With its prime position on the Pacific Ocean and the gleaming skyscrapers of its vibrant downtown core, Vancouver draws comparisons to other cosmopolitan cities, from New York to San Francisco and Hong Kong to Shanghai.
But what makes this metropolis backdropped by mountains so singular is its diverse mix of cultures and laid-back lifestyle that embodies the best of the West Coast. Spring is an ideal time to discover Vancouver’s character and youthful vibe. This guide is all you need to soak in the charms of the city on a spring weekend getaway.
ICONS TO DISCOVER
Seawall: Whether you walk, run, or bike the 17.5-mile seawall, it’s a superb way to see the city like a local, especially in spring when Vancouver’s 43,000 cherry trees burst into clouds of pink. Choose your own adventure along the route, which circles Stanley Park, then branches off in two equally enticing directions. Head northeast toward Coal Harbour’s towers and you’ll quickly see why Vancouver — Canada’s mostly densely-populated city, and environmentally-minded one, too — has been called “Manhattan with mountains.” Float planes glide over iconic buildings like the Vancouver Convention Centre (the world’s first double-LEED Platinum-certified convention center) where big thinkers convene for the TED conferences and talks hosted here through 2020.
Go southeast and the seawall traverses sprawling parks and trendy communities such as Yaletown and Olympic Village, where athletes lived during the 2010 Winter Games. One of its newer residents is a beaver who hangs out on Habitat Island. This hardworking hipster even has a Twitter handle (@VancouverBeaver). The seawall pushes on east through Granville Island and Kitsilano, the birthplace of Lululemon (their first store is located on West 4th Avenue). The Seawall ends its course along Spanish Banks , a series of sandy beaches where Vancouver’s stunning cityscape is only outshone by the massive mountains beyond.
Stanley Park: One-fifth larger than Central Park, this urban forest fringing downtown is ringed by the Seawall over five miles and punctuated with easily accessible landmarks like Siwash Rock (a 32 million-year-old sea stack), beaches, and a cannon called the 9 O’Clock Gun that’s fired every night. Along with harbor seals, bald eagles, and a colony of Pacific great blue herons (dubbed “flying dinos”), the park is home to the Vancouver Aquarium. This center for marine research, animal rescue, and conservation is currently showcasing Vortex, a radical art exhibition on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch created by internationally acclaimed Canadian artist Douglas Coupland.
Night Markets: Artisanal products, live music, and events like the BC Cider Fest lure people to the “local life” that unfolds at the Shipyards Night Market on North Vancouver’s waterfront. Across the city, there’s a different vibe at the open-air Richmond Night Market, North America’s largest event of its kind. There, the street food is so authentic (think Shanghainese soup dumplings, Taiwanese bubble tea, and Korean barbecue), the New York Times praised Metro Vancouver as the best place to eat Asian food in North America. Beyond the mind-blowing food, locals come here for the non-stop entertainment and the quirky finds from the retail stalls. In true Asia style, cash is king at the market so make sure to stop by an ATM before your night out.
Granville Island: This temple to arts, culture, and local cuisine is anchored by the Public Market, a magnet for foodies such as celebrity chef David Chang who explored the stalls brimming with farm-fresh fruits and veggies, artisanal cheeses, and sustainable local seafood, like live B.C. spot prawns — only available in springtime. This delicacy becomes the star of every menu at the island’s restaurants during the Spot Prawn Festival.
Low-slung century-old buildings, Chinese signs on storefronts, and intriguing aromas wafting from old-school eateries characterize this area that was home to 1,000 Chinese migrants during the 1890s.
Locals still sell traditional Chinese foods and herbs, such as dried seafood, mushrooms, and ginseng in compact shops huddled among ultra-cool boutiques, bars, and restaurants serving everything from modern Asian fare to vegan pizza.
Now a National Historic Site, pieces of the past live on in compelling ways. The Rennie Museum’s contemporary art collection is displayed in Chinatown’s oldest edifice, the 1189 Wing Sang Building. Things get meta with its new exhibit, Spring 2019: Collected Works, a deep dive into collected objects, including photographer Catherine Opie’s portraiture, not of Elizabeth Taylor’s famous face, but rather the screen legend’s home and personal items within.
