Vancouver: Canada’s Outdoorsy Urban Oasis

Vancouver: Canada’s Outdoorsy Urban Oasis

After a week-long Alaskan cruise, which included journeys on a plane, bus, skiff, helicopter, and JetCat boat, it was gratifying to reach dry land in Vancouver and finally explore on foot. As our ship, Regent Navigator, docked, the breezy promenade and massive sail-like rooftop structures of Canada Place came into view. This relatively young, international city with a distinct Asian flair has a laid-back, outdoorsy vibe. Filled with a delightful mix of traditional and modern architecture, Vancouver is surrounded by water on three sides and ringed by lovely, sandy beaches. British Columbia’s “west coast wonder”offers visitors the perfect mix of history, culture and outdoor pursuits all wrapped up in a pleasing, temperate climate.


Canada Place and its sail-like rooftop structures, echo the country’s nautical roots

A quick taxi ride brought us from the terminal to The Fairmont Pacific Rim, home base for our three-day visit. The hotel is sophisticated, but casual, and its soaring lobby offers cozy seating areas where we relaxed and enjoyed a drink. Our family of four met up with our guide and embarked on a three-hour private walking tour with a lovely young woman from Tour Guys. A graduate student with a wealth of knowledge, she engaged the boys with stories of the city’s roots. We spotted the ubiquitous floatplanes hovering in and out of the harbor, and stopped to admire the majestic Olympic Cauldron, lit during the 2010 Winter Games. We wound our way through the distinctive neighborhoods, Gastown and Chinatown, where we jumped into a taxi and continued our tour on Granville Island, the city’s creative center. After saying goodbye to our guide, we wandered around Granville, enjoying the galleries, a seafood lunch, and dessert at the Public Market.

Granville Island

Granville Island Public Market offers an endless mix of edibles

During our three days, we visited the Vancouver Aquarium and Stanley Park, and enjoyed the diverse cuisine and the views from the outdoor restaurants that dot the perimeter of the peninsula-shaped downtown area. Our last morning, we picked up boxed lunches from the Fairmont’s  Italian-inspired lobby café, Giovane, and then joined a fishing excursion at Coal Harbor marina. At the end of our long, but satisfying days, we relaxed at the Fairmont’s outdoor pool, and daydreamed about our next trip to Vancouver.

If you have only a few days to explore Vancouver, here are my recommendations:

Tour Guys: A great company that gives you a local’s perspective. They offer small group and private tours (as well a free public tours) that cover all the popular areas while getting into the “nooks and crannies regular sightseeing tours don’t go.”

Chinatown: North America’s third largest Chinatown — visit the summertime weekend night market and the tranquil Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Park.

Gastown: The starting point of modern-day Vancouver, its handsome brick and stone buildings house the best bars, restaurants and unique independent shops. Stop for a photo-op by the statue of “Gassy” Jack Deighton and the famous Steam Clock on Water Street.

Stanley Park: One of North America’s largest urban green spaces, it’s surrounded on three sides by stunning ocean views. Stroll or bike along the 8.8 km seawall, making stops along the way for a picnic lunch at one of the sandy beaches. Bikes can be rented at Spokes, near the park’s entrance.

Granville Island: A favorite urban hangout featuring plenty of waterfront shops and galleries, and an indoor Public Market with rows and rows of delicacies.

Vancouver Aquarium: Located in Stanley Park, my kids were mesmerized by the stunning iridescent, jellyfish displays, Beluga whales, and adorable sea otters and penguins.


Vancouver Aquarium

Vancouver Aquarium, home to 9,000 critters including these enchanting jellyfish

A sampling of our favorite restaurants:

Simply Thai: Located in hip Yaletown, Vancouver’s “little SOHO,” it offers authentic Thai in a warm and inviting setting. My kids devoured the delicious and beautiful steamed, violet-colored flower dumplings stuffed with minced chicken.

Coast: Fresh British Columbia seafood at its best, in a dramatic, high-ceilinged setting. The extremely professional and knowledgeable staff guided us through the menu, which also features a unique sushi selection.

The Sandbar: The perfect spot for lunch on Granville Island, with dramatic views of False Creek from its outdoor dining area.

Teahouse in Stanley Park: Set on a bluff overlooking the ocean, it features Pacific Northwest cuisine. Try to get a seat outside on the lovely patio.

Bella Gelateria: All natural, award-winning gelato, ice cream and sorbet — worth the wait in the line that forms outside its door. Located right around the corner from the Fairmont Pacific Rim, so of course we went … EVERY night.


Smoked-salmon flatbread at the Teahouse in Stanley Park

Simply Thai Vancouver

Delicious and beautiful steamed, violet-colored flower dumplings at Simply Thai


A stunning view of downtown Vancouver and False Creek from the Sandbar restaurant on Granville Island

Stanley Park

Our walk around Stanley Park started with a view of Coal Harbor

Stanley Park

Gorgeous views from the grounds of Tea House restaurant in Stanley Park

Bella Gelateria

One of many visits to Gella Gelateria for the freshest and creamiest gelato


Vancouver’s proverbial picture-postcard views don’t disappoint

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