Walking Tour 3: Yaletown, Granville Island & Kitsilano
Start: The Vancouver Public Library Central Branch at Homer and Georgia streets.
Finish: The Capers Building, 2285 W. 4th Ave. (at Vine St.), in Kitsilano.
Time: 2 to 4 hours, not including shopping, eating, and sightseeing stops.
Best Time: Any time during business hours.
Worst Time: After 6pm, when Granville Island's shops have closed.
This tour takes you through three of Vancouver's most interesting neighborhoods: the trendy warehouse-turned-retail/restaurant district of Yaletown, the industrial-area-turned-public-market called Granville Island, and the laid-back enclave of Kitsilano. The tour includes a brief ferry ride and a stroll along the waterfront and beach.
1. Library Square
Designed by architect Moshe Safdie, this branch of the Vancouver Public Library, at 350 W. Georgia St., was enormously controversial when it opened in 1995. Though Safdie denied that the ancient Roman coliseum served as inspiration, the coliseum is exactly what comes to mind when you first see the exterior of this postmodern building. Architectural critics pooh-poohed it as derivative and ignorant of West Coast architectural traditions, but for the public it was love at first sight. The steps out front have become a popular public gathering place, the lofty atrium inside a favored hangout spot and "study-date" locale. Go inside the atrium and then into the high-tech library itself: It's light, airy, and wonderfully accessible.
From the library, walk south down Homer St. and turn left on Nelson St. At Hamilton St. you're in:
Vancouver's former meatpacking warehouse district, Yaletown was where roughneck miners from Yale (up the Fraser Valley) used to come to drink and brawl. The city considered leveling the area in the 1970s until someone noticed that the raised loading docks would make great outdoor terraces and the low brick buildings themselves could be renovated into commercial space. Though it's taken years for the neighborhood to really catch on, the result is a funky upscale district of furniture shops, restaurants, multimedia companies, "New York–style" lofts, and lots and lots of clubs. Hamilton Street and Mainland Street are the trendiest arteries in Yaletown. Note the metal canopies over the loading docks on many buildings -- they used to keep shipping goods dry; now, they do the same for tourists and craft-beer-sipping computer programmers.
Walk down alleylike Mainland St. and turn left at Davie St. Continue southeast down Davie St. and cross Pacific Blvd. On your right you'll see:
3. The Roundhouse
The Roundhouse is so named because that's exactly what this brick-and-timber frame building was, back when this land was the CPR's switching yard. The structure has since been converted into a community center. It's worth ducking inside to have a look at CPR 372, the locomotive that pulled the first passenger train into Vancouver way back in 1887; you can also see the locomotive from the street, through a giant glass window. The old switching yard is undergoing a revitalization project in 2011, which should see performances and events held in the open space.
Follow Davie St. south to the False Creek waterfront and the:
4. Yaletown Landing (at the Foot of Davie St.)
The forest of high-rises ringing the north shore of False Creek, where you're now standing, is the creation of one company -- Concord Pacific, owned by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka Shing. Formerly a railway switching yard, the area was transformed for the Expo '86 World's Fair. When the fair came to an end, the provincial government sold the land to Li Ka Shing for a song on the understanding he would build condominiums. And did he ever. At the landing site, note the large art piece, Street Light, designed by Bernie Miller and Alan Tregebov and installed in 1997. The large panels, each of which depicts a seminal event in Vancouver's history, have been arranged so that on the anniversary of that event, the sun will shine directly through the panel, casting a shadowed image on the street.
From here, at the end of the dock, catch a mini-ferry to Granville Island. Both the rainbow-hued Aquabus (tel. 604/689-5858) and False Creek Ferries (tel. 604/684-7781) make the trip every 15 minutes through the day; the fare is C$4.50 adults.
The ferry will scoot you across False Creek harbor in about 5 min. and let you off at:
5. Granville Island Ferry Dock
To be topographically honest, Granville Island is not really an island; it's more of a protuberance. But it contains a fascinating collection of shops, restaurants, theaters, artists' workshops, housing, a hotel, and still-functioning heavy industry -- one of the few successful examples of 1970s urban renewal. The Granville Island Information Centre (1592 Johnston St.; tel. 604/666-5784), near the Public Market, has excellent free maps, but they're not really necessary -- the place is so compact, the best thing to do is simply wander and explore.
Right at the top of the Aquabus dock is an entrance into the:
6. Granville Island Public Market
This is an amazing place that sells anything and everything that's edible.
The market is a wonderful place to stop and:
7. Granville Island Public Market
If it's edible, this market probably has it, from handmade chocolates and local salmon to artisan bread and strawberries picked that morning out in the Fraser Valley. Those with an immediate hunger gravitate to the far side of the market, where A La Mode (tel. 604/685-8335) sells lattes and fabulous rhubarb-strawberry pie. The most fun way to feed yourself, however, is to roam the market stalls for sandwiches, sausages, or picnic supplies -- artichoke hearts, artisan cheese, cold smoked salmon, Indian candy, pepper pâté, freshly baked bread -- then head outside for an alfresco feast at one of the tables on the dock overlooking False Creek. The views are great, the slightly salty air invigorating, and if you've brought small children along, it's the perfect place to play that endlessly fascinating (to kids) game of Catch the Seagull.
