Vancouver is a beautiful city with lots to see and do. Unfortunately, we only got a glimpse. More about that later, but first, a quick look at the highlights from our visit.
4.5 stars and #2 Vancouver attraction on Trip Advisor, Granville is technically a sandbar rather than an island. A hundred years ago, it was home to factories and sawmills. Today, Granville has been transformed into an upscale and quaint neighborhood with a huge public market, cafes and food trucks, theatres, and local artisans. It’s a happening place that deserves a visit on your trip to Vancouver.
We arrived via a colorful little ferry boat known as the Aquabus and spent about two hours exploring the shops and enjoying a delicious lunch from one of the many food trucks.
Waterfront and Aquarium
According to one source, Vancouver has the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront trail – the Seaside Greenway – than runs for 17 miles. The path features separate, clearly delineated lanes for walkers and joggers vs. cyclists and in-line skaters. We started downtown near the Convention Center and walked about two miles to Stanley Park and the Vancouver Aquarium (and two miles back). In hindsight, I wish we had rented bikes and ridden the entire route – there’s much to see and appreciate along the way.
The Vancouver Aquarium is the oldest and largest in Canada, and not surprisingly, their mission also includes education, conservation, research, and marine animal rescue and rehabilitation.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit but concluded that three hours is the minimum amount of time needed to peruse the exhibits, two of which stood out as unique and made a lasting impact. The first was the Frogs Forever? gallery that examines why frogs and other amphibians are dying in huge numbers – informative and compelling.
The second was Vortex, a one year exhibit by artist Douglas Coupland focused on ocean plastic pollution. The centerpiece is a 50,000-liter fishing boat filled with actual marine debris collected on the shores of Haida Gwaii, BC. Overlooking the water bottles, pieces of Styrofoam, fishing net, and an amalgamation of other items are four large figures: Andy Warhol, an African migrant, and two children. Read more about this interesting exhibit here: https://nuvomagazine.com/art/vortex-at-the-vancouver-aquarium.
The aquarium also features an expanded Ocean Plastics exhibit spanning three galleries that provides fact-based information about the extent and impact of marine plastic pollution, including the special challenges of microplastics. It’s an effective display for raising awareness, but wow, we have work to do to solve these issues. For more information: https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/microplastics.html.
Whale watching was the highlight of our visit to Vancouver!
Over the years, we’ve gone whale watching on the East Coast and in Alaska, Hawaii, and the San Juan Islands. The best experiences have been with humpbacks, including a “mugging” in Hawaii, which is a really cool phenomenon where the whales approach the boat, and the boat cannot use its engine until the whales move on. Our mugging lasted about 30 minutes, with multiple whales swimming around and under the boat, and surfacing so close we felt their whale breath.
How do you beat that? Well, I’m not sure you can, but our Vancouver experience was pretty impressive. We watched a few humpbacks during the first part of our tour, but the exciting part was finding a group of orcas (a.k.a. “killer whales”).
I wish I had great photos to share, but I learned years ago that it’s better to just enjoy the experience in real time, because my pictures turned out to be mostly water with a little sky and a small dark whale “blob” every once in awhile.
Anyway, we saw five transient orcas that the on-board biologist identified as a female and her four offspring. We watched for about 45 minutes as they engaged in cooperative hunting behavior, most likely preying on a seal. They were very active – swimming, jumping, and splashing, so we got quite a few good looks. It was our lucky day!
UBC Botanical Garden
The botanical garden at the University of British Columbia consists of 100+ acres with nine distinct gardens, including alpine, woodland, herbaceous, food, medicinal, rainforest, and Asian displays.
The attraction we most wanted to experience was the Greenheart TreeWalk, which is an aerial trek through the forest on a series of swinging bridges and platforms. It was fine, but our time would have been better spent exploring the more traditional gardens, because we only scratched the surface before running out of gas on this hot, sunny day.
The Rest of the Story . . .
At the risk of sharing too much information, our Vancouver visit fell short of expectations because I came down with a bladder infection that wiped me out for the last few days. It’s the first time one of us has needed medical attention while out of the country, but since we were headed back to the U.S. after Vancouver, I decided to tough it out and wait rather than access care in Canada. In case you’re curious how the story ends, all is well after visiting an urgent care clinic in Seattle.
So Vancouver goes back on the list of places to visit, because we need a do over!