An insider's guide to Vancouver's hidden gems, hot spots and must-dos

We asked west coast vets about their best bets in swoon-worthy Van

We asked west coast vets about their best bets in swoon-worthy Van

(Source, left: Instagram/@savio_volpe; right: Instagram/@kissatanto)

Someone recently told me that Vancouver was like the end of the world. Where the ocean and the mountains meet - a magnetic pull for people of all types and stripes. Then, upon arriving, it appears they've run out of places to go, so there they stay, at the edge of the world. As a frequent enough visitor to what is arguably Canada's "best coast", I can attest to the gravitational pull of the west. Yet, as a Torontonian through and through, I felt overwhelmed by the new array of hip spots on a recent visit - I had previously thought of Vancouver as a sleepy town (compared to other similarly-sized cities around the world). Many residents pride themselves on being early to bed in order to wake with the sun for those wee-hour runs and cycles on one of the hundreds of pedestrian and bike paths winding across the city. With its young population, the cocktail scene is on point and there is much more to do than just yoga and hiking (great pastimes to be sure). There are also some damn good meals to be had by chef's experimenting with all varieties of cuisine & ingredients.

To help us tap into everything to see, do, try, buy — and of course, hike in Vancouver right now, we reached out to four very in-the-know pros.

From foodies who scour the city for sport to globetrotters who lay their head in Van as often as they can, this group has shared gems, local haunts and breath-taking viewpoints that have us dreaming of our next touchdown at YVR. If you're there or en route soon, colour us as green as Stanley Park.

Alex Merrell, DJ, Founder of the Remarkable Explorers Club

How would you describe your Vancouver?

The most beautiful coastline. The cleanest air. Buildings made of glass reflecting the ocean. An incredible culinary scene. Cozy mountain escapes in the Winter. Heavenly hikes and beach days in the Summer. "Home". How lucky am I?

What is the ideal way to spend a sunny summer day in the city?

Get up early to beat the rush and head to Medina for a lavender latte, the breakfast tagine, and a waffle with white chocolate pistachio rosewater. Rent a bike and ride around Stanley Park, where you will have forest on one side and the ocean on the other. Stop at Third Beach for a swim (hard to get to without the bike). Head to Rodney's Oyster House in Yaletown for a loud, boisterous dinner with great seafood and cute shuckers, and try to befriend someone with a rooftop so you can see the yearly fireworks festival without the crowds.

Where is the first place you go after touching down at YVR?

Outside! I swear the first breath of air walking out of YVR is the freshest in the world. After dropping my bags at my mom's house, we usually head to my favourite Italian osteria, Savio Volpe. Everything from their take on a kale caesar to the homemade pastas is fantastic.  

As someone who has a degree in wayfaring, where do you suggest out-of-towners lay their heads?

​Rosewood Hotel Georgia is a beautiful, historic gem in the heart of the city. The hotel has a substantial collection of Canadian contemporary art and you can actually grab a map from the concierge and tour it.

For privacy, Shangri-La Vancouver is tucked away steps from the city's designer shops and the spa is incredible. On the boutique side of things, The Loden Hotel is a favourite. Check out the hotel restaurant, Tableau, for laid-back French cuisine.

Best place to indulge your sweet tooth?

Growing up I'd ask for the fresh fruit tart from Stuart's Bakery in the Granville Island market for my birthday every year. My mother had an art studio on the island so that market is very nostalgic for me. I love grabbing a little treat and wandering next door to the Granville Island Tea Company for their mind-blowing chai (get it with fresh ginger) to sip outside by the water watching the boats.


Best place to indulge your mind?

My stepfather is the exhibition designer at the Museum of Anthropology and in addition to a truly incredible permanent collection and stunning architecture, their temporary exhibits are consistently vibrant and inspiring. The museum truly embodies the spirit of the West Coast of Canada and our artistic history.

Dennis Pang, Principle & Agency Director, Foodie & Fast Car Enthusiast

(Courtesy of Dennis Pang)

Coffee culture in Vancouver is alive and well - do you have a favorite spot?

Favourite one to work from has to be Cartems, because it's so close to our office and they have WiFi. On a Saturday morning, I love going to Revolver. Timbertrain is one that I regularly have meetings at. 

Where can you get a quintessential Vancouver meal?

For fine dining, Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar is as quintessential Vancouver as it gets. Sustainable seafood and sushi under one roof. For something a bit more approachable and less upscale, I really like Fable for their farm to table approach.

Where do you take a date for a sweet treat after dinner?

True Confections for cakes, or Glenburn Soda Fountain for sodas, milkshakes, and sundaes.

What is the most under-rated touristy thing to do?

Perhaps it's just far enough away to keep the hoards of tourists out, but I love the Richmond Night Market. It's an authentic Vancouver foodie experience that everyone should have!

Best way to catch a sunrise?

Harbourside Drive in North Vancouver, overlooking downtown Vancouver.

