48 Hours in Very Cool Vancouver
Chances are, you know Vancouver - even if you’ve never been there. Dubbed "Hollywood North," Vancouver has been a primary film location for nearly a century and is, currently, the third-largest film production town in North America after Los Angeles and New York.
And if you don’t know Vancouver from films and television, then no doubt you know it from your Aunt Bessie’s photo album when she (and the rest of your extended family) took a cruise to Alaska. Each year, more than a million people pass through Vancouver on cruise ships, many of which are bound for Alaska.
And if you don’t know Vancouver from films, television, or Aunt Bessie’s photos, then you’re in for a treat when you get there. First of all, there’s the breathtaking location: A waterfront city situated between the Pacific Coast and the forests of the Coast Mountains, Vancouver is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, water, forests, and parklands. A city of neighborhoods, Vancouver boasts 11 miles of beaches and more than 3,000 acres of parks, with the 1,000-acre Stanley Park as the city’s largest.
If you find yourself on a pristine summer’s day standing along the waterfront, watching the seaplanes and the boats in Vancouver Harbor and staring across at Mount Fromme, then it’s quite possible that you’ll consider bagging your old life and relocating to Vancouver.
But let’s imagine that you have only a couple days before embarkation or departure; therefore, it’s imperative that you see as much of Vancouver as possible.
First of all, park yourself and your suitcases at the Fairmont Pacific Rim. Even if you’re an aficionado of the Fairmont family of hotels and resorts, you’re going to be very happily surprised upon checking into this five-star luxury property. Consider the Fairmont Pacific Rim as the avant-garde member of the Fairmont family, the one with cutting-edge style and exquisite contemporary taste. While Queen Elizabeth II might prefer the historic Fairmont Hotel Vancouver (one of Travel + Leisure’s "Ten Best Hotels in Canada") located a few blocks away, the Fairmont Pacific Rim is where you’re more likely to find William and Kate.
Next step: get out and walk - or bike. Vancouver is blessed with one of the warmest climates in Canada and cycling is the city’s fastest growing mode of transport. Similarly, since the 1990s, car ownership has been falling in Vancouver, the only major Canadian city with this trend.
Both of these factors, alongside the city’s focus on high-rise residential development (instead of urban sprawl) have contributed to Vancouver’s recognition as one of the world’s most liveable cities, ranking in the top ten for five consecutive years. Recently, Travel + Leisure readers once again voted Vancouver the best city in Canada, repeating the award it won as best city in Canada in 2011.
Consider biking to Granville Island, home to one of Vancouver’s largest public markets, as well as the stage for a variety of Vancouver’s beloved buskers. One of Vancouver’s most popular attractions with more than 12 million visitors annually, the Public Market is open seven days a week - and however many calories you burned off biking there, you’ll put them back on with only one sweep through the market’s more than 50 permanent vendors that include bakers, fishmongers, chocolatiers, and cheese specialists.
If you want a true insider’s view of the Public Market, then take a culinary tour with the gracious guides from Edible Canada where you’ll taste such local delicacies as birch syrup and cranberry honey. And if you’re still hungry, take a seat at Edible Canada Bistro, a relaxed and atmospheric restaurant that focuses on cuisine and purveyors from British Columbia and Canada.
From Granville Island, bike back into the tree-lined West End and deposit your bicycle somewhere along Davie Street. British Columbia was the second Canadian province (after Ontario) to legalize same-sex marriage and Vancouver is home to the largest gay population in Western Canada. The recently-designated Davie Village in the West End is where you’ll find a large portion of the local LGBT community, but if you’re still uncertain as to your whereabouts, keep biking until you come to the pink bus stop benches and the pink garbage cans and then you’ll know you’ve landed in Vancouver’s version of Oz.
Meander through the gayborhood along Davie and Robson, where you’ll marvel at the diversity of Vancouver’s populace and their culinary heritage. Until a food ban was lifted two years ago, Vancouver’s street food vendors were only allowed to sell hot dogs and pretzels; now the breadth of Vancouver’s ethnic population is showcased in a splendid smorgasbord of street food.
If your knees weaken for gelato, a stop at Bella Gelateria, near the harbor, is mandatory. Owner James Coleridge’s pecan and Canadian maple syrup gelato won this year’s top prize at Florence’s annual gelato competition - not only from the judges but also from the festival’s more than 200,000 attendees.
The third largest (and most densely populated) metropolitan area in Canada, Vancouver is home to half the population of British Columbia. In the past thirty years, the percentage of Vancouver’s population that belongs to a visible minority group has grown from 7% to 51% - and the largest religious group is that with no religious affiliation. Once you settle into one of the West End’s coffee shops and eavesdrop on your neighbors, you’ll recognize that more than half of Vancouver’s population speaks English as a second language - and that one in three residents is of Chinese heritage (partially due to the influx of immigrants before the transfer of Hong Kong to China).
Head to Yaletown for dinner, a former warehouse and rail terminal district that now buzzes with youthful energy equivalent to New York’s Meatpacking District. Known as Vancouver’s "Little Soho," Yaletown is home to some of the city’s best restaurants, including Blue Water Cafe & Raw Bar, which locals voted "Restaurant of the Year." The neighborhood teems with energy in the evenings and a surfeit of lounges, boutiques, and bars can be as seductive as an aphrodisiac.
Throughout your time in Vancouver, you’ll probably note a certain bonhomie in nearly everyone you meet. While stress is often synonymous with urban life, the population of Vancouver often appears remarkably laidback and relaxed - even in the middle of a workday. "Vancouver Sun" writer Allan Fotheringham termed the city "Lotusland" for the citizenry’s unruffled nature.
Wandering along the water, heading back to my hotel, I recalled a conversation from my past, when I was young and living in San Francisco. I’d been seated in a bar with some friends on 18th and Castro, when a young man from Vancouver had joined us - and while we talked of many things, most of which I can no longer remember, what I do recall him telling me emphatically was that if I enjoyed San Francisco, if I liked my life in San Francisco, then he swore to me that I would like life in Vancouver even more.
Now, some years later, I was seeing firsthand the rightness of his remark.
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