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Scratching the Surface of Vancouver

Sheena from Vancouver

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Vancouver is Canada's third largest city, and enjoys one of the most temperate climates. It is surrounded by water on three sides and is nestled up to the Coast Mountain Range. It is my home, so perhaps I could be accused of bias, but the scenery is SPECTACULAR. We have just the right balance of rain and sunshine to keep the vegetation beautifully green, you are never far from the water, and the majestic mountains cap views to the north. I have included some North Shore information, partly because I live on the North Shore and am therefore familiar with the territory, but also because no trip to Vancouver would be complete without visiting at least one of the mountains.

The purpose of these notes is not so much to give you fundamental practicalities which you can easily access on line, but rather an overview of what you will find in and around Vancouver, plus some suggested itineraries. Believe me this is a mere morsel of what is available here.

Vancouver has such an extraordinary array of cosmopolitan restaurants it justifies a separate guide, however I have made a few suggestions within these notes. The suggestions are not necessarily the best or the most popular, just convenient to where you may be.

If, after reading what we have to offer, you decide to visit us you will find more detailed information at Tourism Vancouver www.tourismvancouver.com.

Theatre and Music

Theatre and Music performances are held at the Orpheum and the Queen Elizabeth Theaters, in addition to many active smaller venues such as the Arts Club Theater, Firehall Arts Theatre, the Waterfront Theatre and the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. Major events are held at GM Place or BC Place stadiums.

You can get information on all productions plus purchase both advance tickets and daily half price tickets at www.ticketstonight.ca. Their ticket booth is in the Tourist Information Centre at the bottom of Burrard Street.

Museums

History, Art and Science exhibits cover a wide variety of interests.

Vancouver Museum: www.vanmuseum.bc.ca
The history of and exhibits related to Vancouver's multi-cultural heritage.

Museum of Anthropology: www.moa.ubc.ca
One of the world's finest displays of Northwest Coast First Nations art. This museum is worth visiting for the building and surroundings alone. At UBC also see botanical garden information under parks below.

Vancouver Maritime Museum: www.vancouvermaritimemuseum.com
A history of the Port of Vancouver and maritime art, culture, industry & technology.

H R MacMillan Space Centre: www.hrmacmillanspacecentre.com
A planetarium/observatory.

Storyeum: www.storyeum.com
A theatrical presentation of B.C. history. (Brand new)

Science World: www.scienceworld.bc.ca
An interactive must for children!

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre: www.vanaqua.org
The name says it all. This is an extraordinary aquarium.

The Vancouver Art Gallery: www.vanartgallery.bc.ca
Housed in the old courthouse building the gallery presents national and international exhibitions, but is best known for its collection of the work of Emily Carr.

Shopping

If you like malls, you will find ample shopping downtown at the Pacific Centre Mall or Oakridge Shopping Centre. I think it is far more interesting to visit some of Vancouver's diverse neighborhoods. Each of the areas listed below has a wide variety of coffee shops and restaurants, which are great for people watching even if you aren't interested in the shops!

Neighborhoods

South Granville (south of Granville Street Bridge) is full of higher end galleries, antiques stores and home furnishings boutiques. Vij's at 11th is my favorite Vancouver restaurant. (Indian fusion with a good vegetarian selection)

Robson Street is where the young and trendy shop for clothes. There is always a great deal of activity and entertainment on this street. Milestones or Earls restaurants are good casual dining choices on Robson.

Yaletown is the new trendy up-scale clothing and restaurants area of town. Yaletown Brew Pub and Cactus Club are casual eating choices. Glowbal and the bar at the Opus Hotel are the places to be 'seen'. Right on the water with outdoor patios are the mid price-range Provence and The Quay restaurants.

Granville Island boasts a fresh food market (produce, fish, meat, breads), a microbrewery, artisan's studios, a kids water park, theatre, and street buskers. Bridges restaurant offers pub style dining on the main floor and finer dining upstairs, or pick up food at the market and picnic outside watching the marine activity on False Creek.

