By John Lee
It’s another one of those damp, pewter-clouded days when Vancouver’s nicknames ‘Raincouver’ and ‘Rain City’ make perfect sense. The blue-sky months of summer are a no-brainer time to visit B.C.’s glass-towered metropolis, of course, but most Vancouverites tackle the rest of the year with scarves and raincoats close by.
Pack for the weather, and an off-season visit becomes a great way to encounter the city from a local’s perspective. Vancouver is sprinkled with inviting precipitation-ready hotspots — you just need to know where they are. Read on for our road-tested recommendations and begin planning your rain-or-shine getaway to the Fairmont Waterfront.
Covered Natural Wonders & Gardens
A drizzly visit to Stanley Park offers a certain mist-shrouded romance, but if you’re searching for an indoor way to explore nature, the beloved oceanside green space is home to the top-notch Vancouver Aquarium, a mostly undercover attraction showcasing marine wildlife from B.C. and beyond.
For a reminder of drier days, head to the city’s balmy Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park. The triodetic dome’s climate-controlled interior is a warming, walk-through paradise of tropical plant life complete with dozens of multicolored free-flying birds that make inclement weather seem like a distant memory.
There’s also the delightful Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, which surrounds its gently rippling outdoor pond (keep your eyes peeled for turtles) with covered stone walkways and tile-topped pavilions offering an escape from the rain.
Or, for a “secret garden” experience, consider adding downtown’s grand, Colosseum-like Central Library to your plans. It combines a glass-roofed atrium of small stores (including the library’s gift shop of literary-themed items, from socks to earrings) with a hidden gem rooftop garden even some locals don’t know about. Hit floor nine in the elevator, wait for the clouds to part and visit a lofty, tree-studded oasis with photo-ready cityscape views.
City Art Crawl
Alternatively, create an easy-access city art crawl without unfurling your umbrella too much. Downtown’s Vancouver Art Gallery combines blockbuster visiting shows with smaller, locally focused exhibitions. It’s a few steps from the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, where intricate carvings, jewellery, and more illuminate the rich work of regional Indigenous artists.
Over at the Contemporary Art Gallery, you’ll discover thought-provoking modern art shows. And if you hop the 12-minute SeaBus ferry service from downtown to North Vancouver (accessible from the Fairmont Waterfront without ever going outside), it’s just a two-minute walk from the dock to Metro Vancouver’s newest art attraction. Dramatically located on the waterfront, the Polygon Gallery displays striking contemporary works from both local and visiting artists.
Indoor Markets & Shop Hopping
While you’re in North Vancouver, save time for the glass-roofed Lonsdale Quay Market. Right next to the Polygon, it’s lined with food stands, charming boutiques, and a microbrewery if you need to chase away the chills with a libation.
Back in Vancouver (and also undercover), Granville Island Public Market is ideal for frost-free browsing, especially if you add a Lemon Ginger beverage from the Granville Island Tea Company counter. Across the street, don’t miss the smaller Net Loft, which houses artisan stores including the bright and cheery Paper-Ya stationery boutique and Circle Craft, where B.C. creatives showcase their work.
And if you’re in the mood for more rain-escaping retail therapy, take the easy route at the city centre’s fully-covered Pacific Centre. This large mall houses popular stores such as Holt Renfrew and Vancouver’s only Nordstrom. There are more than 100 other undercover shops to peruse here as well.
Alternatively, beeline to a neighbourhood where enticing stores are handily clustered together. Check out Gastown (conveniently located near the Fairmont Waterfront), where boutiques Oak + Fort, Six Hundred Four, and the flagship Herschel Supply Co. line Water Street and its tributaries. Further afield, you’ll find plenty of browse-worthy shops close together on South Granville (Bacci’s comes highly recommended).
If you’re keen to discover Vancouver’s hippest independent boutiques, head to Main Street between 18th Avenue and King Edward Avenue. Highlights include the design-forward housewares at Vancouver Special and the artsy womenswear at Smoking Lily. Need a coffee or lunch break here? Drop into Liberty Bakery or Anh and Chi.
Sometimes, the weather calls for a toasty beverage to cut through the cold. Start at Granville Island’s The Liberty Distillery tasting room — their TRUST Southern Whiskey is highly recommended. It’s just steps from the tiny Artisan Sake Maker, where Japan’s favourite tipple is produced onsite from B.C.-grown rice.
Still thirsty? Track down winter ales at choice Vancouver craft breweries including Brassneck and Strange Fellows. Or, discover windowless speakeasy-like bars such as Narrow Lounge and Key Party, where you won’t be able to see the drizzle outside. And if a pick-me-up cup of java is required, drop into local favourite coffeeshops Revolver in Gastown or Small Victory in Yaletown.
But that’s just the beginning. As a bona fide foodie town, Vancouver also serves up a full menu of hearty dining options. Consider a steaming bowl of ramen at Motomachi Shokudo in the West End, a fortifying helping of moules frites at redbrick-lined Chambar, or some delicious Lebanese comfort food at subterranean, edge-of-Gastown Nuba.
If you really want to tackle Vancouver winters like a local, though, the trick is to fully embrace it. Winking at you between downtown’s mirrored towers, the snow-frosted peaks of the North Shore area offer doorstep access to some amazing powder action. The ski season typically runs from late November to early May.
Gear up for downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, tubing, snowshoeing and more at Grouse Mountain, Cypress Mountain, or Mount Seymour. Each destination is around 30 minutes by car from the city — and all three of them are filled with rosy-cheeked locals enjoying the off-season as if it’s the height of summer.
Featured Photo: Tourism Vancouver