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20 Inspiring Things to Do in Vancouver & Victoria, British Columbia

In August, Dawn and I celebrated our 2-yr wedding anniversary by taking a trip to Vancouver and Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. We took advantage of our northern California perch to make this an epic road trip for Anniversary Adventure 2015: Vancouver Island. 

This filled-to-the-brim post covers our 7-day experience in Vancouver and Victoria. Being that it was an anniversary trip, our first aim was to celebrate this blissful love we enjoy as married, unified, and entranced partners in this life-dance. Our second aim? There is no second -- there are only co-aims! Besides, we both love traveling to new places together, taking in new experiences, and sharing with others in the hopes that it will inspire love and adventure. That is, after all, the epitome of comuse. So, that's our aim with this post: may it inspire you to behold loved ones in a deeper, more intimate way; and whether you've visited Vancouver or Victoria before, or you've yet to go, may this provoke you to go, return, and behold Beautiful British Columbia in an entirely new way.

With such an action-packed trip, we identified 20 activities during our 7-day stay that captivated our hearts. I've listed them in the order in which we experienced them, so follow along in our digital footsteps!

In Vancouver: 

1. The Honda Celebration of Light: After arriving at our friends' home in Surrey (just across the border), we heeded James and Amanda's wisdom and made our way to English Bay Beach in downtown Vancouver for optimal viewing of the fireworks. It was the 25th anniversary of this celebration, so we were thrilled to be among the hundreds of thousands of people present for the event. 

And here's a short video: 

2. White Rock Farmer's Market: Our draw for this event was visiting James and Amanda's booth for their business, HALE Organic Juice. We tried their juice, and it's delicious! If you live in the area, they deliver, so this pure, health-inspiring juice can come right to your doorstep.

3. The Pacific National Exhibition: We visited this renowned site specifically because Dawn discovered they were showcasing a pre-fabricated modular home. And since we're really intrigued by the efficiency, architecture, and ingenuity of pre-fab houses, we decided to go and take a free tour of this 3,800 square foot, $2.1 million-dollar modular prize home. Read here for more information.

Here's Dawn with some pre-fab thoughts: 

4. Ferry to Victoria: We sailed with BCFerries out of the Tsawwassen port in Vancouver. Being that it was a civic holiday, we aimed to get there one hour early. We still ended up waiting for at least 2 hours, so next time, if we travel during a similarly busy time, we'll opt to pay the $15 extra to reserve our tickets online. We brought our car along with us, which turned out to be quite invaluable since the best arrival port for Victoria is at Schwartz Bay, a 35-minute drive away. In addition, we lodged in Langford, which is a 25-minute drive from Victoria. 


From all of the photos and videos we took while abroad the ferry, my favorite is this video we made for Jonah, our two year old godson: 

 Yes, we're saying "Happy Erthday!" Jonah often says that when it's someone's birthday, or he'll shout it in place of "hello." And why do we have the paper apple with us? Jonah gave it to us recently after he made it (with assistance) in craft time, so we made it a point to feature it in every video we made for him on this trip. 

In Victoria: 

5. The Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa: We found this resort stunning and expansive. Though neither of us golf, and though we didn't take advantage of the spa, the accommodations served us well. It was a great landing pad for our stay in Victoria, and we stayed here the 2 nights we spent on Vancouver Island. Dawn's a maestro when it comes to our hotel points, and she utilized our Starwood points to cover our lodging costs at the Westin. (Want an easy way to get free hotel nights? Get this card.)


The serenity of the Bear Mountain community, the excellence of the hotel staff; and the clean, refined, and spacious rooms all add up to make a sterling lodging experience. We wrote this poem to express our sentiments: 

6. Green Cuisine: We found this delicious dig on two different guides for vegan dining in Victoria: The Victoria Vegan and Sarah's Vegan Guide to Downtown Victoria.

(Note: We both made the decision to switch to a plant-based diet in July, so this trip was our first all-vegan excursion. Though it's been an enjoyable transition for us, the ample vegan options in Vancouver and Victoria made this inaugural co-experience especially brilliant.)

Green Cuisine is an all-vegan buffet-style priced-by-weight restaurant that offers a dazzling array of delectable options: cashew aioli, corn bread, fermented vegetables, and several mouth-watering desserts. Since the restaurant was nearing closing time, we picked what we liked and brought our dinner back to the Westin. There were way too many phenomenal dishes for one visit, so we made a point to return before we left the island. 

7. Mo:Le: Since we heard this restaurant had favorable vegan and raw options, we dined here for on our second day in Victoria. Though we desired to find a great brunch, we decided this tasty curry dish was the best option for us, and it was very satisfying. 

