48 Hours in Very Cool Vancouver

by Mark Thompson
EDGE Style & Travel Editor
Tuesday Aug 28, 2012

Chances are, you know Vancouver - even if you've never been there. Dubbed "Hollywood North," Vancouver has been a primary film location for nearly a century and is, currently, the third-largest film production town in North America after Los Angeles and New York.

And if you don't know Vancouver from films and television, then no doubt you know it from your Aunt Bessie's photo album when she (and the rest of your extended family) took a cruise to Alaska. Each year, more than a million people pass through Vancouver on cruise ships, many of which are bound for Alaska.

And if you don't know Vancouver from films, television, or Aunt Bessie's photos, then you're in for a treat when you get there. First of all, there's the breathtaking location: A waterfront city situated between the Pacific Coast and the forests of the Coast Mountains, Vancouver is surrounded by snow-capped mountains, water, forests, and parklands. A city of neighborhoods, Vancouver boasts 11 miles of beaches and more than 3,000 acres of parks, with the 1,000-acre Stanley Park as the city's largest.

If you find yourself on a pristine summer's day standing along the waterfront, watching the seaplanes and the boats in Vancouver Harbor and staring across at Mount Fromme, then it's quite possible that you'll consider bagging your old life and relocating to Vancouver.

But let's imagine that you have only a couple days before embarkation or departure; therefore, it's imperative that you see as much of Vancouver as possible.

First of all, park yourself and your suitcases at the Fairmont Pacific Rim. Even if you’re an aficionado of the Fairmont family of hotels and resorts, you’re going to be very happily surprised upon checking into this five-star luxury property. Consider the Fairmont Pacific Rim as the avant-garde member of the Fairmont family, the one with cutting-edge style and exquisite contemporary taste. While Queen Elizabeth II might prefer the historic Fairmont Hotel Vancouver (one of Travel + Leisure’s "Ten Best Hotels in Canada") located a few blocks away, the Fairmont Pacific Rim is where you’re more likely to find William and Kate.

Next step: get out and walk - or bike. Vancouver is blessed with one of the warmest climates in Canada and cycling is the city’s fastest growing mode of transport. Similarly, since the 1990s, car ownership has been falling in Vancouver, the only major Canadian city with this trend.

Both of these factors, alongside the city’s focus on high-rise residential development (instead of urban sprawl) have contributed to Vancouver’s recognition as one of the world’s most liveable cities, ranking in the top ten for five consecutive years. Recently, Travel + Leisure readers once again voted Vancouver the best city in Canada, repeating the award it won as best city in Canada in 2011.

Consider biking to Granville Island, home to one of Vancouver’s largest public markets, as well as the stage for a variety of Vancouver’s beloved buskers. One of Vancouver’s most popular attractions with more than 12 million visitors annually, the Public Market is open seven days a week - and however many calories you burned off biking there, you’ll put them back on with only one sweep through the market’s more than 50 permanent vendors that include bakers, fishmongers, chocolatiers, and cheese specialists.

If you want a true insider’s view of the Public Market, then take a culinary tour with the gracious guides from Edible Canada where you’ll taste such local delicacies as birch syrup and cranberry honey. And if you’re still hungry, take a seat at Edible Canada Bistro, a relaxed and atmospheric restaurant that focuses on cuisine and purveyors from British Columbia and Canada.

From Granville Island, bike back into the tree-lined West End and deposit your bicycle somewhere along Davie Street. British Columbia was the second Canadian province (after Ontario) to legalize same-sex marriage and Vancouver is home to the largest gay population in Western Canada. The recently-designated Davie Village in the West End is where you’ll find a large portion of the local LGBT community, but if you’re still uncertain as to your whereabouts, keep biking until you come to the pink bus stop benches and the pink garbage cans and then you’ll know you’ve landed in Vancouver’s version of Oz.

Meander through the gayborhood along Davie and Robson, where you’ll marvel at the diversity of Vancouver’s populace and their culinary heritage. Until a food ban was lifted two years ago, Vancouver’s street food vendors were only allowed to sell hot dogs and pretzels; now the breadth of Vancouver’s ethnic population is showcased in a splendid smorgasbord of street food.

If your knees weaken for gelato, a stop at Bella Gelateria, near the harbor, is mandatory. Owner James Coleridge’s pecan and Canadian maple syrup gelato won this year’s top prize at Florence’s annual gelato competition - not only from the judges but also from the festival’s more than 200,000 attendees.

The third largest (and most densely populated) metropolitan area in Canada, Vancouver is home to half the population of British Columbia. In the past thirty years, the percentage of Vancouver’s population that belongs to a visible minority group has grown from 7% to 51% - and the largest religious group is that with no religious affiliation. Once you settle into one of the West End’s coffee shops and eavesdrop on your neighbors, you’ll recognize that more than half of Vancouver’s population speaks English as a second language - and that one in three residents is of Chinese heritage (partially due to the influx of immigrants before the transfer of Hong Kong to China).

