24 hours in Vancouver: A city guide to food, drinks and the great outdoors

I grew up in a mountainous area of the United States, hiking on trails that weaved between giant redwood trees and scrambling up flatiron foothills. Living in London now, I find myself craving holidays that depart the typical European city and instead offer me a city amongst the woods and sea – hello Vancouver, hello BC.

In 10 hours, one direct flight on Air Canada landed me in Vancouver just around happy hour. First impression: big, clean and modern. Unlike London, the city is wide and spacious, the buildings are white and tall, and the scenery is coastal and green. Here in downtown, my adventure began.

Tasting locally brewed booze (and eating too).

[Sabrine Dhaliwal at Uva Wine & Cocktail Bar | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.flickr.com/photos/itsashsmith]

First thing I like to do in a new city is have a drink, and cocktails are not usually my cup of tea. Somehow though, Sabrine at Uva Wine & Cocktail Bar (international award-winning bartender) knows how to mix hard liquors and bitters just right to please every palette – including mine. If I’m enjoying a cocktail, I want it dry with a bit of sweetness, not too sour either, and she cleverly concocted a Mystery Solved followed by a Daffodils Cup.

[Tasting Odd Society’s Creme de Cassis | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.flickr.com/photos/itsashsmith]

If cocktails aren’t your thing, Odd Society creates small batches of one of a kind spirits including a French classic blackcurrant liqueur Creme de Cassis. For something unique, try their exquisite smoked flavoured Society’s Oaken Wallflower Gin. So smooth, even I could drink it neat.

Nestled in the charming neighbourhood of Granville Island is a producer of one of my favourite drinks – a drink I never expected to find locally brewed in Canada either – sake. Just like Odd Society, Artisan Sakemaker produces small batches of award winning sake right at their tasting room. The on-site sake, OSAKE, is known for being “Canada’s first locally produced fresh premium sake”. Try Junmai Sparking Sake for something different and refreshing, and don’t be afraid to chat up the sake brewers themselves. Their story of how they brew sake in British Columbia is quite interesting. 

[Wine tasting at Vancouver Urban Winery | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.flickr.com/photos/itsashsmith]

For a taste of British Columbia’s wine, try Vancouver Urban Winery, located on the Eastside of downtown in the warehouse district. Vineyards are located 400km from the city, with grapes locally harvested to produce small batches of hand-crafted wines. While I like the taste of wine, I love beer even more, and this wine bar delightfully serves as a taproom as well, brewing tanks of ale on-site. 

[Lemon PIMMs Isola Galatini at Bella Gelateria | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.flickr.com/photos/itsashsmith]

If you have a sweet tooth, Bella Gelateria produces award-winning gelato that – to my delight – is used to create delicious alcoholic drinks called Galatini. Try their Wild Evita made with salted caramel gelato – the caramel slow cooked for two days in traditional Argentinian style. If you’re missing a bit of home, order a British inspired Lemon PIMMs Isola made with lemon sorbetto and ginger liqueur.

[Buffalo milk gelato at Bella Gelateria | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.flickr.com/photos/itsashsmith]

Alcohol aside, Bella’s has unique and delicious buffalo milk gelato for a smooth and silky frozen treat. Off a recommendation, we tasted a cup of Noce Pecan e Sciroppo d’Acero Canadese. This pecan and maple syrup gelato creation (so Canadian) was invented by owner James Coleridge and won both the public choice award and the technical award at the Firenze Gelato Festival 2012 in Florence, Italy. “I flew my Canadian flag with great pride in my booth,” James said. It is GOOD.

[Neapolitan pizzas at Bella Gelateria | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.flickr.com/photos/itsashsmith]

If you’re hungry for something beyond sweets, try the Neapolitan pizzas at Bella Gelateria. Made using locally sourced ingredients, all the beef and pork are ethically raised and the eggs are organic as well (very Vancouver). 

For more frozen treats around the city, stop by Rain Or Shine Ice Cream, Earnest Ice Cream, and if you’re feeling a bit crazy, LIK N2 Ice Cream (Vancouver’s first liquid nitrogen ice cream parlour).

If you happen to be by yourself and are looking for some human interaction, or you’re travelling with a group of friends but would like to meet a real local foodie, contact Carlos of Vancouver Food Tours and join one of his foodie adventures. Oh, and ask for a boozy one!

Sit down, for dinner is served.

After a few drinks (and sweets), we made our way to Vancouver’s Chinatown to walk its historic streets and sit down for a bite to eat. 

[Tasting platter at Sai Woo | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.flickr.com/photos/itsashsmith]

Locating an unpretentious front door that gives off vibes of a small traditional Chinese restaurant, Sai Woo opens up to a large high-ceiling room decorated in dark bar-tones and large “button” lights. Located in a Vancouver heritage building, the original Sai Woo Chop Suey opened its doors in 1925 and in 2016 you’ll find an Asian-fusion eatery that serves shareable dishes and complex cocktails.

