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Take Another Look at Metro Vancouver and Victoria This Summer

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Kayaking in The Gorge, Victoria | Hubert Kang
The Gorge, Victoria | Hubert Kang

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Get Back to Nature—or Culture—in the Heart of the City

 

BC’s big cities are well known for their restaurants, shopping, and urban sights and attractions. But explore a little more and you’ll discover opportunities for forest bathing, whale watching, kayaking, bicycling, and birding that will take you just outside the downtown core to replenish and reconnect in nature.

We’re all ready to reap the therapeutic and psychological benefits of being outside—namely, nature’s magical ability to decrease stress and increase happiness—after staying close to home for months on end during the pandemic. Summer ushers in a new season with ample reasons to get out and try something new; it’s a time to recharge and renew relationships, and that’s easy to do in BC’s vibrant, outdoorsy cityscapes.

And once you venture back downtown for a patio meal, hotel stay, or museum visit, rest assured that local businesses have implemented safety measures designed to keep you well. With that in mind, here are some ideas to help you see Victoria, Vancouver, and Richmond through a new lens.

Butchart Garden, Victoria | @a.spargo via Instagram

Discover Victoria’s wild edges and fresh-from-the-farm food (and drink!)

BC’s capital is called the Garden City for good reason. There are numerous manicured spots to admire the hydrangeas, from The Butchart Gardens to the well-tended flowerbeds at Beacon Hill Park. But for something new and a little more uncultivated, it’s worthwhile seeking out the city’s wild side.

Head into the rainforest at Francis/King Regional Park just outside of town to walk among towering cedars, Sitka spruce, and the red-barked arbutus trees, on a small group tour with Elemental Magick Adventures. A guide will instruct you to be present in the moment, aware of the sights, sounds, and smells of the ancient surroundings. This nature immersion is called “forest bathing,” a practice that lowers blood pressure and increases vitality.

If your goal is to increase adrenaline, though, get out on the water with a rented kayak or on a tour with Ocean River Sports—kayak excursions depart daily from the Inner Harbour and Oak Bay. Gliding across the water is an exhilarating way to spot seals, otters, eagles, and maybe even a whale.

Some of Victoria’s oldest neighbourhoods also have open spaces to explore. James Bay, bordering Beacon Hill Park and Fisherman’s Wharf Park, is home to the Dallas Waterfront Trail, a 7-km pathway with ocean views and access to rugged Fonyo Beach, the best place to search for sea glass amid the driftwood. Oak Bay, just 10 minutes from downtown, is its own seaside destination with local’s favourite Willows Beach. While in the neighbourhood, consider stopping at Faro at The Oak Bay Beach Hotel for handcrafted pizza on the patio or opt for locally inspired sharing plates and signature cocktails at Vis-à-Vis.

To fuel up further, head up the Saanich Peninsula on a self-guided tour of the Greater Victoria Flavour Trails, a swath of fertile farmland where you’ll find U-pick farms, vineyards, apple orchards, honey apiaries, and a variety of other makers and growers. Stop in at Victoria Distillers to sample the blue-hued 1908 gin, or arrange a tasting at Sea Cider Farm + Ciderhouse (be sure and try the Rumrunner, a revelatory cider aged in rum-soaked bourbon barrels). Back in town, order “Tea-to-Go from the Fairmont Empress and take away iced tea with a box of sweet and savoury goodies to enjoy in a park or by the sea.

Base yourself within walking distance of the Inner Harbour, downtown restaurants, and the Royal BC Museum. The Magnolia Hotel & Spa is always a good bet, as is the Inn at Laurel Point, which offers a BC residents special.

Fat Mao Noodles in Chinatown | Destination BC/Hubert Kang

Pedal, walk, or eat your way to a new side of Vancouver

With a laidback two-wheel culture and more than 450 kms of bike route lanes in the city, plus other multi-use pathways including the Arbutus Greenway and the famous Stanley Park Seawall, riding a bike is a great way to see Vancouver. Join a small-group physically distanced tour with Cycle City to ride the trails in Stanley Park, or pedal into the history of Chinatown, Gastown, and Granville Island. All adventures are led by engaging storyteller guides, and the company also offers an e-bike tour.

