Tucked into a coastal inlet, Vancouver, British Columbia, is close enough to the Pacific Ocean to exude untamed charm while boasting a wealth of urban attractions. The Canadian seaport city first grew around a booming sawmill in 1867 but soon became a vital trading port, connecting Canada to Asia. Today, the city has the largest and busiest port in the country, and forestry remains its largest industry. That blend of woods and sea ensures a vibrant economy and provides a unique combination of wilderness vistas and skyscrapers that delights visitors.
Start an exploration with popular Vancouver attraction Stanley Park, situated north of the city's center. One of the largest urban parks in North America, and covering more than 1,000 acres, the park's main draw is a 5-mile seawall path used by millions of walkers and cyclists every year. Most of the park remains forested, with numerous trails and roads winding around sights like Beaver Lake and Lost Lagoon. The Vancouver Aquarium, inside the park, is a family-friendly attraction with sharks, penguins, clownfish and other sea life.
After catching some salty air and ambling though the woods, head just a few minutes south into the vibrant West End and downtown, where historic buildings nestle alongside shiny, new office towers. Museums, art galleries and couture-rich boutiques line the flower-decked avenues. Robson Square, a top Vancouver attraction, is a main gathering spot for locals, particularly at its ice rink in winter. During the summer, weekly free salsa lessons enhance the community feel.
Another colorful area, Gastown, is a must-see on any Vancouver tour, and is located just east of downtown. Best known for Victorian-era streetlamps, historic buildings and cobblestone streets, Gastown also boasts chic shops and innovative restaurants. Local favorite Steamworks, a brewpub that inhabits a renovated brick warehouse, serves as a zesty symbol of Gastown's rich historical roots and modern-day nightlife scene.
To see another side of the city's history, visit the Vancouver Police Museum, also located in Gastown. It provides a compelling glimpse into the town's criminal underbelly, as well as its extensive policing efforts. Browse Vancouver police artifacts and photos, including counterfeit money and confiscated firearms. The coroner's forensic exhibit gives those who are not squeamish a little-seen peek into morgue operations.
To round out a day of touring Vancouver attractions, stop into one of the city's many seafood restaurants. Given the location so close to the ocean, fish is just-caught and expertly prepared. Blue Water Cafe and Raw Bar in the Yaletown area specializes in wild and sustainably harvested seafood, with distinctive choices like white sturgeon, sablefish and golden caviar. In the Granville neighborhood, West wins raves for its regional ingredients and imaginative cocktails, including martinis with saffron and ginseng. For Cantonese cuisine, head to Vancouver's thriving and sizable Chinatown area, thick with Asian restaurants and shops.
Set close to mountains and the ocean, Vancouver offers plenty of attractions for shopaholics, gourmands, sports enthusiasts and anyone seeking a mix of historic elegance and bustling city life.