My first trip to British Columbia (BC) was in 2001 to attend a wedding in Vancouver and I fell instantly in love with the place. The City of Vancouver is a melting pot of cultures, which contributes to a very eclectic, urban dynamic. But more impressive is the big sky, green mountains and awesome seascapes that characterize the expansive vistas from downtown Vancouver.
After that first visit, I was convinced that Vancouver would be where we retired and we invested in a condominium in the Yaletown neighborhood with that prospect in mind. Fifteen years later, and having only stepped foot in the condominium twice, we sold the property because the real estate market was overheated. We also determined that we could not have the same standard of living that we do now because of the high taxes in Canada.
Visit to Stanley Park
But we still go back every few years to visit my wife’s extended family living there. Vancouver is a very walkable city, and we usually spend our first day meandering the waterfront from Canada Place, through Coal Harbour and into Stanley Park, which provides amazing views of seaplane traffic with downtown Vancouver as a backdrop. It is not unusual to spot an eagle or two cruising the harbour in search of a meal, and occasionally a harbour seal or glimpse a coyote scurrying away in the forest. Stanley Park also has several excellent running and hiking trails – one of my favorite runs is up through the park to Prospect Point Lookout, which has a view to the Lions Gate Bridge and North Vancouver.
There is a magnificent Asian influence here, which translates into some incredible Asian dining. But the Chinatown in Vancouver has lost its appeal, due in part to street disorder fueled by drug users. In fact, many other cities in North America have a more authentic and vibrant Chinatown experience now, so in Vancouver we try to seek out restaurants that highlight Canadian cuisine instead.
Restaurants in Vancouver
One of our favorites, and a restaurant that we always visit when we are there, is Joe Fortes on Thurlow Street. For us, this is possibly the best seafood restaurant we have ever eaten in. The selection at the oyster bar is usually generous, the fresh fish options numerous and the wine list extensive – especially of BC wines. Other restaurants that emphasize local gastronomy include Forage, on Robson Street, and Nightingale, on West Hastings. On a recent visit to Nightingale, we had a halibut ceviche and a nettle and ricotta tortelloni, both of which were amazing.
Granville Island Market
For us, a visit to Vancouver also includes an excursion to the Granville Island Market. I love food halls and seek them out wherever we travel. Partly this is because growing up I had access to the Reading Terminal Market, which is a Philadelphia institution. But also, I spent 10 years in Europe and did most of my shopping in public food markets that seem to be a way of life there. The market on Granville Island is a great place for picking up local specialty items, like smoked salmon, homemade products, fresh produce and meats.
VanDusen Botanical Gardens
One of the best botanical gardens I have visited is the VanDusen Botanical Gardens, located in the Shaughnessy neighborhood to the south of downtown Vancouver. What intrigued me about these gardens is how natural it felt to me, as opposed to being curated in a contrived manner. It simply felt like walking through someone’s (expansive) back garden. We visited in Spring and there was a vibrant bloom of different azalea and hydrangea plants, as well as a brilliant display of golden chain along the ‘laburnum walk’.
The Grouse Grind
An interesting side trip is to visit Grouse Mountain in North Vancouver and ascend the summit either by taking the gondola or embarking on the Grouse Grind – a 2.5-kilometer climb that encompasses 2,600 feet of elevation gain through dense forest. There is also a fantastic drive along the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler, which for me is one of the most enchanting coastal motoring routes in North America. Whistler is a great alpine destination for skiing and other outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking and fishing.
It should be noted that I am not being compensated for my mention of any of the Vancouver establishments featured in this post. I am simply a satisfied customer!