Locals may think they know everything about the city, but a walking tour with Forbidden Vancouver will reveal that’s not the case. Between the rum runners, mobsters, and criminals that ruled Gastown a century ago, and the secrets buried in the forests of one of Canada’s largest urban parks, Vancouver has a track record of crime and scandal that’s entertaining to walk into and learn about. For a less sordid, more uplifting stroll, discover the many colourful murals of Mt. Pleasant with Vancouver DeTours, whose excursions explore the eclectic ‘hood’s unique art. And if it’s gourmet food you crave, BC Adventure Company organizes upscale picnics in local parks, along with one-day culinary experiences.

 

To dive deeper into the city’s Indigenous culture and history, sign up for a walk in Stanley Park with Talaysay Tours. The Indigenous-led walking tours explain how the park’s trees and plants were used for food, medicine, and technology, and share stories and styles of art in the region, including the famous totem poles at Brockton Point. Then, visit the Bill Reid Gallery to get your fill of more Indigenous creations. Named after an acclaimed Haida artist, the gallery features carvings, sculptures, and jewelry in the contemporary style of Northwest Coast art. The Museum of Anthropology at UBC also sheds light on the stories and significance of a collection of historic Indigenous artworks in its ongoing exhibit In a Different Light: Reflecting on Northwest Coast Art.

For an even more immersive experience, stay overnight at Skwachàys Lodge, a boutique hotel with 18 stunning “art installation” rooms that were jointly designed by an interior designer and an Indigenous artist. Carvings, paintings, and even custom headboards imbue each guest room with meaning and story. The effect is like slumbering in an art gallery.

Dining at the Golden Village district in Richmond | Tourism Richmond

Richmond’s location on a river delta makes it a haven for birders, bikers, and whale watchers

Richmond is best known for its famous night market (North America’s largest), along with its hip malls—a serious browser can find everything from trendy Asian fashions and tech toys, to cute sushi sets and dried spices, at Yaohan Centre, Parker Place, and Aberdeen Centre. Not to mention all the best upscale brands at a discount at McArthurGlen Designer Outlet.

But even though you can attain shopping, or even dumpling, Nirvana—you’re never far from xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), wontons, or gyoza at mall food courts, or along Richmond’s Dumpling Trail, a collection of restaurants renowned for the best doughy wonders this side of the Pacific—there’s so much more to this lower mainland city than those appealing urban pastimes. Being located on the Fraser River Delta means outdoor adventures abound.

Richmond is on the Pacific Flyway, a migratory route for birds. With a pair of binoculars and a bit of patience, you might spot common yellowthroats, black-headed grosbeaks, bold rufous hummingbirds, or water birds like the shy green heron. Jutting into the Georgia Strait right at the mouth of the delta, Iona Beach Regional Park is a favourite spot for birders, with walking trails and miles of shoreline. For tips on how to best to spot and then capture feathered friends on film, join a birding tour with photographer Liron Gertsman.

Beyond birds, being situated on a delta has other advantages; namely, Richmond is flat and makes for easy cycling. The city has more than 80 kms of routes and many interesting stops, including two National Historic Sites. Both the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, where fish were turned into edible “gold,” and Britannia Shipyards, a shipbuilding and maritime repair shop, are located here. A favourite ride is to cycle from downtown Richmond to Steveston Village, an eight-kilometre trip that joins up with the Railway Greenway, a former railroad that’s been converted into a multi-use pathway.

When you arrive in Steveston, spend time exploring this historic fishing village with a working Fisherman’s Wharf. Watch the daily catch come in, or dig in to fresh fish and chips at local favourite Dave’s. Then, lock up the bike and join a tour with Vancouver Whale Watch to look for orcas and humpbacks, along with seals, sea lions, and porpoises.

To aid and abet your outdoor endeavors, it’s worth checking in to the Fairmont Vancouver Airport. The hotel’s Pacific Flyway Adventure Package includes an overnight stay, plus use of a birding backpack with binoculars and maps, and a chef-prepared picnic lunch for two to take with you to nearby Iona Beach Regional Park.

