Outside view of the Polygon Art Gallery. The letters "POLYGON" are hanging from the roof.

10 Things to Try—Maybe for the First Time—
Near Vancouver This Summer

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The Polygon Gallery | VancityWild

This summer, get out and play in your own backyard. Explore new (to you) neighbourhoods, learn the stories behind some of our famous landmarks, and discover the destinations you’ll be telling friends and family about all winter long.

Some are just an afternoon exploration; others might be an overnight trip. Many bring you close to nature, which is a balm for body and soul after a challenging year. But there are exciting things to see and do and taste and experience wherever you look. Sometimes, you just have to look a little harder to find them.

Be open to more this summer, starting with these 10 things to try near Vancouver.

Powell River (Townsite Brewing) | @glamouraspirit_

Sunshine Coast

Hang out at Molly’s Reach: Back in the day (that day being anywhere from 1972 to 1990), Nick, Relic, Jesse Jim, Constable Constable, and the rest of The Beachcombers crew would take a break from salvaging logs to hang out at Molly’s Reach. Now the café made famous by the long-running CBC TV show has new owners and a new lease on life. If it’s been a while since you’ve visited (or you’ve never been), this is your summer to hop over to Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast for some cod and chips. Grab a seat on the patio at this local landmark and enjoy the trip down pop culture’s memory lane.

Dig the Deco at Powell River Historic Townsite: In 1910, the Powell River Company began producing newsprint here on the edge of the rainforest. Within a few years, it became the biggest pulp and paper mill in the world, with one out of every 25 newspapers printed on the paper it produced. The city was created as a company town for the mill’s workers, right in the heyday of Art Deco, and follows both the Garden City Movement and Arts and Crafts philosophy. More than a century later, that city centre is still almost perfectly preserved, a designated National Historic Site of Canada since 1995, and a vibrant and lively place to visit. Stay at the historic Old Courthouse Inn, take a self-guided historic tour, shop at the Townsite Market, and dine at the many great little independent restaurants. (Tip: Try Townsite Brewing for a local pour or Iguanas Mexican Grill for an eclectic Mexican menu featuring tacos, burritos and quesadillas.)

A Rambo wooden carving in Hope| AdvantageHOPE


Take a chainsaw carvings tour: The mountain community of Hope is the world’s Chainsaw Carving Capital, and no visit is complete without a self-guided tour of the 80-plus chainsaw carvings displayed around the town centre. Many of them depict local wildlife, such as bears, eagles, and cougars, with local carvers Pete Ryan and Randy Swope among the artists represented. Every two years, carvers from around the world descend on Hope to take part in the International Chainsaw Carving Competition; the next event is scheduled for August 19 to 22 (depending on pandemic restrictions). Find the tour map at the Hope, Cascades & Canyons Visitor Centre or visit the Hope Arts Gallery website. Refresh at Blue Moose Coffee House when you’re done.

Go full Rambo: You’ve likely seen the Sylvester Stallone action movie Rambo: First Blood (1982), but did you know it was filmed in Hope? Look closely and you’ll likely recognize some of the key filming locations, though they were transformed into American ones for the film: Wallace Street, 3rd Avenue, Water Avenue, even the police station built for the movie, though it’s now the Canyon Golden Age Club over on Douglas Street. Of course, the town has a Rambo carving, too. Follow in the footsteps of the avenging former Green Beret by taking a self-guided tour to the various locations; maps available at the Visitor Centre. End your nostalgic tour at Hope Local House Silver Chalice Club, where their Rambo burger will fuel the fire, thanks to two patties, a fried egg, onions, mushrooms, bacon, and cheddar cheese topped with a tower of onion rings.

A Café Hashtag cro-waffle | Café Hashtag


Be charmed by history: For many Vancouverites, Coquitlam is known for its expansive park and trail network, its offering of ethnic restaurants, and its exceptional home décor stores along United Boulevard. But it also boasts charming historic neighbourhoods that are worth veering off the boulevard to explore. For instance, Maillardville was home to a large population of French-Canadian workers at Fraser Mills in 1909; today it is still the largest francophone community west of Manitoba, with historic sites, geocaching experiences, shops, and restaurants to explore. Tip: Drop in at C Market Coffee Roastery for a pour from Bridgette, the shop’s owner and Master Roaster, then grab takeout Filipino-style sandwiches from Morning Tide Eatery for a picnic in the park.

