West Coast Playground – Vancouver, BC Canada

Vancouver at night

Vancouver at night

Imagine a city sprawled in a valley lapped by ocean waves with snowcapped mountains hung against the sky. Nearby a coastal virgin rainforest beckons. Amidst these beauties of nature are mirror-fronted skyscrapers, a bustling harbour, world class restaurants and hotels, and shopping to satisfy the most ardent shopaholic.

Imagine no more. This is Vancouver, BC on Canada’s West Coast. Whatever I wanted in the way of a holiday, it was waiting for me here. From outdoor adventure to arts and ethnic culture, the choices more than filled the time I had.

Vancouver, courtesy Vancouver Tourism


My float plane landed in Vancouver’s busy downtown harbour, the largest in North America. I was right in the scene of the action. This city is alive with energy and vitality as Vancouverites renovate and reclaim the old city core areas. Visiting these spots is an interesting way to take in the city’s flavor. First on my list was Yaletown, fast becoming a trendy area for eating and shopping as residential remakes of old warehouses go forward. The home decorating shops were tempting, but I couldn’t quite fit a lamp into my suitcase.

Gastown steam clock

Gastown steam clock

Gastown is another funky neighborhood. During the Klondike gold rush it was the center of the action. Strolling down the sidewalk littered with small shops of every variety, I spotted traces of that time in the Victorian streetlights, cobbled streets and the world’s first steam powered clock. Every quarter hour it erupts with noise when the steam and chimes let loose. Quite a sight, and what a sound.

Granville Island is a different sort of neighborhood. Reclaimed from an industrial district, the old warehouses now house restaurants, artist’s studios and the usual melange of shops. Kids can have a blast in their own store with a small door to enter by (yes, there’s a big one for parents as well).

Granville Island Aquabus

Granville Island Aquabus

But the crowning glory is, in my opinion, Granville Market, where farmers, fishermen and bakers bring their ware. It was hard to choose between plump blackberries, juicy raspberries or deep wine-red cherries. It’s a popular spot for the locals to grab fresh seafood and other delicacies to cart home. I discovered the Aquabus, a water taxi that plies back and forth between the downtown and the island, was an easy and fun way to make the trip.

Grouse Mountain, courtesy Vancouver Tourism

Grouse Mountain

On the city’s North Shore, a one mile vertical skyride took me to the top of Grouse Mountain. Fabulous views. The mountain is riddled with hiking trails, and guided walking tours are offered. A guide suggested only those experienced in wilderness survival should trail around on their own. Apparently quite a few people lose their way and have to be rescued. In winter the same mountain boasts ski runs.

Howe Sound Cruise

Howe Sound cruise

Later in the day I strolled down to the waters of English Bay where I was tempted to rent a kayak, canoe, or sailboat. Scuba divers and salmon fishers were gearing up for action.
I decided to let others do the work for me and signed up for a three-hour barbecue dinner cruise on Howe Sound, part of the waters surrounding Vancouver. The sun was out, the sea was calm, and the views along the western shore were spectacular. We lingered until the sun set over the waters, a perfect ending to a perfect day.

Stanley Park, courtesy Vancouver Tourism

Stanley Park

Stanley Park, a 1000 acre green oasis in the middle of the city, was on the next morning’s agenda. Renting a bike to circle the six miles around the ocean front is a great way to explore. But watch out for the rollerbladers who share the same pathway. Fortunately, walkers have their own designated paths.

Shopping was a must do activity. I reveled in Robson Street’s mix of upmarket boutiques nestled alongside colorful cafes and funky specialty stores. If you’re an ice cream fanatic like me, don’t miss Cow’s where the home-made ice cream is to die for.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Capilano Suspension Bridge

For something out of Indiana Jones, Capilano Suspension Bridge answers the bill. It spans 450 feet across the Capilano River canyon. If heights are not your thing, walking the 230-foot long swaying bridge can be nerve wracking. I decided to leave it to others and just enjoy the view and the landscaped park while sipping on a cappucino and reading the fascinating history exhibit about the area.

