1. Do the Grouse Grind
Canada, and the west coast in particular, is for mountain lovers. And Grouse Mountain is the perfect outdoor playground for urbanites living in the city. It’s easy to get to, and if you can hike up the 2.9km trail in an hour (which I’m proud to say I did!), then you deserve some beer and poutine at one of the restaurants or bars at the top of the mountain. For those less athletically inclined, there is a gondola you can take up and down as well as lumberjack show (entertaining but slightly cheesy) and really impressive bird shows at the top.
2. Bicycle around Stanley Park
Stanley Park is one of Canada’s biggest urban parks and probably the most beautiful bike path you have experienced. The path veers along the seawall, offering spectacular views of both the park and the coast. Just make sure you don’t get so distracted that you almost crash, as I almost did! Renting the bike was pretty inexpensive and there’s a few different shops located at the entrance to the park.
3. Head to Kitsilano Beach
Kitsilano embodies the west-coast vibe. It’s laid back, casual, has tons of organic cafes and yoga centres – it’s pretty much hippy heaven. So even if you don’t swim in the water (I didn’t – the water wasn’t that appealing for me in May), it’s a cool place to just hang out, people watch, and enjoy the view.
4. Go to Granville Island
Granville Island (actually a peninsula) is so much fun. If you like food markets I would highly advise this trip. I pretty much just ate my way around the public markets, snacking on cheeses, fresh produce and of course stopping at sushi stalls. There are also lots of jewelry, soap and craft stalls. I stopped in for a cheapie Shiatsu-style massage, which definitely eased out some of the knots I’d developed lugging around purchases.
5. Eat some sushi, then eat some Japadog
I am a big fan of sushi, and I consider myself to have reasonably high standards from living in Toronto, but the selection of good sushi in Vancouver is almost unbeatable. I don’t even need to tell you where to go, it would be harder to find a bad place. For something a little less traditional, Japadog is quite a sensation. As the name suggests it combines Canadian’s love of the good ol’ street meat, with Japanese flavours. Warning: be prepared for long lines. They have a few different stalls around the city, so you can plan your visit accordingly.
6. Visit the old Gastown
Sounds glamorous, doesn’t hit? Gastown is the old part of Vancouver and I always like to check out these historic parts because it gives you a real sense of how the city developed. The area caters really well to people wanting to stroll around and admire the Victorian architecture as well as stop in at some really quaint little pubs. Just beware that Gastown does border on one of the seedier parts of Vancouver, so don’t wander too far! If you see an injection clinic, turn around.
7. Go for a swim at English Bay
English Bay is one of the prettiest beaches in Vancouver, and if you go there in summer you must pack your swim suit. It’s right near the city’s West End neighbourhood which was one of my favourite parts of the city for the shops on Robson street and the pleasant residential feel. Stay on until evening and you’ll be treated to a gorgeous sunset.
8. Do a yoga class at the original Bikram Centre
I think Vancouver likes to claim at least partial responsibility for the rise in popularity of Yoga over the several years. It is after all, home of Lululemon, the yoga retailer that is now popular all over the world. I went to one of the original Bikram Yoga centres in Kitsilano and believe me, it was intense. Unlike other Bikram centres you may have tried, this one was really clean and spacious. The instructor was pretty hard core though, so if you’re not quite up for that, try another studio that offers Vinyasa or Hatha yoga.
9. Relax at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden
It’s so serene here, you don’t need to do anything but sit, and take it all in. Every view has been perfectly arranged, the flowers, the trees, all perfectly tended to. Apparently it was the first ever Chinese Garden built outside of China. The Garden holds various exhibits and there is a tea house which is the perfect place for an afternoon break.
10. GO TO VANCOUVER ISLAND
I may have saved this one for last on my list, but make sure it’s at the top of your priority list. Vancouver Island is the part of the country that most of Canada would like to retire to. But don’t think that means it’s boring! Tofino, at the north end is the country’s surfing capital (you’ll need a decently thick wetsuit as water temperature is about 15C, but you can rent all the gear there). Much of the island is parkland featuring mountains, marshland, rainforest and lakes. Go on a whale watching trip to spot some Orcas, or better yet head out in a kayak for an up close experience.