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Vancouver's youthfulness, even by North American standards, remains visible even as the cityscape has evolved. Eras are stacked east to west along the waterfront, from cobblestone late-Victorian Gastown to the shiny postmodern glass cathedrals of commerce. The first Canadian Pacific Railway passenger train rolled into Vancouver in May 1887, after decades of relative quiet in this remote logging town. The railway, along with Canadian Pacific's fleet of clipper ships, gave Vancouver a full week's edge over the California ports in shipping tea and silk to New York at the end of the 19th century. Lumber, fish, and coal from British Columbia's hinterland also flowed through the port to world markets. Today Vancouver is home to more than 2 million people and recently hosted the 2010 Winter Olympics.
Vancouver is easy to navigate. The heart of the city-which includes the downtown area, the Canada Place cruise-ship terminal, Gastown, Chinatown, Stanley Park, and the West End high-rise residential neighborhood-sits on a peninsula hemmed in by English Bay and the Pacific Ocean to the west; by False Creek, the inlet home to Granville Island, to the south; and by Burrard Inlet, the working port of the city, to the north, past which loom the North Shore mountains.
Canada Place. Extending four city blocks (about a mile and a half) north into Burrard Inlet, this complex (once a cargo pier) mimics the style and size of a luxury ocean liner, with exterior esplanades. The Teflon-coated fiberglass roof, shaped like five sails (the material was invented by NASA and once used in astronaut space suits), has become a Vancouver skyline landmark. Home to Vancouver's main cruise-ship terminal, Canada Place can accommodate up to four luxury liners at once. Follow the Canadian Trail on the west side of the building with displays about the country's provinces and territories; with your smart phone or other device, you can access multimedia content along the trail (there's free Wi-Fi). Also check out the War of 1812 Experience, commemorating the bicentennial of this conflict. Canada Place is also home to the luxurious Pan Pacific Hotel and the East Building of the Vancouver Convention Centre; you can follow the outdoor walkways across the plazas to the Convention Centre's even-more-impressive window-lined West Building. The waterfront promenades, which wind all the way to Stanley Park, present spectacular vantage points to view Burrard Inlet and the North Shore Mountains; plaques posted at intervals offer historical information about the city and its waterfront. 999 Canada Place Way.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden. The first authentic Ming Dynasty-style garden outside China, this small garden was built in 1986 by 52 Chinese artisans from Suzhou. It incorporates design elements and traditional materials from several of Suzhou's centuries-old private gardens. No power tools, screws, or nails were used in the construction. Guided tours (45 minutes long), included in the ticket price, are conducted on the hour between mid-June and the end of August (call ahead or check the website for off-season tour times); tours are valuable for understanding the philosophy and symbolism that are central to the garden's design. A concert series, including classical, Asian, world, jazz, and sacred music, plays on Friday evenings in July, August, and early September. The free public park next door is also designed as a traditional Chinese garden. Covered walkways make this a good rainy-day choice. 578 Carrall St., Chinatown. Admission charged.
Museum of Anthropology. Part of the University of British Columbia, the MOA has one of the world's leading collections of Northwest Coast First Nations art. The Great Hall displays dramatic cedar poles, bentwood boxes, and canoes adorned with traditional Northwest Coast-painted designs. On clear days, the gallery's 50-foot-tall windows reveal a striking backdrop of mountains and sea. Another highlight is the work of the late Bill Reid, one of Canada's most respected Haida artists. In The Raven and the First Men (1980), carved in yellow cedar, he tells a Haida story of creation. Reid's gold-and-silver jewelry work is also on display, as are exquisite carvings of gold, silver, and argillite (a black shale found on Haida Gwaii, also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) by other First Nations artists. The museum's visible storage section displays, in drawers and cases, contain thousands of examples of tools, textiles, masks, and other artifacts from around the world. The Koerner Ceramics Gallery contains 600 pieces from 15th- to 19th-century Europe. Behind the museum are two Haida houses, set on the cliff over the water. Free guided tours-given several times daily (call for confirm times)-are immensely informative. For an extra C$5 you can rent a VUEguide, an electronic device which senses where you are in the museum and shows relevant artist interviews, archival footage, and photographs of the artifacts in their original contexts, on a hand-held screen. Arthur Erickson designed the cliff-top structure that houses the MOA, which also has an excellent book and fine-art shop and a café. University of British Columbia, 6393 N.W. Marine Dr., Point Grey. Admission charged.
Steam Clock. An underground steam system, which also heats many local buildings, supplies the world's first steam clock-possibly Vancouver's most-photographed attraction. On the quarter hour a steam whistle rings out the Westminster chimes, and on the hour a huge cloud of steam spews from the apparatus. The ingenious design, based on an 1875 mechanism, was built in 1977 by Ray Saunders of Landmark Clocks (at 123 Cambie Street) to commemorate the community effort that saved Gastown from demolition. Water St., at Cambie St., Gastown.
