Salt-Water Pools and Himalayan-Inspired Juice Trucks: Ah, Vancouver
Consistently named one of North America's most liveable cities, Vancouver, British Columbia, combines a temperate climate and natural West Coast beauty — perfect for hiking, biking or sailing — with a bustling nightlife and dining scene. Here's a look at three neighborhoods worth exploring.
SUN, SUITCASES, AND SWEETS IN KITSILANO
Home to the first Lululemon (the beloved brand of yoga attire), Kitsilano (called Kits for short) runs along the coast of English Bay, a short drive from downtown Vancouver. Look for the red "Kitsilano Memories Project" signs sprinkled throughout the neighborhood to read about long-time residents' memories of the area.
Kitsilano Beach (1499 Arbutus St.; vancouver.ca/kitsilano-beach) Spend a sunny afternoon here, where trim twentysomethings play beach volleyball, families lounge on the sandy beach overlooking Burrard Inlet, and kids climb on the playground's jungle gym. Paddleboard rentals, basketball courts, and a 137-meter heated outdoor salt-water pool add to your recreational options. No wonder "National Geographic" mentions Vancouver — and specifically Kits — as one of the top 10 beach cities in the world.
Wanderlust (1929 West 4th Ave., 604-739-2182; wanderlustore.com) If journeys beyond B.C. are in your future, then a stop here is a must. The 25-year-old (and aptly named) travel shop carries an exhaustive selection of maps and guidebooks covering virtually every corner of the globe. Here you'll also find luggage and accessories like suitcase organizers, money belts, and toiletry kits for your next adventure (with or without a Zipcar). You can even buy gift-wrap printed with maps of the world or ask the staff for tips on your next trip.
Fable (1944 West 4th Ave., 604-732-1322; fablekitchen.ca) Now that you've worked up an appetite, cross the street to Fable, a cozy spot that serves unfussy farm-to-table fare. Helmed by former “Top Chef Canada” contestant Trevor Bird, Fable's name is a portmanteau of farm to table and its seasonally changing menu uses local ingredients like Sawmill Bay mussels and B.C. gem tomatoes prepared in an open kitchen.
Rain or Shine Ice Cream (102–1926 West 4th Ave., 604-428-7246; rainorshineicecream.com) Still have room for dessert? Order one of Fable's daily macarons or stop into Rain or Shine, which opened last fall just a few doors away. Their seasonally rotating selection of flavors like honey lavender or sea salted chocolate rosemary make it tough to choose just one. Fortunately, flights containing small servings of four different flavors help ease indecisiveness. (Warning: may cause brain freeze!)
DOUGHNUTS, DOG PARKS, AND DINERS IN SOUTH MAIN
South Main (or SoMa for short) makes up a subsection of Mount Pleasant, an up-and-coming area of East Van that has traditionally attracted its share of artists, designers, and authors. South Main has no official boundaries, but extends from roughly 6th to 33rd Avenue.
49th Parallel (2902 Main St., 604-420-4900; 49thparallelroasters.com) Get your morning java fix with a cup of Fair Trade custom-roasted coffee and a handcrafted doughnut in flavors like apple maple bacon or strawberry rhubarb. Creative types congregate with their MacBooks at the shop's long communal table (overlooking the kitchen where Lucky's Doughnuts are made), while the outdoor patio encourages latte-drinkers to linger on warm, sunny days.
Queen Elizabeth Park (46000 Cambie St., vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture/queen-elizabeth-park.aspx) Once you're satisfactorily fed and caffeinated, head a few blocks west of Main Street for a jog or stroll. Here, young couples push strollers or trail dogs on leashes and pensioners soak up the scenery. In addition to tennis courts, picnic areas, a rose garden, and some of the best views of downtown Vancouver's skyline, the park has ample free (and some paid) parking (score!). Plus, if it starts raining (as it tends to do in B.C.), there's always the indoor Bloedel Floral Conservatory.
The Wallflower Modern Diner (2420 Main St., 604-568-7554) After working up an appetite in the park, head back to Main Street, where the Wallflower serves brunch to the neighborhood's hipsters until 4 p.m., seven days a week, and later turns into a bar. The menu is vegan and celiac-friendly with comfort foods like nachos (served vegan or regular), pierogies, vegan mac 'n cheese, and, of course, poutine. Funky mismatched mugs and a Ms. Pac-Man machine by the washroom lend retro style to the space.
Regional Assembly of Text (3934 Main St., 604-877-2247, assemblyoftext.com) The upper part of Main Street offers indie shops and boutiques selling everything from vinyl to vintage fashion. Among them is this charming stationery shop opened by two graduates of the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. Regional Assembly of Text aims to make letter-writing cool again with letter-pressed cards, a typewriter you can rent by the hour, an in-store button-making station, and a monthly letter-writing club. Old-school lockers and filing cabinets lend a cool vintage vibe to the shop, and a cozy reading library lets you browse 'zines and self-published books.
FRUIT, FASHION, AND GASTOWN
The Juice Truck (Abbott St. & Water St.; thejuicetruck.ca) Owners Zach Berman and Ryan Slater started the Juice Truck in July, after a trek through the Himalayas, where they noticed locals getting most of their nutrients from the juice of seabuckthorn berries. That experience inspired the pair to create one of Canada's first mobile juice and smoothie bars. Now, you can start the day off right (without hauling out to the Himalayas) with a cold-pressed juice or smoothie from the Juice Truck. Combinations include apple juice pressed with carrot, celery, and mint or pineapple juice pressed with cucumber, kale, mint, and ginger.
Meadow (104 Water St., 604-620-5802, shopmeadow.ca) Once you’re fully juiced, stroll Water Street and browse the shops, including Meadow, opened by sisters Sasha Freeman and Casey Myrfield in November 2012. The sibling duo stocks the charming shop with a curated, charming selection of handcrafted items, including quirky cards, whimsical iPhone cases, flowered dresses, and flasks engraved with ironic sayings.
Salt Tasting Room (45 Blood Alley, 604-633-1912, salttastingroom.com) Tucked away in a quiet back alley, the Salt Tasting Room has just 8 tables and one long communal table where you can pair artisan meats, cheeses, and condiments to customize your own charcuterie plate. The floor-to-ceiling chalkboard menu lists Salt's selection of delicacies from around the world, such as Talleggio cheese from Italy, Guinness mustard, and B.C. hazelnuts. Also notable are the Pinot Blanc and Gamay Noir, two B.C. wines served on tap instead of from a bottle.
Stanley Park (1166 Stanley Park Drive, vancouver.ca/parks-recreation-culture/stanley-park.aspx) Next, work off the cheese, meat, and wine with a stroll along Vancouver's Seawall, which starts just beyond the edge of Gastown in neighboring Coal Harbor and extends through Stanley Park all the way to Kitsilano Beach. Stanley is a 1,001-acre public park that includes an 18-hole Pitch & Putt golf course, an aquarium, gardens, and walking or jogging trails. If you want to drive instead of walking, the park has paid parking through EasyPark and several Zipcars parked nearby. (It’s like they knew you were coming.)