This bustling seaport is consistently named one of the best cities in the world. It’s a favorite of foodies and a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. It’s where the sea meets the sky in a stunning landscape of quaint bays flowing into the Pacific Ocean, temperate rainforests shaded by towering trees, and snow-capped mountains piercing the sky. It’s where east meets west in a melting pot of cultures. It’s Vancouver.
Digs at the Douglas
My basecamp for a 3-and-a-half-day adventure was The Douglas. It’s in the entertainment district known as Parc Vancouver and perfectly located between the uber fashionable Yaletown and eclectically vintage Gastown districts. When I saw a giant Douglas fir as part of the lobby, I knew instantly I was going to love my stay. When I went up to my corner king room and saw the tempered glassed bathroom with an incredible view of the city, my love affair with The Douglas intensified. There are so many earth elements in the hotel, right down to a pencil instead of a pen on the desk and leather handles on the closet doors in my room. The Douglas is an Autograph Collection Hotel by Marriott. Right next door is the JW Marriot with Vancouver’s only downtown casino. Between to the two there are eight restaurants and lounges. Needing to walk around after my Air Canada flight from Taiwan, I went exploring and found a wonderful park filled with native trees and plants six floors above the street level. I’d found a sanctuary high above the city buzz at my hotel.
Visiting the North Shore
Needing to stay awake for a few more hours after my international flight, I headed over to Lonsdale Quay Market Place, originally a carnival-style marketplace for the Expo ’86 Vancouver. Now it’s a vibrant marketplace on the North Shore with 80 specialty vendors. I perused the fresh cut and dried flowers in Flowers by May and salivated over the breads and baked good in Cobs Bread then headed out to enjoy the crisp night air and take in the view of the city from North Shore. It was jaw-dropping beautiful as the lights of the buildings reflected in the water of Vancouver Harbor. Knowing I had a couple of adventurous days ahead, I retreated to the comforts of my room at the Douglas and did something I rarely do. I ordered room service and got cozy in my pajamas. The crab meat surrounded by colorful root vegetables that I got to pour hot creamy bisque over. The crab and corn bisque was the perfect indulgence to send me off into dreamland.
Even though there’s a Starbucks or Tim Horton’s on just about every corner, I wanted an independent coffee house. When I walked into Prado Café, I discovered Vancouverites take their coffee very seriously. The first ever winner of the World Latte Art Championships took over Prado in 2011 and they make their coffee with beans from 49thParallel Coffee Roasters, a craft roaster born in Vancouver. Wanting just a nibble I asked the barista for a suggest. “Vegan and apricot cookie, for sure,” he said. Filled with almond slivers and diced apricots, the moist cookie was the perfect breakfast bite. I could have stayed for hours sipping my latte and people watching.
Foodie Fun on Granville Island
Part of the reason I love to visit Granville is because you can take a water taxi across False Creek. Granville Island Public Market is a favorite of locals and tourist. I met up with six other foodie fanatics and our guide Lyndia Lai, executive chef and partner of Crème de la Crumb bakery and catering. To start our Vancouver Foodie Tour, we headed inside Edible Canada for fish and chips made with arctic char and a glass of Avil Creek Pinot Grigio. Lydia said, “Fermented foods are good for the gut, so breakfast wine is a good start to the day.” I immediately liked the way she thinks. From there we sipped coffee at JJ Bean, nibbled on bread at Bread Affair, noshed on meats at O Yama Sausage, and savored raclette and 5-year village cheddar at Benton Bakery Fine Cheese. We tasted sweet, savory and spicy combinations like Maple Sriracha Pecans at The Nut Merchant and drank
edwhat I’ll call Christmas in a cup at Granville Island Tea Company. Butter is the secret ingredient in their masala chai. I don’t normally eat doughnuts, but Lydia said, “Simplicity allows them to shine,” when we stopped at Lee’s Donuts. With the enticing smell of warm honey dipped donuts, I decided to try one and ate the whole thing! After the tour, I wandered around the island stopping in some of the shops including my favorite one, Granville Island Broom Co. where they handmake Shaker style brooms.
