Guide to Vancouver
Vancouver holds a special place in our hearts because it was the very first international trip we had ever taken, and we took it together. We spent 5 days around memorial day weekend eating good food, drinking good beer, and exploring all the neighborhoods of the downtown area. You might be wondering why we chose Vancouver as our “gateway city”. Why not Paris? Or Tokyo?
The simple truth is that we wanted to find a place closer to home to get our feet wet. Vancouver was just a few hours away. At that point, I had never been on a flight longer than 4 hours. I was also just genuinely curious and I needed to answer the question:
What is out there?
We flew Air Canada from San Francisco International Airport to Vancouver International Airport. From there, we took a half hour Canada line from the airport to the Vancouver City Centre Station downtown. From there we walked a few blocks to our Airbnb in Yaletown.
Once you emerge from the subway at City Center Station, you’ll find yourself in the midst of a bustling metropolis. Tall buildings with modern architecture loom overhead and on the streets, locals and tourists alike walk at varying speeds creating a parallax of bobbing heads and shopping bags.
It is a stark contrast from the slow ambling done along the waterfront as people pop in and out of gift shops in search of the perfect Canadian souvenir.
Views from the waterfront in Downtown Vancouver
Some notable spots downtown are the dimly lit Frontier Public House. It’s a great bar full of atmosphere, good drinks and stellar pub food. Another favorite became Steamworks Brewery. If it’s a nice day, we recommend you sit outside and people watch as you sample a flight of their beers and nibble on a juicy burger, fresh seafood, or poutine. Not a beer drinker? Try the Black Cherry Cosmo.
The tourism visitor center is also along the waterfront and serves as a great resource to get your bearings.
Jeremy samples a flight from Steamworks Brewery
The Black cherry cosmo from Steamworks Brewing
Granville Island is a concentrated mecha for foodies, beer lovers, and families. Take a short ferry from Yaletown for a day of shopping, eating fresh seafood, and buying souvenirs such as Canadian maple syrup. If shopping isn’t your speed, enjoy a beer flight from Granville Island Brewing or a signature cocktail from Liberty Distillery.
When the sidewalks change to brick and the buildings get closer together, you’ll know you’ve made the abrupt transition into Gastown, one of Vancouver’s older districts. It started as the original location of Vancouver’s downtown but has now become a hub for tourism, boutique shopping, bars, and Native American goods. The name came from a steamboat captain named “gassy” Jack D., who was credited with opening the very first saloon in Vancouver. It is not surprising then, that this neighborhood is saturated with bars of all kinds.
The Blarney Stone is the kind of place that you could come to on a lively Friday night. You could shout your order over the local band playing their set list, and spend way too much money trying to explore every drink they have. But during the day, it’s quieter and practically deserted.
The lipstick jungle from Blarney Stone in Gastown was the perfect mix of fruity and bubbles
Down the block, we found a thrift store with disco balls in the window
Another popular feature of the quirky neighborhood is the famous steam-powered clock. It stands on the corner of Water Street and Cambie Street, spewing steam into the air on the hour.
South of downtown at water’s edge, tall high-rise condos cluster together surrounded by older warehouse-style buildings, making for an interesting contrast between industrial and modern. The neighborhood of Yaletown is abundant with hip restaurants, swanky bars, and mega shopping malls. Our first-ever aibnb was poised perfectly in the middle of it all.
A tall bronze statue art installation called A-maze-ing Laughter by Yue Minjun
Right off Robson street in the heart of Yaletown, sits an unpresuming block of single-story restaurants with multicolored and equally dingey awnings, a stark contrast from the modern, glassy high-rises all around. In the middle of this strip of establishments, one place stands out from the rest. It was there that we discovered the magic of Japadog, a gourmet Japanese inspired hotdog stand. Out front, the mouth-watering photos showcasing the variety of unique meats and toppings are enough to draw any food-lover in. With 20 different specialty dogs and 5 different types of “shaken fries”, we recommend taking a friend and sampling a few different dogs. Though Japadog is a chain throughout Canada and even reaches as far as Los Angeles, we were charmed to discover that the store on Robson was the original restaurant where it all began. Japadog will surely be a highlight of your day, if not your entire trip.
The Lennox Pub
Our first stop after a long day of travel was to the first bar we could find. The Lennox pub caught our eye as a decent Irish pub with outdoor seating. We were sold. We sat down, ordered a drink and people watched, excited to finally be here. We were delighted to see that the Lennox pub had poutine! It was everything that Jeremy wanted.
Poutine, a must-try dish in Vancouver is made up of fries, cheese curds, and gravy.
This mandarin aloe cocktail from the Lennox pub was so refreshing and just the right amount of sweetness.
Stanley Park is located to the west of downtown Vancouver. The 1.5 square mile park is more akin to a wild forest with roads and trails than it is to a landscaped urban park. The seawall, a century-old rock wall with pedestrian and cycling paths is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. On sunny days, one can find active people whizzing around the soft curves of the seawall on bikes and skates. Up above, evergreen conifers spout from the tall grey rock.
Along the perimeter, just off the mainland stands Siwash Rock, a famous outcropping shrouded in native American legend.
Hiking the trails of Stanley Park
A view of Yaletown from the edge of Stanley Park
Vancouvers China town is humble in size compared to those of San Francisco or New York. Still, it’s a familiar feeling walking past open herb markets and sampling steamed buns, spare ribs, and other dim sum favorites in a crowded and noisy hole in the wall.
The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is also familiar to the Japanese tea garden in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park but unique in its own way. A small entry fee will grant you access to a villa styled garden, with a pond and pagoda in the center of it all. Upon entering, make sure to look down and notice the worn patterns of intricately placed stone flooring.
Surrounding the open center, are ornate rooms and hallways adorned with small bonsai trees, their trunks twisty and their foliage perfectly trimmed. Tall boulders riddled with naturally caused holes. All around, small details give this beautiful place character.
Entrance to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Cut through the overwhelm with our road map to your first international adventure. In this free guide, we offer up solutions to some of the most common blockers that keep you from experiencing new places.
Have you ever been to Vancouver? Where are your favorite places to visit? Tell us in the comments!
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