Vancouver Cruise Tips, Activities, and Overview
Food and Drink in Vancouver
Vancouver's rich mix of immigrants means that the city offers a wide variety of ethnic cuisine, and, as you'd expect from its coastal location, it also has some exceptional seafood restaurants. Lovers of Asian food will want to seek out one of the city's izakayas (Japanese taverns), dim sum palaces or sample the world-famous Japadog, which serves hot dogs with a decidedly Tokyo twist, from several street carts around town.
The city has a distinctly "green" attitude, so you'll find farm-to-table restaurants and chefs focusing on seasonal ingredients. Vegans or vegetarians have good options here, too. There's also a cutting-edge fine-dining scene, led by chefs like David Hawksworth, Hector Laguna and Alex Chen.
Vancouver Foodie Tours: For a great introduction to all things foodie in Vancouver, take one of four tours this company offers, including tours focused on Gastown, food trucks, Granville Market and a downtown gourmet tour. Enough food is included to easily replace a meal. (604-295-8844; reservations required)
Granville Island: Graze your way through the Public Market, which offers prepared foods that run the gamut from exotic sausages to fresh-made doughnuts, in addition to a world of produce, fish and meats. There's also Artisan Sake and Liberty Distillery, if booze is your bent. Sample local goodies at the Edible Canada Bistro (1596 Johnston Street; 604-682-6681, open all day), which also has an attached retail shop. Or, settle in at one of nine nearby restaurants.
Urban Fare: For a picnic, head to the amazing, upscale Urban Fare food emporiums. Choose from more than 100 cheeses, an olive bar, fresh caviar, an extensive deli, a huge assortment of prepared foods and organic produce. Or, sit in the cafe and sip wine while you watch patrons squeeze tomatoes. The closest location to Canada Place is the one in Coal Harbor. (305 Bute Street; 604-669-5831; open daily, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
Stanley Park Teahouse: If you find yourself hungry in Stanley Park, this cheery, light-filled restaurant is a nice alternative to hotdog and burger stands. Lunch choices include sharable boards with charcuterie, smoked salmon, cheese and antipasti; and noshes like salt-and-pepper squid, baked feta and mussels. They also serve a heftier prix fixe lunch Monday through Friday. (7501 Stanley Park Drive; 604-669-3281; open daily, 11:30 to 10 p.m., weekends from 10:30 a.m.)
Coast: A haven for seafood, this buzzing, modern restaurant has a huge, circular raw bar at its center, which includes a boggling oyster list (give the Fat Bastards a try!). You can also order sushi, as well as fresh local fish, Alaskan King crab legs and Canadian prime beef. Signature dishes range from miso-maple sablefish to beer-battered fish and chips. Whatever you do, don't miss the spectacular coconut-banana butter cake for desert; it's served warm, with a molten center, surrounded by bruleed bananas -- one of the best desserts we've ever eaten (and we've eaten a lot of desserts!). (1054 Alberni Street; 604-685-5010; 11a.m. to 11p.m.)
Botanist: This restaurant in the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel generated buzz immediately upon opening -- thanks to its quirky modernist decor, featuring 50 different plant species, as well as its outstanding food. Worthy of a splurge, each course is a work of art, featuring local ingredients and twists on classic dishes. Beef tartare comes with a smoked egg yolk; a wagyu burger is served on a pretzel bun; and a sablefish dish is garnished with puffed tapioca. Even the bread is unique -- a wholegrain fougasse studded with sunflower seeds. If you go for dinner, choose the "We'll take it from here" option, for a truly memorable parade of dishes. It's the kind of meal that would cost twice as much in U.S. cities. (604-695-5500; open Monday through Friday for lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; dinner daily, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; weekend brunch 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.)
Joe Fortes Seafood and Chophouse: This institution has been around for 25 years, and the owners claim to serve 50 kinds of fresh seafood. The rotating blue plate lunch specials are a great deal. Visitors looking for a splurge at dinnertime can try the three-tiered seafood tower on ice that includes a sampler of crab, shrimp, lobster, clams, scallops, mussels and -- of course -- local oysters (great for sharing). The restaurant is also known for its happy hour and rooftop terrace. (777 Thurlow Street; 604-669-1940; open daily, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.)
