A spectacular winter view from the top of destination Grouse Mountain reveals Vancouver’s enviable coastal location. Rarely does the snow venture down to sea level! Grouse Mountain Resort
Travel with a Challenge editor, Alison Gardner, shares her “Editor’s Choice” personal picks for readers with a yen for culture, history and adventure. Just follow the yellow check marks!
In a hurry? Start your search with Special Things to Do or Special Places to Sleep or Special Places to Eat or Tours to Try.
In Context: In 2004, 2005, 2006, 2009 and 2010 Conde Nast Traveler magazine announced Vancouver as the “Best City in the Americas” in their annual Readers’ Choice Awards. Cities are scored for ambience, friendliness, culture and sites, restaurants, lodging and shopping. Travel + Leisure magazine readers also offer perennial endorsements in their annual “World’s Best” awards, most recently selecting the city as #1 to visit in Canada for both 2011 and 2012.
Multi-cultural, cosmopolitan Greater Vancouver is one of the most popular cities on the planet for visiting and living. One unusual recognition of its special status is the respected British Economist Intelligence Unit assessment which rated Vancouver in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2016 as one of the top three places in the world to live out of 140 major cities. The research is completed every two years. Health and safety, culture, environment and well-maintained infrastructure, public facilities and transportation have all helped to place Vancouver in this enviable top tier.
The City of Vancouver, population 603,500, is just one of 18 municipalities that make up Metro Vancouver’s total population of 2.3 million. That’s more than 50% of the province of British Columbia’s 4.5 million residents, but still a small, manageable city by the world’s standards. The percentage of Metro Vancouver residents whose first language is English is 49.1% and Chinese is 25.3%.
For complete information about visiting the city, including a list of world-class festivals and theme events throughout the year, contact Tourism Vancouver, www.tourismvancouver.com. In equally close proximity to land, sea, accessible mountains and wilderness, Vancouver mixes and matches educational, cultural, and natural vacationing opportunities with ease.
Pinnacle Hotel Vancouver Harbourfront
The Pinnacle Hotel www.pinnacleharbourfronthotel.com, is ideally situated in downtown Vancouver, with the bonus attraction of a waterfront location that lives and breathes the natural beauty for which the city is noted. While it is close to shopping, dining and attractions that visitors to any large city anticipate, many guests particularly appreciate being able to step out the door for a stimulating walk along the waterfront, checking out the megayachts in a large marina, sampling fresh seafood at a popular floating restaurant nearby or walking or biking as far as the city’s famed Stanley Park named the Best Park in the World in TripAdvisor’s 2014 Travelers’ Choice Awards.
The Pinnacle Hotel Vancouver Harbourfront invites strolling along picturesque walkways leading to a nearby marina and seafront restaurants.
Ask for a room with a view of Vancouver’s bustling harbor and the ski-friendly/hiking-friendly mountains that define its North Vancouver vista.
Not to be confused with another Pinnacle-named multinational hotel on the opposite side of the street, this property is in a class of mid-sized hotels known as “Independent” which explains the hotel’s motto, Personalized Service, Local Flair. “For us, Independent is not a label,” explains Sales & Marketing Director, Richard Taylor. “It is a way of doing business, free to do what our Vancouver-based ownership and management team deems the best way to keep our guests invigorated and happy. We work with local suppliers and partners on every aspect of experience delivery including having eight complimentary bicycles for our guests to use and a town car for complimentary downtown drop offs.”
Images courtesy of Pinnacle Hotel Vancouver Harbourfront. Visit the hotel website for a creative selection of promotions and packages.
An exciting “first”, not just for Vancouver but for the world, is the 2014 opening of Skwachays Lodge, http://skwachays.com, an 18-room boutique hotel where the lobby and reception are a stunning First Nations (native) art gallery. In quite spectacular fashion, the heritage building’s roof is topped with a newly-carved 40-foot totem pole, and the lodge is a two-minute walk from the entrance gate to Vancouver’s vibrant Chinatown.
