Things to Do in British Columbia - page 2
A trim wedge of water rimmed with top landmarks, Victoria’s Inner Harbour is the city’s bustling port. Whether you’re hopping a whale-watching cruise or enjoying a sea breeze, the Inner Harbour is an essential stop when exploring Victoria. Among its highlights are the elegant Fairmont Empress hotel and the narrow streets beyond.
First established in the mid-19th century, Victoria Chinatown is among North America’s oldest. Now a National Historic Site, Victoria’s Chinatown is home to cafes, studios, herbalists, tea rooms, and shops, as well as the narrow Fan Tan Alley, which measures 35 inches (88.9 centimeters) wide at its narrowest point.
In 1890 Scottish coal baron Robert Dunsmuir built Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria, British Columbia, to showcase his inordinate wealth. This 39-room hilltop mansion is rich with opulent details, including multiple turrets and chimneys, a red slate roof, stained-glass windows, wood carvings, antique furnishings, and gold-framed paintings.
British Columbia’s spectacular Coast Range is home to numerous glacier-covered peaks. Visitors to Garibaldi Provincial Park will find trails that lead to backcountry lakes, campgrounds, and forests that are near the towns of Squamish and Whistler. The most famous peak in the park is Black Tusk, a pinnacle of volcanic rock that juts skyward.
Established in the 1890s by migrant workers, this Vancouver neighborhood is now among the biggest and most vibrant Chinatowns in North America. It’s packed with Asian grocers, Chinese herbalists, dim sum restaurants, trinket stores, and meat shops filled with tempting displays of hanging char siu and roast ducks.
Running through the heart of Downtown Victoria, Government Street is home to plenty of shopping and local history. Along the Victoria Harbour front, the British Columbia Legislature Buildings and the Fairmont Empress are important historical landmarks, both designed by the untrained British architect Francis Rattenbury. His design for the BC Legislature Buildings, which uses white marble, a massive central dome, and lengthy façade to create an architecturally impressive home for the provincial government, was his first project. This early success led him to be awarded the contract to design the Empress Hotel, which is now one of the oldest hotels in Victoria. Between these two buildings lies the Royal British Columbia Museum, which houses a natural and human history museum and the British Columbia provincial archives.
Heading north from the Empress Hotel, Government Street soon becomes an iconic shopping street. Native artwork, high fashion, and a variety of specialty stores holding everything from handcrafted jewelry to handmade chocolate take up the storefronts. More shopping is found just off Government Street, too, including Trounce Alley, known for its European fashion stores; Bastion Square, where local artisans sell handmade arts and crafts; and Johnson Street, which is a local’s favorite for exclusive design boutiques.
The corner of Government Street and Fisgard runs beneath the Gate of Harmonious Interest and the entrance to Victoria’s Chinatown. Founded in 1858, it’s the oldest Chinatown in Canada and second only to San Francisco in North America.
Pedestrian-friendly Yaletown is Vancouver’s "little SoHo", a former red-brick rail terminal turned into a warehouse district lined with swanky New York-style lofts and chichi boutiques. The focal point of the modern-day yuppie enclave exudes a hip and inviting atmosphere - especially at night, when its sophisticated drink and dine spots are packed to the rafters with the city’s beautiful people checking each other out.
Walking along Yaletown streets provides a bounty of attractions. The neighborhood has plenty of pricey boutiques to window shops, art galleries to linger in, and lots of places to stop for lunch, coffee or a splurge-worth dinner. Some of the best seafood restaurants are here, as is Yaletown Brewing Company, where you can sample its home-brewed beer.
If you’re curious about the area’s almost-forgotten rough-and-ready past, follow the old rail lines embedded in many of the streets and amble over to the Roundhouse Community Arts & Recreation Centre. You’ll find a mothballed steam train that recalls the area’s original raison d’etre.
Locals and visitors alike flock to Robson Street for shopping, dining, and people watching. It’s the biggest retail street in the city with department stores, chain stores, and high-end shops, plus a variety of eateries, all located near downtown Vancouver’s attractions and waterfront.
The grand style of the Fairmont Empress hotel sets the tone for Victoria’s Inner Harbour, where boats tie up just steps from the city’s most historic landmarks. Visiting the Fairmont Empress is not just for overnight guests; afternoon tea here has been a Victoria tradition for more than a century.