Vancouver Lookout!. Resembling a flying saucer stuck atop a high-rise, the 553-foot-high lookout has one of the best views of Vancouver. A glass elevator whizzes you up 50 stories to the circular observation deck, where knowledgeable guides point out the sights and give a tour every hour on the hour. On a clear day you can see Vancouver Island and Mt. Baker in Washington State. The top-floor restaurant makes one complete revolution per hour; the elevator ride up is free for diners. 555 W. Hastings St., Downtown. Admission charged.
Stanley Park. With its moderate walking and easy hiking paths, it's no wonder that Stanley Park attracts 8 million visitors annually. The most picturesque route is the 8.8-km (5½-mile) seawall around its perimeter, but the 1,000-acre park also offers 27 km (167 miles) of well-maintained trails through the coniferous forest, including patches of old growth forest. Here you'll experience a true rain forest and spot birds and small mammals. An easy interior trail runs around Lost Lagoon, and Beaver Lake is a popular destination. Vancouver Aquarium's beluga whales are not to be missed. Northern end of Georgia St.
Prospect Point. At 211 feet, Prospect Point is the highest point in the park and provides striking views of the Lions Gate Bridge (watch for cruise ships passing below), the North Shore, and Burrard Inlet. There's also a year-round souvenir shop, a snack bar with terrific ice cream, and a restaurant. From the seawall, you can see where cormorants build their seaweed nests along the cliff ledges.
Seawall. The seawall path, a 9-km (5½-mile) paved shoreline route popular with walkers, cyclists, and in-line skaters, is one of several car-free zones within the park. If you have the time (about a half day) and the energy, strolling the entire seawall is an exhilarating experience. It extends an additional mile east past the marinas, cafés, and waterfront condominiums of Coal Harbour to Canada Place downtown, so you could start your walk or ride from there. The seawall can get crowded on summer weekends, but inside the park is a 28-km (17-mile) network of peaceful walking and cycling paths through old- and second-growth forest. The wheelchair-accessible Beaver Lake Interpretive Trail is a good choice if you're interested in park ecology. Take a map-they're available at the park-information booth and many of the concession stands-and don't go into the woods alone or after dusk.
Totem poles. Totem poles are an important art form among native peoples along British Columbia's coast. These nine poles-eight carved in the latter half of the 20th century, and one created in 2009-include replicas of poles originally brought to the park from the north coast in the 1920s, as well as poles carved specifically for the park by First Nations artists. The several styles of poles represent a cross section of B.C. native groups, including the Kwakwaka'wakw, Haida, and Nisga'a. The combination of carved animals, fish, birds, and mythological creatures represents clan history. An information center near the site has a snack bar, a gift shop, and information about B.C.'s First Nations. Brockton Point, Stanley Park.
Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre. Massive pools with windows below water level let you come face to face with beluga whales, sea otters, sea lions, dolphins, and harbor seals at this research and educational facility. In the Amazon rain-forest gallery you can walk through a jungle populated with piranhas, caimans, and tropical birds, and in summer, you'll be surrounded by hundreds of free-flying butterflies. Other displays, many with hands-on features for kids, show the underwater life of coastal British Columbia and the Canadian Arctic. A Tropic Zone is home to exotic freshwater and saltwater life, including clown fish, moray eels, and black-tip reef sharks. Beluga whale, sea lion, and dolphin shows, as well as dive shows (where divers swim with aquatic life, including sharks) are held daily. Make sure to check out the "4-D" film experience; it's a multisensory show that puts mist, smell, and wind into the 3-D equation. For an extra fee, you can help the trainers feed and train otters, belugas, and sea lions. There's also a café and a gift shop. Be prepared for lines on weekends and school holidays. In summer, the quietest time to visit is before 11 am or after 4 pm; in other seasons, there are fewer crowds before noon or after 2 pm. 845 Avison Way, Stanley Park. Admission charged.
Gastown and Chinatown. A hip crowd-restaurateurs, advertising gurus, photographers, and other creative types-have settled into Gastown, so the boutiques have gotten cooler. Look for locally designed and one-of-a-kind clothing and accessories, First Nations art, as well as souvenirs-both kitschy and expensive. Bustling Chinatown-centered on Pender and Main streets-is full of Chinese bakeries, restaurants, herbalists, tea merchants, and import shops.
Granville Island. On the south side of False Creek, Granville Island has a lively food market and a wealth of galleries, crafts shops, and artisans' studios. It gets so busy, especially on summer weekends, that the crowds can detract from the pleasure of the place; you're best off getting there before 11 am.
Robson Street. Particularly the blocks between Burrard and Bute streets, this is the city's main fashion-shopping and people-watching artery. The Gap and Banana Republic have their flagship stores here, as do Canadian fashion outlets Club Monaco and Roots. Souvenir shops, shoe stores, and cafés fill the gaps. West of Bute, the shops cater to the thousands of Japanese and Korean students in town to study English: Asian food shops, video outlets, and cheap noodle bars abound.
Yaletown. Frequently described as Vancouver's SoHo, this neighborhood on False Creek's north bank is home to boutiques, home furnishings stores, and restaurants-many in converted warehouses-that cater to a trendy, moneyed crowd.
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