What does the best coast have to offer visitors? If craft beer, food trucks, patio afternoons and nature hikes all sound appealing then it’s time to visit Vancouver.
The west-coast is the best-coast, right? What with stroll-worthy neighbourhoods, memorable cultural events, a lifetime of outdoor activities and the promise of delectable delights, the west coast continues to attract visitors from near and far.
A prime destination is the beautiful port city of Vancouver and there’s a good reason for this — with an idyllic location right on the coast (you can even walk the seawall!) Vancouver has so much to offer. From beaches to hiking to festivals, patio, food and nature, it’s all in the city affectionately known as Vancity.
So how can you make the most of a spring getaway to Greater Vancouver? Here are nine awesome suggestions.
#1: Wander through magnificent gardens
Nothing smells of spring more than a stunning garden and Vancouver has more than a handful of incredible magnificent gardens to visit.
If you’re staying close to Coal Harbour, then you’ll want to check out Stanley Park’s Ted & Mary Greig Rhododendron Garden. Visit the garden in April or May and you’ll get a chance to see more than 4,500 hybrid rhododendron and azalea plants.
Another option is to check out the 130-acres of Japanese-inspired Queen Elizabeth Park, where you’ll find the Bloedel Floral Conservatory, tennis courts and pitch and putt golf facilities.
You can also head to the VanDusen Botanical Garden, a 55-acre outdoor oasis with more than 7,500 plant species and varieties. There’s a hedge maze where you can “get lost” with the kids and enjoy wildlife in a serene setting right in the heart of Vancouver. Bring a picnic lunch, or dine on one of the patios found at the Shaughnessy Restaurant or Truffles Café.
If you want to see one of the best examples of a classical Chinese garden, visit the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Garden while you’re in Vancouver’s Chinatown. The garden is the first of its kind in Canada and was built using 14th-century techniques. While this classic garden is beautiful at any time of year, spring is a particularly special time with covered walkways and beautiful pavilions that lead you to the jade green pond, where Koi fish swim and a collection of 150-year-old miniature trees and imported tai hu rocks. There are free guided tours, a scavenger hunt for children, traditional Chinese tea, and unique finds at the Eight Treasures Shop. All in all, more than a few good reasons as to why National Geographic named this garden one of the world’s top city gardens.
#2: Marvel at the whales
The spring months are among the best to see the magnificence of whales in action.
Many varieties of whales pass through waters near Vancouver, including humpback whales, orcas, grey whales and minke whales.
For many, orcas are the main attraction and spring is prime viewing time for resident pods of southern orcas as they feed on migrating salmon. You may also catch sight of small pods of transient orcas as they travel the coastline.
But even if you find yourself visiting Vancouver after orca season, that doesn’t mean you can’t marvel at the whales. The season starts in March and picks up through April and May but it lasts all the way through until late fall. Experience the thrill of watching whales up close with one of Vancouver’s whale-watching tours. Many of these guided excursions offer expeditions around the Gulf and San Juan islands in vessels ranging from high-speed zodiacs, fully-equipped cruisers and even seaplanes. Operators include Steveston Sea Breeze Adventures, Wild Whales Vancouver and Prince of Whales Whale Watching. A piece of advice: Book your whale-watching tour early. Most whale watching tours guarantee that you will see a whale or you can try again another time for free. But to take advantage of this offer means you need to leave a bit of free time during your Vancouver visit, in case you want to go out to spot a whale again.
While whale watching, you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled for other sea life. Quite often the coastal area is teaming with sea lions, otters, dolphins and bird species such as brown pelicans, Harlequin ducks, Pacific loons, tufted puffins and Bald Eagles.
#3: Travel False Creek by kayak
Vancouver has a lot of waterfronts so take advantage of it by renting a kayak or canoe. False Creek inlet is the perfect spot for springtime kayaking, not only for its amazing views of the downtown but for the chance to see wildlife such as herons, seals and eagles as you self-propel through the calm waters.
There are numerous kayak operators in the Vancouver area (many also rent out paddle boards and other recreational water equipment), but most don’t open until May or June. If you find yourself in Vancouver earlier than this, check out Ecomarine Paddlesport Centres on Granville Island. It’s open all year and gives you fantastic access to False Creek. You can rent kayaks any day but Monday (when it is closed), and starting in May, you can also take advantage of guided tours — including a special bird-themed excursion on Saturday, May 16 to celebrate Vancouver Bird Week. Last rentals leave two hours before sunset.
#4: Celebrate the new season with some spring fashion finds
Fashion lovers will use the beginning of any new season as an excuse to shop, and Vancouver is the perfect place to check out the latest spring apparel.
Shop downtown on Robson Street for name brands. Head over to historic Gastown for cutting-edge fashion or meander down Main Street between 20th and 22nd avenues for the best in local and independent Canadian designs.
For name-brand or higher-end brand names, check out Pacific Centre Mall, and if you’re looking for luxury walk one block north to Alberni Street. It’s Vancouver’s answer to Rodeo Drive.
For those who want indoor shopping on a massive scale, head to Metropolis at Metrotown. This complex of indoor centres offers more than 450 stores, as well as restaurants and theatres and it’s known as the biggest mall in British Columbia. While not in Vancouver, it’s only a 30 minutes Skytrain ride to Burnaby or you can opt to stay closer to the action at any one of the hotels in this area, such as the Delta Hotels Burnaby Conference Centre.
Another shopping option is to check out the designer outlet complex at McArthurGlen Designer Outlet on Sea Island, near Vancouver International Airport. If you end up flying in and out of this airport, good hotel options include the Vancouver Airport Marriott Hotel, Four Points by Sheraton Vancouver Airport Civic Hotel or the Vancouver Airport Residence Inn.
