Ports of Call: False Creek, Vancouver, B.C.

Norris Comer Features Ports of Call

Port Moody, BC

MMany of the world’s great cities project an identity with pithy one-liners. New York? The City of Dreams, alluding to that place’s infamous ambition. Chicago? The Windy City, a reference to its politicians being full of hot air. What does Vancouver, British Columbia, tout? Wholesome “livability,” a nod to the many international rankings of livable cities in which Vancouver seems to always pull into the top ten.

Livability, not to be conflated with the bare-minimum habitability, is about the achievement—not pursuit—of happiness. I posit that this pride in being most livable—and believe me, many of the locals are happy to recite these livability ranking lists by memory—is key to understanding Vancouver’s deeply loveable soul. There’s a Minneapolis-meets-the-sea vibe that’s hard to shake, a place where fit couples run while pushing baby strollers and you can hear half a dozen languages if you walk down the right street. Surely, if more cities were as proud of being livable as Vancouver, the world would be a better place.

Beyond the culture, Vancouver, especially the False Creek area focused upon here, is ripe for boaters. As boaters travel either north or south on the Strait of Georgia, Burrard Inlet juts eastward into the mainland and skippers have a choice: err northeast under the Lions Gate Bridge into Vancouver Harbour, or southeast into English Bay and False Creek, which stabs into the guts of the metropolis. If you’ve spent days, weeks, or months in the remote wilderness and yearn for the siren song of civilization, you’ll want to opt for the packed urban waterfront of False Creek.

Livability and boating opportunity collide upon entry to False Creek, with every foot of waterfront loaded with marinas, waterfront parks, walking and biking trails, iconic buildings, and more. On a nice day, the throngs of happy locals and tourists may even wave at you from the expansive and aptly named Sunset Beach Park as you head into town. You’ll want to mind the channel markers due to heavy marine traffic and the narrow nature of False Creek. Also be nice to the pint-sized, stout-hearted electric ferries frantically minding their short passenger routes.

The three bridges serve as good land-marks and appear in this order from the False Creek entrance: Burrard Street Bridge, Granville Bridge, and Cambie St. Bridge. The Cambie Bridge has a low clearance, somewhere in the ballpark of 40’ to 45’ depending on the tide, so sailors take note. As skipper, you can go into False Creek as far as you want. You can stay north of the first bridge (Burrard Bridge) at the Burrard Civic Marina for a quick sip of fuel or go beyond the Burrard Street Bridge to truly see what being livable means.

STAY AWHILE

False Creek HIGHLIGHTS

False Creek North Side

North Side

The north side of False Creek is where Vancouver with a capital “V” is located with the city’s bustling downtown. Following the False Creek waterfront from entrance to terminus, Sunset Beach Park with English Bay Beach is one of the area’s prominent public beaches. Host to a network of walkways, a few places to grab a bite or drink (like the Cactus Club or Sunset Beach Concession Stand), and ready access to the rest of downtown, this place is a pleasant afternoon burner.

Continue south and inland along the water from the beaches and you’ll pass by both the Burrard St. Bridge and Granville Bridge. You can catch a public electric ferry to hop across to Granville at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre for a few Canadian dollars (they accept plastic, too) or venture inland to Davie Village, Downtown, or Yaletown. All these districts feature their main drags of restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and other such seductions. If you want to see Canadians cut loose, check out these areas on a Saturday night.

Grand Granville

Grand Granville

I doubt there’s anywhere quite like Granville Island, which is equal parts marina and boatyard, kitschy tourist waterfront, family-friendly and artsy community space, quiet waterfront residential area, working waterfront, and bourgeois hangout. How does all this fit on one small peninsula? You’ll have to find out. It is attached to the mainland on the south side, so aim for the Granville Bridge along the north end of the “island” if you want to go deeper.

Assuming you opt to stay at the Maritime Market Marina, you’re well poised in the visitor-focused north side of Granville. The marina is nestled in a boating-industry neighborhood with a very public boatyard just in case you need supplies or some work done. The Granville Island Public Market is a few blocks away and has something for everyone from Chau Veggie Express (vegan Vietnamese) to Celine’s Fish & Chips. When you head south under the bridge, you’ll find glass studios, art galleries, the Waterfront Theatre, and more. It gets quieter the more south you wander, ultimately leading you to the Ron Baford Park on the southeast tip. Dockside, a high-end restaurant, overlooks Pelican Bay Marina and a gated houseboat community.

