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Getting there: Fly into (YVR), which has daily nonstop flights from 20 major U.S. cities. Aim to arrive as early as possible to get the most out of your first day: There’s a lot to see, and the sightseeing begins before you even leave the terminal. Marvel at YVR’s award-winning collection of Northwest Coast Native art, the largest of its kind in the world and an ode to the province’s First Nations—before taking the Canada Line transit rail straight into the city (a 26-minute ride, $7.30 per adult).
Eat: You probably didn’t eat on the flight, but hold on until you get into town, then grab a bite at Sophie’s Cosmic Café in Vancouver’s Westside neighborhood, Kitsilano—lumberjack-sized breakfasts with a streak of Mexicana will give you the zing you need for a long day of exploring. On Sunday mornings, challenge other guests to a round of trivia (often hosted by a charming UBC astrophysics professor). The grand prize: A bottle of Sophie’s homemade hot sauce.
Photo: Larry Goldstein
While digesting, opt for a stroll around Kitsilano (Kits as Vancouverites call it)—one of the city’s prettiest neighborhoods. Characterized by a laidback beach vibe, the neighborhood overlooks Kitsilano and Jericho Beach, featuring gorgeous wooden heritage homes, lush lanes and the Lululemon headquarters. Its history covers everyone from settlers to hippies and in between.
Photo: Tom Ryan/Tourism Vancouver
For a more in-depth history lesson, jump on the local bus (99, 10, 14 or 4) and head to University of British Columbia and its Museum of Anthropology (MOA). Home to more than 500,000 cultural artifacts, MOA boasts a huge collection of B.C. First Nations art and artifacts. Currently on display are Aboriginal pieces collected during Captain Cook’s third Pacific voyage, recently donated by a private collector.
Photo: Bill McLennan/Museum of Anthropology/Tourism Vancouver
If all the excitement makes your blood sugar level drop, let Irina in MOA’s café help you to a fresh cup of java and the all-mighty sesame bar—or for something more substantial to eat, take the bus back and get off at Granville Street. Sneak under the Granville Street Bridge to Granville Island, where local merchants and artisans pedal everything from caught-that-morning Pacific seafood to handmade brooms.
Photo: Clayton Perry/Tourism Vancouver
The popular public market, which started in July 1979—open every day and selling fresh meats, produce, cheese and coffee—is made even better by its neighbors, a row of microbreweries. Quench your thirst at the Granville Island Brewery; home to West Coast flavored craft beers and B.C.’s first microbrewery. Pair the Cypress Honey Lager with grilled halibut for a match made in heaven.
Luncheon:Edible Canada is Granville Island’s newest eatery. The 100-Mile Diet comes to mind as the restaurant gets its ingredients from independent producers around the country. They just launched a special bacon-only menu for the summer, made with, of course, 100 percent Canadian bacon. Take your pick between bacon & duck rillette poutine with Canadian curds and caramelized onions, the BLLT with lobster and bacon chocolate gelato to name a few.
Photo: Deborah Williams
The bustling island is also an art and entertainment haven. Visit an exhibition at B.C.’s world-renowned design school, Emily Carr University of Art + Design (named after one of Canada’s most loved artists) for up and coming local talent, attend a play or a dance performance at one of the many small theatres (such as Studio 1398 and Arts Club Theatre) or try a mini glassblowing workshop at New-Small and Sterling Glass Studio.
Having explored Vancouver’s Westside, set your sights on downtown. Catch the False Creek little blue ferry or the rainbow-colored aquabus (one-way $3.23 per adult) across the water.
There is a vibrant French community in Vancouver, new Parisian-style bakeries and pastry shops are always opening up somewhere in the city. A true class act is Thierry Chocolaterie Patisserie in the heart of downtown. Thierry Busset, the former pastry chef of two Michelin-star restaurants in London, likes his macaroons—they come in more than 15 flavors, including salted caramel, pink praline and Earl Grey.
Photo: Deborah Williams
The patisserie is right next door to Stanley Park, the city’s crown jewel. At 1,000 acres, it is one of the world’s greatest urban parks and best explored on two wheels. Bikes n’ Blades Rental, located by the park’s entrance, offers a good deal: $4.95 for a two-hour minimum and $20 for an all-day rental.
Photo: Vancouver Board of Park and Recreation
Cruise the 5.5-mile-long seawall that winds around the park and keep a sharp eye for the “Girl in a Wetsuit” (inspired by Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid) on the northeast side. Take a pit stop by the 1938 iconic Lions Gate Bridge—on a clear day, you can see both Cypress and Grouse Mountain.
Photo: Elek Imredy
The park also features three nice beaches: English Bay Beach, Second Beach, and Third Beach. Vancouverites are as proud of their beaches as they are of their mountains so don’t miss a chance to hang out with the locals, catch a game of beach volleyball and dip your feet in the Pacific.
Dine: With sand still between your toes, continue riding to West End where food lovers rejoice as restaurants along the main streets Davie and Denman cater to every taste bud imaginable. Vancouver has been called Canada’s “Asian metropolis” and the range of Asian food won’t leave you disappointed. Ma Dang Goul, deemed one of Vancouver’s best hole-in-the-wall restaurants, serves some of the most authentic Korean food in the Western hemisphere. Locals rave about the dumpling soup and seafood pancake.
For a far more upscale experience, make a reservation at the Hawksworth in the grand Rosewood Hotel Georgia. Awarded Restaurant and Chef of the Year accolades after just one year of operation in 2011. Chef David Hawksworth’s kitchen turns out inspired and artful global cuisine.
Photo: Hawksworth Restaurant
Start with yellowfin tuna ceviche, served with avocado, amaranth, pecan and cilantro or the 48 hour beef shortrib served with green papaya, peanut and Thai basil. Seafood is a no-brainer for the main, and even seemingly simple sablefish is exquisite when it’s lightly pan roasted and served on a salad of pea tendrils, pickled shitake and crispy yam.
