Urban Legend: Vancouver
I have a theory. If your grandparents adored Jack London’s “Call of the Wild“, but couldn’t shake the idea of losing luxury, they probably moved to Vancouver. I also bet all my money that there was a spike in population once young hearts fluttered during “Into the Wild“. The adventure seekers just couldn’t make that connecting flight to Alaska because, screw it, you can see the mountains from Cactus Club’s patio.
Vancouver was settled around the infamous Hastings Mill back in 1867, where simultaneously the popular watering-hole known as Gastown was born. (Drinking whisky in plaid flannel isn’t just a thing of the present.) It doesn’t shock me then, that the largest industry here is forestry while the second is tourism.
There you have it, the formula for all things Vancouver. It’s the logging capital of the country that boasts an equally impressive environmentally friendly economy, and it’ll cost you. This is a land where the majority of people pay big money to live “au naturel.”
I figure it’s appropriate then, to lead with a good old-fashioned oxymoron, and title our Urban Legend this month:
“Vancouver: If You’re Broke”
Words & Photos, Courtney Lee Yip
DAYTRIPS & HIKES
Usually 100% gratis and 100% enjoyable, being in the out-of-doors near this Western city is the main pull for visitors. There are thousands of beginner, intermediate and expert trails in and around the city. Most either lead to ocean vistas or untouched waterfalls. All of these amazing hikes are so close to the city, you can be on a mountain for breakfast, be back in the city for lunch, and enjoy dinner ocean-side. Always be on the lookout for bald eagles, orcas, grey whales, seals, blue herons and Chinese tourists*.
*For the record I am a Chinese tourist.
Explore Stanley Park & Run the Seawall
A no-brainer, this Lord of the Rings playground offers more than 200km’s of trails in a 1,000+ acre area, (that’s 10% larger than Central Park). 9km’s of that land is the famous Seawall, which offers a paved route for cyclists and runners to encounter one of the top experiences you can get, less than ten minutes from a city-centre. Running to your favourite album with the Vancouver skyline, snow-capped mountains, and ocean at your feet, can get you the extra kilometre push without the ‘roids.
A jog/bike through Mount Pleasant
The character homes that line the streets between Main and Cambie, from 10th up to 29th are chock-full of cherry blossoms and stunning BC style homes. You can start your engines at Queen Elizabeth Park at 29th then take Yukon (designated bike street) and down towards the city with the mountains (Cypress, Grouse and Seymour) as your view. End up at 10th (voted most beautiful block in 2001) and cool down as you head east towards Main St for a jolt of espresso at Kafka’s before you make the trip back uphill.
SIDENOTE: Unlike Toronto, Vancouver law requires you to wear a helmet while cycling at all times. There may be less traffic but the inclinations are definitely more steep. And get over yourself; we all look funny in helmets and helmets > brain damage.
Lynn Canyon Park & Suspension Bridge
Walking through a lush canyon may seem easy-peasy, but add in a wavering suspension bridge, a 50m drop into a shallow waterfall, some asshat friends who enjoy testing its strength, and you’ve gone from easy to queasy. Take a left after the bridge down towards the babbling brook and let the fresh spring water nourish you back to life. Follow the mini-river upstream a little ways too find a perfect lunch spot on a calm cove with flat rock beds. The deep, cool water is reminiscent of emeralds for those ballsy enough to brave the glacier runoff.
Vancouver Beaches (the truncated guide)
At the end of Davie, in the west end, you have English Bay or First Beach. If you like shitty sand, dirty water, and hanging out with tourists or high school kids, with massive oil tankers as your view, this is your beach!
If not, I suggest you stroll a little further down to Second Beach, where a salt-water pool awaits (if you’re still weary of those tankers) and a family friendly environment welcomes those who don’t smoke, drink or swear.
Another 15 minutes takes you to Third Beach that is often referred to as “hipster beach” by unashamed locals. Cleaner water, nicer sand with a younger crowd (but not too young, think 21-35) hang out to summer tunes and hide their beverages smartly in Starbucks travelers.
SIDENOTE on BC liquor & public drinking:
- Drinking in public is very much illegal in Vancouver, despite how wonderful it may seem. Although it’s a little stricter here than Toronto, use your common sense and always be respectful of the environment. If you screw up, be apologetic and polite, the more aggressive you are, the higher the penalty.
