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Biking in Stanley Park, Vancouver. photos by Max Hartshorne.Biking in Stanley Park, Vancouver. photos by Max Hartshorne.

Vancouver BC: As Good As It Gets



Tell anyone on the East Coast your next destination is British Columbia, and they'll sigh, then pause before looking up wistfully summoning gauzy fond memories. It seems that everyone I told I was going to BC had their own very favorable impression of the place. "It's beautiful up there," they said in unison. 

OK, OK, it's beautiful. But what else?

My trip to Vancouver, the largest city and not the capital of Canada's western-most province (that would be Victoria) took place last November. And I got a chance to see that famed British Columbia scenery and indeed, it was righteously beautiful. 

But what I liked about Vancouver was its amazing 1000-acre park, right smack dab in the urban center.  Stanley Park, pictured at right, is surrounded by a walking and biking trail and bounded on three sides by water.


There is a primeval rainforest, a lake that looks like it could be found in remote part of the province, and there are touristy stops like totem poles and parking lots. 

But the best part of Stanley Park is that you can be riding a bike or even a horse on a trail and be all alone--right there in the middle of a city of 3 million people! Stanley Park should be the envy of every city planner who ever wanted a park to be an integral part of a city. It's one of the true highlights of DR. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver.Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver.Vancouver.

The Burrard

During my visit to Vancouver I stayed at the Burrard, a hotel with a storied, cocktail-filled history. It was built in 1956, and indeed once had a sparkling pool and a big long bar filled with cocktail swilling swingers.

Today a pretty green forest has replaced the pool in the central terrace, surrounded on all four sides by balconies and rooms decorated in aqua and yellow.  Cheeky signs designate the 3rd floor as "where rockstars meet their fans," and the 4th where people go to detox.  Fun!

Like so many hip hotels I've stayed in on recent trips, the Burrard offered me exactly what I wanted and left out the old things that I no longer need. Doorman? No.  Free Wi-Fi and bottled water? Yes.  Free bikes to borrow?  YES!  Downstairs is a cozy bar called Betty with a full liquor menu and at breakfast, Betty came through with a scrumptious breakfast sandwich and strong west coast coffee. 

The Burrard, a hip and modern hotel in the center of Vancouver.The Burrard, a hip and modern hotel in the center of Vancouver.The Burrard also offers practical amenities like a Nespresso machine in the room, $20 a night car parking (this is a challenge in BC, beware!) and you can even bring your dog with you...$25 gets you a doggie bed, water bowl and food bowl too!  

The location is perfect for exploring the many attractions of the city, right in the middle of downtown. As BC Robyn explained, the city is shaped like a hand...and the Burrard is in the middle of the thumb. At the end of the thumb is Stanley Park, all 1000 acres of it. Below the peninsula of the thumb is the university and the sprawlinThe Burrard neighborhoods that make up Vancouver.

Sushi...It's What's for Dinner

Another topic that gets under the craw of some locals is the price of booze.  For Americans, there will always be a shock when we visit countries where governments have tried to control drinking by taxation.  

Visit Sweden or Norway and sip on a $12 beer. In Vancouver, you've got the double tax of federal and provincial governments. So when you go out to buy a six-pack of beer, expect to be set back about $10 or $11.  A bottle of wine in a store averages $16. Dining out, which people in Vancouver do more than most Canadians, can also add up. But for this there is a tasty solution--sushi. 
The Aquabus takes passengers to Granville Island and other stops in the city.

Robyn told me that there are more than 700 Japanese restaurants serving sushi in the city. And many, many of them are pretty cheap!  We enjoyed sake, salad and a few plates of sushi at Kaide Sushi Bar on Richards Street and the tab was just $46. Again and again, the go-to food here is sushi and the favorite food item for locals is sockeye salmon, fresh from local waters. Take out Thai food from Sala Thai on Burrard was cheap, quick and delicious.  Like in many other cities. my rule is that going Asian is often the best deal in the city.

Sushi chef at Kaide Sushi bar, Vancouver.Sushi chef at Kaide Sushi bar, Vancouver.Food is a key part of the lifestyle in Vancouver....food lovers rule and their influence on the cuisine has brought local, fresh and native selections to the fore. I got a taste of the truly local food when I dined at a restaurant on West Broadway owned by two flight attendants, who are also members of the one of BC's First Nation tribes, the name for aboriginal people in BC.  At the Salmon n' Bannock, game is king, with rabbit, elk, bison, boar and wild caught salmon all featured on the menu. Duck dishes and many varieties of salmon round out the offerings in this cozy little place. 

