Looking for some of the best things to do in Vancouver? For those visiting British Columbia or have a day or two in Vancouver on a stopover, there’s more than plenty to see and do. Whether you’re on a budget or not, below is a short list of how I spent a recent day in the city on the cheap and while a guidebook may point you elsewhere, trust me to experience anything but the typical and obvious.
The Jimi Hendrix Shrine
Adjacent to my friend’s new condo building at Main and Union Street in Strathcona is a cleared lot with a single shack of a building housing Vancouver’s Jimi Hendrix Shrine. It turns out that Jimi spent a few summers here during his childhood and this was the restaurant’s kitchen his grandmother, Nora, ran back then. Inside, head-shop style memorabilia adorns the dark room’s walls, “Voodoo Chile” rumbles from a ghetto-blaster and I’m face to face with the owner and die-hard Hendrix fan, Vincent. Decked out in full 60’s garb, from red bell-bottom trousers to an out of control afro wig, he explains how he came by the property by accident after buying the block many years ago, realizing only later the gem he now owns. Along with early photos of Jimi and Nora and press clippings about the building itself, you’ll find photocopies of Jimi’s personal notes, letters and song lyrics. The shrine is only open in the summer, entry is free (although donations are welcome) but there is a small charge for those wanting to photograph.
For a little peace and tranquility in the bustle of Chinatown, you can’t beat the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Park and Garden. Opened in 1986, it was designed by over 50 Chinese and Canadian landscapers without the use of nails, screws or glue and was completed in less than a year. The garden was fashioned after a typical scholar’s private space, common in the time of the ancient Ming Dynasty and is the first of its kind outside of China. The adjacent public park flows and blends into the garden harmoniously, where an enchanting bamboo forest opens up to an intimate lily pond at the stunning entrance. Rocks and plants are both local and imported to demonstrate the theme of the space, the bridging of East and West cultures. In the summer, the gardens host private parties, classical music concerts and even yoga and while the park and large entrance area is free to explore, the enclosed gardens themselves charge a modest cover charge.
Whether it’s a trendy, fresh farmer’s market, an authentic Chinese night market or an Eastside street fair for and by the local homeless community, Vancouver’s got a boat load of them. Locally made jams, freshly baked breads and ripe B.C. produce can be found peddled by street vendors around town every day of the week. Find wild-caught salmon on Main Street, Fraser Valley honey in Kitsilano and organic goat’s milk at Trout Lake Park or simply meander through the crowds and soak up the vibe of the sellers and buyers. Chinatown is abuzz after dark as Keefer Street explodes with live music, classic Hainanese chicken stands and even outdoor movie screenings and if you don’t try the Potato Tornado, you’ve got no one to blame but yourself. But possibly the most interesting of them all is the DNC Street & Fair Market on Sundays in Vancouver’s Eastside. Started about three years ago with a handful of vendors, the market has grown to over 150 vendors selling gently used wares of all kinds at heavily discounted prices. It’s basically an outdoor thrift shop for the less privileged but the sense of community you feel in just a quick stroll down Carrall Street is inspiring, heart-warming and true.
The Aquabus and Seabus Ferries
For anyone not from Venice, New York City or Brisbane, the notion of commuting by sea is exciting, if not exotic and Vancouver’s waterway system is designed with both the resident as well as the tourist in mind. The charming and colourful Aquabus carries up to 12 passengers from the foot of Hornby Street to beautiful Granville Island and beyond and its bigger sister, Cyquabus, can accommodate up to 30 passengers as well as those with bicycles, wheelchairs, strollers and pets, all for under $5. In contrast, The SeaBus is a proper 400 passenger ferry linking downtown Vancouver to Lonsdale Quay on the North Shore in just 12 exciting minutes and is a part of the city’s public TransitLink system, costing a measly $2.75. Both crossings provide spectacular views and offer a new perspective of Vancouver’s scenic waterfront and truly make the journey as fun as the destination.
Affectionately and simply called “The Drive” by the locals, this 22 block strip in Vancouver’s East end is an eclectic mix of quaint Italian cafes, delicious bakeries, owner run boutiques and authentic restaurants. The village hosts various street festivals, parades and farmer’s markets and repeatedly wins “Vancouver’s Best Neighbourhood” award. It is a one mile breath-of-fresh-air of a street cherished by its residents where unique is key and opening a chain anything is heavily frowned upon, if not disallowed. Originally occupied by migrant CP Rail workers, it became Vancouver’s Little Italy in the 50’s and today, walking tours such as The Little Italy Food Tour explore the area’s history as well as tasting its delicious present. Get lost in a vintage clothing store, stop and listen to a busker or relax with an espresso and people watch. The street thrives on small business personality and charm and is hands down, the hippest place to be in Van.
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