Vancouver is a city stitched together at its seams—flanked by the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by mountains; merely over the border from the US, but light-years away (read: ahead) in its progressive approach to societal issues like its opioid epidemic. Spend even a few days in this multicultural metropolis and you’ll question why you hadn’t visited sooner. I sure did.
Where to stay
Let’s talk hotel versus Airbnb. I’m a huge fan of staying in Airbnbs—they offer more space, a kitchen to cook healthy and cost-effective meals, and you get an insider’s view as to how the locals live. Vacation rentals like Airbnb are often friendlier on your wallet versus a hotel stay, too. On the flip side, there are definite drawbacks with Airbnb, namely the adverse impact on the local housing market and its contributions to overtourism. (You can read what I’ve written on those topics here.)
All that being said, I stayed in an Airbnb in the Gastown district of Vancouver, and easily recommend that you do, too. By day, Gastown is a great home base for exploring the city, accessing many of the must-see and must-do’s, and walking to many of the best places to eat and drink in Vancouver. Historically, it's Vancouver’s original downtown; brick buildings and cobblestone streets lend to its aesthetic. And by night? Gastown twinkles, romancing you with its old-timey street lamps and light-adorned trees.
Parts are touristy—namely the area around the Steam Clock (not really worth your time) and along the shops on Water Street—but given its convenience and walkability, I still vouch for staying in Gastown, especially if it’s your first time in Vancouver.
What to see & do
One of the best ways to experience any destination is via its cuisine. With a diverse cultural make-up, Vancouver’s food scene has a palate to match. And there’s no better way to get to know the best spots to eat than with a local. Enter: a five hour luxury food tour with Alexandra of Local Flair. I loved her passion for food, flavors, and wellness; her exceptional grasp of Vancouver’s neighborhoods and geography; and her engaging personality. This tour is for anyone who wants to understand how Vancouver’s history and cuisine are intertwined—in a fun and delicious environment.
After all that food, take yourself on a self-guided tour of Vancouver’s murals. Download the map, strap on your comfortable shoes, and explore the works of public art. Better yet, plan your trip for August to catch the annual Vancouver Mural Festival in action.
If you’d prefer to take an urban hike, head to Stanley Park to walk or bike along its seawall. Or, if you want a dose of nature outside the city, head to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. *Caution*—this is a highly popular tourist attraction. I wouldn’t normally recommend heading to a spot overrun with tourists, but it’s a unique experience to traverse the many suspension bridges in the park. Try and get there early morning before the crowds—your Insta shots will thank me. *wink*
Where to eat
Start your day at Jam Cafe, an all-day breakfast place known for its comfort foods (think housemade biscuits and gravy) and decadent twists on classics (um hi, red velvet pancakes!). Heads-up: the wait will be long. Like, over an hour long line outside the door. My advice? Make coffee before you leave your Airbnb and bring it with you to help bide your wait. Then order an oversized mimosa as soon as you sit down.
Craving Moroccan? Moltaqa is a fantastic place to get your fix. The service was outstanding as were both the lamb and chicken tagines. I ate here for lunch during my trip and was barely hungry again in time for dinner… but I soldiered on, folks, don’t you worry.
For a treat yo’self dinner, book a reservation at L’Abattoir—request to sit in the solarium if you’re headed for a romantic date night, or opt for the upstairs seating if you’re headed out as a bigger group or feeling more of a ‘scene.’ The cuisine is primarily seafood dishes with a French twist. Handcrafted cocktails were fantastic, wine was divine, and best of all, the service was outstanding.
To sample unique, Aburi-style (AKA flame-seared) sushi, head to Minami Restaurant in Yaletown. These delectable, layered ‘rolls’ ensure you taste each flavor in every bite. Oishī! I never want to eat sushi any other way again.
For Old World pasta in modern digs, head to Di Beppe in Gastown. Or, if you’re feeling like a locally-sourced burger and locally-brewed beer, make your way to Alibi Room, a funky-fun gastropub also located in Gastown.
Last but not least, dessert! If you don’t make it to BETA5 Chocolates on your food tour with Alex, be sure to check this spot out. Known for their artful truffles and chocolate bars, BETA5-lovers also flock here for their limited-release selection of ice cream sandwiches and cream puffs.
Where to drink
We’ve now arrived at the part of the program where I sing the praises of the local wine—specifically, Cabernet Franc.
Cabernet Franc—the lesser known yet no less delicious Cabernet—is primarily grown for blending with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, but in the US and Canada, is produced as a varietal on its own. And thank goodness! To try locally produced Cab Franc, I suggest paying a visit to Vancouver Urban Winery in the Railtown district. Here you can sample a wide variety of Canadian wines, from sparkling to sweet to bold, and in a gorgeous tasting room to boot. Bonus—VUW shares its space with Postmark Brewing and Belgard Kitchen, meaning there’s truly something for everyone in your party (even if you’re a party of one!).
“Your drink is going to take some time to make. Would you like a free glass of champagne while you wait?” Yes, friendly server, yes I would like a drink while I wait for my drink. Add to this unparalleled offer romantic, second-story views of Gastown, and you’ve found every reason to pay a visit to The Diamond, friends.
And finally, to perk up after those many glasses of Cab Franc or free bubbles, start your mornings at the cutest coffee shop on the block, The Birds and the Beets.
Who to follow
Far and away @CuriocityVancouver served me best in planning my trip to Vancouver. Yes, I use Instagram to get a feel for a destination—always before I travel there; sometimes playing a role in whether I book. If you’re planning a trip to Van, give Curiocity Vancouver a follow and I’ll bet you’ll be inspired, too.
The fine print: AWCity guides are not meant to be your comprehensive guide to a city. Treat these guides as if you asked me for my personal recommendations for where to stay, eat, drink, and play. Also, I've received no compensation for recommending these places, and I'll always let you know if that changes.