A friend in Astana is going to Vancouver this summer and I decided to turn my email to her into a post. Here is a map with all things mentioned – it makes my overwhelming list much more palatable.
Morning run around the seawall
Vancouver is very magical. I moved around a lot growing up and this is the place that I consider home.
For me, a perfect few days would involve:
- All Top 5 restaurants
- Cycling across the Lion’s Gate Bridge to Deep Cove and going to Honey’s Doughnuts
- The Cobalt
- chai and a ferry ride at Granville Island
- one of: Sunday Service/Come Draw With Me/Laugh Gallery
And some weird things like doing karaoke at The Aristocrat but that is purely for sentimental value and not necessarily something a visitor should do.
Here’s a longer list.
Things to Do in the Daytime
View of Stanley Park from the Lion’s Gate Bridge
Walk on the seawall and through Stanley Park.
A stroll through Granville Island. It’s touristy, but I LOVE IT so much. Get a chai latte from the Granville Island Tea Company in the market. It is horrifyingly made with butter but so delicious. And buy a bag of Cream Earl Grey. If you’re hungry, go to the Stock Market, which is also within the market.
While at Granville Island, you can also try on a bunch of hats and buy tiny adorable note pads that you will never actually use. And make sure you take a boat ride.
If you are feeling ambitious, hike The Chief (you’ll need a car to get there). If you’re feeling more low-key, hike Deep Cove and go to Honey’s Doughnuts afterwards (plain is best. Also, possible to get here by public transit, though it’s a bit long). Watch out for the aggressive seagulls.
Find a Purdy’s and get something with peanut butter in it and your life will be forever changed. Beta 5 chocolates is also fantastic.
Elysian and Beaucoup Bakery are my favourite coffee/pastry places. Nero Waffles is delish.
I did not spend enough time at Queen Elizabeth Park and the Bloedel Floral Conservatory but they are beauts. Van Dusen and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen are also great gardens, worth the visit.
Beatty Biodiversity Museum at UBC
If you have time, the University of British Columbia campus is gorgeous and I feel so lucky I spent the majority of my young adult life there. Great museums, gardens, and the best beach in town, Wreck Beach (naked beach!).
En route to UBC (and my desktop background)
If you’re really into cycling, then you can follow these guides for day/afternoon trips around Vancouver (shameless plug).
Things to Do in the Night Time
Getting ready for The Cobalt
The Cobalt – you can go here on almost any given night and have a good time. Former punk bar now known for drag shows, burlesque, art parties, pinball, karaoke and more.
The China Cloud – the strangest/best comedy you’ve ever seen and music shows.
Hot Art Wet City – super fun venue with art, comedy, and more.
The Biltmore – mainly a music venue. Check out their calendar to see what’s on. Same goes for Fox Cabaret.
The Sunday Service on Sunday nights at The Fox Cabaret. This is also absolutely the best thing to do on a date. But as my ex is in the group and I am a polite Canadian, I regret that I will never reap that particular benefit.
If you are so lucky as to be in town during Graham Clark’s Laugh Gallery, Alicia Tobin’s Come Draw With Me, Rapp Battlez, or Rain City Chronicles (storytelling night) then I would say, definitely go!
Even for folks who aren’t generally into comedy, Vancouver has a really wonderful comedy scene so I would highly recommend checking out a show.
And check out the weekly Scout List.
Places to Eat
Vancouver has amazing restaurants with a huge variety but most places don’t take reservations, so expect to wait in line. There are also no Taco Bells 😦
You can’t get food here but I ate here all the time (on top of my old workplace, the courthouse, downtown)
Top 5 (places I would have to go to any time I return)
- Rangoli/Vij’s – these restaurants, both owned by Vikram Vij, sit side by side in South Granville. They’re the Indian food places that even people who don’t like Indian food love. Rangoli is the more casual of the two and you won’t have to wait nearly as long to get a table.
- Sushiyama – okay, there are better sushi places but I will forever have a soft spot in my heart for this place. Just don’t order sashimi unless you like your tuna Texas Toast sized.
- Bao Bei – modern Chinese. So good. Get the dessert: chinese donuts with white rabbit dipping sauce.
- The Sardine Can – I discovered this place shortly before I moved but I would go here all the time if I were in Vancouver again.
- Nuba – Lebanese. Hearty, cheap, with decor I would drape my house in. And the one place I love where you generally don’t have to wait in line, especially the Main street location. A typical Saturday night for my ex and I involved walking around to three different restaurants, finding it would be a 45+ minute wait, and eventually winding up at Nuba.
Other Places that Are Very Good
- Legendary Noodle – handmade Chinese noodles.
- Cafe Medina – I don’t really like brunch but this is a place I will happily go to.
- Bob Likes Thai – this is my favourite lunch spot. So reasonable! The Main Street location, last I checked, does not have a liquor license.
