A day out on Granville Island in Vancouver

by Nancy Baye

Granville Island is a tiny thriving mecca in the heart of Vancouver, with no shortage of things to do, see, eat and drink. The popular waterfront tourist destination boasts sprawling green parks, charming residential houses, independent boutiques, art galleries, theatres, and a variety of tasty dining destinations, including a bustling farmers’ market. Just a short ferry ride from the city’s downtown core, Granville Island is an ideal spot for a memorable day out. [Photo credit: iStock.com/kburgers]

A day out on Granville Island in Vancouver

One hundred years ago, the area now known as Granville Island was a tidal flat with two sandbars – a simple fishing spot. Since then, the land has been reclaimed, thrived as an industrial hub, been reduced to a shantytown, played home to World War II manufacturing, and fallen into decline again. In the psychedelic 70’s, the city had a vision to transform the area into what it is today: a colourful neighbourhood bursting with shops, galleries, restaurants and a public food hall. Spend a day exploring the Island and you’ll uncover traces of its heritage: railway tracks, cobblestone streets, boat builders, wide waterfront lots and other remnants of its storied past are everywhere you look.

Morning

It’s time to be a kid again! Start your tour of Granville Island off at the Kids’ Market, located right near the entrance. Chock full of fun for all ages, this heritage building – once a factory – has shops, services and activities that will appeal to kids and grown ups. Hot days call for a splash in the outdoor water park, but any weather is right for multi-level entertainment inside the market. Visit The Adventure Zone or Circuit Circus arcade and then head to Kites & Puppets. Stocked with handcrafted toys and colourful souvenirs, this crowd-pleasing shop is the perfect place to find one line or stunt kites, playful finger puppets and marionettes.

Stay in kid-mode and head over to GI Gelato (look for the Gelato Boy sculpture behind the Arts Club) to refuel with 18 daily flavors of gelato. If your inner child got left behind at the Kids’ Market, then sidle up to the organic and fair trade espresso bar or indulge in the unique tea service. The family-owned and operated Italian café also serves up fresh paninis, sausage rolls, soups and baked goods.

Midday

Make your way to the cozy Crystal Ark Cottage for a dazzling array of crystals, stones, minerals and other geological wonders. From smooth palm-sized stones to large-scale mineral clusters that need a wagon to cart away, this place really rocks. The wide selection of reasonably priced, high-quality goods includes jewellery, salt lamps, semi-precious gemstones, fossils and other earth art. Learn about the mystical and healing properties that crystals hold and don’t miss the rock pit (a floor of stones) to, ahem, ground yourself.

Lunch

Stroll eastward along the Island’s edge and tuck into lunch at Go Fish, a casual fish shack located at Fisherman’s Wharf. The simple menu offers sustainable seafood (likely straight off one of the trawlers bobbing in the distance). Rumour has it that they catch their fish on Mondays and serve the fresh fish throughout the week. Open year round, the hidden-gem is usually packed with customers thanks to its mouth-watering menu and picturesque waterfront view. The classic cod and chips served with peppery coleslaw and a load of fries is a perennial fan favourite, but the spicy tuna tacones with wasabi mayo and the oyster po‘ boy are not to be overlooked.

If you’re not a seafood fan, stroll through the Granville Island Public Market and feast all of your senses among the many sweet and savoury edible delights on offer. In addition to endless aisles of fresh meat and seafood, dairy, farm-fresh produce, and baked goods, the bustling indoor market is also home to a variety of take-out counters offering international cuisine that can be enjoyed in the market or outside in the open air seating area overlooking False Creek – just watch out for those hungry seagulls!

Afternoon

Ready for a little action? Tour the nearby waterways on a stand up paddleboard or in a kayak from Ecomarine Paddlesport Centre. The tour agency is housed in what looks like a big red boat and is open year-round, since Vancouver’s impressive skyline is even better when viewed from the water. Set out and head east to see charming float homes, Science World and BC Place Stadium, Yaletown and Olympic Village. Or paddle west under the Burrard Street Bridge, into English Bay and past the towers of the West End. Keep an eye out for friendly harbour seals and soaring eagles.

If water adventure isn’t for you, or the weather is blustery, then explore the area’s many art and craft galleries. Glass-blowers, painters, sculptors, potters, jewellery-makers, fabric artists and many more local creative-types have studios and retail spaces tucked away in the labyrinthine buildings on the Island. Native art is especially abundant: Inukshuk Gallery specializes in Inuit sculptures and rare prints while The Wickaninnish Gallery showcases emerging and established First Nations artists.

Happy Hour

Opened in 2014, The Liberty Distillery turns out handcrafted spirits made from 100-percent B.C. grain. The boutique distillery specializes in gin, vodka and whiskey varieties that are triple distilled in custom-made copper stills. Sign up for a distillery tour (on offer Saturdays and Sundays) and get a behind-the-scenes look at the distilling process; stick your hands in the grain, sniff the spirit and taste a complimentary tipple. If you don’t fancy a tour, grab a signature spirit-forward cocktail in the tasting lounge.

Evening

Round off your day at the award-winning Edible Canada; a true farm-to-table dining room that celebrates food from all over Canada. Gravlax of Arctic char, Alberta elk tartar and pulled pork poutine are just a few of the choices on the Canuck-inspired menu. Pair with local beer or venture into the dizzying selection of B.C. wines. The bustling street-side patio is a great place to people-watch during the warm weather.

If the night still feels young after dinner and you’re itching to get your funny bone tickled, check out a show by Vancouver TheatreSports League. These rip-roaringly hilarious improv shows are timely and topical, and many of the cast members go on to make a name for themselves in the comedy world. Check out the alumnae wall and see what top talent had their humble beginnings on stage here.

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