Kirin: Despite having the same name as a Japanese beer, this is a Chinese restaurant serving consistently award-winning dim sum. Rather than the usual carts, here the food is all made to order. Try the prawn and port sui mai; sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf with salted duck egg yolk, mushroom, pork and dried scallop; or xao long bao, soup dumplings. Be sure to ask for XO sauce for dipping. (1172 Alberni Street; 604-682-8833; open daily, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.; weekends from 10 a.m.; reservations essential; arrive before 2 p.m. for dim sum)
Guu: Despite the less-than-appetizing name, this izakaya got so popular that the owners opened more locations. For lunch, it offers bargain-priced rice bowls, curries and grilled dishes. Dinner brings a more typical izakaya menu of grilled and deep-fried items that's served until late -- making this a favorite hangout for chefs. (838 Thurlow Street; 604-685-8817; open Monday through Saturday, 11:45 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.; Sunday, 5:30 p.m. to midnight)
Bella Gelateria: Consider yourself very lucky if you don't encounter a line at this award-winning spot serving authentic Italian gelato. Try the salted caramel, chocolate sorbet or any of the fruit flavors. (1001 West Cordova Street; 604-569-1010; open daily, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
Thierry Chocolaterie: If your sweet tooth has a French accent, this is your place. You'll find macarons, including seasonal flavors; chocolates of all sorts; heavenly pastries and cookies; plus items you can take home as gifts, assuming you don't eat them along the way. The cafe also serves sandwiches, quiches, soups -- and liquor. (1059 Alberni Street; 604-608-6870; open daily, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to midnight; Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to midnight)
Beaches in Vancouver
Best for Families: Second Beach, in Stanley Park, comes complete with a heated swimming pool, children's play features, concessions and changing rooms.
Best for Seeing and Being Seen: English Beach bustles with activity, including volleyball courts, a concession stand and the Cactus Club Cafe.
Best for Chilling: Kitsilano Beach Park, located on the other side of False Creek, reflects Kitsilano's relaxed vibe. It also has a big swath of grass, tennis courts and a huge heated outdoor saltwater pool.
Best for Letting It All Hang Out: Wreck Beach is clothing optional, and also has good sunset views from its five-mile stretch of sand.
Don't Miss in Vancouver
Stanley Park: The 1,000-acre evergreen oasis of Stanley Park, surrounded by a 6-mile paved seawall, is Vancouver's main tourist attraction. Visitors can walk 17 miles of forest trails, bike or just watch the ships go by. Attractions include Vancouver Aquarium, the Variety Kids Water Park, a display of totem poles by First Nations artists, a mini-train, horse-drawn rides, beaches, playgrounds, a teahouse, several cafes and picnic areas.
FlyOver Canada: This Canada Place attraction uses high-tech equipment and a big screen to make you feel like a bird, winging all over Canada. The exhilarating "flight" lasts eight minutes, and includes motion, wind in your face and, on occasion, hairdo-sogging mist or ocean spray. Before the flight experience, you're herded into a separate room for a dreary multimedia presentation that only serves to make the flight more exciting by comparison. (201-999 Canada Place; 888-290-7343; open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; advance booking recommended during peak season)
Gastown: A short walk from Canada Place, Gastown is the city's oldest neighborhood. Today, it's a welcoming precinct of cobblestone streets, boutique stores, trendy bars and restaurants -- and the Steam Clock, Vancouver's most-photographed attraction. At each quarter hour, the clock's five whistles blow, shooting off steam at the top of the clock. Water Street is Gastown's main thoroughfare, and the Steam Clock is located at Water Street and Cambie Street.
Chinatown: Vancouver's Chinatown is the second-largest in North America. The best streets to stroll are Pender and Keefer, which feature the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden; the ancient healing wonders of traditional Chinese medicine at Kiu Shun Trading Company (261 Keefer Street); Sam Kee (8 West Pender Street), the shallowest commercial building in the world by the Guinness Book of Records, at just under five feet; and many other specialty shops. There's also a bit of a renaissance going on here; old Chinese clan houses are being refurbished and hip bars and restaurants are moving in. Tip: In the summertime, events like yoga, outdoor concerts and tea ceremonies take place.
Vancouver Art Gallery: A handsome former courthouse is now home to the Vancouver Art Gallery. The permanent collection includes the works of Emily Carr, a celebrated eccentric who best expresses B.C.'s early landscape and aboriginal culture. Note: These works are not always on display; the museum also hosts an array of visiting exhibitions. (750 Hornby Street; 604-662-4719; open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesdays until 9 p.m.)
Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art: Named for renowned Haida First Nations artist Bill Reid, this small but impressive public gallery is dedicated to understanding and appreciating contemporary indigenous art of the Northwest Coast of North America. Temporary exhibits might include carving, weaving, metalwork and more. (639 Hornby Street; 604-682-3455; open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Harbour Centre Tower Lookout: For a birds-eye view of Vancouver, take a short walk southeast of Canada Place to this attraction. A glass elevator lifts you 553 feet on a 40-second-long ride to the top, where you'll get a 360-degree, unobstructed view of the city. (555 West Hastings Street; 604-689-0421; open daily, May through October, 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; October through May, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.)
Yaletown: Originally Vancouver's garment district, the trendy Yaletown neighborhood is now home to fashionable boutiques and local designers, high-end restaurants, microbreweries and galleries. Amid SoHo-style ambiance, visitors can shop, have lunch, people-watch or admire the yachts at the marina at the end of Davie Street.
