Vancouver

For years I had read and heard that Vancouver was an incredible, unique city in the heart of Canada’s beautiful province, British Columbia. Many have described it as an area that provides an exciting city to explore and quick access to mesmerizing hikes year round, breathtaking sea adventures spring through early fall, and stellar skiing in winter through early spring. I love all of these things and have thus always wanted to make my way to Vancouver. Finally in late October of 2017, I did and it was a spectacular experience.

(scroll down if you are looking for quick Vancouver recommendations)

 Indeed Vancouver is a wonder of a metropolis. It has great architecture, from vintage charming in areas such as hoppin’ and happenin’ Gastown replete with exposed brick walls and cobblestone streets to  modern sleek throughout downtown to cozy arts and craft style neighborhoods. Vancouver offers everything you want out of a populous and metropolitan city; fantastic restaurants and bars, great current and specialty shopping, and fun night life. And though it is crowded as most city hubs are, it still somehow manages to feel like an inviting town more than a city which can be attributed to its connection with nature which runs throughout the city with an abundance of trees and other organic features as well as its resident population of kindly, warm people that call Vancouver home.

Vancouver from the Bay

Again, what makes Vancouver so special is its extremely close proximity to nature. In Vancouver, not only do you have Stanley Park, but you are a stone’s throw away from the mountains, the woods, and the ocean at all times, allowing you to pursue your choice of outdoor activities with great ease. As a lover of the great outdoors myself, this factor made me fall in love with Vancouver that much more. Within just 3 1/2 days in Vancouver, I was able to do great city exploration and all that comes with it, a fairytale of a hike, and an adventure of a whale watching experience out on the water. So much, so close!

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Needless to say, I absolutely loved my stay in Vancouver and would highly recommend that anyone who loves all of the things I have just described above to go visit themselves. I was only there for half a week, but I feel comfortable stating that I think I could live in Vancouver if the opportunity arose.

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With that, I am sure you are eager to learn more, right? Well, keep reading below for a list of recommendations from my Vancouver adventure to consider when planning your own. I have divided them into Vancouver Areas, Activities, and Restaurants.

Vancouver Areas:

Downtown –

Like with any downtown in a major city, this is where you will find some great restaurants and loads of shopping. What makes Vancouver’s downtown special though is the glossy and clean architecture juxtaposed with loads of trees and creative organic/garden based features making it an even more fun and exciting downtown area to wander. I was visiting in late October, so I got the added benefit of all the trees being in prime fall colors!

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Downtown from the water.

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Seawall in downtown. Beautiful trees and parks mixed with the skyline.

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Fall in the middle of the city bustle!

Granville Island –

A fisherman’s wharf right on English Bay, featuring buildings and layout with a rare industrial charm and offering a good variety of restaurants, a brewery, eclectic shopping and the famed Granville Island Public Market (more on this later). Granville Island is probably where you will pick up a dinner boat cruise or a whale watching tour as well. You can always wander on down there and see what is available!

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The bridge in. The island is small and secluded, but super cute and fun!

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Inside the colorful market!

Gastown –

This is the place to be. Gastown, mentioned earlier, is the city’s old town and comes with an immense amount of vintage charm. Brick buildings, cobblestone streets, sparkly lights adorning the trees year round, and all the hippest, trendiest, best restaurants, bars, cafes, and stores. You can walk the roads for a whole day, popping in and out of shops, taking coffee breaks at quaint cafes, and dining at delicious, highly reviewed restaurants. Having an apartment in this part of Vancouver would be quite the time.

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Wandering autumnal Gastown.

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Gastown Street Art – A Homage to 1st Nation Peoples.

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All the brick!

 

Kensington Cedar Cottage –

I would not call this area a destination, but I am mentioning it because this is where I stayed in an Airbnb because not all of us are willing to pay the inflated prices to stay in the heart of downtown. Kensington Cedar Cottage is a small neighborhood just a 15 minute drive outside of downtown Vancouver. The homes are in the old arts and crafts style, quaint and cozy. The neighborhood itself is quiet and lovely, and it is close to several good cafes for breakfast. I got a truly great price on an Airbnb in this area because it was just far enough away from downtown. So if you are willing to trek just a bit, I would recommend something out there.