Dine Out Van
From wine to folk music, there is some sort of incredible festival every month in Vancouver. I happen to visit during the Dine Out Vancouver Festival, the largest restaurant festival in Canada. It’s 17 days of culinary events, tours, and seminars. I headed over to a swanky new event called Spirits and Suds. It was a great introduction to Vancouver’s vibrant craft brewery and distillery scene. The suds were good, but my favorite was a cocktail from The Woods Spirit Co. made with their Amaro, a bitter liqueur.
On Saturday morning, I put on some winter outdoor gear and caught the Squamish Connector. Sit in the first two rows so you get to enjoy unobstructed views of giant trees stretching to the sky, rushing creeks and waterfalls, and glimpses of cargo ships in water of the rugged coastline on the Sea to Sky Highway. I got off at the Sea to Sky Gondola and took the 10-minute ride to over 2,900 feet above sea level with sweeping views of Howe Sound to a winter wonderland. Once at the top, I went straight to the Summit Lodge. After eating every last bite of my mushroom, spinach, and cheese crepe I decided to cross the Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge. It’s about 100 meters (328 feet) and yes, it’s moves. As the fog was covering the fjord below, I went on to explore some of the high alpine environment before my snowshoe tour. I strolled along the Spirits Trail and enjoyed a cultural and historical journey of the Squamish First Nation on the quarter of a mile trail. Then on my snowshoe tour, guide Bob led our group of seven on a fun adventure on the Panorama Trail. The fog was ebbing and flowing over the area so it almost felt like we were sneaking peeks of Howe Sound, Chief Mountain, Oleson Creek Waterfall and Squamish Valley. For me, the fog added to the adventure as we looped through the forest of ginormous trees. The 1-mile snowshoe took us about an hour and left plenty of time for post adventure fondue. While everyone else went for chocolate fondue, I got treated to Scandinavian fondue with Vacherin cheese, ice wine, kirsh, and smoke salmon. Decadent was an understatement especially since I paired it with a nice Canadian sauvignon blanc. In a cheese coma, my four-hour adventure in a winter wonderland was ending. On the way back down on the Sea to Sky Gondola, I couldn’t stop saying, “Wow,” as the scenery changed back from snow to the picturesque Howe Sound. As we took the twists and turns of the Sea to Sky Highway on the way back to Vancouver, I drifted off into a happy catnap, along with most of the other Squamish Connector riders.
That night I had one thing on my brain – sushi. On a previous trip to Vancouver, I found what I think is the best sushi in North America. I walked to Blue Water Café, hoping I could find a seat at the bar. I got lucky and got a seat tucked away on the corner where I could people watch while I dined. Wanting some bubbly and wanting to sip Canadian wines, the bartender suggested the Blue Mountain Reserve Brut from Okanagan Valley. “Best rose in BC,” he told me. Blue Water Café is known for Dungeness crab and Sockeye salmon, but I was also debating over the chopped scallop. The bartender made it easy by suggesting I get the Dungeness crab roll with fresh crabmeat and avocado in an egg roll and Sockeye salmon roll with local sockeye, avocado and cucumber along with one order of chopped scallop nigiri. The sushi was even better than I remembered – delicate, delightful and divine. This was an “all in” dinner so of course I had to cap off an amazing day with their praline chocolate bar, or what I would call a heavenly sweet bliss of chocolate and hazelnut paired with an ice wine from Okanagan Valley.
Coffee to Capilano to Coal Harbour
Sunday morning, I packed up my daypack and went in search of coffee. I ended up at Timbertrain Coffee Roasters, an unassuming coffee house in the Gastown District. You have to be on the lookout for the red door. With a chocolate hazelnut croissant in the case and I was thrilled they have oat milk. With the croissant and oat milk latte I felt like I was in a mini car in one of their booths.
