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15 best things to do in Vancouver




I recently got to know my own city, Vancouver, a whoooole lot better than I ever thought I would when, thanks to the pandemic, I did a staycation. And you know what I discovered as a tourist in my own town? I live in an absolutely gorgeous part of the world where there are a ton of things to see and do.

I've listed my top 15 things to do in Vancouver and area, along with how much time you'll need to see them. If you're here for a few days prior to a cruise, this list is for you. If you've planned a week-long stay here, this list will work for you as well. Whatever your time here, just cut and paste and slot the attractions in a way that makes sense for the time you have.

If you just want to walk around downtown, you should be able to easily. To see some of the attractions I've listed here, however, you really need a car or an Uber. Enjoy Vancouver!


VANCOUVER


1. English Bay
When you've been go-go-go and you need some down time, there's no better place in Vancouver than here for a stroll along a picturesque beach and to get some of that energy back. This is truly one of the best spots for people-watching. Make sure you walk up Denman Street to window-shop or even shop for real; the local merchants will love that. And don't forget to pose with the A-Maze-ing Laughter sculptures, or "the laughing guys," as we locals call them. (More on the art in Vancouver below.) Afterwards, park yourself down at a restaurant for drinks or a meal. One of my favourites is Cactus Club, which is right on the water and has killer views. 
Time: At least 2 hours, and longer if you're stopping for a bite.





2. Museum of Anthropology at UBC
The spectacular Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver is one the city’s most underrated treasures. Put this on your list particularly if you have an interest in the First Nations of the Northwest Coast. The design of the striking Great Hall shown here, with its 15-metre-high (50 feet) glass walls, was inspired by the post-and-beam architecture of the northern Northwest Coast First Nations people. ⁣
Time: 1-2 hours.




3. Spanish Banks
I think Vancouver has some of the prettiest beaches in the world. This is Spanish Banks, right by the University of British Columbia, and it's very easy to spend a few hours here. The water will be cooler because we're so far north, but it'll be amazing on those melty kind of days. Don't forget, this is Pacific Ocean water so it will be salty; I know that's always a shock to some people. Pack a lunch or buy one at one of the concession stands. 
Time: Up to you.





4. UBC Botanical Garden and Treewalk
I've lived in Vancouver for most of my life and actually went to school at UBC and yet had never been to its botanical garden. When I finally went during my staycation, I couldn't understand why I'd waited so long. The gardens are big and lush and I think if you visit in springtime, there must be flowering blooms. The marquee attraction for me, though, is its Treewalk, a series of bridges suspended between trees. It's not all that high off the ground, but wow, do those bridges ever wobble and shake! I loved it and found this to be my favourite of all the suspended bridges that I visited — and Vancouver has a lot of them! Another plus is how cheap it is to visit. Don't miss this one. 
Time: About 2-3 hours.




5. Granville Island
Granville Island was once an industrial manufacturing area but in the 1970s, a local politician floated the idea of building an entertainment district on the little bit of land under the Granville Street Bridge, and the notion took hold. Today you’ll find restaurants and breweries, performing arts theatres, artisan shops and a public farmers market here. Make sure you watch Vancouver paddle by on False Creek, and don't miss having a gawk at the houseboats that are moored here. If you have the time, hop on one of the Aquabuses. It’s a great way for people living in the condos across False Creek to hop over to Granville Island, buy some items at the farmers market for supper and then ferry on home. But these fabulous vessels, most of which can accommodate bikes and wheelchairs, actually make eight stops. Its last stop puts you about a 10-minute walk to downtown Vancouver and about a 25-minute walk to Stanley Park. If you just want to go from A to B, a return Aquabus ticket is $8. But for $16, the price of an all-day ticket, you can make unlimited stops and there’s something to see at every point. Granville Island is one of the city’s most popular destinations for tourists and locals alike.⁣ 
Time: At least 3-4 hours, longer with meals or an Aquabus ride.




