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Vancouver Travel Guide

Weekend Getaway

Vancouver: Where Livable Becomes Lovable
Urban Cool
by Kasey Wilson

Vancouver reflected in the water
Vancouver reflected in the water

When international consultancies tally up their check-sheets, Vancouver often tops the list as the world's most livable city. It's easy to see why. Perched on the edge of a rainforest and sandwiched between a vast ocean and soaring mountain panoramas, Vancouver achieves a peaceful balance, just like the tides that rise and fall along its coastline. The physical features help define the personality and psyche of this West Coast city, which is mostly mellow (with some understandable hubris in the afterglow of hosting the 2010 Winter Olympics).

Whether they're hardcore warrior-athletes or relaxed urban nomads, locals and visitors alike take to the outdoors all year long — because the climate here is the mildest in Canada. Ocean currents and major weather patterns bring warm, moist air in waves from the Pacific year-round (though summer months are drier). In winter, that means you may well need an umbrella for a walk on the seawall or rain gear when on a biking trail, but no matter the month, those natural draws are there and inviting, and the choice is unbounded. In a single day, you can comb a beach, climb a rock face, explore stylish shops in revamped warehouse districts, and lick your chops at farmers' markets — then reward yourself in the late afternoon with a glass (or two) of superlative Okanagan wines on a seaside patio.

Grouse Mountain offers skiing close to Vancouver
Grouse Mountain

Vancouverites cherish their summers, when the rains abate and warm (but not scorching) sun draws them to the miles of beaches that ring the city. In winter, some curse that rain, but others know that a mere half-hour away, it's falling as snow, which means fantastic skiing on three nearby mountains: Grouse, Cypress and Hollyburn. You don't have to ski to appreciate the views. Grouse, beckoning at only 20 minutes from downtown, is accessible via the Skyride Gondola for a breathtaking panorama of greater Vancouver, and beyond to Washington State's San Juan Islands. The strong of heart can "do" the Grouse Grind — the city's sweatiest, see-and-be-seen athletic course: a 1.8-mile-long vertical hiking trail winding from the base of Grouse to the chalet at the peak. In winter, this is a popular ski resort during the day; night skiing (until 11 p.m.) is even more dramatic with city lights spread out and sparkling far below.

Adventure and dreams of striking gold once lured the masses west, but today, it's the city's food scene that has sparked the new gold rush. Coastal aboriginal peoples thrived for many generations on seafood from the Pacific. Now Vancouver's modern residents, many of Asian heritage, value it just as highly on their dining tables. The generous ocean yields succulent Dungeness crab, spot prawns (fat, sweet, quickly gone), five species of wild salmon, and oysters in their freshest incarnations for restaurant menus that change with the seasons. As in many international cities where there's concern about what we eat as well as the environment, regional agriculture has gained a new lease on life in recent decades. For those whose mantra is "eat local," this city will satisfy. Alongside that (and often part of it), you can experience a fresh new culinary scene: innovative dining, wine bars with regional cachet, an exciting city experiment with food carts downtown, the offerings of an Iron Chef — all paired with British Columbia wines. Vancouver is a young city, but it has grown sophisticated fast, and its relaxed, liberal attitude gives it the air of a true metropolis.

Vancouver is noted worldwide for its colorful and quaint neighborhoods such as Gastown, Chinatown, Yaletown and Granville Island. Its most famous sites include the Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park, the Capilano Suspension Bridge, the Granville Island Public Market and Lions Gate Bridge. It's also known as an excellent walking city. Locals all seem to bike, run, rollerblade, skateboard, snowboard (on the nearby mountains), swim, sail, kayak, dive, climb and hike in droves. Better still, you can do as the natives do and experience another side of Vancouver by renting a mountain bike to tour various sites. For those who love boats, hop aboard an inexpensive water taxi or an Aquabus to zip from one area to another.

The range of hotels in Vancouver is wide, and many rank in the top tier. Visitors of all tastes and budgets should have no trouble finding quarters to their liking. Stellar accommodations can be found at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, Shangri-La Vancouver, Fairmont Pacific Rim, Opus Hotel, Pan Pacific, The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, Fairmont Vancouver Airport, Fairmont Waterfront, and Sutton Place Hotel. Many fine smaller hotels, B&Bs, and motels are also available in all price categories.

