7 off-the-beaten track activities for Vancouver tourists

by Erin Shaw

Many of us like to think of ourselves as travellers rather than tourists; we’re happy to skip the over-crowded and underwhelming hotspots and would rather spend time discovering hidden gems and locals faves. Next time you’re visiting Vancouver (or if you just want to be a tourist in your own city), consider the following off-the-beaten-track destinations and see the city from a whole new perspective. [Image credit: iStock.com/Arpad Benedek]

7 off-the-beaten track activities for Vancouver tourists

Bowen Island

Bowen Island is an often-overlooked day-trip from Vancouver, even locals sometimes forget about it. The quaint Island is just 20 minutes by ferry from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver, but it seems the water crossing is a psychological barrier for many visitors…and this is the key to its off-the-radar appeal! Drive, cycle or walk onto the ferry and you’ll quickly find this sleepy island oasis is worth the trip thanks to its scenic hiking trails, small town charm and beach-combing opportunities. If you return during the afternoon rush hour (or set off in the morning), you can catch a convenient water taxi between Bowen and Granville Island for around 25 dollars.

Le Marche St. George

In a city packed with well-established coffee shop chains and always-buzzing indie cafés, Le Marché St. George stands out. Nestled along a quiet residential street in Mount Pleasant, this European-style café and grocery store is one of the few remaining neighbourhood shops in Vancouver – although, locals are having a hard time keeping this hidden gem under wraps. The decor is delightful and ramshackle. The service is charmingly slow and it can be hard to find a seat, yet people from across the city flock here in droves for artisanal crepes and coffee. You can also pick up small-batch grocery items such as sausage, handmade soap, loose-leaf tea and savoury meat pies. Le Marché St. George is quirky, quaint and a great place to lose track of time with friends.

Haunted Gastown Tour

We know that a lot of Vancouver’s history is concentrated in Gastown, so why not get a different perspective on the area’s storied (and somewhat sordid) past? Provided you don’t scare easy, we suggest exploring the area’s haunted history during a walking tour with Ghostly Vancouver Tours, who have a seedy and creepy take on Gastown’s many dark alleyways and landmarks. The 90-minute tour includes tales of brutal crime, murder, ghosts and other bone-chilling details that other touristy tours would normally sweep under the rug. It’ll make you look at the neighbourhood’s juice bars and indie boutiques through a slightly different lens.

Artisan Sake Maker

The Artisan Sake Maker on Granville Island is a stop many people overlook when visiting the bustling tourist attraction, but if you’re willing to stop by, there’s a lot to learn about this award-winning B.C.-made product. Five dollars gets your three samples and an educational lesson on sake making from friendly staff, who will help you appreciate the nuances of this unique rice-based liquor. There are also group tours of the facility available if you book ahead, and if Master Sake Maker Masa is there, you’ll likely get pulled into the back room to see how sake is made. Masa is so passionate about the product, he’s now growing much of his rice in Abbotsford, making Artisan Sake Maker the first venture to source Canadian-grown sake rice.

Weekend Dim Sum

Vancouverites know that brunch goes way beyond eggs Benny and brioche; dim sum has been a Sunday morning ritual for many local families for generations. Although few places still serve classic Chinese dim sum from roving carts, there are still a few local spots keeping the tradition alive. If you’re looking for a high-end dim sum experience, head to Floata in Chinatown; for something more casual, opt for Pink Pearl on East Hastings. Watch as carts wheel through the dining room stocked with juicy dumplings, warm steamed buns, crispy spring rolls, pan-fried pot stickers and more. If you see something that looks good, just point and give a thumbs-up. It’s greasy, it’s good value and it’s loud – a perfect start to any Sunday.

La Casa Gelato

From vegan cones to nitrogen-infused scoops, artisanal ice cream shops have taken over Vancouver in the past few years, but family-run La Casa Gelato has always been the go-to source for the city’s dessert lovers. The large, bright pink building on Venebles Street is hard to miss, but its location in the city’s industrial area means you’ll have to make a bit of a trek to get there. The eye-popping menu boasts almost 300 flavours of ice cream, gelato, sorbetto and frozen yogurt in many unique varieties including durian, beer and wasabi. Of course, they’ve got the more traditional flavours too. Thankfully, the hard-working staff will let you taste some samples before you commit to a cone…once you manage to elbow your way to the front of the counter of course.

Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Everyone know about Vancouver’s iconic Stanley Park, but did you know there’s an authentically constructed classical Chinese garden just outside the downtown core? Although it’s technically in Chinatown, Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden feels a world away from anything urban, or Canadian for that matter. The tranquil garden was built in the 1980s by master craftsmen from Suzhou, China, using imported materials and techniques inherited from the Ming Dynasty. Whether you’re interested in botany, classical Chinese architecture, or just simply looking for a peaceful place to escape the downtown crowds, the garden’s winding paths, rock gardens and rippling ponds hold a mystical appeal for visitors and locals alike.

From hidden gardens to authentic eateries, Vancity is home to plenty of unexpected, off-the-beaten track destinations that are worth discovering. Be that person in the know, and you’ll soon discover there’s much more to Vancouver than Stanley Park and sushi.

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