When wanderlust strikes, yet you don’t have a lot of time or money to spare, look north to British Columbia. By day, you can explore Vancouver’s spectacular outdoor urban playground without ever leaving city limits and at night partake in its impressive restaurant scene that’s on par with any European capital. Add on a night to visit charming Victoria, 90 minutes away by ferry; its old-world sensibilities will have you feeling like you’re on a different continent entirely. Best of all, British Columbia is only a short flight away, and the strong U.S. dollar means your money goes further making your trip even more affordable.
Walk, cycle or row your way around town
No car? No problem. Vancouver is consistently rated Canada’s most walkable city, which means you’re never more than a stone’s throw away from a park, coffee shop or market and can easily explore the city on foot. Or you can cycle your way from your hotel to the sites thanks to the city’s new bike share program launching in summer 2016. Similar to New York City’s Citi Bikes, Mobi will offer 1,500 bicycles for short-term rental at 150 stations throughout the city. If you're looking for a more leisurely ride, head over to Stanley Park Seawall, the world’s longest uninterrupted seawall, where you can tour the 5 ½-mile loop in about an hour. Along the scenic path, you’ll pedal by First Nations totem poles and Brockton Point Lighthouse and might spot native wildlife, including harbor seals and bald eagles.
For a unique vantage point, there’s nothing like seeing the city from the water. Rent a kayak in False Creek, which, in fact is not a creek at all, but an inlet, making it an ideal place to paddle for people of all skill levels. You’ll have an impressive view of cityscapes to the north and south.
Another must-do is a ferry or aquabus to Granville Island. The peninsula is complete with numerous theaters that feature everything from dance to Shakespeare to improv; craft studios where artisans sell hand-blown glass, pottery, jewelry and more; and the public market, a food lover’s dream featuring local produce, including cherries the size of plums, cheese of all kinds, freshly baked breads and locally produced wine and artisanal sake. When you’re ready for lunch, head to the food court for a bowl of udon or an authentic plate of fish and chips.
Dining options in Vancouver range from light fare at a casual bistro to a full tasting menu at a four-star restaurant. For something quick, tasty and fun, head to Salt Tasting Room in Gastown. It’s located on the ominous sounding Bloody Alley, but today is at the heart of a trendy, cobblestoned neighborhood. You’ll know you’ve found the restaurant by the salt shaker flag above the door. Chances are you’ll be seated next to a local as you enjoy a plate of charcuterie and cheese with a glass of wine or wine flight. The menu options are always changing, but the emphasis is on local British Columbia wines.
For a special night out, make a reservation at the much-lauded Hawksworth Restaurant. It’s known for its fresh, creative food that showcases local seafood, meats and produce. If you can carve out the time, request the chef’s tasting menu for a dining experience you’ll never forget. Recent options included hamachi tartar and confit lamb neck tagine with smoked carrots.
The capital of British Columbia, Victoria, has a decidedly British flair thanks to its double decker buses, formal tearooms and classic English gardens. The journey over from Vancouver via ferry is well worth the trip in an of itself and you may even spot an orca on the way. Visitors during the summer are greeted by 1,500 hanging baskets dotting the lampposts around the city.
Tour historic Victoria Harbor, where you can visit the Parliament buildings and enjoy high tea at the stately Fairmont Empress. It has been serving the traditional British afternoon treat since it opened its doors in 1908.
A favorite summer weekend activity is fireworks in the Butchart Gardens every Saturday night through Sept. 3. Get there early to explore the Japanese, rose and Mediterranean gardens before sitting down to dinner in the dining room of what was the original Butchart home. The restaurant serves produce from the garden’s farms in seasonally-inspired dishes.
Of course all that touring can leave you parched! Victoria has been at the forefront of the craft brew and cocktail renaissance. You won’t want to miss Spinnakers Gastro Brewpub, a forefather of the craft brew scene. You can enjoy your IPA with a burger or wood-fired pizza.
Or if you prefer cocktails, stop by the always chic Veneto Tapa Lounge in the Hotel Rialto. It’s part restaurant, part lounge and always a lively and fun place for tasty sharing plates with friends. The cocktails are cleverly named things like “There’s an App for That” or “Darth Matter” and the bartenders are there to make sure you have a good time.
—Anne Fritz for Destination BC