By Bob Glaze
I was recently back in Vancouver after my first visit 25+ years ago in conjunction with ski trip to Whistler with Chicago friends. Today it has a bustling downtown with wonderful contemporary architecture, public sculptures, great shopping, cafes and restaurants. It has also has a thriving art, theater and music scene as well.
It is an extremely diverse city with a large Asian population and influence. I remember on my first trip to Hong Kong in 1996 before Britain handed the governance of Hong Kong over to the People’s Republic of China on July 1, 1997, that many thousands of Hong Kong Chinese had settled in Vancouver in the late 1980s and early 1990s because of the uncertainty of the handover.
A large port city, it is surrounded by mountains and water, providing for great opportunities to experience boating, sailing, fishing, hiking, whale watching, birding, cycling, mountain biking, snowboarding and skiing.
Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre.
When I was in town, I saw no need for car. I found that the city’s rapid transit system, the SkyTrain, was a great way to get around the city. I took it to downtown from the airport and back again for my return flight. I also used it to get to some of the neighborhoods and suburbs as I explored the area. My hotel was two blocks from the downtown Waterfront station. The Expo and Millennium SkyTrain Lines connect downtown Vancouver with the cities of Burnaby, New Westminster and Surrey. The Canada Line connects downtown Vancouver to the Vancouver International Airport (YVR) and the city of Richmond. You can buy a day pass or individual tickets. To get around town, Black Top Cabs is a recommended company that I used several times.
There are also many ferries, buses and seaplanes to get Whistler, Victoria and other locations nearby. I flew to Victoria for the day which was so easy. The terminal was a 10 minute walk from my hotel and the flight was just over 30 minutes.
One word of precaution. The city has a very large homeless population. I was amazed when I walked from Chinatown on E. Hastings St., through Gastown to Downtown in the evening after dinner, that there were many, many homeless moving in to camp out at night along the streets. You may want to avoid this area in the evening and at night and it was a little overwhelming to see and experience.
Where to Eat in Vancouver, BC
Vancouver has some great restaurants to try from casual Asian spots to fine dining restaurants. My recommendations by neighborhood include:
Forage, 1300 Robson St.
Forage: Located at 1300 Robson St., this is a local restaurant featuring locally sourced ingredients from fisherman, farmers and forages along with beer, wine and spirits from wineries, distilleries and craft breweries. Though the smoked duck breast looked amazing, I was so glad that I ordered the pan seared halibut with a dungeness crab creamed corn, cucamelon, dragon’s tongue beans and holy basil oil. It was an incredible dish. I was also glad that I went on my first night in town as it was a great experience. They are open for breakfast, brunch and dinner
Next door, also at 1300 Robson, is their sister restaurant, Timber, which is a casual, gastropub featuring Canadian comfort food. Favorites include the bison burger and poutine.
D’oro Gelato & Caffe: With two locations in town, I went to the one at 1222 Robson St where they feature some outstanding gelato flavors along with pastries, desserts and coffee. They also have a menu of panini, soups and salads. So make sure to stop in when you are in the area. I enjoyed the salted caramel flavor!!
Mink Chocolate: Around the corner from the Auberge Hotel, this is a good spot for coffee, tea, desserts, chocolate drinks and great handmade chocolates. 863 W. Hastings.
Miku Sushi, 70 – 200 Granville St.
Miku Sushi: This is a very good spot for sushi in a contemporary setting with great water views. I enjoyed dinner here after flying back from Victoria. The Harbour Air Seaplane Terminal is a short walk. 70 – 200 Granville St.
Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, 900 W. Georgia St.
Afternoon Tea at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver: The Fairmont downtown features a themed afternoon tea in the private dining room of its restaurant. When I was there, they were having The Great British Tea Party featuring scones, tea sandwiches and sweets. It is a fun experience that I highly recommend. 900 W. Georgia St.
Hawksworth Restaurant, 801 W Georgia St.
