Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Coast mountains, Vancouver is renowned as one of the most beautiful and liveable cities in the world.
Vancouver offers year-round outdoor activities, a vibrant arts scene, insights into First Nations cultures, glimpses of settler history, and stunning scenery. It is easy to travel around by public transport with an excellent rapid transit train system connecting with buses and water ferries; alternatively cars and bikes can be rented by the hour. Scenic day trips by car, ferry or boat enable visitors to explore the beautiful scenery of the greater Vancouver area: Howe Sound, the Sunshine Coast, Whistler, and the Gulf Islands. Summers are pleasant with maximum temperatures in the mid-20s; winters are mild with little snow in the city, but the mountains offer excellent skiing.
The fitness-conscious abound in Vancouver – walking, jogging, and cycling along the city’s beachfronts and the paths criss-crossing 400-acre Stanley Park, or hiking the trails on 1200-metre Grouse Mountain, which provides the beautiful backdrop to the city and harbour. While waiting to take the Skyride up the mountain, I marvelled at the sinewy calves of a group of serious-looking walkers, whose average age looked to be about 80, as they headed toward the start of Grouse Grind, a steep 2.9-kilometre trail with an elevation gain of 853 metres. With 2830, stairs, it is commonly referred to as “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster”. Taking 1.5 to 2 hours for most hikers, super-fit winners of the annual Grouse Grind Mountain Run complete it in less than 30 minutes! Other activities on Grouse Mountain include more moderate walking trails, mountain-biking trails, a lumberjack show, aerial rope courses and ziplines.
Preferring a more relaxed excursion, we booked Breakfast with the Bears, a fun way to see Grouse Mountain and its two famous residents, Grinder and Coola, grizzlies that were orphaned as cubs and grew up in the Grouse Mountain Refuge for Endangered Wildlife. The bears’ food is scattered around their 2.5-acre forest enclosure for them to find by scavenging, as they would in the wild; in this way they do not associate humans with food. After our encounter with the bears, a hot and cold breakfast buffet followed in the Grizzly Lookout Café.
In North Vancouver, you can visit Capilano Salmon Hatchery; then, if you enjoy a thrill, walk across Capilano Suspension Bridge and the new treetop walks and cliff walkway. Visitors can also learn about salmon at Steveston Heritage Fishing Village in Richmond, a former cannery site, and on July 1, attend the annual Canada Day Salmon Festival when over 540 kilograms of wild salmon filets are grilled over open fire pits.
To learn about the history and art of Northwest Coast First Nations, visit the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, world-renowned for its architecture, collections and partnerships with First Nations communities. Highlights include the Great Hall, outdoor Haida houses and totem poles, new Multiversity Galleries and Bill Reid’s large cedar carving of Raven and the First Men. You can learn more about Bill Reid and other regional artists at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in downtown Vancouver. Displays, guided tours and cultural insights from a First Nations perspective are offered at Musqueam Cultural Education Centre in Vancouver and Squamish-Lil’wat Cultural Centre in Whistler, a two-hour drive north on the scenic Sea to Sky highway. A collection of totem poles in Stanley Park enable comparison of the artistic styles of different coastal groups, and contemporary First Nations artworks can be seen in Vancouver airport, so keep this in mind when arriving and departing.
There are plenty of great places to eat in Vancouver. With its large Asian population there are many Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese restaurants in Chinatown and elsewhere. Seafood is abundant on the northwest coast and restaurants serve local salmon, halibut, oysters prawns and Dungeness crabs. Salmon is often hot smoked, cooked on cedar planks, or marinaded in another Canadian favourite – maple syrup – but don’t miss eating halibut, a delicious white-fleshed flatfish with a firm but tender texture. Restaurants serve an amazing array of oysters – the menu of Blue Water Cafe in Yalestown lists 22 varieties, with descriptions of their unique flavours. Cacao, a tiny restaurant in Kitsilano, served innovative, modern Latin American cuisine, and the fabulous and imaginative Botanist promoted the finest local produce. A less obvious gem is Bistro 101, the training restaurant of the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts. Our inexperienced server was conscientious but understandably shy and nervous; the food was sophisticated and divine. At $32 for three á la carte courses preceded by a complimentary amuse bouche, it was excellent value and we enjoyed supporting students as they embarked upon their careers in the food industry.
North Vancouver, British Columbia, Shutterstock