Have you ever met a farm animal? Have you hugged a cow, rubbed a piggy’s belly or held a chicken? Most of us never have. But places like The Gentle Barn give us a place to do that. Located in Santa Clarita, CA, The Gentle Barn is home to over 160 animals (cows, pigs, chickens, horses, goats and many more!) all of whom are rescued. They are victims of animal cruelty, abuse and neglect. The Gentle Barn takes in the animals that no one else wants. They rehabilitate them with medical attention, proper nutrition and love. These animals are then given a loving place to live out their lives free from harm. It’s a long process to get these animals healthy-both in their bodies and minds. But, Ellie, Jay and their staff work relentlessly with their residents to give them the best lives possible.
My first visit to The Gentle Barn coincided with the semi-annual vegan bake sale that is held to benefit The Gentle Barn. This is done in conjunction with the “Worldwide Vegan Bake Sale” events that take place across the country. All items for sale and supplies are 100% donated free of charge and 100% of the proceeds go to The Gentle Barn to help them continue the amazing work they do for the animals and their community. I was very excited to volunteer my time at the bake sale but I was even more excited to spend some time loving on these wonderful animals.
After working part of the morning at the bake sale, I was able to spend some time checking out the barn and it’s residents. The barn is split into upper and lower barnyard sections. The lower barnyard is where you’ll find the horses and cows (and the restrooms, snack shop, Frankenstand’s Veggie Dogs and the gift shop). The upper barnyard is home to the pigs, goats, sheep, llamas, chickens, turkeys and peacocks. At select times, there is a short presentation that is given by Ellie explaining how the barn came to be. After the presentation, the upper barnyard is open for visitors.
I absolutely fell in love with Biscuit, a 1000 pound pig, and Zeus, an 800 pound pig. Both pigs were raised to be slaughtered for meat, thus their very unnatural sizes. These gentle giants were fast asleep in their stalls but still very much enjoyed their bellies being rubbed. In fact, Biscuit legs would twitch and Zeus would grunt when you rubbed their favorite spots.
However, there was one special animal that stole my heart. Her name is Aretha. Aretha is a cow who was rescued from slaughter. During this visit, she had only been at the barn for about 2 months and still had a long road to recovery ahead of her. She was very skittish and would stand still for a few moments to allow someone to touch her. Her brand was still visible and her ear tag remained in her ear because she was not yet comfortable enough for them to attempt to remove it. Aretha stood there and you could see the hurt in her eyes. I quietly walked up to her and pet her for a few minutes but I really just wanted to wrap my arms around her! Her “person” (each animal has a “person” who keeps an eye on them and stays with them) and I chatted for a while while I pet Aretha and she told me to go ahead and try to give her a hug. She gave me instructions on what to do and where to stand and I did. And she let me hug her! She stood there, totally still and I think we bonded. Now every time I visit the barn, she is my first stop. And I think she remembers me. She just looks at me with these eyes, like she knows who I am. Aretha has come a really long way in her recovery, allowing more visitors to pet her and spend time with her. But she is still learning to trust to that no one will ever harm her again.
I also visited their horses and donkey, Addison. I’ve always loved horses and thought they were such gorgeous beings. But they terrify me. I spent some time admiring the horses from afar (I didn’t want to try to pet one at first) but then decided to buy a bag of carrots to feed them. I fed several of the horses and spent a little extra time with Patrick. He was adorable and greedy! He literally stuck his head in my bag to get some carrots. But he was so very gentle. I also fed some carrots to his neighbor, Addison the donkey, because he was just too cute!
When visiting hours were over, I was so sad to leave. This place is so wonderful and there are so many amazing things happening here. From the work they do with the animals, to the amazing staff who volunteer their time and the animal therapy programs that help children and adults, you can’t help but fall in love with The Gentle Barn. Since our first visit, we have been back several times and every time, I am so grateful that a place like this exists.
The Gentle Barn is located at 15825 Sierra Highway Santa Clarita, CA 91390 and they are open for public visits on Sundays from 10am to 2pm.
My husband and I have wanted to go to Kauai for many years. But life always seemed to get in the way. Last year, we decided that we were finally going to make our dream happen. So, for my birthday, we headed to The Garden Isle. But before we left, I did plenty of research to find vegan friendly places all over the island. The upshot was that our condo had a full kitchen so if we had to, we could cook at the condo. But who wants to cook on vacation!? We found some suggestions and also stumbled onto other places that we hadn’t heard of in our research. This is my attempt to create a comprehensive list of the places that we enjoyed so that you can enjoy them on your visit to Kauai, too.
