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Hidden Gems: Vancouver

It goes without saying that every visitor to Vancouver should bicycle the Stanley Park Seawall and browse the Granville Island Public Market. But as locals know, there’s so much more to explore beyond the main tourist sites. Many of our Fresh Tracks Canada Insiders are actually based in Vancouver, so we know the best places to shop, eat, swim, get cultured, and escape the bustle to chill out.

When you’re ready to travel again (and it’s safe to do so), add these urban treasures to your Vancouver itinerary for a little local sparkle.

Discover downtown’s funky laneways

colourful mural on snekwem lane, from Pender street

Since 2017, four drab downtown alleys have been transformed into bright, vibrant, totally Instagrammable laneways that invite exploration. Alley Oop, Ackery’s Alley, Eihu Lane and the new snéḵwem lane, which features the Squamish story of the Salmon People, are located between Coal Harbour and Gastown. You can visit them while shopping near Robson Square or on your way to check out Canada Place.

Zen out at Nitobe Memorial Garden

Pathway at Nitobe Memorial Garden

With winding pathways, tranquil ponds, exquisite landscaping, and bridges and benches that promote contemplation, this authentic Japanese garden — part of the University of British Columbia’s superb Botanical Garden — is a beautiful spot to seek solace in the city.

Browse the boutiques on Main Street

Main Street Vancouver Special shop

You could easily spend a day popping into the thrift stores and designer boutiques that line Main Street in Mount Pleasant. Look for fun finds at on-trend Woo To See You, and vintage treasures at Front & Company. Grab a bowl of pho at Anh and Chi, followed by a cocktail at retro lounge Key Party, which is cleverly concealed by a false front office space. And don’t miss the many colourful murals painted on buildings scattered throughout the eclectic ‘hood.

Escape to Deep Cove on the North Shore

people swim at deep cove beach in summer, red lifeguard chair

Celebrities have been known to travel to Honey Doughnuts for their decadent, honey-drenched treats, but there’s way more to do in the idyllic two-block hamlet of Deep Cove than eat comfort food. Wander down to Corner Beach for a swim and to look for tiny shore crabs hiding under rocks. Explore the many trails in Cove Forest, just behind town. Or rent a kayak or SUP from Deep Cove Kayak and paddle out onto the calm water of Indian Arm fjord.

Enjoy a taste of Asia at the Richmond Night Market

chef grills skewers at Richmond Night Market

This seasonal weekend extravaganza of food and entertainment is the largest night market in North America (yet relatively little-known outside of Vancouver). Between May and October you can expect to sample a range of Asian street foods — everything from grilled squid to Taiwanese popcorn chicken. In between bites, watch dance performances, play midway games and shop for Hello Kitty merchandise.

Cycle the Arbutus Greenway

people cycle past colourful mural on Arbutus Greenway

A leader in sustainability, Vancouver is always looking for ways to encourage residents and visitors to walk or cycle. This nine-kilometre paved pathway connects the Fraser River with False Creek, and cuts through leafy parks and neighbourhoods along the way.

Eat your way down Commercial Drive

Commercial Drive at night

This busy strip that bisects East Vancouver is packed with local favourites including Pepino’s for a hipster take on an old-school spaghetti parlour, Marcello’s Pizzeria for authentic, thin-crust wood-fired pies, Ugly Dumpling for plump dumplings, and Elephant Garden Creamery for decadent scoops.

Birdwatch at the Bloedel Conservatory

Gouldian Finch, colourful bird

Wander through a lush environment of bromeliads, fig trees and flowering lilies as tropical birds squawk and twitter overhead inside the Bloedel Conservatory. The stars here are the 120 free-flying birds that will add a dash of colour and joy to your day, including red macaws, yellow canaries, rainbow-patterned finches and jewel-hued Chinese pheasants.

Explore historic Steveston Village

Steveston Village Wharf, boat dock and restaurants

This preserved fishing village on the Richmond waterfront is a National Historic Site. It was once the centre of Western Canada’s fishing industry, and that history has been memorialized at several historic sites and a museum. You can also walk down to Fisherman’s Wharf to see the daily catch come in, or sample fresh fish and chips at a local take-out restaurant like Dave’s or Pajo’s. The town is also next-level adorable — it starred as fictional town Storybrooke in ABC’s Once Upon a Time. Take in its charm while strolling past weathered clapboard buildings that house restaurants, cafes and a range of boutiques.

With so many treasures waiting for you, tack on more time in Vancouver at the beginning or end of your trip. Contact a Fresh Tracks Canadian Insider and start planning your Canadian vacation today.

Lisa Kadane
Lisa Kadane
Lisa Kadane is a travel journalist based in Kelowna, BC.