Dear DiaryDress UpI'll Follow You Anywhere

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I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m really all about travel right now, but that doesn’t mean “travel” has to be a luxury vacation on the other side of the continent.

One of my favourite places to go since moving to Toronto is actually a bit of a shock to some people – Hamilton. Despite its bad reputation amongst Toronto residents, I adore Hamilton. I love the quiet streets, the community feel, and the beautiful spaces that can only be created in a place with something we Torontonians lack – space.

I have a full-on city guide in the works for this special place, but since it’s a little too cold to wander around outside taking photos right now I’m going to hold off and just talk about the specifics of my Saturday visit a few weeks ago.

Though it’s only a short trip, Hamilton feels worlds away from Toronto when I need a break. Breakfast at Saint James Espresso, waterfall hikes with my good friend (and Hamilton resident) Rachelle, and the best vegan chocolate macaroons EVER at Green Bar are all staples, and then of course there’s Berkeley North.

I’ve heard about this new West Coast-inspired eatery from Hamilton and Toronto friends alike, so I was determined to visit during my one day stay. Honestly, it’s not often that I do a full restaurant review post, but this was one of the best dining experiences of my life. The space is cozy, the staff is next level friendly, and the food was honestly off the charts. They have seemingly endless vegan and vegetarian options, and even offer a foamy vegan sour on the cocktail menu!

By the time dessert came around we were totally stuffed, but we still couldn’t say no to the decadent vegan cheesecake. It was the perfect place for meat eaters and vegans alike to meet, and by the time we left we felt like family. If you have no other reason to take a day trip to Hamilton, this spot is reason enough – oh, and there’s a great wall for photos right across the street too!

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Dear DiaryI'll Follow You Anywhere

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As expected, almost every conversation I have right now is shaped by the same question: “How was LA? It looked AMAZING!” Every time I wish I had some sort of Eat Pray Love-esque story to share, an all consuming tale of triumph and growth and figuring out exactly where I’m supposed to be. But amongst the many tough things I’ve learned as of late, life is not like the movies (or romanticized novels loaded with privilege for that matter).

Anyone who follows me knows how tightly I cling to the fairytales I grew up with, from the aged stories of Jane Eyre and Scarlett O’Hara to Snow White singing “Someday my Prince Will Come”, but I’m starting to doubt I’ve been on the right track. Somewhere, something has gone awry. I worked so hard to build my life into the dream I’d always imagined – I climbed so quickly to such great heights and when I reached the top I guess I looked around and realized how alone I was up there.

This past three months I truly lived my life to the fullest. I did so much in such a short time, more than many people do over a decade, from learning how to shuck oysters on an oyster farm, to crashing into a patch of rocks on a rented surfboard (oops). I rode horses on the beach, went snowboarding through a forest of fresh powder, walked for hours on end through mysterious neighbourhoods and forced myself to be brave and make new friends whenever the opportunity arose. I learned how to eat dinner alone at a restaurant with only a book to keep me company. I fully quit smoking, switched to a 100% plant-based diet without looking back, and mastered new ways to deal with my anxiety and depression without the help of medication.

I also learned that no matter where you are or who you surround yourself with, your issues don’t just stay behind when you hop a plane. It’s a hard lesson to learn, and one that I’ve failed to accept so many times, but something about being on the other side of the continent and still facing a lot of the same problems made me question where the root of the issue was actually growing. It’s no surprise I found the root close to home – it was always within me.

Not to say there’s anything wrong with me, just the way I go about my existence. I’ve always believed in the good, that doing the right thing pays off and loving those around you will only build more love in this confusing and messy world. What I failed to notice was the shortcoming of basic human nature: for the most part if someone is given too much too soon, they’ll question how far they can run with it. I’ve done a terrible job of protecting myself, of valuing myself and of keeping in touch with reality – even if it isn’t as sparkly as I’d like to imagine, there’s value to having one foot on the ground, even if you’re a dreamer.

In conclusion, my trip was absolutely amazing, beautiful, extraordinary, and more than I ever could’ve hoped. It was also painful, raw, riddled with tears and struggle – more than I ever could’ve planned for. I think I left on this trip thinking it would just be a fun adventure, an escape from the cold of winter and the cold in my heart, but the most valuable thing about my time away turned out to be learning to actually work on myself, by myself, without any of the crutches, comforts, or support systems at home. Instead of staying so busy with events and friends that I buried my heartache and shortcomings, I spent days making lists of how I can improve myself and build off of the mistakes I’ve made. I sent letters of forgiveness to break down old anger. I made some big, hard, life changing decisions based not on my fairytale mentality, but on real tangible happiness and mistakes.