Skwachays Lodge is a First Nations-operated boutique hotel topped with a 40-foot totem pole. Alison Gardner
The street-level Kayachtn or Welcome Room features a relaxation area with fireplace for chatting with other guests, decorated with First Nations carvings and sculptures. It incorporates a stunning carved and decorated dining table, guaranteed to be unique in all your previous travels. Overnight guests are offered a free “grab and go” breakfast, but there is also an à la carte menu with fresh-prepared breakfasts daily, and lunches from Wednesday to Sunday. The menu features BC’s finest ingredients prepared with an Aboriginal flair.
To honor the building’s history, the Welcome Room tables, fireplace surround, and ceiling have all been hand-crafted out of Douglas fir planks salvaged from the original 1906 building structure. This is one of many indications that a great deal of thought has been put into every aspect of this hotel’s experiential immersion. There is an elevator leading to the suites on different floors, but there are some suites which additionally have staircases within the suite to gain access.
Each of the 18 Skwachays Lodge bedrooms or suites is distinctively decorated by a professional Aboriginal professional artist in partnership with one of Vancouver’s noted interior designers. Alison Gardner
From walls and ceiling to beds and other furniture, each suite has been designed and individually decorated by a contemporary aboriginal artist in collaboration with a professional interior designer. Using the graphically-beautiful website, you may access information and imagery for all 18 suites online to learn about the artist, the story behind the chosen design and the long list of features included in a particular suite, including limited kitchenette facilities. The artist’s profile is in the room for guests to read which makes the experience very personal, like sleeping in someone’s home.
Sunset Inn & Suites
Located on a quiet residential street in Vancouver’s West End, the apartment-style Sunset Inn & Suites is a sleeper … not only because it is just beyond the hustle and bustle of the major hotel district, but also because it offers well-designed, spacious self-catering suites for very attractive prices. With its central location, restaurants and coffee houses abounding, Granville Island and downtown just a stone’s throw, there is no call for an in-inn restaurant. The free continental breakfast is laid out in the lobby with guests selecting their options and taking a tray of food to serve in their own well-equipped dining area.
Sunset Inn & Suites opens onto a tree-lined residential street, great for walking. Sunset Inn
Sunset Inn is a 10-minute walk along peaceful tree-lined residential streets that emerge at Vancouver’s picturesque English Bay waterfront. Or stroll deeper into the West End for an eclectic variety of eateries and live music most days a week [see Rain City Grill and Central Bistro reviewed below]. Gated parking at the Inn is free as is high speed internet. The helpful staff is knowledgeable about what to see and do in the city and offers a concierge service to make arrangements with ease. Essentially, this property provides the services of a hotel with a home-like atmosphere that is hard to experience in a conventional hotel.
All recently renovated, Sunset self-catering suites are bright and comfortable. Sunset Inn
During my stay there, I met many senior couples who have regularly called the Sunset Inn home for one-to-two months each year in order to enjoy what the city has to offer in the way of annual festivals and attractions, or to spend time with family and friends while still maintaining their privacy and independence at a price they can afford. It is not often that you witness guests bringing presents to hotel staff when they arrive for a visit, but the sense of family sharing here is pleasurable whether the stay is long or short.
The Listel Vancouver Hotel
The Listel Vancouver Hotel has actively cultivated a well-deserved reputation as Vancouver’s “most artful hotel” and “a cultural tourist’s dream”. In addition to public areas amply decorated with paintings, ceramics and sculptures of local professional artists, there are several floors where hallways and rooms carry on the art patron theme. The Gallery Floors are curated by the prestigious Buschlen Mowatt Gallery, featuring original and limited edition works by 30 artists, each room showcasing the work of a particular artist. The hotel’s Museum Floor whose hallway and 54 rooms feature Northwest Coast art by Northwest Coast native contemporary artists is curated by the Museum of Anthropology [see museum spotlight under “Special Things to Do”].