 

8. Pure Lovin' Chocolate: While the good people at Mo:Le prepared our lunch, we took advantage of this time to head to this chocolate shop we read about in the aforementioned guides. It's local, organic, vegan, and fair-trade chocolate; and it's delectable! We had some pre-lunch dessert, and we bought some to bring home with us. 

9. Whale Watching Tour with Orca Spirit Adventures: I knew one of Dawn's desires for this trip was to go whale watching. So, I set up a tour with a whale watching company for August 3rd, the day of our anniversary. But, when we arrived to our scheduled boarding time, we weren't able to go. Apparently, due to gale-force winds, they canceled their afternoon tours. I respect their wisdom, but we really had our hopes set on the experience. Thankfully, a brilliant solution was only a phone call away. I spoke with Anastasia at Orca Spirit Adventures, and she sounded excited to have us aboard. With only 2 spots left on the 12-person tour, we breathed sighs of relief and gratitude and high-talied it over to their launching location for their last tour of the day. 

After we donned our water-resistant suits (which were very much like firefighter suits), we headed out to the Zodiac (an open-air vessel) and received preliminary instruction from Skipper Sarah. In addition to being a certified marine naturalist, Sarah's also part of the Canadian Coast Guard. Her knowledge of marine life impressed me, but even more than that, I was moved by her deep connection to the orcas. It was evident this wasn't simply a job -- it was a channel through which she could express both a love and expertise of marine life. 

With Skipper Sarah's instruction, we knew to expect choppy waters, and as we headed out on the 3-hr tour, the water-spray didn't disappoint! The hoods on the suits helped tremendously. At one point, I wished I had my swim goggles with me, but our sunglasses did quite well in protecting our eyes from the sun and spray.

After an exhilarating 45-minute ride in pursuit of orcas, we found ourselves in Washington waters just near the San Juan Islands. Skipper Sarah's knowledge supplemented by tips she received by radio from other tours brought us right into a sweet spot of orcas. In all, we saw at least 12! Seeing their sleek, dark grey fins above the water brought cheers from some and hushed silence from others. I found myself saying "wow!" over and over. For any experienced whale watchers reading this, you've likely learned the following terms, but for those who haven't, I'll mention two: spyhopping and breaching.

As Skipper Sarah informed us, spyhopping is when a whale rises partially above the water in vertical fashion to spy on surface activity. These instances brought even louder sounds of approval from the group. For me, the most awe-inspiring, heart-catching moments accompanied the instances of breaching. With a breach, the orca surges upward and clears the surface with the majority of its body. We were fortunate enough to witness 5-6 of these! Seeing their white underbellies as they defied gravity seemed to slow down time while paradoxically slowing and speeding up my heart rate at the same time. We managed to capture 2 breaches (by the same orca) in this video: 

Wasn't that breathtakingly beautiful? I could only smile after seeing such a joyful expression of exuberance. It was a privilege to witness such spectacular creatures communicate with their environment so athletically and artistically. Still, in those moments of admiration, I found my heart being pulled towards thinking of the welfare of the whales. Seeing them up close in their natural habitat provoked me to consider their wellbeing, and it inspired within me an even deeper desire to steward our oceans and marine life. 

Dawn and I strongly believe in stewarding the planet with our actions, so partnering with this eco-tourism company feels like an alignment of values and passion. The entire tour, Skipper Sarah remained sensitive to the orcas' position relative to the Zodiac, and though the goal of the tour clearly has whale sightings at its core, it was evident that the greater goal involves awareness and kindness towards marine life. 

I highly recommend this tour. It will undoubtedly amaze you, and I also believe it will change the way you view your relationship with marine life. Not only will you very likely behold the beautiful orcas; you will also get to see porpoises, seals, sea lions, cormorants, bald eagles, and more.


10.
Be Love: After the awakening whale-watching experience, we found the perfect restaurant to settle into on this last evening in Victoria. From the vegan guides, we knew we'd find ample options to suit our palates' preferences. Once we walked up to the restaurant, read the words on their sign, and examined the classy exterior, we knew we had found our dinner-home for the night: 

The plant-based cuisine was, as the signage says; fresh, pure, and nourishing to the soul. Here are a few of the culinary highlights. Remember, everything at this restaurant is free of wheat, gluten, dairy, and processed sugar:

 

11. Goldstream Provincial Park: Awakening early and exploring new places before the sunrise is something I love doing, and recently, I have taken up running, so I endeavored to find somewhere nearby that I could get to on our last morning in Victoria. I opened my eyes sometime around 5 a.m. and searched the web. To my delight, I discovered a place with trees, waterfalls, wildlife, and a mountain -- only a 15-minute drive west on Trans-Canada Highway 1N!

