Vancouver is the most beautiful multicultural city I have been to, not only because of its contrasts but the people are open minded and very gentle.
Interested in Vancouver?
Shortly after visiting Seattle in summer 2006, I decided that another trip to the Pacific Northwest was in order. This time, I decided to take it all the way across the 49th Parallel, and visit Vancouver, a city that I had visited once before, but only on a superficial level, consisting of just a loop around Stanley Park. I made my trip for the Labor Day weekend - a holiday in both the US and Canada.
All my prices are in Canadian dollars. During this trip, one Canadian dollar was worth about 90 US cents - and depending on how lousy the currency exchange was, the rate could even be dead even. Considering that price tags tend to be higher in Canada, the near-parity of the two currencies really took a toll on my budget.
Aside from $1 (loonie) and $2 (toonie) being coins instead of bills, the Canadian dollar works a lot like the US dollar. In fact, the penny, the nickel, the dime, and the quarter are even the same size and material. Bills are color-coded: blue for $5, violet for $10, green for $20, and red for $50.
Everything, including almost all admissions fees, was subject to GST (General Services Tax, or federal sales tax). And except for admissions and dining, everything else was subject to PST (provincial sales tax), adding up to 13% sales tax rate. Although I can get a refund of the GST in many cases, my shopping sprees on this trip were too small to qualify.
-Getting There and Around-
I flew into Vancouver International Airport (yvr.ca), a very nice and modern facility. From Los Angeles, I flew Alaska Airlines nonstop; Air Canada and United Express also fly the route. Upon arrival, there are several options for getting into town, including taxicabs, buses such as YVR Airporter, and even city buses.
If driving from the US, I-5 from Seattle becomes Route 99 at the border, and leads straight into downtown. If driving from elsewhere in Canada, Trans-Canada Highway 1 skirts the city to the north and the east.
When leaving Vancouver, the airport has US customs and immigration on site, which means that I am cleared to enter the US even before I board my flight back home.
Within Vancouver, I did not need a car at all. The extensive bus network, as well as the SkyTrain light rail and the Seabus ferry, pretty much had me covered, all the way to Grouse Mountain (or Coquitlam or the US border, if I wanted to). With fares at $8.00 for a full-day systemwide pass, it was affordable as well; by comparison, a single ride within Vancouver was $2.25 - adding up fast. Even day trips to Victoria and Whistler can be done without a car, though I wouldn't push it.
There are many places to go visit within the city, and I covered the following.
Vancouver Lookout, at Hastings and Seymour near the Waterfront SkyTrain station, was my first stop. A Space Needle-like observatory on top of a skyscraper, it doesn't stand tall, but I could still get a good view of the surrounding landmarks and geographical features. Displays within explained the history of various parts of Vancouver. There were also some outdated promotional material for Vancouver's bid for the 2010 Winter Olympics (which indeed was awarded to Vancouver, years ago). Vancouver Lookout was renovated in early 2007, and the outdated material should be gone now.
Vancouver Art Gallery was a bit of a disappointment, being a smaller space than, say, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. But it's still worth a visit, thanks to a constant series of four temporary exhibitions. On my visit this past weekend, I was able to see some exhibits on the Haida native people, as well as works by Vancouver architect Arthur Erickson, the designer of the Canadian embassy to the United States.
Sun Yat-sen Chinese Garden, an authentic Ming Dynasty garden, is quite diminutive, about the size of a large backyard and little more. But it's a gem in its own way, thanks to the Daoist philosophy of yin and yang being used throughout the garden, for a harmonious effect. There are contrasts everywhere - a maple tree (Canada) and a gingko biloba tree (China), geometric patterns (male) and natural patterns (female), large pond vs. secluded study. Over fifty cities around North America had applied in the 1980s to get a Chinese garden built by the city of Suzhou, and Vancouver won out, according to the docent. There is also a free adjoining park with more of the traditional Chinese gardening; in fact, I stumbled into the free park first before finding the paid garden. $8.50 for admissions is a wee bit too high though, I must admit.
