West Coast, Best Coast: Adventures in Vancouver

West Coast, Best Coast: Adventures in Vancouver
Right after this run, I ate a big ass pancake

I've wanted to visit Vancouver ever since the 2010 Winter Olympics.  NBC's sweeping shots of the city, surrounded by water and snow-capped mountains, made Vancouver look like it was something out of a travel Instagram account.  Of course, Instagram didn't exist back then so you knew that shit was all #nofilter.  As with our Montreal trip, we decided to do a long weekend trip to Vancouver when El had to be there for work the following week.  We were really excited because Vancouver seemed like our kind of city: mountains, lush trees, Pacific Northwest First Nations art, great sushi, and delish West Coast IPAs.

We left after work on a Friday and, after a 4.5 hour flight, landed in an airport bedecked with totem poles and First Nations art in glass cases.  El and I noticed the difference in temperature between Vancouver and Toronto right away: Vancouver is much more temperate and, because of the rain, a hell of a lot more lush than Ontario.  Considering we had a freak ice storm just a few weeks prior, not having to wear a winter coat at the end of April was a welcome surprise.  Our Airbnb was in the heart of downtown, near the Orpheum Theatre and central to everything.  The whole city seemed to be out, and the downtown was lively with people laughing and clubs' neon lights burning brightly.

Considering the time zone difference, our bodies thought it was one in the morning, so we dropped off our stuff at the high-rise condo where we were staying, and grabbed a beer at one of the FIVE Irish pubs within a 3 block radius of our Airbnb.  Seems a bit excessive.  We needed two forms of photo ID to get into the Lennox Pub, which was odd because 1) Not a lot of people have two pieces of photo id and 2) We're old as shit and definitely don't look younger than 19, the legal drinking age in Canada.  Regardless, I'll take it as a compliment.  We tried our first West Coast craft beer, an Okanagan Spring APA, before surrendering to our tiredness and crashing back at the condo.

We both woke up at 5:30 the next morning and decided to make the most of our early start by getting breakfast at the iconic Templeton Diner around the corner.  My coworker is from Vancouver and had given me a ton of recommendations, so we were armed with great places to eat and things to do.  The Diner is very retro and is still outfitted with the booths, stools, and mini jukeboxes that it's had since it opened in 1957.  The building itself is from 1908, with the first diner going in in 1934, so the history of the space was as interesting as the breakfast was delicious.

Museum of Anthropology aka the house in Ex Machina (not really)

Museum of Anthropology aka the house in Ex Machina (not really)

After breakfast, we hailed a cab (no Uber in Vancouver unfortunately) to drive to the Museum of Anthropology by the University of British Columbia.  It was cool out and there was a light rain that was pretty much constant throughout our stay in Vancouver.  Neither of us minded though because it made it seem more "West Coast Canada".  Apparently, Canadians don't like BC being referred to as the Pacific Northwest because that usually just refers to American states.  West coast it is!

The Museum is set on the water of the Strait of Georgia and nestled just on the edge of Pacific Spirit Park.  The drive there took us past magnificent houses overlooking the water, and everything was just so stunning.  We got to the Museum just as it opened, so we initially had the impressive Great Hall to ourselves.  Good thing because it was filled with colorful totem poles, carved animal masks, house boards, and wooden dishes from the Haiwa, Squamish, and Musqueam tribes.  The captions told stories of the ancestral and contemporary carvers and artists, two of whom, Bill Reid and Mungo Mason, are featured prominently in the Great Hall.  The outdoor exhibition, which you could see through the floor to ceiling windows of one of the Great Hall walls, has recreations of Haiwa houses and totems.  The Haiwa people have lived on the island off the coast of BC for over 10,000 years, and we learned more about their, and other First Nations tribes', history by going through the museum.  One gallery had the voices of tribe members playing and featured their modern head dresses and blankets, while another was dedicated to the history of the tribes and their relationship with the Museum of Anthropology.  The "Multiveristy" gallery had hundreds of artifacts from all over the world, and one of the most impressive collection of carved masks and Inuit carvings that I've ever seen.  The whole museum experience was incredible and was right up our alley.img_8363

