Just one look at Vancouver’s varied skyline and you’ll be awestruck by the city’s natural beauty.
The outline of its skyscraper-laden downtown is fronted by deep blue water and set against the backdrop of mountain peaks, said by locals to form the silhouette of two lions lounging opulently as they watch over the city.
Everywhere you go here, nature beckons. Whether you enjoy skiing, sailing, hiking, walking, or simply soaking up the fresh air, Vancouver calls everyone to venture outdoors.
Although it is a destination in itself, Vancouver also serves as the launching point for excursions to British Columbia’s Gulf Islands, as well as holiday cruises voyaging up to Alaska.
With the scheduled start of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games fast approaching, Vancouver is busy preparing its facilities and polishing its natural assets to greet the world.
So whether you have a few weeks or just a few days to spare, there has never been a better time to visit this thriving Canadian city.
For a blend of endless food options, colorful shopping, and an energizing atmosphere, spend an afternoon on Granville Island (www.granvilleisland.com), one of Vancouver’s liveliest communities. To satisfy your shopping urges, the area is teeming with galleries, studios, and the workshops of Vancouver artists, as well as a dizzying array of specialty shops.
Take a walk down Railspur Alley, where local artists set up shop and usually are on site to give you a personal introduction to their work. The rich, varied abstract pieces showcased at Michael den Hertog Studio/Gallery (www.michael-denhertog.com) exhibit the artist’s own work in an open-studio style setting. The New-Small and Sterling Studio Glass (www.hotstudioglass.com/) is fronted by a large viewing window, which invites you to watch skilled artists creating the glass blowing marvels that will end up for sale on its shop’s shelves.
If you have kids, take them in to enjoy the crafts, games, and puzzles found inside the Kids’ Market (www.kidsmarket.ca), and then go outside to splash and slide around to your heart’s content at the Granville Island Water Park (open to the public free of charge during summer months).
The Granville Island Public Market is the heart of the community. Everyday, dozens of vendors open up shop and sell quality produce, flowers, baked goods, seafood, and confections, as well as an eclectic mix of international specialties and cuisines.
Make your first stop Muffin Granny ((604) 684-3821) to pick up a scrumpet, a scone-like baked good available in varieties such as raisin or cheddar cheese, and then head next door to grab a table at Blue Parrot Coffee (www.blueparrotcoffee.com), where you can nibble and sip your cappuccino as you look out at the view across False Creek.
If you arrive for lunch, The Stock Market offers a rotating selection of three fresh soups daily, served with a hunk of fresh herb bread. Vie for a round wooden table in one of the common dining areas, or head outside to sit on the lively cobblestone plaza, where musicians perform and children gleefully chase through the flocks of pigeons that come to rest in the square. On your way back through, sample the fudge or smoked salmon, a Vancouver specialty.
Granville Island also is a great place for a night out, offering more formal dining options and evening entertainment to piece together a memorable experience. The Sandbar (www.vancouverdine.com) is a gem with a choice of indoor or outdoor seating spread between two levels. The outdoor area has heaters, fireplaces, and blankets for those days when the sky is clear but the air is a bit nippy. Or try Bridges (www.bridgesrestaurant.com) right on the water next to the Public Market. Having been the place for fresh seafood on Granville Island for over 25 years, this restaurant is a landmark.
A short walk from either restaurant will bring you to the neighboring Arts Club Theater (www.artsclub.com) where you can cap off your evening with some live entertainment. This small venue showcases a rotating lineup of plays and performances, which often feature a famous cast.
If you are looking for luxury shopping on a sophisticated strip, look no further than the stretch of South Granville Street. This area is renowned for its boutiques, shops, galleries, and concept stores, which ensure that no visitor will leave the city without a little something to remember it by.
For the best high-fashion finds, don’t leave without visiting Bacci’s (www.baccis.ca) on Granville Street. Each season, the shop captures a brilliant selection of hard-to-find pieces by such coveted designers as Chloe, Dries Van Noten, and Moschino, as well as shoes, accessories, and a selection of items by smaller, up-and-coming designers. It also includes a neighboring section called Bacci’s at Home, which features home accents, dishware including a vast selection from the Emma Bridgewater collection, and skin and body care products by such lines as Kiehl’s.
Other noteworthy boutiques on the street include Misch (www.misch.ca), which provides a unique, well-chosen selection from designers such as Vanessa Bruno and Cacharel, and Cattiva, with picks from more casual lines such as Diesel and Ella Moss. Peridot (vancouver.peridot.ca), located on a side street, is a good stop for home accessories. The flagship outpost for the popular clothing line TNA (www.tna.com), as well as other international concept stores, can also be found here.
With its array of specialty food shops, cafés and restaurants set to revive the tired shopper, South Granville’s culinary delights are not to be forgotten. The famous Meinhardt Fine Foods (www.meinhardt.com) is a favorite of visiting celebrities who are in town for filming. It stocks an enormous selection of imported and hard-to-find delicacies, in addition to tempting you with a never-ending take-away counter filled with a display of ready-made salads and entrees.
Daniel Le Chocolate Belge (www.danielchocolates.com) is a local favorite for sweets. Try their specialty hazelnut-flavored chocolate hedgehogs, available in dark, milk, and white chocolate. For a quick lunch, whiz by Café Crepe to sample their take on the French specialty by choosing from a long list of sweet and savory varieties.
