An Indagare member who relocated to Vancouver from the Bay Area shares her favorite spots in the city.
Vancouver is a city that instantly charms you. But it is the city’s natural beauty, the friendliness of Vancouverites, and the abundance of things to discover that cause you to fall in love with it.
Vancouver has had a rash of hotel openings in preparation for the Olympics. The Shangri-La lives up to the brand’s reputation with a great location right in the heart of the city. The Loden is a small, modern boutique hotel that goes the extra mile, even serving hot toddies to guests in the lobby on cold winter days. The Wedgewood, the only Relais & Chateaux property in the city, is well appointed and houses Bacchus, continually voted the best bar/lounge in town. The Fairmont Pacific Rim opened just before the games and boasts a phenomenal view of the harbor and mountains.
Blessed by an abundance of easily accessible produce and seafood, Vancouver’s food scene rivals that of much larger cities. My picks include Market (1115 Alberni St.) by Jean-George Vongerichten and Chambar (568 Beatty St.), with a talented chef from Belgium and one of the more inventive cocktail menus anywhere. Also not to be missed is brunch at Café Medina (780 Richards St.), Chambar’s sister restaurant, with authentic Belgium waffles and splendid lavender lattes.
Finally, a perennial favorite is Vij’s (3106 Cambie St.), an Indian restaurant like none you’ve encountered. The menu changes often, but always includes the lamb popsicles. Vij’s doesn’t take reservations, so go early. But don’t worry if you miss the first seating; they’ll be passing delicious appetizers and serving cocktails while you wait, sometimes served by Vij himself.
Coffee is serious business in Vancouver; most corners have at least two cafés vying for your business. Starbucks are everywhere, but more interesting are the local chains Blenz (blenz.com), where you should try a London Fog, and Waves (wavescoffee.com), where you can’t miss the Red Latte. For serious coffee aficionados, Caffè Artigiano (caffeartigiano.com) and J.J Bean (jjbeancoffee.com) battle for supremacy. My vote goes to J.J. Bean, especially their spot on Granville Island (1689 Johnston St.)
Vancouver has a strong bar scene with something for everyone including The Diamond (6 Powell St.) and Pourhouse (162 Water St.). Yaletown is your other late-night destination with the Opus Bar (350 Davie St.) definitely worth a visit. For game nights and other relaxed outings, Cactus Club Café (855 Main St.), helmed by Canada’s own Iron Chef Rob Feenie, has a fun bar scene and great food. Yaletown Brewery (1111 Mainland St.) has some of the best local beer. And finally, for a cold and rainy day, nothing is more civilized than ending your day with a drink by the fire at Bacchus Lounge at the Wedgewood.
On a first visit to Vancouver, Granville Island Public Market is a must. Stanley Park is arguably the best park in any North American city, so a walk or bike ride around the Seawall, a visit to the Vancouver Aquarium (vanaqua.org) or at least a drive through shouldn’t be missed. The charm of Vancouver is really found in its neighborhoods, so strolling through Gastown, Chinatown, Yaletown and Kitsilano are all well worth your time. Also, Robson, Granville and Davie Streets are bustling and fun. Finally, for hikers and fitness buffs, the Grouse Grind is certainly a challenge to undertake.
Great excursions include packing a picnic and spending the afternoon in VanDusen Botanical Gardens (vandusengarden.org), checking out Commercial Drive and wandering the wooded paths in Stanley Park. Seeing Vancouver from the water is also great, whether by renting a boat or taking a Harbour Cruise up Indian Arm. The Celebration of Lights in July are four nights of truly spectacular fireworks.
Vancouver Art Gallery (vanartgallery.bc.ca) is located in the heart of the city and has rotating shows that vary in quality. The Arthur Erickson-designed Museum of Anthropology at UBC (moa.ubc.ca) has an amazing collection of Native Art in an unbelievable setting. There are numerous small galleries around town and much of the focus is on west coast art.
Holt Renfrew (737 Dunsmuir St.) is the upscale shopping destination in Vancouver. Robson Street is home to major retailers and is always a scene. Kitsilano’s 4th Avenue is home to a number of independent and entertaining stores. Gastown, Commercial Drive and Main Street are all full of off-beat and small boutiques worth discovering.
Favorite Outdoor Activity Nothing in Vancouver beats a walk around the Stanley Park Seawall. For those feeling ambitious, the seawall extends around the entire city allowing you to literally walk around Vancouver.
Favorite Beach Kits Beach is the summer beach destination. But if the water is too cold, check out the mammoth heated saltwater pool.
Favorite Day-trip The sheer number of outdoor activities right in or around the city is staggering. For winter trips, Cypress Mountain, less than an hour’s drive from downtown and host to a number of Olympic events, is a great quick getaway for skiing, snowboarding, cross country and even snow shoeing. For a fun winter nighttime activity, take a guided snow-shoe hike and stop for fondue in the original lodge nestled in the woods.
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