As I divulged the details about my recent adventure with family and friends, a question I often received was, “How did you decide on Vancouver?” The first half of my answer is frequently the same for any new travel destination: good food and a beautiful destination. The second half of my answer was less common: I found a flight for $275 USD roundtrip. Yep! You can rarely find return flights between neighboring states for that price let alone across the country. With only one brief layover in Calgary, I knew I had to take advantage of the opportunity. I shared my findings with a friend and we were booked! Next up, get to know a little more about Vancouver.
Vancouver is a large, west coast city located in the province of British Columbia, Canada. The city serves as a major seaport in the Pacific NorthWest (“PNW” for those in the know), and boasts the largest Asian population outside of Asia. While Vancouver is often a quick stopover for those en-route to Alaska, my 72 hours in the city proved there’s plenty worth exploring.
My friend and I decided to split each of our days in half to get the most of our time. Each morning was spent outdoors and the late afternoon and evening was spent happy houring and dining. Vancouver is known for its natural beauty as well as its stellar food scene, so making time for both each day made sense to us!
The PNW is famous for its temperamental weather and Vancouver is no exception. The average temperature is 42 degrees F and the average annual rainfall is 50 inches. For perspective, the average rainfall in Portland, Oregon is 43 inches and Seattle has an average of 38 inches per year. However, a visit during the summer months often yields significantly more sunshine, higher temperatures, and less rainfall. Each morning of my visit began with cool temps and misty air but the sun burned the clouds off by noon and the afternoon temps hovered in the mid-70s until almost 9pm. The sun sets super late in Vancouver over the summer as well. Another reason to go during the drier months!
Day One – Stanley Park and Soup Dumplings
One of the biggest draws, in my opinion, of Vancouver is its proximity and seamless integration with nature. There are buildings with rooftop gardens and vines crawling up the sides, parks all around, and an endless view of mountains, forests, and waterways. It’s hard not to fall in love with the city simply because of the natural beauty alone. The city limits of Vancouver are actually quite small with the west end of the city comprised of a giant urban park named Stanley Park. This natural oasis is almost 1,000 acres and is larger than Central Park in New York City. Visitors and locals alike enjoy the park for hiking, biking, walking, and recreation, with many people using the park’s seawall for a 9k lap around the perimeter. If you’re looking to bike the seawall, head there early to avoid the crowds. There are several bike rental companies just outside of the park – no reservations required. If you’d like to view more of the trails and sculptures inside of the park, plan to head in on foot or via a tour. Regardless of how you explore Stanley Park, make sure it’s on your list. It’s definitely worth your time.
As Vancouver is home to a large Asian population, there are several glorious Asian restaurants including Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Cantonese, and Thai. I have not yet traveled to countries in Asia and, outside of my time in Melbourne, Australia (where I’ve had the most amazing Asian dishes!), I know I am missing out on delicious Asian food. Knowing that Vancouver would have a variety on offer, I was most excited to get my hands on some soup dumplings as quickly as possible. After a bit of research and confirmation from our AirBnB hosts, we found a popular Chinese restaurant called Dinesty Restaurant serving all the dumplings you could want plus several other delicious Chinese dishes. While waiting for the table, we watched as the kitchen staff delicately folded each dumpling; it is quite the art form. We decided to try a few different dumpling variates, including the soup dumplings, as well as a rice dish and vegetables. Everything was fantastic and, while my stomach was full, I wanted to stay and order more. I knew if every meal was like this one, the trip was well worth it. (P.S. it was!)
Day Two – Deep Cover and Sushi
The second day started out much like the first, cloudy and cold, though the plans this time included a trek out to Deep Cove in North Vancouver to kayak. I grabbed my raincoat on the way out the door and was glad I did because, as soon as we arrived at the kayak rental shop, the sky opened up, pouring large water droplets on us. The rain would come and go over the hour we were kayaking but it didn’t stop us from exploring the cove. As we paddled out beyond the cove itself, the water opened up to reveal gorgeous views of the mountains and a forest tree line for miles.
We cruised around a smaller island, parking our kayaks on the shore for a little while to see what existed inland. This island happened to be where someone had built a home so we didn’t stay long once we realized we were “trespassing”. The island’s shores were covered with seaweed, shells and giant purple starfish. I was so excited to find the starfish, many of which clung to rocks waiting for high tide again to place them back in the water. After returning to our boats and continuing to paddle around the remainder of the island, we began to notice a colony of starfish sticking to the sides of the stone that bordered the island. With each wave of water, you could see hundreds of these giant purple starfish piled on top of one another and lining the exact spot where the water met the stone. It was incredible. Here I was excited about the few smaller starfish I’d found on land and just a few paddle strokes away existed a giant colony of starfish tucked in to each and every crevice they found along the waterline.
As we paddled back toward the cove, I noticed a larger animal pop up out of the water. My friend, at first, thought it was an otter but, in fact, it was a harbor seal curiously checking us out. The seal, with its giant round eyes, watched us for a moment and then began blowing bubbles and stretching its neck out of the water before diving back down below. It was one of my favorite moments of the whole trip.
After our close encounters with nature, we headed back into the city, stopping at the Granville Market to explore the local shops and indoor market. From there, we freshened up for another glorious dining experience, this time opting for a traditional Japanese restaurant near our AirBnB apartment called Hachibei. We knew we’d found a good spot when we realized we were the only English speaking customers in the small restaurant. Using images on the menu and glances at the food people around us were enjoying, we selected several sushi rolls and a few dishes that we weren’t quite sure what they actually were – egg or tofu, perhaps? Everything was delicious, including the order of sake, which was larger than both of us realized and left us feeling a solid buzz afterward. Another successful day!
Day Three – Lynn Canyon and as much food as possible
The third and final full day in Vancouver included a subway ride to the seaport, a ferry ride to North Vancouver, and bus trip into Lynn Canyon Park. While the journey to the park was lengthy, it was also incredibly scenic. The PNW really is beautiful and we were so lucky to have the amazing weather that we did. The public bus dropped us off about ½ a mile outside the park entrance and we followed a few others who knew their way through the neighborhood and into the park. We spent several hours hiking the trails, stopping to taste the wild blackberries and spend time sitting along the shores of waterfalls. The park is gorgeous and lightly trafficked, but as we moved closer to noon, the tour groups began to build with several of them bumping up against one another to catch a glimpse of a waterfall we were visiting. As we moved away from the gaggle of people and headed toward a different end of the park, we stumbled upon what we considered to be the “locals” entrance with several people entering the park with a dog. With more and more people pouring in to the park, it was about time for us to leave. I often find that getting places early is the way to go, especially when traveling.
As we headed back into the city, we stopped at a local brewery next to the seaport in North Vancouver to grab a pint and plan out the rest of our afternoon. It was nearing 3:00pm which meant it was time for happy hour. Vancouver has several restaurants offering killer happy hour specials, including $1 oysters, which was top of our list. We spent the remainder of the afternoon and well into the evening trying out happy hours as we made our way toward Vancouver’s Chinatown. We grabbed a table for dinner at Bao Bei and enjoyed our final meal. By the end of the meal, we were feeling incredibly full and decided to walk back toward our apartment rather than finding the subway. On our way back, we stumbled upon another cute neighborhood called Yaletown and stopped at an ice cream shop, Mister Artisan, because it looked too good to pass up. It was very indulgent and very worth it. The perfect end to a glorious 72 hours in Vancouver. Until next time…