If you want to see how in-the-know Vancouver residents dine, shop, and relax, head to Commercial Drive. This funky East Vancouver neighborhood is home to 300-plus merchants in 22 blocks, including an eight-block Little Italy.

Commercial Drive hosts many festivals throughout the year – from April’s Verses Festival of Words to October’s Parade of Lost Souls – but merits a visit anytime. It’s easy to reach by car or public transit, about 10 minutes from downtown or 15 minutes from the Hilton Vancouver Metrotown. Here are seven great reasons to go.

1. Fabulous Food
Italian food dominates Commercial Drive, from La Grotta del Formaggio‘s huge focaccia sandwiches to Sopra Sotto‘s handmade pizzas from a woodfired oven. Other excellent ethnic eateries abound, like Jamjar (Lebanese) and Addis Cafe (Ethiopian), while vegetarians feast on gluten-free nachos with roasted pineapple at Bandidas Taqueria and coconut curry at Cafe Deux Soleils.

2. Stellar Theaters
Vancouver-raised Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Seth Rogen recently intervened to help save the Rio Theatre, a mecca for retro movies and burlesque shows. The restored, 1913-built York Theatre features quirky shows like Hot Brown Honey and Famous Puppet Death ScenesHavana has a 60-seat theater with poetry slams and live comedy, and serves tantalizing mojitos and West Coast-influenced Cuban food.

3. Coffee Shops Galore
At the brick-walled Prado Cafe, four-time Canadian barista champion Sammy Piccolo’s passion shines with beautiful lattes. Joe’s Cafe, renowned for its cappuccinos, has welcomed stars like k.d. lang and Sarah McLachlan. And at Dolce Amore, you can pair your espresso with handcrafted Italian gelato.

4. Specialty Shopping
Commercial Drive’s shops are as diverse as they come. Lala’s sells artistically adorned socks, oven mittens, and mustard baths. Womyns’ Ware provides safer sex products and toys in a female-friendly environment. And the Licorice Parlour stocks more than 60 kinds of licorice imported from Europe – plus hula hoops.

5. Beer Bonanza
St. Augustine’s celebrates Vancouver’s booming craft beer scene. This Commercial Drive pub has more than 60 beers on tap from the likes of Parallel 49 and Twin Sails. Head to the mural-covered Storm Brewing, Vancouver’s longest-running craft brewery, to witness the process and sample Precipitation Pilsner or Highland Scottish Ale. Meanwhile, the 2005-opened BierCraft serves 40 local beers and dozens of international brews to accompany your Belgian frites or Reuben sandwich.

6. Cool Bookstores
At the independent PulpFiction Books, staff will gladly help you find anything from a recent Hilary Mantel novel to an out-of-print Clark Ashton Smith book. Progressive readers frequent the People’s Co-op Bookstore and Spartacus Books, while Canterbury Tales Bookstore attracts bibliophiles with its deeply discounted new and used books.

7. Delightful Parks
John Hendry Park – better-known as Trout Lake – hosts the Trout Lake Farmers’ Market. There’s also a rink where figure skaters practiced for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, and an off-leash dog area and picnic grounds. Grandview Park features drum circles, a new playground for kids, and the quirky sport of bicycle polo.

 

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