6. Vancouver Biennale art
Vancouver is blessed with a lot of public art thanks to the Vancouver Biennale, which has brought some amazing work from artists all over the world to the city. After each Biennale has concluded, some of the art has remained permanently. I have so many favourites but A-Maze-ing Laughter by Beijing-based artist Yue Minjun is tops on my list just because of the joy on the faces of "the laughing guys," as many of us locals refer to these sculptures. You can find a list of all of the artwork throughout the city at vancouverbiennale.com. It's all contemporary art and it's all public and accessible 24/7. It might be difficult to see all of the art while on a tight sightseeing schedule but it's worth it to check the site to see whether one of the artworks might be close to where you're going to be. 
Time: Varies.




7. Whale-watching tour
When I booked a whale-watching tour, I have to admit I felt a bit like I might have reached peak tourist. But it turned out to be one of the best decisions I made in my staycation planning. I went with the Prince of Whales and that's a company I can recommend wholeheartedly for its professionalism, its enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff and just an all-around great experience. In addition to whales, I also saw sea lions and a bald eagle, and the catamaran I was on was new and spotless. It was an amazing day on the water. The company guarantees you'll see whales and if you don't, they'll book you on another tour at no cost. I sadly didn't get a good shot of a whale but here's one of adorable sea lions.
Time: 3-5 hours.




8. Coal Harbour
My favourite way to wind down my day is to have supper or drinks or both in Coal Harbour. There are a lot of restaurant choices but my top picks are patios of Cactus Club Coal Harbour or the Tap & Barrel for the best views of Vancouver harbour and of Stanley Park. Right here on these patios is also where you'll find the Vancouver Olympic Cauldron, a massive and impressive artwork that's a permanent memento of the 2010 Winter Games that were held in Vancouver. And don't forget to get a photo of Digital Orca, a nearly eight-metre-tall (25 feet) sculpture of a killer whale which you'll see next to the Vancouver Convention Centre. Digital Orca is a powder-coated aluminum sculpture on a stainless steel frame, but I think it looks like it was made from Lego blocks.
Time: 2-3 hours.




Stanley Park is Vancouver's crown jewel, 1,001 acres (405 hectares) of nature right in the heart of the city. There's so much to see here, starting with these totem poles at Brockton Point that are the province's most visited tourist attraction. But there's so much more! Take a walk along the Seawall, explore 27 km of forest trails, visit the Rose Garden, ride the miniature train, have a swim at the heated Second Beach Pool. Then, for the best views and photo ops, head to Prospect Point. There's also a cafe here to grab a quick bite or an ice cream cone. The best way to see the park is either by car or by bike rental, because there's a lot of physical space between the park sights. 
Time: Varies but allow the better part of the day to see Stanley Park properly.





This ice cream parlour is one of Vancouver's best-kept secrets, loved by locals but not often on the radar of tourists. But I'm sharing the secret: If you love ice cream, this pink east Vancouver building holds within it pure bliss in the form of over 100 ice cream flavours. Besides the usual flavours and some fun combos, make sure you try some of the more unusual flavours such as durian, rice and corn. 
Time: 30 minutes.




11. Queen Elizabeth Park
Queen Elizabeth Park is the highest point in Vancouver proper. It’s a prime spot for taking pictures set against the backdrop of the city and also where photos for calendars are often shot. The quarry gardens are not big but they're among the prettiest I've seen, and they're free to visit. And on't miss the statues called The Photo Session for a fun photo op.
Supper tip: If you're a fan of Italian food, check out the fabulous Savio Volpe, which is about a 15-minute drive away.
Time: 90 minutes minimum.




It had been a while since I’d been to the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library and I’d forgotten how stunning it is until I visited while on staycation. This building is remarkable because it's Vancouver's only building designed by the amazing Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, who's now 82. You may have seen Safdie's work elsewhere around the world. His debut project was Habitat 67 in Montreal, which he conceived of for his Master's thesis, and he hasn't stopped since. His latest is Singapore's fascinating Jewel Changi Airport, which features the world's largest indoor waterfall. 
Time: Drop by if you're in the area, or if you're an architecture lover.



