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Vancouver

A trip to Vancouver wouldn't be complete without sampling the area's natural beauty, from kayaking English Bay to strolling through Stanley Park. But leave time to explore the city's varied neighborhoods.

stanley park totem pole vancouver The 1,000-acre evergreen oasis of Stanley Park, surrounded by a 5.5-mile paved seawall, is Vancouver's most popular tourist attraction. Visitors can walk, bike or just watch the ships go by. Take a miniature train around the park or visit the Vancouver Aquarium. Other park attractions include rose and rhododendron gardens, a display of totem poles by First Nations artists, beaches, playgrounds, and picnic areas.

Vancouver's Chinatown is one of the biggest in North America, and on summer weekends it hosts a bustling, pedestrian-friendly night market. The best streets to stroll are Pender and Keefer, featuring the classic Chinese gardens of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the ancient healing wonders of traditional Chinese medicine at Kiu Shun Trading Company and many other specialty shops.

A handsome former courthouse is home to the Vancouver Art Gallery. The permanent collection includes the works of Emily Carr, a celebrated eccentric who best expresses British Columbia's early landscape and aboriginal culture. (Note: These works are not always on display; the museum also hosts an array of visiting exhibitions.)

Vancouver's answer to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, the Kitsilano neighborhood overlooks English Bay with a park, beach and spectacular outdoor swimming pool. The hippies have grown up but have left behind a bohemian atmosphere with restaurants featuring vegetarian selections and organic shopping. Eateries are located on Yew Street, opposite the park.

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Although known for its public market packed full of local produce, homemade products and unusual ingredients, Granville Island (more like a peninsula) is much more than just food. Watch artists hone their skills in glassblowing, pottery and jewelry making -- or shop at a separate Kids Market featuring shops selling everything from wooden toys to glitzy costumes. There's also an indoor play area called the Adventure Zone. Nautical buffs will enjoy the Maritime Market with shops offering books and merchandise related to boating.

For a good workout and some great sightseeing, rent a kayak or take a guided tour with Ecomarine Ocean Kayak Centre. Alternatively, rent a bike from Spokes Bicycle Rentals or Reckless Bike Stores. Ride the seawall that extends 22 kilometers (13.6 miles) around the downtown peninsula, including Stanley Park. Your rental shop will offer you a helmet, lock and map of the city's bike trails.

vancouver gastown clock Gastown, named for a famous early resident -- loud-mouthed saloon-keeper Gassy Jack Deighton -- is where Vancouver began. Today it's a welcoming precinct of cobblestone streets and inviting shops, some featuring fine aboriginal art.

Originally Vancouver's garment district, today the trendy Yaletown neighborhood is home to fashionable boutiques and local designers, high-end restaurants, microbreweries, and galleries. With its SoHo-style ambience, Yaletown is a place for visitors to shop, have lunch, people watch or admire the yachts at the marina at the end of Davie Street.

Located in North Vancouver, the Capilano Suspension Bridge spans 450 feet across a canyon at a height of 230 feet above the Capilano River. Visitors can test their fear of heights with the Treetops Adventure, in which you venture from one tree to another on a series of elevated suspension bridges. The Cliffwalk takes visitors on cantilevered walkways along the granite cliffs overlooking the river.

Less than one mile north of the Capilano Suspension Bridge is the Capilano River Hatchery. It is a free interpretive center where visitors can see that salmon really do swim upstream.

Open 365 days a year, the Skyride at Grouse Mountain is a 100-passenger tram that whisks you to an elevation of 3,700 feet in eight minutes. Although the main attraction is the view, you can also visit the Refuge for Endangered Wildlife, a five-acre mountaintop habitat that is home to orphaned grizzly bears. Grouse Mountain is also a great place to have lunch, with options including fine dining at the Observatory, casual fare and patio dining at Altitudes Bistro, and a few self-service venues as well.

The Vancouver Maritime Museum, located near Vanier Park, has numerous exhibits for the young and young at heart. Gain a deeper understanding of Vancouver's maritime history through its nautical artifacts and collections. An exhibit called the Children's Maritime Discover Centre allows kids to dress up as fishermen, take the controls of a model tugboat or use a high-powered telescope.

The H.R. MacMillan Space Centre within Vanier Park is part observatory, part interactive edutainment. Live talks are given regularly on topics such as "A Day in Space" and "Space: A Dangerous Place."

Science World at TELUS World of Science features interactive exhibits for adults and kids of all ages. The building itself looks like a giant golf ball, as it was the home of Expo 86.

The University of British Columbia's Museum of Anthropology, with its collection of authentic totem poles from remote coastal settlements, should not be overlooked. Outdoor exhibits include two houses from the Haida people (a group indigenous to British Columbia and Alaska) and a beautiful reflecting pool.

The Bloedel Conservatory at Queen Elizabeth Park is a huge bubble dome filled with exotic plants, tropical flowers, colorful koi fish and more than 100 birds of various species that fly free overhead. This is a good option if you get caught in Vancouver's notoriously rainy weather but still want a dose of the natural world.
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