Vancouver, Canada becomes hip

It may be a wannabe LA, but it has lots going for it in its own right.


By Jan Shure, April 23, 2009
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Downtown Vancouver and hip Yaletown, seen from False Creek, one of the city’s myriad pieces of water

Downtown Vancouver and hip Yaletown, seen from False Creek, one of the city’s myriad pieces of water

It is Vancouver’s little vanity, with its location on the Pacific Ocean, to think of itself as an outpost of America’s West Coast. Or, in more realistic moments, as an annexe of Seattle, its closest US big-city neighbour. Certainly, the coffee culture, for which Seattle is most famous, has migrated north with a branch of Starbucks or a local chain on every block of every street of south-west Canada’s premier city.

With its riverside walkways, beaches, swathes of parkland and avenues of soaring glass towers, Vancouver is in many ways more reminiscent of that other great Pacific city, Sydney. Sadly, it doesn’t share Sydney’s year-round balmy weather, so in order to take advantage of its al fresco joie de vivre, visitors are advised to go between June and mid-September, when temperatures are warm and rain is minimal.

Ideally, choose a base in the downtown area that allows you to walk to most of Vancouver’s attractions. The excellent Fairmont chain, owners of London’s Savoy, has two properties in the city: three, if you count its award-winning airport hotel. There is the elegant, modern Fairmont Waterfront, with airy spacious rooms — many above cloud level — and stunning views across Coal Harbour and the cruise terminal; and the stately Vancouver Hotel, the landmark building at the heart of the city’s smart shopping and dining district, everything inside burnished and polished to an immaculate shine, including the apples piled in glittering bowls on the reception desk.

Despite the grandeur, the hotel welcomes children; young visitors will be entranced by a model Thomas the Tank Engine train in the lobby. As well as restaurants, spa and the huge buffet breakfast, the hotel is famous for its afternoon tea served daily in the imposing lounge.

Historic Burrard Bridge, which links Downtown Vancouver with its beachside district of Kitsilano

Historic Burrard Bridge, which links Downtown Vancouver with its beachside district of Kitsilano

For keen shoppers, designer boutiques, including Burberry, Gucci and Vuitton, are a few paces away, while on nearby Robson, the main shopping street, Zara, MAC, Banana Republic and dozens of other global brands cluster. Also nearby is Pacific Mall — great indoor shopping for winter visitors — and department stores Holt Renfrew and The Bay.

Yaletown, one of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhoods has been transformed into an oasis of trendy shops and bars and restaurants. Look out for hipster interiors shops such as The Cross and Empress Galleria, and airy boutiques like Marimekko, Boudoir and Basquiat, all interspersed with bars, galleries, bookshops and urban spas. Restaurants worth visiting here include Plan B and Brix.

Gas Town, with its Victorian architecture and famous Gas Clock, is another historic area which has been manicured. Though less hip than Yale Town, it also has a slew of shops, restaurants, cafés, bars and spas worth visiting.

One of the city’s most intriguing districts is Granville Island, the ear-shaped peninsula that juts into English Bay. A kind of Camden Market-meets-Covent Garden by the river, the island’s most unusual feature is its Kids’ Market, a two-storey emporium of toys, games, books, dress-up outfits, kids’ clothes and shoes, plus a junior hair salon and play area with adjacent playground and free summer water-park.

For grown-ups, the island has a marina, restaurants and pavement cafés, galleries and atmospheric little shopping arcades selling everything from hand-made cards and chocolate, to clothes, cookware and crafts. At the heart of the island, is a hangar-sized market, selling shiny heaps of fruit and veg, deli goods, freshly-made pasta and mouthwatering breads, cakes and cookies — all you need for a perfect picnic.

The city’s favourite outdoor space is Stanley Park, founded at the end of the 19th century by the city’s acclaimed Jewish mayor, David Oppenheimer. As well as 1,000 acres of immaculate lawns and flowerbeds, areas have been left deliberately wild to be hiked or biked through. The park is also home to a wondrous Aquarium (don’t miss the playful otters and sinuous beluga whales) and charming tea rooms.