Hawksworth Restaurant: This is the elegant, upscale restaurant at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. It has received great press and reviews. It is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. As I was trying other spots for lunch and dinner when I was in town, I was able to go and enjoy a lovely breakfast on my last morning in town. 801 W Georgia St.
Botanist, 1038 Canada Place.
I enjoyed my lunch at the Botanist restaurant at the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel located 1038 Canada Place. The menu features local produce and seafood. I had a great halibut entree for lunch. The service was also excellent. After lunch or dinner, stop downstairs for a great gelato at Bella Gelateria at 1001 W Cordova St.
Royal Dinette Restaurant, 905 Dunsmuir St.
Royal Dinette Restaurant: I had a really outstanding meal when I was in town at this farm-to-table restaurant. They were featuring a special Hawaiian menu that evening, so I was able to try some dishes that I have never had before. This included a wonderful fish poke and a side of grilled pineapple. It was a perfect light meal after a decadent afternoon tea at the Fairmont. Vancouver Magazine rated it the Best Restaurant Pacific Northwest 2017. Upstairs is The Blackbird Public House, a fun, casual bar filled with vintage antique photos. 905 Dunsmuir St.
As you explore Stanley Park check out the Teahouse of Stanley Park at Ferguson Point which gets great reviews for it food and views.
Tap & Barrel, 76-1055 Canada Place.
Tap & Barrel and Tap Shack are fun group of waterfront bars/restaurants that feature local craft beer, local wines and menu items that according to them, are “seasonally inspired and locally sourced.” The Tap & Barrel at the Convention Center, 76-1055 Canada Place and the TapShack at Coal Harbour at 1199 W Cordova have great views of the water and the distant mountains and are near many of the downtown hotels.
Visiting Granville Island was by far one of the highlights of my recent trip to Vancouver. In addition to the food offerings at the Public Market, there are a number of restaurants to try as you explore the area:
The SandBar, 1535 Johnston Street.
The SandBar: Located on the northside of Granville Island, this two level restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating, has spectacular views of downtown Vancouver. I thought my salmon burger was perfectly done. I highly recommend it. 1535 Johnston Street.
After lunch head downstairs in the same building to the Granville Island Gelato & Coffee. They have some wonderful flavors.
Granville Public Market.
Granville Public Market: Open seven days a week, the Public Market has a number of purveyors selling fruit, fresh produce, baked goods, coffee drinks, seafood, ice cream, spices, oils and vinegars and specialty food items. There is also a farmers market on Thursdays from early June through late September.
Granville Island Brewing Company.
Granville Island Brewing Company: This is a large microbrewery, on Granville Island, that features 10 of their local brews. I thought their Maple Shack Cream Ale was really outstanding. Love the smoothness with a hint of Canadian maple syrup.
The Liberty Distillery: Located at 1494 Old Bridge Street on Granville Island, this is a local distillery making a line of vodka, gin and whiskey. Started in 2010, it was started making Vancouver’s first hand-crafted, premium spirits made from 100% BC organic grain. I thought the Burgundy Trust Whiskey, aged in Burgundy wine barrels, was particularly good and very smooth!
Artisan SakeMaker: Also on Granville Island is the tasting room for this Osake Premium Sake at 1339 Railspur Alley. Opened in 2007, it is Canada’s first locally produced premium sake.
Shop in Chinatown.
Chinatown has a great mix of casual ethnic spots to more high-end dining along with Asian markets and shops. My recommendations include:
Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie, 163 Keefer Street.
Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie: I had a really excellent meal at Bao Bei. Thanks to a close Chicago friend who had eaten there for his recommendation. With great recent press, they feature modern Chinese food with an emphasis on shared plates and creative cocktails. I had some wonderful steamed dumplings made with steamed prawn, scallops, rockfish and chives. The fried rice dish made with tomatoes and albacore was also very good as was the tofu with dark cherries. It is very popular and they don’t take reservation, so I suggest going early as soon as they open at 5:30 pm. I did and it filled up very quickly. 163 Keefer Street.