NORTH VANCOUVER



One thing I learned while on staycation was that we have a lot of suspension bridges and tree walks here! Makes sense, I guess, as we have so many trees. One of the best is the Cliffwalk, an attraction that’s included when you visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. The suspension bridge is fun but for me, Cliffwalk is the star at this attraction. It's a series of cantilevered bridges and stairs with only 16 anchor points in the cliff supporting the structure. It’s a bit freaky, to be honest, but definitely a must-see.
Lunch tip:
Dine at a restaurant on Lonsdale Quay in North Vancouver and get the best views of Vancouver. My favourite is the Tap & Barrel patio.
Time: 3-4 hours at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.
 

SQUAMISH



13. Shannon Falls
Gorgeous Shannon Falls is near Squamish, about an hour's drive north of Vancouver. The waterfall rises 335 metres (1,100 feet) above ground. It’s the third highest waterfall in British Columbia and the easiest to get to from Vancouver. ⁣
Time: A scenic one-hour drive from Vancouver, and 30 minutes at the falls for photos.




14. Sea to Sky Gondola
This is the amazing view of Howe Sound from the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish, which is about an hour's drive from Vancouver. The gondola is the next exit after Shannon Falls up Highway 99. It's an attraction that I'd always slotted into the "too touristy" category but you know what? It's fabulous! The gondola ride is 10 minutes long and it goes nearly 900 metres (3,000 feet) above sea level. At the top there are lookouts, restaurants, hiking trails and a fantastic suspension bridge. 
Lunch/supper tip: Watershed Grill in nearby Squamish. 
Time: 2-3 hours, not including lunch.


CHILLIWACK



If you love waterfalls and feel like taking a bit of a drive, one of the prettiest I've seen is Bridal Veil Falls, so named because the falls look like a bridal veil. The falls are located in Chilliwack, about two hours east of Vancouver.
Time: About 30-60 minutes at the falls.


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STAYCATION NOTES:

I highly recommend being a tourist in your own town! You could stay in a hotel locally, I guess, but we decided to stay at home and we loved having all the comforts of home and sleeping in our own bed every night. Here's how we did it.

➤ We slept in every day and never left the house before 12-1 p.m.

➤ We ate out for every meal, just like on a real vacation. After a first experience where we just booked a reservation and then discovered the staff was not wearing masks, we started calling first. It limited our options to only eat at restaurants where the staff was wearing masks, but we felt OK about that.

➤ We had house issues that needed addressing but we didn't deal with a single one of them during the whole staycation.

➤ I wore the same favourite capris every day because I was able to wash them every night.

➤ Blunder: I didn't plan my grocery ordering as well as I could have, given that every meal was eaten out, and so unfortunately there was waste.


Virgin River Season 2 on Netflix:
A visit to Jack’s Bar




Is everyone going a little crazy waiting for Season 2 of the Netflix hit series Virgin River?

Luckily for me, I live in Vancouver where Virgin River is filmed and, over time, have been slowly visiting a few of the filming sites. A few weeks ago I had lunch at the restaurant that doubles as Jack’s Bar; here are some photos from that visit.


These photographs belong to, and have been copyrighted by, Juanita Ng. They cannot be used without my written permission.



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Jack’s Bar is really the Watershed Grill, a wonderful restaurant in the picturesque town of Squamish about an hour’s drive north of Vancouver.




Here is another view of the restaurant.




This is the real interior of Jack’s Bar. There’s another room with seating to the right of this one, and a covered patio to the left. The bar in the show is a set.




Heres the covered patio at the restaurant, with the tables socially distanced. This is the part that can sometimes be seen in the show as people enter the bar.




The scenic Squamish River that’s at the front of the restaurant.




Here’s the side of the restaurant that faces the street (actually a secondary highway).




I had an amazing beer-battered fish and chips. Even the chips were beer-battered.




My husband loved his bacon cheeseburger.




Want more Virgin River? See photos of Doc's House.

Book review: Get a Life, Chloe Brown


I'm super late to the Brown Sisters party but now that I'm here, I'm never leaving!

Get a Life, Chloe Brown is the story of a young woman with a debilitating chronic illness who's more than a little tired of how blah her life has become. If something were to happen to her, she suddenly realizes, she'll die never having ridden a motorcycle! Or gone camping! Or enjoyed a drunken night out!

