Three perfect days in Vancouver

Amid the Coast Mountain range and the Pacific, Vancouver is heralded as one of the world’s most habitable cities. It is also the perfect place to explore for a long weekend, or if you are really lucky, a week.

The bed

The pet-friendly Shangri-La Hotel, Vancouver is perfectly situated in the center of downtown. It is only a few blocks from the inviting Coal Harbour waterfront with its walking path and dedicated bike lane. Here too seaplanes take off and land and a short stroll away is Vancouver’s landmark, Canada Place, built for Expo ’86 with its massive sail-like roof.

The Shangri-La is the tallest building in Vancouver with 62 stories of mixed-use space and has 119 beautifully appointed rooms, many with balconies overlooking the city. There are large marble bathrooms, deep soaking tubs and for those like me with news addictions, mirrored vanities have an embedded, remote-controlled television. Touch button electronic window shades, luxurious high-count sheets and mattress toppers mean you will sleep like a baby. In-room Nespresso machines assure you will wake up very much an adult.

If you need more exercise after walking this glorious city, the hotel also has a large, 24-hour state-of-the-art fitness center, a private yoga studio and an outdoor pool and Jacuzzi. Its signature CHI Spa treatment rooms are all-inclusive: each has a private bathroom and shower, fireplace and personal relaxation area. Talented therapists will maneuver you into a state of total bliss. Telephone (604) 689-1120;

The meals

Hawksworth Restaurant offers a seven-course meal with beautiful dishes, such as pork jowl with green tomatoes. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Without a doubt, Vancouver is a city for serious eating, dieting not so much.

Hawksworth Restaurant located inside the Rosewood Hotel Georgia has a chic, 1920s art deco atmosphere. It is here that award-winning chef David Hawksworth, chef de cuisine Quinton Bennett and their talented team create dishes nearly too beautiful to eat from Canadian-sourced ingredients.

Hawksworth’s seven-course BC Journey Menu with perfectly paired wines was a marvel. The inspired clam pot with sea asparagus and seaweed bannock, and the delectable pork jowl with green tomato, had me alternately falling deeply in love and swearing off forever food from anywhere else. Patrons at tables to my left and right were likewise overcome with giddy delight. Telephone (604) 673-7000;

Shangri-La’s Market by Jean-Georges has four dining areas where executive chef Ken Nakano and sous chef Alex Kim wow diners with creative seasonal menus. The steamed shrimp salad with truffle vinaigrette burst with flavor and the crispy-edged, pan-seared sable fish with Salt Spring Island Mussels was outstanding. At breakfast, Market’s brioche French toast with roasted apples was utterly dreamy. Telephone (604) 695-1115;

While there are several tasty ramen shops in Vancouver, Kintaro Ramen was a favorite. The miso ramen was both sweet and savory and additions were made-to-order. It is also has an enviable location near several bike shops where you can rent wheels to ride through nearby Stanley Park. 788 Denman St.; telephone (604) 682-7568; no website.

The finds

The First Nations Totem Poles in Stanley Park are among Vancouver’s most visited attractions. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

No trip to Vancouver would be complete without significant time spent at its fabulous crown jewel, Stanley Park. At 1,000 acres — 157 acres larger than New York’s Central Park — there is a multitude to experience, including the totem pole monuments, the Vancouver Aquarium and the bronze Girl in a Wetsuit statue near the sea wall. Stanley can be enjoyed on foot, by bicycle, roller blades or by a one-hour horse drawn storytelling tour. Telephone (604) 681-5115;

At the edge of Stanley near the rowing club, seafarers can embark on a harbor cruise on a paddle-wheeled, electric motor powered vessel for a one-hour narrated tour that pays homage to Vancouver’s maritime history. Telephone (604) 688-7246;

If retail therapy is required, downtown’s Robson Street has several shops, cafés and restaurants. If it starts to rain, you can head into nearby Pacific Centre, an underground mall with over 100 shops. Or meander the Vancouver Art Gallery. Its fourth floor permanent collection includes Andy Warhol’s screen prints of Marilyn Monroe and some pieces by legendary Canadian artist Emily Carr, who started her art studies in San Francisco. Every Sunday afternoon the Gallery has an excellent hands-on children’s program where little tykes can channel their inner Toulouse-Lautrec. Telephone (604) 662-4700;

A few blocks east of Canada Place is Gastown, named after John Deighton’s nickname, Gassy Jack. The sailor-turned-bar-owner was given this moniker due to his long-winded, tale-telling proclivities. With Gastown’s charming cobblestone streets, local designer shops and beautifully restored buildings, it reflects a successful resurgence of the once raucous mill town area.

Gastown’s steam-operated clock emits steam every 15 minutes. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

Take an obligatory photo in Gastown of the world’s allegedly first steam-operated clock that blows steam every 15 minutes and chimes every hour. Continue up Water Street and stop in at Coastal Peoples Fine Art Gallery. Covering two floors, it has an excellent selection of Inuit carvings and sculptures, First Nation masks and lovely pieces by leading Haisla artist Lyle Wilson. Telephone (604) 684-9222;

Happiness seems contagious in Vancouver, and happy hour at Notch8 Bar & Lounge at the Hotel Vancouver is no exception. With its comprehensive cocktail menu, romantic, art deco setting and live music Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, it is a great spot to recharge or have a pre or post-dinner libation. Telephone (604) 662-1900;

The centrally located Notch8 Bar & Lounge is an inviting place to unwind. (Julie L. Kessler/Special to S.F. Examiner)

South of downtown, just over the Burrard Street Bridge is Granville Island. At the Public Market nearby awaits a colorful cornucopia of everything a foodie could desire, dream or imagine. Bring a hearty appetite, as there is an irresistible selection of food stalls. A stone’s throw away is the Net Loft with small boutiques selling unique Canadian sweaters, hats and decorative goods, as well as First Nation items.

The lesson learned

Jan Morris wrote in her 1990 book “City to City,” “Vancouver is one of those cities, like San Francisco, which are victims of their glorious settings.” That may be true, but just like San Francisco, no matter how many days you spend in Vancouver, one thing is certain, you will want to come back. And you will want that day to come sooner rather than later.

Various vendors included in this article hosted the writer, however this content was not reviewed by them prior to publication and is solely the opinion of the writer.

Julie L. Kessler is a travel writer, attorney and legal columnist based in Los Angeles and the author of the award-winning book “Fifty-Fifty: The Clarity of Hindsight.” She can be reached at

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