Juniper Kitchen & Bar: I saw Juniper on my recent trip, but was not able to eat there. It is definitely on my list for next time. The restaurant features handcrafted cocktails and a Cascadian-inspired menu. They have a small contemporary dining room and a very creative, Cascadian-inspired menu featuring a number of appetizers and main courses from scallops, duck, lamb, bison and pasta. 185 Keefer St.
The Keefer Bar: This is a fun Chinatown bar with a patio. They feature Asian-inspired cocktails paired with fusion small plates. 135 Keefer St.
There are many other restaurants, cafes and bakeries. I enjoyed The Boss which is a bakery and restaurant at 532-534 Main St. The restaurant in back features a number of rice, noodle, congee dishes. I really enjoyed my coconut bun from the bakery!
Coffee drinkers won’t be disappointed as you can visit Aubade Coffee at 230 E. Pender St. This is a specialty cafe inside the Space Lab antique shop, featuring artisan coffees, pastries & tea. Vancouver Coffee Snob ranked it the #1 coffee shop in Vancouver in 2016.
Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng Co, 500 Main St.
Tea lovers should not miss Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng Co at 500 Main St. I had been a customer of their store in Chicago’s Chinatown for many years until it recently closed after 30 years. They have a great selection of Chinese imported teas. My favorite by far is the jasmine pearls!!
Yaletown was one of my favorite neighborhoods that I explored on my recent trip to the city. Originally the area was the 1886 terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Today it is centered along Mainland and Hamilton streets with shops and restaurants now occupying the historic buildings. It has many restaurants from Japanese, Thai and Mexican.
Blue Water Cafe: At 1095 Hamilton, Blue Water Cafe is known for its seafood. I was very disappointed to find that it was not open for lunch when I was exploring the neighborhood. I will make it point do have dinner there on my next trip, as the reviews are excellent.
Yaletown Brewing Company: This is a really fun local’s hangout offering house-brewed beers, weekly small-batch tastings and casual pub food. I enjoyed the pulled pork sandwich topped off with a tasty slaw. I thought their wheat beer and pear saison were both excellent. Both were light and had a fresh taste. 1111 Mainland St.
Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill & Enoteca: At 1133 Hamilton St., this Italian restaurant gets high marks from Wine Spectator Magazine for its food and extensive selection of wines.
Yaletown Brewing, 1132 Hamilton.
Yaletown Distillery: This is a small craft distillery, owned by the Yaletown Brewing Company and found behind the Yaletown Brewing Company at 1132 Hamilton that produces the Yaletown Small Batch Craft Vodka, the Yaletown Small Batch BC Gin and the Yaletown Single Malt Canadian Whisky. The whisky was smooth and really excellent! I really recommend trying it. They offer tastings and tours at this location.
Contemporary Art Gallery: Before after your meal, stop in at this independent nonprofit public gallery featuring contemporary works by local and international artists. 555 Nelson St.
Streets of Gastown.
On my next trip, I want to spend time in Gastown. Just east of downtown, Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood, has a mix of souvenir shops, indie art galleries and decor stores in Victorian buildings. There are hip cocktail lounges and many restaurants serving everything from gourmet sandwiches to local seafood. My list to try includes:
L’Abattoir, located in the center of Gastown at 217 Carrall St., gets great reviews for its cocktails and Pacific Northwest fare.
Nemesis Coffee at 302 W. Hastings and Timbertrain Coffee Roasters at 311 W. Cordova are on many lists for great coffee.
Railtown is immediately east of Gastown in area called the Downtown Eastside. It is an emerging area with a growing number of cafes, breweries and more. I enjoyed:
Railtown Cafe: I enjoyed stopping in at this cafe, featuring good coffee drinks plus food items. 397 Railway St.
Vancouver Urban Winery, 55 Dunlevy Ave.