Often overlooked are Vancouver’s great beaches. The best are in Kitsilano, on the south west of the city. Known locally as Kits, its main street — packed with indie boutiques, bookshops, galleries and coffee shops — throbs with that Californian vibe. The landmark retailer is Capers, a superb organic foodstore with attached café.

Kits beach runs for miles, fringed by Vanier Park and Kitsilano Park, which combine to provide a swathe of green that is crammed from spring to autumn with kids and adults engaged in every kind of outdoor sport and activity.

Kits is also a great area for dining: try Rocky Mountain Flat Bread on First Avenue for superb pizza, while across the street, the Smoking Dog Bistro offers excellent, good value French cuisine.

There is an embarrassment of riches, generally, when it comes to eating in Vancouver. The squadrons of West Coast-clone fitness freaks means there are dozens of organic, vegetarian and vegan restaurants and cafés, providing plenty of options for kosher diners, while for the more adventurous, there is every type of world cuisine, notably (with a population 60 percent Oriental) Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese.

For kosher food, diners must head south to Oakridge and South Granville, the leafy suburbs where most of the city’s 25,000 Jews live.

Here, along Oak Street, is the city’s 100-year-old Orthodox synagogue, the Shaare Zedek, as well as a vast Jewish Community Centre, Talmud Torah School and other shuls and communal buildings. For those desperate to eat kosher meat, Omnitsky’s, opposite the huge Oakridge Mall, has a modest café, where the pastrami and chopped liver sandwiches are worth the 15-minute cab ride from Downtown.

For those who want to check out the museums and galleries, the Vancouver Art Gallery has work by notable Canadian, American and European artists, while the brilliant TELUS Science World has two floors of interactive displays and apparatus that make it compelling for anyone travelling with kids. Gardemers will find two great botanical gardens and the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Chinese gardens; architectural buffs shouldn’t miss the city’s new library, resembling a 21st-century Colosseum.

A 20-minute drive north over the dramatic Capilano Suspension Bridge, takes you into the Rockies where, in winter you can ski and in summer go mountain-biking or hiking. And 90 minutes south, across the US border, the Seattle Premium Outlets have 300 shops, ranging from Armani Exchange, Bottega Veneta and Prada to Tommy Hilfiger and Zegna.

And as if all that isn’t enough to make you want to head for Vancouver, getting there with British Airways is an absolute pleasure. World Traveller Plus — BA’s premium economy — buys you sufficient leg-room to relax and snooze comfortably, while a Club World seat goes flat out for a serious sleep during the 10-hour flight. And better still, if you book Club World you can use BA’s vast, gorgeous lounge at Terminal Five and be soothed with a complimentary treatment at the Elemis Spa.

Travel Facts

Fairmont Hotels & Resorts (www.fairmont.com; 0845 071 0153)offer double rooms from CAD$329 (£182) per night. British Airways (www.ba.com; 0844 493 0787)has return economy fares, Heathrow to Vancouver from £512.40; World Traveller Plus from £1237.40and Club World from £2162.40. Elemis Travel Spa is open to first class and Club World customers or Gold executive club members travelling on long haul flights. All treatments are on a complimentary basis. Further information on Vancouver: http://uk.britishcolumbia.travel/en-ca

Jewish Vancouver

● Jews first began arriving in British Columbia in the 1850s.
● Vancouver is home to Canada’s third largest Jewish community with around 25,000 Jews living in Vancouver metropolitan area.
● The early Jewish history of Vancouver is largely identified with the Oppenheimer brothers: Meyer, Godfrey, Isaac, Charles, and David. Born in Germany, they came to the Pacific province in 1858
● There are three synagogues; a jewish school; Jewish community Centre; Chabad Centre
● Information at: www.jfgv.com

    Last updated: 9:59am, May 7 2009