Vivacious Vancouver

WIND STORM
A man gets a close up view of the crashing waves along the Stanley Park Seawall during a wind storm in Vancouver, B.C.Richard Lam / AP file
/ Source: Special to msnbc.com

Kayaking, cross-country skiing, windsurfing, rock-climbing, hiking, parasailing—sounds like the list of activities at some fabulous eco-resort, doesn’t it? Instead, these are the activities that urbanites of the city of Vancouver engage in on weekends, after work, first thing in the morning … whenever they can get away from the business of pretending they live in the city. Backed by soaring mountains on one side and a deep harbor on the other, with rushing rivers, dense forests and the ski slopes of famed Whistler all within easy reach, it’s a nature lover’s paradise. Especially if that Paul Bunyan-type enjoys great restaurants and cosmopolitan neighbors. Explore the city’s outdoorsy yin and its steel skyscraper yang, on the following, day-long itinerary.

8 a.m. - 9 a.m.: Ignore the silly backstory at (Jim, abducted by aliens, forced to travel around the country on a child’s scooter searching for the perfect breakfast joint) and dig in to food that looks ridiculous on the menu, but adds up to some seriously good eats when on the plate. We’re talking “bomb and a bull”, another name for eggs with a perfect benedict sauce made even more sinful by the addition of gorgonzola cheese and proscuitto; or “Revolution Eggs” where the radicalism lies in a towering stack of eggs on top of black forest ham, corn bread, tomatillo sauce and assiago cheese. You’ll enjoy the funky décor, too.

9 a.m. - noon: Hike the trails of , the second largest urban forest in the Americas. At nearly 1000-acres, the park will have much to catch your interest, from its collection of totem poles at Brockton Point to the Lost Lagoon Nature House (which hosts an ever changing array of ecology exhibits). One of the prime pleasures of the park is simply strolling the sea wall, a view-a-holics fantasy, but many come for the , which is the most-visited attraction in all of Canada. It features over 8000 salty critters in its state-of-the-art marine environments, including “thar she blows” beluga whales (wear a rain poncho or stand well back—many a visitor has been soaked by these blowhards’ blowholes over the years).

Morning Alternative
If it’s too chilly or wet for the park—and Vancouver has been getting a lot of nasty storms lately—is an ace indoor option. Don’t rush inside too quickly, though; part of its allure is the building it’s housed in, which architect Arthur Erikson meant to evoke a classic Native American post and beam structure. Housing one of the finest collections of West Coast Native American art anywhere, it boasts both ancient and modern sculptures, beaded jewelry, masks and more.

Noon - 2 p.m.: Vancouver is a major hub for both Asian immigrants and visitors, and beyond its location, food is now one of the reasons they love this city—the Asian restaurants here are downright spectacular. The expat Chinese community has adopted the elegant but affordable as its unofficial clubhouse, particularly at lunchtime when the room is traversed by metal carts, filled with steaming bamboo trays of dim sum. As good as any you’d taste in Hong Kong, and often as unusual (up for duck tongue?), the dim sum here is more than just a tasty treat, it’s a true border-hopping adventure.

2 p.m. - 5 p.m.: Hop a ferry for a five minute float to Granville Island, Vancouver’s island artists colony set in factory buildings and warehouses that inhabited this former industrial site. Simply walking from gallery to gallery, taking in the views of the city, and shopping for unique crafts will easily fill an afternoon. One of the greatest delights of a visit here is to browse the Granville Public Market, which rivals Seattle’s Pike Place Market with its vast array of seafood, artisinal cheeses, fresh produce and other culinary treats.

Afternoon Alternative
When the weather’s warm, you may want to challenge your nerve on the . An adrenaline rush since it opened in 1889, the bridge spans a canyon, and sways some 226 feet over the Capilano River. You may want to combine your high altitude adventure with an eco-tour of the area. will pair you with a professional naturalist to guide you through Capilano Canyon, as well as through the North Shore Rain Forest.

5:30 p.m. - 7:15: Since it doesn’t take reservations, head early to , which food expert Mark Bittman called “easily among the finest Indian restaurants in the world.” Not your standard curry joint, Vij’s is elegantly exotic in looks and disciplined in its cooking. Its all-female Punjabi staff makes all of the dairy products (ghee, cheeses, yoghurt) fresh on a daily basis. The owners are just as rigorous in selecting the meats and vegetables that go into the food, working closely with local farmers to get just the right ingredients for their pan-Indian cuisine. The results are sublime and unusual—not to be missed.

7:30 or 8 p.m. - 10 or 10:30 p.m.: In this sports-happy town, is it any surprise that the arts scene would also have a competitive edge? Go watch the competing thespians, at the award-winning Vancouver Theater Sports League, where comics duke it out nightly in improvised sketches and songs for the title of “funniest”. It’s a hoot.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new guides in bookstores now.

Slickety Jim’s Chat ‘n Chew, 2513 Main Street, phone 604/873-6760

For full information on Stanley Park go to www.city.vancouver.bc.ca/parks

Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center is located in Stanley Park, phone 604/659-FISH; www.vanaqua.org/. Admission is C$17 adults, C$13 students and seniors. It’s open 9:30 am to 7pm in summer and 10am to 5pm the rest of the year.

The Museum of Anthropology, 6393 NW Marine Drive, phone 604/822-5087; www.moa.ubc.ca/. Admission is C$9 for adults and C$5 for students and seniors. See the website for hours which do vary.

Sun Sui Wah Seafood Restaurant, 3888 Main Street, phone 604/872-8822; www.sunsuiwah.com/

The most fun way to get to Granville Island is by boat, via either the Aquabus (www.aquabus.com/) or the False Creek Ferry (www.granvilleislandferries.bc.ca/). It’s also possible to drive across the Granville Street Bridge or go via Fourth Avenue or Burrard Street. For complete information on the island, go to www.granvilleisland.com/.

Capilano Suspension Bridge and Park, 3735 Capilano Road in North Vancouver, phone 604/985-7474; www.capbridge.com/. Admission is C$25 for adults, C$19 for students and seniors. The bridge is open from 8:30 am to dusk in summer and from 9am to 5pm the rest of the year.

Rockwood Adventures, 888/236-6606 or 604/980-7749; www.rockwoodadventures.com/.

Vij’s, 1480 West 11th Avenue, phone 604/736-6644; www.vjs.ca/

The Vancouver Theater Sports League has shows Wednesday to Sunday nights at varying times, and for varying costs. For the full information, go to www.vtsl.com/.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.