In a city of neighborhoods, local ROBIN ESROCK reveals 10 of the best.
British Columbia’s coastal seaport city of Vancouver has earned the reputation as one of the world’s most livable cities. Here are great reasons why this is so:
ROBSON ST.: FAB ZONE
Vancouver’s premier street-shopping district can be found from the corner of Robson and Burrard Sts., heading west several blocks. All the major brands are well represented—Banana Republic, Gap, Mexx, Esprit, Levi’s, and Roots, along with the better chain restaurants like Milestones, Earls, and Cactus Club. Dining ranges from celebrity hangouts like CinCin and Joe Fortes, to cheap eats, hip Japanese eateries, and sushi joints. At Thurlow, you’ll find two Starbucks stores directly opposite each other—an indication of the city’s addiction to coffee culture.
GRANVILLE ST.: ARTS AND THE CITY
Expect neon-lit clubs and bars in Vancouver’s entertainment district, which get very busy on weekends. Clubs range from the high-end Republic, along with popular live music venues like the Orpheum and Vogue. South Granville, over the bridge away from downtown, is a more chic affair, with art galleries, designer stores, and highly rated restaurants like West and Cru. Under the bridge is Granville Market, an excellent place to find gifts, delicacies, art, crafts and, of course, fresh fruit and veggies.
WEST END: ’HOOD WITH A VIEW
Welcome to the main residential areas of downtown Vancouver. It encompasses English Bay, one of the world’s great urban beaches, and various shopping districts. The West End is known to be one of the most densely populated urban areas in North America, where rents are high and everyone is clambering for a view of the gorgeous local mountains. Parking is almost impossible, which is why many locals travel by bike, taking advantage of
dedicated bike lanes. The building boom has spared many heritage houses and old condo blocks, giving the neighborhood the atmosphere of a laid-back holiday town.
YALETOWN: YUPPIES’ PET
Downtown’s gritty industrial area has transformed into Vancouver’s own TriBeCa, with expensive lofts, trendy firms, designer boutiques, bars, and restaurants lining these few city blocks. It’s a smart, slick, and often a celebrity affair at joints like Society, Glowbal, Blue Water Café, and George. More relaxed is the Yaletown Brew Pub and the always popular Section 3. In a city known for its laid-back population, Yaletown is one of the few places you might see yuppies after work, chatting to well-dressed women with coiffed poodles on the sidewalk.
COMMERCIAL DRIVE: MELTING POT
When I lived on Commercial Drive, I counted 14 ethnic restaurants within three blocks of my apartment, all on the same street. Commercial Drive is a vibrant community hosting a multitude of ethnic groups—Jamaican, Ethiopian, Greek, Portuguese, Japanese, and plenty of Italians. There are boutiques and delis, antique furniture, and strange shops like Beckwomans that sell, well, just about everything you can imagine. Walking “The Drive” is a great activity in itself, with odd characters, cool independent coffee shops, and great food from around the planet.
KITSALANO: HOT, HIP, AND HEALTHY
Kits is Vancouver’s equivalent of Santa Monica, having evolved from a hippie/student ’hood into an expensive yuppie kingdom. During the summer, the hardest bodies hit Kits beach, but anyone will find plenty to look at, buy, and eat on the main arteries of Cornwall, West 4th Ave., and West Broadway. On sunny days, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better patio view than The Boathouse on the beach, while Bishops on West 4th Ave. routinely tops the best fine-dining awards. Vegetarians are in heaven at Naam, undoubtedly the best 24-hour vegetarian restaurant in the world.
MAIN ST.: ECLECTIC VIBE
One of the city’s first major arteries has also seen a reemergence in recent years, with industrial stores and factories making way for restaurants, bars, designer stores, and coffee shops. Main St. runs north to south throughout most of the city. It cuts through Vancouver’s wonderful Chinatown at the bottom, makes its way up to Broadway passing Foundation (a terrific vegetarian dining option), and local faves like the Cascade Room and Café Barneys. On its way to King Edward St., Main St. offers boutique clothing shops and hip coffee and dining spots like the Grind and Locus. From there, Main becomes more residential, although does run into a lovely strip of Little India around 49th Ave.
NORTH VANCOUVER/WEST VANCOUVER: PRIME SPOT
Across the striking Lions Gate Bridge sit the more affluent municipalities of North and West Vancouver. Some of the city’s most expensive property is located here, threading up the mountains, with views over Vancouver. West Vancouver’s North West Marine Drive snakes along the coastline, a beautiful drive all the way to Horseshoe Bay. Stop in at Lighthouse Park for some great forest walks and views of the city. North Vancouver has a wonderful market at Lonsdale Quay, with many Persian shops found further up the street. North Van also has wonderful forests to explore, like Lynn Valley Canyon, Capilano Demonstration Forest, and the Capilano Suspension Bridge.