Science World: Featuring interactive exhibits for adults and kids of all ages, this geodesic dome building itself looks like a giant golf ball; it was the home of Expo 86. (1455 Quebec Street; 604-443-7440; check website for hours, which vary widely)
Granville Island: Although known for its public market packed full of local produce, homemade products and unusual ingredients, Granville Island (more like a peninsula) is much more than just food. Watch artists hone their skills in glassblowing, pottery and jewelry-making, or shop at a separate kids market, featuring shops that sell everything from wooden toys to glitzy costumes. There's also an indoor play area called the Adventure Zone. Nautical buffs will enjoy the maritime market with shops selling books and merchandise related to boating. It's located on the opposite side of False Creek from downtown, below the Granville Bridge, and is reachable by ferry, hop-on hop off bus or trolley, and public transit.
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park: About 20 minutes from Canada Place, in North Vancouver, the pedestrian-only Capilano Suspension Bridge spans 450 feet across a canyon at a height of 230 feet above the Capilano River. Its slogan: "Reassuringly wobbly since 1889." The setting is a rainforest where visitors can also test their fear of heights with the Treetops Adventure, offering the chance to venture from one tree to another on a series of shorter suspension bridges. The park is also home to the Cliffwalk, which takes you on a cantilevered walkway along the granite cliffs overlooking the river, including a glass-floored loop that veers out into space. There are additional boardwalk trails, history displays, totem poles, raptors and several eateries in the complex. Tip: You can catch a free shuttle here from Canada Place. (3735 Capilano Road, North Vancouver; 604-985-7474; open daily, May 19 through September 3, 8 a.m. to 8p.m.; hours vary during other times of the year)
Grouse Mountain: In North Vancouver, the Sky Ride at Grouse Mountain is a 100-passenger tram that whisks you to an elevation of 3,700 feet in eight minutes. Although the main attraction is the view, you can also visit the Refuge for Endangered Wildlife, a 5-acre mountaintop habitat that is home to orphaned grizzly bears and wolves. And, there's a 45-minute lumberjack show, guided nature walks and ranger talks. It's also a great place to have lunch, with options that include fine dining at the Observatory, casual fare and patio dining at Altitudes Bistro, and a few self-service venues, too. While at Grouse Mountain, you can also check out the "Eye of the Wind," a wind turbine that has a glass observatory positioned at the top of its base, offering 360-degree views and an up-close look at the turbine's blades as they produce energy. (6400 Nancy Greene Way, North Vancouver; 604-980-9311; open daily, 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the summer; hours vary during other times of the year)
Kitsilano: Across False Creek from downtown, the bohemian Kitsilano neighborhood overlooks English Bay with a park, beach and spectacular outdoor swimming pool. The hippies who flocked here a generation ago have grown up but left behind restaurants that feature vegetarian selections and shops selling organic merchandise. Eateries are located on Yew Street, opposite the park.
Vancouver Maritime Museum: The Vancouver Maritime Museum, located by Vanier Park, has numerous exhibits for the young and young at heart. Gain a deeper understanding of Vancouver's maritime history through its nautical artifacts and collections, including St. Roch, an Arctic explorer vessel. An exhibit called the Children's Maritime Discovery Centre allows children to dress up as fishermen, take the controls of a model tugboat and use a high-powered telescope. (1905 Ogden Avenue; 604-257-8300; open Monday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday until 8 p.m.)
H.R. MacMillan Space Centre: Within Vanier Park, this center is part observatory, part interactive edutainment. Kids and adults can use an interactive simulator that mimics the experience of flying and docking a space shuttle at the International Space Station. There's also a planetarium with nighttime shows. (1100 Chestnut Street; 604-738-7827; open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday until 5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.)
Museum of Anthropology: Located 12 miles from Canada Place, the Museum of Anthropology at University of British Columbia is home to a collection of authentic totem poles from remote coastal settlements. Despite the inconvenient location, this excellent museum should not be overlooked. Outdoor exhibits include two houses from the Haida people (a group indigenous to British Columbia and Alaska) and a beautiful reflecting pool. (6393 NW Marine Drive; 604-822-5087; open daily, May 16 through October 14, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursdays until 9 p.m.; October 15 through May 15, closed Mondays)
Kayaking: For a good workout and some great sightseeing, rent a kayak or take a guided tour with Ecomarine Paddlesport Centres (604-689-7575) or Deep Cover Kayak (604-929-2268).
Richmond: This town is a short SkyTrain ride from Vancouver International Airport, and makes a fascinating side-trip if you're staying at the airport. You'll feel like you've traveled to Asia, since this is a popular homestead for Asian immigrants. It's filled with authentic restaurants, including vast dim sum palaces, malls (along No. 3 Road) and places of worship. Richmond's "Highway to Heaven" (No. 5 Road) is lined with more than 20 religious institutions, including temples, mosques, monasteries, churches and chapels.