It's a sunny Tuesday evening in June, and the 50-person tasting room at Vancouver's Brassneck Brewery is buzzing. On shelves near the front windows, rows of prettily designed refillable "growlers" wait to be filled with beer from the daily list of what's on tap. In the back, stools are packed with a crowd of twenty- and thirtysomethings sampling the brews. In my glass is a thirst-quenching raspberry sour, whose "experimental" warning on the board simply made me want to try it more.
It's not my first taste of Vancouver. I've been spending time in the city since I was a girl, and I've done all the tourist favourites (Stanley Park, the Vancouver Aquarium, Granville Island, Gastown). But I've never lived in Vancouver, I've just been an outsider looking in. So on this short trip, I'm trying to delve deeper into aspects of the city that interest me most by trying a few new niche tours.
On my first evening, I meet Suzanne Rushton, owner of Vancouver Photowalks, whose city tours double as photography classes – or maybe it's the other way around. While many of her walks are geared for photography newbies, I've signed up for the nighttime tour of Gastown for those with a little more experience.
We learn to adjust shutter speed and aperture to smooth out the water and turn lights into multipoint stars; we wander over to the edges of Gastown and a corner that's prime real estate for long-exposure cityscapes. I try different angles, catching shadows of people and buses in the frame and streaks of a car's bright taillights. After two hours with Suzanne, not only do I feel as if I know my camera twice as well as before, but I have also gained a new perspective on familiar neighbourhoods, and I'm going home with some of my coolest trip photos ever.
The next morning, I head back to the water for a tour that takes guests from Coal Harbour and under the Lions Gate Bridge around into False Creek. It sounds like standard tourist fare, except Sea Vancouver takes its guests out on a Zodiac, with passengers clad in bright orange survival suits. In addition to learning about the city, we zip around at top speeds and lean into tight turns when it strikes the captain's fancy.
Turns out everyone on my boat is a local, and the phrase "as you know" peppers the rehearsed speech about the development of the city and how it has become the envy of the world. I enjoy the seal's-eye view of Stanley Park's popular beaches, of Granville Island, of the vivid yellow pile of sulphur that stands watch over the working harbour. But the biggest rush is getting up close to the massive cargo ships that dot the harbour as they wait to enter the narrow passage. The parade of ships is a dramatic symbol of the sheer amount of stuff that enters and exists this port city. The adrenalin surge from that potent mixture of sun, fresh air and high-speed boating lasts long after I've stripped off the survival suit.
I'm feeling less like an interloper and more like a Vancouverite playing tourist. But I'm not done yet.
It's said there are some 50-odd microbreweries in Greater Vancouver, thanks to a provincewide explosion in the popularity of craft beer, and tonight, rather than signing up for an official tour, I recruit a friend to show me around. That's how we ended up at Brassneck in the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant (about three kilometres from downtown). Brassneck opened last fall and has become the go-to spot for locals.
After a drink, we move on to Main Street Brewing Company, which opened in May, just a few minutes' walk away. My friend runs into her neighbours and they chat about condo politics as I dig into my grilled sandwich, along with the tasting flight our server sets on the table: one small glass each of the brewery's Pilsner, Brown Ale, Sessional and Southern Hop.
We end the night with another short walk to 33 Acres, which, at just a year old, is the senior member of the neighbourhood brewpubs. Like the other two, it's busy, and the customers spill into the street but we manage to secure a pair of chairs and a side table. The beverages are bright and light-tasting, a refreshing finale that has me plotting real-estate purchases (or, let's be honest, rentals) in this most photogenic of cities. A city in which I'm starting to feel very much at home.
If you go
Where to eat & drink
Food trucks – from pizza to Thai to Korean tacos – are parked outside every day so you don't go hungry as you sample the ever-changing lineup of brews at Brassneck Brewery. (2148 Main St., brassneck.ca)
Along with pints or palettes of its four standards and rotating casks, Main Street Brewing Company serves food and snacks including panini, local potato chips and dill pickles from a huge counter-top jar. (261 East Seventh Ave., mainstreetbeer.ca)
Defying the chalkboard-and-reclaimed-wood aesthetic so common in brewpubs, the decor at 33 Acres is clean and bright white, making the space as soothing as a yoga studio. (15 West Eighth Ave., 33acresbrewing.com)
Get on the water with 90-minute sightseeing tours from Sea Vancouver's headquarters in the Westin Bayshore Hotel; $39 a person. (1601 Bayshore Dr., seavancouver.com)
During tours by Vancouver Photowalks – themes and locations include Granville Island, iPhoneography and Chinatown – experienced photographers help you
move beyond the automatic settings on your camera while exploring the city, too. Prices vary ($49-$99) depending on tour. (vancouverphotowalks.ca)
You can visit three breweries in three hours (designated driver included in the $69 per-person fee) with Vancouver Brewery Tours. Or travel under your own steam and take a craft-beer bike tour with Cycle City Tours; the $69.95 fee includes having your guide schlep your growler purchases in the bike trailer. (vancouverbrewerytours.com, cyclevancouver.com)
Where to stay
The award-winning Rosewood Hotel Georgia is
home to one of the city's hottest see-and-be-seen
patios, the fourth-floor courtyard Reflections. Rooms from $232 per night. (801 West Georgia St., rosewoodhotels.com/en/hotel-georgia-vancouver)
The writer travelled as a guest of Tourism B.C. and Rosewood Hotel Georgia. Neither reviewed or approved this article.