Mention “walking tour” and some travelers cringe. I understand. There are only so many narrow, cobbled streets I can wander down before I get bored and start thinking about lunch.
But with an elaborate network of seawalls and pedestrian walkways along its waterfront, Vancouver might convert even the staunchest anti-walker. Part of the appeal is the rawness of the landscape. The city’s “urban” walkways wind through old-growth forest and past beaches strewn with boulders, driftwood and even naked hippies. The other attraction is that, while the walk might feel at times like a backcountry trek, there are restaurants, bars and a few 7-11s along the way.
The Kitsilano neighborhood, which both Jason Priestley and Phillip K. Dick once called home, makes a nice starting point. I work my way past the oceanfront mansions – low-slung and understated in that modest Canadian way – to Kitsilano Beach. With views of the downtown skyline and the mountains beyond, Kitsilano is one of the city’s most popular beaches. It’s also classic Vancouver. Weaving down the sand, I pass volleyball players speaking Farsi, a Cuban salsa club practicing on the grass and groups of women in saris. The only common thread is that most people are wearing Canucks jerseys.
At the end of the beach, past an 80-foot totem pole and a full-scale replica of a Mountie Schooner, the walkway slices through some reclaimed industrial land. Even here, in the shadow of downtown highrises, things can get a little wild. Along the trail, a sign warns of coyotes and offers self-defense tips (“Throw objects at the coyote”). I look up to see a pair of bald eagles – looking as grim and serious as on the Presidential Seal – perched in a tree. A nest the size of a bean bag clings to a nook between branches. While I’m craning my neck, a few locals pass by. They spot the eagles, smile and walk on. Business as usual.
From here, the trail skirts a cluster of sailboats anchored in the inlet. Down at the wharf, bigger fishing boats have pulled up to unload their haul, the precious ingredients behind Vancouver’s acclaimed sushi scene. A few enterprising captains sell tuna, shrimp and scallops right off their ships. The lady on the tuna boat reaches below deck to pull out a flash-frozen tuna loin the size of my arm ($20 with the friendly exchange rate). I think about it, but it looks too heavy to carry.
A little shack on the edge of the fisherman’s wharf caters to those who prefer their seafood cooked for them. Go Fish serves fish-and-chips and fish tacos and – at an off hour in the afternoon – has a line of twenty people waiting at the take-out window. Picnic benches out front are jammed with people eating fried halibut from plastic baskets. But I resist and push on to my destination.
Granville Island could have been the shadiest part of Vancouver. The sliver of land (a peninsula, technically) sits right underneath a busy highway bridge and was once a rough and tumble factory district. But in a stroke of planning genius, the city converted the area into a center for seaside restaurants and pubs. There’s also the Granville Island Public Market of guidebook fame: a busy warehouse selling fresh – if slightly overpriced – produce, fish and meats and specialty baked goods.
I could continue walking from here. The trails wind deeper into the inlet, circle back the other side and link up with Vancouver’s big green lung, 1,000-acre Stanley Park. Even a good walk, however, can be taken too far. With a homemade cookie from the market, I sit on the dock outside to watch the sunset. But as it gets darker, the seagulls creep in: inch by inch, heftier and hungrier than any gulls I’ve seen. I finish the cookie before I’m surrounded, then head for higher ground.
- Getting there:
- Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighborhood, home to great beaches and gentrified beach homes, is easily accessible from the downtown. Cross the Granville Street or Burrard Street bridge over False Creek and head west.
- Getting around:
- The best way to explore Vancouver’s coastal trails is on foot. The walk, one-way, takes about two hours.
- Don’t miss the fish-and-chips at Go Fish, a seafood shack on the False Creek fisherman’s wharf.