BRITISH COLUMBIA'S largest city consistently ranks near the top of lists of the world's best cities. But unlike other places that often make the cut (Melbourne, Munich), the City of Glass has not often been accused of having its finger on the pulse of cool—until now.
Young chefs, artists and designers have been moving to town, drawn by its sophistication, ethnic diversity and natural bounty—verdant Vancouver is studded with parks and beaches, and the snow-capped North Shore Mountains are rarely out of sight. The newcomers are helping homegrown talent transform neighborhoods, replacing dilapidated storefronts and gloomy pawnshops with bars that serve local microbrews and eateries that dish up sustainable cuisine.
On an edgy Chinatown street, for instance, vegetarian restaurant Parker brings French techniques together with local produce (and claims to generate less than a pound of waste a month). Nearby Gastown, where Vancouver began, is filled with nightclubs and shops like Secret Location, a restaurant-cum-boutique where you're as likely to find a designer plastic coat as a 35mm Lomography camera.
Vancouver has a mild climate year-round, but it really shines in summer. The days last until almost 10 p.m. in July, and locals spill from restaurant patios and bars into the old cobblestone streets. While Vancouverites still obsess about ski slopes and hiking trails, separate their recyclables and wouldn't dream of honking their horns, now they also dress in designer duds for dinner.
The Gourmand: David Hawksworth
Chef at Hawksworth Restaurant
Landmark with a View // The Lions Gate Bridge. I love driving from Vancouver and seeing the view of the North Shore from the bridge. Interesting fact: It was built by the Guinness family [of the Irish beer fame].
Uncrowded Coastline // Jericho Beach. The beach stretches for miles on end, it's not crowded with people and it's located in a beautiful part of Vancouver. I like to spend the afternoon there with my family. North side of Jericho Park at the west end of Point Grey Road, in the Point Grey neighborhood.
Artsy Cocktails // L'Abattoir. The bar at L'Abattoir, located in the center of Gastown, is a great place to visit. I like the exposed brick and beam look, which is a signature of the city's oldest neighborhood. L'Abattoir usually attracts an artistic and stylish crowd. The cocktail list is innovative and interesting. 217 Carrall St., labattoir.ca
Quick Bite // Gyoza King. On my days off I usually go to Asian restaurants. Gyoza King on Robson Street serves delicious, authentic Japanese izakaya food. 1508 Robson St., gyokingroup.com
Cookery Books // Barbara-Jo's Books to Cooks. My favorite bookstore, located in the Armoury District. It's unique and offers a great selection of cookbooks and wine books for everyone, including foodies, professionals and home cooks. 1740 W. 2nd Ave., bookstocooks.com
The Fashion Maven: John Fluevog
Vancouver-born-and-bred shoe designer
Coffee Break // Revolver Coffee. This small, independent cafe exemplifies Vancouver. It's not overly decorated. There's a roughness to the design. They make simple and precise coffee that hipsters love. 325 Cambie St., revolvercoffee.ca
Best Donuts // Cartems Donuterie. It's on the seediest block in Vancouver, but they have amazing flavors and crazy mixtures, like bourbon-bacon. 408 Carrall St., cartems.com
Savory Sandwiches // Big Lou's Butcher Shop. It's almost entirely organic meats, all fresh, all local. Their roast-beef sandwiches are awesome. 269 Powell St., biglousbutchershop.com
Tea Time // o5 Rare Tea Bar. An authentic Asian tea place; the look is very simple but exquisitely done. The finishes on the pots, the bowls, everything is very high-end. 2208 W. 4th Ave., o5tea.com
Indie Threads // Board of Trade Co. A concept boutique featuring up-and-coming designers from around the globe. I like supporting independents and little guys, and I am really impressed with their collections. 206 Carrall St. and 227 Union St., boardoftradeco.com
Hipster Bar // Alibi Room. It used to be dead, but they started getting all these craft beers and people started going. Now it's packed every night with trendy 20-somethings. 157 Alexander St., alibi.ca
The Artist: Martha Sturdy
Sculptor, designer and founder of Sturdy art studio
Breakfast Bites // Beaucoup Bakery. They have excellent pastries, scones and sandwiches. I like to start my day quietly, so a latte and croissant at the counter of this little shop is perfect. 2150 Fir St., beaucoupbakery.com
Sushi Joint // Toshi Sushi. Some of the freshest sushi I have ever had outside of Japan was from this small and unassuming but very popular restaurant. You can easily wait for an hour to be seated, but it's worth it. The Box Roll and the House Roll are artful executions of some of my favorite dishes. 181 E. 16th Ave.
Iconic Architecture // The Marine Building. It was completed in 1930 and is a stunning example of craftsmanship and architectural detail—there's really nothing else like it in Vancouver. It's one of the landmarks in this city that has been the same my entire life. 355 Burrard St.
Best Beach // Spanish Banks. This beach in the West Point Grey neighborhood is fabulous in the winter because it is so peaceful and no one is there. In the summer the water is so shallow you can walk forever in the ankle-deep tidal pools. It's calm and wonderful—very West Coast. 4801 N.W. Marine Drive
Colorful 'Hood // Chinatown. It's real and authentic and full of interesting sights and smells. I love the character of this part of the city. It isn't too polished and yuppie.
The Dancer: Chan Hon Goh
Former dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, director of Goh Ballet Academy and Youth Company Canada
Best Building // Vancouver Convention Centre. I remember thinking, when it opened shortly before the 2010 Winter Olympics, that the architecture and location embodied the serenity and airiness of the West Coast. It's situated right on the harbor, with a tremendous view of Stanley Park and the mountains. 1055 Canada Place, vancouverconventioncentre.com
Seaside Sanctuary // Dundarave Pier. Beautiful any time of year, rain or shine. I see a mix of people there: families and seniors and professionals and young couples in love. It's not a beach just for sun bathing—there's a play area for children and a pier where people like to go crab fishing. End of 25th Street in West Vancouver
Panoramic Dining // Oru Cuisine. The unique tastes and use of fresh, local ingredients has never disappointed me. Get a table by the window: The view of the water and the mountains is simply breathtaking. In the colder months I enjoy their veal osso bucco. Fairmont Pacific Rim, 1038 Canada Place, orucuisine.com
VIP Shopping // The Room at Hudson's Bay. Located on the second floor of Hudson's Bay [department store] in downtown. The customer service and exclusive designers make it a treat. There's a platinum suite with a lounge and spacious dressing rooms. You can even order lunch and eat in the suite while you contemplate what to buy. 674 Granville St., www2.thebay.com/theroom
Plus Don't Miss…
Stanley Park One of the largest urban parks in North America, it has miles of walking and biking trails among century-old firs, cedars and hemlock trees, plus pristine beaches, First Nations totem poles and a miniature railway. stanleypark.org // Rosewood Hotel Georgia Everyone from Hollywood A-listers to rock stars and British royalty have stayed at this hotel, which opened in 1927 and relaunched in 2011 after a massive renovation. It now has an indoor saline pool, a spa and David Hawksworth's eponymous restaurant. rosewoodhotels.com // Granville Island On this peninsula you'll find a public market filled with fresh specialty foods, as well as pedestrian-only alleys where the shops stock wares by local artisans and designers. granvilleisland.com // Wildebeest This snout-to-tail eatery, in a refurbished 19th-century building, is one of the hottest tables in town. wildebeest.ca