Travel: Big City Pleasures in Canada

Vancouver, British Columbia

Photo: Courtesy of Tourism Vancouver / al Harvey

You could almost consider Vancouver, B.C., a neighbor. After all, there’s really nothing between Honolulu and Vancouver but 2,707 miles of Pacific Ocean. Should you go, you’ll find a modern, lively city, with plenty to do.

There’s always shopping and gawking along Robson Street, the city’s premiere shopping and entertainment avenue. (Don’t forget to wander off Robson a little ways to see the Vancouver Public Library, a post-modern architectural curiosity that resembles the Roman Colosseum.)

Hipper still is the shopping, dining and gawking, not to mention nightclubbing, to be found in the city’s Yaletown district. Once the rail yard and warehouse district, Yaletown now sports the shiniest new high-rises and the trendiest clothing and furniture shops, day spas, restaurants and clubs.

To dig a little deeper into Vancouver and its environments, you’ll want to hit two excellent institutions. One is the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. The building itself is stunning, a modernist concrete-and-glass meditation on the post-and-beam structures built by the region’s indigenous peoples.

The main exhibit space is devoted to traditional wood carvings of these First Peoples. Carved a century or more ago out of massive logs, these depictions of people, bears, beavers and spirit beings are monumental in scale. It’s impossible to look at these towering totem poles without thinking of the kii, or tiki, of Hawaii, and fascinating to see how two different cultures solved the same problem—how to tell their stories with tree trunks.

The other must-see stop is the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center, in the sprawling, wooded Stanley Park. Some exhibits bring the exotic to the Americas, including a tank of prehistoric-looking Amazonian river fish. But most exhibits duplicate the undersea worlds along the Pacific Northwest coasts and in Vancouver Sound. The beluga whale exhibit can be entrancing, especially viewed through the floor-to-ceiling plate glass window onto the enclosure where these snow-white, 15-foot sea mammals swim gracefully.

And how cute are the sea otters, another Pacific Northwest native? With just one glimpse of these critters floating on their backs, grooming their fuzzy little faces, you’ll find yourself wondering how to smuggle one out of the aquarium, then home in your carry-on. “It can live in the bathtub,” you’ll think.

But don’t do it. Remember, the Mounties always get their man.