Postmark Brewing/Vancouver Urban Winery: At 55 Dunlevy Ave. in the the Settlement Building, this Railtown neighborhood, Postmark is craft brewery that makes a number of ales, stouts, IPAs and lagers. It also shares the space with the Vancouver Urban Winery and Scratch Kitchen restaurant. It is a fun space to visit. You can try a number of their wines. On a warm July afternoon, I really enjoyed tasting their rosé.
Richmond is a Vancouver suburb located south of the city where the airport is located. Known for its Asian influences, it is home to the International Buddhist Temple, an elaborate complex resembling Beijing’s Forbidden City. There are over 200 Asian restaurants in the Golden Village district. It is also home to the famous Richmond Night Market. I recommend:
Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant: Located at 8888 River Road, this is traditional Chinese restaurant featuring dim sum during the day and seafood at night. It is located near the Bridgeport station and a short walk to the Richmond Night Market. I had dinner there before the Night Market. I thought it had an authentic atmosphere, with large family groups and good food.
Richmond Night Market.
For a great experience, make sure to head to the Richmond Night Market. It is a weekend event held from mid-May to early October from 7pm to 12am on Friday and Saturday and to 11pm on Sunday. Here you will find a huge number of food vendors selling everything from dim sum and seafood to ice cream and bubble tea. There are also arcade games plus live performances in music, dance and martial arts. It is a great spot for families. I went early as the lines can be long to get in. Plus it allowed me to walk and see everything before it got very crowded. It is free for children under 10 and seniors over 60. Admission is $4.25 Canadian to enter. You can take the SkyTrain to the Bridgeport Station. 8351 River Rd. I stayed over a Friday evening, to make sure that I was able to see it.
There are a number of companies offering local Vancouver food tours:
Vancouver Foodie Tours: For those interested in exploring the food scent in Vancouver, then sign up for one of their walking tours which include Gastronomic Gastown Tour, Best of Downtown and the Granville Island Market Tour. They recently added a World’s Best Food Truck Tour as well.
Culinary Walking Tours offers a fun experience with its Vancouver Tours. They feature three, a Gourmet Ice Cream & Pizza Tour, a Tailtown Urban Eats Tour and an Olympic Village Food Tour.
Where to Stay in Vancouver, BC
Vancouver has a number of great hotels, from contemporary boutique properties, to elegant high-end options. My recommendations include:
Auberge, 837 W. Hastings.
Auberge: This is a smaller boutique property located in an office and private club tower. I found it a great location from which to explore the city. It is near the cruise ship dock, a short walk to the seaplane terminal and the ferry terminal. You can walk to downtown, Gastown, Chinatown and other neighborhoods. It is also two blocks away from the Waterfront station on the Skytrain Canada Line which makes it easy to take the train from the Vancouver International Airport (VNR) or to other neighborhoods like Yaletown and Richmond, home of the famous Asian Night Market. My room was very comfortable and they have a small breakfast room where a complimentary breakfast is served daily. The staff was most helpful in helping navigate the city. 837 W. Hastings.
Rosewood Hotel Georgia, 801 W Georgia St.
Rosewood Hotel Georgia: First opened in 1927 as the Hotel Georgia, it is now a Rosewood property and was totally renovated in 2011. It is a very attractive hotel, with bar and the Bel Cafe for coffee, pastries, tarts, cakes and macaron along with sandwiches and soups. Their Hawksworth restaurant is very elegant and has very good food. I enjoyed breakfast there on my last morning before heading to the airport. 801 W Georgia St.
Fairmont Vancouver: The Fairmont Vancouver is an elegant, luxury hotel in the heart of downtown. I thought it was the perfect location for their afternoon tea which is held in their private dining room.
Fairmont Pacific Rim: This is a large, elegant hotel along the harbor in Vancouver. 1038 Canada Place. This would be a good location if you need a room prior to you embarking on or disembarking from a cruise as it is very close to the Cruise Ship Terminal.
The Opus Vancouver is a hip, boutique hotel in Yaletown which is one of my favorite areas of the city. It has a bar, restaurant and espresso bar as well. 322 Davie St.
