I visited Vancouver nearly a dozen times in 2008–09 and had the chance to really explore the city. Thus, some favorite spots:
Bill Reid’s Jade Canoe
In addition to its waterfalls and bird sanctuaries, the Vancouver International Airport displays First Nation art of the Pacific Northwest, like the Haida sculpture work of Bill Reid
. In the international terminal stands the Jade Canoe
, one of Reid’s versions of the Spirit of Haida Gwaii
. If you have time to kill, check out this massive boat with characters cramped inside, including the raven (the trickster in Haida mythology), the bear mother, the dogfish woman, the eagle, and the shaman. I wonder to where they are rowing, and sense their interdependence symbolizes the harmony—and strife—between living things.
As you wait in line outside Kintaro
, wafts of savory soup drift into your nose. Inside, you’re greeted by yells from the chefs, whose heads are wrapped in white towels, which keep them cool as steam from silver vats—filled with broth and noodles—warm up the joint. There’s a counter, small tables, and a community table at the front, where you bump elbows with diners as they feast on miso, shio (salt), or shoyu (soy) ramen. Choose from light, medium, or heavy broth, or be daring and opt for the cheese ramen. (My fave.) The gyozas are tasty, as are the toppings, from seaweed to boiled eggs. While the ramen is effing good, the lively, cramped restaurant is an experience in itself, especially if you park yourself at the counter. The chefs are fun to watch as they toss pork fat and bean sprouts into woks, strainers, and cauldrons.
Hapa Izakaya and Guu With Garlic
While British Columbia is a trek from Japan—the original land of izakayas—Vancouver has its own breed of Japanese tapas spots. The city has Kingyo in the West End; the stylish Hapa Izakaya
, with locations downtown, in Kitsilano, and Yaletown; and the more laid-back Guu With Garlic
on Robson. These restaurants have rotating menus, offering salmon and tuna carpaccio; seared albacore with ponzu sauce; sizzling rice cooked right at your table in a hot stone bowl; snow crab legs, black cod, and creatively prepared seafood; and noodles and other small dishes. The izakaya movement seems to be bigger here than anywhere else I’ve seen in North America…
Elbow Room Cafe
The Elbow Room Cafe’s
breakfast offerings with amusing names are solid reasons why customers return—consider the “Stinky” or “I Have No Imagination” omelettes or “Big Ass” pancakes. But what makes the joint famous are the staff’s inappropriate comments. After taking a seat, your waiter exclaims, “Hello ladies!” to you and your boyfriend, or when he takes the order of a group of dudes, he calls all of them “dear”—and even one a “moron.” When you want coffee, you’re told to get it yourself, and when your food arrives, you’re served the wrong dish. If you leave scraps on your plate, you’re told to donate to A Loving Spoonful, an AIDS charity. This last demand is a positive gesture, and the “abusive” service, name calling, and insults are friendly fun—if you’ve caught on to the joke.
Photo courtesy of Beth Taylor
On the corner of Burrard and Smithe Streets sits Japa Dog
, a downtown stand serving juicy hot dogs with extras like seaweed and sprouts. There’s the Misomayo, a turkey hot dog with drizzled Japanese mayonnaise; the Terimayo, an all-beef dog splattered with cream sauce and non-traditional toppings; and a menu of smokies, from jalapeno and cheese dogs to bratwurst and Bavarian smokies. The best thing? Standing around with everyone on this busy corner, grubbing down and people watching during your lunch break.
Nitobe Memorial Garden
One of the top tea gardens outside of Japan, the Nitobe Memorial Garden
is in a lush walled oasis on the University of British Columbia
campus, atop a hill where you can view mountains in the distance meet the vast Pacific. You pay several bucks to enter, and once inside, you understand why. Nitobe is meticulously maintained, and each tree, stone, and path have been deliberately placed to symbolize the order in nature. Indigenous plants—azaleas, irises, and maple trees—were brought from Japan and are pruned with a Japanese method. The grounds are a center for plant research, with koi, streams, waterfalls, and a tea house. One of Nitobe’s bridges is perfectly placed, its subtle curve and reflection in the pond flawless displays of craftsmanship.
Sun Yat-Sen Garden
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden in Chinatown was built upon the harmony of four elements—rock, water, plants, and architecture—reflecting a traditional landscape of the Ming Dynasty. More than 50 craftsmen from Suzhou, China, came to British Columbia to work with Canadians to create the grounds in less than a year. The garden features water-worn limestone rocks and jade-green ponds, an intentional shade that better reflects the garden’s architecture and foliage on the water’s surface. The pavilions and corridors are composed of intricate patterns, and wildlife swim and fly about. While the garden is charming under the sun, it glistens in the rain. Raindrops break the surface of the pond, creating quite the spectacle on a drizzly day.
Snow-capped mountains and the downtown skyline compose the quintessential Pacific Northwest view at Kitsilano Beach
. Peeps flock to Kitsilano to swim at the huge community saltwater pool, picnic on the grass, or play volleyball, frisbee, and soccer. Its shores are lined by Cornwall Avenue and Arbutus Street, home to beach houses and eclectic-designed properties. If it’s overcast, the crowd is sparse, the playground swings hang still, and the sound of waves lull you in peace. But if the sun is out, all of Vancouver is here.