The mighty Fraser River roars down from the mountains, in British Columbia, through the canyon, where Chinese immigrant laborers toiled in the 19th century to complete the “Impossible Railway”…The Canadian Pacific. It passes Chilliwack and Abbotsford and crosses the wide Fraser River Delta. It reaches the Pacific Ocean, at Canada’s third largest metropolitan area, east of Toronto and Montreal…It’s Vancouver, tourism Gateway to British Columbia and Canada’s west coast!
Recently voted the “Best City in the Americas” at “Condé Nast Traveler” magazine’s annual Readers’ Choice Awards, Vancouver won the top spot over Victoria and Quebec City. This thriving, vibrant and multi-cultural metropolitan area is set against the north Pacific Ocean, and reaches out into the Georgia Straits. Adding to the picture is the ring of mountains to the north and east of the city. Vancouver was named for the British Navy Captain who explored the straits, which separates it from BC’s provincial capital, Victoria, on the southern tip of Vancouver Island.
You can hike the mountains, that encircle Vancouver, during the morning, walk on it’s beaches later that day, enjoy real great urban trekking and take in the restored historical districts and downtown then take in the cities famous nightlife and varied ethnic cuisine and fabulous brew pubs. Vancouver has been the home of a World’s Fair, in 1986, and also hosted the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
Downtown Vancouver is great for walking (but get a map) and the city also has an excellent public transit system! With TransLink visitors can travel with ease around the metropolitan Vancouver through a well coordinated system of buses, monorails (SkyTrain), boat service (SeaTrain) between downtown and North Vancouver. Their commuter train service, the West Coast Express links downtown Vancouver with Mission, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Port Moody, Port Coquitlam, and Coquitlam. There are downloadable PDF maps of the transit system on the TransLink website and you can find actual maps at the Vancouver Public Library. A great way to give yourself an orientation to Vancouver, is take a trip to the top of the observation deck above the Harbour Centre.
On the environmental side of things, Vancouver’s transit system is smart! They are currently testing a variety of differently fueled buses against standard diesel units. These test buses include diesel/hybrid, compressed natural gas, biodiesel, diesel with particulate filter and hydrogen/compressed natural gas units. They are also replacing their aging fleet of electric trolly buses, that currently service a substantial area, with 228 new Canadian made New Flyer buses. In traffic, you will also notice a growing number of hybrid powered and fuel efficient cars and taxis.
Go to Vancouver’s “60’s Hippy” district called Gastown, and see the world’s first steam clock (Cambie St. & Water St.), one of Vancouver’s most photographed sites. After you’ve heard the clock whistle, then walk the brick, cobbled sidewalks and enjoy the marvelous restoration work that’s been done with heritage buildings in the district. Don’t forget to poke around in the shops and boutiques, go for coffee or find a restaurant or a pub.
After poking around Gastown, go to the largest North American Chinatown, outside of San Francisco. In Vancouver’s Chinatown visitors can spend hours taking in the markets, shops and restaurants. Of course not all Chinese food is the same, as there are so many varieties and styles ranging from Cantonese to Szechuan and in the early day Dim Sum.
While you’re there, go to the Chinatown Millennium Gate (Pender St. & Taylor St.) and, for good luck, be sure to roll the stone ball, in the mouth of lion’s (or Chinese guard dog). They are on either side of the gate and for shorter folks, or kids, there are small stone balls in its claws.
A short walk from The Millennium Gate is the delightful and tranquil Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden (Pender St. and Keefer St.). This a well maintained classical Chinese garden, with ponds, bridges, waterfalls and many plants and trees. Be sure to keep an eye open for the turtles, sunning themselves on rocks by the ponds.
The latest Vancouver neighborhood, great for fashion, shopping, pubbing, dining, people and dog watching (with many of the area’s condos have purebred residents) is the converted warehouse district of Yaletown, in the southeast of downtown (East of Granville and North of Pacific Blvd.). Plan on giving yourself lots of time to take this area in. This area, of former warehouses, was redesigned and renovated, for visitor accommodations, for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The use of former loading docks as broad, raised sidewalks and outdoor patios makes this area of the city truly unique!
