On December 16, 2014Carolyn B. Heller answered the question:If you’re a fan of gardens, visit one of British Columbia’s finest: Butchart Gardens, just north of the city of Victoria. On this 23-hectare (55-acre) property, there’s always something blooming, although the gardens are especially lovely in the spring and summer.
The city of Victoria has lots of attractions, from the grand Royal BC Museum to the Inner Harbour, where you can stroll along the waterfront, enjoying the sun or watching the ever-present buskers. Have afternoon tea at the stately Fairmont Empress Hotel, or save your appetite for one of the city’s new chef-owned bistros.
The Cowichan Valley is Vancouver Island’s wine country, with about 15 wineries offering tastes and tours. It’s about an hour’s drive north of Victoria. You’ll find several more wineries on the Saanich Peninsula, not far from the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, where the boats arrive from Vancouver.
Some of the island’s most spectacular scenery is on the west-facing Pacific coast, around the town of Tofino. Beautiful beaches and a rainforest national park are the highlights. You can go whale-watching, learn to surf, or kayak among offshore islands.
On September 9, 2013Carolyn B. Heller answered the question:The 64 rooms at The Magnolia Hotel & Spa are fairly traditional in design, but they feel contemporary, too, particularly after a 2013 refresh that updated the bedding, curtains and more in stylish shades of taupe, cream and gray. Taupe coverlets top the white-sheeted beds, with a coordinating print on the floor-length draperies. The reading chairs are upholstered in pearl gray, and the two-poster beds, desks and night tables in dark mahogany contrast nicely with the lighter-hued linens. Black-and-white photos — close-ups of architecture around Victoria, British Columbia — decorate the walls.
Sleeping options include a king, a queen or two queen beds. Ranging in size from 300 to 400 square feet, rooms are outfitted with small refrigerators, coffeemakers and flat-screen TVs, and staff will bring a DVD player up to you on request. Local phone calls and Wi-Fi are complimentary. The rooms on the sixth and seventh floors have Keurig espresso makers, instead of the standard drip coffeemakers, as well as fireplaces and higher ceilings. While all the corner rooms are larger and brighter, the Victoria hotel’s best accommodations are the corner units on the sixth and seventh floors, which also have views of both the lovely harbor and the Parliament Buildings with their distinctive copper-topped domes. It’s a great sight to see the buildings illuminated every evening with strings of sparkling white lights.
On September 9, 2013Carolyn B. Heller answered the question:The Magnolia Hotel & Spa has one restaurant, the wood-paneled, window-lined Catalano Restaurant & Cicchetti Bar. A continental breakfast buffet set up there in the mornings is complimentary to hotel guests (and otherwise closed to the public); the spread includes pastries, fresh fruit, cereals, yogurts and juices, as well as eggs or another hot dish. At lunch and dinner, Catalano takes its influences from the Mediterranean. The midday menu starts with sandwiches — perhaps housemade chorizo with goat cheese and arugula, or crispy chickpea-and-quinoa fritters — alongside salads, mussels and pastas, while in the evening, local seafood, steaks and chicken join the pasta options. At the bar, as the Victoria restaurant’s Italian name suggests, you can order cicchetti, Venetian tapas-style small plates, such as fried octopus, rare tuna atop local potatoes, arancini (Parmesan-enriched rice balls) or bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with Gorgonzola cheese.
On July 29, 2013Carolyn B. Heller answered the question:August in Vancouver is full of festivals and events. Here are a few of this month’s highlights:
Pride Festival. Vancouver celebrates its gay community with a colorful multiday Pride Fest in early August, which features the city’s biggest parade.
Celebration of Light. On three summer nights in late July and early August, this annual fireworks competition draws crowds who ooh and ahh at the pyrotechnics over English Bay.
MusicFest Vancouver. Classic music fans enjoy two weeks of orchestra and chamber music concerts during this annual August music series.
Burnaby Blues and Roots Festival. There’s more music on offer at this annual day-long concert outdoors at Deer Lake Park in suburban Burnaby. Performers hail from across Canada and farther afield.
Powell Street Festival. Vancouver’s Japanese community hosts this annual weekend event celebrating Japanese culture with dance, tea ceremonies, and food.
On July 29, 2013Carolyn B. Heller answered the question:Many of Vancouver’s best restaurants prepare excellent dishes with West Coast fish, but several seafood-centric spots stand out.
C Restaurant. One of Vancouver’s earliest champions of sustainable regional seafood, this sleek contemporary restaurant has an enviable location overlooking the False Creek waterfront. Look for creative fish dishes like Hawkshaw salmon paired with steamed manila clams, kohlrabi, and green papaya salsa; roasted halibut with smoked octopus, asparagus, and oyster mushrooms; or a “Seafood Tower” piled high with local sea creatures. Dine mid-day or before sunset for the best water views.
