One thing that makes Vancouver so great is the Seawall. Stretching from Coal Harbour downtown, around the whole of the jewel we call Stanley Park (bring the Cup to the park named for the man! 2011 is the year! Erm, sorry - hockey induced hysteria. Where was I?), all along the West End (English Bay, Sunset Beach) and along both sides of False Creek to Granville Island and beyond to Kits Beach.
|Thank you GoogleMaps! Uh, okay if I use this? Thanks. Kits Beach = Start!|
Only a few segments are good for rollerblading (there's some irritating cobblestones on my side of False Creek, but Stanley Park and the northern sections are perfect), but ALL of it is good for running and walking.
On a warm summer morning (if you're up), it's really the ideal location for a long walk.
For this trip, I will focus on the southern reaches of the Seawall, starting from Kits Beach or Vanier Park (or anywhere inbetween) and out to the Main Street-Science World area.
Distance: about 12.5 km return trip (or 6.25 km one way)
Wear good shoes for walking on pavement and gravel - it's a long trip! It will take a few hours, depending on how quickly you walk and what stops you make along the way. Bring a camera, too - it's a gorgeous walk. For good shoes, I cannot recommend more highly Forerunners on 4th at Collingwood (by Alma). They saved me from runners that were screwing with my knees (the head sales guy at Ladysport was convinced that I pronate, which I don't, and fitted me to a corrective shoe. I couldn't run for two months and was in intense pain when I tried! Bozo! So I limped over to Forerunners later on, bought another pair and have run happily ever after. I went back again just last week and bought the same shoe in the latest model - Asics Gel Cumulus. Awesome. Nice people, too!).
|New shoes! They even asked if I needed a plastic bag - extra points for Forerunners!|
Follow the seawall along by Kits beach, taking in the sights of the dog park next to the Maritime Museum. From above, you can watch the goofy chaos that is the off-leash area (note that there is a public washroom (parks board) in this area in the building near the trees, if you need it. The other closest one is back at the main part of Kits beach by the concession and playground). Continue on past the Maritime Museum and the totem pole on your right, cross over the parking lot (note the cute arched bridge on the Vancouver Archives property on your right - take a quick detour to cross over it if you want!).
|From GoogleMaps - Kits Beach and Vanier Park|
Following the gravel path along Vanier Park, you have a perfect, unobstructed view of the West End, Second Beach (Stanley Park), English Bay, Sunset Beach (which is just a hop, step and a jump across False Creek at the other base of the Burrard St Bridge, but I wouldn't try it). On your right is a giant staple (a momument to Captain George Vancouver, apparently), and if it's still up, a polished metal art sculpture entitled 'freezing water' (here for the Olympics and afterward). Sometimes people use the field there to play with kites (the sort you use for kite surfing), and the breezes here make it an excellent spot to fly a traditional kite. When was the last time you did that?
The water traffic is usually entertaining as well: rowers, dragon boaters, out-rigger canoeist, paddleboarders, the Aquabus, sail boats and those revolting monstrosities of fibreglass, the powerboats (which don't run gracefully on the wind but on fossil fuels, and very inefficiently at that. Boo!).
As you come to the Coast Guard building, look up and to the right - there is an eagle aerie and usually a big bald eagle perched above you in the tree. There's also very often a group of tourists clustered together on the seawall below, which helps you to not miss it.
|From GoogleMaps: Burrard Bridge, Go Fish inbetween, and Granville Isl & Bridge|
Passing under the Burrard Street bridge, remember to KEEP RIGHT (you now share the path with bikes and there's lots of corners for them to whizz around and crash into you!) and do watch for falling debris from the crumbling old bridge. Read about earthquake preparedness here, though I think it should go without saying that the Burrard St bridge (on it or near it) won't be a good place to hang about in a quake!
There's a short cut to the fish dock (up the stairs once you round the bend by 'Cultural Harmony Grove' which is right next to the East side of the bridge), but I like to walk along the sidewalk on the otherside of the building there (continue to follow the path). Either way, you're about to intersect with:
First port of call: Brunch (early lunch) at Go Fish
|First weekend of Spring and there was an hour wait for our food by 1pm!|
Do not, I repeat, DO NOT come here if you're in a hurry. And don't come here at 1pm, either, or you will wait a good hour for your food. They'll say 45 minutes, but there will be a back-log of an hour. It's that busy! People do call ahead and order by phone, but that's a level of organization that I will likely never achieve!
