The insider advice on this page is from one of Wendy’s Trusted Travel Experts for Western Canada: Marc Telio of Entrée Canada.
Born in Montreal and now based in Vancouver, Marc is most passionate about helping travelers discover Canada’s wildest places, most jaw-dropping landscapes, and most thrilling activities. His favorite itineraries combine unusual outdoor excursions (think grizzly-bear sightings and heli-hiking) with character-rich accommodations (think luxury tented camps and sumptuous wilderness lodges). Marc and his team are like special-ops agents—pros at logistics, taking into account weather patterns, tides, seaplane schedules, and dozens of other details to ensure a hassle-free backcountry experience. Their tight-knit relationships with top outfitters, guides, and hotels translate to V.I.P. treatment for you. And if you’re looking for kid-friendly adventures, Marc has plenty of ideas up his sleeve—he regularly brings his wife and their two kids on scouting trips.
Where to Stay and Eat
Best bang-for-your-buck hotel
Wickaninnish Inn, is a beautiful property on the west coast of Vancouver Island: Its 75 guest rooms and suites are surrounded by the province’s most dramatic and wild playground, The Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, which is backed by the Vancouver Island Ranges and facing the Pacific Ocean. The Wick is not only in a gorgeous spot, but it’s also a great value because it’s an inn, as opposed to an all-inclusive wilderness lodge with built-in activities that you’d be paying for even if they weren’t exactly what you wanted. Instead, you only pay for the rooms, and then Marc can arrange for your pick of adventures through the best local outfitters: sea kayaking, whale and bear watching, rainforest hikes, an indigenous-led tour to learn about the local communities, visits to local hot springs, and rainforests walks with a naturalist.
As wilderness lodges go, it’s hard to beat the value for dollar you get at Sonora Resort, a Relais & Chateaux property in the Discovery Islands. Unlike similar lodges, Sonora doesn’t require a minimum stay, and its rates include the room, meals, and beverages, but you pay extra for the activities you want. And there are plenty to choose from! The resort has excellent wildlife programs, where you can see whales, grizzlies, seals, sea lions, eagles, or dolphins. You can also choose to go sea kayaking or salmon fishing, or just hang out at the fabulous spa. Marc’s guests who book here get a complimentary two-hour wilderness excursion by zodiac.
Restaurant the locals love
Kishimoto is a phenomenal Japanese place, but it’s so local and has such a casual environment that you can wear flip-flops and shorts if you wish. Their specialty is oshi sushi, which is rectangular sushi that has been compressed in a box. The two must-taste dishes are the okonomiyaki (a grilled pancake with shrimp and vegetables) and the smoked salmon oshi sushi, which comes on a little plate with a small glass dome over it that you pull off. The dome is filled with smoke, and that’s what they use to “smoke” the fish because it’s not cooked. The restaurant doesn’t take reservations; you just line up outside and they’ll text you when your table is ready. It’s totally worth the wait and it’s in a funky, hip part of town, East Vancouver, so there are plenty of places to window-shop while you wait.
Meals worth the splurge
Hawksworth Restaurant, inside the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, is a three-time winner of Vancouver Magazine’s Best Upscale Restaurant award. Chef David Hawksworth mixes European techniques with local and seasonal ingredients, and like the city itself, the restaurant’s atmosphere is both sophisticated and approachable.
Blue Water Café and Oyster Bar. It’s super high-level seafood cooking, but made accessible for everyone. It’s in Yaletown, Vancouver’s hip warehouse district, and is more affordable than Hawksworth. The seafood tower is the thing not to miss; it’s a tiered platter with everything from lobster to BC oysters to fresh salmon and crabs hanging off it. It’s beautiful.
Dynasty is in the most nondescript place and it’s not even a pretty-looking restaurant, but it has won several local awards, and it’s where Chinese people go to eat. Most everything is good here, but for a treat, splurge on the king crab dish that costs between $500 and $800, depending on the market price.