I caught the free 30-minute shuttle to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park from Canada Place. My heart was pounding as I crossed the 450-foot long, 230-feet high wobbly suspension bridge people have crossed since 1889. Once across I entered a West Coast rainforest filled with trout ponds, ferns, plants, and towering firs. I quickly realized it’s much more than just the suspension bridge. I got high in the Douglas firs on the seven suspended footbridges in the Treetops Adventure, 110 feet above the forest floor. I enjoyed a tranquil walk on Nature’s Edge trail along the edge of the rainforest with great views of Capilano River. I had to test my nerves on the Cliffwalk made up of a narrow labyrinth-like series of bridges, stairs, and platforms with only 16 anchor points in the cliff.
I spent the rest of the day walking around Yaletown and Gastown Districts. I popped into Nero, a Belgium waffle bar for a sinfully decadent Belgian dark chocolate mocha a liège aux fromages, their version of an elevated grilled cheese. After lunched I headed over to Gastown and dipped in and out of quaint shops like Out and About filled with unique finds from Japan. Gastown is the city’s oldest neighborhood and still has a cobblestone-street charm with unique boutiques, cool coffeehouses, bustling breweries and enticing eateries. From there I walked around the Port of Vancouver and found the Digital Orca sculpture then enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the seawall by the Coal Harbour Marina as the sun started setting.
Cocktails in Chinatown
The bartender at Blue Water Café told me I had to go to Keefer Bar, the number 2 bar in Canada and a top 50 bar in the world. From the marina, I walked to The Keefer Bar. Admittedly I was almost overwhelmed with the remedies, prescriptions and cures in the “medical center” themed bar. Since they are in Chinatown and have access to unique herbs and spices, the bartender had to explain a couple of the ingredients to me. They also have a full glossary of ingredients in the back of the menu. After about 10 minutes I decided on the Skeleton Kiss made with pisco, mezcal, lime, rose, pineapple, lemon and chili tincture then garnished with black pepper and a baby rose. “Good choice,” the bartender said. Good choice is right as he gave me my cocktail in a delicate coupe glass. For a light dinner I debated between the shrimp dumplings and vegetarian steamed buns. “Those are two of my favs but go for the steamed buns,” said the bartender. Piping hot with steam streaming out as I cracked open the first bun, fantastic was an understatement for how good they were. I did try another cocktail called Dragon Fly. It was sweeter than my first but equally interesting with dragonfruit infused gin and magnolia bark tincture. As I sipped the drink, I checked my health app on my phone. Over ten miles I what I had walked that day. Just shows how walkable Vancouver really is.
Stroll to Stanley Park
I had a late afternoon flight which gave me Monday morning for some exploring. I had planned to use that morning to write and edit videos, but the sun was shining, and Stanley Park was calling my name. My first stop was Revolver Coffee in Gastown. My first impression was laboratory meets old warehouse with the beakers on the counter against the old brick walls. Not wanted much, I opted for a breakfast cookie and almond milk latte which I enjoyed by the window watching the streets fill with folks heading to work. While making my way to the seawall I stumbled upon the Gastown Steam Clock as it was blowing off steam with a crowd of tourists oohing and aahing. When I made it to the seawall, I stopped for a moment to watch several seaplanes take off.
It was such a glorious morning that I just kept walking, all the way to the nine totem poles in Stanley Park. While searching for the thunderbirds, whales, wise ones, wolves and ravens in the totem poles I realized my time in Vancouver was quickly coming to an end and I had to power walk back to Douglas to head to the airport. Walking along the sea wall with the sunshine sparkling on the water like glitter, I admired the city’s beauty where the water meets the glass high-rises. In winter and early spring, you get to experience the two personalities of Vancouver. You get its gray and moody in the fog side like I did while visit Capilano and then its sparkling and vibrant side like I was getting on that walk along the seawall in the sunshine. Once back at The Douglas, I grabbed a quick bite of avocado toast and a mimosa before catching my Air Canada flight back to Denver. On the drive to the airport, as I watched to city go by in a blur, I was wishing for more time to explore this multicultural city where east meets west.