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Cool vibes: Vancouver neighbourhoods

Updated: Oct 11, 2021

Never had I smelled so much marijuana, so often in one day as in Vancouver on a recent Saturday. On the streets, in stores, at restaurants, along the waterfront and wafting from apartment balconies; it was everywhere. Vancouverites had embraced legalization in full force!

autumn scene on a street with large trees in Vancouver's Gastown neighbourhood

Perhaps the second-hand fumes helped us stay relaxed, even though we covered a lot of ground in about 30 hours. We originally planned on a day trip, but decided to stay the night after getting an incredible hotel deal through Travelzoo.

Gastown: Art, design and Asian flavours

We started off with a walk along the waterfront, taking in the Olympic Cauldron and Canada Place. And speaking of place, we got a good sense of it by enjoying views of North Vancouver across the water and seaplanes taking off from Coal Harbour.

A fun discovery was a 3D orca sculpture created by Vancouver resident Douglas Coupland. I hadn't realized he was an artist in addition to being author of influential bestsellers like Generation X.

Douglas Coupland's 3D Orca sculpture at Canada Place in Vancouver

Taking inspiration from my design history class, we walked over to the Marine Building, a pretty fabulous Art Deco office building completed in 1930. As a fan of the style, I was thrilled to see impeccably maintained interior lobby. The stained glass, mosaic tile floors, inlaid hardwood and sculpted ceilings were absolutely glamorous.

interior and exterior of the Marine Building in Vancover, a fine example of Art Deco architecture

Since the building is a working office tower with space leased out to various companies, there are no tours or museum-like interpretive signs. But anyone can slip inside to take a look. And architecture fans definitely should.

We browsed through a few interesting Gastown shops, including Orling & Wu (curated stationery and housewares), Kimprints (witty cards and novelty socks), Parliament Interiors and the funky flagship location of John Fleuvog Shoes, which also houses John's design studio upstairs. In between shops, the air was often ripe with the aforementioned distinctive weedy aroma.

After the obligatory stop at the neighbourhood tourist magnet-- the steam clock -- we went for lunch at Asian street food joint Bao Down. They've taken the traditional steam bun and turned it into an open "taco." The Kare Bear Bao was one of those perfect combinations of savoury, sweet, spicy, salty, fresh and crunchy. I almost felt like -- you know -- bowing down.

steam clock and food at Bao Down restaurant in Vancouver's Gastown distrit

Gastown shopping street in Vancouver, BC, Canada

Main Street: Handcrafted style

We headed over Main Street for more retail adventures. Much & Little offered clothing and housewares with a focus on sustainability and craftsmanship. Woo to See You showcased streetwear and accessories, and Barefoot Contessa was full of fun girly clothing and gift items. There was also a quirky stationery store, The Regional Assembly of Text, and on-trend consignment at Front & Company. And of course outside: more herbal wafts!

We stopped for a refreshment break at The Federal Store, a cute lunch counter with outdoor tables and tempting fresh-baked goodies. It was a a couple of blocks off of Main Street in a mostly residential area. Much like the neighbourhood homes and apartments, it was decked out for Halloween with a display of pumpkins.

The Federal Store, just off Main Street in Vancouver

North Vancouver: Artisans, microbrews and happy hour views

We made plans to meet up for dinner with friends who live in North Vancouver. They recommended starting at Pier 7 for sunset views and happy hour specials. We dug into calamari, mussels, truffle fries and $5 wine against a backdrop of pink and red skies, downtown Vancouver outlined in silhouette. A great find.

Vancouver skyline at sunset, viewed from North Vancouver

For dinner and microbrew beer, we took a short walk to Tap and Barrel Shipyards, a gigantic warehouse-style gastro-pub. It didn't matter that there was a wait, because the staff took our beer orders immediately and waved us to some benches to sip our suds until a table was available. And once we did eat, the plates were generous and satisfying. I had an excellent plate of fish and chips, which paired nicely with once of the brews.

interior of Tap & Barrel Shipyards, a microwbrewery and restaurant in North Vanccouver

Still in North Van the next morning, we took a brief spin around the Lonsdale Quay market. There were good food stalls, but to be honest the shopping was lacklustre.

Wandering up Lonsdale Avenue revealed some better retail finds interspersed with sunny restaurant patios. Mo's General Store had just the kind of eclectic assortment I love: beautiful soaps, artisanal foodie items and stylish homewares. A little farther up was the Artisan's Umbrella with its collections of art, jewelry and clothing designed by local artists.

East Side: Tacos and curated vintage

Leanne had tried Tacofino's famous food truck in Tofino on another trip, so she thought their East Side Commisary would be a good bet for lunch. Was it ever. Roasted paprika soup, crisp fish tacos and the chocolate diablo cookie were all so very good. It was worth the hunt for the almost-hidden sign that we passed twice before finding the place.

diners eating at Tacofino's East Side Commissary in Vancouver

We had time for one more stop: The Found and the Freed. This one was to satisfy Leanne's vintage craving, and she claimed it hit the mark. It was a quaint collection of items with history, punctuated by plants sprouting up from all manner of jug, can and jar.

On the way back to the car, there it was one last time: the pungent odour of weed. Oh Vancouver, you're so flirtatious and herbaceous.

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