She meets Red, an artist who's broken emotionally with issues that he's still having difficulty overcoming. BUT he rides a motorcycle, and he's a camping pro. And he can hold his liquor.

Red agrees to help Chloe complete her seven-item list and, as they check off the items, they begin to set right what is wrong in each other. The story of their healing journey is sassy and steamy and a lot of fun, and I can't wait to read the next in the series. Take a Hint, Dani Brown is out in June so you still have time to read this one first.

It's always kind of awesome to love a book and then find out the author who has written with such confidence and mastery of her craft was only 23 at the time. I'm looking forward to many more years of great stories from Talia Hibbert.

Have you read this book? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.


Book review: The Flatshare


What if you had a roommate whom you'd never met, but could discern the kind of day he was having by the notes he left or the supper he cooked, or whether he had washed his coffee cup?

Because Tiffy has an insane ex and Leon is temporarily broke, the two strangers agree to share a single bed flat, which they can do because they work opposite shifts. Implausible, yes, but I totally bought into it.

The Flatshare is told from the two characters' POVs and even though quirky Leon speaks/writes without pronouns or articles for most of the book, the story is engaging and lots of fun. Tiffy is bold and vivid, Leon is a kind and gentle person that one falls in love with almost immediately, and the secondary characters are fantastic. I think we need a next book, about Richie and Rachel!

One of my favourites this year.

Have you read this book? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

Book review: Island Affair

Island Affair is an easy breezy read centred around a fake fiance trope, but in it I also found a story of love and hope and so many more elements that offer comfort and reassurance. And I really needed that in these crazy times! That the story is set in lush, tropical Key West is the cherry on top of a delightful summertime confection.

Sara Vance is a social media influencer who's in recovery from personal health issues when she's blindsided by a deadbeat boyfriend who jams out on a Florida vacation with her family. The "fiance," Luis Navarro, is a firefighter paramedic who's the silent and hot type but battling his own problems, who for reasons of his own agrees to play the part of Sara's fiance. Both the Vance and the Navarro families have complicated dynamics they're struggling with as well. There are definitely lots of issues here that need working through.

We all know how the love story will be resolved, but the fun is in reading how the real relationship gains traction while the deception is carried out. Sara and Luis's back-and-forth rang true for me, and I was moved reading about Luis's Cuban familia and the universe that author Priscilla Oliveras created for this series. There's sweetness and steam and so much love on numerous levels, and I can't wait to read the next book.

Have you read this book? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.

Book review: The Authenticity Project

The Authenticity Project is one of those books that will stay with me a long time, for many reasons. If you've read the blurb, you know that an elderly man, Julian, leaves behind a notebook in a cafe. In it, he's written his story, and he challenges the next person to write their truth. Monica, the cafe owner, finds the notebook, and adds her story. In total, six people put their stories in writing in this notebook.

So first, I love the structure of the novel: It's told through the eyes of six different characters and as each person adds another little bit, the story begins to build. It's not told in a strictly linear fashion. Characters come in and out of each others' stories, and some questions that are raised in one person's story are answered later in another person's story. Not every person is given the same amount of time to "speak," and in fact one character who comes in a bit later adds only a few paragraphs to the notebook. Writing in this style cannot have been an easy feat to pull off; done well, as it is here, it's fascinating. As a bonus, each chapter is short so this is a very easy read.

Secondly, the characters: I found myself reading more and more slowly as I neared the end, just because I didn't want to finish this book. Not to sound terribly needy or anything, but I think the characters are all people I have elements in common with, and I wanted to continue hanging out with them just a little longer. Julian, the elderly man, starts things in action. Monica, the cafe owner, is the touchstone of the book. Alice is a new mom and influencer whose life is nothing like she presents it to be on Instagram. These characters, plus three more who write in the notebook, all have quirks and foibles that resonated with me on some level.

