i was recently asked to write an “insider’s guide to vancouver” on cheapflights.ca. since i always do a tonne of research before i travel, i loved the idea of spreading my insider knowledge to those who are mapping out a trip to my city. how daunting is it to just google “best restaurant in (fill in city)” or “fun activity in (fill in city)” and hope for the best judging by the photos etc.? you know you’re guilty of this, and sometimes, it really doesn’t turn out all that well! so, here’s my one stop shop if you’re visiting vancouver, or even if you’re looking to expand your horizons in the city including my favourite restaurants, clubs, museums, cold-weather activities and more.
Ever a 21st-century city of hip culture, sophisticated culinary experiences and outdoor splendour, Vancouver is a west coast treasure. Local foodie and style maven Erin Gerlach takes us on a tour of her special city.
Five great restaurants that only locals would know:
The Acorn: Vancouver is well known for its healthy, alternative lifestyle, and Acorn showcases this way of life with a plethora of raw, vegan and gluten-free menu items. This off the beaten path, veggie lover’s dream is open for dinner only and promises to keep even the most voracious carnivore satisfied.
Bin 941: This cozy spot is where the locals come to chow down every day of the week enjoying the small menu of elevated tapa style dishes over a bottle (or two) of good wine. The chef here focuses on local, sustainable and organic ingredients – so very Vancouver.
Chambar: Not only is this my personal favourite Vancouver restaurant, but also consistently tops “best of” lists. Here, you can find some of the best mussels and cocktails in the city. This Belgian themed restaurant with a touch of North African influence is popular, so be sure to make a reservation for this Vancouver institution.
Vij’s: Hands down Vancouver’s most popular high-end Indian restaurant, Vij’s is always packed with locals who line up at 5pm for dinner. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience for those who enjoy an exotic flair with a contemporary twist. Fear not if you end up in the line, the host makes sure you’re well fed while you wait.
YEW at The Four Seasons: Don’t let its hotel location fool you – this is one of Vancouver’s best restaurants. Home to some of the best oysters Vancouver has to offer, as well as an abundance of fresh, west-coast seafood, the restaurant’s casual vibe will entice you to spend the day soaking in the exceptional service and atmosphere.
Five favourite bars or clubs:
The Narrow: If you’re looking for a hipster, underground vibe this spot is for you. So low-key that it lacks a marked entrance at its Main & 3rd St location; look for the red light. Featuring a small and unique food menu, you’ll be surrounded by locals looking for a good whiskey.
Barcelona: At the end of the famous Granville Street entertainment district, you’ll find this boutique dance club that comes alive on the weekend. Moulded in the style of boutique Miami and New York nightclubs, and playing a variety of DJ spun top-40 hits, spend the night in your dancing shoes at this Vancouver hotspot.
Guilt & Company: Right in the heart of Gastown, and literally, underground, Guilt & Co. is a unique room showcasing a variety of artistic entertainment and provides board games and cozy booths for one-on-one intrigue or fun for a group of friends. Dark and sexy, this lounge will have you sipping cocktails or wine ‘til the morning light.
Caprice Nightclub: A good old fashioned “dance club” located smack dab in the middle of the Granville St. entertainment district, this is where the “just hit legal drinking age” crowd gathers for a screaming good time. Try to keep up to the frenetic beats and flashing lights; extra points if you’re still dancing once daylight comes.
The Waldorf Hotel: The Waldorf Hotel’s ‘Tiki Bar’ boasts a kitschy cocktail menu so creative, it could even be considered art. Slightly out of the way in Vancouver’s eastside, this is a one-stop-shop for cool for Vancouver’s trendsetters moving to the beat of rotating guest DJ’s. There’s always a fun party happening at The Waldorf.
Five must-see monuments, museums or galleries:
VanDusen Botanical Garden: A 55-acre public garden full of roses, magnolias, a fun maze and even a children’s garden, you must put this on your list of places to see in Vancouver. From egg hunts at Easter to a winter light show, you’ll be amazed at the beauty while touring the grounds. This is also a great place for an afternoon picnic when the sun is shining.
