See Vancouver like a Nat Geo Explorer

This city is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, seafaring foodies, and cultural connoisseurs.

Nestled amid mountains cascading into Pacific waters and sea lines crashing into cedar forests, Vancouver is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, seafaring foodies, and cultural connoisseurs alike. This bustling seaport is one of the largest cities in Canada. Established on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh, Tsawwassen, and Katzie First Nations, Vancouver is home to a diverse and energetic populace. Whether you come for the straight-out-of-the-ocean sushi, the effortlessly creative craft beer, a hardy sea kayak through the harbor, or to learn more about the many cultures and histories that interweave to create modern Vancouver, you’re certain to leave satiated.

As a conservation scientist, I partner with Central Coast First Nations in the region now known as the Great Bear Rainforest. My previous National Geographic–funded work has sought to interweave indigenous knowledge with ecological research to better understand long-term changes to marine fishes of cultural, ecological, and economic concern. By partnering with the Wuikinuxv, Nuxalk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, and Heiltsuk First Nations, we found opportunities to combine these two knowledge types to work toward improved management of yelloweye rockfish.

Travel for good

Vancouver exists on the unceded territories of First Nations, who hold long-term relationships with their lands and have stewarded local environments since time immemorial. Support the resurgence of the First Nations by learning more at the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology, checking out the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, or taking a road trip to Whistler and visiting the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Center. See Indigenous Tourism BC’s website for fantastic destinations that recognize and support indigenous cultural revival and indigenous-owned businesses.

What's in my bag

Two tools essential to my travel around Vancouver are stored on my iPhone. I like to use the iNaturalist app when in the city and on adventures in the surrounding mountains and seascapes to identify plants, insects, and animals I encounter and record my own observations. I also bring along my virtual map to help me understand what First Nations territories I am visiting and learn about relevant language families in the area.

Traditional crafts

Check out Granville Island Public Market for rotating local artists. Justine Brooks creates some incredible nature-inspired jewelry; her silver cedar earrings are my favorite. Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery is a great stop to explore indigenous-made art.

Local etiquette

You’ll notice that across public events and announcements, city officials, university professors, and guest speakers will typically invoke a territorial acknowledgement as a means to recognize the unceded territories of local First Nations and the incredible importance of the Canadian movement toward reconciliation with First Nations peoples. Meaningful reconciliation, as a means of overcoming centuries of colonization, requires broad understanding and education. Visitors will find their Vancouver experience deeply enriched by learning more about the ongoing First Nations cultural revival and territorial acknowledgements.

A few more important cultural notes from an American living in Canada: If you’re seeking a bathroom, make sure to ask for the “washroom.” And expect to be floored by Canadian politeness. Don’t be surprised to be met with an authentic, “Oh sorry, eh?” if you accidentally bump into someone on the street.

Must-read book

The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant provides an entertaining and artful account of the history of British Columbia. The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King provides a well-informed, alarmingly humorous, and critically important narrative exploring the historical and ongoing experience of indigenous peoples in Canada.

Ethical travel tips

If you’re traveling outside of the city, you might end up in bear country sooner than you’d expect. Hikers, kayakers, campers, and climbers should be educated and well-equipped to coexist with wildlife to avoid unnecessary troubles. Check out WildSafeBC’s website, bring along bear spray and bear bells on adventures outside of the city center, and be sure to carefully stow all food and trash in bearproof locations. Use common sense when you see wildlife; take photos from a careful distance and avoid disturbing animals whenever possible.

Open-net fish farming on British Columbia’s coast is a threat to marine and terrestrial wildlife and to wild Pacific salmon species of cultural, economic, and environmental importance. Always ask for wild-caught salmon when dining in Vancouver and check out Ocean Wise as a guide to sustainable seafood consumption.

Travelers should aim to recognize and support the indigenous territories upon which they gather. Seek out opportunities to learn more about local First Nations, support indigenous-owned businesses and indigenous artists, and avoid non-indigenous storefronts that sell inauthentic First Nations art.

Savor the flavors

Salmon n’ Bannock Bistro is a First Nations owned and operated restaurant boasting a menu full of wild fish, free-range meat, and fresh-baked bannock (I cannot overstate how important it is that you try this bannock). The restaurant uses traditional ingredients prepared in modern ways. For vegans, Indigo Age Café is a local, community-oriented hub with a comfortable interior and incredibly presented vegan eats. Stop in for smoothies, a warm matcha latte, a heavenly vegetarian Fresh Addiction Burger, or a mind-boggling vegan tiramisu.

Gastown boasts a long list of restaurants worth writing home about: MeeT (vegetarian comfort food that even your carnivorous friends will love), The Flying Pig, Tacofino Tacos (get the fish tacos and watch your life be changed), and Six Acres Gastropub are a few of my favorites.

If you’re in Vancouver, you have to try some fresh sushi—and there is certainly no lack of opportunity. Check out Tojo’s, one of Vancouver’s oldest sushi restaurants, and try the famous California roll or something local like eulachon fish (a traditional indigenous ingredient). Sushi Itoga is a great choice for sustainably sourced seafood. Remember, always insist on wild-caught salmon and certified sustainable options.

For the craft beer fanatic, options abound. A few of my favorites include Dageraad Brewing (try the Wet-Hopped Blonde for something different), Dogwood Brewing, Four Winds, or Parallel 49.

Get off the beaten path

Take a ferry ride from Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal to Galiano Island. The ride from Vancouver to this quiet Gulf Island is about an hour and 45 minutes, and if you’re lucky you might spy some Pacific white-sided dolphins or the slap of a humpback tail. Galiano Island is populated by about a thousand residents and is the territory of the Penelakut First Nation. Tourism opportunities on the island include bed-and-breakfasts, campsites at Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park, hiking, kayaking, beach explorations, and a number of art galleries and restaurants.

If you’re serious about getting off the beaten path, consider hauling out to Powell River, territory of the Tla’amin Nation (Sliammon) and located on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast. The Sunshine Coast Trail is one of the longest hut-to-hut trails in North America and promises more than a hundred miles of backcountry hiking and overnights in minimalist but extremely comfortable shared cabins. If you’re in town and hungry after your strenuous adventures, grab some caramel ice cream from SassyMack’s, fish tacos from Costa del Sol, and some amazing craft beer from Townsite Brewing.

Wander with wildlife

Kayaking around Vancouver or the surrounding Southern Gulf Islands is an absolute must. The curious seals, fishing bald eagles, and teeming marine biodiversity bring you close to wildlife and provide great photo opportunities as well as some sunshine and adventure.

The Galiano Conservancy holds events frequently, including beekeeping workshops, foraging workshops, and eco-safaris for school-age students.

Want to learn more about the area’s orca whales, other species of ecological value and concern, and contribute to conservation actions? Consider checking out the Vancouver Island-based Raincoast Conservation Foundation. Raincoast uses rigorous, peer-reviewed science and community engagement to inform advocacy and support conservation objectives in western British Columbia.

Explore the outdoors

The Stawamus Chief is a 2,300-foot-tall granite dome overlooking Squamish, British Columbia. A 90-minute drive from Greater Vancouver, the Chief offers climbing opportunities for the technically skilled and much more accessible hiking for those seeking a spectacular view of Howe Sound.

If you want to stay closer to the city, rent a bike and ride along the Seawall for a lovely way to see the stunning Vancouver waterfront.

Lauren Eckert is a conservation scientist, adventure enthusiast, and National Geographic Explorer. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @eckertleckert.
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