Capilano Bridge and Grouse Mountain can be combined into one long day. Both are overpriced, but doable for the experience. Capilano Bridge is a suspension bridge that shakes and rocks two hundred feet over a canyon; crossing the bridge leads me into a dense temperate rainforest. The attendants' 1880s period costumes looked pretty nice too. Grouse Mountain is good for a view of the Vancouver skyline while riding up the steep gondola. Once on the mountaintop, I could see a lumberjack show and a birds of prey show, and hang out with orphaned bear cubs, as well as dining at restaurants with a good view of the city. Winter visitors have a different set of activities to enjoy, but I didn't find this spot too enjoyable. Both sights are reached by Bus #236 from Lonsdale Quay, the North Shore stop of the Seabus.
Vancouver Aquarium, located in Stanley Park, is a smallish aquarium, but packs a lot within its walls. There are a tropical butterfly house, a dolphin pool, many Amazon exhibits, and a huge beluga whale pool, all within. The dolphins and the belugas often put on great shows; although the chubby belugas, natives of the Canadian Arctic, are too heavy to jump like dolphins, they still managed to put on a very amusing show anyway. There also are smaller exhibits that deal with the various ecosystems of the British Columbia coast.
Stanley Park is named after Lord Stanley, the Canadian Governor-General in 1889; he is also remembered through NHL's Stanley Cup. Originally the site of a fortress planned in the 1860s against a possible US invasion, the 1,000-acre land became a large park when the invasion threat dissipated. Now, it is a popular spot, for locals and invading Americans alike. I managed to watch a cricket game here, to remind myself that yes, indeed, I was in a different country. The 45-minute narrated shuttle tour, running in the summer for free, told me a lot about the park and the Vancouver area as a whole. My favorite views were those of the Lions Gate Bridge (Vancouver's smaller sister to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco), as well as the rapidly growing North Shore suburbs the bridge led to.
There are several places with good shopping - or in my case, mostly window-shopping, thanks to the unfavorable exchange rate. Granville Island, a former industrial area turned into a shopping district, has grocery markets, souvenir shops, toy stores, and much more. I liked the mood there, though all I ended up buying was a scoop of ice cream for $3. Downtown, there is Robson Street with its swanky boutiques, both Canadian (such as Aritzia) and international (such as Banana Republic). For a more off-beat shopping and dining experience, there is Commercial Drive, better known as simply The Drive, stretching from the SkyTrain station almost all the way to Hastings. The Drive is particularly well known for its lesbian population, well served by independent boutiques, community services, and vegan restaurants, though it didn't prevent some homophobic ethnic groups from setting up their own restaurants and hurling insults at me from the windows. Last, but not the least, a ride on the SkyTrain leads to the suburban city of Burnaby, home of Metropolis at Metrotown, the largest mall in British Columbia with 470 stores; since my hotel was located next to this mall, I ended up spending some time - and money - here.
-Odds and Ends-
I liked the eclectic mix of people in Vancouver. Modern Vancouver was founded by the English, and that meant I could run into plenty of fair-skinned, blue-eyed people, much more than I ever could in Los Angeles. Other European nationalities - and their languages - are also well represented. But most importantly, Vancouver, as the largest city on Canada's Pacific Coast, has a huge Asian population, both East Asian and South Asian. It was very easy to hear conversations going on in just about every major East Asian language. Even in suburban Burnaby, Chinese and Korean conversations were the rule - and even my Hilton hotel was part of a sizable Chinese mall.
Vancouver's skyline has changed dramatically in recent years, thanks to numerous high-rise condominium buildings both downtown and in the suburbs. And on the North Shore, new homes are busy going up the steep mountainsides. This explosive population growth is fueled primarily by immigration. Vancouver, thanks to its location on the Pacific, is the preferred city for the Asian entrepreneurs and investors. In fact, I looked at some immigration attorney ads on the SkyTrain myself, noting the various ways one can settle in Canada.
