The isolated conditions of the pandemic era forced many of us to take a good look inwards, and in more ways than one: inside ourselves, and our country's borders. Like most Canadians, I had little choice but to put off international travel, and like some, I'd begin to explore my 10 million square kilometre backyard instead. The way I saw it, British Columbia was far enough from home (Toronto) and close enough to the ocean, so that's where we were headed.
There’s nothing wrong with hopping on a bandwagon, especially one heading to Canada's west coast. Our introduction to Vancouver started from the back of a Lyft, as most vacations do. We drove past a long row of shops on Main Street and into a quiet downtown core. It was still a city, but it felt like a breather. Our first stop was the Sonder in Vancouver's West End, which we’d call home for the next five nights (and leave wishing we stayed many more).
The hotel offers interaction-less access via the Sonder app, as well as 24/7 customer service for guests. The rooms are simple and spacious, yet thoughtfully designed. Standout features included six down pillows, a smart kitchenette and a dining area—a substitute for included breakfast.
After taking a breather on the private patio, we headed downstairs and ordered a pair of iced coffees topped with sea salt foam from 3 Quarters Full Coffee, a Taiwanese café on Comox Street. A few blocks north, we stumbled upon English Bay beach, south of Stanley Park. The next day we'd go even further, biking the Seawall on rental cruisers from Spokes.
Once happy hour rolled around, we nestled into a booth on the lively patio at The Westin’s H Tasting Lounge. After several cocktail shrimps, shishito peppers, and glasses of house white, we found our dinner reservation around the corner at LIFT Bar & Grill. Espresso martinis are a wonderful cure for jet lag, and the accompanying sunset made them even more delicious.
Vancouver has many neighbourhoods and each has its own unique claim to fame. Yaletown, for instance, is filled with trendy restaurants and buzzing patios (we visited Elisa, then Black+Blue for a nightcap). Within walking distance, Coal Harbour is known for its marina and waterside dining options. Between the two, Burrard and Thurlow Street hold a mix of low-to-high-end retail stores and restaurants.
Well worth a visit is Kitsilano, a laid-back neighbourhood across the Granville Bridge, known for its mountain views and relaxed beachy vibe. It's not recommended you swim here, but many people do. Yew Street offers several options for dinner on a patio, including Nook.
Should you encounter a rainy day—which is almost a guarantee in this city—a ferry with pick-up locations across downtown will take you to Granville Island for CA$3, where you can explore local shops (we loved visiting the artisan sake maker) and grab a bite to eat at the Public Market. Too-well-fed seagulls are known to attack carb-heavy plates, so hold on tightly to your fried food or order a Golden Temple Soup from Chau Veggie Express.
Across from Granville Island is a dining experience fit for the seafood-obsessed at Ancora's waterfront patio. Here, the lobster and shrimp risotto and sablefish main is a must, as well as the soft shell crab sushi rolls and prawn causas (made on a bed of spiced and soft Yukon gold potatoes). A walk by the water toward Coal Harbour is the most enjoyable way to walk off the breadbasket after.
Those looking for adventure outside of the city can rent a car (provided you do so well in advance) or hop in a cab to explore North Vancouver. Vancouver locals warn you of the traffic over Lions Gate Bridge, but the view is one that would stop you in your tracks anyway.
Head East to Deep Cove Kayak to spot dozens of napping sea lions as you float around the cove and reward yourself with a donut (or a couple) from Honey afterwards. Alternatively, head West to Horseshoe Bay, where you can watch the sunset on the lookout.
Heading North, a 1-2 hour battle up Grouse Mountain's Grouse Grind (less if you're in ridiculously good shape) is a must, you'll learn why its dubbed nature's Stairmaster. On your way back into the city, use whatever energy you have left to stop by the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, where sturdy bridges straddle the Capilano Canyon and peaceful Lynn Canyon.
Popular hikes outside of the city include the Stawamus Chief trail, Panorama Ridge in Garibaldi Park, and the Sea to Summit trail. We picked the Sea to Sky trail, a difficult hike worth every ounce of effort. A "download ticket" secures you a gondola ride back to the base of the mountain, after you've enjoyed a beverage from the mountain top and walked over the Sky Pilot Suspension Bridge.
I can see why it's difficult for city dwellers to come back from BC. The city is built for active lifestyles with no shortage of indoor and outdoor activities, and the people are friendly. Many of our self-induced pressures seem to hardly matter, if not melt away. Living there, I'd miss the energy and hustle of a big city, but I think we'll be back sooner than we think.