FINDING YOUTHFUL FLAIR
For a look at urban renewal at its best, head to the Yaletown district on the waterfront near the downtown center. Once a seedy warehouse district, the Vancouver Expo of 1986 brought new life to this rundown area. It has since blossomed into a thriving neighborhood packed with eclectic boutiques, expert salons, and delicious restaurants.
Atomic Model (www.atomicmodel.com) showcases a good pick of fashions in an uncluttered environment while BeautyMark will overwhelm you with its selection of skincare and makeup essentials from hard-to-find lines. When you are finally ready for a bite to eat, consider a stop at Rodney’s Oyster House (www.rodneysoysterhouse.com) for lunch in a low-key, relaxed environment. With fresh chowders, crusty bread, and up to 18 varieties of fresh oysters daily, it is a haven for seafood enthusiasts.
EXPLORING WEST VANCOUVER
Take a scenic drive across the Lion’s Gate Bridge to the community of West Vancouver. Just a short hop from the city’s center, the community has much to offer the traveler. If the sun is shining, head straight down to Ambleside Beach. Usually packed on a hot day, the controlled surf is fun for the kids and perfect for a dip. Prop yourself up against a log with a good book and enjoy.
If you like to get your heart pumping, you aren’t alone. West Vancouver boasts one of the most beautiful stretches of seawall in town, and locals flock there at virtually all times of day to walk, run, or meet with friends. Park your car near the Dunderave pier to begin your walk.
The two-mile seawall path hugs the curving coast, providing a breathtaking view across English Bay to Jericho Beach and the campus of the University of British Columbia. Benches along the way offer spots to watch the sailboats, freighters, and private vessels as they navigate the bay on a clear day.
The path eventually breaks away from the coast’s edge, bringing you to John Lawson Park, a seaside playground for the kids to enjoy. Although the true seawall ends here, walking further will take you past the few remaining oceanfront residences, shared community gardens, art galleries, and finally back to Ambleside beach. The Ferry Building Gallery (www.ferrybuildinggallery.com) along the way hosts a rotating set of exhibits showcasing the work of North Shore Artists. Also close by is Da Vinci’s, a houseware and design store filled with unexpected treasures and accent pieces.
Dining options are abound in West Vancouver. In the morning, hungry locals head to Savary Island Pie Company to warm up with a strong coffee and something from the bakery counter. Trays of fresh scones, teacakes, muffins, and other bakes are constantly streaming out of the kitchen to the delight of the shop’s patrons. As its name suggests, a large selection of pies, including a specialty lemon buttermilk variety, are also available hot out of the oven. Don’t miss the chance to sample their fresh bread, especially the ultra-moist soda bread, available by the ½ or full loaf.
For a special meal, head back to Dunderave for dinner at the Beach House (www.atthebeachhouse.com). Situated right at the foot of the pier, the restaurant commands a stunning view of the coast, especially in the evenings when the cruise ships pass through en route to other ports along the West Coast. The cozy décor includes fireplaces and seating areas designed to make every table feel like your own personal nook. Reservations are essential, especially for dinner. For an extra-special private meal for two, request Table #42.
Want to observe some of Vancouver’s maritime action firsthand? Head to Horseshoe Bay (www.www.horseshoebaybc.ca), a major hub for the workings of Vancouver’s legendary ferry system. Operator BC Ferries is one of the largest ferry networks in the world, serving 47 ports of call along the coast of British Columbia.
Horseshoe Bay serves as the starting point for ferries setting out for one of Vancouver’s many Gulf Islands, and it is the perfect place to sit back and observe the frenzied daily activity. Take a seat at Troll’s (www.trolls.ca/beach/index.html) and enjoy some authentic fish and chips while you watch the action, or take your lunch al fresco for a picnic on the large rocks along the shore for an even closer view.
Those with extra time on their hands may want to consider a side trip to one of Vancouver’s nearby Gulf Islands, which all are conveniently served by the BC Ferry network. While Vancouver Island may be the obvious excursion choice for many travelers, smaller islands with their own unique character can provide a more tranquil, relaxing environment and prove to be a special treat.
Bowen Island (www.bowenisland.org) just a quick 20-minute hop from the mainland, is a great pick for a daytrip or short stay. Boasting 650 acres of parkland and 23 miles of coastline, the island is home to a plethora of wildlife and maintains a strong focus on the outdoors. Boating, beachcombing, salmon fishing, diving, kayaking, hiking, and picnicking are all popular activities. Especially on a warm summer day, there is nothing better than finding a spot on one of the island’s little coves and lazing the day away.
A little further west is Gabriola Island, a quiet gem where nature and the promise of relaxation await. This serene island is home to many secluded, rocky beaches, as well as parks that contain trails and paths perfect for bicycling, hiking, and exploring. Also known for its active artist community, shops such as Art Works Gallery (www.artworksbc.com) and various private galleries and studios, showcase the works of these local artists and invite you to wander and take a closer look.
By Alix Proceviat for PeterGreenberg.com.
Want some outdoorsy ideas for where to hike, bike, or stroll in Vancouver? We’ve got great ones for people of any physical ability level, plus info on trailblazing Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan, in Adaptive & Accessible Hiking.
And don’t forget to check out the rest of our Off the Brochure Travel Guide series:
View Off the Brochure Maps in a larger map