Vancouver ideal travel escape for nature buffs and food lovers

If you’re on a cruise to Alaska and only arrive in Vancouver in time to board your ship, you’re doing it wrong.

I was sad for the hectic crowd of cruise passengers I encountered upon landing at Vancouver International Airport. They had just arrived and were about to immediately sail away from one of my favorite cities in North America. Vancouver is at its sunny best during travel season — full of outdoor adventures, pristine local produce and seafood, and buzzing with people.

“After months of gray and dump days, when we’re blessed with blue skies, the whole city comes alive,” said Saschie MacLean-Magbanua, Vancouver native and founder of dance and fitness destination Formation Studio ( “We can choose between cocktails on a sidewalk patio, takeout sushi on a city beach, a wooded hike with our dogs, or finding an isolated river bend to take a dip in.”

My room wasn’t quite ready when I arrived at the Loden Hotel (1177 Melville St.,, an environmentally friendly boutique hotel downtown, but I didn’t mind in the least. It gave me the perfect chance to take one of the hotel’s complimentary Electra Townie Cruiser bikes for a ride around the Stanley Park Seawall. The breezy hourlong bike ride is not difficult, following a paved path that encircles the entire park with majestic panoramas of the North Shore mountains and Lions Gate Bridge, which connects downtown Vancouver with North Vancouver across the Burrard Inlet.

Upon my return to the hotel, I found I’d been upgraded to the newly renovated penthouse suite through a stroke of good fortune. I always thought I could see myself living in Vancouver, and this artful pied-a-terre and massive wraparound rooftop terrace were certainly fueling that fantasy.

As a relatively young city incorporated in 1886, Vancouver still has abundant natural resources and attracts people from diverse geographic and cultural backgrounds, but outdoor adventure, food and an active lifestyle are core passions for Vancouverites. A robust First Nations culture is interwoven in the city’s spirit, including the Indigenous people’s respect for nature and connection to the earth and sea.

Stanley Park is on the ancestral lands of Coast Salish First Nations, including Squamish, Musqueam and Waututh, and my favorite tours of the park are led by Talaysay Tours (, a First Nations family-owned cultural and eco tour company. This trip, I tried a forest bathing walk with Haida Bolton, the first forest therapy guide in British Columbia to be certified by the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy Guides and Programs.

“Forest bathing is about meandering, stopping to smell and touch, and building an intimate connection with nature,” Bolton explained as I closed my eyes and listened to the symphony of delicate leaves rustling overhead. “It’s about getting out of our heads, giving our brains a break, and connecting with our body and heart.”

Bolton invited me to intuitively embrace nature in several ways. Some invitations were more contemplative, while others were more playful — such as tracing lines in nature with my fingers, or building an art piece with loose pieces of nature collected from the forest floor. In my exploration, I found myself appreciating tiny details I normally wouldn’t notice on a brisk hike, including the minuscule movement of an inch worm or a lone purple wildflower poking through fallen leaves.

Studies have shown that forest bathing stimulates creativity, boosts the immune system and reduces stress, helping us overworked, tech-added humans to build a better connection with ourselves. Bolton recommended two hours per week of intentional time in nature for sustained benefits, and we ended our session with a tea ceremony, sipping fir tip and huckleberry leaf tea Bolton had steeped with botanicals from her home garden. First, we poured a cup over the soil to honor Mother Earth for sharing her beauty and nourishment with us.

My grounded sense of calm lasted all day, until it was time for my first hip-hop class at Formation Studio. I was admittedly diversely intimidated upon arrival, but much like Vancouver itself, Formation Studio is a community that’s nonjudgmental and welcoming to newcomers (first-timers are welcomed with a personalized doodle on their locker), with a distinctly sporty-chic style. After the first couple songs, I stopped trying to analyze my body in the mirror and just moved to the music. By the time we were freestyle grooving to Sam Smith’s “Money On My Mind” at the end of class, I was sliding and popping, feeling amazing. Did I perfect my body roll? Maybe not, but I had a sweaty, fun time regardless.

All that cardio certainly worked up my appetite, and lucky for me Vancouver is full of good eats, including a bounty of sustainable seafood. Halibut, oysters, ling cod, spot prawns, sablefish and several types of salmon are commonly found on restaurant menus depending on the season. I always recommend sister restaurants Minami (1118 Mainland St., and Miku (200 Granville St., Ste. 70; for sushi lovers. They’re most famous for their flame-seared aburi sushi with wild sockeye salmon and jalapeño.

Book a reservation at Published on Main (3593 Main St., as soon as you book your flight — the globally inspired, hyperlocal ingredient-driven restaurant deservedly topped the list for Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants this year, and reservations are hard to come by. You could also try to snag a spot at the bar — where seating is first-come, first-served — to try chef Gus Stieffenhofer-Brandson’s aebleskiver (savory Danish donuts), chilled side stripe prawns, or whatever fleeting concoction he’s crafted from the mushrooms, berries and other wild delicacies he has foraged.

If you’re trying to eat less meat, Vancouver is also a great city for vegan diners. There are entirely plant-based restaurants such as Cofu (1833 Anderson St., Ste. 103; for vibrant veggie sushi served atop black rice and Do Chay (1392 Kingsway; 1269 Hamilton St.;, a family-owned modern Vietnamese restaurant with summer standouts like black truffle jicama dumplings and xoi bap crispy sticky rice and sweet corn sandwiches.

Many more restaurants can easily cater to vegan and vegetarian diets, including Nuba (locations vary,, a local favorite for Lebanese food, including fluffy falafel, hearty mjadra stewed green lentils and the best crispy cauliflower in the city. Order the vegetarian sampler feast if you’re feeling indecisive and ask for an off-menu side of garlicky toum.

Sometimes when you’re in a food coma, which happens to me regularly in Vancouver, or after you’ve done a strenuous hike such as the grueling Grouse Grind (, you just want to relax in your hotel room . After many visits to Vancouver, and staying at more than a dozen hotels in the city, two stand out above the rest. Loden Hotel is a 77-room independent gem, with a convenient Coal Harbor location and kind and caring front desk team who make every guest feel like a VIP. Loden’s signature shade of dark green and relaxed residential design inspire a quiet calm. Nearly every room has a stand-alone deep soaking tub, the perfect way to wind down after a day of curious exploration.

Fairmont Pacific Rim (1038 Canada Place, is another perennial favorite for the luxuriously appointed suites, sweeping harbor views and fun lobby scene with nightly live music. Plus, they have the best hotel restaurants and hotel spa in the city. I recommend ample downtime to enjoy the hydrotherapy rooftop terrace deck at Willow Stream Spa, which features two hot tubs (one with a Kerstin Florian mineral soak) and an infrared sauna. Even on a gray drizzly day — and Vancouver has plenty of those — it’s so refreshing to relax in a hot tub with cool raindrops kissing your face.

Willow Stream Spa’s newest 90-minute Coastal Mountain Retreat body treatment is a multisensory masterpiece, inspired by forest bathing, and incorporating locally made botanical products. To begin, each part of my body was brushed with warm, wet seaweed followed by a gentle cedar- and pine-scented sea salt and hemp seed oil scrub. After a brief rinse, I settled back onto the heated table for a full body massage.

My therapist Anna was like a woodland fairy, and her strategic use of warm towels and light touch made me feel coddled and comfortable, nearly lulling me to sleep. The final flourish was a glacial clay mask for my feet that was both grounding and detoxifying while I enjoyed a neck, head and scalp massage.

It’s this delicate balance of nature and city, with both thriving in harmony, that makes Vancouver so appealing.

Amber Gibson is a freelance writer.

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