North by Northwest: Adventures in Vancouver

10.3.2013

By Jase Peeples

Here's your blueprint for a perfect weekend in friendly, urbane Vancouver.

Ever since my friend Jonathan moved to Seattle seven years ago he’s raved about his fabulous and frequent trips across the border to Canada. Listening to his tales of adventure, fine cuisine, and amazing sights has left me longing to visit our neighbor to the north for some time. So when he recently asked me to join him and our friend Mike for a long weekend getaway to Vancouver B.C. and the Sunshine Coast I couldn’t say yes fast enough.

As a Vancouver virgin, I was thrilled the morning I hopped on the plane and saw the weather forecast call for clear skies and temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s for the week ahead – which left me smiling long after I landed in British Colombia and met with my friends at baggage claim.

A short taxi cab ride later we arrived at the plush Opus boutique hotel on Davie Street, the heart of Vancouver B.C.’s gay district. As we checked in I learned the Forbes Four-Star-rated hotel is a member of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, offers LGBT booking packages donating 10% to the Vancouver Pride Society, and is the sponsor of the Vancouver Queer Film Festival.  The gay-friendly hotel offers a choice of six uniquely styled rooms to fit a range of personalities, each stocked with amenities perfect for tech junkies such as complimentary Wi-Fi, in-room iPad, and a Samsung Galaxy S3 phone available to accompany guests as they explore the city.

Shortly after we settled into our room, Jonathan insisted we get a birds-eye view of the city to kick off our Vancouver adventure and had us rush to Helijet to experience the False Creek Panoramic Helicopter Tour. At first, I teased him about our ride in the sky, but once we were airborne I couldn’t help being impressed with the stunning view as we floated above Vancouver’s visually-arresting architecture.

After our feet were firmly planted back on the ground, the three of us set out for some premeditated gluttony at Wildebeest. The restaurant, which opened Vancouver’s Gastown neighborhood in 2012, is set in a refurbished 19th-century building and features an open-concept kitchen complete with large kitchen tables, and an inviting dining room with banquette seating. Wildebeest’s menu is nothing short of fantastic with a variety of delicious meat-centric dishes and produce sourced from local farms.  There wasn’t a single unsavory serving that came across our table, but the standout dish for me that evening was Wildebeest’s unforgettable roasted bone marrow with parsley puree and garlic salt.

Sufficiently stuffed, we headed back to Davie Street to indulge in elaborate liquid concoctions at Killjoy Barbers Cocktail Tavern, Vancouver’s largest gin bar. The club’s eclectic and raw décor, including a completely deconstructed piano at the entrance and arcane neon accented light installations, creates an intimate and cozy atmosphere that perfectly complements the unique selection of cocktails and the handsome bartenders who serve them.

The next morning we set off early and decided to squeeze in some exercise as we explored Vancouver’s sites. Mike suggested we check out Cycle City Tours, and once there, we were happy to discover the bike tour company offered a Pride Bicycle Tour. We quickly signed up and spent the morning pedaling though Davie Village as our tour guide, Matt, pointed out iconic sites and filled us in on the rich history of how the LGBT community helped shape the city’s West End neighborhood.

For lunch our bike tour guide suggested we check out Campagnolo, which is easily one of the best Italian restaurants in which I’ve ever had the pleasure of dining. Campagnolo’s interior, which boasts original old growth fir wood beams and revealed brick surrounding tables made of recycled butcher blocks, wood and white oak, was as welcoming has its staff. The three of us were treated like family as we nibbled on an unforgettable Salumi Platter before devouring a selection of pasta dishes, including a Cannelloni dish with chanterelles, mustard greens, heirloom garlic, and ricotta that was sinfully delicious.

As the boys headed back to the hotel for some down time, I opted to indulge in a bit of pampering at the Willow Stream Spa located in the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel. I selected the spa’s Stress Relief Massage and slipped into another world as residual tension was gently coaxed out of my body over the next 90 minutes.

With the sun beginning to set, we geared up to dive into Vancouver’s gay nightlife and kicked off the evening with dinner at Raincity Grill. The restaurant boasted a scenic view of the city’s English Bay and is a pioneer in the concept of the “100-Mile Tasting Menu” comprised entirely of locally sourced food. Each dish was a work of art in both presentation and flavor, made even more special with the knowledge that the Raincity Grill’s trademark “100-Mile” menu constantly evolves to reflect the best of the area’s local waters and backyards. A passion for true culinary artistry is apparent in every bite, making Raincity Grill a must for any Vancouver visitor.

Then we were off to get our drink on, bouncing down Davie Street and popping into a few of the local watering holes for libations before ending up at Celebrities nightclub for an evening of dancing. The club’s newly-renovated interior is sleek and modern with the crown jewel of the club easily being the impressive over-the-top light show that constantly surges above the dance floor.

The next morning we hopped on an Aquabus and spent a leisurely afternoon exploring Granville Island Market, the best-known public market in British Columbia. The market houses a diverse array of vendors that include butchers, bakers, fishmongers, cheese specialists, chocolatiers and more. The three of us carefully combed the aisles and sampled many offerings from the market’s friendly venders as we selected ingredients for the dinner we planned to make later that evening before we saddled up in a rental car for laid-back 2-day stay along B.C.’s Sunshine Coast.

That evening we checked into a spacious villa at the Painted Boat Resort in Madeira Park, which is nestled in a five-acre glade of Douglas fir, red cedar and arbutus trees. I’m not ashamed to say I took full advantage of the resort’s luxury spa facility within moments of our arrival, indulging in a Signature Sea of Life Facial that slurped out any leftover stress I was carrying.  Once I returned to the villa, the three of us got to work preparing dinner from the goodies we picked up back at the market as we enjoyed the harbor view that enveloped the resort, laughed about old times, and caught up on current events.

The following morning we soaked in the Sunshine Coast’s breathtaking scenery with a boat tour of the Pender Harbor, also known as the “Venice of the North,” before raising our heart rates with a hike through Smugglers Cove Marine Provincial Park. By the time we made it back to the Painted Boat we had worked up a sizable appetite and pulled up a chair at the resort’s popular dining establishment, simply titled The Restaurant, for lunch. The Restaurant’s menu offered an array of French inspired dishes and coastal cuisine. Among the various dishes we tried, the Duck Confit & Ham Press with carrot and cardamom panna cotta, eggplant, and pistachios was the savory favorite of the table.

We spent the afternoon exploring the scenic seaside village of Gibsons Landing, located on the shores of Howe Sound beneath stunning vistas of the coastal mountains and then checked into the Rockwater Secret Cove Resort for our final night in B.C. The Rockwater resort is truly a one-of-a-kind wilderness, waterfront retreat constructed to harmoniously blend with the countryside. From incredible treetop views of the gorgeous landscape, to amenities such at a treetop outdoor hot tub and outdoor private showers, Rockwater is the perfect blend of modern luxury and nature. The serene environment was the perfect place to unwind from our weekend adventure and the exquisite dinner we experienced that evening in the resort’s dining room was the definition of culinary perfection. The Rockwater restaurant’s commitment to offering the best of British Columbia’s West Coast was apparent with every dish, beginning with a delightful mango salad and culminating in flavorful finale with an unforgettable filet mignon served alongside a colorful mix of fresh vegetables.

As we traveled back to the airport the next morning to return home, I realized how easily we had been welcomed as gay travelers throughout British Columbia, the friendliness of the every person we met, and the beauty of both the area’s cities and countryside. I understood exactly why Jonathan had gushed about his trips to the north so many times and knew I’d be doing the same until the next time I find myself somewhere over the Canadian rainbow.

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