Blue Water Café. A stylish dining room in a renovated Yaletown warehouse, Blue Water is another destination for innovative fish-focused food. Executive Chef Frank Pabst frequently features what he calls “Unsung Heroes,” seafood that’s lesser-known or uncommonly found on restaurant menus. The raw bar has one of Vancouver’s largest selections of West Coast oysters.
Coast. If you enjoy some sparkle with your shellfish, head for this chic downtown seafood palace, where the space swims with both sightseers and scenesters. The simplest dishes are the best here, so opt for grilled fish or seafood on ice.
Yew. At this restaurant in the Forbes Four-star Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver, the menu changes seasonally but always features fish from local waters. Ask for the day’s fresh catch or sample the crab tacos, west-coast paella, or anything with BC spot prawns.
Go Fish. Sometimes, you want your seafood simple. That’s the time to visit this waterfront fish shack a short stroll from Granville Island. Specialties include fish ‘n’ chips, salmon tacos, and an oyster “po boy” sandwich. Crowds pack the few seats whenever the sun shines, so plan to perch on the nearby wharf, or take your meal to go.
On July 29, 2013Carolyn B. Heller answered the question:Vancouver abounds with activities for water-lovers. Here are three of the most popular ways to get wet:
Swimming. Beaches surround Vancouver, both around the downtown peninsula and on the city’s West Side. Downtown, you can swim at English Bay Beach and at Second and Third Beaches in Stanley Park; Second Beach also has an outdoor pool overlooking the ocean. On the West Side, the most popular stretch of sand is at Kitsilano Beach, where there’s an oceanside pool as well. Further west, you can swim at Jericho, Locarno, and Spanish Banks Beaches, and at the clothing-optional Wreck Beach. If you prefer to swim indoors, the city has excellent public pools at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre downtown and at the Hillcrest Community Centre, near Queen Elizabeth Park.
Kayaking. The waters around Vancouver’s False Creek are popular with kayakers. You can rent gear or arrange a paddling tour at the Ecomarine Paddlesport Centres, which has locations at Granville Island, English Bay, and Jericho Beach. Creekside Kayaks at the Olympic Village rents kayaks as well. On the North Shore, about a 40-minute drive from downtown Vancouver, you can paddle the beautiful waters around Deep Cove; get outfitted at Deep Cove Canoe & Kayak.
Stand-up Paddle Boarding. What’s SUP? In Vancouver, it’s the latest water sports craze. The Ecomarine Paddlesport Centres rent boards and related equipment and also offer lessons if you’re just getting started.
On July 29, 2013Carolyn B. Heller answered the question:Located on Vancouver Island, across the Georgia Strait from the city of Vancouver, the Butchart Gardens is western Canada’s most beautiful botanical garden. On this 135-acre (54-hectare) former private estate, which is also a National Historic Site, walking trails wend among seasonal showcases of roses, tulips, lilies, daisies, dahlias, geraniums, and many, many more.
First opened to the public in 1904, the gardens welcome visitors daily year-round, although their floral displays are most spectacular from late spring through early fall. An especially popular time to visit is on Saturdays in July and August, when evening concerts are followed by fireworks displays. The Butchart Gardens is 12.5 miles (20 kilometers) south of the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal, where ferries arrive from the BC mainland, and about a 30-minute drive from the city of Victoria.
On July 29, 2013Carolyn B. Heller answered the question:Many of Vancouver’s best art galleries specialize in works by Canada’s First Nations artists. You’ll find fine pieces by these aboriginal sculptors, painters, and carvers at the Douglas Reynolds Gallery on South Granville Street, Hill’s Native Art in Gastown, and Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery, which has locations in both Gastown and Yaletown.
For other contemporary works, check out South Granville’s “Gallery Row,” whose dozen or so denizens include the Bau-Xi Gallery, Marion Scott Gallery, and Elissa Cristall Gallery.
Vancouver’s newest gallery district is The Flats, around Great Northern Way, east of Main Street. This emerging arts neighborhood is home to the Equinox Gallery, the Monte Clark Gallery, and several more avant garde art spaces.
On July 29, 2013Carolyn B. Heller answered the question:Vancouver has almost no free museums, but the city does have plenty of free or low-cost attractions. It costs nothing to explore the trails and seawall path in Stanley Park, or to swim and sun on the city’s many beaches. Granville Island, with its artist studios and food-filled Public Market, is free to browse, although you may want to budget for snacks and souvenirs. There’s no charge to hike the Grouse Grind or the rainforest trails in Pacific Spirit Park. Wandering the cobblestone streets of Gastown, exploring the art galleries along South Granville, or window-shopping on Robson Street, in Yaletown, or among Main Street’s independent boutiques are also free.