One lunch highlight was to a large open space on Granville Street called the Fish Shack. Clam chowder was served in bread bowls, and the fish tacos were fresh and delicious. We shared a huge sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Opened in 2012, the Fish Shack is part of the Glowbal Collection, seven restaurants in the city all with an exciting energy. They serve 20 varieties of fresh shucked oysters and the fish comes from right down the street, 'so fresh they jump off the plate.'
Chocolate on Granville Island, Vancouver BC.Chocolatetier on Granville Island.
 
Hollywood North
 
Vancouver is well-known 
to anyone in the movie or television business, since it's been dubbed " Hollywood North,"with more films and shows being produced here than any other city in Canada. It's quite common to walk down a street that's being blocked off for a crew shooting something. 

I jumped on the Aquabus one morning to spend some time on Granville Island, where a market of epic proportions awaited my palate.  I was there for a tour with Edible Canada, and in good hands. It helped that I had a chef for a guide, and Rohan D'souza wasted no time as we entered the cavernous public market building.  More than 12 million visitors come to this, Canada's busiest market, every year. 

I asked Rohan to name the top three restaurants in the city. His list included West, on Granville St, C in Yaletown, and Vij's on Granville.  We headed first to Granville Tea, where hundreds of teas were being sampled, purchased and talked about.  Matcha, a powdered green tea, is the in-thing in tea, he told me, and this one is actually ingested, sort of like eating coffee. 

Other tea highlights include surprise roobios with its intense blend of cardomom, herbs, rooibos tea mixed with peppercorns, apple bark, and 23 other ingredients! The tour stopped at a chocolatier, a fishmonger, several different cheesemakers. South China Seas Trading Co offers salty sea asparagus among other hard-to-find Asian ingredients that foodies adore. Donut shops, artisinal coffee roasters, so much to taste and eat. Once again a familiar traveler's lament, I had no kitchen in which to cook these ingredients, only a hotel room. 

Oceanwatch 2, Indian Arm Recreational services tour boat.Oceanwatch 2, Indian Arm Recreational services tour boat.Cruising to Indian Arm

I didn't want to leave the city without exploring more of the beauty that I knew lay just outside of the city. I also was interested in finding out more about the local history of the Tsleil-Wautuh First Nation.  

Dennis Thomas of Takaya Tours brought me aboard a sturdy former naval boat that holds up to 40 passengers owned by Indian Arm Recreational services. The route took us up the deep waters of the Indian Arm waterway, 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver. The Aboriginal Tourism Association of BC has many other tours designed to showcase their cultures and traditions in the region.

The Tsleil Wautuh nation, a 500-member tribe holds this land sacred and they are starting a new venture using these bigger boats for four-hour excursions where visitors can learn about the tribe's traditions and see the land where they once dominated.

They speak in Coastal Salish language, and sing traditional songs as the steel-hulled boat the Oceanwatch 2 chugs along up the narrow strait. This is a joint venture between Kataya Tours and the Oceanwatch,  from Cates Park north of Vancouver twelve miles into the Indian Arm. 

As well as enjoying the spectacular scenery and the houses perched on hillsides on both sides of the channel, we got off the boat to visit a waterfall and learn about the flora and fauna of this region. The tour includes a bagged lunch and it was surprising to learn that this waterway once had dozens of paper mills--and there is only one left.

The Panhandlers 

One of the people I met while I was in Vancouver was a young women who grew up here, she's a fourth-generation Vancouverite, and calls herself BC Robyn on Twitter. She was my official Gen-Y guide here and quickly told me about one of the few bummers of living here. The homeless. Walk between Chinatown and the Gastown district, and you'll meet more of them than you'd want to. It's a topic of endless conversations...why are there so many beggars here?

It's an army of panhandlers who aren't hestitant to ask for your assistance. They sometimes block the sidewalk, and other times just annoy visitors. "We are the warmest city in Canada," Robyn and others told me. "People flock here, and sadly, many of them end up panhandling on the streets." Government generosity also attracts these young people, who harsh the city's distinct mellowness.

Vancouver, though, is still as glorious a place as everyone makes it out to be, and is definitely a place worth visiting. In fact it just may be a bucket list destination!

Find out more about Vancouver and visiting British Columbia. This trip was generously sponsored by Tourism BC.

Max Hartshorne





Max Hartshorne
is the editor of GoNOMAD and writes a daily blog about his travels called Readuponit. Read more of his stories on GoNOMAD and follow GoNOMAD's writers on Twitter.







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