Hamat’sa Mask is part of the Listel Vancouver Hotel collection of west coast native art. Listel Vancouver Hotel/John Sherlock
But art is not all that makes this boutique hotel very unusual. The Listel is a veritable green giant when it comes to incorporating environmental initiatives into the hotel’s everyday operation, having been named Tourism Ambassador for Conservation by Tourism Vancouver. It has undertaken a mind-boggling Zero Waste program turning all organic waste into compost, reusing all recyclables and converting all non-recyclables into electricity.
It has installed a highly efficient heat recovery system in partnership with a B.C.-based renewable energy company whose delightful slogan is “The sun hasn’t raised its rates for four billion years.” Most recently The Listel has opened the Forage restaurant that nicely complements its green mission [see “Special Places to Eat” for a taste of the menu].
Hotel guests walking around the Listel lobby? No, just some whimsical life-size sculptures to bring a smile to guests upon arrival! Listel Hotel
Wedgewood Hotel & Spa
The Word is out! A David among a forest of Goliath-like downtown hotels is proving that small is exquisitely beautiful, graciously efficient, and warmly welcoming. Yes, Vancouver’s privately-owned Wedgewood Hotel & Spa has been a success story for more than three decades.
Already the object of a Santa Claus-sized sack of awards in every category of hospitality delivery, this 83-room boutique jewel just keeps stuffing more recognitions into the bag every year, whether it is from Condé Nast Traveler, Trip Advisor or Travel + Leisure magazine. Most recently, Wedgewood Hotel and Spa was recognized as TripAdvisor’s “Travelers’ Choice Winner – Top Hotels in Canada”.
The hotel dining room exudes Old World elegance. Wedgewood Hotel & Spa
In business since 1984, under the creative vision of two Greek-Canadian sisters with a powerful design flare and a natural gift for hospitality, the Wedgewood Hotel continues to enjoy very high occupancy year round under the managing directorship of one of their daughters who shares the family commitment to style and exemplary service.
It is hardly surprising that many guests are repeat clients, and many more are mature travelers, especially those lingering in Vancouver before or after a cruiseship holiday. Whether it is the “Old World” flavor of public spaces and guest rooms, the fresh-baked cookies on pillows when beds are turned down at night, the elegant live piano music or the crackling fire in the French-influenced dining room, these hoteliers have written their own rulebook on prize-winning hospitality.
Bill Reid Gallery
The Bill Reid Gallery opened in May 2008. Bill Reid Foundation
Under the management of the Bill Reid Foundation, a stunning Aboriginal art gallery in the heart of downtown Vancouver opened its doors in May 2008. Essentially a museum in celebration of the work of Bill Reid, Canada’s most revered native artist, it collects together works by this prolific, creative man that range in size from mammoth to miniature, from tree-sized wooden totem poles to world-recognized bronze sculptures and exquisite gold and silver jewellery.
Exhibitions focus on Aboriginal art. Bill Reid Foundation
Haida artist, Bill Reid (1920 to 1998), was pivotal in reviving and introducing to the world the rich art traditions of the indigenous people of Northwest North America. The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, is an exciting addition to Vancouver’s cultural attractions. Located off Hornby Street but not visible from the street, go up a set of stairs into an enclosed grassy quadrangle. The distinctive building and courtyard are ideal for a relaxed contemplation of the unique beauty of the collection, indoors and outdoors.
The gallery also showcases pieces by other Canadian Aboriginal talents, both established and emerging artists. You will often have a chance to see these artists at work in the gallery and have an opportunity to chat with them as well.
Museum of Anthropology
The Museum of Anthropology (MOA), overlooking mountains and sea on the grounds of the University of British Columbia, is a visual treat from entry through the massive carved front doors into the Great Hall featuring full size totem poles, feast dishes and canoes and on through every gallery of this world leader in museum design and presentation.
