She finally got her US passport, I needed a break from the hometown, and we both needed an escape. Something relatively easy, but that still packed a punch; Vancouver, British Columbia and the surrounding area delivered.
The only question is: When do I go back? The answer: As soon as possible.
We didn’t have much time either, though that ended up being a benefit. It was decided we’d try to spend three whole days in, and around, the city. Whatever we could cram in, all the while taking time to enjoy. This is vacation after all, even in micro form.
Day One – Vancouver Aquarium & Cactus Club Cafe
After getting in to the hotel late the night before, we sluggishly made our way to our first visit of the trip. While trying to keep things flexible as far as itinerary goes, low energy levels made a trip to the local aquarium the logical choice for sightseeing. Only ten minutes drive from our hotel at the waterfront? Yes!
I’m not sure what it is about aquariums that I’m drawn to. A somewhat recent discovery for me, I love the fluorescent colors and moody atmosphere. If I’m in a major city and have time to kill, I always find it worth the entrance fee to meander through one.
The Vancouver Aquarium, although very pleasant seemed smallish by others. That isn’t to say it wasn’t enjoyable all the same. Moreover that one should take their time when wandering the halls. Don’t forget the jellyfish exhibits (always a favorite) or the walk-in, humid-as-hell rainforest.
One thing they don’t tell you about Vancouver is how formal the city can be. After weeks of research, no guide said, business casual, please, to prepare us. One bit of evidence of us was the restaurants. Maybe it was just the area we were in, but every placed we went, it was the same story, slacks and nice shirts, dark to boot. I had one black sweater. Oops.
Needless to say, though we felt under dressed at the The Cactus Club Cafe, our hosts never made us feel otherwise. Typical to the stereotype, everyone here was friendly and polite. The food was a solid four stars, depending on your order and our a view left us breathless (or was that the alcohol?). If you can splurge, go for the fried calamari appetizer.
Oh, and after dinner, why not go walk on top of the restaurant and take in a view? That’s right, those Vancouver-ites put a green space right on top of the Cactus Club… On the roof guys.
Day Two – The Road to Squamish & Sea to Sky Gondola
When Owen Perry recommends the hour’s drive to Squamish and a surely epic gondola ride, you tend to take the suggestion seriously. Twisting roads, a more than calm local driving temperament, and clouds for days, all added up to one memorable day trip.
If you’re in Vancouver for a day or two, do not miss out on exploring a bit of all the coastline has to offer. It will surprise and delight you, with both scenery, and ease of getting around.
The Sea to Sky Gondola was almost certainly a highlight of our trip. A ten minute ride juts you 3,000 feet up the side of a mountain, directly from a parking lot. Once at the top of the mountain, you’ll find everything one could want: snowshoeing, skiing/snowboarding access, backcountry hiking, even a viewing platform to enjoy local beer and food from.
I honestly didn’t want to go back down. As fun as the gondola ride is, the immediate peace, (if you can get away from the crowds) offers a welcome spot alongside the scenery. We hit this spot as early as it opened, at 10 a.m., hence a lack of crowds until our departure. Easy access to the trails and back helped the short trip feel relaxing and serene, all the while, adventurous.
The ride back was just as easy as the ride there, save for a slight amount of traffic. Dinner at the hotel restaurant and we’re primed to walk around the Coal Harbourfront, see the sites, and head back to our room for yes, more local beer.
The harbour front is as it appears, fraught with mountains views, gorgeous water, and twinkly lights everywhere.
Day Three – Capilano Suspension Bridge & Vancouver Lookout
As if I need more bridges to cross, our last day saw the relatively tourist attraction of Capilano Suspension Bridge, which was some of what I expected and some I did not. As Mia put it, the whole thing was like a natural Disneyland. Everything was manicured in such a way to be incredibly friendly and welcoming, though at a certain point it would have been nice just to explore without heavy signage.
Don’t mistake the intention though, Capilano was still a joy to walk through. Be sure to bring a jacket and scarf, as the forest walk does get a little chilly.
Our “two attractions per day” strategy seemed to be working well. Spending as much time at a tourist trap, at the end of our days, we found ourselves relaxing and taking in local flavor. On our third and last day, we walked around nearby Gastown, a historic district with plenty of souvenirs and chochkies.
After purchasing our obligatory maple tea, inukshuk, and smoked salmon offerings, we headed to Steamworks. A great brewery with typical pub fare, we went with a traditional poutine, fries with gravy, cheese curds and a side of bacon. What goes better on a rainy day? Nothing, if you’re in Canada. Our jubilantly friendly waitress made sure to remind us of that.
So, what is there to do on your last day of vacation, slightly buzzed off a few beers, and wanting to appreciate a post-rain sunset in a foreign city? After taking mere moments to decide, we realized how close we were to the Vancouver Lookout, one of the city’s best viewpoints for a 360-degree experience. That might sound like marketing speak, but wait until you have a drink on the rotating platform.
We arrived just in time. The sun was just hitting a layer of clouds, sending oozing gobs of golden sunshine on the city and surrounding region. We could soak in almost all of it, but…
After hitting the viewing platform, we had one more night cap at the previously mentioned rotating restaurant, which took roughly one hour to bring us full circle. Funny how going up one level might not seem like much, but it made a world of difference.
Some might balk at the idea that we only took a long weekend to explore the Vancouver area, but I would say, it was an ideal amount of time. With just enough daylight to explore two big things per day, plus time to relax and goof off, we got a lot more out of the trip than we were expecting.
Any longer and I think I’d be much less willing to leave.
By the way, if you’re having trouble deciding what to do in a short window, tweet the folks at HelloBC, British Columbia’s tourism bureau. I found myself nearly having a full-on conversation with them, at 11 at night!