Photo: Deborah Williams
Stay: When you’ve finished, roll yourself out of the door and back toward the waterfront where your ocean-view at the Fairmont Pacific Rim will see you comfortably rested for tomorrow’s equally full agenda. Fall asleep watching the floatplanes take off and land.
Photo: Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel
Eat: Before leaving Vancouver, fuel up at the tiny Japanese-anime-inspired Dose Espresso Bar. Located on West Broadway, it is a bit out of the way coming from Coal Harbour but the coffee and the superfriendly baristas make it worthwhile—regulars come from all over the city to sip on Dose’s espresso and special blends, such as the Nutella Mocha.
Getting there: Since the upgrade of the Sea to Sky Highway (Hwy 99) prior to the Olympics, there are several options for going north. If you just want to come along for the ride and enjoy the stunning landscape (canyons, blue mountains and emerald green temperate forests), take the train or bus.
Get front row seats onboard The Rocky Mountaineer Whistler Sea to Sky Climb train, a three and a half hour ride, and keep your camera at the ready. The train leaves from North Vancouver but a motorcoach picks up from downtown Vancouver. There are daily departures, except Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and two service classes: Whistler Classic (breakfast or light meal plus non-alcoholic beverages, $150 one-way, $262 return) and Whistler Dome (breakfast or afternoon tea, complimentary beverages, $262 one-way, $404 return).
For buses, you can either take the Pacific Coach’s WhistlerExpress (one-way starts at $48 and roundtrip at $87) or the Greyhound Canada (one-way starts at $21 and roundtrip at $42)—both take about two hours.
If you’d like to be behind the wheel, there is no lack of car rental companies. AVIS offers a One Way Round Trip-deal where you can rent a car for 24 hours in each direction from YVR or Sea-Tac Airport to Whistler and return (rates start at $95).
Luncheon: Accessible just off Hwy 99 when you pull into the resort town of Whistler, the local favorite Rim Rock Café matches its down-to-earth vibe with divine seafood. Newbies and long-time residents are treated to dishes such as the Rim Rock oysters with smoked salmon, Gruyère cheese and Béchamel sauce. Still got room left? Top it off with the sticky toffee pudding.
Photo: Kevin Little
Stay:Golden Dreams Bed and Breakfast—next to Whistler Village and a short walk to several hiking trails—is in the perfect location. Snuggle up in one of the three themed rooms—Black Bear, Rainforest or Wild West—after soaking in the outdoor hot tub. (Rates $112 to $144 per person/per night. There is two-night minimum required on the weekends).
Photo: Ann Spence
Once you arrive at the resort, go for a walkabout in the land of black bears, red-tailed haws and great horned owls. Ride the Peak2Peak Gondola, an engineering wonder linking the peaks of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, to access more than 31 miles of hiking trails.
Photo: Paul Morrison
Yodeling might come naturally as you trek the High Note Trail across rugged terrain and alpine meadows, with a picture-perfect backdrop of the Cheakamus Lake.
Photo: Paul Morrison
Still got the ski bug? Swap your hiking boots for ski boots and work on your summer goggle tan while cutting fresh tracks at the 7,000-year-old Horstman Glacier, offering 1160 vertical feet. Rub shoulders with ski wonder kids, as they flex their new moves at the Camp of Champions and Momentum summer ski camps. Skiing on Horstman is open from June 23 to July 29 from 12 pm to 3 pm. After making turns, treat yourself to a beer on the deck at the Hortsman Hut. It might be high summer, but après is a must.
Photo: Hans-Erik Hedberg
If you want to get up close and personal with the elements, sign up for the guided three and a half hour scrambling tour to the top of Whistler Mountain. As you scramble along the ridge, the reward is instant—epic panoramic views of the B.C. Coast Mountains.
After all the action, relax any sore muscles at the 20,000 square feet outdoor Scandinave Spa. Let the Finnish Sauna, the steam hut and hot waterfall work their magic. You’ll feel as good as new come dinnertime.
Photo: Scandinave Spa
Dine: On Friday through Sunday evenings, the Roundhouse Lodge hosts “Mountain Top BBQs” and live music. Friday and Saturday menus offer slow roasted pork and BBQ prime rib while Sundays feature Pacific seafood.
Eat: Feed your appetite with the Golden Dream’s all-organic breakfasts. If you’re lucky, host Ann will prepare her “Dual Mountain French Toast” with homemade syrup.
Don’t miss: Stock up on as much mountain air as possible before returning to the concrete jungle. A hike in the enormous Garibaldi Provincial Park, named after its towering Mount Garibaldi, should do the trick. Make the three-to four-hour trek to Garibaldi Lake, a 984-feet deep glacier lake, and bring your picnic gear. The best way to get to the park is by car, five access points are located along Hwy 99, between Squamish and Pemberton.
Whistler summer happenings: The Vancouver Symphony Orchestra goes to Whistler July 20 and 21, hosting a free concert each night at 8 pm. During Crankworx Whistler, August 10 to 19, freeride mountain bikers from around the world compete in air, endurance and speed. Sample local and regional fare at the Feast in the Mountains, August 24 to 25.
Info: Tourism Vancouver recently released its new Visit Vancouver app for the iPad, providing all the essentials right at your fingertips. Super easy to navigate, it provides a great overview of the City of Glass—from the different neighborhoods to accommodations (including where to look for an apartment rental) to the food scene (broken down into West Coast, Pan Asian, Caribbean—you name it). Another useful feature is that each place is marked on a Google map, which gives you a really good sense of where you are in the city and where to head next. You’ll blend with the locals in no time.