What to Do in Vancouver, BC
A large port city, it is surrounded by mountains and water, providing for great opportunities to experience boating, sailing, fishing, hiking, whale watching, birding, cycling, mountain biking, snowboarding and skiing. In addition to the outdoor activities, you can experience wonderful contemporary architecture, public sculptures, art, theater and music.
Vancouver Art Gallery: This is major art museum in the heart of downtown The collection of over 11,000 works of art, represents the most comprehensive resource for visual culture in British Columbia. In addition, the collection contains outstanding examples of 19th century mountain and coastal landscapes to recent photo-based artworks by popular Vancouver artists. The Gallery owns the largest and most significant group of paintings and works on paper by the modernist landscape painter Emily Carr.
Gallery Cafe, 750 Hornby St.
The Gallery also features a number of temporary exhibitions plus lectures, artist talks and concerts. I enjoyed an exhibition of paintings by Canadian artist David Milne, a photography exhibition and an architecture exhibition called Cabin Fever, on the history of the cabin in North American history. They have a lovely Gallery Cafe without outdoor seating that is perfect in the warmer months. They feature coffee and pastries along with cocktails, wines, soups, salads and sandwiches. 750 Hornby St.
Poly Culture Art Center, 905 W. Pender St. #105.
Stop in to see a current exhibition at the Poly Culture Art Center at 905 W. Pender St. #105. I enjoyed a painting exhibition as well as a ceramics show featuring Chinese tea bowls. It’s mission is to offer a cultural exchange between China and North America.
In downtown Vancouver, there are a number of great art galleries. Make sure to visit The Space – An Art Gallery at 1063 Hamilton in Yaletown featuring the works of local artists. Peter Kiss Gallery is a nice gallery on Granville Island at 1327 Railspur Alley featuring his sculptures, mixed media and paintings. Chali-Rosso Art Gallery at 549 Howe St. carries quality works by artists including Picasso, Dali, Chagall, Miro, and Matisse. Le Soleil Fine Art Gallery at 100-535 Howe St. covers works from old masters and contemporary artists including Kandinsky, Renoir, Warhol and Dali.
On Granville Island, the English Bay Gallery at #103 1535 Johnston St. is well-worth the visit. You can also catch a play at the Waterfront theatre or a performance at the Vancouver Fringe Festival. The Arts Club Alive on Three Stages, performs at the Granville Island Stage during the festival in mid-October to mid-November.
Stanley Park: Stanley Park is a 1000 acre public park that borders downtown of Vancouver. It is almost entirely surrounded by the waters of Vancouver Harbour and English Bay. The park has a long history and was one of the first areas to be explored in the city. You can walk or bike the famous seawall, hike one of the many trails, explore beautiful beaches and natural, cultural and historic landmarks. Carriage rides are provided by Stanley Park Horse-Drawn Tours. It also includes Canada’s largest aquarium, The Vancouver Aquarium, at 845 Avison Way
Theater lovers will love Theatre under the stars in the summer at the Malkin Bowl in the park. The nine First Nation’s nine totem pole located in the park at Brockton Point are BC’s most visited tourist attraction.
Vancouver’s Chinatown Millennium Gate.
Vancouver’s Chinatown was recognized as National Historic Site of Canada in 2011.When visiting Chinatown, make sure to see the Millennium Gate at the west end of the neighborhood on East Pender St.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, 578 Carrall St.
Also not to be missed is the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. This is the first full-sized classical Chinese garden outside of China. It sits on the site where Chinatown originated. It opened in time for the 1986 World’s Fair. It is a peaceful setting in the midst of a bustling city. You will enjoy the architecture of the halls, pavilions, courtyards, covered walkways, terraces and lookout platforms all in a Ming dynasty classical design. In addition there are gardens featuring rocks, water features and plants. 578 Carrall St. There is a larger park next door with free admission.
Vancouver is a great place to visit during the hotter months in Chicago. Enjoy your time there. I know you will enjoy it!
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