Vancouver is dazzling. It’s generously endowed with natural splendor -- snow capped mountains! Temperate rainforests! The ocean! -- but it’s also a vibrant city with a glassy downtown and dozens of unique neighborhoods to explore.
OK, so it rains. A lot. The winter is notoriously wet, but honestly, so is spring and fall. The summer, however: *Italian chef kiss.* From June to September, life moves outside, to al fresco restaurants and breweries, and to the beaches and hiking trails nearby. And even on miserable February days, the dankness brings a certain moody charm (see: Twilight).
Get the heck outside
Vancouver might be Canada’s third biggest city, but you’ve got to get out of the urban center and into nature. It’s on the ocean, is replete with parks and beaches, and there are mountains nearby for hiking in summer and skiing in winter. All in all, there’s an overwhelming number of outdoor activities to enjoy, including but not limited to sailing, whale watching, salmon fishing, ziplining, kayaking, swimming, paddle boarding, and biking.
Hiking is everyone’s favorite pastime
Vancouver summers, when the sun is shining but the lack of humidity means you can still cool off in the shade, are perfect for hiking. That said, winter hikes can be just as beautiful, when the forests become lush with rain. Drizzle is typical, but that shouldn’t stop you from taking long winding walks through any of Vancouver’s 230 parks, including the stately VanDusen Botanical Garden and the cedar-scented Pacific Spirit Park.
Or you can get out of the city altogether. Grouse Mountain, a 20-minute drive from downtown, is a favorite local hiking spot. The 1.75 mile climb to the top, which ascends some 2,800 feet, is known as “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster” -- you can find out why the hard way, or take the aerial tramway. You’ll find an observatory at the peak and, on a clear day, Vancouver glistening below.
The beaches rock
There are tons of beach options, including Kitsilano (excellent people watching), Jericho (more chill), Second Beach (on Stanley Park) and Wreck Beach (where clothing is optional). Sunning, swimming, picnicking, and barbecuing are (rightfully) the most popular beach activities, but for the more culturally minded, Shakespeare is also on the table. From June through September, English Bay hosts Bard on the Beach, Vancouver’s long-running Shakespeare Festival.
Finally, if you’re looking for a wide-open scenic walk, head to Spanish Banks; at low tide, the waters recedes more than half a mile and you can walk right out onto the wet, rippled sand.
Definitely check out the Seawall
No trip to Vancouver is complete without a visit to Stanley Park, a 1,000-acre wooded expanse that juts into the Burrard Inlet. Rent a bike and do a lap around the 5.5 mile, beach-studded perimeter, known as the Seawall, which features views of the glassy downtown district to the south and blue-purple mountains to the west. The loop also makes for an excellent run -- the air is bracing and sea-salted, and the scenery is distractingly pretty.
To dig a little deeper, head inside on one of the park’s many winding paths. Cathedral Trail, for example, will take you under canopies of massive, moss-covered pines, while Beaver Lake Trail has a lovely lunch spot by the lily-covered pond (you might recognise it from the Fifty Shades movies, if you were one of the suckers who actually paid to go see them).
The museums aren’t bad either!
The Metropolitan Museum it isn’t, but the Vancouver Art Gallery is worth a visit for the works by Emily Carr, the Group Seven, and Marc Chagall. But if you can only go to one museum in Vancouver, make it the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. It’s one of the top anthropology museums in the world and the home to thousands of First Nations artifacts, including totem poles, textiles, and canoes.
Visit UBC’s campus while you’re at it
The museum is the main draw, but the UBC campus is beautiful in itself. After the museum, check out the Japanese Tea Garden or the Botanical Garden, where a suspended bridge leads over a canopy of Douglas firs, cedars, and grand firs.
Save room for noodles
In a city that averages 161 rainy days annually, a noodle obsession just makes sense. Vancouver has enough options for an extensive noodle crawl, but start with Kintaro Ramen or its sister Motomachi Shokudo, which serves up health-conscious takes on Kintaro’s rich pork broths, including bamboo charcoal miso ramen. Jinya Ramen, which has multiple locations, is also a consistently satisfying.
For variety, try Harvest, a grocery store/restaurant that serves up udon, ramen, and rice noodles in homemade broths. And pho fans shouldn’t leave without a trip to Pho Goodness or Chau Veggie Express, which has an outpost on Granville Island (get the candle-lit lantern pho soup).