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Stanley Park, Granville Island, Chinatown, Gastown, and perhaps even Capilano tend to be on the usual path for people who have visited Vancouver, especially those who have visited numerous times.
Tourism Vancouver operates a blog - Inside Vancouver - along with their website, which gives lots of great ideas for some great things to do that you may not find in the main travel guides.
You can discuss Vancouver with other travelers and locals on the official Vancouver Facebook fan page, operated by Tourism Vancouver: www.facebook.com/insidevancouver.
Yaletown is in the south-eastern corner of downtown, south of Robson, around the intersection of Hamilton and Helmcken. It has lots of funky boutiques, and some great lounges and restaurants.
In Stanley Park, but off the beaten path
Often you'll find that people have only explored a fraction of the park, like the seawall, or the Vancouver Aquarium, or the area near the totem poles, but have never ventured along the dozens of forested paths within the park, like the Merilee's Trail or to Prospect Point - that's a suggestion. A relaxing, interesting, and cheap way to explore Vancouver on good weather days is to take a long walk/bike ride/inline skate along the seawall. While many tourists will wander along the part of the Seawall near Stanley Park, it is also a unique experience to start at the other end by English Bay. Here you will see many things including dogs and children playing on the beach, inline skating hockey games, a man balancing rocks, and perhaps even a fisherman or two. After a long day, be sure to stop by the Cupcake shop at Davie and Denman (a few doors north on Denman), then walk a block to the foot of Davie to watch the sunset with the locals. Great watching the people, listening to good music and just relaxing on the grass lawn.
The most beautiful parts of downtown Vancouver could well be within the West End. Sometimes there will be visitors to Vancouver who have only seen Robson Street, but have never ventured down Denman Street, down to English Bay, where some of the most beautiful views and sunsets can be had. Take a walk along the western portion of the seawall to Second or Third Beach (in Stanley Park).
Kitsilano - Shops, photo ops
A fun little beach neighbourhood just south of downtown, just west of Burrard Street on W 4th Avenue. There are a bunch of shops worth browsing there. Lots of little lounges and restaurants down Yew Street, between W 4th and Cornwall... and Cornwall is where you have Kits Beach, providing you with excellent photo opportunities of downtown Vancouver's skyline with the mountains and water as a backdrop. Kits has several shopping areas within its neighbourhood... for more of a local flair, you could drive to Broadway and Macdonald and stroll around. Some clothing stores, and a lot of locally-owned cafes, restaurants, bakeries, delies, etc.
The Village at Park Royal
The Village at Park Royal is situated in picturesque West Vancouver. This intimate village offers locals & tourists a true outdoor "village" shopping experience. Just minutes from downtown, a short drive over the beautiful Lions Gate Bridge gets you to this village filled with boutique stores such as Oliver Barret, which offers exclusive fashion forward shopping for all women who want to look their best, to a must stop, the Kiss & Makeup beauty bar. This store is filled with trinkets and beauty supplies for every woman. Along with the great many boutiques, there are the restaurants with covered and heated patios.
A scenic drive
Highly recommend driving your car from downtown over the Burrard Street Bridge, and stay in the right lane as it will turn into Cornwall Ave. From Cornwall, you'll drive by Kits Beach... and if you head straight through, the road turns into Point Grey Road - lots of expensive properties and beachfront views. Then, the road curves left and turns into Alma Street. Take a right (heading west) down W 4th Avenue. Keep in the right lane and at Discovery Rd, turn right. Stay on the road and it turns into SW Marine Drive... and takes you along miles of sandy beach - Jericho Beach, Locarno Beach, and Spanish Banks. There will be mountains and islands as the backdrop.
