Summer vacation is here, so we decided to make a run for north of the border. The trip from Seattle to Vancouver, Canada, is an easy two hour drive on I-5. The interstate ends at the Peace Arch, which is the official border between the United States and Canada. The U.S. town of Blaine and the British Columbia town of White Rock straddle the International Peace Arch Park. The center piece of the park is the 67 foot tall white marble arch. Within the arch, each side has an iron gate hinged on either side of the border with an inscription above reading “May these gates never be closed”. To date, the gates have not closed, symbolizing the long-standing friendship between the two countries. However, the entry into Canada can easily be backed up over an hour during peak times, especially in the summer. Just a reminder, you will need a passport for everyone in your vehicle too.
The drive from the border to downtown Vancouver takes another 30 minutes depending on traffic. Vancouver is a marvelous city. It sits on beautiful Burrard Peninsula. The principle water front areas are along English Bay and Vancouver Harbor. Both offer spectacular views of mountains, water, and surrounding areas. Every direction you look offers amazing scenery. To the north are Cypress, Mt. Seymour, and Indian Arm Provincial Parks, which make up the North Shore Mountains. To the east is the sister city of Surrey. To the south is the mighty Fraser River. To the west is the Strait of Georgia and Vancouver Island beyond.
We went directly to our favorite part of Vancouver, Stanley Park. This 1,001 acre natural multi-use area sits at the tip of the peninsula. Inside you will find old growth Western Red Cedars that are more than 250 feet high and hundreds of years old along with Douglas Firs, Sitka Spruce, Western Hemlock, and Big Leaf Maples. There is also a colorful rose garden with every hue imaginable. You can wander through the forest like settings on miles of earthen trails or walk, bike, or skate on the paved seawall that circumnavigates the park. Most likely, you will glimpse all sorts of wildlife, like eagles, herons, geese, deer, raccoons, squirrels, sea lions, seals, and possibly whales! You can even marvel at real totem poles!
If you are not as energetic but still want to see the sites, you can take a horse drawn trolley tour. For a more private experience, you can rent a horse drawn carriage (very romantic!). You can also take a trip aboard a steam paddle-wheel boat and cruise the bay to get a different perspective on the area. Stay a little late because every day at 9:00 pm the park rangers fire an old canon into the bay as a tradition.
The park is also home to the Vancouver Aquarium, Canada’s largest aquarium. They have dolphins, belugas, sea lions, penguins, sea otters, sharks, octopus, and more. The aquarium was the first to display a captive Orca whale, but currently does not have any. They have long been a pioneer in marine mammal research, conservation, and education. You will learn much about marine life in the Pacific Northwest and around the globe.
Also in the park are a few eateries. The Tea House is my favorite. It is sheltered by towering trees and offers an unobstructed and stunning view of English Bay from Ferguson Point. The Fish House is another culinary favorite. It was built as a private lodge in 1930 and still retains charm and warmth. The Stanley Park Bar and Grill has a large outdoor patio so you can enjoy the beautiful exhibition garden in the sunshine. If you are looking for something quicker, the Prospect Point Café has the typical window order take-away items for you. My advice, pack a pick-nick basket and enjoy the spectacular outdoors on the grass along the water. The prices at the restaurants are slightly inflated for the luxury of eating in the park. Less expensive places can be found just outside.
We finally left Stanley Park, almost, by crossing the Lion’s Gate Bridge to North Vancouver. Before we left, however, we stopped at the bridge outlook for an amazing view of the water, mountains, and bridge. In North Vancouver, we went to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. The $35.00 adult and $21.00 child USD entrance fee is steep, but worth it. The park is an environmental, adrenaline rushing experience along suspended bridges that give you a squirrel’s eye view of the coastal rainforest. The first bridge crosses the Capilano River. It is 460 feet long and 230 feet high. The walk across is a heart pounding experience as you cross the gorge and look at the river far below. Once safely on the other side, you can stroll through the treetops and enjoy the sites in the forest canopy. The most thrilling part is the glass bottom walkway that is suspended 20 feet out on the side of a sheer cliff. You feel like an eagle!
Once we landed, we headed for Horseshoe Bay to the northwest. The quaint seaside village is worth the 15 minute drive, if for nothing more than the grand views. As you round the point and head north on Highway One, you will see the Canadian Rockies stretching majestically northward. They are a truly impressive site, snow-covered peaks over 10,000 feet tall rising from the water skyward and clad in dense green forests. We got some ice-cream and enjoyed walking around the small park marveling at the breath-taking scenery.
For an even better view of the scenery, you can take a 10 minute cable-car ride up to the top of Grouse Mountain. The cars take visitors on a one-mile aerial journey to the Alpine Station, 3,700 feet above sea level. From there, you can take a chair lift an additional 400 feet to the summit. For an even higher view, you can then take an elevator 76 feet more to the glass observation pod on a gigantic wind turbine. At 4,176 feet, you can see for 360 degrees of unobstructed panoramic views.
We re-traced our path and headed back into downtown Vancouver. Downtown has a myriad of things to do. The very visible geodesic dome houses the TELUS World of Science. This is a hands-on science and engineering experience for the whole family (It is, however, geared towards younger audiences). It is a place where you can definitely touch the exhibits.
Vancouver also boasts numerous museums, like the Museum of Vancouver, the Museum of Anthropology, the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, the Vancouver Maritime Museum, the Contemporary Art Museum, and the Vancouver Police Museum. The H.R. MacMillan Space Center will be a huge hit for space enthusiasts and junior astronomers. It has a planetarium show and other exhibits to enjoy and learn.
If you are interested in shopping, then the Granville Island Market is a must see. The shopping village has numerous unique shops that offer goods from around the world. It is also home to the public market where you can select fresh produce, meats, and fish. This is a great place to sample a variety of delicacies as you peruse the shops. We loved watching the street performers in the main square put on a show for the crowds.
Robson is Vancouver’s leading shopping and strolling thoroughfare. It is high fashion mixed with souvenir shops, music stores, beauty products, book stores and so much more. For serious shoppers, this is the place to go. For those less serious, this is the perfect street for having lunch or a coffee and people watching! Vancouver is a cosmopolitan city, so you will see people from all over the world.
Many people also like Kerrisdale. The Kerrisdale shopping area is known to many as the “village.” It’s only 20 minutes from Vancouver’s downtown and offers more than 200 diverse shops and services along its quaint tree-lined streets. The business district is concentrated on West 41st Avenue between Maple and Larch streets, stretching in a north-south direction along West and East Boulevards. Surrounding this area are older, gracious homes. Architecturally, the neighborhood boasts many styles and structures listed in the Vancouver Heritage inventory.
Do not forget Chinatown. It is a historic area reflecting Vancouver’s strong Chinese-Canadian heritage. You will find many shops, restaurants, and historic monuments here. The business community is attempting to revitalize the district and preserve its history. Afterwards, visit Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Gardens. These well-manicured botanical gardens offer a relaxing time-out from the rush of the busy city.
Vancouver hosts even more parks, shops, and attractions. This is probably why we enjoy going back each time. In the summer you can enjoy walking around and in the winter you can enjoy world-class skiing. The city is truly a year-round destination!