I recommend, without a doubt, to stay at the St. Regis Hotel. It got great reviews on Tripadvisor.com for its central location and elaborate complimentary breakfast. It is a mere 30 minute ride on the Sky Train from the Vancouver Airport to the Center City stop, and from there it is barely a block and a half to the front doors of the St. Regis. The staff was friendly, our room was smaller but stylish, modern and most importantly – clean. On the nightstands were complimentary bottles of water and chocolates. Breakfast is served from 7am-11am in a lower level dining room reserved strictly for this breakfast. There is a buffet featuring coffee, tea and juices, fresh fruit, yogurt, cereal, bread and pastries. When you take your already-adequate-for-being-free meal to a table and get comfy, a waitress appears and asks how you’d like your eggs. That’s right, free breakfast including eggs made to order with bacon, ham, and/or sausage links that you don’t even have to wait in line for! Within minutes, a plate of some of the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever eaten appeared in front of me.
Something I saw on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and have never seen anything else like it was Japadog. On the corner of Smithe and Burrard is an elaborate hot dog cart and an incredibly long line. IT IS WORTH THE WAIT. The menu features beef, Kobe-grade pork, turkey and veggie dogs. toppings like seaweed, Japanese mayo, mashed potatoes and bonito flakes. There are actually several Japadog carts in Vancouver and in May of 2010 they opened a full restaurant, but somehow I think the cart version will always be best. Did I mention Ice Cube loves Japadog? A sign on the cart boasts he’s been there at least 10 times for the turkey dog. Frankly, I’d trust his taste in streetmeat.
There are Starbucks, but there are more Blenz Coffees. The coffee is good and the pastry selection is delectable. Another coffee chain in the area known for serving Vancouver’s best cheesecake is Tree Organic, I didn’t actually have time to try it, but I mention it because I saw the sign a few times and the cheesecake looked so tempting, if I did stay another day I would have definitely had some.
Vancouver is a very walkable city, one of the most important traits to look for in an efficient weekend vacation. Canada Place, SeaBus and Cruise ship terminals, Vancouver Art Gallery and Pacific Centre are all in walking distance from the St. Regis. In between lunch and dinner, we had time to shop at Pacific Centre, hit up the Welcome Centre at Canada Place (Vancouver’s prime tourist hotspot) and get great photographs of the harbour, mountains, a rainbow, the bright blue Drop, the Sails of Light and my personal favorite, a gruesomely gorgeous shot of a sea gull walking around the promenade slowly swallowing a starfish.
I had a very romantic and stylish dinner at Shuraku. Really great atmosphere, cool vibe, friendly staff. We picked it because of great Yelp reviews and decent – only slightly expensive prices. You get so much more than you pay for. I recommend ordering the “5 kinds of Sashimi,” the chef’s daily choice of fresh sashimi. The presentation was crazy with a blue-lit dish and vibrantly fresh pieces of fish. We also got a Roulette Roll – spicy chopped scallop, avocado and cucumber topped with negitoro and lotus root chips with black seaweed soy sauce- which also looked amazingly impressive and tasted even better. Finished the meal with a glass of “Dan-Dan,” a sweet potato vodka that is supposed to be less sweet substitute for hot sake. The flavor was very subtle, almost even like a really good, delicate tequila. According to the menu, “Dan-Dan” means “thank you”, but I also found that it may mean “gradually.” Well, “dan-dan” Shuraku, your Dan-Dan ever so dan-dan got me schwasted.
Another reason I love the St. Regis was how comfortable we felt hanging out after dinner in the hotel bar. My boyfriend, originally from Buffalo, NY, thinks there may be nothing better than relaxing after a full day of Canadian sites with hockey on TV, yam fries with ketchup and chili mayo and dark beers, all just a teeny elevator ride from our cozy room.
Hotel breakfast again – I mentioned it was free, right?
Another great area to walk around in for real Vancouverian history and culture is Gastown. Gastown was the first metropolitan area settled in Vancouver, named for “Gassy Jack” a steamboat captain/ barkeep who opened the first saloon there. Some great photo-ops to take advantage of are the Gastown Steam Clock, located on the corner of Cambie and Water Street, and a statue of Gassy Jack where Powell/Water intersects with Carrall/Alexander. Right there on Carrall we stopped because I saw a sign for 2 pints for $7 and the boyfriend smelled poutine. Vera’s Burger Shack is a chain and the top 40 “background” music was blaring pretty loud, but the beers were good and the poutine was just what my psuedo-Canadian bf needed to hold him off until our early dinner.
Down a nondescript (aka the setting of a cold open to an SVU episode if I ever saw one) alley, not too far from Gassy Jack is the epicurean treasure known as Salt Tasting Room. The restaurant has a simple concept: a chalkboard lists a tantalizing selection of 10 cheeses, 10 meats, and 10 condiments, lunchtime offers soup and sandwiches as well. The artisinal cheeses and charcuterie are chosen carefully from both local and imported sources and the chalkboard is updated frequently. A tasting of three cheeses and/or meats + three condiments is $15, as is a flight of three wines. My best advice – let them do the pairing. The people who work at Salt are both knowledgeable and passionate about food and wine. They know what will stand up best to their bold Guiness grainy mustard, or mesh seamlessly with their Basqne olives.
One of our last stops was a free museum of the Northwest Territory we stumbled upon called Canada’s Northern House. It was a really cool mix of natural history and modern technology established for the 2010 Olympics. Highlights include a furry model of a Mighty Muskox and photo booth that allows you to record a short video from the museum and then email it out to your friends and family. Unfortunately it was only a temporary museum and closed down in April of 2010.
Vancouver is a great city, stay longer if you can, but if you only have a weekend, believe me it’s totally doable. The area is great for exploring on foot, the food is the perfect blend of high and low-brow cuisine, and true to Canadian stereotypes the people were friendly… as long as you keep your allegiance to the Sabres on the hush-hush.