Echos of 14th-century Suzhou (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) reverberate throughout Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, especially in spring when the plum trees are in bloom. Carved woodwork, hand-fired roof tiles, and lattice windows are the masterstrokes of 53 artisans who came from China to construct this “scholar’s garden” using centuries-old techniques. It’s no wonder National Geographic named it the World’s Best City Garden in 2011.
Discover the mountains: What’s more thrilling than taking Grouse Mountain’s Skyride (North America’s largest aerial tramway system) to the peak of Vancouver? Having breakfast with the grizzly bears who live in the mountain’s wildlife refuge! In spring, Grinder and Coola, who were orphaned as cubs, awaken from hibernation. On the mountain you can find solitude trekking the lupin-lined trails, fly through the sky on a zipline, and test your balance on an aerial-ropes course that traverses the forest canopy.
Go whale watching:
Spring is prime time for spotting pods of killer whales (also called orcas) and grey whales the size of a bus, which migrate to Vancouver’s coast waters to feed. Whale-watching excursions depart from Granville Island and Coal Harbour downtown, making it easy to get out onto the water and to see wildlife, including incredible bald eagles whose wing spans stretch up to eight feet.
Hike the rainforest:
Want to have a fragrant forest trail or windswept beach all to yourself? It’s a distinct possibility at 1,900-acre Pacific Spirit Regional Park, right on the doorstep of UBC. Hike or jog the footpaths shaded with giant cedars and firs, like the Beach Walk trail, which offers views of Vancouver and the mountains. The three-mile route leads to the north arm of the Fraser River and Vancouver’s famed Wreck Beach, a haven for nude sunbathers in summer.
Smell the tulips:
Wander through fields of showy tulips at Bloom, the Abbotsford Tulip Festival, located an hour south of Vancouver in the countryside. It’s heady escape from the city, where you can cut blooms to make your own boutiquePlus food trucks are on site so you can have a picnic amid the stunning scenery.
BEST BRUNCH SPOTS
Join locals who gather at Granville Island on the weekend to snag patio seats and chow down on dishes made almost solely from Canadian ingredients. Try the Wild Salmon Po’boy sandwich or Duck Poutine — a French Canadian staple composed of French fries smothered in duck gravy and crowned with cheese curds and a fried egg.
Delicate Belgian waffles that come with toppings like Bacon Caramel and White Chocolate Pistachio Rosewater are the draw at this gorgeous Crosstown restaurant that has a sunny courtyard patio. Prefer something more savory? Go for unconventional brunch fare such as chicken cassoulet with black-eye peas and the Bol Santé — Salt Spring Island tofu paired topped with turmeric-and-cashew butter and a marinated egg.
What’s in season? Whatever is on your plate at this West Side restaurant dedicated to using local, organic, and ethical ingredients. Care is put into every dish and it shows, with brunch items like hand-rolled tagliatelle dressed with roasted wild mushrooms. Order a local draft beer or craft kombucha to go with.
Brunch at this restaurant and brewery, which has waterfront locations in both Coal Harbour and Olympic Village, is a classic affair where must-have items range from eggs benny and avocado toast to chicken and waffles drizzled with real Canadian maple syrup. House craft beer flows from the taps, but this is the perfect placed to try a Caesar, Canada’s version of the Bloody Mary.
Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, old-world decor, coffee spiked with house-infused pecan bourbon; they’re just a few reasons why this downtown brunch spot is sizzling hot. Find rustic-meets-refined dishes like poached or sunny-side up eggs served with spicy paella, hearty cassoulet, and earthy tagine with preserved lemon.
Farm-to-table isn’t just a concept at this brunch go-to on buzzing Robson Street. It’s almost a love letter to B.C. farmers, purveyors, and distillers whose names are proudly printed on the menu. A local fave that satisfies every time is Forage’s award-winning seafood chowder — a comforting standout married with crispy chicharron, and a quail’s egg. Linger longer over flights of local wines and cheeses.
It’s hard to imagine there were just 15 breweries at this week-long celebration of suds when it started back in 2010. This city-wide event has since swelled to include more than 100 craft breweries and cideries (pouring 300-plus types of alcohol) from Vancouver and throughout North America. Food trucks are also scattered around the city so you can fuel up as you sip.
Craft beer seems to flow through an area of East Vancouver that was once called Brewery Creek and is now known as “Yeast Van” for its sheer number of craft breweries. Main Street Brewing occupies a 1913 heritage building from that heyday, making it a fitting hideaway to have a pint of not-too-hoppy Naked Fox IPA or its namesake Pilsner.