It's not cheap, so SHARE AN ORDER of 2 piece fish and chips. The portions are generous, and the oily chips and fatty battered fish will fill you up. Besides, you've got some walking ahead of you still!
There's all sorts of nice things about Go Fish (only I'm not amused by their plastic cups for tartar sauce and lemon wedges - waxed paper cups would be a better option for the environment, I think) - local fisheries, and OceanWise choices! Please read up on my blog post on sustainable seafood before you go and choose wisely.
Alright, are you mostly satisfied? You will be once those calories hit home. Mmm, mmm, mmm!
Bathroom break? Best bet is in the Net Loft or Public Market buildings on Granville Island (go up the main entrance road and keep centre-left - the Net Loft will be the building in front of the Public Market. There is a washroom by the cafe in the middle. Otherwise, brave the crowds at the Public Market. You can pick up groceries if you're only doing this as a one-way walk, but otherwise wait until the way home).
|From GoogleMaps. Twisty, turvy seawall east of Granville Island.|
Back to the seawall! From Granville Island, follow the seawall along past the marinas and enjoy the views of Yaletown and David Lam park as you approach the Cambie Street bridge. All sorts of lovely little parks I've never visited are along this stretch (below VGH area).
At the base of the Cambie Street bridge are some cute little store fronts (there's even a pottery place for some DIY overlooking False Creek and the seawall! So idyllic, and kind of neat to watch - without staring in an annoying manner, of course!).
Need a beer or bevy? Next to Monk McQueen's (lovely seafood restaurant, but $$$) there is a pub (The Wicklow) which I've never stopped in at, but one which is ideally situated for such an excursion. If it's a sunny day and a cold beer would make you happy, why not? You've burned a few calories on the way here.
|From GoogleMaps - the seawall under the Cambie Street Bridge|
Alright, beer or no beer, it's time to soldier on. Past the Cambie St Bridge is the Millenium and Olympic Village development. Now despite all the fiasco (MAKE IT AFFORDABLE HOUSING LIKE YOU PROMISED, YOU DOUCHES!), the waterfront here is simply lovely. There's even been an effort to plant native shrubbery, and last time I went by a great blue heron was busy snacking on the shore (got to be a good sign - fish and predators. Excellent). The tents of Cavalia are in this area too, and if they're gone by the time you do this walk, it may explain the empty lot that you see.
There are lots of neat little benches and lounge chairs along the seawall here. My favourite is the new pedestrian bridge (no bikes allowed, which is nice - they get another equally nice route). The giant sparrow statues in the centre of Athlete's Village always freak me out a little - you know we'd be bony little worms to them. But good for funny photo-ops, so I'll stop whining.
Second port of call: Absolutely fabulous, virtually line-up free gelato at Mario's Gelati's "Amato Gelato Cafe"
|The Best Flavour IN THE WORLD: Italian Plum Cake Gelato @ Mario's|
Yes, you've burned enough calories to enjoy some gelato guilt-free (says I)!
|1st and Quebec. Probably the best-kept secret in Vancouver. Come in reverence!|
Three words you need: Italian Plum Cake. This elusive and comparatively unpopular flavour is positively orgasmic and must not be missed! You can sample a scoop of ANY flavour you want, and I'm telling you that as a reader of my blog, you are OBLIGATED to give Italian Plum Cake a whirl if it's on offer! It's like rum raisin, but better. It's like a trifle, but less custardy. It's smooth, it's pale yellow, it has bits of candied plum in it - it is the gelato that I will forever refer to as my number 1 favourite!