During the 10-minute ride to the 2,900-foot (884-meter) summit station, passengers of the Sea to Sky Gondola are treated to sweeping views of some of British Columbia’s most epic landscapes. The floor-to-ceiling windows of the gondola cars reveal the sky-piercing peaks of the Coast Mountains and the glittering fjords of Howe Sound.
More Things to Do in British Columbia
Known locally as Kits Beach, this broad stretch of sand is a popular summer hangout and brims with joggers, tanners, and families. Views of downtown Vancouver skyscrapers, the Burrard Inlet, and the North Shore Mountains are a big draw, as is Kitsilano Pool, a huge heated outdoor saltwater pool that spans 451 feet (137 meters) in length.
As the Fraser River’s largest tributary, the Thompson River is the adrenaline vein of south central British Columbia. Beginning within the town of Kamloops, where the North Thompson and South Thompson rivers flow west into Kamloops Lake, the river continues for nearly 300 miles until it meets with the flowing Fraser. Within the city limits of Kamloops, tubing, canoeing, and floating the river are popular summer pursuits, where the calm conditions and cool waters make for leisurely, long summer days. Farther down the river, however, between the towns of Ashcroft and Lytton, the river descends steeply into a canyon and froths with whitewater and rapids. This is the heart of rafting country in south central British Columbia, where seemingly every type of whitewater watercraft is splashing through roiling rapids. Grab a paddle and help navigate your group through the scenic, steep-walled canyon, or hang on tight on a powered raft while attempting to not fall in. Aside from the rafting, tubing, and sightseeing, the fishing along the Thompson River also borders on legendary. Anglers converge on Spences Bridge for summer runs of salmon, and the steelhead fishing throughout the fall is some of Canada’s best.
Perched atop a downtown high-rise, this circular observation platform yields panoramic views of glassy skyscrapers, Vancouver Harbour, and the magnificent peaks of the North Shore and Olympic ranges. A glass-enclosed elevator zooms up to the platform so that street scenes seem to shrink before visitors’ very eyes.
Squamish is called the eagle capital of the world and it is here, at Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park (sometimes known as the Brackendale Eagle Reserve), where the largest congregation of wintering bald eagles in North America can be found. Accordingly, the best time to visit the reserve is from late November to late January. During those winter months the eagles get attracted to the area due to the spawning salmons in the river and gather in huge numbers to feast on the fish carcasses. In fact, the park holds a world record from 1994, when 3,769 bald eagles were counted in a single day – that’s more eagles than there are residents of Brackendale.
To protect the eagles and their habitat, the park doesn’t allow for any recreational activities, such as camping or biking. The spectacular eagle viewing opportunities that can be had from the viewing areas or from designated rafts floating gently down the river, are the one and only thing visitors come here for. On good days, you will be able to see hundreds of birds roosting, perched on trees and soaring high in the sky. The low river valley set against the rugged Tantalus Mountain Range is their ideal habitat and to get their guaranteed daily pound of fish, they return to British Columbia’s Pacific coast every winter.
The Cheakamus River flows roughly parallel to the Sea-to-Sky Highway between Whistler and Vancouver, but its path is far different than the paved four-lane highway. Much of the river flows through Cheakamus Canyon, where plenty of exciting whitewater rapids and one sizeable waterfall make the river a popular rafting and kayaking route. None of the rapids are too challenging, so the trip is considered suitable for kids and parents alike.
The river is also a favorite spot for local fisherman. Coho and Chum salmon swim upriver between September and December; Bull, Rainbow and Cutthroat trout fishing is strong from late autumn until early spring; and Steelhead season typically lasts from March until May.
The Cheakamus River descends from Cheakamus Lake, located in Garibaldi Park and just behind Whistler Mountain. It’s only a 1.8-mile (3-km), one-hr hike from the trailhead near Whistler’s Function Junction to the lake, but it’s a very scenic trail that winds through old-growth forest before arriving at the emerald-colored lake. It’s an additional 2.5-mile (4-km) hike to the opposite end of the lake; however, the views improve every step of the way. There are backcountry tent sites right on the lakeshore, too, for hikers hoping to spend the night.
To its owners, the name Church and State Wines represents a balance between the varied elements required to produce the highest quality wines. The name suggests a balance between change – each year’s distinct vintage – and tradition – aging wines in French oak barrels.
Church and State Wines puts plenty of focus on its grapes. Its owner’s belief is the best grapes are only produced on the best land, but also requires unwavering attention to detail throughout the planting, growing, and harvesting processes. The best land is also subject to the right grape varietal, so Church and State Wines has two British Columbia locations: Oliver-Osoyoos and Victoria. The former includes 70 acres of Vineyards BC’s dominant wine region, while the latter houses 11 acres of vineyards on the Saanich Peninsula, just minutes from downtown Victoria.
