The West Coast is the best coast – don’t roll your eyes like I used to – it’s true. The West Coast of Canada, anchored by Vancouver, is the best place in the country. Hands down. Sure, I’m biased. I grew up here but I had to leave and come back 20+ years later (during a pandemic no less) to appreciate it. So now that the world is opening back up to travel, here are my picks of what to do and see when you visit. And don’t blame me if you find it impossible to go home. And don’t call me to be your tour guide. I’m busy … enjoying my hometown.
So let’s get one key thing out of the way. Vancouver isn’t the city to experience culture. Sure there’s a bit of that – the Vancouver Art Gallery has some amazing exhibitions – but it’s not like New York, or even Toronto, where the entertainment scene is electrifying. (Even the movie theatres here suck.) This is the city to visit if you want to be outside in a shockingly beautiful natural setting.
Locals like to tell visitors that it RAINS ALL THE TIME. I may get banished for telling the truth but … winter is rainy and June can be surprisingly chilly but the rainfall is not that big a deal. And take it from me, a bit of drizzle or a pounding downpour is a hell of a lot better than snow in May.
BEST TIME TO VISIT? My favourite time of year here is the spring when the flowers are out in full force. Cherry blossoms start to blossom around the third week of March, followed by tulips, and then azaleas and rhododendrons. Peonies and roses blossom in June. The hottest month of the year tends to be July. Rainy season is November to February.
GET OUTSIDE Vancouverites will ask you what you do but they don’t mean work or career plans. They want to know what you DO – cycle, hike, kayak, ski, run – it’s all here and you can do all of it in one day if you’re a maniac. I’m not a winter sport fan so go find another blog that waxes poetic about Whistler or skiing at night on Grouse Mountain with the city lights twinkling in the distance. I walk year ‘round and my favourite place is the Pacific Spirit Regional Park at the entrance to the University of British Columbia. Raffi can run wild although I do keep an eye out for coyotes (yes it’s true) and I don’t walk alone (this is a city, not Pleasantville). Park your car and walk through the forest – the tall spindly trees will take your breath away.
My favourite place to cycle is around the Seawall at Stanley Park. The 28km route is pretty much flat so even a newbie cyclist can get around it easily – just don’t stop in the middle of the path to snap a selfie. And there’s a one way direction to cycle around the park. Messing up either way will cause the local experienced cyclists to mow you down while shrieking obscenities. Vancouverites are nice but don’t piss them off. BTW – Bike rentals are plentiful and cheap around Denman and Davie Streets.
If I have a hot sunny afternoon off, my priority is to get out on the water in a kayak. First-timers should stick to renting one of the big fat plastic kayaks from Vancouver Water Adventures on Granville Island. In two hours, you can paddle safely around False Creek – the chances are very good that you won’t fall in. You may see a seal or two but not a whale (yes, I’ve been asked). Don’t be a jerk and poke them with your paddle. Stay out of the way of the cute little False Creek Ferries too – they get right of way, not you or the paddle boarders. And if you’ve kayaked before, consider renting at Jericho Beach or Deep Cove where the boats are better, faster and sleeker. Again, you won’t fall in unless you stand up to take a selfie. Rookie move.
My other favourite sunny day activity is to walk out on the beach at low tide at Spanish Banks. The sand stretches for what feels like miles – you’ll swear you can walk to the other side of the harbour and touch a freighter as you splash by in ankle-deep water. Instead, you’ll find locals and their dogs playing in the tides. Google Spanish Banks tides and come when the tide is low in the morning – mid-week is ideal. You will NEVER find parking on a weekend summer afternoon.
GRANVILLE ISLAND My favourite place in Vancouver (and maybe even in the world) is Granville Island, the collection of shops, art school, hotel and food market tucked under the Granville Street bridge. I come every week to buy fresh pasta and bagels, cheese, meat and pain au chocolat. Is it expensive? Yes, probably. Is it crowded? Yes, on the weekend. But I love everything about the market stalls, the food, and the setting. On a sunny day, you’ll find me on the patio at Bridges sipping rose and snacking on fries.
GOOD EATS Vancouver is a brilliant city for eating out. There are way too many great restaurants so I will leave the best suggestions to the local blogs. I follow “Vancouver is Awesome” and “The Daily Hive”. Here are my favourite places to bring out of town visitors: Breakfast = Jam Cafe on West 4th Avenue in Kitsilano; Tacofino on West 4th in Kitsilano; Nightingale on West Hastings Street; Blue Water Cafe in Yaletown. I meet my friends for cocktails at Bridges Patio on Granville Island. My two favourite cafes for coffee and dessert are Butter Baked Goods on MacKenzie Street and Mon Pitou Bakery on West 7th.
SHOPPING There are lots of great pockets for shopping but COVID has shuttered so many of the smaller boutiques. You can find everything you need downtown – I’m a huge fan of COS on Robson Street – but I really love the intimacy and chic boutiques on South Granville Street. Plus Bacci’s has the BEST selection of Dries van Noten outside of his own boutiques. Hallelujah!!
STAY Hotels in Vancouver pre-pandemic were ridiculously expensive and booked solid. There are lots of choices and plenty of Air BnBs. I’ll suggest two that I’ve personally enjoyed. I love the Westin Bayshore due to its jaw-dropping scenic spot next to Stanley Park, plus its brilliant heated pool and jaw-dropping buffet. Or, for a budget choice, check into The Sylvia Hotel down in English Bay.
I’m always spotlighting new adventures on my Instagram page so follow me there @lisatant.