New York-based Sebastian White is Corporate Communications Manager for JetBlue and a frequent traveler. We caught up with White before he dashed off to Vancouver, his favorite city in North America .
By Sebastian White
Like most visitors to Vancouver, my love affair with the city began the instant I laid eyes on the place. After one visit, I was hooked. I spend so much time in Vancouver my friends joke I’m a “Vanyorker.”
So what is it about Vancouver that’s so appealing? I could rattle off a list of Tourism Vancouver talking points as long as your arm: the diversity, the food, the laidback vibe, the coffee, the small town feel, the architecture.
To many, Vancouver’s most distinctive features are its glassy skyline and its unmatched setting – a rainforest city hemmed in by mountains and the sea – but what constantly draws me back is something less tangible. If it’s possible for a place to move you, to change how you see the world and your place in it, Vancouver is it. Isn’t that why so many of us have a lust for exploration?
To me, Vancouver can’t be described. It must be experienced. Just be warned: arriving in Vancouver is always magical; leaving is just plain depressing.
Read on for White’s insider guide to Vancouver.
IF YOU GO
Travel aficionados know the best secret in North American air travel is Cathay Pacific’s New York – Vancouver nonstop. It’s a shame the flight is so short because Cathay’s service is so good you might not want to ever get off the plane. West Coasters should hop a nonstop on WestJet, which my friends call “the Canadian JetBlue.” They fly from Los Angeles, Orange County, Las Vegas and other cities straight into Vancouver.
- Opus Hotel – definitely hippest hotel in Vancouver, in perfect location in Yaletown neighborhood.
- Loden Hotel – very stylish, too.
- Metropolitan Hotel was the first Mandarin Oriental in North America. Cheapish rates usually but the hotel is not Mandarin quality anymore!
- Shangri-La: Best hotel in Vancouver. Amazing service! I would move in.
- Sutton Place is formerly Le Meridien, and is good. Top location!
- Sheraton Wall Centre is tallest tower in city – views must be amazing. Location can’t be beat — near all that is gay. Rooms vary in quality. There are two towers (North and South – North is better)
- Two Westins – the Bayshore is right on the water but long walk from everything; the Westin Grand is much newer and nicer but so-so location.
- Sandman on Davie – top location, literally across the street from a couple gay bars. Rooms are a little low-rent, but the location makes up for it.
- Moda Hotel — a former hooker joint turned into boutique hotel.
- Four Seasons — believe it or not, it’s usually cheap. And it was just renovated (it’s one of the original in the chain).
The gay stuff (in descending order of my favs)
- 1181 Davie – chic-ish gay bar where pretty Vancouver people go
- Pumpjack: 1167 Davie – next door to 1181, it’s more bearish/daddyish, but everyone goes here on weekends so crowd is very mixed later on!
- Numbers: 1042 Davie – kinda dark, seedy, many levels
- Fountainhead: 1025 Davie – totally dated/retro bar (but you can sit outside and drink cheap beer)
- Oasis: Upstairs at 1240 Thurlow at Davie – kinda piano-bar-like – getting popular on Fridays and Saturdays
- Celebrities: 1022 Davie at Burrard – Club I don’t recommend
If you’re drinking beer, order a Keith’s – it’s from Nova Scotia and what everyone drinks.
Davie Street is the epicenter. However, Denman Street also gets a lot of gays, especially Delany’s coffee house – the gayest joint in town. I went there one day a couple weeks ago and counted 18 gay guys and no women.
Wander Yaletown neighborhood. A fav spot is JJ Bean Coffee on Davie Street at Homer. Walk down the hill from here for some cool architecture and fun shops.
Rent a bike at Spokes (Denman Street at West Georgia), and cycle the Stanley Park Seawall.
Go to Canada Place and watch the cruise ships come and go, and the seaplanes take off and land.
Go to the new Holt Renfrew in the Pacific Centre mall on Granville Street for the most fierce shopping in Canada.
If you’re adventuresome, go to Granville Island and kayak through False Creek. Amazing views of Vancouver’s crazy development here.
ASIAN. One of my fav thai places is Thida Thai (Davie at Bute); also love Sala Thai on Burrard Street at Smythe.
I also like Lolita’s at Davie and Jervis.
For drunk late night food, Fritz (Davie near Granville) can’t be beat! It’s a take out place selling only frites (and yes, it’s spelled differently!). It’s on Davie Street.
Vancouver is Canada’s third biggest city (after Toronto and Montreal). It is 20 miles north of the US border and three hours from Seattle. The region is hemmed in by the US border to the south, the ocean to the west and the mountains to the east and north.
The airport is 10 miles south of downtown. The Canada Line trains whisks you downtown in about 20 minutes for about $8. Cabs tend to take longer (there are no highways in downtown Vancouver so traffic is awful) and are $30.
Vancouver has Canada’s most expensive real estate, no doubt due to the setting and fabulous weather. The city of West Vancouver, actually across the water from downtown, is the wealthiest town in all of Canada. Oprah is rumored to have a house there that is the most expensive in all of British Columbia.
Vancouver is only 100 years old. It used to be a lumbering and sawmill center. Until 30 years ago, the city’s skyline was low and boring. Then the city began to emphasize living in downtown, so they rapidly built high-rise condos everywhere. The thinking was that the more people downtown, the more vital the city would be! Buildings are oriented toward the north and west for the best views of the sunsets and mountains, and they’ve been angled and built in spots that protect the views for everyone in the other buildings. So there isn’t much blocking of views here. The first thing that will strike you about the city is how densely packed it is. In fact, after Manhattan, Mexico City, and San Francisco, it’s the densest place on the continent.
One neighborhood, the Downtown Eastside, is the city’s skid row. It’s the poorest in all of Canada and is home to the continent’s highest rate of HIV infection — due to the concentration of injection drug users. North America’s only safe injection site is here. Each day 600 drug users visit to shoot up in a controlled and supervised setting!
Vancouver has more in common with Seattle and San Francisco and Los Angeles than Toronto or Montreal since it’s separated from the rest of Canada by 2000 miles of prairie and nothing else. After LA and New York, it’s the third biggest TV and film shooting location on the continent.
The city is built on a peninsula that is shaped like a thumb. The top portion of the thumb is home to Stanley Park, which is bigger than Central Park and the biggest city park in North America.
Friends who have been to Vancouver say it reminds them very much of New Zealand. One good quote: “The city that Vancouver most resembles is Honolulu, which also has a lot of people squished into a small area bordered by mountains, hyperinflated real estate values, a sense of disconnection from the rest of the world, and, not least, a racial and ethnic mix of Natives, Europeans and Asians.”
Another writer said that Vancouver’s setting is “better than San Francisco’s because of the greenness, better than Sydney’s because of the mountains all around, rivaled perhaps only by Rio and Hong Kong.”
Vancouver has a huge Asian population, especially of people from Hong Kong. They even call the city Hongcouver. Vancouver experienced a huge influx of Hong Kongers during 1990s because of the return of Hong Kong to China; everyone there was worried about what would happen to their country after the handover, so they hedged their bets by building refuges in Vancouver.
Vancouver is the center of the marijuana growing industry. It is believed that there is an average of at least one marijuana growing operation on EVERY BLOCK in Vancouver.