One trip to Vancouver and you will understand why a region with such plentiful annual rainfall remains such a desirable place to live. An expanse of snow-capped Coast Mountains forms a breathtaking view behind the reflective waters surrounding the city. The seawall along its perimeter, providing an idyllic hike and a bike trail, curves to present the modern, glassy skyline. And in this outdoor-friendly city endearingly dubbed “Raincouver,” the locals know there’s no such thing as bad weather — only poor clothing choices.
Despite the precipitation, the city boasts pleasantly mild temperatures, making it a destination for a number of events throughout the year. The Vancouver International Wine Festival attracts winemakers from across the globe every February for a week of dinners, pairings, seminars and competitions. Its benefactor, Bard on the Beach, brings Shakespearean programming to the city’s waterfront each summer. Celebration of Light, an international fireworks competitions held in English Bay for the past 25 years, is nothing short of spectacular.
But if you happen upon Vancouver — which is often compared to San Francisco due to its laidback vibe and a mutual love of food, nature and the arts — when those events aren’t going on, you’ll still find plenty to keep interests up, especially if you follow our lead.
While there are a number of gorgeous hotels throughout the city — Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Rosewood Hotel Georgia and Five-Star Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver are certainly two examples of this excellence. Fairmont Pacific Rim perfectly balances eco-savvy sensibilities with modern luxury. Its spacious rooms and suites offer picturesque vistas of the mountains and harbor, with signature Ofuro rooms providing unparalleled panoramas of Coal Harbour, Canada Place and the North Shore mountains.
There’s no better place to begin your stay than the terrace of the Willow Stream Spa at Fairmont Pacific Rim. Located on the fifth floor of the Four-Star hotel, this ultimate relaxation zone features hot tubs, fireside lounges and stunning city and harbor views. Follow it up with lunch at the RawBar. The city’s first 100 percent sustainable sushi restaurant exemplifies the amazing seafood Vancouver has to offer — make sure to try the miso motoyaki sablefish in lieu of endangered unagi.
Let the Pacific Rim’s bike butler set you up with a BMW cruiser and head to the nearby seawall for a self-guided tour. Visit Canada Place for a stroll along The Canadian Trail, which represents each of the 10 provinces, and experience an exciting 4-D tour of the country at FlyOver Canada.
Follow the seawall bike trail toward Stanley Park, a pristine preserve surrounded by Vancouver Harbor and English Bay. Stop by the Vancouver Aquarium, a nonprofit attraction that is home to more than 70,000 sea creatures and is committed to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of marine mammals. Pause to admire the city skyline and visit the First Nations totem poles at Brockton Point. Time the end of your ride close to sunset for picture-perfect views of Lion’s Gate Bridge, Siwash Rock or one of the nearby beaches.
After freshening up at the hotel, walk to Water Street in historic Gastown, Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood. The cobblestone street features vintage lampposts, the world’s first steam-powered clock and plenty of charming shops and restaurants.
L’abattoir, located on the site of Vancouver’s first jail, presents exquisite French-inspired cuisine, like Pacific oysters baked with garlic butter and truffle oil and the signature steak Diane with broccoli, peppercorn and cheese puffs. The rustic-chic Wildebeest serves meat-centric masterpieces like bison carpaccio, pork cheek risotto and bone marrow served with an accompanying sherry “luge.”
There is also nightlife aplenty in Gastown and the quickly developing surrounding area. The Diamond not only offers incredible cocktails, but a second-floor view of the lively cross streets below, while Pourhouse specializes in refined whiskey cocktails. Nearby, at the edge of Chinatown, newly opened Juniper serves up a gin-focused cocktail list and Pacific-leaning creations like fish charcuterie.
On the same street, the hip Bao Bei makes cocktails and desserts designed to complement its modern Chinese menu. The Keefer Bar features wildly creative pours and dim-sum-inspired snacks.
Be sure to leave room for a nightcap at the Pacific Rim’s Lobby Lounge, where the notable Grant Sceney oversees the cocktail program, which features avant-garde creations like The Wild Road, a drink created to complement the Dior fragrance with which it is served.
In warmer months, completing the Grouse Grind is a must for visitors and locals alike. The 1.2-mile trail up Grouse Mountain has earned the nickname “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster” for its non-stop incline. (The stairs are closed in the winter, but you can still enjoy the view in a gondola ride to the top.)
For a more relaxing start to the day, choose from brunch at one of the many delicious options around town. Medina Cafe, a Vancouver favorite, serves daily brunch, with global offerings like egg-topped cassoulet, breakfast tagine and tuna ras-el hanout (rare albacore with white bean and quinoa salad).
Homer Street Cafe has perfected the art of preparing a rotisserie chicken, and incorporates it into weekend brunch items like a chicken-and-bacon cobbler topped with a biscuit and a poached egg. TUC Craft Kitchen’s diverse menu ranges from its great take on poached eggs to a traditional okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake).
A trip to Vancouver isn’t complete without a visit to Granville Island, a shopping and arts district that’s easily accessible by Aquabus from Yaletown. The Granville Public Market is filled with stalls bearing colorful produce, maple products, mountains of oysters, every imaginable form of salmon (smoked, cured, dried, candied) and bakeries peddling the region’s beloved nanaimo iibars and sugar pies.
Afterward, explore the island’s many art studios and watch the creative locals in action blowing glass, crafting handmade brooms, weaving silk scarves on a loom and more. Visit Artisan Sakemaker and learn about his unique approach to sake brewing, which begins with growing his own rice. Granville Island Brewing and The Liberty Distillery also offer tours and samples of their handcrafted products.
Return to Yaletown for lunch at Minami, where specialties are flame-seared aburi oshi sashimi and warm plates like ebi (tiger prawn) fritters. The nearby Blue Water Cafe boasts one of the city’s best raw bars, with a huge selection of West Coast oysters and caviar plus seafood towers and Alaskan king crab and Dungeness crab fresh from the tank.
Fuel up for the remainder of the day with a matcha latte at the recently opened Small Victory or visit the coffee gurus at 49th Parallel before traversing the charming shopping district. While Robson Street is the place for big-name brands, Main Street is the destination for locally made clothes and accessories at stores such as 8th & Main, Still Life and Much & Little plus unique gifts and home goods from Nineteen Ten, Giving Gifts & Co and The Regional Assembly of Text.
While Vancouver is touted for its wealth of incredible Asian restaurants, many of them are actually located outside of the Chinatown area. The west end of Robson Street is home to gems like Dinesty Dumpling, where xiao long bao (soup-filled dumplings) is just one of the Chinese specialties; popular Japan-based ramen shop Hokkaido Ramen Santouka; and Sura for an elegant Korean lunch or dinner feast.
But to truly experience Asian cuisine in the Vancouver area, take a brief train ride to Richmond. Located just a 20-minute jaunt from downtown, it is home to more than 400 Asian restaurants — and about half of those are located on Alexandra Street, which is appropriately known as “Food Street.”
Experience dim sum (offered daily for lunch and dinner) at its finest in a bright, modern setting at Chef Tony, where you’ll find a mix of traditional offerings plus the toque’s signature creations like black truffle, pork and shrimp dumplings, and deep-fried taro and abalone dumplings.
On the way home, end the evening with a nightcap at Prohibition, the swanky bar and lounge beneath Rosewood Hotel Georgia. Here, cocktails range from the classics to signatures like the Inception Negroni, a crafty drink-within-a-drink that’s released by tapping an ice sphere. Like the city itself, it just keeps getting better the further you delve into it.