12 things to do in downtown Vancouver and Coal Harbour

by Megan Jones

With sparkling high-rise towers on one side and magnificent mountain and ocean views on the other, Vancouver’s Coal Harbour neighbourhood is certainly a unique and breathtaking place to spend a day. Read on for an essential guide to discovering this iconic downtown neighbourhood. [Photo credit: Tourism Vancouver/ Cycle City Tours]

12 things to do in downtown Vancouver and Coal Harbour

Wait in line for waffles at Café Medina

Nestled in the heart of Vancouver’s bustling downtown core, Café Medina attracts hungry crowds of locals and in-the-know tourists throughout the week. It’s arguably the city’s most popular brunch spot, with lineups out the door most days. Here you’ll find grand decor, upscale Mediterranean-inspired dishes (flavourful menu options include spicy chorizo paella, hearty tagine with poached eggs, and a harissa burger with grilled pita) plus a full cocktail list. Dining solo? The European-style coffee bar is the perfect place to perch for a quick lavender latte or a Liege-style waffle served decadent toppings like mixed berry compote, salted caramel sauce, or fig-orange marmalade.

Take a selfie with a (digital) whale

A what? That’s right, this world-famous Digital Orca sculpture by acclaimed Vancouver-born artist Douglas Coupland is a must-see landmark in Jack Poole Plaza. Take your photo with the pixelated killer whale before turning 180 degrees to see the famous 2010 Vancouver Olympic Torch, a towering masterpiece that’s still lit for special occasions.

Workout with a view at Club 16 Trevor Linden Fitness

This state-of-the-art fitness complex on the waterfront is named after and owned by famous Vancouver Canuck hockey player, Trevor Linden. Feel inspired to work off those extra calories as you perspire on an elliptical or treadmill with spectacular views overlooking Stanley Park and the North Shore. The comprehensive fitness club offers plenty of cardio machines, group exercise classes and a private women-only section.

Admire historic architecture

Amongst downtown Vancouver’s rather monotonous glass-and-steel skyscrapers, the Marine Building is an architectural marvel that’s certain worth a visit. Constructed in 1930, it’s one of the oldest on the block and was once the highest building in the British Empire. Art Deco details such as the nautical symbols that grace the façade are a rare sight in the so-called City of Glass. During the week, pop inside the iconic landmark and admire the building’s wow-worthy lobby interior.

Stroll or cycle along The Seawall

Arguably the city’s most popular urban trail, Vancouver’s iconic Seawall is a long and winding pedestrian-only waterfront path that stretches from the city’s downtown core all the way around historic Stanley Park and beyond, gracing the shores of English Bay, Yaletown, Granville Island and Olympic Village, all the way out to Kitsilano. Walk, run, rollerblade or bike your way past pristine beaches, forests, mountain views and local wildlife. Want some company? Sign up for a group biking excursion with Cycle City Tours and pedal your way along the well-travelled Seawall with a storyteller guide leading the way.

Bite into a sandwich at Meat & Bread

A popular lunch-hour destination for nearby office workers, Meat & Bread specializes in meat-forward, gourmet sandwiches prepared by attractive bearded hipsters (most often dressed in butcher’s aprons) in a contemporary dining room basked in natural light. Menu highlights include jerk chicken and pickled red onion, meatball with kale and gremolata, and the vegetarian-friendly eggplant Parmesan with mozzarella and arugula.

Visit the Vancouver Convention Centre

A tour of Vancouver’s downtown wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the city’s monolithic convention centre, famous for its ocean views and luminous (and massive) globe sculpture. This glowing, life-like replica of the Earth suspends over the lobby, symbolizing the beauty and fragility of our world. One-hour guided tours of the convention centre’s West building are available to the public on select days throughout the week and can be booked online.

Enjoy Happy Hour at Hapa Izakaya

This bustling restaurant caters to a boisterous, fun and youthful crowd, especially during Happy Hour, when drink specials hover around five bucks. Pair your cocktail, beer or wine with traditional Japanese pub fare such as reduced-price pickled squid legs or beef tataki. Kampai!

Step into the boxing ring

Die-hard boxers and beginners alike can work on their one-two punches at Contenders Training Studio – a straightforward boxing gym and training studio in the heart of Coal Harbour. Don your gloves and learn proper boxing techniques from encouraging male and female instructors, who teach the basics while making you sweat – a lot.

Slurp oysters at Chewies Steam & Oyster Bar

Experience the tastes and smells of the West Coast at this hip and happening oyster bar, where visitors can enjoy oysters in a variety of ways – from raw to battered and fried. The Caesars here are excellent, too, and are packed with unusual flavours like a marinated Cajun prawns. Buck-a-shuck oysters are available from Monday to Sunday from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm.

Grab an award-winning gelato cone

If you love frozen desserts, you’re in luck: Coal Harbour just so happens to be home to the city’s best gelato bar, Bella Gelateria. This sweet spot at the base of the Fairmont Pacific Rim has won numerous international awards for its flavourful creations, which range from unique options like black sesame or lavender and Earl Grey, to classics like salted caramel and mint chocolate chip. Yum!

Rest your head at the Fairmont Pacific Rim

Once you’ve wined and dined your way through the downtown core, check in at Coal Harbour’s most luxurious hotel: the Fairmont Pacific Rim. The sophisticated hotel is an elegant (and eco-conscious) place to rest your head, with the staff working toward a 99-percent waste-free hotel status. Highlights include a rooftop pool and the indulgent Willow Stream Spa, among other things. A nightcap in the Lobby Lounge – with its roaring fireplaces, friendly servers and sultry jazz bands – is a must-do at this urban oasis in the heart of the city.

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