After a long morning of travel, we finally landed in Lihue around 2:00pm. We picked up our rental car and headed south to our condo in Poipu. We checked in, dropped off our luggage and headed down to the beach. After a while, we were quite hungry but tired so we headed to Plantation Gardens, which was on the property. We were surprised that we had quite a few vegan options here! After ordering drinks (I had the Sweet Li Hing Mui Margarita and he had the Lavender Pina Colada-both were delicious!), we ordered the Tofu Inari appetizer. It was so good. The outer tofu wrap was fried so it was really airy and slightly crunchy. The texture and weight was similar to mexican chiccharones. The veggies inside were perfectly cooked and complimented the tofu wrap. The hoisin sauce was well balanced between sweet and salty. On to the main course! We ordered two dishes to share: Yamaimo Soba Noodle salad and the Vegetable Quinoa Bowl (without the parmesan cheese). Everything was delicious. We enjoyed mango sorbet for dessert. This dinner was a great way to start our vacation!
The next day, we headed out to find something for breakfast. As a vegan, this is always the trickiest meal for eating out. Usually relegated to bagels or oatmeal, we were determined to find something yummy! We stumbled onto The Kalaheo Cafe & Coffee Company. Since the choices were few, we ordered their Veggie Tofu Wrap (specify no cheese and no sour cream). It was so good and very filling-perfect for our day trip to Waimea Canyon. This wrap was stuffed with tofu squares and perfectly cooked veggies. Served with salsa and your choice of potatoes, this breakfast has all your favorites in one dish! Their coffee was also very good. Be sure to ask for almond or soy milk, which is kept behind the counter.
On our way back to Poipu after day tripping to Waimea Canyon, we stopped off in Waimea town to enjoy shave ice from JoJo’s Clubhouse. Apparently, there a two locations named JoJo’s clubhouse but we stopped at the shady looking one across from the high school in town. Supposedly, this is the original location run by new owners. We ordered two shave ices-no ice cream or whipped cream. It was so refreshing on a warm day! The ice reminded me of a snow cone but much softer. No big chunks of ice, just smooth, cold ice. The flavor that my husband ordered reminded us a of a Big Stick popsicle and I chose a pina colada flavor. Both were great!
We also stopped by The Kauai Coffee Company plantation on the way back to Poipu because we are coffee lovers. You can take the self-guided tour through the plantation (takes about 15 minutes) and learn about the coffee crops and how they harvest the coffee. After the tour, you can taste their different coffee roasts and pick some up to go from the gift shop. If you enjoy coffee and are in the area, this is a fun little stop. We picked up their Estate Reserve Peaberry roast to bring home with us.
After a long morning out, we wanted to pick a quick lunch to take back to the condo with us. We stopped by Da Crack, since it was less than 5 minutes from our resort. This was the oddest little place. It literally is a walk up window between two store fronts. It’s a little sketchy but oh my, the food was delicious. We both ordered veggie burritos. Stuffed with beans, rice, veggies, guacamole and jalapenos (opt for no jalapenos or ask for them on the side. You can’t say I didn’t warn you!), this was a great meal to enjoy on our lanai with some ice cold beer. Oh, and their chips are addicting. They don’t make the typical corn tortilla chips. The use flour tortillas for their chips. And they’re crazy good.
That night, we were off to dinner at Roy’s before our luau at Luau Kalamaku (Side note: You can buy show only tickets here. And you get stage side reserved seating. This luau is wonderful!) This was the only meal on Kauai in which I had reached out to the chef before our trip. I swapped several emails with Executive Chef Melanie, who was more than happy to put together an entirely vegan menu for us. She asked for our likes and dislikes but other than that, she took total control of our menu and we had no idea what to expect.
We checked in for our reservation and were seated by the windows that were a perfect birdwatching spot. Our menu was laid out on the table for us and as we read over it, our mouths started to water. Our waiter came over to take our drink order and we both ordered pina coladas. We enjoyed our drinks as we perused our menu. Our appetizer was Poipu Style Granny Smith Apple and Sweet Potato “Poke”. This was so good! The apple and purple sweet potatoes were layered with smoked onions, avocado and Himalayan salt. Our second course was a Watermelon Carpaccio salad with hearts of palm, mac nuts and ginger dressing. The watermelon was shaved thin and was nice and refreshing. This was definitely a nice, light second course. Our main course was up next: Crispy Rice Cracker Seared Tofu. Now, I don’t know what to say about this other than you should book your trip to Kauai, if only to eat this dish at Roy’s. The tofu had a wonderfully crispy layer on top and sat in this amazing ginger soy sauce. There was also bok choy, tomato and jasmine rice on the side. We nearly cried tears of joy while eating this dish. It was hands down, the best dish we’ve ever eaten. Our final course was dessert. This was Poached Pears with Tropical Fruit Streusel and Ginger Caramel Cookie ice cream. Again, Chef Melanie was a genius. This dish was delicious but we were so full, that we barely made a dent! Very pleased with our dinner, we asked if we could meet Melanie. She came to our table a few minutes later to chat with us for a bit. She was sweet as could be and was so happy to have planned our menu for us. She told us that it was a nice change of pace and it really pushed her to think out of the box. She asked for our critique and the only thing we could think of was that there so much food! She said that she was afraid that we would leave hungry! It was quite funny. But we enjoyed her dishes so much that we asked her if she would do another menu for us again. She said absolutely and so we made reservations for dinner on my birthday. P.S. That dinner did not disappoint either! She made an entirely new menu and our dessert, the Maple Macadamia Nut Cinnamon Bun, is now a regular menu item!