From Triangle Sq., the small plaza in front of the public market, head south (left) on Duranleau St., where you'll pass enticing shops and marine charter services. At Anderson St., turn right and right again on waterside Island Park Walk, following it north to the:
8. Government Fish Dock
Want to buy fresh from the boat? This is the place to do it. Find fresh salmon in season (summer and early fall), prawns, scallops, and other shellfish much of the rest of the year. Sales take place every day in high season and otherwise on weekend mornings. Hours and availability, of course, depend on the catch. Go Fish (tel. 604/730-5040), a simple hut serving fish tacos and battered fillets, is within stone-skipping distance of the fish dock.
Continue on the seaside walkway, and eventually you pass beneath the:
9. Burrard Bridge
In 1926, the city fathers commissioned noted urban planner Harland Bartholomew to provide some guidance on how to expand their rather raw seaport city. One of Bartholomew's first injunctions: Build beautiful bridges. The Burrard Bridge is the result, an elegant steel span with two castles guarding the approaches at either end.
Walk beneath the bridge and continue along the pedestrian path in Vanier Park to:
10. Vanier Park
To your left rises the white cone of the Museum of Vancouver and H. R. MacMillan Space Centre. The low building next to that is the Vancouver Archives (1150 Chestnut St.; tel. 604/736-8561), home to some fascinating panoramic photographs of Vancouver back in the early days. Continuing along the gravel path, watch for artist Alan Chung Hung's massive iron sculpture Gate to the Northwest Passage.
Continue on the waterside path until you come to the:
11. Maritime Museum
For centuries, the quest of every European explorer was to find the Northwest Passage, the seagoing shortcut to the riches of the East. The little ship housed inside the Maritime Museum is the one that finally did it. Tours of the RCMP vessel, the St. Roch, are available at regular intervals throughout the day. Out back of the museum, the junk on the lawn by the north side all comes from various ships wrecked on the BC coast, while on the waterfront is the enclave of boats docked at Heritage Harbour. Many older wooden vessels find shelter behind the breakwater, including the seiner BCP45 shown on the back of the old C$5 bill.
On the inland side of the museum, you'll see the:
12. Totem Pole
Carved by the exceptional Kwakiutl carver Mungo Martin (who also did many of the poles displayed in the Museum of Anthropology and in Stanley Park), the 10 figures on this 30m-tall (98-ft.) pole each represent an ancestor of the 10 Kwakiutl clans. An identical pole was presented to Queen Elizabeth in 1958 to mark BC's centenary. It now stands in Windsor Great Park in England.
Continue on the waterside pathway to:
13. Kitsilano Beach
Vancouver is blessed with beaches. From here, they stretch almost unbroken to the University of British Columbia, about 8.5km (5 1/4 miles) west on the tip of the Point Grey peninsula. Each beach has its own distinct personality. Below UBC, Wreck Beach is a semi-wild strand for nudists and nature lovers. Beaches in between cater to dogs, picnicking families, and hikers. Kitsilano Beach (Kits Beach, for short) is home to a spandex-and-testosterone set that loves a fast and furious game on the volleyball courts. But relaxers love Kits, too. The logs lined up on the beach make it a fine place to lay out a blanket and laze the day away. Small children love to play on the nearby swings, while older kids favor the lifeguarded swimming area or the world's largest outdoor saltwater swimming pool. On a clear day, the views of the mountains are tremendous.
About midway down Kits Beach, a sidewalk veers left and takes you up to Yew St. Follow Yew St. uphill to 4th Ave. and turn right. Walk along the restaurant-packed avenue to 2285 W. 4th Ave. and you'll find:
14. The Capers Building
Back in the 1960s, Kitsilano was Canada's Hippie Central, a Haight-Ashbury–like enclave of head shops, communes, and coffeehouses. In the early 1970s, Vancouver's super-square mayor, Tom Campbell, went so far as to propose rounding up all the tie-dyed long-hairs and shipping them off to a detention center. As the years passed, the hippies' waistlines and wallets got thicker, run-down communes and boardinghouses were renovated or replaced with new apartments and condos, and the shops came to reflect Kitsilano's new affluence, though still with a touch of counterculture.
The retail/office/apartment building at 2285 W. 4th Ave. was built according to an innovative energy-efficient design, and now serves as home to Capers, an organic supermarket.
The walk ends here. You may want to explore the shopping opportunities along 4th Ave. Or you can catch a no. 4 or 7 bus to take you back to downtown Vancouver.