Granville Island, a definite stop on your tour, is located under the south end of Granville St. Bridge. It makes for a full morning, or afternoon, of browsing the food markets, eating food and taking in the artists and buskers. You can also take a sea taxi back to downtown. For an indication of the prosperity of this ocean-side city, look north across False Creek towards the south end of downtown and you will see amazing number luxury condominiums on around Pacific Blvd.
If you prefer a more natural setting, then head to Stanley Park, west of downtown. While there walk/cycle around the Sea Wall (8.8 km), see Siwash Rock and go under the spectacular Lion’s Gate Bridge.
In Mid December of 2006, Stanley Park suffered a devastating winter storm, a certain sign of global climate change, which it has been estimated that that more than 10,000 trees were lost in the storm and the restoration will cost upwards of $9 million dollars. It is not surprising, with Vancouver’s love of their magnificent park and their if not stronger love of the environment, almost all the required funds have been gathered from donations and restoration is well under-way.
You can also visit the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, with another Bill Reid statue (Chief of the Undersea World) outside the entrance.
The aquarium and what was know as the Vancouver Zoo, went though a major reconstruction. Gone are the Orca tanks, as well the zoo’s cages and bear pits. What emerged is the fabulous, modern aquarium.
The Centre has an amazing collection of marine life and have had a beluga whale “Baby Boom”. Qila (pronounced: Kee-lah) was born on July 23rd 1995. She was the first beluga to be both conceived and born in a Canadian aquarium. Qila gave birth to a female calf, called Tiqa, on June 10, 2008. On June 7, 2009 Qila’s mother, Aurora, gave birth to her female calf, from 5 or 6 metres away on the upper deck of the Beluga habitat. Click here to view this amazing birth on YouTube.com!
Tiqa, Qila and Aurora share the Arctic Canada habitat at the Vancouver Aquarium. A fourth female beluga, Kavna (approximately 39 years old) currently resides in a behind-the-scenes habitat with the Vancouver Aquarium’s 20-year-old male beluga, Imaq. The Belugas can be seen outside the main building and for an underwater perspective, from a viewing room down, beside their habitat.
Other sea animals can be seen outside, many of which have regular programs for their audiences. You can see the dolphins, sea lions and don’t forget to see the antics of the sea otters! Their ability to move around in the water and flexibility in motion, that they make look so easy, entertains everyone.
Inside the aquarium, you’ll find spectacular displays of all kinds of marine life, reptiles, amphibians and crustaceans. All are in natural habitat tanks and terrariums, many of which are massive. The Georgia Straits display is an impressive collection of the habitat off Vancouver’s coast. Many of the inhabitants are there because of the aquarium’s excellent Marine Mammal Rescue Program.
Another great spring to fall attraction in Stanley Park, is the Klahowya Village, which is an authentic Aboriginal cultural experience like no other you’ve ever seen.
Canada’s west coast was the ancestral home of the Haida aboriginal people and their amazing totem pole carving. One of the best exhibits of the art of the Haida, can be found at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.
The museum has many pieces which were done and donated by Bill Reid, the famous Haida artist and is Canada’s largest teaching museum, renowned for giving access and insight into the cultures of indigenous peoples around the world. Its mission is to investigate, preserve, and present objects and expressions of human creativity in order to promote understanding of and respect for world cultures. The Museum houses some 535,000 ethnographic and archaeological objects, many of which originate from the Northwest Coast of British Columbia. Massive totem poles, carved boxes, bowls, and feast dishes are featured in the Museum’s Great Hall, while smaller pieces in gold, silver, argillite, wood, ceramic, and other materials are exhibited elsewhere in the galleries.
If you like watersports and beaches, Vancouver has no shortage, even right near downtown!. The main downtown core’s most populated beach attractive to people of all ages, is English Bay (Beach Avenue between Gilford and Bidwell Streets), further west, on the Stanley Park Seawall with a heated pool is Second Beach. Even further west in the Park is Third Beach. A Great spot for quiet bathing, picnic suppers and sunsets. Southeast of English Bay and back towards Yaletown is Sunset Beach, which is designated as a quiet beach (i.e. no amplified music).