Prime picnic spot
Spanish Banks Beach is a nearly two-mile stretch of beach and parkland with dramatic mountain vistas and a stunning view of Vancouver’s city center. Every Sunday in the summer, they have a drum circle—it’s a super hippie scene that’s really fun to see. You’ll see upwards of 20 people from different parts of the city all coming together to play on different types of drums, tambourines, and percussion instruments, and they just make unbelievable music. Everyone is welcome to play or listen, and plenty of people set up hibachis here to barbecue.
What to See and Do
The Great Bear Rainforest stretches from Alaska to Seattle. It’s a temperate rainforest that’s extremely lush and dense with thick, old growth — and only a few regions on earth have that kind of rainforest. The Great Bear actually goes right through Vancouver, so you can wander through the city’s Stanley Park to see parts of it, or you can take a seaplane just a couple hours north for a day trip, or you can explore it from a coastal wilderness lodge. But any way you want to do it, it should not be missed.
Every summer day, hundreds of tourists surround the famous steam clock in the heart of Vancouver’s Gastown neighborhood. Yes, it’s a nice-looking clock, and every hour steam comes out of it, along with a lovely chime…but there are many more interesting ways to spend your time in this vibrant city.
Sewell’s Marina, in Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver. Rent a boat from Sewell’s and cruise up Howe Sound to Bowen Island, bring lunch for a picnic, and then come back. You pay by the hour and it’s fun and beautiful, and all those little islands in Howe Sound are filled with rainforest. You have to be confident enough to manage the most basic boat; the equivalent in Italy would be renting a Vespa on Lake Como.
Marc is friends with a chief of a local indigenous First Nations band, the Musg̱a̱makw Dzawada̱’enux̱w, and with his help Marc offers a seaplane day trip up to Alert Bay to see grizzly bears feeding on salmon and to learn about the spiritual significance of these animals to the First Nations people. The trip is wild, and it ends with a salmon BBQ on the beach. It’s not cheap, but the experience is unmatched and unavailable through any other provider. Plus, if you’re interested, Marc can arrange for you to make an attempt to go kayaking with killer whales on the same day (though it’s really up to the whales).
Best for thrill-seekers
Fly to Whistler Resort in either a private helicopter or seaplane. Once there, you will land on a glacier to have a private picnic lunch in an ice cave; afterward, Marc can set up a private rappelling course down a rock face next to a waterfall.
For warm-weather activities in British Columbia, June, July, and August are your best bets. The days are usually clear and sunny (ideal for seaplane and helicopter flights) and the seasonal wilderness lodges, which typically open in mid-May, have been operating long enough to work out any kinks. The summer months are also prime time for kayaking, hiking, fishing, and river rafting, not to mention bear- and whale-watching.
January and February has the most reliable snowfall, making it ideal for not just skiing, but also dogsledding, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. You also have a good chance of seeing the Northern Lights. March brings warmer temperatures—nice for spring skiing but not ideal for other winter sports.
November and April. The wilderness lodges are closed, wildlife viewing is almost non-existent, skiing conditions are spotty, and the weather is unpredictable. That said, Vancouver is beautiful every month of the year!
Beware of buying so-called native artwork. Original pieces compete with knock-offs that are often produced overseas. Check any art that you plan to purchase for the Authentic Indigenous logo, which ensures that the piece has been designed and produced locally.
As a Vancouverite, one of my favorite things to do on the weekend is walk or bike the beautiful Stanley Park Seawall, taking in the harbor and mountain views from this 13-mile path which lines the city’s stunning waterfront. At the entrance, you’ll find a handful of companies that rent bikes by the hour.
Granville Island, in Vancouver, is a bustling shopping district full of funky stores, artisans’ workshops, food producers, a dedicated children’s section, a collection of wonderful restaurants, and a thriving Farmer’s Market. The island is full of buskers, musicians, and artists, making it a truly cultural experience. You can drive there from downtown, or walk to False Creek and take the Aquabus (a cute little ferry that looks more like a bathtub than a boat).
Aboriginal art. British Columbia has a huge community of talented native crafting everything from carved masks and canoe paddles to soapstone sculptures and intricate weavings. Some of the top galleries showcasing this kind of work in Vancouver are Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery, Douglas Reynolds Gallery, Hills Native Art Gallery, and Lattimer Gallery. Also see “Scam Alert.”