Surrounded on three sides by Pacific Ocean inlets and bays, and backed by the snow-capped peaks of the Coastal Mountains, Vancouver is a dream destination for urbanites who can't live without their deep-nature fix, as impulse demands. After a morning spent shopping in haute boutiques like Ermenegildo Zegna and Escada, you can hop a city bus for some of the world's best cold-water scuba diving, West Coast rainforest, or sea kayaking waterways, such as Deep Cove -- from where you can paddle into old-growth cedars and waterfalls, with ravens and bald eagles riding the skies above you. The dazzling natural harbor is Canada's busiest port, and the city's residents include a number of Aleuts and Pacific Islanders -- as well as the British, Asian, Irish, German, and French immigrants who, in that order, make up the bulk of the population.
Unless you're a diehard history buff, few polyglot metro regions have more to offer visitors, once warm weather arrives and the rains die down, in May, including excellent swimming, whitewater rafting, rock climbing, mountain hiking and biking, and year-round skiing at Whistler resort. The athletically challenged can climb Vancouver Lookout, for 360-degree views of the harbor, or cross the Capilano Suspension Bridge, through the treetops of 300-year-old cedars. Vancouver's summer music festivals draw the world's top performers: Diana Krall and Cesaria Evora are the headliners for this year's Vancouver International Jazz Festival (www.coastaljazz.ca), from June 24 to June 23 (Oscar Peterson, Keb Mo, Al Green, and Aaron Neville all headlined last year). Chick Corea is headlining Festival Vancouver (www.festivalvancouver.bc.ca), on August 10, along with other renowned jazz, classical, and world music performers. And if you're in town in late July, don't miss the Vancouver Recital Society's esteemed Vancouver Chamber Music Festival (www.vanrecital.com).
On the ground, Vancouver is fairly inexpensive; a three-course dinner, sans alcohol and tip, will run you about $20 U.S. a head. And for travel in early May, cross-country airfare can be less than $350, taxes and fees included. From New York, Orbitz (tel. 888/656-4546; www.orbitz.com) has the cheapest rates for round-trips from May 4 to May 11: $308 total, on America West, with one stop. From Chicago, it's $368 total, on Northwest, with one stop. From Los Angeles, it's only $280 nonstop, on Alaska and America West, through Mobissimo (www.mobissimo.com).
Expedia (tel. 800/342-2870; www.expedia.com) is running the best air-hotel package rates -- which are reasonable, even for bicoastal journeys. The lowest rates depart Los Angeles -- which is still a three-hour, nonstop flight up the coast. For a week in early May (roughly Wednesday May 4 to Wednesday May 11), round-trip air and six nights at the excellent, four-star Coast Plaza Hotel & Suites are $546 total on Alaska Air. A modern, downtown high-rise, the Coast Plaza is one of Vancouver's most popular hotels, with commanding views of the cityscape, mountains, or harbor. Its indoor, heated pool and health club are first rate, and guests are within easy walking distance of Stanley Park -- an extraordinary oasis of giant, old-growth cedars, hemlocks, and fir trees.
From Chicago, the same package is $655 total on America West. From New York, it's $618 on America West. These and the following Expedia packages include all air and hotel taxes and fees.
If you're willing to stay near the airport, rates drop further. Round-trip air and six nights at the three-star, unremarkable but clean Coast Vancouver Airport Hotel are only $469 total from Los Angeles. From Chicago it's $577; and it's $540 from New York. The Coast Vancouver Airport is well-kept and clean enough, though it's a fifteen-minute ride from downtown.
Even the rates for luxury accommodations are a great value. Six nights at the five-star Sutton Place Hotel are $841 total from Los Angeles on Alaska Air, $913 from Chicago on America West, and $950 from New York on America West. In the heart of downtown, the opulent Sutton Place annually makes the cut on many luxury travel magazines' lists of the world's top hotels.
For more information on spring and summer activities in Vancouver, and a more extensive list of accommodations, see Tourism Vancouver (tel. 604/682-2222; www.tourismvancouver.com).
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