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Oh Canada!

12/31/2008 04:00PM ● Published by Super Admin

In 1986, my parents took us on the first of what would be frequent big travel adventures. By “big” I mean a motor home, a word that still sends chills up my mother’s spine. While us kids could hardly contain our excitement at three weeks of traveling across states in a house on wheels, my mom was less than thrilled with the bruises she endured trying to cook meals on the road. What was unique about that first motor home trip was the ultimate destination – Canada. Having never left the continental United States before, the idea of going to an entirely new country seemed totally exotic. That year, Vancouver was hosting the World’s Fair, an event that, sadly, has lost popularity on the global stage. But in 1986, it was the do-not-miss family trip of the year. And, while I have fond memories of the Expo, I also have lingering fondness for the city too. Green, welcoming and laid back, it was a pretty amazing place in my young, impressionable eyes (oh, and did I mention they have a monorail?). Today, Vancouver continues to thrive as a modern metropolis, and, fortunately, without losing any of its charms in the process. If you’re planning to head north, with or without motor home, here are a few must-sees in western Canada’s coolest town.

Despite a perpetually rainy climate, Vancouver’s a city for getting out in the fresh air. Why? The parks. One of the most lush, nature-loving urban areas in the West, Vancouver offers a wide variety of outdoor spaces that should not be missed.

Starting downtown, you’ll find one of the city’s most popular attractions: Stanley Park. This enormous natural refuge, one of the largest on the continent, is often referred to as a “rainforest within a metropolis.” Some of the activities and adventures you’ll find here include beaches, a water park, Children’s Farmyard, Miniature Railway and the Seawall, a 10.5 kilometer stretch popular with rollerbladers, joggers and the like. Plus, the area is home to the Vancouver Aquarium, also one of the biggest in North America. Hosting more than 8,000 marine animals, this entertaining and educational venue is a perfect afternoon stop for both kids and “kids at heart.”

At the top of many “best of” lists is Granville Island, only five minutes from downtown. Like Stanley Park, the island offers plenty of outdoor activities, plus water sports like kayaking and canoeing. Grownups will love the shopping, great restaurants, galleries and theatre found here. Be sure to stop by the Granville Island Brewery for a tasty cold one.

Also called “Little Mountain” because of its high geographical location, Queen Elizabeth Park will treat you with some of the best views in Vancouver, from downtown to the North Shore Mountains. If you can find some quiet time, it’s also one of the most romantic spots in the city, brimming with beautiful gardens and perfect for gorgeous sunsets.

Once you’ve had more than a few breaths of fresh air, head back to downtown’s West End and English Bay, a trendy and colorful destination for fashion, beauty, culture, dining and more.

Whenever I go to a big city, I love to find the tallest building and check out the view. Vancouver’s answer to this is the Lookout, a 551-foot climb in glass elevators to the top of Harbour Centre Tower. Once there, you’ll enjoy a 360-degree view of the city and surrounding areas.

Accommodations in Vancouver are plentiful and varied. One of the best is the Pan-Pacific, a 504-room hotel at Canada Place on the waterfront. Its desirable location, adjacent to shopping and Vancouver Art Gallery on Robson Street, historic Gastown and the Pacific Centre mall, makes this one a top contender for your Vancouver stay. The Five Sails restaurant sits right on the water and provides fine dining, a superb wine list and great harbor views.

If you’re more into the “boutique” hotel scene, then look no further than the Opus Hotel. In the downtown Yale district, the Opus similarly offers convenient access to Vancouver attractions, including Stanley Park, Granville Island and Chinatown. Freshly modern with fabulous amenities, like a fitness center and world-class spa, this hip hotel attracts a cutting-edge crowd.

Vancouver is also host to a number of bed and breakfast-style accommodations. One of my favorites is Barclay House, also located in downtown. Comfortable and beautifully furnished with both local and international designs, it’s hard to resist the Barclay’s charms. They even offer two room suites, so bring the kids along!

Dining out in Vancouver can be a fun and flavor-filled experience. I suggest you start your day at Sophie’s Cosmic Café. This Vancouver institution typically has a line down the block, so get there early. It’s worth the wait if you like egg dishes served with their signature house hot sauce. The environment is cool and kitschy, with photos and vintage items scattered all over its bright yellow walls. For something a little more upscale, make a reservation at Bishop’s Restaurant. Though small and simply appointed, it also serves some of the highest rated cuisine in town, having served Presidents, celebrities and countless visitors with a gourmet palate.

Even if you can’t make it up to Vancouver right away, there’s plenty to look forward to down the road. In just two years they will host the 2010 Olympics and Paralympic Winter Games. There are plenty of great things in store for this amazing city…be sure to get in on the action!

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