For something a little different, Kissa Tanto combines Italian and Japanese cuisine for a very unique dining experience. Cocktails and dishes are all served in a chic room designed to represent a 1960s Tokyo jazz cafe. For a cocktail before dinner, try Juniper Kitchen & Bar.

[Beef with vegetables and potatoes at ARC | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.flickr.com/photos/itsashsmith]

Leaving Chinatown and heading towards the waterfront (to our hotel), another great restaurant is ARC who offers a classy sit-down meal in a relaxed environment. Located in the Fairmont Waterfront hotel, ARC has a modern dinning room with local live music often playing in the evening. The menu is ‘urban artisanal’ and the drinks and dishes are created to palette perfection. The beauty of ARC is that chef Karan Suri and his staff understand local BC food. From berries hand picked from a neighbouring island, to the herbs in your cocktail harvested from the Fairmont Waterfront rooftop garden, the food on your plate is the food of Vancouver and British Columbia. To learn a bit more about chef Karan Suri’s passion for the west coast, watch this beautifully shot video

After eats, I’m ready for sleep.

Exiting ARC restaurant (with a full belly), enter directly into the Fairmont Waterfront hotel lobby where pleasant smells are piped into the grand high-ceilinged room. Up an elevator and into my bedroom, the room was so cozy this body perfectly collapsed into a happy slumber.

[The Fairmont Waterfront | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.flickr.com/photos/itsashsmith]

Looking beyond the facade, this hotel reaches past a typical room and board and into the eco-friendly realm (ranked ‘5 Green Key’ by Green Key Global). The rooftop swimming pool offers beautiful views of downtown Vancouver, and here you will also find a garden oasis among the tall buildings. 

[Bee tour at the Fairmont Waterfront | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.instagram.com/itsashsmith]

Apple trees, herbs and beehives dot the rooftop landscape, and offer a peaceful walk among the clouds. On a sunny day, ask Michael King (aka Fairmont’s Bee Butler) for a tour. Just not for looks, the garden is harvested for dishes served at ARC, and – I must add – the honey harvested from the rooftop hives is so very yummy that I’m still eating a spoon-full most mornings with yogurt or on toast. A bit of Vancouver at home in the UK.

If you like the sound of the Fairmont Waterfront, Hayes and Jarvis (01293 762 456) is offering a five night holiday to Vancouver with prices from £729 per person. Departing in February 2017, the trip includes a five night stay at the Fairmont Waterfront, Vancouver on a room only basis and includes return international flights with Air Canada from London Heathrow.

Good morning Vancouver, rise and shine.

[Breakfast at Jam Cafe | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.flickr.com/photos/itsashsmith]

North Americans love breakfast, and when it comes to the weekend, the bigger the better. If you’re looking for a proper North American breakfast or brunch, visit Jam Café as the chefs cook up traditional Canadian breakfast food in a warm cozy restaurant. From their light maple pan fried oatmeal, to huevos rancheros, this American was happy! For something you can’t quite find in the UK, order the buttermilk biscuit sandwich (made with a real American biscuit, not a Hobnob or chocolate digestive) and a classic Caesar (Canada’s version of a Bloody Mary with clamato – don’t think, just drink). Other delightful dishes are the green eggs and ham and red velvet pancakes.

[A Classic Caesar with basic garnishes at The Observatory on Grouse Mountain | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.flickr.com/photos/itsashsmith]

If you’re thinking, “this Caesar drink is pretty awesome” just wait until you hear about the Caesar garnish game across the city. Restaurants and bars privately compete for the craziest toppings, like Caesar’s garnished with bacon, onion rings, tater tots, even burgers. In 2012 Score On Davie literally garnished its Caesar with a dirty 7-course meal called Checkmate (only click here if you dare). The North American motto of “the bigger, the better” has never been so fitting.

[Salad hiding steelhead trout, a poached egg, buckwheat pancake and hollandaise sauce at L'Abattoir | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.flickr.com/photos/itsashsmith]

On the opposite end of the breakfast spectrum, L'Abattoir hosts a classy weekend brunch where you can order a salad with steelhead trout, a poached egg, smoky buckwheat pancake and hollandaise sauce. For a sweeter dish, try the crepes stuffed with ricotta, lemon zest and fresh berries, with duck sausages on the side. 

Work off that big breakfast by getting outside.

[Kayaking around Vancouver with Ecomarine Paddlesport | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.instagram.com/itsashsmith]

When in Vancouver, act like a Vancouvian - and get outdoors! Revisiting Granville Island, on a full stomach this time, we met Marnie of Ecomarine Paddlesport who showed us around Vancouver not by car, but by kayak. While I had never kayaked before, we were given a crash course on the dock, and in less than 30 minutes were out on the water. Our half-day paddling around False Creek gave us a relaxing way to see a different view of the city, while working off that morning breakfast too.