After a few hours at the MOA, we caught a cab to Granville Island and got a flight of beers at the Granville Island Brewing Tap Room.  I've gotta say, everyone we interacted with that weekend was so incredibly friendly and freely dispensed recommendations of what to do and see, and the Granville Island Brewery crew was no exception.  We walked around the shops that lined the streets of the island, hoping to find one that sold art by First Nations tribe members.  We popped into a few to dodge the rain that was picking up, and browsed the beautiful prints and wooden totems, but nothing really stood out to us.  I had a very specific idea of what type of PacNW First Nations art I was looking for, and we didn't want to settle.

img_8368We walked through the crowded but lively Public Market that had a great mix of prepared and fresh foods, crafts, and bath/body products.  The sweets from the bakeries we passed smelled so good, and the food options they had looked mouth-watering.  El and I were pretty spoiled by Borough Market and are pretty hard to please when it comes to city/town markets, but the Granville Island Public Market was really awesome.  We grabbed some donut holes from Lee's Donuts before heading to the ferry dock to head back to the mainland.  Our ferry/water taxi dropped us off at Olympic Village, which my coworker said has some of the best craft beer spots in the city, so we decided to spend the afternoon checking those out.

Our first stop was Craft Beer Market, a MASSIVE warehouse space that has over 100 beers on tap.  We grabbed seats at the bar and got recommendations from the bartender, a Trash Panda IPA for me and a Back Country Widowmaker for El.  The bar had a great vibe to it, and the people working really know their beer.  After finishing our beers and an order of wings, we walked the short distance to Faculty Brewery Co., a spot with a small, one room, taproom where we were lucky to get seats.  I tried a gin-infused pale ale that tasted like buttery Italian cheese.  I love me some butter, and I also love me some Italian cheese, but combine the two and put them in a beer, and I'm not a fan.  Needless to say, we barely touched our drinks and decided to head to the next spot.  Fortunately, all the microbreweries are walking distance from each other, which was perfect on a rainy day.  Our next destination, Electric Bicycle, wasn't actually open yet but there was conveniently another brewery, R&B Brewing, right next to it.  Unfortunately, it seemed that everyone else in Vancouver had the same plans as us because the place was so packed we weren't even let in.  We later learned that BC has really strict max occupancy laws, so the bouncers don't budge when it comes to letting in extra people.

Brassneck Brewery and our baby beer

Brassneck Brewery and our baby beer

We didn't have much luck at our next stop, the Brassneck Brewery, but they did let us have little tasters while we waited for a table.  The beer that we tried, Nebulousness, was pretty good, but we left before they called our name for a table.  We saw that there was a First Nations art gallery right down the street, and we wanted to check it out before it closed at 5.  Brassneck is on a main street in the neighborhood, so it was great to see more of the neighborhood while we walked to Hill's Native Art.

If you have any interest in Pacific NW American Indian or First Nations art, Hill's is a must visit (their online store is pretty dope as well).  The entire space is filled floor to ceiling with colorful totems, animal carvings, framed art, clothing, jewelry, baskets, and other examples of art created by First Nations tribe members.  There were so many different items to choose from, so it was great when one of the workers, a middle-aged British guy, narrowed it down for us to some wall-hanging carved animal totems options within our budget.  It was hard to choose something from all the beautiful choices, but we ended up getting a wooden totem carving of two stacked animals' profiles, a bear and an eagle.  In addition to the natural color of the wood, it's painted with just red and black, but it's so striking that it doesn't need any additional colors.  The worker wrapped it up in cellophane and tape so we could take it as a carry-on, and we brought it with us for the rest of our mini bar crawl.

Indeed it is

Indeed it is

33 Acres, another brewery my coworker recommended, was our next stop but, like the others, was too crowded.  Miraculously, we actually got seats at Main St Brewing Company, set in this great warehouse building and filled with big high-top tables.  A group of dudes a little older than us sat down at our table and struck up a conversation with us.  They lived in the suburbs of Vancouver and got together that rainy Saturday to do their own bar crawl.  They were really fun and told us all sorts of stories; my fave was where one guy lost his passport in Vegas and had to smuggle himself back into Canada.  As it does in Canada, the conversation inevitably turned to hockey.  They assumed we were Blackhawks fans, and when we explained why we weren't, the Smuggler replied, "Good.  I hate Kane.  He's such a misogynist."  YAS, DUDE, WE NEED FEMINISTS LIKE YOU.  The group said they felt bad for us Caps fans for our suffering; looking back now, I wonder if they thought of us at all when we won the Stanley Cup.

