Winter What To Do – WHERE: Vancouver, BC

A Look Into the Future

by Andy Lien with Carson Riutta

Vancouver, British Columbia.  The place where so many of our favorite television shows are filmed happens to be a destination in and of itself.  A winter one, even?  Indeed.  There’s nary a flake of snow to be found and sidewalks tend to be much safer to traverse when that’s the case.  Instead of leaving home in search of warm and sunny beaches, I find it easy to recommend Vancouver, a place that seems to peek into the future, while holding onto history and academia and recreation and sports and art and culture and shopping and food and so much more…all in a small, accessible area just north of Seattle, Washington.

What’s so futuristic about Vancouver?  Most specifically, the state of GLBT rights.  Go there. Be comfortable. Get married if you want. Enjoy the future.

Where to Go:

Davie Village is Vancouver’s gay neighborhood and gay pride is literally hanging from every lamp post.  Rainbow banners flank the street for miles and give the neighborhood a bright colorful vibe even on the greyest of days.  The Village has everything: coffee shops, restaurants, dry cleaners, markets, night clubs, and bookstores.  If nightlife is what you’re after, you will be sure to find your scene here.  Don’t forget to check for any special parties and events going on in the Village during your stay.  Stop in at the award-winning Little Sister’s Book & Art Emporium which has been serving Canada’s adult GLBT community since 1983. If you’re looking for shopping in a lesbian area of town, you can cross the bridges and get to Commercial Drive to check that action.

If you or your partner is a foodie or an artist, you’ll want to carve plenty of time out of your trip to enjoy all that Granville Island has to offer.  It’s a small place, but is jam-packed with gorgeous farm-fresh foods, art studios, unique shops, and beautiful views of the water.  Be sure to show up hungry, but make the rounds before you decide where and what to eat; with each stall in the market the food only seems to get better and better.  Had we thought about it ahead of time, we would’ve bought satchels of the amazing food in the market to bring back to the kitchenette in our hotel.  Learn from our mistake.  Take it with you.

We planned our Granville Island adventure to start with the Aquabus on False Creek…little did we know that the trip would be about four minutes long on a vessel that was actually a pontoon (which was a bit hilarious to this Minnesotan).  Our departure from the Island for Yaletown was a bit longer a boat ride, so we encourage you to incorporate the Aquabus into your travel plans to see more of Vancouver from the water.

Getting off the Aquabus at Yaletown was the beginning of a stretch of neighborhoods.  Other neighborhoods of note in Vancouver are Yaletown, Chinatown, Downtown, and the theatre arts district of Granville Street.  Our favorite neighborhood was named for the gregarious man who opened the first saloon in Vancouver, John “Gassy Jack” Deighton. “Gastown” has stayed true to its roots.  It is a funky neighborhood, with great restaurants on every corner, tourists on every cobblestone, and a seedy element that gives Gastown its gritty vibe.

The on-and-off trolley or bus idea is great for Vancouver in the respect that the trolley will take you everywhere you might want to go–but you can actually get off where you want to see in greater depth.  Good for reconnaissance, great for transit.  With attractions like the Aquarium, Maritime Museum, beyond the compact downtown area, it’s important to know which of the on-and-off services can get you places…and where might require taxis.  The Vancouver Trolley Company served us well for most everything we wanted to see, though we often just hoofed it due to the fact that everything is fairly close in proximity.

What’s a little bit out of the way is the University of British Columbia with Botanical Gardens and the world-famous Museum of Anthropology.  When I surveyed people as to what CANNOT be missed in Vancouver, the Museum of Anthropology was the resounding answer.  Sure, it shows that I run with nerds, but it is worth a trip to the campus to see the amazing collection of culture and art.  It’s extensive.  Masks and weapons and sculptures and drawers upon drawers full of artifacts…totem poles and so many beautiful dishes.  My nerdery has a threshold and it was hit a few hours into the Museum, which was perfect in timing to move on to the next great thing Vancouver had to offer.

