Beautiful Victoria and Vancouver have long been on our bucket list for an extended stay, and a few months ago we fulfilled that dream. We’ve been to both cities for brief cruise stops but never fully explored the regions. Our gaffe! A few folks suggested we should also consider checking out Richmond’s culinary scene, the nearby revitalized fishing town of Steveston, and Whistler’s famous resort area. All recommendations proved spot on. There was so much to do, if you follow our lead you should find yourself returning from a wonderful vacation very invigorated, full of memories and pleasantly tired.
Richmond & Steveston
Both these towns provided our most positive surprises. We began our stay within minutes of our airplane’s touchdown by checking into the highly publicized Fairmont Hotel in Richmond’s Vancouver International Airport. That’s right: IN the airport, not near the airport. Internationally recognized by many as the finest airport hotel in North America, we can’t imagine a more deluxe airport hotel anywhere. Located in the main terminal and practically next to the control tower, this newer hotel is the perfect place to hang out on arrival and before departure. Soundproof rooms, amazing staff, fine dining choices, gold floor option and close proximity to Vancouver by rail or taxi are major plusses. www.fairmont.com Another lodging possibility to consider: River Rock Resort features tastefully decorated rooms/suites, a 1,000-seat show theater offering name entertainment and a beautiful casino (Bonus: B.C. casinos are totally smoke free). Room prices at Richmond hotels are usually lower than Vancouver hotels, and often Richmond’s tourism office offers complimentary tickets to many of the top Vancouver attractions with three night stays. Richmond is also known for the town’s large Asian community, eclectic dining scene and night markets. One of our most fun and unusual culinary experiences in eons was a dim sum breakfast at Vivacity Restaurant, packed every morning with dim sum aficionados. We understand this tradition is very popular at Chinese restaurants all over town. www.vivacityrestaurant.com While in Richmond, head out to Steveston, once one of Canada’s most active fishing and cannery towns and now, sans canneries, a charming seaside destination. Strolling town and touring the historic museum-like Gulf of Georgia Cannery are musts. Our meal at Blue Canoe Waterfront Restaurant was the surprising culinary luncheon highlight of our entire trip, and we understand why locals often give it their vote as a local favorite. Featuring sustainable seafood, their service staff was a fun-loving group. www.bluecanoerestaurant.com Our only dinner in Steveston at Tapenade Bistro was a refreshing dining experience and gave us an additional reason to return to this quintessential seaside town. Their French-inspired West Coast cuisine was to die for. www.tapenade.ca If we return to B.C., we’d definitely stay at The Fairmont again, book a night stay in Steveston, and dine at more of Richmond’s highly regarded restaurants. For all things Steveston/Richmond, including annual events, more hotel/dining options and things to do/see, go to: www.tourismrichmond.com.
We recommend heading out to Victoria next. Located quite a few miles away on Vancouver Island, it’s a much further journey than to the city of Vancouver, so it’s better to end your vacation in Vancouver closer to the airport. A seaplane service, or a less expensive combination Pacific Coach Line bus from the airport directly to the B.C terminal and then their ferry to Victoria and return, are options. We chose the bus/ferry combo and found the entire trip very enjoyable-especially the amazing island vistas, sea life viewing and the stunning waterways. Find a comfortable seat with good viewing and be sure to keep an eye out for sea life. www.bcferries.com; www.pacificcoach.com We hunkered down at the stately Fairmont Empress Hotel our first two nights and the ultimate highlight of our Empress stay was experiencing their 95-year tradition of “Afternoon Tea” in their majestically restored Tea Lobby. A stop in at the richly decorated Bengal Lounge is an unforgettable bar and light dining scene. www.fairmont.com For our last two nights we moved over to the stunning Magnolia Hotel and Spa. This newer property has received numerous accolades as one of Canada’s finest luxury hotels, and deservedly so. Their accommodations, buffet breakfasts and staff were exceptional. www.magnoliahotel.com Exploring Victoria is a relatively easy task as it’s a very walkable downtown, and we encourage readers to do just that and include the following: Tour the beautiful British Columbia Parliament complex and the exquisite Victorian era Craigdarroch Castle, an 1890’s mansion. Both offer tours, and the tower at the castle offers the best views of Victoria. www.thecastle.ca, www.leg.bc.ca; For history buffs, a visit to the Royal B. C. Museum is a must. www.royalbcmuseum.bc.ca; Stroll the bustling walkways along the inner harbor, Fisherman’s Wharf and Chinatown, Canada’s oldest; If you aren’t up to walking the city, try taking a Hippo Tour splashing into the inner harbor for a brief cruise, as well as a land route that will get you to all the highlights on the “bus that floats”. www.victoriahippotours.com; And for the ultimate highlight in Victoria, take the CVS Shuttle bus (www.cvscruisevictoria.com) to Butchart Gardens, one of the most famous botanical gardens in the world. The colorful vistas we encountered were well beyond our expectations. This National Historic Site estate, formerly a worked out quarry, provides 55 acres of truly spectacular viewing. www.butchartgardens.com; Into whale watching? With over 80 resident Orca killer whales sticking around throughout the year, plus numerous other whale species and marine mammal visitors, this is one of the best whale watching locations in the world. Our out-to-sea trek on 5 Star’s high-speed expedition catamaran was a very positive adventure with a profusion of whale sightings. www.5starwhales.com For everything Victoria, visit their informative website: www.tourismvictoria.com.