Its neighbour Austin Heights is another quaint neighbourhood, a walkable community of shops, restaurants, Blue Mountain Park, and the legendary John B Neighbourhood Pub, which boasts more than 80 BC craft beers on tap and a huge covered patio. But before you settle into a patio seat, grab a bubble tea from Soul Cup Café then explore shops for unique, locally crafted and sourced items at Artisan Gifts and Flowers and crystals, jewelry, and essential oils at Reflections Books.

Go for gochujang: Long before North Road became the nexus of all things Korean, it was famous for another reason—it was the first road built in the Lower Mainland, constructed in 1859 so wagons could travel from the capital city (New Westminster at the time) to the port in Port Moody. Today North Road travels through the bustling neighbourhood of Burquitlam and has one of the largest concentrations of Korean businesses in Canada. That means delicious Korean food is on the menu. Dig into irresistibly fragrant bulgogi (barbecue), bibimpap (rice bowl), banchan (side dishes), and all the spicy kimchi and tangy gochujang you could crave. Where to start? Try Insadong Korean Restaurant for bibimpap and finish with a cro-waffle (a croissant and waffle combo on a stick) at Café Hashtag. See this Burquitlam blog for more edible inspiration.

Art of Sauna in Burnaby | Art of Sauna


Steam the stress away: With all the anxiety and upheaval of the last year, don’t we all need a little pampering right now? Burnaby’s Art of Sauna is all about relaxation and rejuvenation. Its saunas and steam rooms tap into eight different wellness traditions, from the Finnish sauna and Russian banya to the Turkish hammam and Roman steam room. That’s just to warm you up for the full menu of body treatments designed to release stress, relieve pain, and restore peace of mind. Ahhhh.

Commune with the gods: Towering above the city, Burnaby Mountain offers spectacular views sweeping across the Lower Mainland. It also offers an abundance of things to do, including golfing at Burnaby Mountain Golf Course, perfecting your mountain biking tricks at the Burnaby Mountain Bike Skills Park, birdwatching, hiking, and exploring the Arthur-Erickson-designed Simon Fraser University campus. One of the most intriguing experiences to enjoy up here is a visit to the Kamui Mintara, also known as the Playground of the Gods. These haunting, totem-like carvings at the top of the mountain were created by the Japanese sculptor Nuburi Toko and his son, Shusei, to commemorate the goodwill between Burnaby and its sister city, Kushiro, Japan. Afterward, head to a local pub to relax and refresh at Studio Brewing or Dageraad Brewing, the latter set, fittingly, at the base of Burnaby Mountain.

The Polygon Shop | The Polygon Gallery

Vancouver's North Shore

Focus on art: Vancouver’s North Shore has long attracted famous artists including the Group of Seven’s Fred Varley, Gordon Smith, and Douglas Coupland, who all had or have homes here. Now the community is finding new ways to showcase art that everyone can enjoy, from Coupland’s public art sculptures in Ambleside to the Polygon Gallery next to Lonsdale Quay. (Tip: Be sure to check out the excellent Polygon Shop for one-of-a-kind gifts.) This is the evolution of the former Presentation House, which produced over 300 exhibits over 40 years. Now housed in an eye-catching structure by Patkau Architects, the gallery’s focus is on photography. Meanwhile, the new Museum of North Vancouver (MONOVA) is set to open this summer nearby on Esplanade, capturing the story of this vibrant and evolving community.

Set sail for The Shipyards: In 1906, the Wallace Shipyard opened on the North Vancouver waterfront. By the Second World War, production was so busy that entire neighbourhoods were built to house its workers. Demand dropped in the 1980s and, in 1990, it closed down, its docks and warehouses abandoned. Now the community has completely revitalized the site and rebranded it The Shipyards. Here, you’ll discover cool businesses, like Reckless Biking Shipyards and The Honey Shoppe, and restaurants that include local favourite Anatoli Souvlaki and Tap & Barrel Shipyards (those views!) You’ll even find overnight options, like the boutique Seaside Hotel, a stage for live concerts, and a vast area for ice skating in winter and hanging out in summer around the cozy fire pits.

Originally published in June, 2021.

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