring weather.
10/2/2018 10:00:45 pm
It's a great time to visit.
10/2/2018 02:05:02 pm
I love your adventures. They Inspire me to get travelling.A Staycation for me here in Ottawa would be to do the things I don't normally have the time to do on a day off. I enjoy going downtown walking through the Market or Sparks Street checking out all the shops even the ones I can't afford. It's an escape that refreshes me that I should remember to take more often. Of course it always includes a Beavertail!
10/2/2018 10:00:10 pm
Another vote for Beavertails - they're the best!
11/2/2018 02:48:49 pm
I hit the trail on our stay cations, Wyoming is full of great hiking opportunities right in our "Back yard"
12/2/2018 03:58:50 pm
And hiking is perfect for burning off all those holiday treats. ;-)
11/2/2018 09:35:01 pm
Visit museums and local parks and then make smores in the backyard.
12/2/2018 03:58:08 pm
I'm a huge fan of S'mores!
11/2/2018 10:25:46 pm
Skate on the canal and go for lunch at a restaurant that I read about in the Edible Ottawa Magazine!
12/2/2018 03:57:42 pm
I'm a big fan of Edible - they always have the best suggestions.
11/2/2018 11:34:15 pm
I love to hit the local water parks, beaches, and museums on staycations! It is really nice staying close to home!
12/2/2018 03:57:10 pm
I love water parks too! Definitely a highlight of summer fun.
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