 

Activities:

Stanley Park and the Vancouver Seawall –

Stanley Park is one of Vancouver’s most famous features; a huge public park on the tip of the city’s peninsula complete with winding trails through forested land, gardens, the Vancouver Aquarium, First Nation People’s Totem Poles, and the beloved Seawall which starts in downtown and wraps around the edge of Stanley Park. Stanley Park has been voted for the best public park in North America on TripAdvisor for several years now, beating even the legendary Central Park of New York City. We went to Stanley Park several times through our trip as there is always something new to see. Parts of the park make you feel as though you have escaped into the forest which is great for locals needing a quick disconnect from the bustle of the city. The Seawall takes you on a path along the water and next to the giant trees that populate the park and provides stunning views of the city and bays; seeing red and orange autumn leaves fall right into the ocean is really magical. Enjoy a stroll or a picnic here and indulge in the natural beauty smack dab in the middle of the greater Vancouver area.

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The seawall in Stanley Park. Where autumn leaves fall into the ocean.

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Northern Stanley Park.

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First Nation People’s Totem Poles.

Hike in Lynn Canyon –

I don’t think you can go to British Columbia without going on a hike and losing yourself a little in the wilderness, it’s just too damn beautiful! We went on a hike through Lynn Canyon in North Vancouver which was only a 30 minute drive from downtown. Most people go to Capilano Park for its hiking trails and the famous suspension bridge. While I am sure the park is beautiful, it is also crowded with tourists and costs upwards of $25 to enter. Lynn Canyon on the other hand is completely free to enter and it has an equally spectacular suspension bridge as well as abundant hiking trails!

The suspension bridge takes you over a ravine complete with a waterfall and flowing river, a stunning start to the hike. Now, the hiking we did in Lynn Canyon was by far the best hiking I have ever done anywhere in the world. I really could write a whole post on the absolute majesty of the woods we explored here. Honestly, the trails on this hike take you through a fairytale forest brimming with streams, rivers, & waterfalls, giant and regal trees rich with different colors and character, and even swirling, sparkling mist that could easily be mistaken for honest-to-God fairy-dust. We spent 6 hours exploring the different trails, losing our trains of thought and conversation as we were consistently stunned by the beauty we were seeing.

With any hike you do in British Columbia, make sure to prepare yourself with proper clothing, ample water, and a packed lunch and snacks as you will be in thick nature with little to no access back to civilization until you come to a trail head. If you do anything outside of downtown Vancouver, you must go hiking and I would highly recommend Lynn Canyon.

Here are a ton of photos from that hike because it was just too damn beautiful!

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Whale Watching Experience –

The waters around Vancouver are teaming with marine life and provide some of the best whale watching opportunities in the world. One of my bucket list items is to see orcas in the wild (orcas are my favorite animal and my patronus), and British Columbia is one of the best places to see them. We booked a tour with Wild Whale Tours Vancouver which comes highly recommended by a load of travelers to the area. Based in Granville Island, you can pick up a lunch from the Granville Island Market then join your tour which departs from the docks there. We did the open boat tour which required us to get suited up in provided body suits that protect against the elements, but there are options for semi-covered and fully covered tours as well.

Our tour took us all around the waters outside of Vancouver, and on a sunny day, provided stunning views of the city and all the surrounding islands. Our marine specialist, an English lass named Sally, was a joy and kept us well informed throughout the experience (I low key fell in love with her). Unfortunately, we did not spot orcas on this trip as they just did not seem to be in the area. However, we did see a beautiful humpback whale with whom we spent a whole hour as he surfaced and dove, giving us lots of money shots of his giant fluke! The whole morning and afternoon on this adventure was incredibly fun and humbling to witness such beautiful sea life! I’ll have to go back and do this tour again and again until we see orcas!

Check out Wild Whale Tours here. Do keep in mind that whale watching experiences like these are offered seasonally, so if this is important to you, plan the timing of your trip accordingly.

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On the water and the hunt looking for whales!

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Beautiful views of secluded islands. Keep your eyes open for eagles!

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Suit up! These tours on the water are no joke!

There’s our whale!

Restaurants and Cafés:

Jam Café –

It’s always a good sign when you show up to a breakfast place and it’s packed out the door on a Wednesday! Jam Cafe is truly a breakfast treasure. The space is homey and comfortable, the staff warm and friendly, and the food delicious! My cousin and I both had the Harrison Salmon Scramble which was utterly divine: fluffy scramble eggs with an onion sour cream and smoked salmon served a top a thick piece of multigrain toast alongside an avocado and greens breakfast salad. Such a wonderful meal to start out our first day in Vancouver! All the food being ordered around us looked incredible too! There is definitely a commitment to quality and skill in these dishes. This was by far the best breakfast we had in Vancouver.