Several Vancouver museums do offer reduced admission during certain hours. On Tuesday evenings, admission at the Vancouver Art Gallery is by donation. Also on Tuesdays evenings, the Museum of Anthropology offers a discounted entrance fee.
On July 29, 2013Carolyn B. Heller answered the question:Baguette & Co. With locations in Kitsilano and West End, this friendly little French bakery prepares baguettes and other traditional French breads, as well as very good croissants. If you always have trouble deciding between almond and chocolate pastries, don’t worry – their delectable chocolate-almond croissant combines the best of both.
Terra Breads. At this local favorite, pick up a loaf of bread for your picnic – the green olive or rosemary varieties are good choices – or a cookie to sustain you through your sightseeing. The Granville Island location is a take-out counter, but you can sit down for a sandwich or pastry in the Kitsilano or Olympic Village branches.
Tartine Bread and Pies. Hidden away amidst the Yaletown condo towers just off the False Creek seawall, this shop bakes excellent breads (including a hearty multigrain loaf), an assortment of muffins, and a wide range of seasonal pies and tarts.
Crème de la Crumb. Like scones? This tiny downtown bakery bakes some fine ones, fresh every day. Try the vanilla bean and pear, cranberry with white chocolate, or whatever has just come out of the oven.
Thomas Haas. Kitsilano denizens were thrilled when pastry chef Thomas Haas opened a patisserie-café in their ‘hood. It’s hard to pass up the signature dark-chocolate sparkle cookies, but you’ll also find macarons, croissants, fresh fruit galettes, and a collection of drool-worthy chocolates.
On July 29, 2013Carolyn B. Heller answered the question:Vancouver is in the midst of a pizza boom, where one Neapolitan-style parlor after another is pitting its wood-fired pizza ovens and cracker-thin-crusted pies against the other local competition. Here are five local favorites for both traditional and trendier pizzas:
Nook. Neighbors don’t want you to know about Nook; it’s already hard enough to get a table at this piccolo West End pizzeria. But when they serve some of Vancouver’s best pizza, we can’t remain silent. The pizza options are classic and meat-centric: Italian sausage, salami, prosciutto with arugula. While vegetarian pies are available, the menu cautions, “All products may contain pork, tasty pork.” You’ve been warned.
The BiBo. A visit to this smart-looking Kitsilano pizzeria is like a quick trip to Italy, where the wine flows and the traditional Neapolitan style pies are prepared in a blazingly hot wood-fired oven. Don’t look for ham-and-pineapple or other quirky North American variations; the toppings here are all classic Italian ingredients like prosciutto, fresh basil, eggplant, and black olives.
Nicli Antica Pizzeria. If you’re a fan of puffy, oven-blistered crusts with sparse but fresh toppings, get thee to Gastown, where this stylish high-ceilinged room with exposed brick walls is the backdrop for these artistic pizzas. Several salads – simple greens, arugula with fennel and oranges, or tuna conserva with potato and white beans – make good pie companions, too.
Nat’s New York Pizzeria. Nat’s has been on the scene long before many of the trendier pie parlors opened their doors. Sure, the décor, at both the West End and Kitsilano locations, is Formica-basic (and New York jokes figure prominently), but you’re here for the pizza – period. Favorite varieties include the Fifth Avenue (spinach, onions, fresh tomatoes, and feta cheese), the pesto artichoke, and the simple spicy mushroom. Grab a slice and head for the beach.
Marcello’s. Located on Commercial Drive in the city’s former “Little Italy” district, Marcello’s is another old timer, where locals crowd in for the thin-crusted pizzas baked in the wood-burning oven. Homemade pastas are another popular choice here.
On July 29, 2013Carolyn B. Heller answered the question:With its cobblestone streets and brick warehouse-style buildings, Gastown has a totally different vibe than adjacent Vancouver districts where shiny glass skyscrapers dominate the cityscape. Settled in the 1860s, Gastown is Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood, and one of the best ways to explore this area is simply to walk around.
These days, Gastown is home to many of the city’s high-tech and design businesses, as well as its most exciting restaurants and best cocktail bars. Plan to dine at contemporary eateries like L’Abbatoir or Boneta, and have a drink at the Pourhouse or out on the always-crowded patio at Chill Winston. Many independent boutiques have also set up shop in Gastown’s historic buildings, so schedule time to wander and browse.
Take break from your explorations with a donut at Cartem’s Donuterie (look for fun flavors like salted caramel or Canadian whiskey and bacon) or stop in for coffee at one of Gastown’s numerous java joints. Also check out the event schedule at SFU Woodwards, Simon Fraser University’s contemporary art and culture center, which hosts lectures, films, and avant garde theater productions.