Jim Byers' Guide to 48 Hours in Vancouver
SATURDAY10 a.m. Stanley Park. It’s always best to start with the classics, and it doesn’t get much more classic than this. No offence to Central Park in New York or the mountain in central Montreal, but Stanley Park might be the prettiest urban park around. The fact that it’s right on the edge of downtown and sticks out into the ocean (at the entrance to the Burrard Inlet) doesn’t hurt. Nor do the towering, ancient cedars and Douglas Firs, the forested glades, the bike/walking path that encircles the island and the views of downtown and the mountains of North Vancouver. Try renting a bike at any number of shops on the mainland, then do the 9 km tour. Tourists love the Totem Poles, and kids will enjoy the toy train. One hidden gem in the park is the tiny pitch and putt golf course. For $12.95, you can play 18 holes amid a glorious canopy of towering trees.
1 p.m. You’re no doubt hungry after that workout. Head to one of the city’s top food trucks for a great bite. Not only is the food good, but a group of four of you can try four radically different types of cuisine if you stay close to one another. Vancouver food trucks can often be found near the Art Gallery downtown, including Mom’s Grilled Cheese; one of the best and best-known in Vancouver. Also look for Tandoori Tikka Dog, a bit of an Indian take on the long-standing Japanese style hot dog cart called Japadog.
2:30 p.m. Time for another classic, Granville Island. One of the best ways to enjoy the experience is to walk over the Granville bridge (you don’t want to try to park in the area) or take the little Aquabus that bops around False Creek, stopping at the Island, Yaletown and other spots. The market at Granville Island is one of Canada’s best, especially in spring when they have fresh fruits and vegetables you might not get in eastern Canada or the Maritimes. Nip into The Liberty Distillery to try their excellent vodka and other spirits, or to buy gadgets for your favourite bartender. A great way to see the area is to rent a kayak or standup paddleboard (it’s fairly easy) with Ecomarine Paddlesports Centres or one of the other companies.
5 p.m. Time for a drink! You can try any number of nice patios in and around Gastown or Chinatown. I’m partial to the Keefer Bar, which has a wonderfully rich décor and tons of interesting bottles on display. They make their own bitters and syrups, so you’ll almost assuredly find something you’ve never tried. LOCAL Eatery in Kitsilano has a nice patio. Yeah, it’s a chain, but the Cactus Club on Beach Dr. offers great views of English Bay. Pier Seven in North Vancouver has magnificent views of the city and Stanley Park.
7 p.m. Ancora has some of the best seafood – and best views – around. It’s situated on the main part of Vancouver Island, overlooking False Creek and Granville Island. There’s a patio for those lovely Vancouver summer nights (almost never too hot), but the indoor dining space also is sensational. Located inside the stunning Rosewood Hotel Georgia, Hawksworth is run by celebrity chef David Hawksworth and has some of the most innovative cuisine in Canada. If you’re on a budget, you could do a lot worse than Earl’s, a popular, upscale chain found across Canada that can satisfy the whole family. Sushi lovers can dine for relatively little at any of the small Japanese spots on Granville between downtown and Vancouver’s Airport. On Broadway, Tomakazu is one of the city’s more popular all you can eat sushi spots.
11 p.m. Time to crash and rest up for the next day’s activities. The Opus is a lively spot in Yaletown with colourful, attractive rooms. The Burrard has an early 60’s feel, with funky rooms and an interior courtyard that feels like Miami Beach. The Fairmont Pacific Rim is a splurge-worthy, bright hotel near the waterfront, with a lovely pool and sleek, chic lobby and bar.
SUNDAY10 a.m. After breakfast, try a Chinatown tour. Judy Lam Maxwell runs a company called Historical Chinatown tours. She not only knows all the stories, but pretty much all the people in Chinatown. She’s therefore able to take you into “secret” or lesser-known spots you’d almost certainly not know about, including family shrines and small balconies with great views of the surrounding city. Space Lab is a strange store on Pender St. that sells eclectic vintage materials, with a coffee spot up front and a barber shop in back. For a more traditional coffee spot, stop at Musette Café for a latte or a cappuccino.
Noon – Located in the trendy Railtown area near the Burrard Inlet and east of downtown, the Railtown Café was started by a guy from Texas who used to work at some of the world’s top Four Seasons hotels. Interesting background, and interesting food, including a true Texas-style beef brisket and lively salads. Another great option around the corner is Belgard Kitchen, which is located in the lovingly restored, spacious Settlement Building. It shares the space with Postmark Brewing, an outstanding craft brewery. Around the corner is the popular Italian spot Ask for Luigi, which has unusual takes on traditional Italy dishes and also serves a gluten-free pasta.
2 p.m. The Capilano Suspension Bridge is a beauty in north Vancouver, a highly popular destination where you’re suspended high over a beautiful canyon with a pretty stream. There’s also one of those circular walkways that jut out over empty space; a sure ticket to nausea for some but a big treat for many folks. It’s a little pricey ($39.95 for adults who don’t live in B.C.). It’s not as high in the air as Capilano, but the nearby Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge has the advantage of being free. There’s also a pretty park nearby with a beautiful waterfall where folks swim in summer.
4 p.m. Kitsilano is one of the best beaches in Vancouver, with several lovely stretches of sand overlooking downtown and the north shore mountains. Try a game of beach volleyball or rent a kayak and enjoy the peace and quiet. Back on Fourth Ave., you’ll find cool shops selling workout clothes (hey, it’s Vancouver), dog treats, home décor items and lots more.
7 p.m. In a fast-changing world of food changes, Bishop’s remains a steadfast Vancouver option with fine, seasonal B.C. cuisine. Dinner might include a Haida Gwaii halibut with bok choy, crushed potatoes and a nori emulsion, or perhaps an assiette of Fraser Valley lamb with heirloom carrots and rainbow chard. For dessert, the Earl Grey crème brulee is a definite home run.
10 p.m. Try a drink at the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel near the water. It’s a beautiful, posh hotel with a sleek, mostly white interior and a great bar. There’s often live entertainment and they have a large, flickering fire place. Definitely a place where the pretty people play. Or try any of a number of spots on Davie St., the heart of Vancouver’s gay village, including The Junction or The Pumpjack. Another great option is Prohibition at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, with a Roaring Twenties feel. Or head to Yaletown to check out one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods.
11:30 p.m. – Back to your hotel. You’ve got a flight to catch.