Wednesday, July 12, 2006

ETC: Five (or More) Things You Must See in Vancouver

Speaking of sluts, you all know that I'm a total list whore, which is obviously why Data Bunny knew exactly what magic buttons to push when she recently emailed me:
A list! A list! We must have a list!

If you would please, list in order of importance the top five things I must see when I visit Vancouver in August. Since I am living in the land-locked Midwest (MN), the ocean is on the top. However, the ocean does not three days fill.
Oh, but sister, in these parts you actually could fill three days with visiting the ocean:

Day 1: Walk around the Stanley Park Seawall. It's 10 kilometres long (or about six of your Yankee miles), and since Stanley Park is on a peninsula, the Seawall is always next to the water. There are several beaches along the way, the biggest being the one at English Bay.

Day 2: Go to any of the beaches in the neighbourhood of Kitsilano. Kits Beach. Jericho. Spanish Banks. They're all pretty nice, especially if you dig the classic volleyball/frisbee/barbecue vibe.

Day 3: Now that you're properly warmed up, head to Wreck Beach, the only recognized nude beach in the country. It's a bit of a trek to get to, involving a trip to the University of British Columbia and a hike down a long flight of outdoor stairs, but it's well worth it. The beach is clothing optional, so you don't have to peel if you don't want to. The vibe is low-key and friendly, not skeevy. I've always felt comfortable at Wreck. The best part of this beach, to me, is the variety of wares being peddled here. From Stormin' Norman's wild meat burger stand to the various vendors walking up and down the beach selling everything from shooters to watermelon to shiatsu massage to jewelry to various illicit substances, it's the weirdest assortment of goods and services you can expect to find in one place... all delivered straight to your beach blanket. As an added bonus, since many of the vendors are naked, you can get a firsthand chance to see how a fanny pack can be worn as a codpiece.

So that's how you could, feasibly, spend all three days in Vancouver near the ocean and have completely different experiences. But if you want to mix in some non-beachy activities and destinations, here are some other things you can do and places to go:

If you're downtown, you can take the Aquabus (a tiny foot-passenger ferry) from one of its many ports to Granville Island. It's about a 10-minute ride, and when you get to the island, you can stroll around and check out the many, many artist and artisan studios that are open to the public. There are a couple of cool public markets, too, including the Net Loft and the huge Granville Island Market. If you're hungry, the Market has a really funky food court, as well as a great outdoor space right on the water where you can eat your lunch. Or you can do what I prefer to do and go to the Sandbar for lunch (which is served all afternoon). This is a really nice restaurant with a fabulous outdoor deck, where you can watch the boats come in and out of the harbour. During the summer, there are buskers all over the island. Consider this either a plug or a warning, depending on your feelings about buskers.

The Vancouver Aquarium is really cool and definitely worth checking out. It's modern and well-designed, and you can tell the animals are very well cared for. The aquarium has larger mammals such as belugas, dolphins, sea otters and sea lions, all of which were born in capitivity. There are regular instructional lectures and stuff, or you can just stroll around. The aquarium is on the grounds of Stanley Park (which is more like a huge forest than a park), so you can combine a visit with a stroll on the park's trails and/or a walk around the Seawall.

The Seawall actually extends for miles and miles around the city. (If you look at a map of Vancouver, just picture the Seawall running along pretty much the entire perimeter where the ocean meets the city.) You could spend three days on a bike (you can rent bikes downtown, by the hour or by the day) just visiting various sites along the Seawall. All the beaches (with the exception of Wreck) are found along the Seawall. Stanley Park and the Aquarium? On the Seawall. Granville Island? Also on the Seawall. Another cool destination is Science World, which also houses an IMAX theatre. Right now, Science World has a major exhibit all about ancient Egypt... rendered in Lego. It's pretty nifty.

Vancouver's Chinatown is small, but as one of the oldest areas of the city, it's worth checking out, especially if you like authentic Chinese cuisine. Because it's small, you can make your trek to Chinatown more worthwhile by visiting neighbouring Gastown, an equally old neighbourhood. Most of the shops are of the tacky tourist variety, and definitely don't eat at the restaurants, but the architecture is cool. On one block of Cordova Street are some great little shops -- such as Dream and The Block -- featuring clothes and accessories by Vancouver designers, as well as one of my favourite vintage/consignment clothing shops, Deluxe Junk Co.

Ooh, I should also recommend some restaurants. Vancouver is FULL of great restaurants at all price points, so there's no need to ever suffer a bad meal. Apparently, Vancouverites eat out more than residents of any other city in Canada, which probably explains why we have so many great dining choices. A few of Rusty's and my favourites (you can look them up, as most have websites): Feenie's, Memphis Blues, Vij's, Sophie's Cosmic Cafe, Vera's Burger Shack, Rime, Ouisi Bistro, Clove, Deserts Falafel, Monsoon, The Reef, Moderne Burger, Barney's Caffe, Waazubee, Rodney's Oyster Bar, Bin 941, Bin 942, All India Sweets, The Afghan Horseman, and Stella's.

If you like sushi (or if you've always wanted to try it, but it's too expensive to experiment with, as is often the case in land-locked cities), you can get good, cheap sushi all over the city. A tip: If you walk into a sushi joint and you can smell fish, walk back out. A good sushi restaurant shouldn't smell like a fish market.

For THE best gelato in the entire city -- and possibly the continent -- go to La Dolce Amore on Commercial Drive. There may be a line-up, and while I don't normally advocate standing on line for anything, I'll make an exception here.

