When you think of a vacation spot that has it all, Vancouver tops the list. Great climate? Check. Easy-to-use public transit? Check. Awesome cuisine? Check. Safe and clean streets, scenic wonders, unique neighborhoods, trendy shopping outlets? Check, check, check, check, check.
Perched on the coast of British Columbia, Vancouver is a peacock of a city: colorful, proud, beautiful, vibrant. This multi-ethnic metropolis, bordered on 3 sides by water, boasts more than 603,000 residents and was named recently as Canada’s best destination and the world’s most reputable city. Urban pleasures abound with a plethora of music and cultural experiences, balanced with outdoor adventures such as hiking, biking, and skiing. Best time to visit are in the summer months.
How to get around? Newcomers can rent a car, but they don’t have to. Some tourists may recoil at the thought of going into a major city without the use of an auto, but in Vancouver, a sky tram and bus system works hand-in-hand to get visitors and locals to the places they need to go.
For the first timer, several key attractions are must-sees. First, pedestrian-only Granville Island is a foodie’s and shopper’s paradise. This hopping farmers’ market surrounded by eateries and charming stores filled with handmade items provides a sensory explosion, topped off with outdoor music around its many courtyards and public spaces. Jugglers, minstrels, mimes, you name it, are here to entertain, not harass, although tipping is highly encouraged. In September, the island will again host the Vancouver Fringe Festival, an event that promotes 400 independent plays in 11 days. The acts range from comedy to drama and everything in between. For theater junkies, this buffet of theater is an ideal reason to come to Vancouver while supporting the work of playwrights and thespians.
For families, one of the best place to take kids (and anyone for that matter) is the uncomprable Stanley Park. The 1,000 acres in beloved Stanley Park is comprised of rose gardens, serene trails, lakes and lagoons, trails, playgrounds, and herculean cedar trees. Of note are the myriad of artists who come out of hiding from their studio enclaves to paint, sketch, and sell their wares which adds for wonderful people watching on a sun ripened afternoon. Another blessed gem here is the Vancouver Aquarium, The giant tank famous for its beluga whale, tropical forest, and regional and international aquatic life.
While walking and picnicking at Stanley Park is highly recommended, visitors can bike or leisurely admire the park via vintage car, double decker bus, or horse drawn carriage.
Meanwhile, Gastown, Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood established in 1886, gives all a lesson in urban revival. Now honored as a National Historic Site since 2009, the cobblestone streets of Gastown will give goosebumps to those enamored by Victorian architecture and history. Here you have quaintness juxtaposed with a hipster verve where creativity seems to merge with the molecules of the air.
Gastown is the newest restored enclave where writers, artists of every ilk, architects, and interior designers live and breathe. This tony village has become quite the high-tech hub for entrepeneurs wanting to establish digs. Explorers will find eateries and fine dining by the monikers of Chronic Tacos, Judas Goat Taberna, and Nelson the Seagull. At last count, Gastown officials counted 180 shops, restaurants, bars, cafes and restaurants, a subset of the 550 businesses in this hood of 100 antique buildings.
Be sure to take a photo of the signature icon, a restored, whistling steam clock, a popular meet-me-there corner for locals. Don’t rush through Gastown. The Inuit and fine art galleries, gourmet food hops, and fashion-forward boutiques with colorful window displays must be savored. Gastown is one of the venues for the annual Vancouver International Jazz Festival held every June.
And no trip to Vancouver can be complete without trekking to the 55-acre Buchart Gardens, which draws visitors around the globe for its abundance of waterfalls, manicured flower beds and trees. A full-day visit always leaves tourists flabbergasted and flummoxed at the variety of the flora and fauna. These are all kept in tip top shape by 50 gardeners who will practically sterilize the walking paths, keeping them leaf and blossom free. And it’s not just a place for grandma and her garden club. The place is plenty kid-friendly with an enormous gift shop with stuff for all ages. And for kids, there is a carousel at only $2 a ride. Families can also book children’s parties in the dedicated party room.
How long to spend in Vancouver? You can never spend too long in this B.C. city that never seems to sleep. However, if you spend time at Granville Island, Gastown, Stanley Park, and Buchart Gardens, you’ll have enjoyed the tip of the city’s tourist iceburg. After tasting the pleasures of Vancouver, you will be back for a second helping.
If you need assistance planning your vacation, check out California Tours Vancouver Vacations.
Kathy Chin Leong is an award-winning travel journalist who has trekked the world. As founder of www.bayareafamilytravel.com, she is passionate about helping people step out of their comfort zones and challenge themselves to try new things and visit new places. Her work can be found in National Geographic Books, Sunset Magazine, and many others.