Note: This story was written specifically for the unique travel circumstances of 2021. Information is accurate at the time of publication; we recommend you contact businesses directly to confirm availability and familiarize yourself with their COVID policies.

Image header: Kayaking in Victoria | Destination BC/Hubert Kang

WRITTEN BY: Lisa Kadane

From: Kelowna
Lisa Kadane is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about travel, outdoor adventure, food and cocktails for over two decades. Though she has travelled to over 50 countries, Lisa can’t get enough of Canada and loves exploring the mountains, lakes, and valleys near her home in Kelowna. She writes about BC for a variety of print and online publications including CNN Travel, WestJet Magazine, the Vancouver Sun, and Family Fun Canada. She is also a writer and editor for Vancouver-based travel company Fresh Tracks Canada. When not hiking or skiing in the Okanagan, you’ll find Lisa hanging out with her husband, two school-age kids, and Brittany spaniel.

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Phone: (604) 664-9009

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Museums & Heritage Sites, Accessibility

Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site

Britannia Shipyards is an authentic representation of a once thriving community of canneries, boat yards and residences. City of Richmond staff...

Phone: (604) 238-8050

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Paddling

Ocean River Sports

Come enjoy the ultimate Victoria Kayaking Experience with Ocean River Adventures. Located in Victorias Inner Harbour, kayaking is a great way to...

Phone: (250) 381-4233

View Listing

Breweries, Distilleries & Cideries

Victoria Distillers

To accommodate Victoria Spirits growing business, they recently moved to a larger location on the beautiful waterfront, in Sidney, BC and opened...

Phone: (250) 544-8217

View Listing

Breweries, Distilleries & Cideries, Farms & Markets, Accessibility

Sea Cider Farm & Ciderhouse

We are a family-owned orchard and ciderhouse. We grow organic cider apples and strive to produce award-winning cider. We are a small farm with a...

Phone: (250) 544-4824

View Listing

Indigenous Culture, Attractions, Museums & Heritage Sites, Accessibility

Royal BC Museum

See all of British Columbia at the Royal BC Museum, a world-class museum of natural and human history. Explore our core galleries and immerse...

Phone: (250) 356-7226

View Listing

Sightseeing, Biking

Cycle City Tours + Rentals

Cycle City Tours is passionate about guiding visitors around Vancouver by bicycle. We offer small group tours with beautiful routes, interesting...

Phone: (604) 618-8626

View Listing

Sightseeing, Accessibility

Forbidden Vancouver Walking Tours

Peek beneath Vancouvers sparkling surface to uncover a hidden history of dark crime, outrageous intrigue, and filthy scandal. Roam the city with...

Phone: (604) 839-3126

View Listing

Sightseeing

Vancouver DeTours

Vancouver DeTours Vancouver DeTours is a new project from the acclaimed Tour Guys collective of walking tour guides. Take a deep dive into the...

Phone: (604) 690-5909

View Listing

Indigenous Culture, Sightseeing, Paddling, Hiking

Talaysay Tours

Talaysay Tours has been providing tours and authentic cultural experiences since 2002. We have activities, tours and experiences for all ages and...

Phone: (604) 628-8555

View Listing

Shopping, Accessibility

McArthurGlen Designer Outlets Vancouver

Imagine grabbing the best deals and latest trends while strolling through a quaint European shopping village with tree lined shops, a dancing...

Phone: (604) 231-5525

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Bird Watching, Whale Watching

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Vancouver's Best Whale Watching experience! Seasonal, guided tours led by professional naturalists. Whale watching trips, sea lion and birding...

Phone: (604) 274-9565

View Listing

Museums & Heritage Sites, Accessibility

Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site

Built in 1894 in the historic fishing village of Steveston, the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site is one of B.C.'s few historically...

Phone: (604) 664-9009

View Listing

Museums & Heritage Sites, Accessibility

Britannia Shipyards National Historic Site

Britannia Shipyards is an authentic representation of a once thriving community of canneries, boat yards and residences. City of Richmond staff...

Phone: (604) 238-8050

View Listing

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