Plenty of cities around the world feature centralized urban parks, untouched natural areas offering an easy escape from a world of bustling cars towering skyscrapers, but few are as spectacular as Stanley Park, the one thousand-plus acre park the encompasses an entire peninsula on the north end of Vancouver.
The long walking path that encircles the whole park offers spectacular views of the city’s now-iconic blue steel towers and the rocky shores where the landscape meets the still waters of English Bay. Rugged islands and peaked mountains loom over this natural oasis in the center of western Canada’s largest metropolis.
Vancouver is certainly an impressive metropolis, boasting ethnic and culinary diversity as well as a high concentration of cultural sights, but like Stanley Park, it is an oasis amidst the rural landscapes that otherwise dominate the enormous state of British Columbia. On my recent trip to Vancouver, I wasn’t content to confine myself to the impressive urban sights of that single city, not when there was so much natural wonder to see within easy driving distance.
The food in any major city, particularly one bordering a salt water environment swimming with delectable surf specialties, is guaranteed to be a highlight, and Vancouver didn’t disappoint. I walked through the produce and seafood purveyors of the Granville Island Public Market before enjoying a plate of fresh-fried cod and chips elsewhere on the tiny island, which provided a gorgeous view of the city center across a narrow channel.
A nearby weekend farmer’s market in the Kitsilano neighborhood offered another place to sample local produce and specialties in a more unfussy, local-friendly setting. But I found the culinary highlight of my trip at a modest hole-in-the-wall Burmese restaurant where every dish was an unfamiliar, impossibly tasty experience called Amay’s House on the far-off East Side, one of many delicious offerings from Vancouver’s large population of East Asian immigrants.
After renting bikes to explore the beaches and picturesque paths crisscrossing through Stanley Park, I ended my final day in Vancouver with sushi in the gorgeously modern West End neighborhood before a walk through Gastown. This historic area is a counterpoint to the West End, featuring some of the grit and dirt you’ll find in any major city, but it makes a nice place for a stroll among distinct architecture, especially when the buildings are highlighted orange by the sunset of a long summer night.
The sleek look of the booming city turned out to be all the more breathtaking after seeing the dense forests of the Cascade Mountains to the north and east. The most convenient way to take in the natural splendor is via the Sea-to-Sky Highway that winds along the water and upwards into mountainous terrain, leaving behind all semblance of city or even suburban life within less than an hour’s drive.
The blue waters of the bay disappear almost entirely around the town of Squamish, where ambitious hikers will find the granite dome of Stawamus Chief, affectionately nicknamed “The Chief.” Likely the second largest granite monolith in the world, the 700 meter rock is home to rocky creek beds on the way up to a series of panoramic views of the mountains and water surrounding.
For the remainder of my rural exploration, I stayed in the nearby town of Whistler, a small but high-end mountain town that once hosted the Winter Olympics and might be called Canada’s answer to Aspen. During the summer off-season, the incredibly walkable downtown area is still bustling with activity as tourists like yours truly explore the bars and diverse restaurants, including the tasty Indian fine-dining spot Tandoori Grill and the Australian meat pie vendor Peaked Pies.
But the city primarily served as the home base for my second and final hike in the region, the 13 kilometer round-trip to and from Garibaldi Lake. Most of the lengthy trek is characterized by a steady, seemingly endless upward slope through dense forest that can become a slog after a couple of hours. The payoff is worth it though, as the alpine lake at the top is surely one of the most wondrous bodies of water in the world. Its otherworldly turquoise waters glimmer in the sunlight, highlighting the glaciers and pointed peaks of the mountains encompassing the rocky Lake Garibaldi. This lake along with the shimmering city of Vancouver and the monolithic Chief are enough to make British Columbia one of the most beautiful regions in North America, if not the world.