If you're a coffee fiend, there are Starbucks locations everywhere. I mean that literally. They just opened up one in my basement, which is already in fierce competition with the Starbucks located in my neighbour's basement. I'm not a Starbucks basher, but while it'll do in a pinch, I think there are better coffees to be found in Vancouver, a city dedicated to the mighty bean. In my neighbourhood (the aforementioned Commercial Drive area), I love both Abruzzo and Turk's. Further afield, Caffe Artigiano makes gorgeous "artisan" coffees and has a few locations downtown.

And to end this post on a bookish note, if you're strolling around downtown and you find yourself in the neighbourhood of Robson and Hamilton Streets, look up and take note of the (relatively) new Vancouver Public Library. Designed by reknowned architect Moshe Safdie, this edifice has created controversy since before it was even built. People either love it or hate it. Let me know what you think.

Whew. That's all I can think of for now, though I'm sure more will come to me. If anyone has any tips they'd like to offer Data Bunny, fire away.


swatcher, polish-ranger said...

If you like antiques, Main Street between about 18th and 28th is a great place to browse. Also on Main St. (at 6th) is a little restaurant called The Whip that has awesome food and amazing sangria. If you want to venture a little further out of the Vancouver core, a ride on the Seabus over to the Lonsdale Quay is a good way to kill some time. If you are into Greek food, Anatoli Souvlaki (at the bottom of Lonsdale) is one of the best Greek restaurants I've ever been to. Yaletown has some cool shops (if a little pretentious) and some highly recommended restaurants - my favourite being Brix. Some other fabulous places to visit are the villages of Steveston and White Rock. Have a great time!

Em said...

There's a bakery thing down near the Granville Island Theatre (is it called the Granville Island Stage? It's been a few years.)
But they do this grilled sandwich with avocado, tomato, and Brie and it was the best sandwich I've ever had. It has some French name, and a bit of a square out front where buskers hang out. Could also be near to the market and Blackberry Books or whatever it's called.

There's also some store called Tumbleweed Books that was a really cool place I found while lost on a band trip. Can't remember where it was, mostly because I was, y'know, lost.

Em said...

ETA: Also, any chance of a daytrip to Vancouver Island? Victoria's Chinatown is way better and the second-oldest Chinatown in North America, following San Francisco.
There's also the Butchart Gardens...

Anonymous said...

Oh, this is such a fabulous post...I'm sort of moving up to Vancouver six weeks, heh, so a nice little list of things to do!

Anonymous said...

Wow! After reading your post and the comments I feel like I should book my trip now.

Alice said...

But what if you've only got one night in Vancouver?

I'm planning my Christmas trip home, and will have a night between landing in Vancouver and heading to Victoria to see the family. One night - what to do?

Lori said...

I just left Vancouver (again!) after living there (this time) for 7 years. After having read your post, I'm feeling a little homesick...but now, when I go back, I can be a tourist!

If you've only got one day: Vancouver Aquarium & Stanley Park, and eat someplace on Denman Street (choose Korean, Mongolian, Japanese, Thai...just to name the availabe Asian cuisine on that street!)

One night, The Yale on Granville St. for some fabulous Blues and atmosphere.

Andrea said...

Oh how I miss Vancouver. Just wanted to add that if you do decide to visit Wreck Beach (which I heartily recommend) then you should also make time for the Museum of Anthropology ( located on UBC campus. The visit is worth it just for the Great Hall, which contains some magnificent totem poles. The museum is also home to Bill Reid's "The Raven and the First Men" sculpture which has been immortalized on the Canadian 20$ bill.

If you're hungry afterwards go to the Student Union Building (The "Sub", ask anyone on campus and they'll point you in the right direction) and get some pizza from Pi R Squared (Known for their unconventional toppings like potatoes, pesto, get the idea, also make a great crust). Then go downstairs and try some bubble tea at the, um, Bubble Tea Place (I honestly can't remember the stand's proper name). If you've never had bubble tea before definitely order it with 'pearls' (they are little tapioca balls). I'll admit, it's a bit of an acquired taste, but everyone I've gotten to try the stuff has become addicted.

Okay, now I really miss Vancouver.

Anonymous said...

Make sure that even if you don't get to the North Shore, you get to see the Lions Gate Bridge all lit up at night. The lights were bought by the Guinness family! Beer Lights!
Also, if you are going to visit Gastown, try to stick in areas with cobbled streets. It turns into the Lower East Side a little faster than you might expect.

spacepotatoes said...

I'm a bit late to the party, but word verification has only just decided to start working on my laptop again!

I've only been to Vancouver once, some of my grad-student officemates and I spent a day/night there before continuing on to Whistler for a workshop last summer and this post has REALLY made me want to go back and get the full experience.

We took in a surprising lot for 24 hrs, thanks to some bus confusion (who knew that in Vancouver, buses with the same numbers can have different routes?). Eventually, we got to Stanley Park and that would be my recommendation for one day in Vancouver. Everything is either in the park or near the park - the Aquarium (which we walked around the outside of since the price of admission offended our grad student sensibilities...I will be going in next time though!), the seawall, downtown, and you can see Lion's Gate bridge from there.

And for a pretty thorough bus tour, the #17 will take you around what will seem like nearly everywhere. In either direction. Learned that the hard way...

Anonymous said...

Hey now, Wreck Beach is not the only nude beach in Canada. There's one right here in Toronto: Now granted, only part of it is clothing optional but still there are naked people to be found.