Pearl Jam Canadian Guide – Vancouver
Well, here we are, at the end of the Canadian tour. Saving the best for last. Trying not to be completely biased at all, I would have to say that Vancouver is the best city, not only in Canada, but in the world. This is backed up by the city’s consistent rankings near the top of most expert’s lists for most livable cities in the world – number one according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. And it only makes sense for Pearl Jam to end their latest Canadian tour in the city closest to their home, my home.
And what’s not to like about Vancouver? Sure it rains a bit and the people like to riot after losing game 7s of the Stanley Cup finals, but where else can you go skiing in the day time and be at the beach half an hour later? With the lovely ocean views set against the backdrop of the mountains, Vancouver is very much as beautiful as it looks. Once known as the “no fun city”, Vancouver broke out in a big way when it showcased itself on the world stage with an epic 2010 Winter Olympics.
The greater Vancouver area has about 2.4 million people, third largest in the country behind Montreal and Toronto. With just over 600,000 people living in the downtown core of the city, it is one of the most densely populated Metropolitan areas anywhere. People like to live in downtown here. However, the greater Vancouver area is huge and the rest of the city is very spread out. This makes for difficult public transportation between places outside of the city center. The sky train is good but its reach is limited. But the downtown area is quite small and very walkable and the main attractions are accessible by public transportation. If you want to explore further, you’ll probably need a car.
Pearl Jam always bring their A game for Vancouver. The show in 2005 was outstanding and their last show in 2009 was one of the best I’ve seen. Add to the fact that this is the final gig of the Canadian tour and that you’ll have some time afterwards to enjoy the city because you’re not driving to Calgary, then this should be a no brainer to come visit. I’ve lived all my life in Vancouver and have my own opinions on everything in the city, so my tips and recommendations are as local as it gets.
Things to do
At the top of the North Shore mountains, you’ll get some of the best views in the city. To get there you can either take a gondola up or hike up on the Grouse Grind trail (an hour plus long climb from the bottom). This is my favourite place to take visitors and it’s right in my backyard. Just ask the lucky ones that I brought up the grind last time Pearl Jam played Vancouver. In the winter time, the mountain becomes a small local ski hill. Just down the road is the city’s top attraction, the Capilano Suspension Bridge.
Turning our attention to the more artsy part of town, Granville Island is a fun place to spend a day at. The public market carries fresh local fruits and vegetables along with other fine foods and there are unique shops around to check out. During the day time there are usually some street performers, while the shows happen inside the good bars and restaurants at night time. This is a must.
Straddling two coastlines in the middle of the city is Stanley Park. If you want to partake in the active life styles of Vancouverites, rent a bike or a pair of roller blades and take a stroll down the sea wall during the day or at night. Within the park, the Vancouver Aquarium is also worth checking out, as it’s fun for visitors of all ages. With a golf course, tennis courts, and a number of beaches, you could spend the whole day in the area.
This is a very popular beach year-long in a nice part of town. Kitsilano is a young and active that is most apparent at both Kits Beach and Jericho Beach/Spanish Banks. Across the water on the downtown side is English Bay. Sailing and windsurfing is quite popular in these areas. Ambleside Beach on the West Vancouver side is very nice as well. And if you want a little more privacy, Wreck Beach near UBC is where you’ll probably end up.
If there was one symbol that represents the city, at least on postcards, this is probably it. Kind of like Vancouver’s version of the Sydney opera house. And although the building itself is not that significant, the area around is nice to explore. Check out the Olympic cauldron that lit during the winter games and check out the mountain views before you walk over to Gastown.
One of Vancouver’s oldest areas, Gastown is a charming mix of cobblestone streets, restored historic buildings and store fronts by day with hip and popular bars and clubs by night. Check out the steam clock, which is said to be the world first steam operated clock, go off every 15 minutes. If you take the seabus across to North Van, it is a nice ride as well, and the Lonsdale Quay Market is worth checking out on the other side.
The hip area to shop. Robson Street is the center of downtown with posh shops, elegant restaurants, and hoards of people. If you want more culture and better food, Commercial Drive (Little Italy) is for you. And if you just want to shop, Metrotown Mall is enormous.
West Vancouver is one of the richest neighbourhoods in the country, not only in the value of homes but also in nature and hikes. Lighthouse park is located at the end of West Vancouver with some easy trails to to hike on and beautiful sights to see. If the trails are too easy, Cypress Mountain is just up the road and is nothing but trails for hikers and mountain bikers. This is also the local mountain of choice for skiing in the winter time. And for a nicer, but longer hike, the Lions is your choice.
If you have some time to explore, take a ferry from either Horseshoe Bay or Tsawwassen terminals over to the Island. Victoria is the largest city, but there are many towns that are totally laid back and will offer you the a great sense of peacefulness. Tofino and Ucluelet on the west coast has surf and beaches while Telegraph Cove up north has wildlife that is worth the long drive getting there. And if you have a lot of free time and want to go for a long hike, the West Coast Trail is popular.
