Vancouver is Canada’s most beautiful big city—on that there can be no debate. It has the ocean, the mountains and a skyline that curves and stretches magnificently. It also has a rep for being the home of Birkenstock-wearing, yoga-obsessed crochet aficionados—in short, Vancouver hasn’t yet earned a rep for its nightlife or fashion chops. But, with a culinary scene garnering accolades from international tastemakers, and neighborhoods where high fashion outposts sprout like cedars, Vancouver is a city on the verge of being not just beautiful but well and truly cool. Here is our guide to the best places to shop, sleep, snack and drink.
Vancouver travel guide: Where to shop
Yes, Lululemon was founded in Vancouver, but these days, the city has more to offer the sartorially inclined than yogawear. In fact, it’s cultivated a unique style sense, combining the hard edges and clean lines of east coast fashion with the surf and boho-inspired touches beloved on the west coast. Everywhere we visited in the city we’d see girls taking trends and making them their own, whether it was an ombré sheer blouse under a suit in the business district, or a peplum top made of scuba suit material paired with jeans in a Gastown bar. Where are these ladies shopping? Well, they do have a room of their own—literally. The Room at The Bay has a Vancouver outpost, as does luxe retailer Holt Renfrew.
Other fashionable haunts include Secret Location in the city’s trendy Gastown neighbourhood. The concept store is a classic white cube gallery space—one half is devoted to an ultra-modern café (perhaps too ultra modern to be completely comfortable), while the other is a shopping mecca featuring cutting-edge brands and objets d’art. Featured designers include avant-garde European labels like A-lab Milano and perfect Parisian hats by Maison Michel.
Other chic boutiques are scattered around town like lucky pennies. Water Street’s Oak Fort offers sublimely simple minimalist shift dresses and tops that make ’90s nostalgia appetizing. Nouvelle Nouvelle features everything from beachy home decor to the kind of arm-party jewellery that would drive any aspiring Man-Repeller into a frenzy. Stocked with ladylike delights, Ishara carries brands that reflect the taste of the upwardly mobile: Michael Kors dresses, Smythe coats and Rebecca Minkoff bags, to name a few.
Vancouver travel guide: Where to sleep
Vancouver boasts a flourishing hotel scene, bolstered by the bustling tourism trade and recent hosting duties for the Olympics. With large options like the stunning Fairmont Waterfront, classic properties like the recently reno’d Rosewood Hotel Georgia and the ultra chic Shangri La, where should one stay when seeking both an authentically west coast atmosphere and a sleekly modern resting place? Our pick is The Loden, a slender boutique hotel tucked into a stretch of Melville Street in the heart of the downtown core. Natural wood and stone contrast with full-length windows in each room, giving the hotel’s modern aesthetic the warmth that makes it feel like home. Garden terrace rooms come equipped with a walk out terrace featuring a rippling Zen stream, giving it the feel of your own private meditation retreat. The commitment to guest service is notable too, with staff happy to help at any hour with anything from a loaned phone charger to a lift to your dinner reservation in the hotel’s swank ride, a classic London cab.
Read about the best hot spots in Vancouver to eat and drink on the next page...Photography by Tourism Vancouver/Rob Gilbert Photography
Vancouver travel guide: Where to eat and drink
No city has ever gotten its cool credentials without a truly excellent dining scene, and in this arena Vancouver has a real leg up on the competition. Beyond the flourishing street food scene, which is rightly the envy of all other Canadian cities for its diverse options and easy access (trucks literally everywhere, including a truck for famed Van-city Indian food outpost Vij’s) there is a culinary boom taking place that ranges from fine dining to delectable snack food and artisanal cocktails.
One of the city’s hottest tickets is Hawksworth Restaurant, recently named “Restaurant of the Year” by Maclean’s Magazine. It is a dining room that has always been a destination for the city’s power brokers and ladies who lunch. Now it has received a stunning makeover featuring four separate spaces, the men’s club inspired leather-paneled Bar & Lounge, the shimmering Pearl Room complete with iridescent banquettes and a chandelier, the Art Room, home to the exquisite custom installation by renowned artist Rodney Graham, and the York Room where the hotel’s grand history is most present and guests can enjoy the best people-watching through the massive arc windows. Not just a pretty face, David Hawksworth’s menu is a bastion of Canadian contemporary cuisine, with the city’s multicultural DNA hinted at in each dish, for example the Asian flourishes found in the truly delicious roasted pacific sablefish with lap cheong, soy braised daikon, pickled shiitake, and crispy yam. It is Vancouver’s most elegant dining room and most well-balanced and thoughtful menu, and is a must for any food lover, whether local or visiting.
The stellar dining doesn’t stop there. On the outskirts of Gastown is a restaurant that is viewed by many as ground zero of Vancouver’s hotter-than-a-jalapeno dining scene. It is Chambar, a Belgian restaurant with the floating lights and exposed brick of Greenwich Village and the beer list of Bruges’ finest pub. It is here that you can find the world’s most delicious Congolaise mussels with tomato coconut cream, smoked chili & lime and cilantro, a wine to pair so perfectly with each dish you imagine the Sommelier must have trained at Hogwarts, and desserts that make you forget that you are already full from eating basically the entire menu. It is no wonder that the restaurant has acted as almost a training ground for the city’s best and brightest in the culinary scene, with former employees from behind the stove or the bar running the top new spots including Boneta, Meat & Bread, and L’Abattoir (despite the hippie-vegetarian reputation Vancouver is surprisingly meat-obsessed).
Finally, where to drink? Well despite the plethora of bars in Gastown, finding one with the right vibe can be surprisingly tricky, and best done with a local as a guide (sort of like how to get introduced to the best locals-only surf breaks). One such undercover gem is The Diamond, an upstairs haven to stylish cocktails with all that one could want in a bar – high ceilings, great (aka low) lighting, perfectly calibrated tunes (90's hip hop while we were there), gorgeous staff and a drink list sent from heaven. Another delightful discovery was House Guest, a dark and cozy space, this time a warehouse, with tattooed bartenders (our barometer of whether drinks will be well made–somehow the ink helps) and a thoroughly excellent DJ on the decks. The very best thing that happened here? Being able to order the scrumptious lobster guacamole at the end of the night—the perfect late night snack.