Third and very importantly, the writing is stellar. The more I read, the more invested I became in the story. I started rooting for characters, and being disappointed when they let me down. I hoped the romantic pairing that I wanted to happen, would happen. Some of the stories unfolded the way I wanted but there were definitely surprises, including some I didn't like. Some of the ways in which the notebook made its way into the hands of the next recipient stretched the boundaries of belief ... except that I totally bought into it because the author persuaded me with her writing that it could have happened this way.

I'm thrilled to have discovered author Clare Pooley, and I hope we'll be hearing a lot more from her in the future.

Have you read this book? Leave a comment and tell me what you think.




Virgin River Season 2 on Netflix:
A visit to Doc's house

I've never been the type of person who visits houses that are listed for sale out of curiosity. But I suddenly saw the appeal of doing so when I learned of a showing for the home that's "Doc's house" in Netflix's Virgin River series.

The series is filmed throughout Metro Vancouver, and the Queen Anne-style home that is Doc's house is located in the Vancouver suburb of New Westminster. It's up for sale for $2.25 million CAD, and when I learned there was going to be an open house recently ... well, that's the day I became a looky-loo.

The house is stunning! It has five bedrooms and is 5,363 square feet in size. It sits on a lot that's a quarter of an acre in size, just steps from a great park. It has some serious star appeal too: Besides Virgin River, the house has starred in the shows Supernatural, Jinxed and Caprica, to name just a few.

Most of the filming for the Virgin River series is done on sets that are built on soundstages. But exterior shots and establishing shots are done at the house, and the sets themselves are based on the look and layout of the real house. Here's a look in photos:

The real "Doc's house" is on a quiet residential street in the Queen's Park area of New Westminster, a Vancouver suburb.

There's been a lot of discussion about the two doors: The solid outer door and the stained glass inner door. Here's a look.

The foyer, first seen in Episode 1 when Mel enters the house to meet Doc.

The room that's seen most often is Doc's waiting room with adjoining examination room. IRL, it's the home's billiards room.

Doc's office. IRL it's actually the first room off the foyer.

The kitchen is completely different in the show -- it's a set -- but this is the home's real kitchen.


The home has a beautiful sun room that wasn't seen in Season 1. I hope they shoot some scenes in it in Season 2.

The elegant dining room, also not seen in Season 1.

The TV room. The TV is in the cabinet to the right of the fireplace.

Um yes ... of course I had a photo taken at the front door of the house!



Snapshot: The Guest House at Graceland



When I was planning a trip to Memphis, the idea of staying at Graceland was absolutely off my radar. It's not cheap, and to that cost we would be adding about 37% for the CAD to US exchange rate.

But the more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea of staying on the Graceland grounds. After all, this is the iconic home of Elvis Presley. And chances were that we would not make a second trip to Memphis. So I booked it, and I'm so glad I did. If you can do it, you absolutely should.

To be clear, this is not actually Graceland, Elvis' home. But it's the next best thing: The Guest House at Graceland is the hotel on the grounds next to the mansion. You're within walking distance of Graceland, the home and the behemoth museum adjacent -- but take the free shuttle because, the humidity!

Here's a look inside The Guest House at Graceland.

This is the key card to your room, with a photo of The Guest House at Graceland on it.

This is the real Graceland, Elvis' home. It's not that big by superstar standards: Only about 10,000 sq ft in size.

This is a standard room at The Guest House at Graceland. It's spacious and modern and pristine.
The bathroom is gorgeous.

Full confession: I never take hotel toiletries home -- but I did this time.

The lobby. You'll see a lot of pilots and flight attendants here as it's the closest nice hotel to the airport.
This is the kind of artwork you'll see throughout. It's subtle. But you will hear Elvis songs 24/7 in public areas.
The hallways look like this. (Because I believe you can tell a lot about a hotel from its hallways.)
The back of the hotel, plus the pool area.

We spent a lot of time hanging out at the really great pool.
The most fun thing about the hotel is that every night between 10 and 11 p.m., there is a PBJ station.

You can make a sandwich before bedtime just like Elvis used to do! Be prepared for lineups, though.

MORE:
New Orleans: There's so much to love about the Eliza Jane Hotel.
Singapore: I stayed in a university dorm.
Boston: The Marriott Moxy Downtown is fabulous.