Ever wish you knew the inside scoop before visiting a new destination? Now you can! We’ve reached out to our favorite locals and tour guides from all over the world for their insider tips. In the City Insider Q&A, they’ll let you in on the spots that should be on your must-see and -do list!
Name: Sara Cooke
Occupation: Director of Communications, ToursByLocals
City: Vancouver, BC
Short bio: I’m the Director of Communications at ToursByLocals, a Canadian company that connects independent travellers with local guides, in 140 countries around the world. I grew up in Toronto but my family and I have called Vancouver, BC, my home for the past 11 years.
Best way to get to/from airport: Easy: Hop on the Canada Line. This fast, affordable train is a part of our public transit system and takes you from YVR airport directly downtown in about 20 minutes.
Best way to get to/from train station: Not many people take the train to get anywhere from Vancouver! But it’s an easy walk from downtown to the terminal near the Main St. Skytrain station.
Favorite 5-star hotel: Fairmont Pacific Rim.
Favorite budget hotel: Does Vancouver have budget hotels?? I’d go with a decent Airbnb room in Kitsilano.
5 places visitors must see:
- The western beaches: Jericho and Spanish Banks.
- Bike, run or rollerblade around Stanley Park on the Sea Wall.
- Explore the markets and artists studios on Granville Island.
- Go for a hike on the North Shore—from Deep Cove to Quarry Rock is an easy 90 minutes return, with a great lookout over Indian Arm
- Head to the Lynn Canyon suspension bridge. Unlike Capilano Canyon, it’s entirely free.
Favorite fine dining restaurant: Chambar for their Belgian fusion menu, romantic setting and friendly, impeccable service.
Favorite casual restaurant: Tacofino Commisary. All tacos, all the time. This licensed joint started as a food truck in Tofino, on Vancouver Island. The truck still operates, but there are also two brick-and-mortar restaurants in Gastown and Hastings Sunrise neighbourhoods. My vote is for the East Hastings location, as it will get you out exploring a different neighbourhood. Two can easily stuff themselves here for $40 total, including drinks.
Best place to get a coffee: JJ Bean. You’ll find this successful Vancouver-based coffee shop located throughout the city. Each location is designed to reflect the vibe of the neighbourhood it lives in.
Favorite bar/lounge: Calabash Bistro in Gastown is a great place to both eat and drink. Their Dark ‘n’ Stormy cocktail is a reverie in a glass.
Best music venue/place to see live music: The Commodore Ballroom is a bit of a musical legend in Vancouver, playing host to talented local acts and rising super stars. Over the years, the Commodore has hosted a wide range of incredible artists: David Bowie, U2, Nirvana, the Black Keys, and many more have graced its stage. In the summertime, Vancouverites flock to places like the Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park, and the ampitheatre at Deer Lake Park to hear live music under the stars.
Favorite museum: In all honesty, I’m not the biggest museum-goer, and I prefer Vancouver’s outdoors offerings. But one exception is the Anthropology Museum out by UBC, which offers an incredible collection of art from around the world, with a particular emphasis on First Nations culture. And while you’re there, you can go for a walk in Pacific Spirit Park, or follow the paths through the temperate rainforest to the city’s westernmost beaches.
Best sports venue(s): Wherever a local team is winning! Wish I could say Rogers Arena, but the Canucks (our NHL hockey team) have failed to make playoffs the last few years. Lately BC Place is the place to be, where we can cheer on the Whitecaps, our MLS soccer team. Best free venue? Courtside at the beach volleyball courts on Jericho Beach!
Most popular local food: These days, it’s anything you can get from a truck! Vancouver loves its food trucks, and you’ll find a wide array of local fare, from Israeli to Indian. My personal favourites are the Tacofino truck (I have never had a better fish taco) and the Culver City Salad truck for incredibly fresh, filling salads.
Best “locals only spot”: To live like a local, you must have this experience: Join the crowds of fit and wanna-be-fit hikers headed up the Grouse Grind on a Saturday morning! Referred to as “Nature’s Stairmaster,” this is a rooty, rocky hike straight up the side of a mountain: 2.9-km long and 853 metres up. If exercise isn’t your thing, then a Saturday or Sunday morning at a farmer’s market (I recommend the one in Trout Lake) will see you rubbing shoulders with Vancouver’s fanatic locavores.
Local/native fruit or dish to try: Salmonberries grow wild along most trails in May and June, while the greater Vancouver area is North America’s largest cultivator of blueberries. Pick-your-own places abound in Richmond, Surrey and Langley—the rural suburbs to the south and east of Vancouver.
Most popular local drink: Any of our hundreds of varieties of craft beer. The number of local breweries that have sprung up in the last five years is incredible—have fun finding your favourite!
Movies/TV shows filmed in your city: Honestly, too many to list: Vancouver is considered Hollywood North for good reason. It rarely plays itself though! We stand in for any city from Los Angeles to Tokyo. Recent blockbusters filmed here include Deadpool and Godzilla.
Best souvenirs to buy/ goods to bring home: Lululemon gear, if you can afford $100+ workout pants—Vancouver is the epicenter of the yoga fashion empire.
Biggest tourist trap/places to avoid and when: The steam clock in Gastown. Crowds from the cruise ships like to wander Gastown, Vancouver’s kitchy historic district, and take pictures of a steam-powered clock. After living here over a decade, I still don’t understand the appeal.
Best travel tip: Get outside. Vancouver is above all else an active city. You’ll feel a part of our fabric if you’re running, biking, walking, skateboarding, rollerblading, hiking, skiing, paddleboarding, kitesurfing…We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth and try to remind ourselves of this by getting outside every day.
For a past City Insider: Vancouver, BC from guide Josh Bloomfield, click here.