Vancouver: The Wonder City

Outdoor adventures, visionary art, and First Nations—inspired fare is on the itinerary in the Canadian city.  
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In Vancouver’s Coal Harbour, kayakers skim alongside city skyscrapers. Photo courtesy: Getty Images/iStockphoto

“Vancouver is a wonder city,” Canadian author Stephen Leacock once wrote. “It has the combined excellence of nature’s gift and man’s handiwork.” Today this statement rings truer than ever. The glittering glass metropolis—set against temperate rainforest, ocean inlets, and the Coast Mountains of British Columbia—keeps finding new ways to shine.

Over the past five years, the city has taken important steps toward reconciliation with the native Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh people, and a thriving indigenous tourism industry has grown along with it. More restaurants and bars are sourcing local ingredients—from foraged berries to Douglas fir infusions—and a booming brewery and distillery scene rivals that of Portland.

An ethic of sustainability permeates the culture of Vancouver, which brims with community gardens and farmers markets, plus LEED-certified buildings and more than 440 kilometres of bike paths. You can now pedal from the cedars of Stanley Park to the nudists of Wreck Beach. From there, mountains, islands, and wonder await.

 

Modern History

When you spot the terracotta-tiled Millennium Gate and the dragon-topped red lampposts, you know you’ve arrived in Vancouver’s vibrant Chinatown. For a primer on the neighbourhood, join Historical Chinatown Tours to venture inside 100-year-old clan houses, where Chinese elders play mah-jongg, and behind the scenes at Sai Woo, the modern rendition of a restaurant that first opened in 1925. The sign out front is a crowd-funded replica of the original, which pays homage to Pender Street’s neon glory days.

Other highlights include the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, an oasis of flowering trees, koi ponds, and stone courtyards built in Ming dynasty style, and the Rennie Museum, showcasing one of Canada’s biggest contemporary art collections (by appointment) in the district’s oldest building. This summer the Chinatown Storytelling Center opens with displays detailing the arduous path from Chinese immigrant to Canadian citizen. After dark, get a taste of the dining scene that’s redefining Chinatown. Opt for mantou buns and “kick-ass fried rice” at Bao Bei or Japanese-accented Italian fare at its raved-about sister spot, Kissa Tanto. For a nightcap, try the Opium Sour at The Keefer Bar, a sexy twist on a traditional Chinese apothecary.

 

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Head bartender Jeff Savage at Botanist. Photo courtesy: jeff.savage@botanistrestaurant.com

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The Alburi Prime sushi platter at Miku. Photo by: Vmark Yuen

Room Check

The Douglas

A star of the new Parq Vancouver casino complex, The Douglas mixes playful sophistication with Pacific Northwest earthiness. An illuminated, glass-enclosed Douglas fir tree presides over the check-in counter, and wood features in the decor throughout, along with mid-century furnishings and views of Vancouver. On the sixth-floor rooftop, The Victor restaurant sends out classic steaks plus regional seafood such as Dungeness crab and British Columbia king salmon. thedouglasvancouver.com

Exchange Hotel

Unveiled in 2018, the EXchange Hotel occupies 11 floors of the 1929 Stock Exchange Building. During its LEED Platinum conversion, the first in Canada, the Edwardian facade was integrated into a modern tower. A Mediterranean restaurant, bar, and café—named after the Greek island Hydra—opened this spring. exchangehotelvan.com

Rosewood Hotel Georgia

The marble fireplace and grand staircase in the 1927 lobby hark back to the days when Nat King Cole stayed here. In 2011 the hotel debuted the indulgent Sense spa and sleek new rooms with soaking tubs. In the basement speakeasy, Prohibition, find a throwback haunt for live music, creative cocktails, and traditional pours of absinthe. rosewoodhotels.com

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The seawall trail encircling iconic Stanley Park draws cyclists and runners. Photo courtesy: Vancouver Tourism (man)

Choose Your Adventure

Whether you’re into art or the outdoors, there’s a game plan for you.

Nature Lovers

Walk through the rainforest of Stanley Park with Candace Campo, the First Nations owner of Talaysay Tours, and you’ll start to see cedar bark as clothing, hemlock needles as the makings for tea. “The forest is our grocery store, our pharmacy,” Campo says. Take that notion to Deep Cove, for a paddle up Indian Arm before checking out the North Shore Spirit Trail, a new greenway luring pedestrians, joggers, bikers, and in-line skaters.

Culture Vultures

The UBC Museum of Anthropology curates innovative programs and in 2017 opened the Gallery of Northwest Coast Masterworks. Led by Vancouver Art Gallery, the contemporary art scene has expanded with the new Polygon Gallery, dedicated to Canadian photography. Fans of Coast Salish art should stay overnight at Skwachàys Lodge, where 18 rooms were designed by indigenous artists like Richard Shorty, whose work is sold in the lodge gallery.

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Chinatown’s Rennie Museum offers visitors an artful eyeful. Photo by: Blaine Campbell/Rennie Collection, Vancouver

Music Mavens

Downtown’s Granville Entertainment District is still one of the best spots to catch a show, thanks to a trifecta of historic venues—Vogue, Orpheum, Commodore Ballroom—that attract top talent. In other areas, discover hidden gems such as the Rogue Folk Club, which stages bluegrass and roots music in a churchlike hall in Kitsilano. Below the cobblestone streets of Gastown, Guilt & Co offers pay-what-you-can jazz, soul, and cabaret.

Craft Connoisseurs

Vancouver Foodie Tours will shepherd you to the tastiest treats at the Granville Island Public Market: Oyama sausages, Benton Brothers cheeses, Lee’s honey donuts. The neighbourhood of East Van, aka “Yeast Van,” hosts breweries and distilleries including Bomber and Off the Rail brewing and Odd Society Spirits. Go behind the tanks with Canadian Craft Tours. Nearby, the semi-monthly Eastside Flea is a hip gathering of indie makers.

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