- Booze is also very expensive here. If you are used to a bottle of Fuzion for $7.75 at the LCBO, get ready to pay up to $13 in BC. Try to scout the BC liquor stores instead of the privatized shops to save a few bucks.
Wreck Beach is where you want to be if 7km’s of nudity tickles your fancy. “It’s like the 60’s nestled in a cove,” as my good friend/ Vancouver local puts it, “an area of wilderness free of judgment for people of all shapes and sizes. There is a real sense of community down here… and it took less than five minutes to get a maraschino cherry flavoured mushrooms and an 1/8th of weed.” That friend will remain anonymous.
Spanish Banks & Jericho Beach is another family friendly affair that is a great spot to picnic, BBQ, play beach volleyball, and hang with your pooch (the off-leash dog area and low tide equals lots of running and laughing and loving life). If you like leisure activities, grab your bocce and hang for an afternoon.
Kits (Kitsilano) Beach is often a place where people go to be seen. The view is stunning but a lot of ex-Torontonians compare the crowds here to that of the Beaches back home. Considering this is where Lululemon was born, I’m sure you get the idea. However, its close proximity to Granville Island and the shops on 4th Avenue make it a great destination for first time visitors.
Hike The Chief (Stawamus Chief)
This granite wonder that looms closer to the town of Squamish is still considered a Vancouverite rite of passage. For most people of average health, it takes about an hour and a half – two hours to reach the summit. There are three peaks on the way up that offer virtual 360’s depending on your level of difficulty. If you want to brave the steep inclines and chain ropes, try your best to get to the top; the final view at the north peak will leave you speechless if not breathless.
Next door to Squamish and before Whistler, is Garabaldi Provincial Park. A touch tougher than The Chief, the Garabaldi Lake Trail leads you through 9km’s of forested switchbacks to a final destination of pure paradise. The trail up is definitely an incline, but not as steep as one would imagine climbing a mountain because of the frequency of hikers. Once you reach Black Tusk, the volcanic summit, and Lake Garabaldi, you may want to stay awhile. Camping is offered at the south summit.
Take a Helicopter to Victoria (Vancouver Island)
Hit up Helijet and prepare yourself for the ride of a lifetime. If you have about $300-$400 bucks to burn, this unique flight takes your from downtown Vancouver to downtown Victoria in less than an hour. Low-down views of each city, the lively oceanlife and islands in between are something not to be missed if you can hash the cash. Alternatively there are the seaplanes for mid-range prices (about $75 one-way), and finally BC Ferries ($15 one-way), which is the most economical if you have a few hours to spare.
Lighthouse Trail Park – is easy to get to once you’re on the North Shore, and provides beautiful vistas of the coast, but it might be a little too easy if you’re looking for a challenge.
The Grouse Grind – Or Mother Nature’s Stairmaster, as they call it, is an amazing trek 3km’s up the face of Grouse Mountain. Grouse is the central mountain overlooking Vancouver so the views are unparalleled. However, at $40 a pop, this might have to be saved for when your parents come in for a visit. The mountain also has two grizzly bears caged at the top and a lot of locals have boycotted the attraction.
Vancouver Art Gallery – Visit the VAG on Tuesdays between 5-9 when admission is based on donations… That’s what he said?
Township of Steveston – buy fresh fish off the boats in this quaint fishing town just past the city of Richmond.
WHERE TO STAY
It’s the general consensus here that hotels aren’t usually your best bet. If you’re ballin’ or you’re broke, you can select your home-away-from-home to your liking with sites like Air BnB. Whether it’s a luxury loft in Gastown, a beach condo in Kitsilano, or a character home off funky Commercial Drive, there are accommodations ranging from $80-$200 per night, per couple, per style.
SIDENOTE: Make sure you select the “entire home/apt” option to make sure you’re not sharing a house, which, unless you’re traveling alone or want company, can turn the whole experience of living like a local into backpacking with strangers.
