Railtown and Chinatown neighbour the popular dining and shopping neighbourhood of Gastown. However, unlike the crowded streets of Gastown, where pedestrians clamor to get a shot of the Gastown Steam Clock as it hits the hour, Railtown and Chinatown are filled with locals living and working. As a visitor, here are some of the not-to-miss experiences while exploring the area.
The best of the city’s dining
Railtown is the home of Ask for Luigi, which Vancouver Magazine named as the best restaurant in Vancouver for 2015. This teeny-tiny room serves up house-made pastas and a white wine focused list. Come early for dinner and get your name down as there is often a lengthy wait. They’ll text you when your table is ready and in the mean time you can walk to the down the block for a tequila or mezcal flight at nearby Cuchillo. Its beautiful room and easy-to-share Central-American inspired menu also makes it a great date-night destination.
Whether you’re a salad or chicken wing person, we’ve got you covered
During the day, get a caffeine fix at the Railtown location of JJ Bean, a local Vancouver coffee chain. The large outdoor space is perfect for sipping their cold-brew coffee on a hot day. For a healthy lunch, Railtown Café offers a gourmet salad bar with options like crunchy squash chips and pesto marinated mozzarella, or request one of the popular sandwiches made with house-made bread. If you’re up for an authentic experience, make your way over to Chinatown’s Phnom Penh, a Vietnamese-Cambodian institution. You’ll want an order of the garlic chicken wings and butter beef which you’ll notice on almost every table.
Watch the sun set from a hidden park
Everyone knows about Vancouver’s beautiful Stanley Park, but CRAB Park, located at the northern most point of Main Street, is a hidden gem. The sandy beach, which is equip with logs for perching, as well as the large grassy field provides a break from the bustle of the city. Pack a blanket and a snack and camp out to see the sun set behind the city skyline.
Find the shoes you’ve been looking for, seriously
The shopping in Chinatown ranges from medicinal teas to trendy casual wear. Walk up and down West Pender street for the largest array of shops. At Livestock you may even see a line up forming if there is a limited edition sneaker being released. Head to the culinary staple of Ming-Wo for must-have-kitchen gadgets. At the boutique of local designer Erin Templeton, you’ll find locally crafted leather bags and for even more locally designed clothing and kicks head to El Kartel.
Find wellness and balance
Wellness and healthy living are huge priorities for a lot of Vancouverites and this is apparent in the number of fitness boutiques and health-focused restaurants and cafes. Tight Club, a newly opened fitness studio in Chinatown, offers community-centric classes. Break a sweat in a Booty Luv class, The Athlete, or drop in to their Run Club. If a more mellow workout is of interest, stretch out your sore muscles with a yoga class at Stretch Studio located on W. Pender.
If only these walls could talk
One of the cultural highlights of Chinatown is The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. As the first of its kind outside of China, it is an authentic representation of an age-old garden tradition which reached its peak in the Ming Dynasty. On the guided tour you’ll learn about the balance of the garden and the thought behind each detail. To learn more about Vancouver’s historic Chinatown, take a tour with Chinatown Walks. A guided experience with a Chinatown insider will share the history and stories of the buildings and the people of the community.
Dance… or watch other people dance
On a Thursday night you can enjoy a lively burlesque performance at The Keefer Bar. This apothecary style cocktail bar will wow you with their boozy creations, some say it’s the best cocktail bar in the city. If you visit on a nice evening, enjoy their sidewalk patio, complete with a fireplace. For the night owls, at Fortune Sound Club you’ll find a strong hip-hop culture and a great dance floor.
Sample local beers and wines at The Settlement Building
At the corner of Dunlevy and Railway Streets you’ll find a stunning structure called The Settlement building. This converted warehouse is the home to three different brands including Postmark Brewing, Vancouver Urban Winery, and the restaurant Belgard Kitchen. You can sample several options from both the winery and the brewery while enjoying the menu of the restaurant. Bottoms up!
A (free) private art collection
Rennie Collection, one of the largest collections of contemporary art in Canada, has evolved over a number of years to focus on works related to identity, social injustice, appropriation, painting and photography. The Collection is dedicated not only to the acquisition of established international artists, but also the work of emerging artists. Currently there are approximately 40 artists collected in depth with about 200 artists in total. The collection, while based in Vancouver is usually spread across the globe, on loan to institutions like Guggenheim New York, MET, Pompidou, Smithsonian and Tate, amongst many others. The gallery is located in the historic Wing Sang building, the oldest in Vancouver Chinatown. The Victorian Italianate structure located at 51 East Pender Street was constructed in 1889 for Yip Sang, a prominent Chinese-Canadian businessman whose Wing Sang Company flourished in an era when the Chinese faced discrimination and restrictions. Admission is free but by appointment only.
Pay your respects to Jimi Hendrix
Before the Georgia Viaduct was expanded in 1972, the neighborhood of Hogan's Alley housed Vancouver's African-Canadian population. At the heart of this community was Vie’s Chicken and Steak House, where locals and visitors alike would stop to get a warm bite of soul food. The corner of Main Street and Union is where Jimi's grandmother, Nora Hendrix, worked as a cook for many years and lived nearby. Jimi spent much of his childhood in Vancouver, as his parents often dumped him under the care of relatives. In addition to numerous summer vacations, Jimi even attended school in Vancouver for a brief time. Vie's hosted a number of visiting black performers such as Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong. These artists would eat at Vie's after concerts, once the restaurant had closed to the general public. It is believed that Jimi and his cousins would stay up late helping their grandmother serve these famous musicians. After being discharged from the Army, Jimi returned to Vancouver during the winter of 1962- 1963 to practice his music, he even played shows on Granville Street. Neighbors say that Jimi lived in this building and would practice his guitar after hours. If you listen on a quiet night, you can still hear him playing. Jimi Hendrix's roots can be traced to the neighborhood Hogan's Alley. His grandparents, Nora and Ross Hendrix immigrated to Vancouver in 1911. There they raised Jimi's father, James Allen Hendrix, who moved to Seattle in 1941 where he met Lucille Jeter, Jimi's mother.