12 Hour Destination Guide to Vancouver, BC
Spend a laid-back day in Vancity
First impressions are hard to shake, and within a few hours, Vancouver impressed upon me the fact that it was very clean, polite and beautiful. It’s the little things, like how the bus would apologize for not being able to let us board – the words “Sorry, full” scrolled along it’s front, and we weren’t even upset. It is also into subtly compelling you to think through hand-lettered or carefully designed street art. It is the largest metropolitan area in Western Canada, and its location between the Coast Mountains and the Pacific Ocean means that being awestruck by nature in Vancity (as it is colloquially known) becomes a daily occurrence. It is definitely quieter and more slow-paced than the one other Canadian city I’ve been to – Montreal – but I definitely recommend it if you’re looking to visit a city that still allows you access to nature.
Here is a suggested guide on how to spend a laid-back day in Vancouver.
Smart Mouth Café (formerly Luna Café – the entrance still bears its sign) is located on Water St in Gastown, just a short walk from Waterfront Station. If you’re looking for a relaxing breakfast, this is a good place to sit with your laptop and just people watch with a cappuccino and almond croissant. They have both indoor and outdoor seating. If you sit inside, there are beautiful brick walls and high ceilings.
Walk around Gastown, where you’d find many independent shops carrying kitschy gifts, chic home décor, and vintage and new clothes. If you see a bunch of tourists crowding around something that looks like a grandfather clock on the corner of Cambie and Water Street, don’t worry, you’re not hallucinating. This steam-powered clock was built to cover a grate and utilizes the low-pressure downtown-wide steam heating system. It’s not exactly old, but it is still somewhat of a novelty.
If you look closely, you might spot some really cool commissioned (or otherwise) art while walking around Gastown, such as Viktor Briestensky and Dan Climan’s sign.
Very close by is Chinatown. It definitely feels very different from the other parts of downtown area, and has less of a manufactured feel. There are a few cool street style and longboarding shops tucked into some of the streets. Stop into one of the teashops or cut back into Gastown for lunch. I had lunch at Chill Winston, which teeters just on the edge of pretentious, but my stomach didn’t have any complaints with bison pasta, which was one of their specials that day (it was a little pricey though). The servers there are also really friendly.
Take a bus to mid-Main Street. Here you will find a stretch of little stores and boutiques running from about 16th to 33rd Ave. Pick up a record at Dandelion (the guy working would be happy to let you hear something before you buy it). There are some great vintage and thrift clothing stores, as well as ones that sell new clothes. Other notable stores are the Antisocial Skateshop, and the large boutique store 8th & Main.
When you’re all shopped out, head back toward the Waterfront and take a slow walk to Stanley Park. You’ll go by the seaplane terminal, and the strange sight of a Chevron gas station right in the middle of the water. Around the Vancouver Convention Centre, you can see Douglas Coupland’s Digital Orca. My favorite art piece so far in Vancouver was the one-line poem by artist Liam Gillick, which is wrapped repeatedly around the Fairmont Pacific Rim building. In steel letters that go on 17-storeys, “the clouds looked no nearer than when I was lying on the street”.
At the beginning of Stanley Park, cut through the parking lot and cross the street to Spokes Bicycle Rentals, where you can rent a bike for around $6.67/hr. The park is mostly flat and easy to bike around, but be warned that for most of it, bike traffic is only going in one direction. This means that you have to commit to doing the entire park, going along the seawall and under Lions Gate bridge. There are several stops within the park that you can make.
There is a collection of totem poles at Brockton Point, carved by First Nations people. A little bit future down is Girl in a Wetsuit, a lifesize broze sculpture by Elek Imredy. There are three beaches in Stanley Park, as well as a heated outdoor pool, if you want to take a break and just enjoy the scenery. I managed to bike around the park in an hour and a half, on a single-speed bike, but this is definitely a place you can spend more time at.
Head back to your hostel, or where you’re staying for the night. I stayed in on Lansdowne, which is in the Richmond area on the Canada Line. It is an area where a lot of Hong Kong immigrants live, and is also where you can find amazing dim sum and Chinese eateries. Check out No. 9 Restaurant, which is located in the Lansdowne Mall. It is open 24/7, and there is always someone in there having noodle soup. I recommend a Hong Kong-style milk tea, and youtiao, also known as the Chinese cruller, with century-egg porridge, which is extremely filling and hearty.
If it is the weekend, check out the vibrant Richmond Night Market. Admission is $2.25 and there are retail, food and game booths. It runs to 11pm or 12am and it is definitely a fun time.