Yeah, we’re laid-back in BC, but we’ve got glitz, glamour and mountains all mixed in with our bohemian soul.
by Susan Musgrave
If you arrive by plane from the US, you might think you’ve nodded off en route and landed in a museum: your übercool west-coast experience begins the moment you de-plane at Vancouver International Airport. You step through a First Nations longhouse entrance into a hall, where water laps at the shores of a beach and birdcalls echo from trees in a simulated coastal rainforest. Did I mention the specially commissioned First Nations art? Next thing you know, you’re officially greeted by two giant, cedar welcome figures marking the entrance at the International Arrivals Level Meet and Greet Area.
Welcome to British Columbia and Canada’s Left—er, I mean, West—Coast.
Such a trippy, art-filled arrival is a fitting introduction to Vancouver—otherwise known as Hollywood North (BC is North America’s third-largest film centre, and second to Los Angeles in television production in the world)—the thriving Pacific gateway that sets the mood for the spirit of British Columbia’s west coast.
For a couple of toonies you can board the sleek Canada Line SkyTrain—evidence of Vancouver hosting February’s 2010 Winter Games—to downtown Vancouver, a vibrant fusion of cuisines and cultures from Asia and beyond. There are funky must-sees like Granville Island, with its Public Market, in the heart of the city; scruffy, arts-ifying Gastown, the birthplace of the city; and swish Yaletown
for a multi-ethnic eating experience. Mellow out, afterwards, in any number of smart, stylish hotels.
From Vancouver, drive the stunning Sea to Sky Highway about two hours to visit Olympic co-host Whistler, a world-renowned ski and snowboarding resort. Take a BC Ferry to laid-back Vancouver Island with side trips to quirky Gulf Island communities. Visit Sooke on Vancouver Island, west of the capital city of Victoria, and wander through the fragrant seaside gardens of fabled Sooke Harbour House, an inn and restaurant specializing in globally inspired, locally grown food. Cruise over the Malahat to the fertile Cowichan Valley and sample outstanding vintages: Cowichan Wine & Culinary Festival celebrates its sixth year running in 2010. (There’s more outstanding wine to be had in “Napa North,” the Okanagan Valley east of Vancouver.) Make time for a bite to eat in historic Cowichan Bay, North America’s First Cittaslow-designated community.
Long Beach, in Pacific Rim National Park Reserve on Vancouver Island’s rugged left coast, is Canada’s No. 1 surfing destination. While you’re in the area, catch a whalewatching tour or hike around Clayoquot Sound. Pacific Rim also includes the West Coast Trail and Broken Group Islands. Seakayak with orcas and sea otters through the sheltered waters of some 100 islets and rocky outcrops scattered in the heart of Barkley Sound.