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Harrison Scramble on Multigrain Bread and with Breakfast Salad.

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Such a cute interior.

Festal Paleo Café –

Stumbled upon this little cafe while exploring downtown and it looked like the perfect place for lunch, and it was! Obviously, I am a very healthy eater when not traveling and often eat on a paleo-like diet, so I was happy for the opportunity to eat similarly while roaming. I was stunned by the many options available and that all were completely paleo! I had the BCLT Waffle Sandwich and a Side Caesar; both were phenomenal. My cousin had a slice of pizza and raved it was the best paleo pizza option she has ever had. It was the perfect lunch to fuel up before we went in with our day!

(Note: How do they make their waffles, pizza crusts, and other such carbs? Cassava Flour! A new discovery of mine.)

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BCLT Waffle Sandwich with Cassava Chips and a Caesar Salad. Unbelievably good!

Pallet Coffee Roasters Café –

Located in our Airbnb neighborhood, a great place for coffee and breakfast! Wonderful ambience and friendly staff. Enjoyed the Avocado Bruschetta with a poached egg, a really great breakfast with reasonable prices.

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Avocado Bruschetta!

Prado Café –

Located in Gastown, this was our favorite coffee spot for its proximity to downtown and its welcoming vibe. Really cute, cozy space with a great selection of beverages and food.

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MeeT in Gastown –

Stumbled upon this restaurant while looking for dinner in Gastown. The place was packed which is a good sign and we decided to have our meal here. It did not disappoint. Lively and trendy atmosphere with friendly and knowledgeable staff. Really great menu of vegan and low gluten dishes. The BC Poutine was sensational; I could’ve made it my meal. Daily soup was hearty and warming, the chikkin’ wings were stellar, and the chocolate coconut ganache tart was divine. All the food around us looked great too. Also, very reasonable prices for what you get.

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Caffé Citadella –

A charming coffee spot in a popping area of Vancouver, just outside of downtown. This café is in a heritage building, an old charming house retrofitted to be a café with seating both downstairs and up. Incredibly cozy and relaxing with a great drink and light bites menu. If I lived in Vancouver, this would be my place!

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Adorable in a heritage house.

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Granville Island Public Market –

Mentioned several times throughout this post as this market is at once a site, an activity, and a place to get food. When I travel, I make it a point to explore the local market scene. Granville Island Public Market is an indoor market overflowing with quality produce, meats, cheeses, specialty food items, and arts and crafts. It is essentially an indoor version of Pike’s Place Market in Seattle. This is a great spot to grab a bite as there are many food stall vendors serving up fantastic dishes for reasonable prices. Also it has great places to sit and enjoy your food from the vendors with views of the water and city. If I lived here, I would be at this market all the time.

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The Flying Pig in Gastown –

Came here on the recommendation of a friend who had dined here when visiting Vancouver. What a treat of a meal! The restaurant is cozy but sheik with a lively atmosphere. We got to sit in the mezzanine and overlook the majority of the restaurant and great views of Gastown outside. My cousin and I decided share a variety of apps and sides and make a meal out of them.

We had:

Salmon Sampler with fried salmon cakes, smoked salmon, and candies salmon with a watercress salad and crostini – absolutely divine!

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Crispy Brussels Sprouts with Parmesan- earthy and delicious!

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Cauliflower Gratin with bacon and chives- creamy and rich!

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Poutine with pulled pork and cheese- the definition of decadent.

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Maple Sugar Pie for dessert- a bit of heaven on Earth!

We truly enjoyed our experience here and would be regulars if we called Vancouver home. This was probably the top meal we had during our stay.

Other – Travel/Transport:

What airline did I use?

Canada Air. For my fellow angelinos, you can get flights from LAX to Vancouver International for somewhere aroud $200 round trip. The flight is an easy  2 1/2 hours and there are plenty of routine flights on the daily.

Transport in Vancouver?

We rented a car this trip which allowed us a lot of freedom for getting around and also leaving the city proper to go out to our hiking destination. Vancouver does have good public transportation, but if you are staying in an outlying area and are planning to go hiking (which you should) then I think a car is the way to go.

So, are you ready to go to Vancouver? Have any more questions about my experience? Have you already been and have travel trips? Let me know all in the comments below!

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