The next morning was our awesome catamaran tour up the Na’Pali Coast. The day trip we scheduled through Captain Andy’s was the Northern Star which included a BBQ lunch. There seems to be some confusion about the veggie burger that they offer so we were told we could bring our own food and snacks, which was awesome. (Note: They’ve updated their website with vegan and gluten free options!) So, we skipped breakfast (which turned out to be a horrible idea for me) this morning since check in was early!
After a long day of snorkeling and cruising, we opted for a quick dinner. My hubby went over to Puka Dog since it was right across the street. We each had a veggie dog (which is vegan) but with different toppings (skip the secret sauce-it’s not vegan). He opted for the old fashioned ketchup dog and I tried to the lilikoi mustard and coconut relish combination. I don’t even know where to start with this. The veggie dog itself was great. They don’t overcook or undercook them, which is easy to do. The lilikoi mustard was a little sweet and a little spicy but very good. The coconut relish was delicious. It reminded me of soft gel and it had bits of shredded coconut throughout. If you like coconut, get this. But can we talk about the bun!? The bun is served hot, like fresh out of the oven hot. And it’s so soft but it doesn’t collapse under the weight of the veggie dog and condiments. And, it completely envelopes the veggie dog so you get bun in every bite. These veggie dogs were so good and great for a quick meal! Also, check out Papalani Gelato next door for a great dessert! They have quite the selection of dairy free gelatos. We picked up the dark chocolate and pineapple gelatos.
The next day we headed to Kalaheo Cafe and Coffee company again for breakfast because it was just so good the first time. We spent the day checking out the sights along the East and North shores. We also checked out the Kilauea Lighthouse and decided to stop by Kilauea Bakery & Pau Hana Pizza for lunch. The shopping center is super quaint with their resident bird, Daphne. Kilauea Bakery is towards the back and has a small patio with racks of books for your enjoyment. It’s beautifully landscaped and a great place to relax with some good food! We ordered the veggie deluxe pizza with soy cheese. The pizza had all the veggies and they didn’t overdo the cheese. The crust had a nice crunch to it and was really flavorful. It wasn’t just pizza toppings on cardboard which happens sometimes. It was pizza done right and it was delicious. And, we ordered dessert. We picked up the Lilikoi Coconut Cream cake. The cake was another winner. I have to say though, that I mostly tasted coconut, which I am not complaining about. I think the lilikoi is just super subtle and so the coconut overpowers it a bit. But I don’t think this is the fault of the bakery. And the cake was super moist. It reminded me of Tres Leches cake but without the excess liquid. It was definitely something I was hoping to get again before our vacation was over!
For my birthday, we spent the entire day beach bumming around the South Shore. We checked out Poipu Beach. It’s a great spot for snorkeling (aqua shoes are a great idea!) and sea turtle watching-we even saw a momma and her babies! This beach also has a grassy area that overlooks the beach so it’s a great spot to have lunch while taking in the sights. We also checked out Shipwreck Beach. The beach itself was beautiful since its lined with cliffs on one side but the waters and sand were a bit rough for my tastes. And, apparently, the cliffs are a favorite jumping spot for adventurous folks. That night, we had reservations at Roy’s again. Here is a picture of our menu that night. We didn’t think Melanie could outdo our first meal but she did!
We spent the next couple of days enjoying the beaches, sights and revisiting some of our favorite places on the island. It was an amazing vacation and completely relaxing. And it was so easy to be vegan on the island! There are options out there, you just have to do some research. And don’t be afraid to ask! There are some other vegan friendly restaurants (Caffe Coco, Red Hot Mama’s, Banana Joe’s to name a few) that we didn’t make it to simply because we ran out of time. It’s funny, they say island time moves slow but it seemed like it was time to go back home the minute we got there. Our vacation was wonderful and we just cannot get back to the island soon enough. I hope this little vacation recap helps you plan your vacation. I enjoyed writing this post simply because I got to relive our vacation. I hope you enjoy yours too!
The grassy area above Poipu Beach. You can see the reef in the background which makes this an awesome snorkeling spot!