Vancouver, British Columbia is one of the loveliest cities in the world: It's clean, easy to walk around, friendly, and full of delicious seafood. And, after having visited four non-English speaking countries this month, I have to say there's something nice about not struggling for directions or doing math to figure out the price of your fifth glass of wine.
Where to Stay: The Fairmont Pacific Rim. It's a splurge, but a very worthy one. The hotel, which sits on Coal Harbour with bay and mountain views, opened just three days before the 2010 Olympics. Aside from the new-ness of it all, the hotel offers some fabulous amenities: not a problem if you've forgotten sneakers, thanks to Fairmont Fit, you can borrow a pair in your size. There are umbrellas in the closets (yes, it rains a bit in Vancouver), bikes and helmets to take to Stanley Park, and scented bath salts next to the oversized tub. On the Gold level, a butler will try to accommodate every request. (When a friend's [cheeky] husband stayed there, he requested a cat...his butler delivered a fishbowl with live fish as the next best alternative.)
What to Eat: Seafood. I haven't had such an abundance of fresh seafood (which I literally ate at every meal, from lox at breakfast to sushi at lunch to crab legs, mussels and halibut at dinner). Thanks to lax immigration laws, which encouraged many wealthy Hong Kong residents to head to the city in 1999, when the province went to Chinese rule, the city is now 20 percent Chinese. Needless to say, the variety of Asian food is plentiful and delicious. While I have a lot more restaurant exploring to do, here's what Gayot recommends as Vancouver's top places to eat. If nothing else, there's always the White Spot, a chain of diners that are one of the oldest restaurant chains in North America, dating back to 1928.
What to Do: There's no shortage of outdoor sports in and around Vancouver. Whistler and Blackcomb ski parks are less than two hours away and provide some of the best skiing in North America. Stanley Park is the 1,000-acre park in the city limits that invites walking, running, biking, picnicking or a visit to the aquarium or one of the beaches. Robson Street is the main shopping thoroughfare, although it's mostly lined with American chains. Lululemon fans will want to venture to the outlet store at Oakridge Centre. Beware, however, that there's a 12 percent sales tax. Roam through the neighborhoods, including Gas Town (great for grabbing a drink; try the Pourhouse for beer and Boneta for cocktails) and Yale Town for chic boutiques, galleries and restaurants. If you have time, take a day trip to Victoria or visit nearby Grouse Mountain, which is good for skiing, hiking, a gondola ride to the top and a zip line down (plus you can take the local bus up there).
Although this is barely skimming the top of what Vancouver has to offer, most visitors will agree that it's a beautiful city worth discovering. Please share other favorite haunts and activities for Vancouver!