Mt. Finlayson, one of the highest points in Victoria, really piqued my interest. I set out with the plan to walk to the trail entrance for summiting it, and then I would try to run as much as I could on the trail. This was a lofty goal considering the nature of the ascent. It turned out to be steeper than I presumed it would be, and in addition to that, I ran into navigation issues. First, it took me way too long to find the trail entrance in the pre-dawn light. Second, once I found the trail, I eagerly ran along until I inadvertently took the longer route instead of the steeper, shorter route -- this left me with insufficient time to make the ascent. Really, the hike was too long for the time I had available that morning. Still, I am thankful to have made it to the park and made at least a portion of the hike. Surrounded by trees, immersed in the stillness of nature, and witnessing the sunrise -- I felt closer to the heartbeat of the island. 

Visiting the park is definitely worth it, especially if you're a fan of ancient trees, beautiful forestry, and waterfalls. There's a 47.5-meter fall called Niagara. Next time, I'll make sure to see that. And after reading this trail runner's account of summiting Mt. Finlayson, I'm inspired to dig deep and finish what I started. 

 

12. Afternoon Tea At The Fairmont Empress: I learned about this attraction from the past trip Dawn made to Victoria with her family around 16 years ago. As a family, they participated in one of Victoria's renowned traditions: the taking of the afternoon tea. We didn't actually take any tea, but we did walk through the Empress and peered into the tea room. I must say I was impressed, yet the greatest joy was hearing Dawn reminisce about her past experience there. 

Back to Vancouver: 

13. Dark Table: After taking the ferry back to Vancouver, we aimed ourselves for our evening reservations at Dark Table, a unique restaurant Dawn discovered well before our trip. In fact, she procured a deal for us on Groupon. She's crafty like that.

So, what is Dark Table? I know. It sounds mysterious. Well, it's even more intriguing than it sounds. It's a blind dining experience that originated in Switzerland and recently opened in Vancouver after garnering success in other major world cities. What is a blind dining experience? The website and photo above describe it well, but for our reflections on the experience, watch our video: 

14. Museum of Anthropology: The next morning, we mapped out an action-packed day. We considered visiting some other museums in Vancouver, but Dawn and I both have an appreciation for arts, cultures, and learning about people groups, so we chose the MOA. An added bonus to this museum visit is the locale: it's on the campus of the University of British Columbia. We love academic institutions known for their excellence, and with Dawn's 3 master's degrees and my doctorate, we've both spent many years immersed in such worlds. During our visit to the MOA, I was invigorated beyond any other academic experience; and that was because the exhibits were world-class productions -- multidimensional in construction and appeal. One example of this was this exhibit (pardon the glare):  

It reveals the culture and lifestyle of the Pacific Northwest First Nations. They're called the Musqueam people, the ancestral people of the region currently known as Vancouver -- from over 9,000 years ago! In many different artistic forms, the exhibit composes an honest and provoking portrait of the Musqueam people's challenges and plight. I was moved by this, and while I came to Vancouver with very little information about its history, I left with a profound respect and compassion for the Pacific Northwest First Nations. And Dawn left these guys with a lesson in smiling. Perhaps they've learned by now. We look forward to any evidence via photos on your next visit. 

15. Stanley Park Seawall: After the museum visit, we drove to Stanley Park to walk along the 8.8-kilometer portion of the Seawall that encircles the park. What a magnificent shoreline! Among other notable Stanley Park attractions and monuments, we saw the Girl in a Wetsuit and these First Nations totem poles

 

16. Heirloom: For a perfect early dinner, we had this vegetarian restaurant picked out. It drew us in with its fresh, fair-trade options and its location along our pre-planned day's activity route. It's smart and crisp storefront made way for a hip, vibrant interior. The vegan options were lip-smackingly good. 

But what really hit the spot? These refreshing, restorative drinks: 

Dawn ordered the Kale Refresher (by Heirloom Juice Co.): kale, green apple, pineapple, mint, and sparkling water.

I couldn't pass up the Watermelon Chiller: fresh watermelon, lime, and mint.

17. Vancouver TheatreSports League: And for the grand destination of the night, we made our way to The Improv Centre on Granville Island for the evening performance of the Vancouver TheatreSports League (VTSL). 

 

What is the VTSL? It's an award-winning professional theatre company specializing in improv comedy that began in 1980, and one of its main goals is to challenge and inspire the community. It boasts an impressive alumni list, including two comedians I grew up watching on Whose Line is it Anyway - Ryan Stiles and Colin Mochrie. 