If you’re looking for a beach that has more action and younger people then head west from downtown to Kitsilano Beach (Waterfront north end of Yew St.). The next beach going south would be Jericho Beach (Between North ends of Wallace and Discovery St.), then another quiet beach Locarno (West of Trimble to Tolmie St. on NW Marine Dr.) and finally the Spanish Banks (West of Tolmie St. on NW Marine Dr.) The Spanish Banks are a series of three beaches (Spanish Bank East, Spanish Bank Extension and Spanish Bank West), the furthest west of which is a quiet beach. Going south, from Vancouver, you can walk the mother of all beaches in the Vancouver area at White Rock
Depending on your choices in bathing; UBC is right above Vancouver’s Wreck Beach, recently included in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) top 52 short-list, for the Seven Wonders of Canada. This would be due to the “nativist” (i.e. nudist) use by the bathers. In the final vote, Wreck Beach got 7143 votes and was well out of the Top 7! “USA Today” in it’s “10 great places to leave the swimsuit at home” declared…”Wreck Beach, Canada’s first and largest legal clothing-optional beach, is so spectacularly beautiful that it is a mecca for tourists from all over the world…The confluence of the Fraser River with the Straits of Georgia and English Bay, under white cliffs and an emerald-green forest, attracts more than 500,000 visitors annually.”
For a longer urban excursions, going north in the Vancouver area, you can go to Vancouver’s oldest tourist attraction, The Capilano Suspension Bridge and walk across the 137 metre bridge, 70 metres above Capilano River. You can also take the Treetops Adventure, the newest of Capilano Suspension Bridge’s attractions and the first venue of its kind in North America, where you can venture from one magnificent Douglas fir tree to another on a series of elevated suspension bridges, some reaching as high as 100 feet (30m) above the forest floor. There is a Totem Pole park and a First Nations’ Cultural Centre, where you can watch as First Nations legends are chiseled into cedar and shared with guests with traditional weaving and bead work also being demonstrated through the day.
If you’re looking for similar attractions, with possibly not as many tourists, try Lynn Canyon Park. it’s also in the Capilano area of the region. The park offers 617 acres of forest, trails and a suspension bridge that’s 50 meters above the river.
Many tourists to the Vancouver area take the sky tram up to Grouse Mountain, for a bird’s eye view of Vancouver, as well as dining, hiking, skiing. Skiers go to Whistler-Blackcomb the site of the downhill skiing, for the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. The mountains north of Vancouver, also offer opportunities for climbers.
Also north of Vancouver, is the natural Keyhole Falls/Pebble Creek hot springs, near Pemberton and at Squamish, fans of steam locomotives will enjoy the West Coast Railway Heritage Park operated by the West Coast Railway Association. The WCRA also organizes various rail tours throughout the west coast and operates the Locomotive 374 Pavilion in Vancouver where the historic locomotive 374, which pulled the first train into Vancouver in 1887, is open daily to the public in a pavilion at the Roundhouse Community Centre.
If you’re a sports fan and plan to visit Vancouver, be sure to take-in a 3 down, Canadian Football League (CFL) BC Lion’s game at BC Place, The stadium has had major renovation, with a state-of-the-art retractable roof being installed. Vancouver also has top ranked soccer with it’s Whitecaps FC. For baseball fans, The Vancouver Canadians are the major league Oakland Athletics, affiliate in the Northwest League and they play at Nat Bailey Stadium.
During the winter you can see the National Hockey League Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena, also the home of the National Lacrosse League’s Vancouver Ravens. As well there is great skiing at Whistler Blackcomb.
Many of the famous Alaska cruise lines, also depart from Vancouver (beginning in June of each year), with spectacular scenery, glaciers and possible opportunities for whale watching. The cruises are either one week or two weeks, and there are two routes: the Inside Passage and the Gulf of Alaska, but they both take a similar route for most of the trip—traveling along the easterly coast of a long string of islands up the BC coast, on a waterway known as the Inside Passage.