#5: Dine on a Patio
There’s something about sitting on a patio in the warm weather that makes a meal — and a bevvy — taste better. meal taste better. Take advantage of the longer, sunnier days by dining at a Vancouver patio.
Among the places to try is Reflections: The Garden Terrace at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia on West Georgia Street. Enjoy the inner courtyard of the hotel’s fourth floor, known for its outdoor bar, tapas-inspired dishes, and laid-back vibe. Or check out Bridges Restaurant on Granville Island, with its iconic yellow umbrellas. You can also enjoy the sophisticated atmosphere of Yaletown’s Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar or get adventurous and check out the exciting line up of food trucks during the sixth annual Greater Vancouver Food Truck Festival. This year brings seven drool-worthy events from the Fraser Valley Food Truck Association, each featuring 28 trucks. It takes place in various locations throughout April, May and June.
#6: Take a hike or two or three
There’s a reason why B.C. is known for the great outdoors. There are few other places in Canada with greater access to nature’s wonders.
For starters, there’s the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, which offers a mix of adventure, history and culture. Originally built in 1889, the suspension bridge is one of the city’s top attractions with visitors enjoying the thrill of crossing the 450-foot (137m) swaying bridge suspended 230 feet (70m) above the Capilano River in North Vancouver. The bridge is situated in the midst of a West Coast Rainforest, so explore the nature trails and learn more about this marvellous ecosystem as you stroll through woods with majestic evergreens and past ponds teaming with trout. If you’re staying in downtown Vancouver you can hop a free shuttle to the bridge from various hotels, including the Westin Bayshore Hotel and The Westin Grand.
If you’re in the mood to explore West Vancouver, head over to Lighthouse Park, which boasts the largest uncut rainforest in the Lower Mainland and includes the last surviving trees from Vancouver’s first-growth Douglas firs. This 75-acre seaside park has been home to a lighthouse since 1874 although the current, existing lighthouse was built in 1912. With about 10 kilometres of scenic walking trails, it’s the perfect location for enjoying crashing waves and dense vegetation. And if you’re travelling with a dog, you’ll be pleased to learn that dogs are allowed off-leash. As you can imagine, this spot has been named a National Historic Site.
#7: See Stanley Park through the eyes of a naturalist
Spring is a great time to experience nature at its finest and Stanley Park is the place to get down and dirty (sometimes literally) with the naturalists of the Stanley Park Ecology Society. Not only does the society operate the Stanley Park Nature House — Vancouver’s only ecological centre — it also offers great value guided “Discovery Walks” that teach participants about the park’s forests, wetlands and seashores.
For those into birding, Stanley Park is also a fabulous place to bring out the binoculars. Even if you don’t spot a bird, you may end up catching sight of coyotes during cubbing season.
For those planning a visit to Vancouver for Earth Day, there’s a special “Earth Day” event on Saturday, April 27 where you can view a heron colony, participate in a tree swallow survey and learn about indigenous plants and their uses. All complemented with special “Earth” cookies and Ethical Bean coffee.
If you’re aching to get your hands dirty, you can volunteer for the Stanley Park Ecology Society’s EcoStewards program — a fun, free, volunteer-led event that happens every second and fourth Saturday of the month. The volunteers help remove invasive species in Stanley Park, such as Himalayan blackberry bushes and yellow flag irises, all of which pose a threat to the Park’s native ecosystems.
#8: Learn a little local history
Want your time in Vancouver to include a bit of history and nostalgia? Make a trip to the Burnaby Village Museum. You can stroll the streets of a 1920s-themed village that includes staff in period costumes giving demonstrations of how people used to live and work.
The Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site in Richmond is another fascinating place to visit, as it preserves the fishing and food processing culture that defined B.C. lower mainland over the last century.
Finally, there’s Maplewood Farm in North Vancouver. There are more than 200 animals at the farm, including goats, rabbits, cows, sheep, pigs, chickens, ducks, donkeys and ponies. Kids will love getting up close and personal with the goats in the petting area. You can also feed the ducks and the rabbits, so bring some bunny food along. For the ducks, special food can be purchased at the entrance with your admission tickets. You can also rent little ride-on tractors or bring a lunch and sit in the picnic area. Historically, Maplewood Farms got its start in the 1920s when it was a thriving dairy farm, but by 1970, agriculture had disappeared from North Vancouver. Now, it is the last remaining farm on the North Shore and only because it was taken over by the District Parks Department.
#9: Go on a self-guided tour of Vancouver’s craft breweries
You can’t leave Vancity without tasting a bit of brew. That’s because Vancouver is known for its craft breweries. In fact, if you really want to dive into the craft brewery scene, consider timing your Vancouver stay to take in the 10th annual Beer and Cider Festival on June 8 and 9 at the PNE Fairgrounds. There will be music, food, buskers, art, and of course, 100 or more craft breweries and cideries serving at least 300 beverages.
Even if you can’t make the festival, you can still sample the best of the local breweries with a self-guided walking tour. Two neighbourhoods to focus on, because they have several craft breweries clustered together, are Main Street (near Mount Pleasant) and East Vancouver (affectionately called Yeast Vancouver).
The B.C. craft beer renaissance has also gripped North Vancouver, where a growing number of microbreweries are setting up shop. It may take a bit longer to get to all the breweries, but you can reward yourself with a cold one or two or more along the way.
To find directions to specific breweries and public events go online to the Vancouver’s North Shore Ale Trail.
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