|Gin & Tonic on top of Cinnamon. He likes it, but I think it's an odd combination!|
There are probably 100's of flavours (I would guess between 150 and 200? Hard to say!), and they're all delicious. Other recommendations include Gin & Tonic (seriously refreshing after a long walk!), Cinnamon (not my thing, but my partner's favourite), the Mango sorbetto and Pink Grapefruit sorbetto (no dairy, and a winning two-scoop combination), and I personally rather like the Red Bean, though I will admit that it caters to Asian taste buds more than Western Caucasian's. Mario's has all the typical gelato flavours too (Spumoni (which is great here!), Dulce de Leche, Hedgehog, Tiramisu, etc.). There's always a few really odd ones too (the Granville Island Brewery Lager one was, umm, a swing and miss! But it was entertaining), but Mario's is, in my opinion, the best gelato in town (possibly the world over, though I've yet to visit Italy...!).
|Those display cases wrap around to the left, too.... And there's other goodies on the right!|
Unfortunately, for all the loveliness of Mario's, the Amato Cafe is NOT CHEAP. It's actually terribly expensive. HOWEVER, as with the Fish & Chips at Go Fish, sharing a 2 scoop cup will go a deceptively long way. I could barely finish one on my own, and next time I'll be less of a glutton and share.
Sometimes though, the best food is worth paying extra for. I think you'll agree it was worth the price. You've saved at least that on gas or transit fares by walking here anyway!
Second (optional) port of call: Science World
Admittedly, I didn't stop in. It costs money. But I hear that the current OMNIMAX film ("Hubble") is outstanding! (Yes, I have friends that work at Science World!). They also have a surfing one on ("Ultimate Wave - Tahiti"). Now that would be neat! It's $14.25 a ticket, though....
And you're done!
You have a few choices on how to get home (back to the start at Kits Beach, anyway) from here. In order of preference:
- WALK BACK. Sure, you'll be sore (in that 'good way'), but you'd be surprised how the vistas change as you start heading back west. There's lots to see, and as you pass by Granville Island again, you can stop in and buy ingredients for dinner. I was, at one time, of the mind that the vegetables at the Public Market were more costly there than anywhere else, but I'm actually not sure the difference is all that great anymore! The selection is unbeatable. Other great places to stop within the market (apart from the produce stands) are the seafood shops, the fresh pasta makers (that fresh squash ravioli with the pink stripes is fantastic!), the Granville Island Tea Company, and The Grainry, where I can find all sorts of useful spices and grains that are next to impossible to pick up elsewhere in the area.
- TAKE TRANSIT. The Main Street-Science World SkyTrain is right there. There are trolleys that run up Main, or you can walk to Main and Broadway and catch a B-Line - some great off-the-beaten-path stores are along the way! There's also the 84 express from VCC-Clark station that runs along 4th Avenue in Kits (and along 2nd in this part of the city), but I hear it's incredibly unreliable schedule-wise, so be patient if you're waiting.
- GO FOR DINNER AT CAMPAGNOLO ON MAIN NEAR PACIFIC CENTRAL STATION. Okay, not overly cheap, but very, very delicious. I'd take a date I'd want to impress here. It's Italian food, but real Italian food - not cheap heaps of pasta like at Anton's in Burnaby (not recommended, by the way. Never been, don't want to go. Definitely the most overrated food in the city from what I hear. Loved by people who eat unhealthy-sized portions and equate quanity with quality, and by male SFU undergrad students still in the gangly-phase of growth). Alternatively, if you prefer seafood and a patio, GO FOR DINNER AT MONK MCQUEEN'S. Same cost (more or less), and again, not cheap so perfect for taking a date to (but maybe not for everyday meals!).
- TAKE THE AQUABUS BACK. The Aquabus is the maritime equivalent of The Little Engine That Could. It's quaint, it's cute, it's not overly eco-friendly, but it does give one a real appreciation of our waterways, up close and personal. I have a soft-spot for it in my heart, and I have definitely found it the fastest way to get from Granville Island to the West End if you're short on time. It's not free, of course, and isn't included in Translink fares (bummer), but if you live in the area, it's certainly worth buying a pre-paid pack of Aquabucks (I don't believe that they expire, either). It's cheaper this way, and you can carry some in your wallet. The Aquabus stop closest to Kits is at Granville Island. I thought there was one at Vanier Park as well, but weirdly it's not listed. Worth inquiring about, though. Don't forget that there are also Translink trolleys running on 4th that are within easy walking distance of Granville Island. There's also a taxi company right there if you're in real need of express service!