**Ball Out** If you really still crave room service and that hotel-hallway smell, opt for something like the Listel or the Opus. These trendy boutique spots boast artistically designed rooms with gorgeous bars at their gates that stray from the classic yet overpriced, and cramped Fairmont chain, (re: Hotel Vancouver and The Royal York in Toronto, same shit, different city)
With rainfall as its middle name, Vancouver has some of the most incredibly lush vegetation in the world. Naturally, cuisine here is always a treat to indulge in. From the best sushi in Canada to little boutique restos that pride themselves in local and organic cuisine, you’ll most likely leave wishing you could have tried more. Don’t waste your time with chains like Earl’s or Cactus Club, since the east coast has already thrown our little sisters into miniskirts and heels. If there’s one chain you should dive into, it’s BC’s own Whitespot, and only order the burger.
Okay, so you’re sick of actually being in nature, why don’t you chill out and have a beer while you watch Red Bull’s latest boarding doc at this colourful dude-bar*. All meals run for $4.95, except on Tuesdays where all-you-can-eat tacos are $6.95. Sit up at the wood if you want to meet some awesome (and handsome) athletic locals.
*dude-bar: not to be confused with gay-bar. a place where women and men are equal in the language of “dude” and “man,” also not to be confused with “extraaame” bars (hi Whistler) where Aussie’s competing for the “gnaarliest” travel stories can cloud your buzz.
More restaurants are in need of an old-school hip-hop ambiance. The pairing certainly works for this Main Street favourite that is almost always busy, almost always delicious, and almost always the first place for locals to recommend. Their modestly priced menu (ranges from about $7-$13) boasts massive mouthwatering, homecooked vegetarian meals that could fool most carnivores. Get the nachos if you’re hanging out, or the OPPP with quinoa if you love pesto, and chow down to some Biggie.
The best place to dine outdoors if fresh seafood and fish tacones are your bag. Just make sure you visit the one nestled in the harbour, just to the left just before you step onto Granville Island. At this local by-the-sea treasure, order the two tacones for $10, one seared Ahi tuna with a sheet of nori, and one grilled salmon, to experience ultimate euphoria. If you can, go on a weekday because lineups up to an hour long aren’t uncommon during the weekend.
Sushi places can be dime a dozen out here, but being on the ocean means most are great, and most are cheap. Probably the least loved sushi place here still outranks Toronto’s finest. Head to the colourful Davie Street and find yourself at this West End spot which may be cramped and packed, but it’s for a reason. Share the full order of spicy tuna sashimi ($12) and be blown away with tender chunks of this fresh fish rolled in spicy wasabi mayo and bits of panko.
I’ve never heard so many shouts and expletives of excitement during a first time dining experience before. It’s probably because this authentic Mexican taqueria is the best I’ve experienced north of the border. $10 gets you four small but decadent tacos of your choice on two soft and fresh tortillas. Tuck into your favourite flavours such as carne asada, carnitas or tingo de pollo. Wash it all down with a bottle of crisp pilsner, close your eyes, and you’ve drifted into the interior of Mexico without the fear of being kidnapped.
The Naam – a classic 24 hrs vegan spot that still reigns in Kitsilano, we’re just a little bored of it 10 years later.
The Wallflower – awesome brunch spot located in the heart of Main Street, but get ready to wait in line with a bunch of beards and Urban Outfitter’s employees.
Caffé Barney – if you want the party to continue to brunch, come for the beer and the amazing staff, not the hollandaise.
Alibi Room - Yummy brunch and excellent selection of craft brews, all in a rad heritage building just outside Gastown.
Guu – I know I’ll be in deep for not featuring this one, but I’m just a little tired hearing about it. The rambunctious Japanese Izakaya culture is also taking over Toronto, so if you’re are hardcore Guu fan, you should visit the one that started it all on Thurlow.
BARS & VENUES
This lively boarding house rooted at the corner of Cambie and Cordova offers cheap pitchers ($12) and decent pub grub. If you don’t mind rubbing elbows with thirsty travelers, the Hells Angels or the homeless, this electric spot is a guaranteed good time. Just leave your attitude, and valuables, at the door.
(604) 839 – 5780
You can’t get any slicker than this mysterious little bar sandwiched off the beaten-path at Main Street and 3rd Ave. With BYO-vinyl nights and Jameson often on special, this modern-cabin styled treasure is a surefire hit for those looking for something a little cozier, or those who like to pretend they’re celebrities in hiding. Here’s hoping a patron or two is out for a smoke break when you walk by, otherwise good luck finding it.