Focusing mainly on Northwest Coast of British Columbia First Nation [native] themes, it also owns an impressive collection of South Pacific objects and artefacts and representative collections from other regions, more than half a million ethnographic and archaeological objects ranging in size from enormous to delicately tiny in gold, silver, argillite, wood, ceramic and fabric.
For permanent display, First Nations artist, Bill Reid, created a massive yellow cedar “Raven and the First Men”, a Haida creation story. MOA
In the museum hall, Haisla First Nations Artist Lyle Wilson creates a traditionally-styled, painted house screen of four large Western red cedar planks totaling 14 feet by 15 feet. Alison Gardner
As Canada’s largest teaching museum, MOA pioneered the concept of Visible Storage whereby a much higher percentage than usual of any museum collection may be viewed for comparison and study, as well as for community-based research by artists, elders, students and visitors. The content of this museum is truly dazzling. There is also a constant enrichment of public programming ranging from films and expert lectures to workshops and native performance. Recognized native artists and artisans may also be found working in the Great Hall, creating their next commission and sharing stories with visitors.
Open Spring through Fall, the Greenheart Canopy Walkway is located within the extensive Botanical Gardens of the University of British Columbia [UBC], about 30 minutes by taxi or bus from downtown Vancouver. The Walkway is a 21st century-design treat for people of all ages to learn about Pacific Coast rainforests while having a lot of fun. The only one of its kind in Canada, this 308-meter/1010-ft aerial trail system offers a rare perspective on the natural beauty of the forest canopy ecosystem. Using its patent pending ‘tree hugger’ technology, Greenheart provides access to the upper canopy with minimal impact on the trees or habitat.
The Greenheart Canopy Walkway is the only one of its kind in Canada.
Fully guided and offered hourly, tours of the Canopy Walkway touch on many topics including sustainable eco-tourism, First Nations’ uses of local forest materials, and identifying tree species of the coastal temperate rainforest. The area is also home to some spectacular wildlife, such as bald eagles, woodpeckers and coyotes. “Guests traverse bridges suspended around 50 ft in trees that are over a century old. This experience is an exciting and adventurous way to interact with nature and the forest,” says Brian McCarthy, Greenheart Operations Manager.
UBC is a stimulating destination in itself with many major attractions in addition to the Greenheart Canopy Walkway and Museum of Anthropology [above]. Make a full day of it, and enjoy lunch at one of the many cafes on the campus! More attractions include the Botanical Gardens, Nitobe Memorial Gardens, art galleries and the recently opened Beaty Biodiversity Museum, a 20,000 sq ft state-of-the-art teaching museum.
Just a 20-minute drive from downtown Vancouver plus an eight-minute cable car ride from the base of Grouse Mountain to the top, opens up an exciting multi-interest destination for all ages to experience at their own pace. Click on www.grousemountain.com, to discover why the view is just the beginning … Amid towering Douglas fir trees, many larger-than-life cedar carvings along a well-maintained trail network add their own magic to the mountain top setting.
Open 365 days a year, Grouse Mountain attracts 1.1 million visitors whose reasons for spending time in this spectacular piece of accessible wilderness range from guided and self-guided nature walks and hikes in summer to cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and downhill skiing in winter.
For those indoor retreat times and for evening visitors, there is the Theatre in the Sky and a fine dining restaurant as well as more casual cafés and gift shops stocked with original west coasty temptations from specialty foods and souveniers to designer jewelery and clothing.
Be sure to visit Grouse Mountain’s educational Refuge for Endangered Wildlife a sprawling natural acreage where grizzly bear cubs, orphaned too young to survive on their own, are brought from all over British Columbia for initial rearing and to hone their survival skills. This leading-edge rescue and rehabilitation facility is attempting to prepare these increasingly rare and always-fascinating creatures for a life in the wilderness.