Head to Yaletown for dinner, a former warehouse and rail terminal district that now buzzes with youthful energy equivalent to New York’s Meatpacking District. Known as Vancouver’s "Little Soho," Yaletown is home to some of the city’s best restaurants, including Blue Water Cafe & Raw Bar, which locals voted "Restaurant of the Year." The neighborhood teems with energy in the evenings and a surfeit of lounges, boutiques, and bars can be as seductive as an aphrodisiac.

Throughout your time in Vancouver, you’ll probably note a certain bonhomie in nearly everyone you meet. While stress is often synonymous with urban life, the population of Vancouver often appears remarkably laidback and relaxed - even in the middle of a workday. "Vancouver Sun" writer Allan Fotheringham termed the city "Lotusland" for the citizenry’s unruffled nature.

Wandering along the water, heading back to my hotel, I recalled a conversation from my past, when I was young and living in San Francisco. I’d been seated in a bar with some friends on 18th and Castro, when a young man from Vancouver had joined us - and while we talked of many things, most of which I can no longer remember, what I do recall him telling me emphatically was that if I enjoyed San Francisco, if I liked my life in San Francisco, then he swore to me that I would like life in Vancouver even more.

Now, some years later, I was seeing firsthand the rightness of his remark.


(Travel feature continues on next page: Where to Stay, Where to Eat, Where to Relax, Upcoming Events, Additional Information)


Fairmont Pacific Rim: In a city justly celebrated for its luxury hotels, the Fairmont Pacific Rim is the ne plus ultra of sleek design married to state-of-the-art technology.

While Fairmont has a reputation for lavish railway hotels built in a chateau style, the Pacific Rim (known to locals as the PacRim) is a shimmering 48-story, hotel-condo glass tower that was completed in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The Fairmont Pacific Rim is located along the tent-framed Canada Place, which was the Canada Pavilion during the 1986 World Exposition and is now home to the Convention Centre and the cruise ship terminal. The views from the hotel’s many vantage points are spectacular, encompassing the North Shore Mountains, Stanley Park, and Coal Harbour. The sublime waterfront location makes it easy to walk into the thick of Vancouver’s bustling shopping district along Robson, while also enabling sunrise and sunset walks along the harborfront.

As soon as you enter the hotel lobby, you recognize that this is a more extraordinary Fairmont than the ones to which your godfather took you for afternoon tea. There’s an Eastern serenity in the design, thanks to the use of luxurious natural materials, and the sophisticated atmosphere evokes the refinement of contemporary Japan. The expansive Lobby Lounge features the Ferrari of pianos, a white Fazioli, which was shipped from Italy - and in the evenings, the Lobby Lounge buzzes with the energy of an after-work cocktail crowd enjoying live music.

Guest rooms and suites at the Pacific Rim are the apotheosis of streamlined minimalism and a testament to cutting-edge technology. The luxury beds by Stearns & Foster are covered in Italian linens, with Mascioni towels and robes in the expansive marble bathrooms. Soaking tubs and separate showers are complemented by an LCD television imbedded within the vanity mirror. Amenities are by Le Labo, in Rose 31 fragrance, which should tip you off right there about the high level of taste.

The bedroom is a marvel of media connectivity, with surround sound and alarm clocks with iPod docking stations. A touch-screen control panel operates lighting, temperature, and the curtains, which means you can check the weather from your bed while remaining between the sheets.

Mind you, it might be difficult to leave this five-star cocoon, but you wouldn’t want to miss the Pacific Rim pool and the Willow Stream Spa. Swimming laps at six am in the rooftop pool as the sun rises from behind the North Mountains is one of those epiphanic exercises that will leave you feeling energized and blessed.

Wrapping around the Fairmont Pacific Rim’s southern and eastern facade in stainless steel letters are the words from a Liam Gillick poem that reminds you to gaze into the sky - and when you’re in residence at the PacRim, you can’t help but feel that you’re that much closer to heaven.

LINK: The Fairmont Pacific Rim

Fairmont Waterfront: Reflecting the Fairmont family’s eco philosophy, the neighboring Fairmont Waterfront has a 2,100-square-foot rooftop herb garden with over sixty herbs and edible blossoms. Most fascinating of all, however, is the hotel’s honeybee apiary, which supplies the local Fairmont family of four area hotels with fresh honey and herbs for cocktails and cuisine.

The annual "Honey Harvest" at the Fairmont Waterfront happens in September, bringing in more than 600 pounds of honey from nearly half a million honeybees who forage over 26 square miles. The Fairmont honeybees collect honey from over 60 different plant species, with a preponderance of blackberry and bamboo blossoms.

Wander over to the Waterfront’s rooftop pool and order a Honey Collins. This refreshing elixir features hand-pressed basil from the hotel’s rooftop garden, honey from its resident bees, and a healthy splash of gin.

And then consider this fact: it takes over one million flowers to make one pound of honey. Something to think about the next time you’re sweetening your tea or making your morning smoothie.