Then, the road turns up a hill and you enter Pacific Spirit Park - a forested area surrounding UBC campus. At the top of the hill, you'll be inside University of British Columbia (UBC) campus, and you'll be a short drive away from the Museum of Anthropology at UBC, which is well worth a few hours if you've never been before. The main attraction (though by no means the only one) is a wonderful collection of traditional sculptures of Pacific coast First Nations, and the museum's grounds include two traditional Haida houses. At UBC, you can also visit the UBC Botanical Gardenand the Nitobe Memorial Gardens... a beautiful Japanese walled garden. You can save on admission if you visit both gardens. For no charge, you can visit the Japanese-style sunken garden which surrounds UBC's Asian Centre, close to the Nitobe Memorial Gardens. It's smaller than the other gardens, but quite attractive, and includes a traditional Japanese bell.
Wreck Beachis located off the cliffs at UBC, off SW Marine Drive. There are signs pointing you there. It's the famous local clothing-optional beach. If you're visiting during warmer weather, you should familiarize yourself with Wreck Beach etiquette. In January, nobody will be there without clothes, but if going for an isolated beachside stroll is on your agenda, it might be an interesting place to visit. The walk down the cliff can be somewhat strenuous, since it's about 300 feet of stairs through old growth rainforest.
Van Dusen Botanical Garden is located off Oak Street at W 37th Ave. It's a massive garden - probably more impressive in the spring/summer months than in January, but if you're into gardens, well worth it just for the landscape and scenery; you could easily spend 3 hours wandering around to see everything.
Queen Elizabeth Parkis a genuine hidden gem located on top of "Little Mountain" - the highest hill in Vancouver. The park itself is free but you'll need to pay to park a car. The park can also be easily reached by bus. The grounds highlight an Arboretum and Rose Garden and contain a well maintained horticultural variety . There are some fantastic views of the downtown skyline to the north, with the mountains as a backdrop.
There are also various sporting facilities to enjoy including a roller rink, basketball and tennis courts, and lawn bowling. However, what really makes this park special is the Bloedel Conservatory.
Like most excellent conservatories, there's a wide variety of plant life to enjoy but look a little closer and you'll also spot birds and fish! You'll see a beautiful pair of resident Hyacinth Macaws and even a talking African Grey Parrot. The staff may put out bird snacks to entice them to come out into view but some of the birds are quite shy so it may take a couple of trips around the track to spot them. There is a small charge for entrance to the Conservatory but it is well worth it.
Indie arts scene
The Mount Pleasant neighbourhood (also called South Main, along Main Street, from Broadway all the way north to about E 30th Ave) has Vancouver's independent fashion designer boutiques, artist-run centres, funky coffee shops, antique stores, and vintage clothing stores, all up and down 20 or so blocks. It's somewhat spaced out, but if you park your car at one end of Main Street (say around Broadway), and walk all the way up Main Street, you can easily spend 3 hours visiting all the clothing boutiques along the way. Some really interesting/arsty clothing is being created there... most of which are made in shop.If you're looking for a taste of Vancouver bohemian life, head to Commercial Drive. It used to be Vancouver's Little Italy, but has since become a hodgepodge of bohemian/ hippy/ vegan/ activist/ lesbian/ artsy culture. There's also a bit of a Latin, Portuguese, Jamaican, and African scene happening there as well, and the best authentic Italian coffee shops are found there. Lots of funky independent restaurants as well, with a few boutiques. Well worth an hour browsing up and down.
Commercial Drive is just east of downtown Vancouver. The area where you can explore the shops starts at Commercial and Broadway, and goes all the way to Venables. The most interesting parts of Commercial are between E 1st Ave and Venables.
Train journey to Whistler
Take a fascinating trip up into the mountains by railway on the new Whistler Mountaineertrain. Take the ride in the Glacier Dome which is more or less first class. You can enjoy the the incredible views. Be sure to check out the zipline adventure in Whistler.
Mountaintop views & recreation
You can drive up to the top of Cypress Mountain or Mount Seymour to go skiing, snowshowing, or simply sightseeing. It'll give you incredibly similarly panoramic views of Greater Vancouver that Grouse Mountain will, but unlike Grouse, where you have to pay $30 to get a ride to the top, Cypress and Seymour are free.