Best place to catch a sunset?

The lookout point from Cypress Mountain or Whytecliff Park. 

Best spot for a night cap?

PiDGiN. Order their Capo Negroni. It's not on their cocktail menu, but it's a negroni with an espresso ice ball. You'll never have another negroni anywhere else again.

Jennifer Pallian, Food Writer, Photographer

(Courtesy of Jennifer Pallian)

When you aren't nibbling on your own baked creations, do you have a favourite Vancouver bakery?

Cadeaux Bakery in Gastown is excellent, or Small Victory in Yaletown. And I'm obsessed with Lee's donuts on Granville Island; forget the fancy donut trend, these are the best. 

What is a fun/unique way you stay active to work off all the sweet treats?

I walk everywhere pushing a massive double stroller around with two kids, 25 lbs of library books, and 30 lbs of groceries. Sometimes there's not even any kids, just me, the stroller, and a massive grocery haul. 

Do you have a favourite local spot or park to picnic in?  

We love Locarno Beach!  

Do you have a go-to local watering hole?

If I'm getting dressed up, I have this thing for Prohibition in the Rosewood Hotel — live jazz and good cocktails in a cozy, dark space. I like Homer St. Cafe, too. For a glass of wine on the best patio in the city, Lift in Coal Harbour is something of a well-kept secret. 

Where do you take out-of-town guests when you want to impress them with a taste of the west coast?

Hawksworth is my long-standing favourite. I know there are so many newer spots, but it's just so good. 

What coffee shops do you haunt?

Matchstick is really good if you're a fancy coffee person. I do love coffee but am not fussed about bean origin, fruitiness, pour-over technique and the like. I really only actually haunt JJ Bean.   

The best unknown boutique to find a gift for your best friend?

I love Much & Little on Main St - it's my go-to local shop for gifts. 

Terrene Conway, Senior Marketing Manager at Kiwi Collection, Traveller

What makes Vancouver such a special place?

There are few places in the world where you can enjoy the culinary and cultural perks of urban living while also having the ability to hike, surf and ski within a short drive from the city. The west coast lifestyle is hard to beat!

Describe your city in 3 words:

Inventive, adventurous and health-conscious

If someone had 24 hours in Vancouver, what would you suggest they do/see?

Wake up with an early morning run or bike around the seawall; it's a great way to get a sense of the downtown core and to explore Stanley Park—a massive green space in the heart of the city. If you're up for a more intense workout, head to the North Shore and climb St. Mark's Summit, an 11km hike that offers stunning views of the Howe Sound. The view when you reach the top is beyond worth it.

Grab lunch at one of the city's many food trucks; Tacofino is a crowd favorite and if you can't find the truck, the Gastown restaurant has a great patio (try the fish tacos and margaritas).

Spend an afternoon in Kitsilano enjoying the neighbourhood's beachy, boho vibe. Kits Beach is vibrant and busy any day of the week, all summer long. Wander up to 4th Avenue where you will find shops, restaurants and coffee shops. Gravity Pope has a great selection of shoes and accessories from brands like A.P.C., Want les Essentials and Common Projects and Glory Juice Co. for fresh pressed juice and the best acai bowls in the city.

You can't come to Vancouver and not eat sushi. There are so many amazing hole-in-the-wall spots (I recommend Toshi on Main Street) and the Aburi Oshi pressed sushi at Miku is ridiculously good.

Who makes the best pasta in the city?

Ask for Luigi in Railtown. It's like eating handmade pasta in your Italian grandma's kitchen. Simple Italian fare and a great vibe.

What chef or restaurant is serving the most craveable food at the moment?

Kissa Tanto remains the hottest table in town. The 1960's Tokyo jazz cafe-inspired eatery marries Japanese and Italian cuisine deliciously and the space is gorgeous (I'm coveting the pink bar stools for my own home!)

Off the high-street, where can you shop the most unique goods?

Walk the streets in historic Gastown where you'll find many local, independent retailers. One of a Few has become a bit of an institution for stylish Vancouver women and carries labels like Apiece Apart and Maryam Nassir Zadeh. Litchfield is a favourite shop for unique and special gifts and Vancouver-based Oak & Fort is a go-to for minimalist, forward-thinking styles at a great price point.

Where do you go for an expertly crafted cocktail?

L'Abbatoir is one of my all-time favourite Vancouver restaurants ​and their cocktails are fantastic. Try the Beekeeper or for avocado lovers, the Avocado Gimlet.

Week day coffee stop?

Le Marché St. George​ is my favourite any day of the week (the croissants are beyond words!)

Get cultured here:

​Head over the bridge to Mount Pleasant where you can explore over 100 murals painted by local artists throughout the neighbourhood's streets and alleys. The city's largest free public art celebration, the murals serve as a platform for young artists to highlight the diverse cultures and history of our city. As a lover and supporter of the arts, I'm proud of our city for enabling such a cool project.