 

With great anticipation, we found our seats and prepared for the show. The atmosphere was electric, and as the emcee (also the referee of the competition) introduced the players, the applause paralleled that of a sporting event. As the players took the stage and performed various skits, they revealed their comedic agility and quick-witted, imaginative acting skills. It really was a fusion of sport and theater. The two teams of performers battled for the win, and in the end, the audience decided the winner. Really, all of the players performed valiantly, so both teams won in our books. TheatreSports is a winning attraction, so make your way to Granville Island when you're in Vancouver and plan to catch one of their shows. You'll be entertained! 

18. Running the Seawall: For a truly stunning perspective of Vancouver's highlights, it's hard to come up with anything grander than traveling along the seawall. It's ranked #1 of 271 things to do in Vancouver on TripAdvisor. On our last morning in Vancouver, I awakened at 5 a.m. to do some sunrise running. While I originally planned to run around the 8.8-kilometer Stanley Park portion of the seawall, some early morning web-surfing inspiration (at Tommy Horton's, where I took in some pre-run coffee) provoked me to consider running the entire 22-kilometer seawall. I took that inspiration and literally ran with it! Read this post I wrote the following morning with fresh reflections on my experience. Here's an overview and map of the seawall: 

While my experience with the seawall involved running, it's also an ideal path for walkers, cyclists, and inline skaters. For the most part, the pathway has two clearly marked sections, which enables walkers and joggers to travel safely on foot without interfering with the cyclists and skaters. With it being such a popular attraction for tourists and residents alike, this organization helps tremendously so that congestion doesn't take away from enjoyment of the breath-taking views (and from the fitness component of the experience).

Whether it's a casual stroll along the path, a focused encircling of Stanley Park, or a committed traversing of the entire seawall, you'll be inspired and refreshed. And for those looking for an even more exhilarating experience, consider extending beyond the seawall and completing the 28-km Seaside Greenway, the world's longest uninterrupted waterfront path. It almost drew me in, but due to a combination of time constraints (we had other activities planned, plus the meter where I parked my car was up) and a desire to be kind to my body, I decided to leave that for a future visit. 

19. The Foundation Eatery: Yelp helped us find this vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurant nestled in Vancouver's Mt. Pleasant neighborhood. They're known for their stellar vegetarian nachos, but with our vegan inclinations, we found other items that satisfied our appetites. Since we just had a small window of time before an appointment for a chat and tour of nearby Hootsuite headquarters, the sub-5-minute walk from The Foundation worked out quite well. 

 

20. Hootsuite: First off, for anyone who doesn't know Hootsuite, it's a company that was birthed in 2008 out of one man's (Ryan Holmes) desire to make the social media experience better for businesses. It's now recognized as one of Vancouver's most innovative tech companies, and the entire online world recognizes its contribution toward developing more efficient and organized social media protocols for businesses, organizations, and bloggers alike. Hootsuite works with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Youtube, and many other social media outlets. We absolutely love and appreciate the technology that Hootsuite provides, and for our online business and travel blog, its free version has brought great structure and aid to our social media management practices. So, when we were presented with the opportunity to visit Hootsuite, we were delighted!

We met with David Godsall, Hootsuite's official blog Editorial Manager. 

We were so thankful to have some moments with David amidst his day of meetings and Hootsuite blog responsibilities. He shared some of his personal journey in the world of blogging and editing. Once he had a sense of our blog, business, and goals, he offered some sparkling observations and insight. What a privilege to glean wisdom from such an accomplished and successful representative of this revolutionary company! In addition to the conversation, David took us on a tour: 

 

We were so impressed by the apparent culture Hootsuite provides for employees. With many engineers hard at work developing new software and improvements to existing tools, there was this beautiful balance as we saw others taking time to nourish themselves in the shared kitchen and engage in ping pong games, foosball, and exercise (in the fitness area). 

The creativity of the space, the communal areas, and the ubiquitous owls -- all very inspiring! With such inspiration, we decided to compose a spontaneous poem about Hootsuite: 

Well, faithful readers, I imagine your travel-inclined minds are envisioning your first or next trip to Vancouver; and I hope these 20 activities inspire your strategic planning. May they be a springboard for your own unique itinerary, and even more, for those who've theorized about a trip to this area but just haven't put it in action yet; may these images and reflections cause you to leap into the realization of those dreams! 

__________________________________________________________________________*Complimentary tour provided by Orca Spirit Adventures

*Complimentary tickets provided by Vancouver TheatreSports League

_________________________________________________________________________

Curious about what we did last year for our anniversary? Here's a lodging review from Marrakech, Morocco.

Read this to become acquainted with the delicious gluten-free side of Portland, Oregon.

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Happy Journeying!

October 02, 2015 by Neel Bulchandani
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Comments

Laura

Laura said:

So glad you got a chance to come up this way! I would also highly recommend the Scandinave Spa up in Whistler. It’s only about 1.5hrs north of Van on the beautiful Sea to Sky highway.

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