After our stay in Victoria we retraced our steps back to the ferry terminal, once again utilizing Pacific Coach Lines and taking a B.C. Ferry to make the journey back to Vancouver. We stayed at three different hotels to experience different Vancouver locations and hotel types during our stay. For the first two nights we hung out at the very nice Coast Coal Harbour Hotel in the waterfront area and the following two at The Burrard, a very avant-garde property. Coal Harbour’s roof top deck with lap pool and hot tub, health club, signature restaurant, Preston’s, and views of the harbor from our room were cool focal points. www.coasthotels.com The reasonably priced and extremely hip Burrard offered something we’d never seen at a hotel: unlimited free phone calls to anywhere in North America. Now that’s a great perk! Other high spots included free cruiser bikes and passes to the nearby Steve Nash Fitness center.www.theburrard.com Our last three nights were at the Empire Landmark Hotel, holding claim as the tallest hotel in downtown and featuring moderate rates, unbelievable views from most rooms, and the superb top-floor Cloud Nine revolving restaurant. Our dinner there was one of the three best meals we had in Vancouver, and the city’s nightlight views added a wonderful romantic flair. www.empirelandmarkhotel.com Another favorite dining experience was at the very chic and hip Pourhouse, located in the funky Gas Lamp district. This local and tourist favorite is so popular, be sure to make reservations in advance. www.pourhousevancouver.com Our most casual, yet noteworthy, dining stop was at giovane, an Italian inspired deli-bakery-winebar-market-café-shop all rolled into one delightful culinary happening in the stunning Fairmont Pacific Rim. www.fairmont.com
Quite surprisingly, downtown Vancouver was very walkable, much like the smaller Victoria, so here’s our recommended “do not miss seeing and doing” list: First and foremost, head off to the Vancouver Lookout for beautiful city views and to get a real sense of the city’s beautiful surroundings. www.vancouverlookout.com; Next, head down to the iconic Canada Place to see FlyOver Canada, a virtual 4D flight-ride experience that simulates a soaring plane trip across Canada from East to West. A definite wow factor prevails! www.flyovercanada.com; After your flight, hop onto the free shuttle from Canada Place to Grouse Mountain, home to the famous Grouse Grind hike (grueling), a tram to the top for stunning views, all the popular winter and summer sports activities you expect at ski resorts these days, and engaging grizzly bear and timber wolf enclosures. www.grousemountain.com; After finishing your tour at Grouse, head down on the free shuttle and get off at the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, Vancouver’s oldest and probably most popular attraction/adventure in B.C.; For the adventurous souls not afraid of heights, don’t miss swinging and swaying on the eerie plank bridge 230 feet above the Capilano River, traversing the Treetops Adventure over and through the rainforest and taking on the unnerving Cliffside Walkway, the newest intimidating attraction. www.capbridge.com; When you get back into town on the shuttle, sign up for one of the walking tours hosted by period costumed guides to discover the yesteryear secrets and mysteries of early Vancouver. www.forbiddenvancouver.ca; Another unique walking tour is to latch onto one of the Vancouver Foodie Tours to experience food tastings at specialty restaurants, ethnic eateries and/or surprisingly upscale food trucks. www.foodietours.ca; If you’d rather ride than walk, don’t miss jumping onto the Big Bus hop-on/hop-off tour, which makes stops at all the city’s highlights. Be sure to circle world-renowned Stanley Park and step off at The Vancouver Aquarium, where you can enjoy daily beluga whale, dolphin and sea otter shows. For an unforgettable extra thrill, rarely available anywhere else in the world, sign up for an up close and personal encounter with a beluga whale. www.vanaqua.org; Other highly recommended hop offs are at Granville Island, home to the bustling Public Market, wonderful shops and a variety of dining choices, Gastown where yesteryear Vancouver is still alive and kicking, Robson Street shopping district where shopaholics congregate, Chinatown, and the noteworthy Dr. Sun Yat Sen Gardens is a must visit. www.bigbus.ca; www.granvilleisland.com For everything Vancouver: www.tourismvancouver.com.
Whistler & another
Although we only had time for a brief visit up to majestic Shannon Falls followed by a short ride to the world-class Whistler resort area on a West Coast Sightseeing tour, we’d certainly recommend not missing either. While in Whistler, don’t miss their peak-to-peak gondola run or visiting the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre dedicated to the local First Nations people’s history. www.vancouversightseeing.com; www.whistler.com Also, do your best to find the time to take a sea safari high-speed boat excursion into Horseshoe Bay, Howe Sound and Strait of Georgia to see amazing wildlife, island vistas and experience thrilling boat maneuvers by a zealous daredevil guide. www.sewellsmarina.com
One closing thought: We strongly recommend at least a two week vacation stay in western B.C., and although we were there two full weeks, a few extra days in Whistler to do more exploring of those beautiful environs would have been perfect.
By Don and Nancy Jackson
Editors Note: Our travel duo, Don the writer/editor and Ann the photographer/researcher, will next head to Pacifica to give our readers an insider’s look into this getaway destination.