Relax in the tasting room and try experimental beers such as the Normalizer rye lager and one of Brassneck’s newest offerings, the Five O’Clock Shadow, a toasty oatmeal stout. There’s no kitchen in the busy brewery, but if you get growly, order something from the food trucks that wheel up in the evenings.
Strange Fellows Brewing: At only 4.0% ABV, the dry-hopped Talisman West Coast pale ale is ideal for sipping an afternoon away at this brewery, where you can take a behind-the-scenes tour of its operations (email or call ahead). Monthly “strange art sessions” are held inside the brewery’s Charles Clark Gallery, giving patrons an extra excuse to visit often.
Brewer’s Row: Venture farther afield to the community of Port Moody, where four craft breweries have cropped up on Murray Street, each with a signature style. Family run Yellow Dog Brewing Co., makes unfiltered beers with dog-centric names like Chase My Tail Pale Ale. Next door is Twin Sails Brewing, run by identical twins Cody and Clay Allmin who have taken “craft” to new levels with beers such as the Con Leche, a horchata-style milk stout. Moody Ales (try the Huge Citrus Hazy Pale) amps up the fun with trivia and live music nights, while The Parkside Brewery pours year-round suds and limited-edition beers such as the Attack of the Cherry Stout, an imperial stout that packs a punch at 8.3% ABV.
Erin Templeton: Designer Erin Templeton has been transforming “unloved” vintage leather into chic handbags and accessories for Vancouver’s eco- and style-conscious crowd since she opened her eponymous Gastown store in 2007. She’s since expanded her brand to include simple shift dresses and jackets, which are handmade in her downtown studio.
Oak + Fort: Minimalist styles in neutral tones are what make this local company a go-to for stylish shoes, clothing, accessories, and home goods. Its new capsule collection focuses on sustainably made basics like hoodies and sweatshirts. Drop into the Gastown boutique when exploring the neighborhood or find its stores in the city’s upscale malls such as Oakridge Centre and Park Royal.
Herschel Supply Co.: Brothers Lyndon and Jamie Cormack started their Vancouver-based accessories brand in 2009 with signature backpacks that meld hardworking function and heritage styling. Yet it wasn’t until 2018 that Herschel opened its first North American flagship, a gorgeous space in Gastown. You’ll be spoiled for choice when browsing Herschel’s extensive lines of travel gear, clothing, caps, and more.
National Standards: Guys get the ultimate in laid-back West Coast apparel with this Vancouver brand’s well-tailored shirts that come in punchy patterns. And for those cooler Vancouver springs days, men can stay stylish in outerwear such as classic military flight jackets in an array of colors. Check out National Standards’ flagship store on South Granville Street, or browse the brand in boutiques such as Motherland and Still Life.
2018–2020 Vancouver Biennale: Explore the diverse communities of Strathcona, Granville Island, and Kitsilano on a self-guided tour of first public projects of re-IMAGE-n, the fourth instalment of the Vancouver Biennale. This open-air museum is a showcase of thought-provoking pieces (including permanent “legacy” pieces from artists like China’s Yue Minjun) presented in public spaces in and around Vancouver.
Museum of Anthropology: Totem poles carved by local Indigenous artists welcome visitors to the MOA at UBC’s Vancouver campus. The award-winning glass-and-steel structure, fashioned in the form of an Aboriginal longhouse, is home to nearly 50,000 works. Take time to peruse the museum’s impressive collection of Northwest Coast art during the In a Different Light exhibition located in the museum’s new Elspeth McConnell Gallery of Northwest Coast Masterworks.
Vancouver Art Gallery: Art and architecture blend beautifully at this 1906 neo-classical building that was formerly a courthouse. The institution’s extensive collection includes works by Victoria-born Emily Carr, one of Canada’s most celebrated artists whose compelling landscape paintings depict B.C.’s First Nations villages and Vancouver Island’s emerald rainforests. In contrast are visiting exhibits like the Brooklyn Museum’ French Moderns: Monet to Matisse, 1850–1950. Sixty sculptures and paintings from big names like Chagall and Renoir comprise this exhibit that traces the shift from naturalism to abstraction. Tucked away on the second floor, you’ll find a stellar café with one of the most relaxing patios in the downtown core.