Gastown has neat cobbled streets, heritage buildings and the famous steam clock. Mainly touristy or native arts stores. Incendio Restaurant is very casual, as is the Water Street Cafe with Al Porto being slightly more up-scale. The Old Spaghetti Factory is a fun place to eat with children.

Chinatown is also an area of heritage buildings where you will find traditional Chinese dinnerware, herbalists, and Chinese linens. Go on Sunday morning and enjoy Dim Sum at one of the many restaurants.

Main Street is the spot for browsing for antiques. There are cafes but I don't know a restaurant in the area to recommend.

Commercial Drive is a totally eclectic mix. It is often referred to as Little Italy and there certainly is an Italian influence, however you will also find Cuban, Japanese and African food, cheap house wares stores, Italian shoes, folk art and a Buddhist Temple!

Parks

The most famous park in Vancouver is Stanley Park. You can drive the perimeter road, walk, rollerblade or cycle the seawall (5.5 miles) play tennis, pitch & putt, hike the many trails or have your photograph taken beside the totem poles. There is a children's playground, a miniature railway and a children's farmyard. There are formal gardens such as the rose garden and the rhododendron garden. The aquarium is in Stanley Park.

Other special parks are:

Queen Elizabeth Park/Bloedel Floral Conservatory: www.city.vancouver.bc.ca/parks/parks/queenelizabeth

The Dr Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden: www.vancouverchinesegarden.com

UBC Botanical Garden: www.ubcbotanicalgarden.org

The Van Dusen Gardens: www.vandusengarden.org

Sports

Vancouver is probably Canada's most health conscious city. Here you can participate in just about any sports imaginable. Vancouver's temperate climate allows you to play golf and tennis year round. Our close proximity to the mountains gives easy access to winter sports. Just minutes away from downtown you can downhill and cross-country ski, snowshoe or snowboard on the three north shore mountains. On the occasional snowy day down at sea level kids toboggan in local parks and on golf courses.

If you like to walk the sea walk follows the shoreline from Canada Place on Burrard Inlet and Coal Harbour with wonderful views of the North Shore mountains. It continues around Stanley Park to English Bay and the north side of busy False Creek to Science World. There is a small area not yet completed, but you can pick up the trail on the south side of False Creek at Cambie Street Bridge where you can admire the luxury yachts, sailboats and houseboats. The trail then circles Granville Island and runs along the south side of English Bay through Vanier Park to the end of Kitsilano Beach Park. The complete trail would be a rather long walk, but you can certainly walk, cycle or rollerblade sections of the walk. There is also a great little aqua bus that you can hop on and off around False Creek.

At Kitsilano Beach you can fly kites, play volleyball, swim in or simply paddle along the edge of the ocean. You can windsurf a little further west at Jericho Beach. Kayaks and canoes can be rented at Jerico Beach or on Granville Island.

Golf courses abound in and around Vancouver, with the most spectacular being Furry Creek overlooking Howe Sound. It is a 40-minute drive north on Hwy 99, aptly named the Sea to Sky Highway.

More interested in spectator sports? Depending on the season you can watch hockey games at G.M. Place, football at B.C. Place Stadium or spend a lazy summer evening taking in a baseball game at Nat Bailey Stadium.

Excursions away from the downtown core.

On Saturday mornings in the summer there is a wonderful farmers market beside Trout Lake Community Centre on Victoria Drive. Farmers bring their organic produce in from the Fraser Valley. There are cheese makers, bakers, and a stall with an amazing selection of mushroom varieties. You can buy flowers and plants, honey and some jams. There are always musicians and a few artisans with pottery or blown glass. It is a wonderful country community atmosphere. After shopping the market take a walk around Trout Lake and having built up an appetite just go west one block to Commercial Drive (see shopping above) and have lunch at Calabria Bar - an outrageous Italian bar with great panini.

There are many companies offering trips out into waters around Vancouver to watch for Orca whales. There is a tour company very conveniently located on Granville Island. Although there is no guarantee that you will experience the thrill of seeing whales or other wildlife, you will certainly view majestic scenery.