Their mindfulness is paying dividends, too, as they’ve now been awarded Canada’s best red wine on three occasions.
Fisherman’s Wharf is an eclectic combination of tourist shops and residential float homes. Although the fishing heyday has passed, at which time when a fishing vessel was tied to every slip at the Fisherman’s Wharf except the two “live aboard” docks, the atmosphere hasn’t changed much. Colorful characters still roam the docks, but now often rub shoulders with passing tourists rather than sea-hardened fishermen.
The live aboard homes have been transformed into beautiful float houses, each as eclectic as the last and proudly carrying its own décor and charm.
Seals are a near constant at the dock and they receive more than their share of bait from the local fish stores that aim to keep tourists happy and registers ringing. The small collection of shops includes an ice cream shop, BBQ grill, fish and chips stand, and a coffee house, alongside an excellent Fish Market and Crab Sales. There’s also some outgoing tourism, as whale watching and sea kayaking tours kick off from Fisherman’s Wharf and head out to sea through the harbor.
Originally built to host the athletes who stayed in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, this waterfront development offers views of the city. Stroll or bike the False Creek Seawall, seeThe Birds sculptures at Olympic Village Square, and dine and people-watch at the area’s restaurants and bars.
Set at the eastern edge of False Creek, Science World’s geodesic dome—originally built for Expo 86—is an icon of the Vancouver cityscape. Experience its wide range of curiosity-igniting exhibits that cover topics ranging from the human body to sustainability, as well as an OMNIMAX® dome movie theater and live science demonstrations.
A popular destination for residents and tourists alike, Mt. Tolmie Park is widely recognized as the best place for panoramic views of the city of Victoria. Viewpoints from the summit (approximately 120 meters above sea level) offer 360-degree vistas of the Gulf Islands, Saanich, and the city of Victoria across to the Olympic mountain range and even Mount Baker in the distance on a clear day. Mt. Tolmie is located near the University of Victoria, making it an often-visited stop along the Beach Drive coastal route.
Located about a 15-minute drive from downtown Victoria, the park features numerous trails for visitors to walk on. Alternatively, travelers can drive up the windy road to the summit for a fast track to the views. Plenty of picnic tables and places for drivers to pull over offer different viewing areas, and about a mile’s worth (more than 1,500 meters) of trails within the park lead hikers through meadows and up rocky slopes, with many of them going directly to the summit. The adventurous traveler can follow the trails to numerous secluded natural areas and various bird-watching outlooks.
The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, in Vancouver’s Chinatown, was the first “scholar’s” garden built outside of China in the Ming Dynasty tradition. This cultural and natural oasis offers a serene break from Vancouver’s hustle and bustle, and the nonprofit organization was named the one of top 10 city gardens in the world by National Geographic.
One of the highlights on a visit to bucolic Stanley Park, as well as Vancouver itself, is a walk or bike ride along the famous Seawall Promenade. The 9km/5.5mi stone wall hugs the waterside edge, following the entire perimeter of Stanley Park and beyond, offering cyclists, pedestrians, joggers, and inline skaters scenic vistas of forest, sea, and sky.
Starting from Coal Harbour, it winds eastward toward Brockton Point, then curves northwest along the Burrard Inlet, with views of the North Shore mountains across the water. Spaced at regular intervals along the walk are information panels that go into various aspects of Vancouver’s past. It’s education, exercise and eye-candy at the same time. After you pass Lions Gate Bridge, snake down the west side of the park, a perfect spot to watch the sun sink into the Pacific.
After circling the park, the Seawall Promenade continues along Sunset Beach, on the southeast side of downtown, around False Creek, past the Burrard Street Bridge, through Vanier Park, and finishing off at Kitsilano Beach Park.
From totem poles to ancient fossils, British Columbia’s history is on display at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria. Explore vast collections covering the natural world and human heritage, with dioramas that place historic artifacts in context. A soaring IMAX screen and special exhibitions add to the museum experience.
Learn about the culture and heritage of the Squamish Nation and the Lil’wat Nation at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Center (SLCC). Located in Whistler Village, this award-winning, immersive center showcases the art, history, and culture of both nations through exhibits, stories, arts, crafts, performances, films, and interactive activities.
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