- Pad Thai – it’s kind of awful but also kind of amazing and very cheap. Best for takeout/delivery.
- L’ Abbatoir or Chambar – if you’re feeling fancy!
- Les Faux Bourgeois or Burdock & Co. – if you’re feeling fancy but don’t want to spend a lot of $$$!
- Alibi Room – best known for beers and brunches, but great any time.
- Peaceful Restaurant – amazing Chinese.
- Ask for Luigi or Campangolo – Italian. Delicious. Luigi also has a good brunch.
- Exile Bistro – cocktails that make you not feel bad about drinking and also great food and decor.
- The Acorn – same designers as Exile Bistro. Vegetarian even non-vegetarians will love.
- Pizza – Vancouver has a lot of great pizza places, including: Nicli Antica, Barbarella, Farina, Don’t Argue!, Nook, and more.
- Basho Cafe – I didn’t have a chance to make it here before moving but I have heard great things.
- Phnom Penh – another one I never made it to. Heard their chicken wings are the best.
- Bandidas – the one place I actually love to go to for brunch, for “The Breakfast.”
- Guu – it’s an experience. Can be intimidating (unless you go to tranquil Guu Garden) but totally worth it. This is not a place to go to alone and is best for a small-medium group dinner. Many locations around town and heated debates as to which is best.
- Budgies – it’s not THAT good but I love it.
Other places that are not noteworthy enough for singling out but generally quite good if you happen to spot them and you’re hungry: Mamie Taylor’s, Little Charlie’s Italian, Meat & Bread, Wildebeest, Banana Leaf, Acme Cafe, Fable Kitchen, Red Wagon, La Mezcaleria, Los Cuervos Taqueria, Lolita’s, Savary Island Pie Company (in North Vancouver) the list goes on and on. You can also check out the Scout 25.
Places to Drink
Obligatory chandelier shot at The Emerald
L’ Abbatoir is also a good place for just drinks. If you’re into beer and handsome men, check out 33 Acres and Brassneck (and the Alibi Room, of course). Reflections is a rooftop bar that feels kind of surreal and totally not Vancouver but is fun.
If you feel like treating yourself, grab a $16 cocktail from the Shangri-La hotel (worth it). One time I saw Reiko from The Real Housewives of Vancouver there and I almost died.
Six Acres is a standby, good for snacks too. The Emerald and The Diamond, also good. And Exile is nice for just a drink.
Places to Stay
AirBnB, no doubt about it. The hotel exception is The Best Western on 205 Kingsway. This is where my suburban/out of town drag queen friends stay when they do shows at The Cobalt.
As for which area to stay in:
Mt. Pleasant – hipstery, best place to stay if you plan on mostly going out/drinking/eating.
West 4th – “yummy mummy” central. But a nice quiet area for walking around the water, with some good restaurants too. A pal of mine has a great place in this neighbourhood on AirBnB.
West End – my favourite neighbourhood to live in, hands down. A bit tricky to get around the rest of Vancouver (unless you’re on bike) but if you only have a couple of days and want to see the nature sites, this may be the best place to stay. Walking distance to the seawall and Stanley Park and en route to Deep Cove/The Chief.
Gastown – super trendy, with great but $$$ restaurants and shops. Has a nice historical feel.
Kitsilano/South Granville/Fairview, Commercial Drive, and Chinatown are all places I would consider staying in, as well.
Scout’s neighbourhood guides may give you a better idea of the lay of the land.
How to Get Around
Lion’s Gate Bridge
Considering how bike-friendly Vancouver is, it surprises many that there’s no bike sharing system. But Vancouver’s helmet bylaw is a hindrance, for now (for the record – I always recommend wearing a helmet!).
I would actually not recommend that a tourist rent a bike to ride unless they’re a comfortable rider. There are a lot of pedestrians/cyclists/drivers in the city who are jerks and it can be really intimidating and offputting, even as an experienced cyclist.
It may be worth considering getting a Car2Go membership (something like $30 to sign up), especially since Car2Go is valid in a few cities. I think a whole day rental is $60. You can read more about it on the site. To me, it sounds easier than actually renting a car and I used this all the time while I was living in the city. Especially, because parking is awful but Car2Go’s can be parked in permit only areas.
Public transit is decent. From the airport it’s easy peasy, just hop on the Canada Line. Check out Translink’s site and the Trip Planner.
And for the most part, Vancouver is an easily walkable city.
How to Get There
Pink clouds are a semi-regular occurrence
Don’t go from Astana if you can help it. Literally, halfway across the world from here, you can go over Asia or over Europe and get there in the same amount of time. I chose over Europe because the layover times were a bit shorter. But you’re looking at a long travel day(s) (my 22-hour journey here was a stroke of luck).
Wherever else you are, just book a car or a plane and go! And give it all my love.