FlyOver Canada, www.flyovercanada.com, is the Vancouver waterfront’s newest attraction, one that definitely lives up to its declaration that visitors will “explore Canada like never before.” Using spectacular technological effects including moving seats with seat belts, wind, mist and even scents, the four-storey-high spherical screen wings participants from coast to coast with breath-taking bird’s eye view photography.
Though staff will tell you this is the longest running time of any similar show currently on offer, the eight minutes it takes to “fly” across a country with the size and diversity of Canada left me wanting more. While children and teens will love this unique experience as much as any adult, it is worth noting that little people in your party must be 40 inches or 102 centimeters tall to gain entry. That’s the height of an average four-year-old.
Located on the outermost point of the Canada Place complex that juts into the harbor, FlyOver Canada is open daily from 10 a.m. year round with extended hours in the Summer months. It is quite a walk so allow plenty of time to reach the entrance, while enjoying along the way Vancouver’s bustling inner harbor and the mountain scenery that serves as a spectacular backdrop to the North Shore of the city.
For safety reasons, FlyOver Canada requires little people to be 40 inches or more to experience this unique introduction to Canada from coast to coast. Alison Gardner
Have you discovered Granville Island under the bridge of the same name? Clearly, it is an intriguing multi-theme destination in a realm all its own, and just five minutes’ drive from the city’s downtown core. This phoenix risen from a hundred years of industrial ashes deserves to be singled out not only for its award-winning Public Market, humming artistic community in the broadest brush imaginable, and world-class theme festivals. It also deserves high praise for its eateries [fabulous for both menus and locations], and its singular boutique accommodation, the Granville Island Hotel. Don’t miss our companion article that introduces readers to this uniquely Vancouver experience!
Granville Island’s bustling markets and waterfront attractions draw 10 million people year round. Tourism Vancouver/John Sinal
Among the more recent additions to the First Nations catalogue of experiences is an intimate restaurant, Salmon ‘n Bannock Bistro, salmonandbannock.net, whose slogan is “We got game!” And indeed they have … from a variety of fresh-caught wild fish (no farmed salmon here!) to elk, bison, boar and musk ox, often served with traditional native bannock bread, wild berries and wild rice. The superior-quality wines are exclusively from native-operated vineyards in B.C.
Salmon ‘n Bannock offers a fine blend of old time pioneer dishes and First Nations cuisine. Alison Gardner
Check out the creative menu. Thanks to a high TripAdvisor rating (#5 out of 2809 Metro Vancouver restaurants), great word-of-mouth popularity with Vancouverites and a lot of international visitors, it is essential to book ahead for this restaurant, open each day except Sunday.
The restaurant name, Forage, www.foragevancouver.com, conjures up images of roaming through orchards, fields, forests and farms to collect the ingredients for your next meal. Reading the profile of Head Chef, Chris Whittaker, that is exactly the sense of culinary adventure he hopes to engage his guests in from the moment they glimpse the menu that deliciously mixes and matches the ingredients that best reflect British Columbia. In fact, most of the ingredients have been collected within 100 miles of your fork!
Unveiled in late 2012, The Listel Hotel’s Forage has already become a game-changer on the Vancouver cuisine scene, leading the way in sustainable, community-focused restaurant operation. Open daily for breakfast and dinner as well as brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, go and see why this intimate downtown eatery is a favorite of locals and out-of-town guests alike.
Chef Whittaker does walk the walk … personally growing his own vegetables, catching his own fish, making his own preserves, beekeeping to pollinate his plants, hunting and foraging in wild places, all to feed his family. “Foraging,” he says, “connects me with nature and reminds me where my food comes from. It is very exciting to pass on a little of that connectedness to our guests.”