Of course, growing pains are evident with such explosive population growth. I've found that many of the transit vehicles I rode on were packed to the limit. Perhaps it's time to start building an extra SkyTrain line (actually, they're working on one right now) or add buses. Housing prices can be pretty obscene too, though I've seen $200K condo ads for some locations that are outlying, but not TOO outlying.
Vancouver also has its share of rough edges. The stretch of Hastings Street, from Gastown eastward along the container port, is extremely seedy, populated by drug addicts, the homeless, and run-down residential hotels. I had to ride a bus through this stretch to reach Commercial Drive, and it looked like I could easily get mugged or raped as soon as I got off.
But even with the growing pains and rough edges, Vancouver is a charming place nevertheless. So many people have told me, after visiting Vancouver themselves, that they wanted to live there someday. And now, I share that sentiment. The beautiful scenery, the mix of people, the standard of living, what's not to love? Maybe the rain, but that was nowhere to be found during my weekend, which was sunny and hot, more like Los Angeles on a rare smog-free day.
This was only a start. There are even more nooks and crannies to discover, not to mention actually spending more time at places like The Drive and Granville Island. The Museum of Anthropology at the UBC campus is another excellent sight that I missed.
I am definitely going back. And next time, I will definitely allow more time, to expand my exploration further out, into Victoria, Whistler, and other fine places in the area. Moreover, with Montreal being pretty much the only other Canadian city I've explored in any detail, I look forward to returning to Canada several more times in the near future, to explore its other fine cities and sights.
Everyone should have a chance to go to Vancouver, BC. We spent a week at The Canadian hotel in downtown Vancouver and it wasn't enough time to see it all. Whats so great about it is that you don't need a rental car to get around. Big waste of money. Public Transportation is much better, its so easy to figure out the routes and very cheap. If you're up to it, you can even walk. We chose to mostly walk in order to absorb all the sites & sounds of the city. The furthest we walked was 1 mile to Stanley Park. Robson St, Granville Island, and Art Muesums were all within walking distance. Stepho's Restaurant serves the best roast lamb you'll ever eat for about $10 USD or so. The Capilano Bridge attraction is a little further away and costs about $2 to get there by bus. You can also use the bus ticket to use the Seabus to get back to downtown. Excellent vacation spot. Nothing negative to say about this city. Nice beautiful people everywhere.
MUST Do! This is a great choice post cruise as many ships terminate in Vancouver on the North to South cruises. Vancouver is a lovely and safe city with many fine restaurants and outdoor things to do. On a previous visit we went to Victoria island and would recommend this side trip by ferry. Rent a car, drive it on the ferry and tour the island; great gardens, museums and hotels if you overnight. This time we acted like tourists and bought the all day metro pass which works on the sky train, busses and ferry to N. Vancouver...do that trip as the ride and shops at the ferry terminal are a good experience...especially the "farmers" market with more types of food than you get even in the largest eastern/western cities. This was our second trip to Vancouver and would definitely do again and recommend to a friend......bit on the pricey side so expect that with the U.S. dollar worth less and less each week.
After having great time self drive touring the rockies from Calgary to Jasper,9 days and on to Vancouver
With a 1 night stop in Sun Peaks,on the way."what a lovely place";
On arriving in Vancouver handed our car in and had a quiet night , up early next morning and took a taxi from our hotel in Richmond to the CBD, we arrived in the city at 9.15am and as we wanted to see the gastown area we asked the taxi driver to take us ,which he did, allas we went through the east side which is only a few streets away from gastown, and that was enough for us we did not feel safe enough to get out of the taxi. With drug deals openly being done .and police cars in pairs just watching., the taxi driver did say it got better when all the shops opened, but as far as we where concerned the damage was done. we just went to a shopping mall in the CBD
for a few hours and then went back to hotel and booked out a day early and flew to Vegas. We where so dissapointed in Vancouver after family who had lived there in the 60s and 70s had raved about it . . well give me Melbourne or Sydney any day.
Having said all that the rockies is a place I think everybody should try and visit what a lovely place photos and tv commercials do not do it justice.
Been to Vancouver? Share your experiences!