Downtown & Yaletown
Downtown -- the financial district, the area around Canada Place convention center and cruise-ship terminal, the central shopping-business area around Robson Square, and the warehouse district of Yaletown -- is buzzing during the day but pretty quiet at night. All downtown hotels are within 5 to 10 minutes' walking distance of shops, restaurants, and attractions.
Best for: First-time visitors to Vancouver who are unfamiliar with the city layout and love the proximity to lively clubs, top restaurants, and entertainment venues.
Drawbacks: You pay for location -- so the area has the highest prices you'll see in Vancouver.
The West End
A 10-minute walk from downtown, the West End is green, leafy, and residential, a neighborhood of high-rise apartment houses, beautifully landscaped streets, and close to Coal Harbour, Stanley Park, and the best beaches. While downtown gets quiet at night, the West End starts hopping; dozens of restaurants, cafes, and bars line Robson, Davie, and Denman streets.
The West End's hotels are nestled along Robson Street and amid the tree-lined, garden-filled residential streets bordering Stanley Park. Have no fear: You will not be out of the loop if you stay here, though the area's relaxed, beachy ambience is very different from downtown. While the area has fewer hotels than downtown, the choices are more diverse -- and so are the people who live here.
Best for: Families who want to be close to beaches, the Seawall, and Stanley Park will love the West End. The neighborhood is also a favored destination for gay and lesbian travelers.
Drawbacks: Parking can be a hassle on the resident- and pedestrian-friendly streets. To counter that, become familiar with a few bus routes: namely the no. 5 Robson and no. 6 Davie.
The West Side
Right across False Creek from downtown and the West End is Vancouver's West Side, where you'll find cozy B&Bs and hotels. It's the perfect location if your agenda includes a stop at Granville Island, exploration of the laid-back Kitsilano neighborhood and Kits Beach, visits to the Museum of Anthropology and famed gardens on the University of British Columbia campus, seeing the sunken garden at Queen Elizabeth Park, or being close to the airport without staying in an "airport hotel."
Best for: The West Side is a haven for repeat visitors to Vancouver who don't mind a quick bus ride to downtown as well as foodies who love to explore the culinary markets, fisheries docks, and unheralded ethnic eateries.
Drawbacks: This is not an ideal base for those in town for the nightlife in Gastown and along Granville Street.
The East Side
Vancouver's East Side is an up-and-coming art district, especially around the Main Street–Mount Pleasant area. The streets are lined with residential heritage homes, often renovated into apartments. Shopping along Commercial Drive makes for a fun exploration of cooperative businesses and unique boutiques.
Best for: Truly independent travelers will thrill in discovering the East Van art scene.
Drawbacks: There isn't a concentration of attractions on the East Side; instead, expect artist studios, community cafes, and craft markets.
Staying on the North Shore (North Vancouver & West Vancouver)
The North Shore has great hikes, biking trails, and ski hills, as well as beautiful views and thrilling attractions like the Capilano Suspension Bridge. It’s got a handful of good pubs, seafood restaurants, and bakeries. Plus it has the fabulous and ever-expanding Park Royal Shopping Centre. What it doesn’t have? A lot of good accommodation. That said, there are a couple of great little finds.
Lonsdale Quay, where the SeaBus docks, was intended to be another Granville Island Public Market, but somehow that never quite worked out as planned. It’s mostly takeout places, a couple of inexpensive restaurants, and the great little Lonsdale Quay Hotel (123 Carrie Cates Ct.; tel. 800/836-6111 or 604/986-6111; www.lonsdalequayhotel.com). Standard rooms are pretty basic, though they have fun views of the busy harbor, but the premium executive suites are fantastic, with dark wooden sleigh beds, sunken tubs, and 180-degree harbor and city views. The hotel has 70 rooms, and doubles run C$140 to C$450.
Right next door to the quay, you’ll find the relatively new, 106-room Pinnacle Hotel at the Pier (138 Victory Ship Way; tel. 877/986-7437 or 604/986-7437; www.pinnaclehotelatthepier.com). Opened in 2010, this is a chic, modern addition to the waterfront, which is undergoing a major transformation over the next few years, including, quite possibly, a London Eye-style wheel. The Pinnacle has great views of Vancouver and the harbor, and you can even soak in the view while you soak in the tub. There’s an indoor pool, state-of-the-art fitness center, and several good restaurants nearby, including its own. Rates for a double room begin at C$150 in low season (Oct–May), and C$199 in high season (June–Sept).
There are also a handful of great little B&Bs on the North Shore. Among them is the beautiful, Craftsman-style ThistleDown House Bed & Breakfast (3910 Capilano Rd.; tel. 604/986-7173; www.thistle-down.com), which is nestled up against the forests of Grouse Mountain. Surrounded by gorgeous gardens and filled with art and antiques, it’s well known for its sumptuous breakfasts and lovely guest rooms. There are five of them, ranging from the petite Snuggery, with its fireplace and Persian carpets, to Under the Apple Tree, a romantic hideaway with a sunken sitting room and private patio with French doors. Rates will run you C$175 to $279 in summer, C$125 to C$189 in winter. For other North Shore B&Bs, visit the Vancouver North Shore Bed and Breakfast Association site at www.bbvancouverbc.com.
Note that if you decided to stay on the North Shore, there are two bridges to get into Vancouver, and traffic across them can be excruciantingly slow at peak times. There is good bus service, though, and the handy SeaBus sails from Lonsdale Quay every 15 minutes during the day, 30 minutes in the evenings.