For me, the pleasure of dining escalates when I discover that my taste buds will be indulging in unfamiliar offerings like puree of roasted Jerusalem artichokes and hazelnuts, duck ravioli or stinging nettle gnudi, all selected to complement fine organic meats, seafood and garden favorites. Service at the Forage is five-star with an expertly-delivered story attached to each dish as it comes to the table. And how could I possibly choose from the British Columbia wine, cider and craft beer list without hearing the story behind such colorful names as Blasted Church, Laughing Stock Blind Trust or Burrowing Owl? I’m not giving you the answers … you’ll have to go and find out for yourself.
Under the visionary direction of Chef Chris Whittaker, Forage has quickly become a leader in sustainable local cuisine, creatively flavorful and full of colorful surprises. Welbert Choi
When I first saw the Campagnolo Restaurant address pretty much on the wrong side of the tracks in a part of Vancouver still flirting with gentrification, my interest was cautious, even though the three owners are among the most savvy and highly-awarded restauranteurs in the city. However, while I do recommend that visitors go by taxi, this comfortable and affordable eatery is definitely one to experience for both its flavorful northern Italian menu and its friendly service. And hats off to Campagnolo for boldly playing a part in revitalizing its adopted neighborhood.
Crispy Ceci is a flavorful antipasti made with chickpeas, chilies, mint and citrus. Robert Belcham
Salsiccia Pizza tastes more exotic than it looks, consisting of fennel sausage, arugula, parmigiano reggiano, and chilies. Hamid Attie
Campagnolo is primarily a “walk-in” restaurant, with only groups of eight or more able to secure reservations. Lunch [11:30 to 2:30 p.m.] and dinner [5 p.m. until late] are served daily. Simply-designed with wood beam ceilings, concrete block walls, and rustic butcher-block tables, the large open restaurant space and adjacent bar, where clients may choose to wait for a table or eat there as well, give no hint that the country dishes focusing on the Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna regions of northern Italy are distinctive and bursting with flavor.
A fine wine is always a complement to a good meal, and Campagnolo’s cellar is certainly well-stocked with wines direct from the Langhe/Piedmont region in northwest Italy to turn that thought into reality. On recommendation of the Bar Director, I sampled the most important white grape of region, Arneis, which I am told translates as “little rascal” because it is difficult to grow. Little rascal and I struck up a fine friendship that saw out a most pleasant evening.
I’m not new to Vancouver, having lived in the city for six years in the 1970s and traveled there for short visits every couple of years since that time. However, on a recent trip I was surprised to find how much fresh information I gleaned from taking two very entertaining and informative tours. Year round, each tour company also offers a menu of thematic tours throughout Greater Vancouver as well as farther afield to the Whistler Mountain region and by ferry to Victoria.
West Coast Sightseeing guide, Blaise Sack, points out Chinatown’s jade abacus sculpture on a Gastown and Chinatown walking tour. Alison Gardner
West Coast Sightseeing
West Coast Sightseeing introduces walking-minded visitors to Vancouver’s oldest neighborhoods, Gastown and Chinatown, located in the downtown core. With a value-priced two-hour tour for CAD$25, visitors discover the city’s 19th century history and hear inspiring tales of gentrification which started in the 1970s as an alternative to the wrecking ball fate of many buildings. As a favorite focal point of locals and visitors alike, this area of Vancouver continues to develop impressive new shops and restaurants each year as more authentic heritage conversions are added to these history-rich streets. Two hours fairly flashed by with my story-telling guide, Blaise Sack, who clearly knew his way around the neighborhoods which he views with considerable affection.
Landsea Tours & Adventures
Landsea Tours & Adventures offers a generously-long Vancouver City Highlights Tour (CAD$69 for well over four hours) and many significant stops throughout the city covering major parks, viewpoints from the hilltops to the seashore, aboriginal history, museums and Granville Island among them. With 27 years of success under his belt, founder and owner, Scott Mason, still identifies himself as Chief Bus Washer. Starting with one small bus in 1985, he is now washing 11 comfortable, picture-window sightseeing buses of 24 passengers apiece, annually introducing 40,000 visitors to the highlights of the city and region.