You don’t just visit Vancouver; you do Vancouver. This coastal British Columbia seaport, with the highest population density of any Canadian city and a waterfront ringed with glass towers, orders you to get outdoors and explore its natural beauty. Vancouver wants you in walking shoes, on a bicycle, hiking its parks or exploring its beaches. I was glad to oblige. Having heard that Vancouver was one of the most livable cities on earth, I was eager to test its reputation. It lived up to the hype.
The “Sky Train” from the airport is an affordable and easy way to get downtown upon arrival. Part of that trip is above ground, giving you an alluring first glimpse of the city and how it relates to the water. I took its “Canada Line” to the downtown “city center” stop, and walked to the centrally located Blue Horizon Hotel. I am glad to report that I was pleased with my room on the 23rd floor with its sweeping view from my private balcony. Having arrived very late in the day from New York City, all I wanted from my first night was something to eat, and then sleep. Be forewarned: touristy downtown largely goes to bed by 11PM, so your choices for food will be very limited at that hour.
My first day in Vancouver had me awake, energetic and ready for a run through Stanley Park. My eight-mile run included countless wow-moments. The waterfront pedestrian and cyclist lanes, the forested mountainous paths, the views of the bay, and when I was almost out of the park, an irresistible rose garden. My entire day in Stanley Park was breathtaking and I saw only a small portion of its entirety. I was reminded of other great parks like New York’s Central Park that is also a many-faceted experience demanding more than one day’s exploration.
I took streetcar #14 out to Wreck Beach. This is a fine half hour ride through lower-rise Vancouver. I was startled the first time I heard a passenger shout out “Thank you!” to the driver while exiting the car. This is customary here, and certainly not what I am used to in Manhattan!
The streetcar drops you off at UBC – University of British Columbia – where you’ll traverse the campus and descend a very long, winding and steep wooden stairway through the forested slope leading to the beach. You’ll be taking these steps again at the end of your day when they will constitute a challenging workout for legs and butt.
Wreck Beach is a very popular clothing optional beach that mixes gay, straight, men, women, couples, singles, families and folks of all description and ages. To avoid the crowded central area, walk to the right (as you face the water) along the water’s edge. The sand becomes mixed with smooth boulders with twists and turns that allow for seclusion and more of a back-to-nature experience. Walk far enough and you’ll come to a mostly gay area.
Tickets for trains, buses and streetcars can be purchased at drug stores (and at kiosks in major stations.) There are various zone-priced and/or time limited ticket choices. Think out your itinerary before you buy. If you are 65 years old or more, you are entitled to a reduced fair “concession” ticket. Yes, we all eventually “concede” to old age!
I spent a day zipping around town on Mobi, the public bike-share system. You set up an account, get the app on your phone, and when you are ready to ride, decide what type of purchase to make. When you find a rack of bikes – and they are everywhere - you enter your code and PIN. You are allowed a maximum of 30 minutes on your bike (before overage) so you’ll be getting on and off many times. I got the unlimited one-day pass for under $10 and rode a dozen different bikes. This is a great way to get around. Be sure to follow the rules of the road.
I walked Davie Street in the heart of gay Vancouver, and visited the “Little Sister’s” bookstore, which has become more of a jockstrap and fetish gear shop with the book racks in a shady corner. Don’t miss the Davie Street Community Garden where you’ll see some amazing and unusual flowers. Vancouver’s climate makes flowering plants seem more fabulous, with deeply saturated colors that dazzle an east coast gardener like me.
I sat down with John Ferrie, a successful Vancouver gay artist with a gallery in the lobby of the building in which he lives/paints. He was recently selected by Apple as one of ten artists from around the world whose work is displayed at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California. Ferrie paints Vancouver scenes in a rollicking and playful way, celebrating all that is lively and colorful about the city. Ferrie’s April show sold out. He says he has built a brand for himself in Vancouver, meaning that art buyers want to collect him. He also says that keeping his prices low helped him sell out all twenty paintings at that last show.
I visited another successful Vancouver gay artist, Wes Hawrysh who lives next to Stanley Park where he had just won a league tennis match. Hawrysh, like Ferrie, studied art at Vancouver’s Emily Carr University of Art and Design. He paints mostly during the winter in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. His canvases are complex and multilayered compositions demand close scrutiny. Ferrie is an accomplished athlete in a number of sports. He brought me to his favorite Vancouver restaurant, Tavola, on Robson Street, for some savory Italian fare that will satisfy without sacking a fit body. Tavola is convivial, well-staffed and offers burrata, salads, crostini and house-made pastas with a fine selection of Italian wines. A short walk from the Blue Horizon Hotel!
On my fifth and last day in Vancouver, I toured the lively bayside waterfront and the older but gentrifying Gastown section of the city, realizing that I had barely scratched the surface of this energetic and enjoyable place, home to some of the friendliest folks you’ll ever hope to meet. As is the case everywhere, gay nightlife in Vancouver is evolving, thanks to ubiquitous apps like SCRUFF and GRINDR, but there are cordial bars and baths and “gay/theme” nights for those who like to socialize old school. Vancouver has everything any other American city has – I even walked by a Costco! – but I came away impressed with its welcoming and helpful infrastructure and features. I hope to return soon.