I’m going to cut this off here, because if I don’t I may NEVER stop, and no one loads this page for a full on novel. More coming, a LOT more, but for now this is the best trip summary I’ve got. If you’re somehow still hungry for more, there’s a fun roundup of some of my favourite LA learnings below, and of course a list of new favourite spots to see:

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A few takeaways before I go on and on for DAYS //

Care About Self Care // I’m really bad at taking care of myself. I forget to eat, to sleep, and some days I actually have to remind myself to breathe. California was a slightly different pace, where slowing down is celebrated and long lunches are best served on the patio with fresh squeezed local juices. I was constantly training myself to STOP WORKING and enjoy the scenery, to take a walk in the sunshine or take the afternoon off to visit a museum. In and around Valentine’s Day I went the whole nine yards, with a massage at The Now Massage, and honestly this place deserves an entire post of its own. The team is AMAZING, the massage so life changing, and the space is pure bliss. Don’t think, just go – you won’t regret it (and warning, you’ll likely come home with one of their gorgeous signature candles.)

More isn’t More // a major point of stress for me while travelling was everything I had lingering back home. For those of you who don’t know, I’m downsizing to a shiny new condo in response to our ceiling at #thepastelpalace COLLAPSING while I was away, and living out of a suitcase really made me realize how little I actually need in my space to live a happy life. Now that I’m home I’m shedding like crazy for Spring, leaving the extra weight behind and only bringing forward the bits and pieces in my life that truly bring me joy.

Scent Therapy // Scents can be totally transportive, so when I get lost in my mind or overwhelmed by the bitter winter cold I spray Le Labo Santal 33. Well known just about everywhere, I found Santal was particularly beloved in Venice Beach, in fact it was basically inescapable, so the two almost immediately became intertwined in my mind. A whiff of this stuff and I’m instantly back with my toes in the sand, sipping wine and watching surfers. Some might call it wearing perfume, but I prefer “scent therapy”.

Take a Moment to Meditate // All over California, especially in and around LA, folks kept reminding me to just ~chill~ and it wasn’t till I arrived back in Toronto that I started to listen. Sometimes the best things can’t be forced, and taking time to slow down and just be in a moment has had a really positive impact on daily existence. I’ve been using Headspace since I got back, and I’m loving their little lessons (“Not everything is about achieving! Just be present!”) plus simple guided meditation sessions that made it easy even for someone who never sits still (aka me).

Appreciate What you Have // I found myself complaining about Toronto a whole lot while I was away, and finally someone pointed out “you know, I’ve never met someone who has something negative to say about that city.” It struck me that maybe my issue wasn’t with Toronto itself, but with the version of it that I found myself living in. I started to restructure my thoughts, analyzing the negativity and taking into consideration what I might be able to change. By the time I got home I was shocked to find I wasn’t riddled with anxiety and sadness shivering in the cold – I was stupidly excited to get my life going here! So far it’s been nothing but good, even if I’ve had to shelve my summer dresses for the time being.

Van Leeuwen ice cream
Flowerboy Project
The Social Type
Twig and Twine
Moonlight Rollerway
by chloe
Donut friend
Flounce Vintage
Sokerbit
Kettle Black
The Springs LA
The Broad Museum
Galcos Old World Grocery
Block Party
Ysabel
The Row
Honeycut
SQIRL
Fonuts

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Dear DiaryI'll Follow You Anywhere

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I don’t really know how to write this post without sounding like a brag, but I have to be honest: life is really, stupidly good. It’s not just the sun, and the beach, and the comically fresh avocados… it’s the ability to go for a run every day without piling on layers, to order something vegan at any restaurant you desire, to make friends who take you to LACMA and rock climbing gyms and comedy shows because that’s how people hang out here. It’s a feeling of freedom that escaped me for too long.

