Boasting that they have the largest gay population in Western Canada, Vancouver is a must visit destination. Its beautiful city is wrapped by the ocean and is framed by snowcapped mountains. The city is consistently voted one of the best places in the world to live. Many cruises going to Alaska either begin or end in Vancouver. I had just completed an Alaskan cruise when I spent a couple of days there.
The entire city is very gay friendly but there are two specific gay-centric hotspots. These two areas boast the very best of Vancouver's gay culture. The first neighborhood is Davie Village. Located in the heart of Vancouver's West End neighborhood, Davie Village is where you will find vibrant pink bus shelters, lazy cafes, mouthwatering multicultural cuisine, oceanside strollers and sizzling nightclubs. Rainbow banners line the street posts of this 24/7 hub of activity. Vancouver's sandy beaches, beautiful parks, and spectacular natural scenery are just steps away.
The second neighborhood is Commercial Drive. It is known locally as "The Drive". This is a popular neighborhood for the thriving lesbian community. This edgy and eclectic east side neighborhood is packed with Italian coffee shops, independent bars and restaurants along with vintage clothing boutiques.
For those who want to oil up and hit the sand, there is no better place than Wreck Beach. Canada's first and largest clothing-optional stretch of sand is located adjacent to the University of British Columbia campus. Wreck beach is also one of Out Travel's top five picks for nude beaches in North America.
Another highly recommended part of Vancouver is the unique Granville Island. It is located close to the downtown area and Davie Village. You can easily spend a full day exploring this fascinating urban oasis. There are theaters, numerous one-of-a-kind galleries, specialty boutiques, large public market, shops, restaurants, pubs scenery and more. Getting to and from the Island can be a fun and scenic experience on its own. There are two mini ferries along with The Vancouver Trolley that make the trip more interesting.
While in Vancouver the Celebration of Light Fireworks Festival was taking place. This is the largest off-shore fireworks competition in the world, which illuminates the sky over English Bay and the downtown core with an amazing pyrotechnic show choreographed to music and showcased free to the public. Last July, which was the 22nd annual event- Vietnam, Brazil and Italy put their best sparklers forward.
There is always so much going on in Vancouver for the gay community. Their annual Pride Parade overlaps with the Fireworks Festival, which is perfect timing in my book. The Vancouver Pride Society plans such thing as: Picnic in the Park, Pride Movie Night, Barefoot Davie Street Dance Party, and a Pride Market.
Vancouver is also known for their truly outstanding restaurants. There are many food tours available. The one that I chose was the "Guilty Pleasures Gourmet Tour" with Vancouver Foodie Tours. Michelle Ng is the founder and tour guide of Vancouver Foodie Tours. Billed as "3 hours of Bliss" I was excited and anxious. The tour consisted of six courses, twelve tastings and many surprises. We began the tour at Kirin Restaurant. They have been nominated best Dim Sum for the past six years. The group sat down to share in Dim Sum. Not only was the food excellent but Michelle shared many tips on the history of "going to Dim Sum" along with many educational anecdotes. The group walked from establishment to establishment, while we got to see sights, the group heard history of Vancouver. We visited a wine merchant, a Beer-Centric Comfort food restaurant, a Japanese Sake Bar and a Gelateria. When getting to each place we visited, we were greeted by the owner of the establishment. They would give us a brief history of their place of business along with a background of what we were going to taste. As a small business owner, their "story" both excited and intrigued me, not to mention how delicious the tasting was.
I felt that the highlight of the tour was Bella Gelateria. We met James, the owner, who had just returned from Florence, Italy, where he won first place in two categories (technical jury and people's choice) in the 2012 Florence Italy Gelato Festival. This was the first time the awards went to a non-Italian native. Having had gelato in Rome, I can truly say that this was some of the best gelato that I have even tasted. The ingredients are fresh and most of the time local. The combinations of flavors that James uses are very unique. The best part is that the gelato is made right in front of the customers in an open kitchen which can be viewed both from the shop and the street.
I look forward to visiting Vancouver again this year, planning to take another food tour along with a bicycle ride along the sea wall through the infamous Stanley Park. The park consists of many hiking trails and is an evergreen oasis of 400 hectares located close to downtown. There are venues available for dining along with playgrounds, gardens and beaches. Another must see place while in Vancouver.