The gateway to Canada’s west coast with a population of around 600,000, Vancouver sits at edge of the rainforest, is within a stone’s throw of some of the planet’s best skiing, and is one of the country’s most diverse bergs with more than half of its citizens speaking a first language other than English. Though it was named for British Royal Navy Captain George Vancouver, who mapped the region from 1791 to 1795, the city arguably owes more of its identity to Captain John “Gassy Jack” Deighton, who, seven decades later, opened a saloon at what is now the intersection of Water and Carrall. The tavern became the anchor for the Gastown district—Vancouver’s oldest neighboorhood and one of its chief cultural calling cards.
The 2010 Winter Olympics brought Vancouver and British Columbia into the global spotlight. However, its fifteen minutes have continued thanks to an evolving food and cocktail scene, a vibrant arts community and its reputation as one of the most liveable cities in North America. Exploring the city by two feet or on two wheels, there’s plenty to discover:
Denman Street’s Milano offers in-house coffee blends for the java-obsessed. Opt for the award-winning Butter and Velvet: smooth with caramel undertones. For those who want to channel their inner Euro style, try a flight of three varieties for $7.50. Join the locals who kick off their daily routines with a stroll or cycle along English Bay’s seawall, getting a blast of the salty air and a dose of art. A-maze-ing Laughter is a series of 14 bronze statues installed in Morton Park during the 2009 Vancouver Biennale by artist Yue Minjun. It makes for the perfect first selfie of the day.
Wander back along the edge of Stanley Park’s old growth forest to Brockton Point to see the nine historic and popular totems, representing different artists from the Coast Salish people. Arriving early for lunch at The Mill Marine Bistro & Bar means a patio seat with a grand view of Coal Harbour’s shipyards to watch as the seaplanes take off and land. A business crowd fave, choose a glass from the wine-on-tap options, like Hester Creek Pinot Gris paired with a Cedar Plank pizza loaded with wild mushrooms, roasted garlic and spinach.
The easiest place to spot a whale is beside the Vancouver Convention Center, where Digital Orca by novelist/artist Douglas Coupland overlooks the harbour. Nearby Gastown has transformed from predictable tourist shops to on-trend boutiques, cocktail bars and stylish restaurants. Consider a contemporary pillow or throw from espace d., passing by the newly-refurbished Gastown Steamclock (which may be selfie spot #2), go through the racks at Alfie Italia, offering stylish threads, a house collection of custom leather goods and a shoe polish lounge. The curated collection at Orling & Wu is hard to resist, especially glassware from the LSA Collection or stylish serving spoons from Sabre. Across the street, fashionistas make the pilgrimage to John Fluevog Shoes where Mr. F can often be spotted at his design studio. Got a craving for a mid-afternoon flat white or a pour over post-shopping? Nelson the Seagull is a lively café where hipster moms and dads dash in to pick up orders of fresh baked bread along with their lattes.
Gastown’s night version attracts a wide range—from the office mavens to edgy arty types. Start the evening with The Revel Sour Hour, and “Depression era tough as boots knows how to smoke a cigar” drinks that Grandma liked. Then learn about classic cocktails with a twist, at L’Abbatoir, wetting your whistle with a Smoke and Mirrors or Gastown Swizzle.
Be brave and walk past the dumpsters and graffiti of Blood Alley to discover the entrance of Salt Tasting Room for dinner, where it’s all about artisanal cheese and charcuterie from the Okanagan, Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island. A wine flight of British Columbia vintages for $16 and the Best of BC Plate featuring three locally produced items plus cheese and condiments for $16 is tasty way to graze the province. End the night with a cold pint of craft brew among the colorful characters of The Lamplighter Public House, and don’t forget to tip a hat to Gassy Jack’s statue before calling it a night.
Take a water taxi to Granville Island to explore the crowded stalls of the Public Market for BC-grown products among families and couples. Fraser Valley Juice and Salad offers a vitamin hit for herbivores with freshly made juices and smoothies from locally sourced fruit and vegetables while carnivores will appreciate the Oyama Sausage Co.’s wide variety of globally inspired sausages and salami (and palate-pleasing English pork pies).
Tuck into apple flapjacks or house-smoked Salmon Benny at Edible Canada Bistro, which features Canadian ingredients and advocates for Canadian farmers and products. Leave the island and wander the art galleries of South Granville, a mix of modern European, Aboriginal and emerging Canadian artists and stylish shoppers. For a spicy snack Rangoli is a restaurant, gourmet and spice shop owned by Vancouver’s favourite Indian Chef Vikram Vij.
Spend time strolling West 4th, which lies in the heart of Kitsilano, a neighborhood that epitomizes eco-loving, organic-obsessed Vancouver. Go local by wearing Lululemon, whose first store opened in this neighborhood in 2000. Be sure to stop at the stylish Gravity Pope, for cutting edge selections from designers like Paul Smith, Rag & Bone, Alexander Wang and Veronique Branquinho, Signed, Sealed and Delivered has the perfect gift or card for the BFF. And for the audiophile, who wants to keep their cool cred, spend time in Zulu Records, where the atmosphere is reminiscent of High Fidelity. After, take a stroll on Kits Beach, which is less than 10 minutes away and popular with humans and canines.
Start off ‘Appy Hour at Yaletown’s The Flying Pig indulging in steamed clams, the house salmon sampler and a white varietal from the Okanagan Valley, with the tech types and suited 30 somethings. Indulge in modern Japanese cuisine at Minami, regularly voted as one of the best places to eat sushi in town, a hard-fought title to win in a city with a Japanese community dating back to the 19th century. End the night in the former Olympic Village neighborhood at Tap & Barrel with its numerous offerings of BC vintages and crafts brews on tap. Be prepared for endless conversations about the hometown Canucks playoff run and toasts to those who completed the steep Grouse Grind hike with panoramic views of Vancouver.
Air Canada, Westjet and most major US airlines offer flights to Vancouver. Be sure to take time to wander the YVR’s art collection which includes recipients of the YVR Art Foundation which promotes BC First Nations art and artists.
The Rosewood Hotel Georgia originally opened in 1927, the choice of residence for British royals (including HRH Edward, Prince of Wales and his brother George, Duke of Kent) and Hollywood royals (Errol Flynn, John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich, Katherine Hepburn). Renovated and reopened in 2011, this elegant hotel is a polished combination of luxury service and award-winning dining at Hawksworth Restaurant. Rooms start from $320.00.
With all the necessary amenities for tech geeks and fitness nuts, Coal Harbour’s Loden Hotel provides more than the usual in-room offerings for its 70 rooms and seven suites including yoga equipment and Nintendo Wii, complimentary cruiser bike rental and access to the hotel’s private car service in a London cab. Rooms start from $249.00.
Waheeda Harris may live in Toronto, but her heart remains in her home province of British Columbia. A freelance journalist for fifteen years, she writes about art, décor, design and travel.