Tucked between mountainous forests and wild Pacific surf is Vancouver, a city both grounded and elevated by the dramatic landscape that surrounds it. British Columbia’s largest city plays host to artisanal trends at once global, but delightfully local that has both preserved and transformed the city’s communities. Vancouver beguiles by offering travelers an enticing character with a mass of exciting tastes and outdoor adventures. Here are some of Vancouver’s best experiences, organized by neighborhood and ready to be explored.
JACK POOLE PLAZA
A sprawling waterfront walk dotted with parks and public art, Jack Poole Plaza is a community gathering place, whether for casual al fresco lunches, friendly meetups, or just contemplating the harbor, where Douglas Coupland’s statue of a giant, pixelated killer whale—dubbed the Digital Orca—leaps upward as though escaping from a video game.
FLOAT PLANES & SEA VANCOUVER
For different views of the city, Vancouver offers a variety of options. You can join Sea Vancouver for a guided tour in a zodiac-style boat as it zips across the water. The 90-minute tour visits 20 points of interest, starting in Coal Harbour. Or try one of Vancouver's famed float planes that carry passengers in mid-century style along the city's skyline and adjacent mountains.
Biking is an experience both quintessential and practical in Vancouver. Rent one in Stanley Park, just steps away from Downtown, for a ride along the Seawall bike and pedestrian path that hugs the city’s edge. After returning your wheels, explore the park’s forest trails and towering totem poles, looking for blue herons and other wildlife before taking a dip in Second Beach Pool.
Vancouver’s Chinatown has enjoyed a dynamic revitalization in recent years, serving some of the city’s most notable food at places like Bao Bei. Just outside its environs in the Financial District, a casual counter-service spot called Heritage Asian Eatery gives Far East flavors the modern treatment at the hands of Chef Felix Zhou, whose Heritage Asian Eatery dishes up unique comfort brunch (like the pork belly or Peking duck benny bowls) on weekends, and fills bellies at lunch and dinner daily with slightly sweet baos and hearty rice bowls and salads.
Something about the Pacific Northwest brews an ardent love for a fine cup of coffee, the kind that’s crafted with the intent to be sipped with a smile rather than gulped down with caffeinated speed. Vancouver’s 49th Parallel is one such purveyor, working directly with farmers around the world to cultivate rich beans for their cozy concoctions.
Granville Island Public Market
Just outside of Downtown and across False Creek lies Granville Island Public Market, a covered emporium home to some 50 vendors and craftsmen who sell everything from produce to handicrafts to freshly caught crab. While some stalls are straight grocery, others offer prepared treats like macarons, homemade noodles, and rich rounds of goat cheese.
A cheerfully decorated tug-boat style water taxi, dubbed the Aquabus, will shuttle you around False Creek, quickly connecting you to Downtown, Granville Island, and other neighborhoods that lie across the water from Olympic Village, one of the city’s newer ’hoods’ that’s both a legacy of the 2010 Winter Olympics and a model for modern urban design. Eight stops and regular departures from morning ’til night—plus majorly affordable all-day tickets—make travel by the Aquabus fleet the practical option for neighborhood-hopping in Vancouver. And then there’s the ride itself: A peaceful, traffic-free cruise across the water with epic shoreline views.
EARNEST ICE CREAM
With a wash of new artisanal culinary experiences sweeping the city, Earnest Ice Cream continues to stand strong—albeit slightly melty. The shop has been in the business of small-batch frozen treats with a focus on locally sourced, seasonal ingredients since 2012, tempting sweet-toothed passersby with both classic and inventive flavors, like Turkish coffee, London fog, and whiskey hazelnut. Though it's not just about their unique flavors, Ernest Ice Cream is environmentally committed to being a zero waste company so each pint is packed in returnable and reusable glass jars. Their mission is to help create a more ecologically sustainable world.
Vancouver is making a play for the title of Canada’s craft beer capital and Tap & Barrel pours craft brews and wines from across British Columbia as part of an extensive tap program, showcasing between two and three dozen at any given time, including a handful made exclusively for their taps. A large seasonal menu features brewpub fare and is made with local ingredients where possible, keeping patrons satiated as they sip. Steps away from Olympic Village is Brassneck Brewery, another example of Vancouver’s local foodie movement. Now a staple in the area, the brewery and rustic tasting room has an ever-changing chalkboard of beers on tap, with everything from classic styles to micro-keg experiments.
For uniquely Vancouver goods and one-of-a-kind wares constructed by local fashion and furniture designers like Inform Interiors, head to Gastown, where artisanal shops line the cobblestone streets. The hip heritage neighborhood was designated a National Historic Site nearly a decade ago, and there’s no finding big box stores here. Instead, you’ll find new-school indie businesses like barber shops and gems like Litchfield, where everything from an apothecary to home goods to sunglasses represent the shop’s namesake owner’s aesthetic.
Follow your nose (and stomach) down Blood Alley to the neon taco—there, you’ll be rewarded with Tacofino. The eatery began life as a food truck in Tofino, BC, turned brick and mortar that now has two restaurants in Gastown alone: the larger restaurant and taco bar (lit by its neon insignia), and a quick-hit burrito bar with just a few seats and counter service accessed by a separate entrance. The former is coveted for its sheltered patio, illuminated by strings of hanging lights, but the interior—a beautiful, long room draped in air plants and 1970s Southern California warmth, which pays homage to the eatery’s surfy beginnings—is equally charming. And then there’s the food. While everyone has their favorites, there’s one solid consensus left over from the food truck days: the fish taco is a must.
GROUSE MOUNTAIN SKYRIDE
The largest aerial tramway system in North America, Grouse Mountain Skyride takes passengers on a mile-long gondola ride up a mountainside, gaining more than 2,000 feet in elevation as the windowed tram frames vistas of Douglas Fir forests, Vancouver lights, and the distant Pacific Ocean. Once at the top, there are options for drinks and dining, plus skiing and snow-capped views in the winter and hiking during warmer months. A new experience, the Skyride Surf Adventure takes small groups in summer to ride on top of the gondola with nothing standing between them and the crisp mountain air as they travel the tramway.
For nearly 130 years, the Capilano Suspension Bridge has supported pedestrians who step carefully across its planks, hovering more than 200 feet above the river and bussing the canopy of a North American rainforest. It’s a remarkable sight, a single, thin line stretching 430 feet across open air to connect two canyon sides, while towering emerald-hued trees stand below as though cheering every forward footstep. The 27-acre Capilano Suspension Bridge Park has become a treetop playground, with multiple high-rise walks showing off the natural wonder of the area and educational outposts sharing First Nation’s history. While Capilano is ticketed, a free option lies just five miles east at Lynn Canyon. Here, 612 acres of forested trails, swimming holes, and a rushing river complement another high-hanging suspension bridge.
It’s rare to get the mountains, sea, and city all in one place, and rarer still to have a view of them while lounging on the beach. But such is the luxury of Jericho Beach, a long, sandy stretch of coastline that’s as relaxing as it is active, as evidenced by sailboats catching gusts of wind to bob across the water, paddle boarders playing in the tide, and friends diving into the sand during beach volleyball matches. Stay for lunch and grab a salmon burger at the Jericho Sailing Centre or one of the Vancouver Park Board Concession Stands.