[Totem poles at Stanley Park | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.flickr.com/photos/itsashsmith]

Another adventure we had was not by kayak but by car. Leaving the city streets, we drove through a green Stanley Park to a spot near Brockton Point where visitors can view giant totem poles created by First Nation artists. These beautifully crafted totem poles tell stories of family and culture through the animals and people carved into the wood. The stories usually involve transformation; man transforms into bear, bear transforms into eagle. To decipher the story, remember that whatever is carved into the base of the pole tells where the totem pole came from. Popular animals can usually be distinguished by knowing that:

• Eagles and thunderbirds (a mythical creature) have sharply curved beaks

• Ravens have straighter beaks

• Thunderbirds have outstretched wings and curved ears

• Bears and beavers have ears are on top of their heads

• Beavers have two large front teeth.

• Killer whales have a big fin on the back

 

[Capilano Suspension Bridge | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.instagram.com/itsashsmith]

Driving over Vancouver Harbour and into the woods beyond, we emerged from our car 15 minutes later to enter a west-coast rainforest where the douglas-firs reach such great heights that barely any sunlight reached the ground below. This magical land surrounding the Capilano River holds one of the most popular attractions in British Columbia, the Capilano Suspension Bridge. 70m above the river, this 430 foot long bridge allows pedestrians to walk between the two woods, up high in the trees.

[The Skyride to Grouse Mountain | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.flickr.com/photos/itsashsmith]

Fifteen more minutes of driving up north is a large car park with big red carriages moving up into the sky. Here we ascended into the fog and clouds, as the Skyride took us through green trees towards a blanket of white snow. The Skyride is the largest aerial tramway in North America and transports visitors up to Grouse Mountain with sky-high views of Vancouver city, the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf Islands. 

[Meet Grinder and Coola at Grouse Mountain | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.instagram.com/itsashsmith]

During the summer months, Grouse Mountain is a great place for a forest walk, and if you’re up to the challenge The Grouse Grind is a popular mountainous ‘Stairmaster’ – a 2.9km trail up the face of the mountain. When the weather shifts and snow starts to fall, swap your hiking boots for skis/snowboard and spend your day shredding powder. While you’re up top, meet Grinder and Coola, two orphaned grizzly bears who live in the wildlife refuge at Grouse. Just remember they hibernate 148 days out of the year. 

[Yakima Valley lamb sirloin at The Observatory | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.flickr.com/photos/itsashsmith]

For food with a view, Altitudes Bistro has a patio with stunning views. If your trip to Vancouver is a celebratory one, Grouse also has an incredible five-star restaurant called The Observatory with dishes prepared with the best seasonal ingredients of British Columbia. Try the Hazelmere sunchoke soup, Yakima Valley lamb sirloin, dark chocolate tart, and of course, don’t forget the Caesar too.

Don’t leave BC yet.

Flying from the UK to Vancouver and staying just 24-hours is quite nonsense, and luckily British Columbia has so much more to offer. To find out about “super, natural British Columbia” check out Hello BC as these fellas helped me find some great spots in this amazing city.

I’ll be exploring more of the west coast in this travel series, but for now I’ll leave you with a couple of places to start thinking about:

• Fly to the beautiful island of Haida Gwaii.

• Take a ferry to Prince Rupert, near the Alaskan boarder.

• Fly on a single-otter plane to Victoria from Vancouver.

[Flying on a single-otter from Vancouver to Victoria, BC | Photo by Ashley Grantham www.flickr.com/photos/itsashsmith]

Get inspired by some local photographers.

If you’re more of a visual person (like me), and you like hearing and seeing what others have explored, check out some of these Instagram accounts from locals:

[Max Zedler’s Instagram | https://www.instagram.com/maxzedler/]

BC landscapes on Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/hellobc/

https://www.instagram.com/jongsunpark_

https://www.instagram.com/maurice/

https://www.instagram.com/rishad/

https://www.instagram.com/philsorensenphotos/

https://www.instagram.com/damonberryman/

https://www.instagram.com/maxzedler/

https://www.instagram.com/goldiehawn_/

[Emma Choo’s Instagram | https://www.instagram.com/vancouverfoodie/]

BC food tours on Instagram:

https://www.instagram.com/edlauphoto/

https://www.instagram.com/vancouverfoodie

https://www.instagram.com/sliceofpai/

https://www.instagram.com/bentontheincredible/

https://www.instagram.com/foodiegramca/

https://www.instagram.com/amyfoodqueen/

https://www.instagram.com/foodlovefest/