Vancouver, British Columbia, a Stellar Destination

Stanley Park is a favorite place to walk or cycle because it offers fabulous views of the harbor and Canada Place and is close to downtown attractions. Photos by Jeff Orenstein

By Jeff and Virginia Orenstein

Vancouver, British Columbia is a great trip: Canada’s Pacific coast gem of a city is a cosmopolitan and approachable metropolis that is overflowing with great vistas, good food and friendly people.

Vancouver, Canada’s major gateway to the Orient, is strategically located where the mountains of the coast range meet the Pacific Ocean and form a picturesque and busy harbor.

The town has been a center of trade and transportation since the First Nations (the Canadian term for Native Americans) era. The 1858 discovery of gold in the Yukon and the completion of the Canadian Pacific Transcontinental railroad in 1887 launched Vancouver on an urban trajectory that has transformed it into a world-class city with a metropolitan population of 2.5 million that is still growing.

High-rise condominiums are sprouting up all around town because both Canadians and foreigners find the town such a pleasant place to live. Not surprisingly, throngs of visitors flock there as well.

Many Americans fly to Vancouver to catch a cruise ship to Alaska and see little besides the Canada Place cruise port and their hotel. That is a missed opportunity because the city is full of night life, gorgeous sights and attractions that should not be missed.

This cosmopolitan mix of east and west has become a delightful cultural crossroads with a mixture of food, cultures, sights and sounds that will delight even the most urbane traveler. If your travels take you through Vancouver, stay for a while and explore it. Better yet, plan a visit.

The Canada Place cruise ship terminal and convention center offers beautiful harbor vistas and is a beehive of activity in downtown Vancouver.

Before You Go:

Getting There:
Vancouver is a transportation crossroads.

Vancouver International Airport (YVR), is nine miles from the city center. It is served by 66 air carriers and offers service to 121 destinations in Asia, Canada and the U.S. It is connected to the city by the Skytrain rail system.

By train, the transcontinental Canadian calls on Vancouver thrice weekly in summer and twice weekly in winter. Amtrak runs four times daily from Portland, Oregon. There is also train service from Via Rail and The Rocky Mountaineer private train.

By car, Vancouver is on Canada Route 99, the northern extension of U.S. Interstate 5, 143 miles from Seattle and the TransCanada Highway.

Downtown Vancouver is a major cruise ship port with frequent sailings to Alaska from May through October and cruises to Hawaii, California and elsewhere year-round.

The Vancouver Rowing Club is one of Stanley Park’s attractions.

Must-Sees for a Short Trip:
See Canada Place and the waterfront.

Take a carriage tour of Stanley Park’s lush foliage and spectacular harbor and skyline views.

Enjoy the architecture, food and drink in the Gastown District.

If You Only Have Two or Three Days:
The FlyOver Canada flight simulator ride at Canada Place.

Dinners at Glowbal Restaurant and Gotham Steakhouse.

The Lost Souls Walking Tour by Forbidden Vancouver.

If You Have Several Days:
A day trip by ferry to Victoria on Vancouver Island.

Walking Granville Island (market and restaurants).

A day trip to Whistler and nearby BC mountains by car or bus.

Taking a whale watching tour in season.

Taking a floatplane tour.

Hiking/skiing the Grouse Mountain Resort in North Vancouver.

Float planes fly out of Vancouver harbor, offering convenient and frequent transportation to Victoria, Port Angeles, Washington and elsewhere around the region.

This Destination at a Glance:
Mobility level: Low to moderate. Most sidewalks have curb cuts at intersections and all Vancouver bus, SeaBus, SkyTrain and West Coast Express trains are accessible.

Getting around: Leave your car at the hotel. Downtown is walkable, and the public transportation is excellent. A transit pass in Vancouver covers buses, SkyTrain and SeaBus services.

When to go: Anytime. Even though it is located north of Seattle, Vancouver is the warmest part of Canada, with an average winter high temperature in the 40s and delightful spring and fall and summers in the 70s. The popular Vancouver International Jazz Festival brings crowds in June and July.

Where to Stay: The St. Regis Hotel is a delightful New York- style heritage boutique hotel within an attentive staff and fine rooms. It is a 15-minute walk to Canada Place. The Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel at Canada Place is popular for those seeking an upscale experience convenient to the cruise port.

Senior Advantage: Great museums, eclectic dining, interesting attractions. Cruises to Alaska, whale watching, watersports.

Jewish Vancouver

Vancouver is Canada’s third-most populous city and also has the third-largest concentration of Canadian Jews, with more than 7% of the nation’s Jewish citizens.

The face of Vancouver’s Jewish community is changing rapidly, with 36% of its population born outside of Canada — the largest percentage in the country. It is one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the world, despite the high cost of living in British Columbia. Eighty percent of the Jews in the province live in greater Vancouver.

While the metropolitan area does not have the Jewish gravitas of Toronto or Montreal, the community has numerous synagogues, kosher restaurants, a Jewish Community Center and a typical big-city array of Jewish organizations and agencies to serve its population and visitors.

Early Jewish settlers arrived around the 1880s, drawn by the harbor and the railroad and the promise of commercial growth. While they were largely isolated from the Jewish centers of Eastern Canada, they were deeply involved in the growing civic and commercial life of Vancouver. The city’s second mayor was David Oppenheimer, a German Jew who was in office from 1887 to 1891 and who is widely recognized as a significant figure in city history.

By the first decades of the 21st century, there were 15 Jewish congregations in the Greater Vancouver area representing all Jewish movements, with the Conservative congregations boasting the largest number of members. Reform congregations follow in the second place, with the Orthodox and Chabad congregations attended by a dedicated minority. However, approximately half of the Jews living in the Vancouver metropolitan area are not affiliated with a religious congregation.

Vancouver also boasts a Hillel House at the University of British Columbia.

Today, the Vancouver Jewish community continues to develop. Sephardic Congregation Beth Hamidrash opened a new synagogue in 2004, while Congregation Schara Tzedeck, the largest in B.C., celebrated a century of existence in 2007. There are also other Orthodox, Reform and Conservative congregations in the city and in surrounding areas, including Victoria, and many of them are growing.

Jeff and Virginia Orenstein are husband-and-wife travel writers from Sarasota, Florida.


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