The Vancouver Art Gallery: Known as the heartbeat of downtown Vancouver, this is the city’s most popular art gallery. Get lost for an afternoon touring the exhibits and, if you’re on a budget, every Tuesday is entrance by donation. Hosting everything from Matisse to local student art and everything in between, this is a must-hit venue for every art lover.
Stanley Park: A thousand acres of forest and greenbelt make up this majestic and iconic Vancouver Park. Full of landmarks, restaurants, family-friendly activities and arts, there’s always something to do. The best way to explore the jewel of Vancouver is to hop on a bike and follow the seawall.
A-Mazing Laughter Sculpture: At English Bay Beach, you’ll find Vancouver’s latest permanent monument: the “laughing men”. These 14 bronze statues are a Vancouver visitors favourite providing endless opportunities for photos and fun. When you’re done, catch the sunset at English Bay beach across the street.
Vancouver Contemporary Art Gallery: Showcasing visual art in different forms, this small gallery has no entrance fee. You’ll find two unique rotating exhibits to view and linger with. Open your mind while you appreciate historical and contemporary paintings, sculptures, installation works and photographs by Canadian and international artists.
Five cold weather activities:
Skating at Robson Square: This is an open-air ice rink in the heart of downtown, next to the city’s beautiful art gallery and large shopping mall. With skate rentals, music and even entertainment, it’s a fun, family-friendly and even romantic way to spend a brisk winter afternoon.
Snowshoeing at Cypress Mountain: A 30-minute drive from downtown Vancouver, you’ll find Cypress Mountain the perfect place for snowshoeing. The trail map boasts 17 points of interest to keep you entertained along the way – and don’t forget to warm up with hot chocolate when you’re finished.
Skiing: The mountains that surround Vancouver are a ski lover’s dream – and also the site of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. Choose one of three mountains – Seymour, Cypress or Grouse – and spend the day skiing or snowboarding the ample slopes while enjoying the views of Vancouver and the Pacific Ocean.
Vancouver Canucks Hockey Game: Canadians love their hockey, and Vancouver is particularly devoted to their hometown hockey team. Sitting in the audience for a live NHL hockey game is an experience you won’t want to miss out on; soaking up the buzz of the diehard local fans will create long-lasting memories.
Coffee Shop Crawl: Vancouver is known for its coffee loving locals. The city is spoiled for choice when it comes to unique, chic and interesting coffee shops, especially in the Gastown and Mount Pleasant neighbourhoods. When the weather cools down, settle in with a hot drink in a cozy coffee shop to get a real Vancouver experience.
Five must-see performing arts shows or concerts:
Bard on the Beach: From June through September, enjoy Shakespearean classics like Macbeth and King John in an outdoor theatre setting. Set on the waterfront in Vancouver’s Vanier Park, Bard on the Beach is a Shakespearean festival that offers professional style live plays under open air tents. Buy your tickets online prior to the show to guarantee your seat.
Vancouver International Film Festival: Vancouver has often been termed “Hollywood North” for its role as a production center for US feature films, so it makes sense that this festival is one of the five largest film festivals in North America. Celebrating films from more than 60 countries, 2011’s festival screened over 350 diverse films.
Arts Club: With one stage located on Vancouver’s west side and another two on the famous Granville Island, Arts Club is the place for professional live theatre in Vancouver. From the classics, to new works, Broadway plays, and contemporary musicals, the stage is open year-round for everyone’s entertainment.
The Commodore Ballroom:From Snoop Dogg to Moby to The Cult, this room is the spot to see the most popular live concerts. With a respectable 1,000-person capacity, the intimate venue hosts some of the best acts that perform in Vancouver; there’s always an act to see at The Commodore.
The Improv Centre: Located on the vibrant Granville Island, this is the home of Vancouver’s TheatreSports community. The actors use their quick wit to entertain the audience with musical and theatrical improv performances; the hilarious skits and plays have the audience in stitches from Wednesday to Saturday of each week.
Erin Gerlach resides in beautiful downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, and terms herself a foodie and general stylish life enthusiast. Surrounding herself with all things beautiful, Erin enjoys laughing, finding new restaurants to love and spending time with her partner walking their Yorkie around the neighbourhood. Follow her stylish adventures on her fashion and lifestyle blog, http://www.thesparkle.net.
(photo credit: fotopedia.com)