Heading north on the Sea to sky highway, you’ll hit the outdoor adventure capital of Canada, Squamish. There you can enjoy some of the best mountain biking terrains, kite surfing and rock climbing. The Chief a popular and short hike that offers a good view from the top. Whistler is not only one of the top ski resorts in the world in the winter time but it also offers a wide variety of summer activities as well.
If you’re in Vancouver at any point during the hockey season, it’s worth checking out a hockey game at Rogers Center to see what all the fuss is all about. Preseason is at the end of September while the regular season normally starts at the beginning of October. And while, they fell just short of winning the Stanley Cup, the Canucks are still one of top teams in the league and very entertaining to watch.
Places to Eat
Thanks to the diverse culture that exists within the city, Vancouver has some of the best choices for any type of food. I’ll only cover a few of the places here but, for more recommendations, you can check out the local food blog It’s To Die For.
Guu – #105-375 Water Street
Guu Izakaya is one of the best place for authentic Japanese food. With 6 locations in the city, the restaurant serves smaller Japanese tapas that are oh so good. If you like Japanese food, this is it. There shouldn’t be any other thoughts.
Vij’s – 1480 W 11th Ave
This is Indian fushion done to perfection. There are no reservations taken so show up early. But don’t worry, Vij’s himself usually comes out and serves free appetizers while you’re waiting. And if you are not that patient, Rangoli next door is his smaller, cafe style restaurants with the same delicious recipes.
Japa Dog – Corner of Burrard and Pender St.
This is not just a hot dog stand. Japa dog is a unique street food stand that serves tasty beef, pork, turkey and veggie wieners with an Asian twist. Lineups can go around the block so try to avoid the rush.
The Observatory – Grouse Mountain
The restaurant with the best view in the city. It’s a little on the pricey side but if you reserve a table it also includes the gondola ride up and down for you to explore the mountain all day.
No. 1 Shanghai Cuisine – 4200 No 3 Rd
Richmond is the place to get Chinese food. It is basically little Hong Kong and there are abundant amount of good eats here. No. 1 Shanghai Cuisine is one that sticks out for me. If you love Shanghai food, this place is golden. But then again, you can’t really go wrong with any of the places in Richmond.
Tojo’s – 777 West Broadway
In a city with so many choices for sushi, Tojo’s is arguably the best. It is a bit pricey but the fish is fresh and unmatched. Samurai Sushi on Davie Street has unique and enormous rolls that are not believable until you see it in person, The Eatery on West Broadway is a funky place with a great selection and a great atmosphere and Taiko on Denman is another great choice amongst many.
Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill – 1133 & 1129 Hamilton St
This was Vancouver’s restaurant of the year a few years back and it is still one of the best choices in town. It’s definitely high on the price scale but the food is unmatched. Come a treat yourself a nice meal.
Hon’s – 280 Keefer St
There are loads of great Chinese restaurants in Vancouver but, to be honest, most are not very friendly towards customers who are not Chinese. But if you want great authentic Chinese food, you just have to disregard the customer service because it just doesn’t exist. For this, Hon’s is great for noodles, fried rice, dumplings, congee, and bbq meats. There is a location in Chinatown at the end of Robson Street as well.
Tropika – 1128 Robson Street
Tropika is one of the most popular Thai and Malaysia restaurants in the city. It serves yummy foods in large portions so come prepared.
Apollonia – 1830 Fir Street
Located near Granville Island, Apollonia is a family run restaurant that serves excellent Greek food for a good price. Come for a feed after a day at Granville Island.
Go Fish Ocean Emporium – Fisherman’s Wharf on Granville Island
This little shack sit just outside of Granville Island on the pier of False Creek. The seafood is great and the fish n chips are the best that I’ve had anywhere.
Memphis Blues – 1342 Commercial Drive
Good ol’ southern bbq served in gigantic platters for you and your group to feast one. This is a great place for eat in or take away if you’re in to meats and all that good stuff.
The Naam – 2724 West 4th Avenue
If you’re not so much in the meats, Vancouver’s got some great vegetarian places and the most popular one is The Naam. It’s open 24 hours and often features live music as well. Other favourite veggie places are Cafe Deux Soleils on Commercial Drive, The Foundation on Main St and Annapurna on West 4th Ave.
Kintaro – 788 Denman St
Sick of Japanese food yet? Well you shouldn’t be because Vancouver got the best outside of Japan for a fraction of the cost too. We turn our attention to Ramen and there are quite a few places not to be missed. Kintaro is one of the best. The restaurant itself is tiny but the bowls of ramen are not. Other great ramen places are Benkei and Motomachi Shokudo all located on the same block.
Vancouver has an interesting nightlife and something for everyone. The popular areas are Granville St between Georgia and Davie, Gastown, Yaletown, Main Street, West Broadway and Commercial Drive. Just be aware that if there is a long line up outside of a club, chances are you’re not getting in and there is no one really inside.
If you ever visit Vancouver you’ll want to move there.
Have any comments or recommendations of your own? Am I way off on this? I’ve been away from the city the last few years so there may be some newer places worth checking out. Do you know of any? Please post your comments below.