Before visiting Vancouver, BC, for my first time this spring break, I envisioned its most appealing aspects to be its lower legal drinking age and urban environment. Yet the city, a mere five-hour drive away from Portland (on a good day), had more to offer than I imagined – much more.
With a population of over 600,000 and a variety of landscapes, from forests, mountains and ocean, to streets overflowing with art and culture, the seaport felt unlike any place I’d seen before. And with less than a week to explore it, we faced our greatest challenge.
Aside from a day trip my parents took to Vancouver 20 years prior, my family had no experience with the city, but wanted to explore as much as we possibly could.
Surprisingly, in a mere six days, we checked everything off our list (though ended up adding more “to-dos” for the next time around). Here’s a list of my six highlights, all of which I plan to revisit in less than the 20 years it took my parents:
6. Bloedel Floral Conservatory
Located at the top of Queen Elizabeth Park, the Bloedel Floral Conservatory is home to 120 free-flying exotic birds and 500 exotic plants and flowers. Bird guides (along with a children’s scavenger hunt guide that was more my speed) are available for guests interested in wandering around to spot the colorful birds, a few of which are shown below.
5. Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia
It’s never a true Siebert family vacation without a trip to at least one museum. Fortunately, my experience at the Museum of Anthropology was a positive one. Located within the heart of the University of British Columbia campus, the museum is surrounded by, and full of, a mixture of natural and manmade elements. The stories and lasting artifacts from First Nation peoples fill the space, informing visitors of the historical evolution of the Pacific Northwest and other parts of the world.
4. Gastown, Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood, is located along the north of the downtown peninsula. Since its founding in 1967 by tavern entrepreneur John “Gassy” Jack Deighton, the district has evolved and attracts visitors with its culinary options and retail stores.
Two stores particularly encapsulated the distinct style of Vancouver, the first being E:CLE. The shop’s loose-fitting cropped pants and basic color schemes fit with the city’s general style. And who doesn’t enjoy being surrounded by plants while shopping?
Six Hundred Four showcased another element of the style of Vancouver: Art bleeds into every aspect of life. Six Hundred Four’s mission is simple, in that it promotes wearable art throughout an already creative community. Founded only a few months ago, the business plans to highlight local creators and gives consumers a chance to wear these artists’ creations as leather sneakers. Visual artists are commissioned to cover a canvas with work, which is then transferred onto sneakers. In the words of 604’s mission statement, “Shoes can be shoes. Or they can be a storytelling piece of art.”
The name was inspired by the Canadian 604 area code. Each artist’s finished work is transferred to a total of 604 pairs of shoes, and the shoes come in a variety of styles. The artist is also able to select a charity to receive 6.04% of the profit from each pair of shoes purchased. When I perused the 604 Shop, one particular canvas caught my eye. Created by Sean Karemaker, a native of Vancouver Island, the piece depicts ghosts and humans alike in a city.
After learning more about Karemaker, I picked out my own pair and was even able to meet Sean the next day.
Karemaker started creating comic books as a kid. His work incorporates autobiography, along with specific images of ghosts, birds and other symbols, often created in black and gray. With his various creative pursuits, he expands the rigid parameters of the “comic” genre, showing that comics can convey heavy topics that could otherwise be difficult to discuss or breakdown. He pulls influence from other artists, media, dreams, personal experiences and Vancouver itself.
3. Capilano Suspension Bridge
Originally built in 1889, the Capilano Suspension Bridge still towers over the Capilano River, only now, explorers crossing the bridge document their experiences via Snapchat/Instagram/Facebook/you name it. Beyond its undeniable physical beauty, the bridge also offers the chance for a good laugh: If you’re a rascal like me, try (subtly) wiggling the bridge and watching the reactions of those around you – especially your mom, who happens to have a fear of heights.
With a distance of 450 feet across, and a potential drop of 230 feet to the Capilano River, this attraction may not be for everyone. But fortunately, I’ve included some photographs, so you can at least get an idea of what’s awaiting you.
2. Celebrities Nightclub
As mentioned earlier, Vancouver’s legal drinking age is 19. And I happen to be 19. So you better believe I pushed my parents into checking out a local club partway through our trip. Though they were hesitant at first, we stumbled on the perfect compromise: bingo in a nightclub. After hearing about the Wednesday night BINGO for LIFE, hosted by local drag queens at Celebrities Nightclub, we were sold.
I never could have expected what the night would hold – or more specifically, that my dad would hold Carlotta, the main drag host, as she danced on him, feeding him chips by hand and calling him “daddy.” Though the experience will sufficiently scar me for the rest of my life, it’s one I would never want to forget.
1. Stanley Park
To end on a more wholesome note, here’s a bit about Stanley Park, my #1 destination in Vancouver. As Vancouver’s largest urban park, occupying 1,000 acres of land, Stanley Park encapsulates the many wonders of the city. Bordering downtown, the park is almost entirely surrounded by water.
There are ample hiking trails, wild animals, accesses to beaches and the bay, restaurants and more, all of which can be reached by circling the park on foot, bikes or in cars. If that doesn’t sell you, there is also an aquarium and yacht club. So take that.
In hindsight, to highlight only six of Vancouver’s attractions is somewhat impossible. As my experiences show, the city has much more to offer than could ever fit on a list, but why not go ahead and make your own anyway?