Take the seabus from the terminal just beside Canada Place over to Lonsdale Quay on the North Shore. At Lonsdale Quay you will find market stalls as well as boutiques and children's stores. There are usually buskers entertaining the shoppers. From the quay you will get a breathtaking view of the Vancouver skyline and harbor.

Spend the morning at Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver. This is the lighthouse you can see to the west as you cross Lions Gate Bridge. There is a path straight down from the parking lot to the lighthouse, or you can hike various trails through the park. Here you will see huge magnificent Douglas fir trees. Take a picnic lunch to eat by the water, or get back into the car and drive further west to Horseshoe Bay where you can watch the ferries come and go whilst you enjoy fish and chips at Trolls Restaurant. There is also the Boathouse Restaurant for those who want something a little less casual. Leave your car in Horseshoe Bay and board the Langdale Ferry as a foot passenger. This is an incredibly pretty 40-minute ferry ride through Howe Sound to Langdale on the Sunshine Coast. You can just return on the same ferry or take the bus into Gibson's where the Beachcombers television series was filmed.

Drive or take the blue bus across Lions Gate Bridge to Ambleside Park in West Vancouver. Park your car and walk west along the sea wall to Dundarave. You can spot freighters, cruise ships and float planes. When you reach Dundarave pier walk north for one block to Marine Drive where you will find a few local stores and several places for coffee or lunch. From here you can retrace your steps along the sea wall or walk along Marine Drive back to Ambleside.

Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver offers panoramic views of the city, ocean and mountains. Aside from the obvious winter sports Grouse offers helicopter tours, paragliding, Eco-walks, plus dining and theatre. If you are fit you can reach the top of the mountain via the Grouse Grind Hike, a 3700 ft trail straight up to the top of the mountain. Or you can ride the Gondola to the top.

The new treetop walk at Capilano Suspension Bridge allows you to venture from one Douglas fir tree to another on a series of elevated suspension bridges. You can also walk the 450 ft long suspension bridge, visit the totem park and the First Nations Cultural Centre, or simply enjoy the many trails.

If you are on a budget you can get the suspension bridge thrill at Lynn Canyon Ecology Centre. Entrance to the park is free and offers the suspension bridge, an ecology centre, some hiking trails and along the creek a couple of (very cold) pools for swimming.

Deep Cove is a pretty little village at the eastern end of North Vancouver. There are a few shops, a bakery, cafe etc. At the waters edge there is a park where you can rent canoes or kayaks. Deep Cove is quite sheltered creating a good location for beginners. More experience paddlers may want to venture up Indian Arm, a magnificent fjord into the Coast Mountains. The drive from Lions Gate Bridge along Dollarton Highway to Deep Cove is not particularly interesting, however as you reach Deep Cove Road look out for the Raven Inn pub. It is a good spot for lunch.

Serious hikers may want to investigate the Cleveland Dam trail that begins at Ambleside Park (in West Vancouver) and climbs to the Cleveland Dam at the foot of Grouse Mountain. Or Seymour Conservation Reserve where you can rollerblade or cycle, but there are also some major hikes including one up to the Seymour Dam.

The Sea to Sky Highway (Hwy 99) north is a spectacular drive along Howe Sound. North of Horsehoe Bay you will pass the village of Lions Bay, Britannia Beach Mine Museum, Shannon Falls and as you approach Squamish look out on the right for the Chief a favourite for rock climbers. In Squamish you can watch experienced wind surfers. With stops along the way this is a pleasant day trip.

Annual Events

Jan/Feb - Dine Out Vancouver. Some of Vancouver's hottest restaurants offer set price three course meals. (Usually $25 per person.)

May - Vancouver International Children's Festival in Vanier Park.

June - Dragon Boat Festival in Coal Harbour.

June/July - Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

June - September - Bard on the Beach. Shakespeare Festival in open tents in Vanier Park.

July - Sea Vancouver Festival celebrating life by the sea.

July/August - musical productions under the stars at Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park.

July/August - Festival of Light. The largest international fireworks competition in the world. Four nights of fireworks at English Bay.

September - Vancouver Fringe Festival in and around Granville Island.

December - Carol Ships Parade.

Resources

Get more information from the Wikitravel Vancouver Travel Guide.

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