Vancouver, the third largest of Canada's metropolises, is only 143 miles north of Seattle, and, like its southern cousin, it is perched on the same strait. But Vancouver's location is much more stunning, as the mountains rise just north of the Burrard Inlet that divides Downtown Vancouver from North Vancouver.
Vancouverites enjoy public access to most waterfronts and beaches and call the second largest public park (1000-acre Stanley Park) in North America their own. Forty percent of residents belong to one of various ethic communities, with the Chinese and East Indian communities the two largest. Thirty per cent of all city residents are Chinese, and Cantonese is the city's most widely spoken first language, followed by English and then Punjabi.
The clocks tick differently here than in most other parts of Canada. If asked, most people will probably tell you they have more in common with Californians than with people from Ontario, and in a way that is certainly true -- not just because San Francisco is much closer than Toronto. People still work hard, but with so many possibilities for outdoor activities on offer, people spend more time outdoors than anywhere else in the country. It rarely snows and the summers are usually warm and sunny. The fresh breeze from the ocean serves as Vancouver's own air-conditioning and prevents it from ever getting really hot or humid. Sitting on English Bay enjoying one of the many spectacular sunsets, you will understand why this city has been rated as one of the best places to live year after year. 2010's Winter Olympics promises to bring even more visitors and attention to the City of Glass.
The West End, in the downtown peninsula, has traditionally been known as the gay neighborhood, with more than 35 percent of the leafy streets' gleaming towers and '50s apartment blocks inhabited by gays. Many hipster lesbians also live amidst the caf?s, restaurants, bars, and stores of this friendly beachside neighborhood. Grandview, around Commercial Drive, is home to a large lesbian community, as well as many older Italians. The new hip hood is Mountpleasant with a bohemian LGBT set setting up home in the blocks round Main Street's cafes, restaurants, and retro clothing stores.
GAY Nelson House (977 Broughton St; 604-684-9793 or 866-684-9793; C$88+), in the heart of the West End, is a roomy Edwardian mansion with six rooms, including one suite with a Jacuzzi, fireplace, kitchenette, and tiny deck. Four of the rooms have private baths. A delicious full breakfast is served. Clientele is nearly 100% gay.
LUXURY Sutton Place Hotel (845 Burrard St; 604-682-5511 or 866-378-8866; C$247+) is one of the top hotels in town, with elegant d?cor, gracious service, a club-like atmosphere, AAA five-diamond rating, and a fitness center, indoor spa, and pool. It's just a couple of blocks stroll from Davie Street and the Gay Village.
As glitteringly beautiful as Vancouver itself, the Opus Hotel (322 Davie St; 604-642-6787; C$239+) adds boutique hotel chic to already hip Yaletown, mere steps from downtown shopping and the gay West End. The 97 guestrooms were designed in five distinct "personalities" themed to reflect the urbane clientele.
Located a couple of blocks from Sunset Beach, The Meridien (910 Beach Ave; 888-609-5100 or 604-609-5100; C$149+) is a cozy all-suite hotel beside the Sea Wall, a pedestrian/skate/bike path. Rates include continental breakfast.