(604) 685 – 9657
We all have a soft-spot for cheeseball bars, so if you’re hankering for a taste-of-tiki or two-pound burgers, Two Parrots is your jam. Try to beat two-year running taco eating champion Steve Mann by eating more than 39 tacos in an hour. “Great food, great drinks, greater people,” says their slogan on their homepage while a UB40 soundtrack plays. It’s a perfect description for this awesome spot: Simple, on the cheap side, and drunk by the third sentence.
SIDENOTE: Come back to Two Parrots during a Canucks game (next season of course) and enjoy $2 beers every time they score.
(604) 568 – 5663
Adorned with paintings of wasted leprechauns and rainbows, this living room out of Woodstock’s heyday takes up a large corner at Main St and 11th. Groovy nostalgia food like chicken & waffles or deep fried pickles compliment the best shot ever invented, the Pickleback. Walking into this bar for the first time you may feel like an outsider (Vancouver can tend to put out cliquey vibes) but once settled, your crushed velvet surroundings will soon make you feel more than at home… in the 70’s.
Where venues like the Vogue and the Orpheum compare in their majesty and history to Massey Hall, the Electric Owl is more like a buddy of the Garrison (except with a beer & wine store!) The Owl really has it all: indie, rock, electronic, hip-hop, comedy, and more. Sometimes bigger bands like Delta Spirit drop by and give you that second chance to see blown-up acts in a small venue. It’s not the in the best part of town, so don’t wander home drunk from here alone.
SIDENOTE on the darker side of Vancouver:
- The drug and homeless problem out west is regarded as one of the worst in North America. You can easily be in a wealthy area downtown Vancouver (Water St in Gastown for example) and two blocks later find yourself in the core of poverty.
- This isn’t gangland New Jersey or something too much to stress about. Those affected by drug problems are more likely to hurt themselves than you. However, East Van is well known for having a high crime rate. Just be smart: The less you make yourself a victim, the less likely you’ll be victimized.
Venue – A cool mid-sized concert hall that has seen the likes of Cults, Coeur de Pirate and Classified recently. It has a lovely layout, which makes it easy to push to the front, but I never want to pay $8 for a bottle of Red Stripe again.
The Biltmore – A great bar/club with various types of music for those who live near Main Street and crave decade-themed dance parties with a side of pulled pork. Hometown heroes, Yukon Blonde often play here along with other 100.5 The Peak FM indie group favourites.
Fortune Soundclub – Known for its world-famous Funktion-One Soundsystem and Monday night hip-hop karaoke, this Chinatown haunt is the place to be for a sweaty dance party.
Guilt & Company – Since this popular spot is in the heart of Gastown prices compare to its expensive neighbours. However, if you want to hang with the cool crowd, surf for babes and play life size-jenga, you might want to fork out the extra cash on this one.
SHOPPING, CAFES & EXTRAS
So you’ve saved all this cash being on a budget so far, why not head to Front & Company (Main & 22nd) and get lost in a world of vintage whimsy meets bargain consignment. It’s Urban Outfitters if it hadn’t become a chain yet. Across the street, Barefoot Contessa awaits for all you girlie-girls who dream of orange blossom perfumes, affordable baroque style jewelry and lace dresses. If you’re suffering from sticker shock, head to 1820 East Hastings and get lost at Value Village and find out what treasures these BC locals are tossing out.
Coffee culture here is somewhat on par with Toronto’s obsession, if not more so. No surprise, it’s more expensive too. Most single americano’s average the $3+ mark and they usually aren’t even doubles. I was shocked to be charged $3.50 for drip at the hip Revolver in Gastown, but then realized my barista was grinding and creating a personal pour-over pot of coffee just for me. Split that with a friend, and there’s your best bang for your buck in town. Shoutouts to Kafka’s, Gene, Coco et Olive, Beans, and my personal favourite, Marche St. George (pictured above).
Vancouver reminds me of a younger sibling who gets to brag about their beauty and good grades, but you can’t say shit about it, because, well, they speak the truth.
Two months of living here, with 2 + years of weekend trips, and this is what I have gathered to be the best of the best so far. I am sure I have left out some amazing things that I would love to hear about.
If I have offended any Mexican people who haven’t experienced a kidnapping, extreme Australians, Chinese tourists, or bearded men who work at Urban Outfitter’s, just remember, we all pull the hair of the girls we have crushes on.