Many 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.