Cthulhu drinking beer, $12 million, and so much green!

To celebrate the end of my first year of graduate school (wooooo!), P and I drove up to Vancouver for a couple of days. Highlights of the trip included two walking tours—one of downtown Vancouver and the other of Granville Island—a visit to Stanley Park, the Museum of Anthropology and the Museum of Vancouver, and what is quite possibly the coolest bar of all time.

Walking tours are my favorite thing to do in a new city, because I get to learn about its culture and history from locals. Tours are usually 1 to 2 hours long, and tend to show off little-known spots or bits of history that most conventional tours overlook. Since many guides are volunteers and work for tips, I also feel good knowing that their enthusiasm is genuine and truly welcoming.

Erik, our Downtown Vancouver tour guide, told us about some fascinating urban development policies that help explain much of the city’s architecture and design. For example, partnerships between the government and private firms are a reason why there are so many open spaces in the downtown area: if a developer wants to build something taller than 25 stories, they must invest in “green” spaces, whether that means installing a small park or having a rooftop garden. We passed by a 5-story church that had sold 15 stories of air space to a neighboring building for $12 million CAD plus an adjoining plaza:

There are plenty of similar examples on almost every city block. That’s pretty cool.

Our second walking tour was on Granville Island, a small manmade sandbar that was an industrial manufacturing area during WWI and WWII, but is now known for its public market, brewery, and artist community. The 39-acre island is owned entirely by the federal government and drew inspiration from Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco and Pike Place Market in Seattle.

Like the city of Vancouver, it also has some interesting public policies. For one, no new buildings can be constructed: businesses must use the original edifices from the island’s manufacturing days. Second, no franchises are allowed on the island; the one exception is The Keg Steakhouse & Bar, since its location on Granville Island is where the franchise first started. And third, the island is designed for pedestrian traffic, and as such there are a limited number of parking spots for motor vehicles, and people are encouraged to walk on the roads.

The island boasts a beautiful view of downtown Vancouver, and is home to the famous public market, a distillery and brewery, and many artisan stores. It has some pretty nifty houseboats too!

We came back the next day to take a tour of Liberty Distillery and had a fun time tasting their craft vodka, gin, and white whiskey (pictured below). The island also houses Granville Island Brewing, which does its own tours and tastings.

Aside from the walking tours, we enjoyed spending time at the Aquarium on Stanley Island, the Museum of Vancouver, and the Museum of Anthropology (pictured below). All of these are worth a visit if you find yourself in Vancouver. Students: remember to have your Student I.D. with you to get admissions discounts.

Another of Vancouver’s highlights for the more nerdy amongst you is the Storm Crow Alehouse. It’s got boardgames; a wide assortment of beers, whiskeys, and cocktails; and every piece of geek paraphernalia you can think of. We took a chance and rolled a D20 for some mystery shots, and I even got my hands on a Cthulhu-holding-a-pint-of-beer enamel pin. I would totally make a day trip from Seattle just to spend a couple of hours at this bar. Oh! And it’s also where I tried poutine for the first time. It. Was. Heaven.

Overall, we had a wonderful time in Vancouver and have already started a list of things we want to see and do during our next visit. If you’ve ever been, feel free to add your recommendations/tips below!

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