Vancouver is the city I’d rather live in. Even though I have visited countless times I have never actually lived here. The physical beauty of the city stimulates me in a way that my hometown of Toronto never will. There are no vistas in Canada quite like the kind you have in this West Coast paradise.
I don’t necessarily want to get into a Toronto versus Vancouver blog. I know Toronto surpasses Vancouver in some ways, and vice-versa. But I do know people from Toronto who simply do not “get” what the big deal is about Vancouver. I know because I have visited Van-City with several Torontonians. But when you grow up in the freezing, dry climate of Calgary a yearly visit to Vancouver is like descending into some kind of tropical paradise.
Here is a list of the best places I went to on my last visit to Vancouver.
1. Stanley Park Bike Ride
Normally I walk on the sea wall around Stanley Park. My wife (a Torontonian) hates this. She thinks it gets boring halfway through. So this time we rented bikes on the corner of Denman and Robson. The ride around the park is much quicker this way and this time she had a blast and didn’t want to stop riding even when we made it to English Bay Beach on the other side of the park.
The view of the Lion’s Gate Bridge always astounds me. The bridge reminds me of the movie Rumble in the Bronx with Jackie Chan. Vancouver stood in for the Bronx even though it looks absolutely nothing like it. We stopped to have fish ‘n chips at Second Beach, a tradition in my family. They are not necessarily the best fish ‘n chips in the city but you can’t beat the view.
My wife loved it so much we kept going on a scenic bike ride around the entire city that even took us through East Hastings street (Yikes!), which looks like it was just bombed. They are still working on the bike path. That is the part they need to fix.
2. English Bay Beach Sunset
One of my favourite places in the world, hands down, is English Bay Beach – particularly during sunset. Although the water is too cold to really enjoy swimming, the area is really active and the sunset slowly drops behind the scattered cargo ships in the distance. The sun casts a golden glow on the nearby buildings. At times it is hard to believe you are in the middle of a bustling metropolis.
3. Marble Slab Creamery
My wife and I became addicted to the ice cream at the Marble Slab Creamery on Denman St. near English Bay Beach. Apparently this is an American company and the gimmick is that you choose your ice cream and then you order what you want mixed with it – let’s say raspberries or a chocolate bar. Then the worker behind the counter mixes it together on a chilled marble slab. Also the milk shakes are excellent. Right now I want the chocolate shake again just writing about.
4. Go Fish
Nearby Granville Island Market, right on a dock on False Creek, is a fish ‘n chips stand with a huge line-up. Go early because they close at about 6:00. We just narrowly missed the cut off and then witnessed several upset people realize they had come too late and were not going to be allowed to have the fish their tummies had been dreaming about. Ha ha! Losers!
If Fish n’ Chips is too fattening for your diet they also have salmon. My wife declared this the best fish ‘n chips she has ever eaten. I wasn’t crazy about the cole slaw, but then cole slaw always seems to be hit and miss no matter where you go. There are very few seats so we all sat on a grassy hill. Slightly awkward but I think that is part of the charm.
5. Day Trip to Victoria
One day we took a whirlwind trip to Victoria. If you are going to rent a car then plan ahead in the high season, because I just assumed I could walk into any rental car place and they would have endless amounts of cars. Nope.
We arrived at the ferry dock at five to ten and we came in just under the wire for the ten o clock ferry. We hadn’t eaten breakfast so we went to the buffet which isn’t bad. They even have some Dim Sum dumplings. I love riding on a ferry for some reason.
In Victoria we parked near the American Ferry terminal and we walked on Ogden Point which is a sea wall going out into the water and I believe the southern most part of B.C. Then we drove along the scenic coast drive. There are lots of places to pull over and we even took a brief nap at one pull off. We drove all the way to Saanich and then back.
Back in Victoria we walked around the harbor towards the Empress hotel. I was concerned about when the last ferry was going to leave so we went to the information centre and asked someone who worked there who rolled his eyes and had a pissed off look which to me said “Goddamn idiots. I get asked this stupid question every five minutes!” Hey asshole, guess what? Your job is to answer stupid tourist questions.
We went to Earls for lunch. My family has turned against Earls but we had a pretty quick decent meal there. The mostly blonde waitresses look like they were hired by a heterosexual male who is having a mid-life crisis.
We made it to the 8:00 ferry despite never really understanding the ferry schedule from the confusing pamphlet that jerk gave us. But it was an amazing sunset.
6. The New Canada Line
Normally I wouldn’t tell people to get on a subway. But this new subway opened while we were there. The first day, when it was free, there was a massive line of people going around several blocks near the train station. People were very excited. The most important thing about it is that it goes from downtown to the airport, so you can avoid expensive cab rides. Right now it seems to work on an honour system since no one seems to check if you have a ticket. Let’s see how long that lasts! The cars look old fashioned on the outside but inside they are very clean. Not a lot of seats though.
Here is what you should skip in Vancouver:
1. Big Bus Tour
This tour, which is a hop-on hop-off bus tour, is really crappy for a few different reasons. Reason number one is that they do not have a live commentary. You have to listen to a silly pre-recorded tape with terrible over-acting. “I cannot STAND this creek! This FALSE CREEK! Wait a minute. Perhaps that’s what we should call it!”
You end up spending too much time downtown and not enough time in the most interesting places like English Bay or Stanley Park, which they seem to breeze through right at the end. Better to get on a bike.
2. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s Chinese Garden (pay portion)
This is a wonderful garden in Chinatown. It’s free. But there is another part, which is smaller and less interesting that for some reason costs ten dollars. Skip it and go to the free one. I still don’t understand why it is set up this way.
3. White Rock
I wanted to go to a beach and my brother insisted this was the beach we should go to. When we got there the tide was in and there really wasn’t any beach to sit on. And what was there was full of dead jellyfish. There was a long pier which seemed to have a lot of police walking on it. The water was also full of jelly fish. At the end of the beach there is a rock that is white. Then we went home. Go to Second Beach in Stanley park instead, or Jericho which we didn’t get to see.
Other than those three duds we had a great time. I don’t have time here to talk about everything that is great about Vancouver like Grouse Mountain or the Aquarium. I’ll save that for the next trip. In terms of accomodation we stayed at the Times Square Suites at Denman and Robson. It was a large and spacious, and kind of like having your own apartment. The shower was like a dribble though. But since we had sunny weather all week I was glad to skip the Vancouver showers.