Pssst…have you ever wanted to be an undercover tourist? Perhaps your guidebook is thumbed to within an inch of its life? Or maybe you are the type who carefully plans what to do and where to go – so long as it includes all the latest places to see and be seen in. If any of this sounds familiar, then look no further. This secret guide to Vancouver was written just for you.
The Daily work out
Any Vancouverite worth his salt is an exercise junkie. After all, this city is owned by the young and beautiful, and boy, do they work hard at it. On any given lunch hour or weekend they’ll be stomping up Grouse Mountain or bending over backwards at Bickram yoga. Whatever the weather, I can single-handedly guarantee the locals will be at it, one way or another.
If you want to join in, your best bet is to walk, jog or cycle around Stanley Park and the seawall. En-route, there are plenty of tourist hot spots – totem poles, a marina choc-full of millionaires and their yachts and a terrific cityscape view, and that’s just for starters. You’ll also see beaches, lakes and dog-parks. Not to mention, of course, all the young and beautiful.
The Hollywood North
Some of the big movies recently filmed in Vancouver include X-Men Origins, Wolverine, Night at the Museum, The Day the Earth Stood Still, I Love You Beth Cooper, Juno and Fantastic Four. So if you are in the right place at the right time, you might find yourself accidentally crossing over into a New York street scene complete with signs, cabs and movie extras.
Of course, Vancouverites are far too cool to be impressed and like to let the good people get on with their work. Between you and me though, most of us hover a second too long in the background in the hope of appearing, albeit briefly, in the new episode of Superman – we just don’t like to admit it.
One more thing, don’t say I told you so, but there is also an off-chance of catching a glimpse of the likes of Samuel L. Jackson having dinner at the Cactus Club or Robin Williams making an impromptu stop off at one of the city’s comedy clubs – as he’s been known to do.
Vancouver Art Gallery
A former provincial courthouse building, the VAG takes centre stage in Robson Square and is, quite frankly, an impressive building which certainly has a formidable air about it, which is all well and good.
Now, I might be wrong to assume you don’t have a burning desire to see the life works of Canadian artist Emily Carr, and that you’d really like to pay $20 for the pleasure, but may I be so bold as to suggest an alternative – sit on the steps outside the art gallery, chow down on a hot Starbucks and muffin, and watch the legalize cannabis protest instead, which incidentally might be a smidgen more interesting.
Vancouver is one of the top culinary playgrounds of the world, and it’s difficult to have a bad meal, or bad service here, for that matter. In particular, the Japanese cuisine is not to be missed. Hapa Izakaya and Guu are known for their fresh, tasty tapas which wash down brilliantly with a cold Japanese beer or a glass of warm sake. For the uninitiated, it might be wise to start with a hot stone rice dish, tofu and a bowl of edamame.
Gastown has some pretty nifty architecture, cobbled streets and a hell of a lot of tacky shops where visitors can buy ‘real’ maple syrup chocolates stuffed in a toy bear wearing a Canadian flag. Other than that, it is also home to a steam powered clock – which I’m betting is featured in that well thumbed guide book of yours.
Well, here’s a hint. If you look too closely at tourists having their picture taken with the clock, you’ll invariable see someone in the background rolling their eyes. Why? A few years ago the clock stopped working during a city-wide power cut. Plus, it’s a lot smaller than you expect. And it’s…erm….a clock powered by steam. Allegedly.
Previously a highly industrialized part of the city, Yaletown is now home to many converted warehouses and loft style apartments set among ultra trendy bars and chic boutiques. Unsurprisingly, this spot is bustling most nights of the week.
In that respect, Yaletown Brewery is worth a look. Interestingly enough, the bar motto is Dream Big. Work Hard. Drink Beer. – which is really quite an insight into the typical multimedia-type customers that work and live in the Yaletown area…and who can fault that?
Kitsilano, Vancouver’s most hip and accessible suburb, has its own main shopping drag, a beach, a park and an outdoor swimming pool. It’s also home to a large amount of eateries, including the popular organic deli Capers, which also happens to be the hub of the local high class hippies. Everything sold here is ethical, organic or both. In fact, a glow can be achieved by merely walking through the door and up to the salad bar.
It’s not surprising then, once you arrive in Kitsilano; to find yourself wandering around a neighbourhood startlingly similar to the Truman show. This is the land of tree-lined streets and no crime. It really is a bubble. All the poodle parlors, juice bars, yoga studios and free-trade coffee shops attest to that vibe, and if I were you I wouldn’t look too close at the price tags in the local boutiques (a baby romper suit costs more than the average girl-about-town’s entire wardrobe).
All in all, Kitsilano is well worth a look. As an added bonus, the bus ride from downtown to the area gives you an unbeatable view of the glass city, Pacific Ocean and snow-capped mountains.
The library is a mock-up of the coliseum in Rome. No really it is, and love it or hate it (I know plenty on both sides of that coin), you really have to appreciate the fact that the council built it without any irony whatsoever and isn’t that marvelous.
Comparisons between London’s Covent Garden and Vancouver’s Granville Island wouldn’t go amiss – with the caveat that the latter does it better. Enchanting street performers, lovingly hand-crafted gifts and one-of-a-kind toys all for sale in the public market and surrounding independent stores – it’s like a Santa’s grotto for grown-up.
As you wile away the hours, you may just find the entire day has passed and your stomach is growling like a wild coyote. If that’s the case, head to Dockside restaurant and watch the city through the floor to ceiling glass windows.
If Disney made ski resorts then Whistler would be it. Faux cobbled streets, matching European chalets and hiked-up prices are all guaranteed. For me, Whistler reminds me of an old roommate who used to iron his socks – nice enough, but not quite right.
On the plus side, Whistler is definitely abuzz with plans to host the 2010 Olympic and Paralympics winter games, plus they cater for all you dare devils out there who wish to try heli-skiing. There is also a spectacularly scenic drive up to the resort.
Known as the ‘gaybourhood’, Davie has it all. It buzzes all hours of the day, and is home to many nightclubs (Celebrities the famed gay nightclub hosts an annual Madonna night), as well as restaurants, shops, businesses, pizza parlors, residential buildings, art galleries, sex shops, flower shops and anything else you could ever want or need!
One final tip…
Vancouver is one big, transient, international city, and the best advice I can give you is to throw your suitcase into your room, leave the map on the bed, head straight out of the hotel and straight into the heart and soul of Vancouver.
Sarah Swinglehurst is a freelance writer and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org