Awesome attractions, food and hotels in Vancouver

1-IMG_9247VANCOUVER – An unusual sushi spot, classic outdoor walks and an historic hotel.

Despite what we might think of the weather out west, it does occasionally snow in Vancouver.

Such was the case early last week, when my planned frolic in the canyons of North Vancouver and crossing of a couple of pedestrian bridges turned into something a bit chillier than I had planned. Mind you, it was extremely beautiful and not very cold by Ontario standards; around plus 4 Celsius. And the snow wasn’t particularly bad, only a few centimetres.

I’d probably prefer to tour the canyons in good weather, but it was fun to see folks out and about in the snow at the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and at the lesser-known but probably even more beautiful Lynn Canyon Park Suspension Bridge.

Most of us have heard of Capilano, a suspended, slightly swayful (is that a word?) bridge close to downtown. It’s a great spot, with a bridge hanging hundreds of feet over a creek. They also have a cliffwalk feature where you walk on a suspended catwalk/platform well away from the rock face walls of the canyon, as well as a “treetops” adventure where you can walk on suspended walkways in the forest canopy. They also have a café and gift shop and interesting displays on local and native history. It’s a great spot, but it also costs $31.95 for adults, with sizable discounts for kids. Take a family of four and you’re looking at $100 or more for the experience.

1-IMG_9276Not far away is the Lynn Canyon suspension bridge, which isn’t as long and not suspended as high over its canyon, but is entirely free. And more beautiful in my mind, with a nice-sized waterfall below and another, longer one off to the side. There’s no cliffwalk or treetop walk, but the canyon is more narrow and prettier than Capilano and there are beautiful walking trails, one of which leads to a gorgeous pool that kids dive into during the summer. There’s an ecology centre but no gift shop to contend with, and there’s a huge cost saving.

I had my tour with a guide from a group called Tours By Locals, which started in Vancouver five years ago and now has some 1,700 guides in roughly 130 countries around the world who offer insights that only people get from living in a city. You’ll find them all over Canada, too, including Toronto, Montreal, Halifax, Calgary and more.

I’m told the majority of folks who use the service are Americans, usually 50 and older, and are people looking for the “inside” story on a city. Tours by Locals sold 23,000 tours last year, so they’re obviously doing something right.

Prices vary, but I saw a nice four-hour tour of Vancouver that goes for $235. It’s the same whether you have one person or a small group, so if you had five on the Vancouver tour I mentioned it would be less than $50 per person.

From what I experienced on my Vancouver tour, I’d have to highly recommend them for your next excursion.

I had dinner last week at Miku on the Vancouver waterfront. It’s a beautiful space with lots of white walls and interesting shapes and glorious views out to the Burrard Inlet and the mountains in north Vancouver.

photo(3)You can order “regular” sushi rolls and all that, but they also have a great and hugely interesting variety of other foods. I had a wonderful, melt-in-your-mouth, miso-baked sablefish and a lovely slice of prime rib, for example. The Coal Harbour Platter is remarkable and beautifully presented, too, with fresh oysters, clams, mussels, a truly jumbo prawn and more.

I also tasted some lovely sake, a drink I wasn’t too crazy about until trying it at Miku, where they have a sake expert explain how the different types of rice and the water, especially the water, can make such a difference.

What they’re really known for is something aburi sushi, where they put secret sauces over the fish and rice combinations and then flame sear it with a hot burner and a piece of charcoal. The sushi might be topped with pesto or a wasabi aioli or other surprises.

It’s pretty unusual, and I’m sure purists would resist. But I loved watching them sear the sushi and it was pretty tasty.

I’m told they might be expanding to Toronto in the next year, so keep an eye out.

I also had some great appetizers at a very hip spot on Alberni St. called Black + Blue. The rooftop bar is stunning, with giant fireplace walls and table top fire spots and cool colours. It’s said to be the largest rooftop bar in the city, although it was obviously enclosed when I was there.

I tasted some marvellous treats, including melt-in-your-mouth lambchops, bacon-wrapped scallops and jerk chicken with quinoa and pomegranate. A cool main floor restaurant with aged steaks and other dinner treats, so be sure to check it out.

Finally, I finally got to spend a night at the Sylvia Hotel in English Bay. I’ve seen it for years, and my wife tells me her parents went there on the first night of their honeymoon, but I’d never been inside or stayed the night.

1-IMG_9213-001It’s a thoroughly delightful place with awesome views and ridiculously easy access to the beach at English Bay; just across the road and all of 19 steps from the front door, I was told.

The hotel is 101 years old and is a true fixture in the area. The rooms are nice and many have been renovated of late. They range a lot in size, from very small ones they don’t even advertise on their web site to palatial suites with incredible views of the bay and wonderful sunsets.

Rooms can be found for as little as $135 in the off season. It’s higher in summer, of course, but you can still find rooms for less than $200 a night in peak season.

There’s a nice bar on the ground floor as well as a good restaurant that makes great omelettes and other treats. The folks are as nice as can be, and many have worked there for 40 years or more!

You can even buy the famous kids’ book that’s set at the Sylvia Hotel, “Mr. Got to Go.” It’s a fun story about a cat that showed up one day, much to the chagrin of the manager, who was oft heard to state “that cat has got to go.”

The cat became legendary for being treated like royalty, hanging out in the lobby and being shepherded up and down the various floors in the hotel elevator. A follow-up book called “Mr. Got to Go and Arnie” came out a few years ago, and a new one is said to be on the way for release next month.

The books are so popular that manager Ross Dyck tells me school groups, Brownies and other folks often take field trips to the hotel or write to him about the books. Naturally, he takes the time to write back to everyone who sends a letter.

1-IMG_9300Dyck and the rest of the staff are entirely delightful, and you’re making a big mistake if you never take the time to stay here at least one night. I can’t think of an urban hotel in Canada with a better location, and with such a good story to tell. It’s even, I’m told, the hotel where Blue Rodeo’s Greg Keelor composed the lovely song “English Bay.”

“I think it’s like coming home versus checking into a hotel,” said Jill Davies, whose family has owned and run the place since 1960. “We’ve never pretended to be something we’re not.”


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