With 1,001 acres of West Coast rainforest, Stanley Park is an impressive natural space right next to the hustle and bustle of downtown Vancouver.  You can book a horse-drawn carriage tour to see a portion of the park and hear its rich history.  Or, if you would rather get some exercise, then cycle or walk the 5.5 mile sea wall trail that circles the park. Don’t miss the majestic hand-carved Totem Poles and definitely keep your eyes peeled for the mounted police.

Where to Stay:

Stay near the action.  Everything is close in Vancouver.  The Coast Plaza Hotel by English Bay was our Vancouver home and within blocks of it were not only Davie Street, but also the beach and Stanley Park, an urban public park that’s even bigger than NYC’s Central Park.  The Coat Plaza was a little aged, but provided a comfortable suite with kitchenette for us and also had a mall beneath it, with a grocery store. (Have you had potato chips in Canada, yet? Stock up on the ‘exotic’ flavors.)

This is a city that can be enjoyed on foot, trolley, ferry and by taxi, so leave your cars at home and the hassles of parking behind.  If you do drive or rent a car, please keep in mind that parking in Vancouver proper is very tight and hotels can charge upwards of $25/day.  Get yourselves an on-and-off trolley pass and get ready to see the sights from comfortable, clean, and convenient public transportation.

Something that may not be entirely obvious as you look at the maps of the Vancouver area is that it’s really not that big.  I had to repeatedly adjust my plans as I figured out that it was easier to walk most places than I’d imagined.

Where to Eat/Drink:

Being a global hotbed, I did some significant research when it came to planning the most important part of our visit to Vancouver: the food.  From the New York Times and other online reviews, I found that Market by Jean-Georges was one of the places to eat in Vancouver, housed in the opulent and elegant Shangri-La Hotel, downtown.  I’m not going to go into that one in great depth because it was a disappointment in the quality and taste of cuisine.  Market’s service was stupendous, the atmosphere was chic and sexy, but the fare was bland.

Also heavily lauded in reviews is the Salt Tasting Room in Blood Alley, located in the Gastown neighborhood.  It is worth the hype.  It’s also hard to find, which made it a little more fun for a lunchtime destination.  If you find yourself rounding a corner into what looks like an alley with cobblestones underfoot, look up at the second story of the buildings and see if there’s a flag with a salt shaker on it.  Yes?  You found it.  The Salt Tasting Room is a tasting room, indeed, for wines, beer, and finger foods.  Without a stove on the premises, you pick and choose your food from lists of artisanal cheeses, small-batch cured meats, and different condiments.  Delightful.  And, for the sherry connoisseurs, it happens to have the best sherry collection in Vancouver.

Word of mouth is what brought us our favorite breakfast of the trip.  Medina Cafe in the Crosstown neighborhood was what were were ordered to find if we wanted the best breakfast in the city.  Got it.  A funky space with a front room and a sunny back room, Medina served us rich and throaty coffee as well as both a Fricasse (of eggs, braised short rib, applewood cheddar, and balsamic onions) and a Saumon Fume (a ciabatta sandwich of egg, smoked salmon, caper cream cheese, and avocado)…all after we’d had our amuse bouche of a waffle with lavender-flavored milk chocolate for dipping.  Ridiculous and worth a return trip.

Finally, the Cactus Club Cafe is what we found on foot from the Coast Plaza Hotel late at night.  Set on the beach at English Bay, we judged a book by it’s hip, mod cover and went to the Cactus Club for late-night noshes and cocktails and were not disappointed.  She sipped her classy highball while I sipped the au jus sauce for my Short Rib Sandwich and we were pleased.  To enjoy the ambience and view of the beach during the daytime will have to wait until the next visit.

Where to Go Online:

All Things Vancouver

GLBT Vancouver, Angus Praught

Little Sister’s Art & Book Emporium

Cactus Club Café

Coast Plaza Hotel

Granville Island


UBC Museum of Anthropology

The Vancouver Trolley Company

Stanley Park Horse-Drawn Tours

The Salt Tasting Room

Market by Jean-Georges

Medina Café