Yes, I’m romanticizing, but in all fairness this place has been total bliss for me. I went vegan the day I touched down, have finally fully said goodbye to the disgusting world of cigarettes, and feel more in shape than I have in months. Sunshine and fresh veggies are the best medicine money can buy in my books, and coming down to California to escape some of that Toronto winter doom and gloom back home was just what the doctor ordered.

As I write this I find myself in San Francisco for a few weeks, a brand new place that I’ve never really explored! So until I get my bearings and can formulate a list of SF faves, here are my favourite NEW findings from L.A. this past month:

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Otherwild // If you were ever looking for housewares with boobs all over them, look no further. Seriously though, this Los Feliz shop is filled with perfect feminist finds and queer goodies. I wanted to buy the entire inventory (rainbow stairway included).

Shojin // Not only is Shojin a totally vegan sushi restaurant tucked away in a mall in Little Tokyo, but it also happens to be the best service I’ve ever experienced. If you want to feel like a princess and try the most creative fish-free Japanese dishes around, this is the place for you.

Shop Belljar // Stocked with RAOP favourites like HKM and Samantha Pleet, this lovely little store of amazing pastel finds is right next to Otherwild, so prepare to leave the block with a seriously dented wallet.

Go Get Em Tiger // A popular brunch and coffee spot in both Larchmont and Los Feliz), this cafe is perfect for a light meal, a tasty beverage, and lazy outdoor lounging (unless you go on the weekend, then you’ll be fighting for a seat all morning).

Eric Buterbaugh Perfumes // If you’re walking down Beverly Blvd. and come across a Nirvana-like garden with an undeniably delicate and distinct floral scent, you’ve found Eric Buterbaugh’s space. Part gallery, part perfumery, this gorgeous building is full of unexpected sensory delights, and if you think floral scents are outdated and boring, get ready to think again.

Tenoversix // An endless array of local art, dreamy housewares and wardrobe essentials await within this pastel heaven.

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Juice Served Here // Simple and to the point, this LA juicery has some crazy good combos. We recommend “Tropic Thunder”, “The Pixie”, and/or “Pearl Punch”… if you have to choose.

Bar Bandini // Cozy and crowded, this tiny dive bar in Echo Park makes for the perfect place to get close to someone new. Try the 101 Cider House “Cactus Red” if you’re not sure what fancy craft beverage to order – it’s hot pink and delicious!

Super Smash Buns Food Truck // The best late night food delivery of ALL time. We ordered the Vegan Quesedilla, Masala Fries, and Rose Lavender Lemonade and basically had a collective meltdown over the goodness.

Cliffs of ID // Rock climbing is rapidly getting big everywhere, but it’s REALLY big in LA. All the cool kids are doing it, and on top of being a fun way to make friends it’s also a SUPER hard workout!

Erin McKenna’s Bakery // I’ve been a massive fan of Erin’s Vegan, gluten free goods since first discovery her original bakery in NYC a few years back, and seeing her shop in Larchmont was like bumping into a deeply missed and oh so sweet friend. This is also the only place I know of that makes vegan black-and-white cookies, which just so happen to by my all time favourite!

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Still on my list to see…
Sweet Fin Poke
By CHLOE
SQRL
Little Pine
Block Party
Sage
Clifton’s
Donut Friend

Dear DiaryI'll Follow You Anywhere

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When I made the decision to book a one-way ticket to LA with no sense of when I’d stop adventuring and come back, it was so spontaneous and unexpected I didn’t really think all of the details through. When a friend asked me about a going away party a few days after I made the announcement, I was totally blindsided – I needed to say farewell to all of my dearest friends!

With less than a week left I scrambled to put something together, and luckily Planta came to my rescue. A new upscale vegan restaurant in Yorkville, this place is literally to DIE for, and I knew it would be the perfect location to feast with friends. Their incredible team booked us our own massive table tucked away at the back for Sunday brunch, and no lie, it ended up being one of the best meals of my entire life.

Cauliflower tater tots, banana pancakes, nachos, crab cake benedict… the list of wondrous creations sent from the kitchen went on and on. Every single thing, from the tea to the blood orange mimosas was absolutely divine, and by the end of the meal we were confident our server was the nicest man alive. We ate like queens, chatted incessantly, and in the end shed a few tears over goodbye hugs and Christmas gifts.

It was the kind of sendoff that almost convinces you to stay, and ensures you’ll be back.

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A special thanks to Planta for hosting my special day!