False Creek South Side

South Side

If you find yourself on the south side of False Creek, say in the Burrard Civic Marina, you’re further from downtown proper but not from things to do. Burrard Civic Marina is nestled in Vanier Park, the southside’s answer to Sunset Beach Park across the water. There’s a lot going on in this large greenspace, including the Museum of Vancouver, the Gordon Southam Observatory, and HR MacMillan Space Centre. Of course, if you love boats, you’ll find the excellent Vancouver Maritime Museum and associated dockspace with historic vessels a bit further north. There’s too much in the museum to list here, so check out their website at vanmaritime.com.

South of the Burrard Street Bridge, you may want to take your walking shoes. Trails will lead you all the way to Granville and deeper, past Charleson Park and into Olympic Village, a fun area named after the 2010 Winter Olympics hosted there. There’s also the West Broadway street drag a few blocks south from the water, which is less flashy than say Yaletown or Downtown, but with plenty of local culinary gems.

False Creek Terminus

False Creek Terminus

The end of False Creek beyond Cambie Street Bridge has its own flavor dominated by a few iconic landmarks including Cooper’s Park, Creekside Park, and Hinge Park/Habitat Island. BC Place is only a few blocks from the water and a stadium you should be acquainted with whether you’re a sports fan or want to check out the annual Vancouver International Boat Show (vancouverboatshow.ca). If you’ve got kids in tow or just love science, TELUS World of Science is housed in a giant geodesic dome near the Olympic Village.

Another nice feature to this area for travelers is that you’re only a stone’s throw away from Pacific Central Station, making Vancouver an ideal place to rendezvous with crewmembers taking a train or bus up from the States. If you are carless or a public transit junkie, you’re also near the subway and bus connection that opens more of the area for your exploration.

Embrace Events!

Embrace Events!

You can visit Vancouver at any time during the year to have a good time, but what can really push a Vancouver visit over the top is to tap into the staggering array of festivals, concerts, shows, sport games, and the like that fill up the calendar. A casual glance at this month includes events like the annual Cherry Blossom Festival (April 4 to 27), an Ariana Grande Concert (April 27), and the BC Distilled Festival, a local distillery shindig (April 6).

Where do I find this info? I recommend a few resources. The Georgia Straight (aka The Straight, straight.com) is one of the area’s sassy, irreverent arts and culture publications, similar to Seattle’s The Stranger or Portland’s Mercury, with a great events calendar. Destination British Columbia has another good events calendar on their website; hellobc.com. Of course, the local tourism board also has a comprehensive calendar at tourismvancouver.com.

FALSE CREEK, BRITISH COLUMBIA

GASTRONOMY

Ramen

Giving the culinary scene of Vancouver justice would require a tome’s worth of writing. Robson Street proudly touts that Vancouver cultural mélange of restaurants for miles. I highly recommend winging it, like I did when I wandered into JoongWon Korean Chinese Restaurant, a hole-in-the-wall Korean BBQ place adjacent to another Korean BBQ place (Dae Bak Bon Ga) that has private karaoke rooms. I pointed to a picture of one of their weekly specials (name unknown to me), ordered an Asahi (Japanese beer), and gorged on my cast iron hotpot of boiling soup complete with fish cakes, pork spine, tofu, and veggies. Spicy perfection.

You can do the same thing southside on West Broadway, often for an even quainter mom-and-pop feel and for a little cheaper. I caught up with a friend who is enrolled at the nearby University of B.C. at one of her favorite places, Ramen Danbo on West Broadway. This is another charming establishment where the line of hungry fans shouldn’t deter you.

I’d be remiss not to salute B.C.’s microbrew and distilling scene. If you visit Granville Island and don’t have a round at Granville Island Brewing or try The Liberty Distillery’s offerings, then did you even visit? Olympic Village has nice spots too, including the massive CRAFT Beer Market Vancouver beer hall. If you want a more upscale, dare I say yuppie, experience, Yaletown has Yaletown Brewing Company, Labatt Breweries British Columbia, and Yaletown Distillery Bar + Kitchen.

Norris Comer

Written by

Norris Comer is the managing editor of Northwest Yachting. He was raised in Portland, Oregon and got his BS in Marine Science at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL where he lived aboard a 1973 Catalina 27 before moving to Washington. He has worked as a commercial fisherman, wandered aimlessly around the world, studied oil spills, and was a contestant on the Norwegian reality TV show, Alt for Norge. He loves living in a state where he can explore the ocean and mountains in the same day.

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