Who do you call when you're looking for some great local insight on Vancouver's under-the-radar hot spots? Miss 604, of course. Rebecca Bollwitt is a Vancouver native and author of the popular Vancouver blog at www.miss604.com. She was kind enough to let us in on a few of her favourite hidden gems in the Vancouver area.
Some of the most beautiful aspects of Vancouver are its range of activities, mix of cultures and endless natural wonders that can be enjoyed any given day. Meandering off of the beaten tourist path, the following easily accessible yet little-known destinations highlight various aspects of the city's prime location, diversity and talent.
1. New Brighton Park
Tucked away on the water's edge across the rail yards in Burrard Inlet, New Brighton Park features an outdoor pool, playgrounds, concessions, a baseball diamond, tennis courts, picnic sites and a soccer field -- all on 10 gorgeously scenic hectares (25 acres). Walking trails allow you to explore the space and enjoy the north-facing views of the mountains from an unparalleled perspective. Placed between grain elevators and the Port of Vancouver, it's a unique urban oasis.
2. Afternoon at Gibsons Landing
Departing from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, take a quick BC Ferries trip to the Sunshine Coast and the town of Gibsons. Home to Canada's longest-running TV drama, "Beachcombers," visitors can stop by Molly's Reach, the popular restaurant from the series. And there's a lot more to this seaside town, including beaches, bistros, cafes, scuba diving, golfing, art and studio tours and a farmers' market (May through September), as well as day trips over to Gambier or Keats islands.
3. Theatre on Granville Island
Granville Island is a popular destination for locals and visitors alike, but what visitors may not realize is that, aside from shops, cafes and studios, at its centre is the heartbeat of the local theatre industry. There are a number of theatre companies on the island that offer a great value for entertainment anytime, including The Arts Club Theatre Company, the Waterfront Theatre, Performance Works, the Vancouver Theatre Sports League, the Carousel Theatre and the Playwrights Theatre Centre.
4. The Sanctuary at Hastings Park
The Sanctuary at Hastings Park is home to a lake and marsh area that attracts more than 100 bird species and hosts free guided walks through most weekends in the spring and summer (rain or shine). You can also explore the adjacent Momiji Japanese Gardens and the Italian Gardens, featuring fountains, gargoyles, a picnic area, fragrant plants and the Opera Walk, a collection of dramatic faces of opera characters that are carved into the stone walls and fountains.
5. Ambleside Pitch and Putt
There are many great golf and country clubs in Vancouver that have spectacular ocean views, however, when it comes to the most accessible, and most friendly on the wallet, Ambleside Pitch and Putt in West Vancouver is a sure shot. The 18-hole par-three course is basic, but its located right beside the sandy beach, surrounded by evergreens and lush water features with the Lions Gate Bridge and Stanley Park directly in view, it's a fantastic way to spend a leisurely afternoon.
6. Commercial Drive
Voted one of the best neighbourhoods in Vancouver, Commercial Drive hosts top book stores, music shops, studios, bakeries, restaurants and farmers' markets. For dining options, you can choose from such global culinary cuisines as Nepalese, Jamaican, Italian, Tandoori, Thai and many more -- all on the same street. It's also home to countless events throughout the year including the Vancouver International Fringe Festival, the Parade of Lost Souls, East Side Pride and Kids Mini Grand Prix races.
7. Barclay Heritage Square
Located right downtown, Barclay Heritage Square is flanked by Roedde House Museum, Barclay Manor and Weeks House, as well as a three unique park spaces and six other residential heritage houses that date back to the 1890s. Roedde House Museum offers guided tours and afternoon tea, while the lovely Barclay Manor is open Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm and operates under the Vancouver Park Board.
8. Everett Crowley Park
One of the city's most unique parks (and the fifth largest in the city) is Everett Crowley Park in South Vancouver, which has been reclaimed since its use as a landfill from 1944 to 1967. Now filled with deciduous trees, a pond, plant life and a network of trails, this 40-hectare (99-acre) park is an outdoor adventure for residents and visitors. One main attraction is its location on the south side of the city, which gives you a clear view past the plains in Richmond to the Gulf Islands and Mount Baker on a sunny day.
9. Avalon Dairy
It was the Crowley family (as in Everett Crowley Park above) that founded Avalon Dairy back in 1906, and it's still quite the sight today to see cattle grazing on a farm in the middle of a quiet southeast Vancouver neighbourhood. It's the oldest continuously operating dairy in B.C. and offers certified organic milk, cheese, sour cream, yogurt and more. Each year in September, they have an open house complete with a country fair, while their retail store on site is open year-round, six days a week.
10. Punjabi Market
Located on South Main Street, this six-block pocket of Eastern culture has quickly become known as Vancouver's Little India. The fusion between cultures culminates along the streets where you can purchase elaborate fabric, samosas for snacking and fresh produce from the market. There is also a high concentration of glittering jewellery boutiques. To be completed in time for the 2010 Winter Games, the province is also constructing North America's first India Gate in this neighbourhood, which will pay tribute to Vancouver's Indo-Canadian pioneers.
By Rebecca Bollwitt, www.miss604.com