Tuesday, May 15, 2012

4 Days in Vancouver BC for Families and Foodies

Vancouver BC is known as a cosmopolitan town, a great food town, a gorgeous, active town with diverse culture and worldwide influence. For those of us living in the Pacific Northwest, Vancouver is a great getaway that feels like "real" international traveling without the hassle of long flights or time changes. We spent 4 days in Vancouver last summer, searching out great food and family-friendly fun.

Day 1: Suspension, Beaches and Ramen

Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, Vancouver, Canada
Walk in the canopy at Lynn Canyon
After a long drive up the day before, we were eager to stretch our legs and visit one of Vancouver's famed suspension bridges. Skipping the expensive Capitano bridge, we opted instead for the Lynn Canyon suspension bridge, just a short drive from our home base in North Vancouver. Gorgeous forest with well maintained hiking trails meant lots of fun for the kiddo & dog, although it was definitely a busy spot with lots of school groups out for the day.

After a few hours of exploring, "the beach" was the winning vote from the youngest in our party, so we ventured to West Vancouver for a peek at Kitsilano Beach. Unfortunately no dogs allowed on the beach so we had to stick to the pathways rather than the sand. Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest buffeted by windy, gray, cold ocean beaches on even the nicest summer day, I was amazed that this beach was warm, sunny and pleasant. This is the Pacific ocean isn't it? 8 hours north of Oregon? You'd never know it from the locals splashing in the calm bay.

West Vancouver had plenty of dining choices – we settled on a Ramen shop
with a line out the door. Check the menu before getting in as they will take your order while you wait, and whisk you into a shared table just in time for your steaming bowl to arrive. Succulent pork belly and a spicy broth add heat to the steamy atmosphere in this tiny, authentic joint (mild is also available). My daughter is now a ramen addict.

Hotel Specials in Vancouver

Day 2. Biking the City

We got an early start on Friday by getting input from all on a breakfast choice. Waffles you say? How about the Miura Waffle Bar in downtown Vancouver. Vietnamese pork waffle sandwich, Korean chicken with kim chee on a waffle, with Cookies and Cream to satisfy those with a sweet tooth (What? It's whipped cream not ice cream? Some children can not be satisfied). Delightful.

On to the bike rental shop – plenty to choose from right across from Stanley Park. We found the prompt and pleasant service, with great rates, at Spokes to be a perfect choice. We headed off to circumnavigate the park – a fun and easy family ride that even the beginner riders among us could tackle confidently. With dog attached to bike (see awesome attachment tool), we managed to even wear out our energetic lab mix puppy. A few stops to gaze at the totem poles and run down to the beach kept us rested. We kept an eye out for the stacked stones along the beach, which originated as a native custom but are now erected by tourists. We circled past tempting playgrounds and swimming pools which invited us to linger for the afternoon, but no time to stop, we had more to explore.

We kept on the bikes into town until we reached the ferry to the Granville Market island. Chained up the bikes and took the ferry for a quick tour of the market. While the shops were intriguing, the chaos of traffic in this tiny space was less than pleasant – why are cars allowed on this tiny island? The fresh market was inspiring and made us wish we were cooking so we could savor some of the succulent ingredients. We had to settle for a pint of berries to snack on.

After a long day of biking we were ready for one of Vancouver's best treats, thanks to an abundance of great seafood and a strong Asian culture – Sushi! Research indicated one of the best low-key sushi places is Toshi in the Mt. Pleasant area. Although it was an hour before they opened, we headed over. Arriving at 20 minutes before 5, we secured a place 3rd in line. "We're early . . " I lamented. "No, you are right on time," said one of the locals ahead of us. Sure enough, by 5 pm the line held more hopefuls than the first seating could accommodate. We savored the healthy portions of fresh, succulent salmon and tuna and delighted in the fresh roll combinations.

Done with dinner in time to visit the Chinese night market nearby, which was a bit of a disappointment – only a few short blocks of trinket stalls. 

Day 3: Navigating the Maze:

The maze at VanDuzen Botanical Garden
I'm a garden nut, so the local botanical garden is always on my must-do list. In Vancouver, the VanDuzen Botanical Garden adds unique family appeal with its hedge maze, a labyrinth of fun that we found to be just the right size, right height, and right amount of challenge to keep you guessing on your way to the center. It's also toward the back of the garden, so it kept the young feet motivated to keep moving through the rest of the sites. The garden boasts quite a nice sculpture collection and I was pleased to see a large perennial garden display with some unique varieties I'm inspired to add to my own garden.

Next stop: Gastown. After a quick bite and sampling of local brews at Steamworks, we made the obligatory tourist shopping rounds of the Gastown district, home to quirky shops and oh my! the shoes to die for at John Fleuvog. Unfortunately my budget wasn't quite up to a pair, so I had to settle for a shiny metal pineapple shaped vase instead from one of the fun design shops, while our youngest shopper coveted a carved jade bear to remind her of the trip.

After a long morning traipsing through garden and city, a bit of down time at the hotel pool was in order before our final food adventure of the trip, legendary Vij's Indian masterpiece. Rather than opting for the high end Vij's restaurant, we chose the more casual Vij's Rangoli next door. I've never experienced such indescribable hospitality at any restaurant I've been to. From the cocktails and passed nibbles while you wait to the caring attention of every staff member, they've elevated a casual dining experience to a four star experience. Not to mention the perfection of the food, the flavors, spices, texture, melt-in-your mouth deliciousness of the lamb curry. An attached market with frozen entrees, sauces and spice mixtures let us take home memories of this can't-miss dining experience.

Vancouver is a delightful, sophisticated town that has much to offer – great food, family outdoor fun – and a diverse personality that awaits exploration.