North Vancouver - Canyons, bridges, and nature
Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge is located in Lynn Canyon Park , in North Vancouver. It's a beautiful forested park with trails up and down the canyon, and a free suspension bridge to cross if you feel so inclined. It's a great alternative to the tourist-trappy $20+ per person Capilano Suspension Bridge, especially if you have a car. Their website has directions. This is definitely worth the trip. You can purchase a transportation day pass for $8.00 and take the Sea Bus across the bay to North Vancouver, then travel by bus to Lynn Canyon Park. It's an easy trip to make and cheap! Plan on a few hours to hike the trails or relax in the cool water of the river below. Don't forget your swim suit.
West Vancouver - Natural beauty
A great place to visit when it's rainy and cloudy is Lighthouse Park , in West Vancouver. You can take a scenic drive from downtown Vancouver, over the Lions Gate Bridge, and take Marine Drive (a different Marine Drive than the one that goes to UBC, as this one is in West Vancouver, which is a separate city from Vancouver). Take Marine Drive west through West Van and you'll travel through a very scenic coastal road that takes you through some very expensive "mansion on cliff overlooking yacht harbour"-type properties before reaching Lighthouse Park.
Lighthouse Park has one of the few forests in Greater Vancouver that has never once been touched by logging. It's located on a tiny peninsula and is surrounded by old growth temperate rainforest. Even if it's raining, the trails in the park are covered by dense forest so that it feels like you're under a giant tree umbrella. Definitely a beautiful, tranquil, nature experience. From Lighthouse Park, you can drive further north-west along Marine Drive until you get to Horseshoe Bay.
Horseshoe Bay is a tiny community next to a major ferry terminal. There's a beautiful but tiny park called Whytecliff Park in Horseshoe Bay. It gives you a beautiful view of Howe Sound (fjord), Bowen Island, and the ferries coming and going. It's a great photo opportunity. If you have a spare day, you can drive all the way north to Whistler, but in January, be prepared for snow in that town.
Richmond & Steveston - Asian culture, Canadian maritime history
If you want an unusual shopping experience, you can drive into Richmond (south of Vancouver) to visit all the Asian malls. Richmond's population is over 50% Chinese, most of which are wealthy immigrants from Hong Kong. Unlike Vancouver's Chinatown, which is a remnant from the working-class pioneer Chinese families of the 1800's, Richmond's central area has dozens of blocks of modern Chinese restaurants, karaoke bars, Chinese bubble tea shops, clothing boutiques, sushi bars, cake shops, DVD/electronics shops, and a handful of hyper-modern Asian malls. Yaohan, Parker Place, and Aberdeen Centreare just some of the malls.
If you go to Aberdeen Centre, you have to visit Daiso - a Japanese "everything for $2" department store. It's like a piece of Tokyo that got transported to Canada. Parker Place has dozens of funky clothing boutiques, and one of the craziest food fairs. If you're looking for tasty Hong Kong and Taiwanese snack foods, definitely check it out. You'll feel as if you're in Hong Kong while in those malls. If you feel like shopping, Richmond Centre mall is better than any mall in Vancouver proper. It has more choice in terms of clothing.
For a taste of something different in Richmond, head to the south-west corner of the city to the village of Steveston. It's a heritage fishing village, with many independent gift/home decor shops, and dozens of casual restaurants, many of which focus on seafood and fish'n'chips.
Steveston is located at the mouth of the Fraser River, the largest river in BC, and it's home to Canada's largest fishing fleet. You can walk down to the docks and buy fresh fish off the boats. There are also many restaurants, coffee shops and ice cream shops along the riverfront. There are also a lot of historical sites in Steveston - the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site, London Heritage Farm, Britannia Shipyards, the Steveston Museum, etc. Certainly worth an afternoon exploring - it'll give you an atmosphere totally unlike Vancouver.
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