With four different bodies of water lapping at its edges and miles of shoreline, Vancouver's geography can seem a bit complicated. Downtown Vancouver is on a peninsula: Think of it as an upraised thumb on the mitten-shaped Vancouver mainland. Stanley Park, the West End, Yaletown, and Vancouver's business and financial center (downtown) are located on this thumb of land bordered to the north by Burrard Inlet, the city's main deepwater harbor and port, to the west by English Bay, and to the south by False Creek. Farther west beyond English Bay is the Strait of Georgia, part of the Pacific Ocean. Just south across False Creek is Granville Island, famous for its public market, and the beach community of Kitsilano. This part of the city, called the West Side, covers the mainland, or the hand of the mitten. Its western shoreline looks out on the Strait of Georgia with the Pacific beyond, and the north arm of the Fraser River demarcates it to the south. Pacific Spirit Park and the University of British Columbia (UBC), a locus for visitors because of its outstanding Museum of Anthropology, take up most of the western tip of the West Side; the rest is mostly residential, with a sprinkling of businesses along main arterial streets. Both the mainland and peninsula are covered by a simple rectilinear street pattern. North Vancouver is the mountain-backed area across Burrard Inlet from downtown.
Main Arteries & Streets
On the downtown peninsula are four key east-west streets (to be more directionally exact, the streets run southeast to northwest). Robson Street starts at BC Place Stadium on Beatty Street, flows through the West End's more touristed shopping district, and ends at Stanley Park's Lost Lagoon on Lagoon Drive. Georgia Street -- far more efficient for drivers than the pedestrian-oriented Robson -- runs from the Georgia Viaduct on the eastern edge of downtown through Vancouver's commercial core, through Stanley Park, and over the Lions Gate Bridge to the North Shore. Three blocks north of Georgia is Hastings Street, which begins in the West End, runs east through downtown, and then skirts Gastown's southern border as it runs eastward to the Trans-Canada Highway. Davie Street starts at Pacific Boulevard near the Cambie Street Bridge, travels through Yaletown into the West End's more residential shopping district, and ends at English Bay Beach.
Three north-south downtown streets will get you everywhere you want to go in and out of downtown. Three blocks east of Stanley Park is Denman Street, which runs from West Georgia Street at Coal Harbour to Beach Avenue at English Bay Beach. This main West End thoroughfare is where locals dine out. It's also the shortest north-south route between the two ends of the Stanley Park Seawall.
Eight blocks east of Denman Street is Burrard Street, which starts near the Canada Place Pier and runs south through downtown, crosses the Burrard Bridge, and then forks. One branch, still Burrard Street, continues south and intersects West 4th Avenue and Broadway before ending at West 16th Avenue on the borders of the ritzy Shaughnessy neighborhood. The other branch becomes Cornwall Avenue, which heads west through Kitsilano, changing its name to Point Grey Road and connecting via West 4th Avenue and Northwest Marine Drive to the University of British Columbia campus.
Granville Street starts near Waterfront Station on Burrard Inlet and runs the entire length of downtown, crosses the Granville Street Bridge to Vancouver's West Side, and carries on south across the breadth of the city before crossing the Arthur Laing Bridge to Vancouver International Airport.
On mainland Vancouver, the city's east-west roads are successively numbered from 1st Avenue at the downtown bridges to 77th Avenue by the banks of the Fraser River. The most important east-west route is Broadway (formerly 9th Ave.), which starts a few blocks from the University of British Columbia as West 10th Avenue before extending across the city to the border of neighboring Burnaby, where it becomes the Lougheed Highway. In Kitsilano, West 4th Avenue is an important east-west shopping and commercial corridor. Intersecting with Broadway at various points are a number of important north-south commercial streets, each defining a particular neighborhood. The most significant of these streets are (from west to east) MacDonald Street in Kitsilano; Granville, Cambie, and Main streets; and Commercial Drive.
The thing to keep in mind when figuring out what's where in Vancouver is that this is a city where property is king, and the word west has such positive connotations that folks have always gone to great lengths to associate it with their particular patch of real estate. Thus we have the West End, the West Side, and West Vancouver, which improbably enough is located immediately beside North Vancouver. It can be a bit confusing for newcomers, but fortunately, each west has its own distinct character. The West End is a high-rise residential neighborhood on the downtown peninsula. The West Side is one-half of Vancouver, from Ontario Street west to the University of British Columbia. (The more working-class East Side covers the mainland portion of the city, from Ontario St. east to Boundary Rd.) Very tony West Vancouver is a city unto itself on the far side of Burrard Inlet. Together with its more middle-class neighbor, North Vancouver, it forms the North Shore.
Finding an Address
In many Vancouver addresses, the suite or room number precedes the building number. For instance, 100-1250 Robson St. is Suite 100 at 1250 Robson St.
In downtown Vancouver, Chinatown's Carrall Street is the east-west axis from which streets are numbered and designated. Westward, numbers increase progressively to Stanley Park; eastward, numbers increase approaching Commercial Drive. For example, 400 W. Pender would be 4 blocks from Carrall Street heading toward downtown; 400 E. Pender would be 4 blocks on the opposite side of Carrall Street. Similarly, the low numbers on north-south streets start on the Canada Place Pier side and increase southward in increments of 100 per block (the 600 block of Thurlow St. is 2 blocks from the 800 block) toward False Creek and Granville Island.
Off the peninsula, the system works the same, but Ontario Street is the east-west axis. Also, all east-west roads are avenues (for example, 4th Ave.), while streets (for example, Main St.) run exclusively north-south.
Tourist information centers and most hotels can also provide you with a detailed downtown map. Where Vancouver (tel. 604/736-5586; www.where.ca/vancouver), a free guide available at most hotels, has good maps. A good all-around metropolitan area map is the Rand McNally Vancouver city map. If you're an auto-club member, the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) map is also good. It's not for sale, but it's free to both AAA and CAA members, and is available at AAA offices across North America.