Visa is accepted at most restaurants, shops and sites; but if you need cash, you can use your Visa Debit Card and get Canadian dollars at ATMs all across Vancouver.


You'll want to spend your first day close to the water. For most of us, just taking a ferry is an outing. But taking the Aquabus to the 37-acre heart of the city, Granville Island, for breakfast is a novel and adventurous way to start the day. Two new thirty-passenger vessels use high-tech submersible cameras and special LED screens to bring the secrets of the underwater world around Granville Island to the surface. The boat gets around safely, offers a beautiful maritime perspective of the city and, from $3.25 ($5.50 return), is the best deal in town. You can pick it up at the Yaletown stop in False Creek and ride it to Granville Island (travelers note: bikes are welcome aboard the Cyquabus on all routes at no additional charge). You can also take a 25 or 40 minute cruise for $8 or $11. Once you arrive on Granville Island, you'll discover a thriving public market built below the Granville Bridge on what was once an industrial wasteland. It's an arty scene, with bustling arts and crafts enterprises and lovely views. On any given day, the best shows in town are the buskers. Found on street corners and oceanfront decks on the Island, Vancouver's talented buskers juggle, dance, perform magic, play the sounds of music from around the world, and always appreciate donations. They have been ranked with the buskers of London's Covent Garden, the most famous buskers in the world.

Boats in port at Granville Island in Vancouver
Ferries in the water on Granville Island

Come summertime, various festivals and musical events also happen on Granville Island. It's the place to go in Vancouver for a progressive breakfast or lunch of artisan breads and pastries, cheeses, pâtés and luscious fruits, berries and more. Don't leave without a visit to Lee's Donuts for glazed doughnut holes and Edible BC for more than 400 made-in-B.C. food gifts. Granville Island also boasts three of the best outdoor patios in Vancouver. Sandbar’s waterside rooftop deck at the 300-seat seafood spot is open year-round; in winter, diners take advantage of the roaring fire and the cozy blankets. Everyone knows their signature dish are cedar-planked wild salmon and wok squid, but few are aware of the superlative Hoshi sushi bar (open daily at 5pm) tucked into the main floor. At sea level, Bridges' umbrella-decked space is one of the city's hangouts where people watching is almost as popular as the views of False Creek and the North Shore Mountains. Or, for the city's best fish and chips, it's a five-minute stroll to Go Fish! on Fishermen’s Wharf. There's also the Kids Market, the free Granville Island Water Park, and a number of small shops selling myriad intriguing crafts and gifts. Local artists produce and sell innovative textiles, pottery, furniture and even custom designed eyeglasses. Keep an eye out for Granville Eyeland, where Klaus Sëbok has hand-crafted lenses for Robin Williams and Sir Elton John. The German-born former owner is now retired but the current owner still carries Sëbok designs. Granville Island also hosts many outdoor recreation specialists building custom bikes, kayaks and canoes.

Kits Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Vancouver
Kits Beach

After lunch, hail a cab and head west to Kitsilano, a.k.a. Kits. It takes the prize as a funky, fun neighborhood whose main shopping thoroughfare, Fourth Avenue, put Kits on the map as Canada's answer to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury. Since the '60s and '70s, it has become yuppified and now includes trendy clothing boutiques (Lululemon got its start in Vancouver) and home accessory stores as replacements for counterculture coffeehouses and incense dens. Nearby Kits Beach offers fantastic views of the city and is also a pleasant spot to hang out, watch some volleyball and relax. Kitsilano Pool is the largest outdoor saltwater pool in North America, with lanes for serious swimmers and a separate section for young splashers. On the south side of the pool you'll find Kitsilano Showboat, a venue for amateur dancing and singing troupes that's been operating every summer since 1935. For dinner, head back to Fourth Avenue to Trattoria Italian Kitchen, an oasis of affordability for an utterly delicious panzanella salad, hearty pizzas and spaghetti with Kobe meatballs. Alternately, you may want to check out Maenam, just down the road, for Asian-inspired cocktails and modern Thai offerings. For a different perspective, especially an hour before sunset, head to Jericho, Locarno and Spanish Banks beaches when downtown's distant skyscrapers gleam a brilliant gold.

Continue to Day 2



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* Images courtesy of Tourism Vancouver; Vancouver reflected in the water by John Sinal; Robson Street image by

(Updated: 02/16/12 NW)

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