So, are you a foodie, a sports enthusiast, a shopping maven, a trend-watcher or a history buff? If you’re even one of the above, then Vancouver, British Columbia is the perfect place for a holiday getaway. Canada’s third-largest city packs it all in: world-class hotels and restaurants, trendy shops, every sport from skiing to sailing, cultural institutions that explore its First Nations past, one of North America’s largest Chinatowns, temperate weather year-round, and a welcoming attitude to tourists. A visit to the city invariably results in a longing to return, to explore more of its unique neighborhoods and natural wonders.
Stanley Park’s 1,000 acres (4 km²) is the city’s collective backyard. Day and night, runners, joggers and others just out for a stroll can be seen on the 5.5-mile (8.8 km) pathway. Inside the park there’s the Vancouver Aquarium, the Children’s Farmyard (petting zoo), the Miniature Railroad (an exact replica of Locomotive Engine #374, which pulled the first transcontinental passenger train into Vancouver in 1886), four restaurants, a pool, beaches, putting greens, tennis courts and gardens. For more on the park, visit www.city.vancouver.bc.ca/parks/parks/stanley.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge and Park (604-985-7474) is just north of the city and was originally built in 1889 (this is the 4th bridge in the same spot). It’s 450 feet (137 m) across and sits 230 feet (70 m) above the Capilano River. While the swaying footbridge offers a thrill, the rainforest is the huge draw.
A new treetop canopy walkway allows visitors to get a birds-eye view. Trails on the ground let you meander through the park. Also at the park are more than 25 original totem poles on display. First Nations carvers work on totems in the Big House and are happy to explain the traditions of the poles.
Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden (604-662-3207, 578 Carrall St., www.vancouverchinesegarden.com) is a surprise and a delight. You leave behind bustling Chinatown and walk into a serene otherworld. The garden, finished in 1986, has the distinction of being the first full-sized classical Chinese garden built outside of China. The brochure given out at the door says “Refreshment for the Heart,” and truly one does feel refreshed walking through the garden. Classical gardens have four main elements: buildings, rocks, plants and water, and they have to work together in harmony. In the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, as a visitor walks through these elements, new vistas are seen at every turn, as was intended. Try to take a guided tour, as the guides illuminate elements you might miss, such as how the roof tiles were built so that when it rains, the water drips down like a curtain.
Granville Island (604-666-5784, www.granvilleisland.com), located under the Granville St. Bridge in False Creek, has a long and storied history, but what was once an industrial area, is now a hot place to shop and eat. The Granville Public Market, with everything from fresh fruit to seafood, attracts local chefs as well as visitors. The island is host to a variety of festivals through the year, including the Jazz Festival and the Vancouver International Writers Festival. The Granville Island Brewery is a big draw, too. The Kids Market, a former paint factory, has more than 25 shops dedicated to just what kids might need or want. While you can drive or walk over to the island, a more fun way to get there is to take the tiny Aquabus from downtown (604-689-5858, www.aquabus.bc.ca).
Robson Street is known as the main shopping drag, with a multitude of shops and restaurants, but these stores scattered throughout the city are definitely worth seeking out.
Turnabout (604-732-8115, 3121 Granville, www.turnaboutclothing.com) is a delightful high-end consignment shop. You can find items by designers such as Prada, Chanel, Versace, and can actually afford them on a non-movie star budget. Here’s a tip: go to their website for a 25% off coupon.
Chocolate Arts (604-739-0475, 2037 West 4th Ave., www.chocolatearts.com), crafts chocolates almost too beautiful to eat, but don’t let that stop you. The all-natural chocolates with locally grown products, such as raspberries and cranberries are scrumptious.
At Urban Fare (604-975-7550, 177 Davie St., www.urbanfare.com), there’s more than groceries to look for. The contemporary, high-end store is a great place to celebrity spot. Actors on location and famous hockey players shop here all the time.
Barbara-Jo’s Books to Cooks (604-688-6755, 1128 Mainland St., www.bookstocooks.com) is a wonderful combination bookstore and demonstration kitchen. Cooking classes and demos for new cookbooks, plus hard-to-find cookbooks make this an epicurean’s dream store.
After all your traipsing about, whether shopping, sightseeing or running through Stanley Park, you may need a time out. The Absolute Spa at the Century (604-684-2772, 1015 Burrard St., www.absolutespa.com) offers soothing massages, but to really treat yourself, try something from the spa collection menu. The “Chocolate Indulgence Splash” includes a chocolate manicure and pedicure. Any treatment you get includes use of the spa’s indoor pool and a healthy spa meal. Absolute Spa also has facilities at the Vancouver airport, so if your flight is delayed, you can get the “Flight Delay Package” while you cool your heels.
Where to Stay
Stylish and trendy hotels have sprouted up in every corner of the city. Many offer packages that feature special events and festivals occurring in the city almost year-round. Make sure to ask about any special deals.
Opus Hotel (604-642-6787, 322 Davie St., www.opushotel.com) is a popular place. The hotel’s bar is packed most nights with the young and the beautiful. The boutique hotel has less than 100 rooms, which makes service exceptional.
The Pacific Palisades (604-688-0461, 1277 Robson St., www.pacificpalisadeshotel.com) is like a breath of fresh air. Bold, sunny colors and a sensibility more suited to the tropics than the Pacific Rim pervades. Rooms are colorful and spacious and the hotel’s location is great.
Metropolitan (604-687-1122, 645 Howe St., www.metropolitan) is a member of the Preferred Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, guaranteeing first-class service and amenities.
Listel Vancouver (604-684-8461, 1300 Robson St., www.listel-vancouver.com) has the unusual and wonderful “museum floor”, where 25 rooms feature First Nations art curated by the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology.
Where to Eat
There is no reason not to dine well in Vancouver, whatever your budget. From inexpensive, but delicious, meals in Chinatown, to award-winning gourmet spots, the only tough choice is where to go. Seafood is always a good choice for obvious reasons.
West (604-738-8938, 2881 Granville St., www.westrestaurant.com) is a sleek, contemporary restaurant whose chef is dedicated to using fresh organic and local ingredients in season. Seafood and game are highlighted, and the tasting menu, which can be paired with wines, is a smart choice.
C Restaurant (604-681-1164, 1600 Howe St., www.crestaurant.com) calls itself a “contemporary fish restaurant,” and it’s all that and more. In fact, C has formed a partnership with a fishing family from Prince Rupert Island and only uses wild “tangle net” fish caught within the past 24 hours. Now, that’s fast – and mighty delicious. C is a top foodie destination in a city packed with them.
Blue Water Café (604-688-8078, 1095 Hamilton St., www.bluewatercafe.net) is yet another seafood mecca, with fresh fish and shellfish brought in from sustainable and wild fisheries. The sushi bar is a show in itself.
Circolo (604-687-1116, 1116 Mainland St., www.umberto.com), a contemporary Italian restaurant, is one of chef Uberto Menghi three restaurants in Vancouver. Eating here makes one want to sign up to go to his cooking school in Tuscany.
Vancouver was picked for the 2010 Winter Olympics and it’s easy to see why. It truly is a world-class destination. For more information, call the Greater Vancouver Convention and Visitors Bureau at 604-682-2222, or visit www.tourismvancouver.com.