Gastown in Vancouver

Gastown in Vancouver

The guys took off for their next spot and were quickly replaced by a group of people our age.  The couple sitting next to us was great and gave us some more recommendations of places to eat.  We actually went to one right after we finished our beers, a donut shop called Cartem's that was literally around the corner.  We sat and ate our amaze-balls chocolate donut, glad that we listened to them.  Since we enjoyed their first recommendation so much, we decided to head to the Gastown District for dinner at another spot they said to check out, Revel Room.  True to its name, Gastown is lit up by gas lamps, and its biggest photo app is the clock powered by a steam engine.  The streets of Gastown look so Victorian and is definitely one of the more happening areas of Vancouver.  We got to Revel Room just in time because they started turning people away immediately after we left. A New Orleans themed supper club, Revel Room has live jazz and Cajun favorites like gumbo and boudin balls.  We were seated close to the musicians and enjoyed our gumbo and short ribs with parmesan grits.  The food was great, and we were again glad we listened to that couple at Main Street.

The next morning, we had breakfast at a cafe whose name implied it was French ("Joyeaux") but was really a Vietnamese restaurant that also served bagels and eggs in the morning.  Random.  The rain had died down to more of a mist that Sunday morning, so we walked along the harbour and saw all the cruise ships docked and ready to head to Alaska.  When I was 14, my family did an Alaskan cruise and our port was Vancouver, so I smiled when I saw the Holland America Line ship ready to take on its passengers.

Stanley Park sure is pretty

Stanley Park sure is pretty

We walked along the harbour, past all the other boats and rowing and yacht clubs, to Stanley Park, which was pretty much THE number one recommended thing to do in Vancouver.  We visited the Totem Pole Park, about 1km from Stanley Park's entrance, an incredible setup of totem poles with detailed information on the symbolism of each pole and its artist(s).  We learned that it's hard to determine who the artists of older totem poles were because the credit would go to whoever commissioned the piece rather than the artists themselves.  We walked along the seawall, just enjoying the incredible scenery around us.  Even though it was too cloudy to see the mountains, the trees and plants were so lush (we used this word a bajillion times in Vancouver) and full of different shades of green.  There are plenty of people out walking, running, biking, and overall just enjoying the day.  We walked along the seawall for a good two hours, taking in the sights like the cannon w/the seal of King George III on it that still sounds every day at 9pm and enjoying the clean mountain air.  We watched seaplanes take off and land on the water and appreciated the fact that the rain had held off while we were there.

GET IN MY BELLY

GET IN MY BELLY

We went back to Gastown to catch the Caps/Pens playoff game and get some wings at a bar called Lamplighter.  At almost every Vancouver restaurant we visited, we noticed that two things were usually on the menus: mushroom soup and yams.  Totally random side thought, but FYI. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Fortunately for us, the Caps pulled it off so we had a victory drink at Six Acres, a British feeling pub located on a really cool corner in Gastown.  El had to fly back to Toronto that night (only to fly back to Vancouver the following evening-long story), so we had an early "dinner" at 3:30 at Yamato Sushi.  It was dingy looking and tiny, and we probably wouldn't have thought to go there, but my coworker said that it has massive rolls and some of the best sushi in Vancouver.  We squeezed into some seats at the counter looking into the kitchen and split some deep fried gyoza, tuna sashimi, tasty beef udon noodles, and the best sushi roll either of us have ever had.  It was called a Canuck roll and was stuffed with tuna and avocado and topped with tuna tempura.  The food was seriously the bomb.com.  If you're a sushi fan, then it's a must visit.

I spent the rest of the night eating leftovers and watching Netflix at the Airbnb (#lazyass), but the next morning I got up early to go for a run along the harbour and seawall.  The clouds had lifted, so I now had the mountains in full view while I ran.  It was definitely one of the more scenic runs I've done in my life.  After I finished, I decided to undo all the work I just did and get a big ass strawberry and whipped cream pannekoeken at DeDutch Pancakes Restaurant.  WORTH IT.

Vancouver is incredible, and it's easy to see why everyone on Property Brothers and Love it or List it seems to live there.  It's got nature, culture, food, and great people, so what's not to like?  If you haven't already booked your trip after reading this post, well, what the heck are you waiting for?

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    Abeona Adiona

    Chicago gal and current Toronto expat with 47 countries visited, four countries of residence, and hundreds of "why does this kinda stuff only happen to me???" stories under my belt.

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