Summers can get hot in Texas. What better place to get away from the scorching heat than British Columbia, Canada? We visited Vancouver and Victoria with high hopes for 3 days, and Vancouver did not disappoint! Mrs. CurryOnTravel and I cannot rave enough about Vancouver. A clean, beautiful, bike-friendly city; it provided a perfect summer escape. With a diverse group of cuisines and people; it was fun packing for this trip, as we needed hiking, swimming, and teatime gear.
What to do there
We drove up from Seattle to Vancouver, taking I-5, a semi-scenic route. The Canadian Border Control welcomed us, and I received my formal training to use the Metric system rather than the English. The two hour drive goes by quick if you leave early in the morning, and you do not hit any real traffic until you enter downtown Vancouver.
Feels so different to be welcomed…
After checking in to our hotel, we headed straight for the Granville Island Public Market. It was close to lunchtime, and the small island next to downtown is a great spot, with food stalls that cover numerous cuisines. You can shop the market for farm, fresh fruits and veggies; or try the famous spicy peanuts and cashews. Or, if you’re like Mrs. CurryOnTravel, you can hop from stall to stall to try the delicious food. I particularly recommend the Golden Bowl from Chau Veggie Express. Sit down and enjoy a hot bowl of vegan curry, as you watch other folks by the harbor, overlooking the Granville Bridge.
Get ready to eat ye who enter here
After lunch, and a few rounds of different boutiques at the Public Market, we stopped by the Granville Island Tea Company. They have a tasting of different teas around 3 pm, but nothing completes a visit to the Granville Island Public Market than a cup of their Spicy Chai (extra spicy for me).
As we were getting later in the afternoon, and the wind was picking up, we got some bikes and rode to Stanley Park. A few blocks from the Harbor in downtown Vancouver, the park is a great spot for biking, walking, or simply laying by the beach. A 2-hour bike ride through the park allowed us to stop by the major spots. The Lions Gate Bridge looked amazing as the sun was setting and air was getting cooler. It was a good start to our trip. You can also drive to Prospect Point, if you want to take a break from biking.
Lions Gate Bridge from Stanley Park
After a good workout, we stopped by Papparoti to fill up on some carbs. We ordered the Original Bun, with melted butter on the inside. Not a bad way to end our first day in Vancouver.
Who gets the first bite?
The next morning, we got an early start and drove to Whistler Mountain. The scenic drive to the mountain contains many lookout points. One point I recommend is Shannon Falls. You can stop by on the way up or down, the Falls are located about an hour from the mountain; and they provide a good rest stop.
Couple of hours north of Vancouver, the Whistler Mountain has great options for hiking, mountain biking, zip lining, or riding their signature Peak-to-Peak Gondola. Connecting the Blackcomb Mountain peak to the Whistler Peak, the 2-stop Gondola allows for amazing views and slow, steady climb over the mountains. In the winter, you can climb up with your skis; and in the summer, you can admire the views and enjoy some powder at the top.
Mid-Summer Thaw at Whistler
Hacking Tip: The bottom of the Whistler Mountain has a mini-city feel to it with different hotels and lodges surrounding a common town-square. The lines of the Peak-to-Peak Gondola tickets are long, and unfortunately, they have the same lines for tickets reserved online and tickets at the door. Reserving tickets online is cheaper than buying it at the door. Beat the crowds by getting there early in the day. The second Gondola ride, from Blackcomb, has an option for a see through floor; however, the lines can be long since the gondola circles every 15 minutes. Instead, take the see through gondola on the way back to Blackcomb, as the lines are shorter.
On the way back to Vancouver, we stopped by Squamish village. About a mid-point between Whistler and Vancouver, the Squamish village is really coming into its own as a destination spot. Many tourists stay at Squamish and drive to Whistler to save on hotel costs. Many tourists stop by Squamish for lunch, as the options are limited in the evening. The cafés in the village are spectacular, and I really recommend The Ledge for their coffee, live music, and the friendly service.