It was lunchtime and I took a detour to West Vancouver’s Beach Side Cafe, a favorite spot with the local residents. This unassuming restaurant has been named tops in its area four years running and received both gold and silver awards. Executive Chef Carol Chow has used her culinary talents to combine fresh ingredients from the sea and soil, hinting of Asian and Southwestern seasonings. I gorged on the salmon spring rolls with sweet chili and lime sauce, followed by a fresh blueberry tart.



Chinatown, the third largest in North America, an area rich in culture and history was a destination in itself. The streets thronged with the Chinese community speaking their own language and snapping up barbecued pork or duck just sliced, dried exotic fruits and other specialities from the many food markets that lace the streets. Strange sights and smells assailed me as I wondered what many of these foods were. There were Chinese herbal remedies to contemplate, and, to purchase, jade, silk and 100-year-old duck eggs that look like highly polished marble. I marveled at the Sam Kee building (corner of Carrall and Pender Streets). Only six feet wide, it’s made the Guinness Book of World Records.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden

After the hectic market scene quiet contemplation was the order of the day. I found it in the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden, named for the first president of the Republic of China. This classical Chinese garden was shipped from China in more than 950 crates. The hand-fired roof tiles, carved woodwork, lattice windows, limestone rocks and pebbles create an authentic area of peace and calm in the midst of a bustling and busy neighborhood.

What better way to end my day than to attend Bard on the Beach, a popular summer event. Held near the beach on English Bay, it’s a professional Shakespeare Festival performed in Elizabethan style tents. The sea, the darkening sky and the mountains formed a stunning backdrop.

Howe Sound sunset

Howe Sound sunset

In two days I’d only had time for a sampling of what Vancouver has to offer. It’s a place I’ll come back to again and again to experience the full diversity of natural and man-made attractions.

If you have time to spare after sampling Vancouver’s many attractions head up the "Sea to Sky Highway" to Whistler, a world class ski resort with both winter and summer attractions. The highway boasts spectacular ocean and mountain views.

On the way to Whistler stop at Shannon Falls. Its 1100-foot height makes it the second highest North American falls. Further along the highway you may catch sight of climbers daring the granite monolith called Squamish Chief.

Replete with gondola rides, world class resorts and shops for the skier and tourist, the center of Whistler is pedestrianized. Ski season runs from mid-November to mid-April, but even in summer gondolas run to the top. There are hiking and biking trails on the mountain. Vancouver All-Terrain Adventures offers experienced guides and luxury 4×4’s to get you there. Book a bald eagle adventure tour with them in December and January. Brackendale, located on the way to Whistler, has the largest concentration of eagles – up to 3500 – in North America.

Essential Information
Vancouver is 24 miles from the Canada-US boundary on the west coast of North America. Daytime temperatures average 70F in summer and 35F in winter. Like any large city, Vancouver has its dark side. Be sure to stay in the well lit and popular sites, especially at night.

Vancouver Tourism’s web site is located at www.tourism-vancouver.org.

Beach Side Cafe is at 1362 Marine Drive; (604) 925-1945; reservations recommended.
For dinner cruise information contact Westin Bayshore Hotel, at 1601 West Georgia St. Call (604) 682-3377 or visit their web site.

Harbour Air Seaplanes reservations can be made from your hotel or by calling (604) 274-1277 or 1-800-665-0212. For full details check out the web site.

For tickets to Bard on the Beach contact the box office at (604) 739-0559 or visit their web site.

Vancouver All-Terrain Adventures can be contacted at 1-888-754-5601 toll free or (604) 984-2374 or visit their web site. Contact them for trips to Whistler, off-road adventures and more.

©2002 Barbara Ballard. Reproduction of this work in whole or in part, including reproduction in electronic media, without the expressed permission of the author is prohibited. Images by Barbara Ballard, except Grouse Mountain gondola, Stanley Park, Vancouver downtown day scene courtesy Vancouver Tourism.

If you want more information about this area you can email the author or check out our North America Insiders page.