LINK: The Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver


(Travel feature continues on next page: Where to Eat, Where to Relax, Upcoming Events, Additional Information)


Blue Water Cafe & Raw Bar: If you want to taste Vancouver, this is where you want to be. It doesn’t get better than this.

Housed in a brick-and-beam warehouse in the heart of historic Yaletown, Blue Water Cafe & Raw Bar is Vancouver’s definitive seafood restaurant and raw bar. Chef Frank Pabst and raw bar chef Yoshiya Maruyama are committed to utilizing only wild, sustainable seafood to create innovative dishes that reflect their passion for purity. The "East meets West" aesthetic of the sublime cuisine is beautifully reflected in a stylish room that buzzes with energy. The service is polished and convivial and the wine list deep and diverse enough to have earned an award of excellence from "Wine Spectator."

Awarded "Restaurant of the Year" and "Best Seafood" by "Vancouver" magazine, Blue Water Cafe & Raw Bar has been the recipient of numerous accolades - and even after only one meal, you’ll recognize that it deserves them all. Eat there once and it’s the start of a new love affair.

LINK: Blue Water Cafe & Raw Bar

Edible Canada Bistro at the Market: Granville Island is something of a culinary dreamland, reminiscent of your childhood desire to remain locked in a grocery store all night long - so that you could eat to your heart’s content. One of the best parts of the Island is this full-service bistro that focuses on the gustatory bounty from British Columbia and Canada.

As unpretentious and welcoming as Vancouver, the open-kitchen restaurant epitomizes the city’s relaxed ambiance and its rich culinary history. Consider, for example, the cornmeal crusted Fanny Bay oyster sandwich, or the steelhead fish and chips. Open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and weekend brunch, Edible Canada at the Market attracts locals and visitors, resulting in a multi-cultural mix as delicious as the food.

LINK: Edible Canada Bistro

ORU Restaurant: One of the best things about the Fairmont Pacific Rim is how it has provided an anchor for the neighborhood. On any given evening, the Pacific Rim’s Lobby Lounge is a hive of activity - and one of the best perches to witness the action is from the Sky Bar alongside ORU Restaurant.

With floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Coal Harbour, ORU focuses on locally sourced food, responsibly harvested from the Pacific Northwest. Executive Chef Darren Brown worked alongside Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse, which results in Pan Asian delicacies such as a sunchoke velouté, topped with truffle foamed milk. Seafood at ORU is pristine and artfully presented with a purity befitting the splendid views across the waterfront.

A marble and stainless steel open kitchen offers views of the staff’s endeavors, working almost exclusively with local, sustainable products. But the truth is, in spite of the dazzling views all around you, you’ll probably keep your gaze fixed on the plates in front of you. A wild mushroom risotto was so laden with truffles that it felt almost criminal to eat - for about sixty seconds - and then it went down, all of it, without a shred of guilt.

ORU reminds you why Vancouver remains Canada’s favorite city.

LINK: ORU Restaurant


(Travel feature continues on next page: Where to Relax, Upcoming Events, Additional Information)


Willow Stream Spa @ Fairmont Pacific Rim: An oasis in downtown Vancouver, Willow Stream’s sweeping 2,500-square-foot outdoor patio is a sanctum sanctorum amidst the neighboring skyscrapers - and you’ll marvel at feeling so relaxed and calm in the middle of a city.

Inside, the 11,000-square-foot spa offers nine treatment rooms, with multiple lounges that are the embodiment of tranquility.

Wrap yourself in a robe, sip an herbal tea, and sink into a blissful reverie. You won’t want to leave.

LINK: Willow Stream Spa


Vancouver International Fringe Festival: Out of the ordinary (and often beyond the pale), the eleven-day Vancouver International Fringe Festival is British Columbia’s largest theatre festival. More than 90 groups from around the world stage more than 700 performances, most of them located on Granville Island, home to Vancouver’s many celebrated buskers. Following the main festival, the "Public Market Pick of the Fringe" showcases the top ten most popular shows of the festival. 6-16 September 2012, followed by "Public Market Pick of the Fringe" from19-23 September 2012.

LINK: Vancouver International Fringe Festival

Vancouver International Film Festival:? One of the five largest film festivals in North America, the 31st annual Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) will screen 375 films from 75 countries on 10 screens at four Vancouver theatres. The international line-up includes picks from the world’s top film festivals alongside undiscovered gems. Given Vancouver’s reputation as "Hollywood North," the VIFF attracts enthusiastic audiences of film lovers. As VIFF’s tagline states, "Same Planet. Different Worlds." See for yourself. 27 September to 12 October 2012.

LINK: Vancouver International Film Festival



Click here for photo album of Vancouver

Gay Vancouver

Tourism Vancouver


A long-term New Yorker and a member of New York Travel Writers Association, Mark Thompson has also lived in San Francisco, Boston, Provincetown, D.C., Miami Beach and the south of France. The author of the novels WOLFCHILD and MY HAWAIIAN PENTHOUSE, he has a PhD in American Studies and is the recipient of fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, and Blue Mountain Center. His work has appeared in numerous publications.


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