Grouse Mountain, about 30 minutes outside of Vancouver, is another good spot for mountain adventures. Close to Grouse are the Capilano and Lynn Suspension Bridges. Capilano is the more famous of the two, however there is no entry fee to Lynn.
After an eventful day at Whistler Mountain, we explored downtown Vancouver for a casual evening. We walked to Gastown to look at the famous Steam Clock. Located on the corner of Cambie and Water streets, this steam-powered clock is quite a sight. From Gastown, we headed to Yaletown to dine at Nuba. A great Mediterranean spot, with amazing service; I truly recommend sitting by the patio and enjoying the late evening in Vancouver. For dessert, stop by Bella Gelataria for their unique gelato flavors (and be prepared to wait in line).
One of the highlights of our trips was to take a ferry to Victoria Island for a day trip. The next morning we drove to Tsawwassen to take our ferry to Swartz Bay. From the bay, we drove to Butchart Gardens, a grand garden built over time by a single family. Enjoy their five garden tour to smell the roses from Germany, or find your Zen in the Japanese Garden. The tour is self-paced and an Ornithology expert is available to answer any questions you may have.
The Rose Garden at Butchart’s
Hacking Tip: Rather than reserving tickets online, we bought tickets to the garden at the door. The Gardens are located on one end of the Island, so a car is preferable. Do visit the Garden if you enjoy Arboretums, however if you visited certain garden styles before then this may seem repetitive.
After a few hours at Butchart Gardens, we left for Inner Harbour area in downtown Victoria. Named after Queen Victoria herself, the island as a royal feel to it. It is abundantly clear as you walk down the harbor and glance at the Parliament Building and the Fairmont Empress hotel. The Fairmont Empress hotel, built for the residence of Her Majesty and her subjects, is famous for High Tea.
Rear entry to the Parliament
Hacking Tip: We booked the ferry reservations online through BCFerries. They provide ferries to other bays from outside Vancouver. It was a great experience as we booked a date and time, however, we got their early and they accommodated us to an earlier ferry; we just paid the difference. This happened going to and coming back from Victoria. We simply waited in our car and pulled into the ferry. After parking, we climb up to an upper deck and enjoyed the views during our 90-minute cruise. Book an early cruise time to avoid crowds and save on costs.
After reaching Vancouver in the late afternoon, we headed for Kitslano Beach, also known as “Kits”. We found a mixture of college students and families on the beach for relaxing, playing games, or trying water activities. The water is not too clean to enjoy a good swim, and, being close to the Pacific, it can be a little cold even in the summer. We took the time to unwind on our last evening in Canada.
We saved the best restaurant for last as we drove to Tasty Indian Bistro for finger-licking North Indian food. From the ambiance to the service, Mrs. CurryOnTravel and I were truly impressed to find a high quality home-cooked style meal at a fraction of the cost that we pay for in the States. If you are a fan of North Indian food, do not miss this spot during your visit.
As we walked downtown Vancouver during our last evening, we ended up at Breka Cafe. Open 24 hours, the cafe has some really good pastries and coffee for a late night fix. It as fun to site by the patio and watch the locals walk by. I couldn’t help but think as I sipped my espresso, how memorable this trip will be for quite some time.
How to get there
There are no shortages to get to Vancouver. We chose to drive from Seattle; however, you can fly directly into Vancouver. Cruises are a good option from Seattle to Victoria or Seattle to Vancouver. Having a car was beneficial to us as it gave us flexibility to travel to outside Vancouver.
Where to stay
We had a great experience staying at the Pinnacle by the harbor. Located on Hastings Street, the hotel is a few blocks from Stanley Park and walking distance to other downtown spots. The staff provided great recommendations and really helped make the most of our trip. Do take their complimentary bikes for a downtown bike ride, or a Stanley Park tour. Plenty of street parking is available if you do not want to pay the crazy downtown parking garage fares.
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