The first thing to know about Vancouver is that a short trip will do nothing more than tease you with a small taste of one of the best cities to live in on earth. I can vouch for that. I used to live there, and now make a point of visiting whenever I can, which is usually several times a year.
Even in a week, it’s impossible to squeeze all of my favorite underground eateries, outdoor adventures and after-dinner hangouts. Last time I visited, I only stayed one night, but I definitely made the most of my Vancouver adventure.
Here’s what I did:
Morning Coffee In Squamish
I started the trip by heading 1.5 hours straight north from Vancouver to the Sea to Sky Gondola in the city in Squamish. I hadn’t visited it yet and I didn’t want to miss another chance. From the photos I’m sure you can appreciate why.
The glass-walled gondola rises 885 meters to the peak where there are hiking trails, the vertigo-inducing Sky Pilot suspension bridge and a restaurant and cafe with a absolutely amazing view of Howe Sound. At the time of writing they were also installing an epic looking Via Ferrata climbing and ropes course.
I headed to the Summit Lodge to start my day with panoramic views of the coastal mountains and a hot cup of coffee. Afterward I strolled through across the suspension bridge and through the surrounding trails. The round-trip ride on the gondola cost $32.95, but the experience was worth every penny.
Commercial Drive and Unforgettable Poutine
Arriving back in Vancouver in the early afternoon, I headed straight for my old neighborhood, Commercial Drive (referred to by locals simply as ‘The Drive’). One of the less expensive areas in the city, The Drive attracts immigrants, students, artists and the type of person who likes to be surrounded by hip boutiques, diverse ethnic eats and funky murals, like myself.
It’s also home to the restaurant that serves Vancouver’s best poutine, the Belgian Fries restaurant. The small fry shop offers a selection of meaty, creamy, cheesy or even vegetable toppings over double-fried french fries that are as crunchy on the outside as they are light and fluffy on the inside. The gravy on the classic poutine is buttery smooth, and the hearty cheese curds squeak with every bite — a sign that they’re as fresh as you can get.
I love the meaty poutines — like the No. 12 with pulled pork or the Deluxe Poutine with bacon, mushrooms, and red peppers. However, the miso gravy for vegetarian poutine lovers is also pretty awesome.
A Rest at the Fairmont
After a walk on The Drive and stuffing myself full of poutine, I needed a break, so I headed to the Fairmont to check in to my room. Fairmont is one of Canada’s most iconic hotel chains, with some of the most historic hotels in the country. Although they also own two more modern hotels, I like to stay at the The Fairmont Vancouver, also known as the “Castle in the City,” because of its history and character.
Bao Bei: Some Of The Best Chinese Food Outside Of China
Vancouver is known to have some of the best Chinese food outside of China, and Bao Bei is said by many to be the best Chinese restaurant in the city. Having lived for many years in Taiwan, and being a lover of Chinese food, I had to find out whether this place lived up to its reputation. It did.
The Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie is located in one of Vancouver’s most lively districts — Chinatown. The food wasn’t 100% like that I was used to, but that had to do with the quality. You won’t find any MSG at Bao Bei. Sustainable meats, organic greens and other fresh ingredients compose award-winning dishes like the melt-in-your-mouth prawn, scallop and chive dumplings and the crispy pork belly that’s so tender, you’ll feel inclined to order a second serving.
Indulge at the Roof Restaurant and Bar
After dinner, I headed back to the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver to finish off the evening with a nightcap at the Roof Restaurant and Bar, one of Vancouver’s most scenic places to have an after-dinner drink. I gazed at the city lights to the sound of live jazz (a band plays at least four nights a week) as I sipped one of my favorite local brews, a Granville Island Pale Ale.
A Morning Bicycle Ride Along False Creek to Granville Island
After a cup of coffee I headed over to False Creek for a leisurely morning bicycle ride around one of my favorite outdoor spaces in Vancouver. The “creek,” is actually more of a shallow ocean inlet that separates downtown Vancouver from the rest of the city. The 1.8 mile / 3 kilometer loop along the seawall takes less than an hour to walk, but I rented a bike from JV Bike on Expo Boulevard for a cruise along the wall. The views of the skyline, bridges and boats always make me nostalgic about the city I used to call home.
I went as far as Granville Island, where I stopped to saunter around. It’s easy to pass a couple of hours shopping and snacking on the fresh artisan dishes from the stalls in the market, said by some to be “Vancouver’s Town Square.” I had a couple of fresh-baked scones and sampled some strange cheeses before browsing the art galleries and boutiques for gifts for my family.
Suds and Sunshine at the Craft Beer Market
On the way back along the seawall, just beyond Hinge Park, is the CRAFT Beer Market, which has Canada’s largest selection of draft beer (over 100 beers on tap) and serves fresh, locally sourced dishes. It’s also insanely popular and if you’re planning to show up at anything close to a busy time of day, reservations are recommended.
Being mid-afternoon, I was able to snag a seat on the patio. I ordered the Gaucho Chicken flatbread, which is a mouthwatering cross between a chicken burrito and a pizza. As usual, I got a side of yam fries and sweet-and-spicy homemade sriracha sauce.
I’m not big on decision-making, so I also ordered a six-pack beer sampler (or flight), which includes six different craft beers in sample-size glasses. The Vancouver-brewed Dead Frog Super Fearless IPA was the tastiest pour of the day — a hoppy, refreshing, and slightly bitter final taste of my favorite Canadian city.