The islands help protect the waterway from Pacific storms and rough water, thus making for a much more sedate passage (these ships are huge, though.) The Inside Passage has been the traditional way to cruise Alaska—the ship does a round trip voyage from Vancouver past glacier, that come right down to the ocean. They go as far north as Skagway or Juneau, in Alaska, U.S. Gulf of Alaska cruises cover more territory as they travel from Vancouver through the Inside Passage and up to Anchorage.
Many cruising travelers, who go to Alaska, travel one way and continue with other modes of transportation. By doing this they can take in the fabulous scenery, travelling by road. Of course many passengers who disembark, at Skagway, make their way into Canada (with passports) to visit the famous centre of the Klondike gold rush at Dawson City.
The cruises depart from Canada Place which is located in Vancouver’s downtown core on Burrard Inlet near the north foot of Burrard Street at Ballantyne Pier. If you’re looking for visuals, ship loading time is usually around 1pm, and the ships start to make their way out of the harbour in the late afternoon, around 5pm.
From Vancouver, travelers staying on Canada’s west coast, have three main routes to go and explore the adventure tourism beauty of British Columbia. West, you can take BC Ferries service to Vancouver island and the gulf islands. There is regular service from terminals at Tsawwassen, or Horseshoe Bay to Victoria and Nanaimo, famous for its chocolate/coconut bars. Nanaimo is the best for exploring the central part of Vancouver Island Nanaimo is also a port for going west to Port Alberni, Pacific Rim National Park, Tofino and Ucluelet.
Travelers wanting to go to the north part of the island, can travel up the mainland via the beautiful Sunshine Coast and use two ferries, to get to Powell River. From there take ferry over to Comox, on the island. Those not wishing to drive north, can take a ferry from Vancouver to Comox, via Powell River.
A point of warning, if you’re planning a trip over to Vancouver Island, ferry line-ups can be long, especially during peak holiday season! So go early in the day and try to avoid weekends. There are also float-plane air shuttles to Victoria from Downtown Vancouver, however, be warned to confirm a booking.
Wreck divers will want check out the decommissioned Royal Canadian Navy “Chaudière” destroyer escort, submerged near Sechelt by the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia. The (ARSBC) creates and promotes artificial reefs for use by SCUBA divers and marine life. This non-profit, voluntarily operated society has sunk 6 other decommissioned Canadian Navy ships and the one passenger airplane (Boeing 737) in the areas off the east coast of Vancouver Island, in the Georgia Strait, from as far north as Campbell River on Vancouver Island.
Going further north, from Vancouver, travelers can take a combination of roads and ferries, on their way up the Sunshine Coast, where you can travel the fjords of Canada’s west coast. For a circular route, try going up the coast, to Powell River and then take the ferry over to Comox, on the island. This route, of course can be done in reverse, as ferry service goes both directions.
Tourism BC also notes that you also trek the Sunshine Coast. Going north of Vancouver, you’ll find the coast’s namesake trail, which spans 180 kilometres (120 miles) from the ferry terminal in Saltery Bay up the coast to Sarah Point at the entrance to Desolation Sound. Wonder how long it would take to make the journey? Plan for 10 stride-filled days. The Sunshine Coast Trail, nestled in the Vancouver, Coast & Mountains region, proves a breathtaking gem which houses plenty of parks: with two dozen access points, section hiking allows for a myriad of terrain including old growth groves, temperate rainforest valleys, and secluded stretches of beaches.
For eastbound travelers, heading for the Okanagan Valley, west Kootenays, north central BC and the province’s Canadian Rockies National Parks of Yoho, Glacier & Mount Revelstoke and Kootenay. Travelers often continue east through Alberta’s Banff and Jasper National Parks. The Trans-Canada Highway #1 heads east. For those wanting to cut out the slow climb up the Fraser Canyon, take the Coachella Highway.
World class in and outbound air service are provided at the Vancouver International Airport (YVR), at Richmond. YVR is an air travel hub for international and domestic flights and is serviced by Vancouver Sky Train’s Canada Line.
For those choosing other transportation, Vancouver has Rail service, with service from the rest of Canada as well as scheduled and tour bus services are also available from Vancouver.
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