How to Enjoy Vancouver in the Rain
By Kathy Chin Leong
Most people love Vancouver during the sunshine, but I love Vancouver in the rain. The misty skies, pinwheeling umbrellas, and hoards of Vancouverites huddled over steaming mochas makes me grin.
This past March, my friend Juli and I planned a short vacation to check out the happenings in this hip port city. The decision was made from the outset that to keep our friendship in tact, we would give each other permission to pursue independent activities. With that in mind, we looked forward to the perfect getaway. However, once we landed, we were in for a surprise - torrential rain. We weren't expecting showers, but rather than complain about it, I embraced it. (Juli, however, was not as enthused.) Okay, our shoes got soaked when we piled out of taxi cabs, and our coiffed hairdos went kaput, but pelting rain is what the real Vancouver is about much of the year. If you are used to cold places like Washington and Seattle, Vancouver is not an issue.
The advantages of visiting during the rainy season are many. First, if you are an authentic sojourner who craves authentic cultural immersion, so why not endure what the local folks do when its wet and gray?
The second benefit is that you witness a spectrum of local color normally unobserved during the silly months of summer. Between showers, you see carefree rainbows cast themselves over the totem poles at Stanley park.
You slow down to appreciate the shades of chestnut and umber during an intimate coffee tasting at popular Milano Coffee, owned by master baristas Brian and Linda Turko. Milano reigns as one of at least 20 independent java haunts in Vancouver. An underground network of coffee artists seem to dominate the city's cafes, all possessing the super power of creating intricate flowers and heart designs out of dollops of foamed milk. Like Seattle, Vancouver is saturated with coffee geeks who make it a point to understand the bean like another course of college study.
In addition to coffee roasteries, you notice a galaxy of designer bumbershoots racing across the urban streets before the signal lights turn red. And, if you are in a crowd, you learn the art of dodging the spiky tips so you don't get gouged in the eye. By the way, there's quite the umbrella culture here. Businesses like the Umbrella Shop have turned the utilitarian umbrella into a sought-after fashion accessory. These umbrellas and parasols have such luscious prints and patterns that customers buy them even when its sunny.
Another reason to come in the winter is to appease your inner cheapskate. Prices are much less for lodging compared to the prime spring and summer months. At the new and modern Shangri-La Hotel, which boasts the largest bathrooms in town, rooms were going for $200 per night in March compared to double that amount in July. And at the tony and European-styled Wedgewood with white-gloved doormen, lodging was a bargain at $250 per night for a suite. With so many deals off-season, you can afford to go hotel hopping and splurge at some of the fanciest pamper palaces in Van. (Yes, I said, "Van." That is what the locals call Vancouver).
The dearth of tourists makes you feel like you hit the lottery because you can pack in more sightseeing during winter than the summer. No lines, no jockeying for position, no crossing your fingers for show tickets. Over at Canada Place plaza is where you'll find FlyOver Canada, one of ten Must-Sees in Vancouver. This simulated movie ride rattles and shakes you in your seat in front of panoramic landscape. (FYI: People with motion sickness like Juli need not apply.) Me and five others applauded when the show concluded.
Later when Juli mustered her courage, she joined me at the Vancouver Lookout, a 430-foot observation tower downtown. We experienced 360 skyline views, and freely moved around the platform, oohing and ahhing over the day's pink and orange sunset. At the iconic marble pillared Vancouver Gallery, we gazed at priceless First Nation's carvings up close.
It can feel oppressive seeing nothing but monochrome skies, so our visit to the famous Granville Island Market left us giddy. Brilliant hues leapt out at us as if we had been color starved for months. Ruby cherries, peaches, green grapes, bananas... The myriad of cheese stalls, salami vendors, fresh bakeries and more transported us to heavenly realms.
Restaurants on rainy evenings are especially cozy. When it pours, diners shake off the drops from their umbrellas and rain jackets like shaggy dogs after a bath. As diners emerge from the cold into a warm, dry establishment and inhale the intoxicating aromas of sizzling garlic and roasting meats, they literally transform. Gone are the burdens and distresses of the day. They are now lighter, carefree, smiling, ready to devour cooked prey. I count ourselves lucky to have bagged reservations at some of the best restaurants in town: Chambar, Salt Tasting Room, Market by Jean-georges, Forage Restaurant, Blue Water Cafe. I believe food tastes better when it is cold outside. In March, fewer crowds also means you can easily book tables at fabulous restaurants that would require reservations weeks, even months in advance.
As much as possible, I was determined not to let the rain dampen my spirits or make me cancel plans if I didn't have to. And so, being the foodie that I am, I was determined to try out a few of the 40 food trucks that wander the downtown corridor. I didn't mind standing in the rain to try the award-winning butter chicken schnitzel at Vij's Railway Express.
Yes, even when it was freezing outside and water was coming down in sheets, I sought out a gourmet ice cream parlor. I sampled a litany of flavors until I settled on the high octane coffee at BC Bella Gelateria. With umbrella in one hand and gelato in another, I triumphantly pounded the downtown streets of Vancouver, window shopping and giddily licking my cone confection.
And having heard of the Vancouver Bienniale where artists are commissioned every two years to create public art sculptures, I wanted to find the series of 14 laughing men bronze sculptures that are reportedly the most photographed in Vancouver. We hired a cab to take me there, and while Juli decided to avoid the downpour, I jumped out to take a snapshot while struggling to keep my camera dry. Was it worth the $15 cab fare? Definitely!
When the ground is slick, it doesn't behoove you to trot cross the world famous, 230-foot high, 450-feet long Capilano Suspension Bridge, or commit to activities that may prove perilous with one wrong move. In a downpour, you improvise and explore new places out of necessity. For us, these uncharted territories included a visit to the architecturally glorious St. Andrew's-Wesley United Church, chock full of stained glass murals depicting Biblical accounts, ancient stonework, and cathedral ceilings. We also made a last minute appointment to see the modern art Renni Collection in Chinatown in a former Chinese language school where immigrants sent their children to retain their culture. Later that same day, we stumbled upon the Chali-Rosso Art Gallery which was unveiling a rare collection of Salador Dali sculptures.
All of that shuffling about in the rain and wind did make me tired, and that was a great excuse to duck into the spa at the new Fairmont Pacific Rim. With separate men's and women's lounges providing fruit and hot teas, this vast spa also has a series of stunning outdoor whirlpools with flat screen televisions to accompany each one. After my massage, clad with my robe and swimsuit, I marched outside to face the stormy elements, and soaked in the 102 degree hot tub with no one around to bother me by making small talk about the weather.
Four out of the five days, the weather girl on tv called the rains torrential. In California we were and still are experiencing a severe drought. I can't remember the last time water splashed on my face other than in the shower, so instead of a bummer, this was a treat for both Juli and myself, two California girls accustomed to sunshine all year around.
If I can learn to love it, you, too, can enjoy the pleasures of Vancouver in the rain. Remember, at the bottom of every Vancouver rainbow is a barista with a mug of coffee with a heart-shaped crest of foam brewed just for you.
Vancouver Visitors Bureau: www.visitvancouver.com.