The bustling city of Vancouver is the best of all worlds: sophisticated, yet relaxed; outdoorsy, yet urban; and super-inviting for any LGBT traveler. Nestled between the gorgeous Pacific Ocean and the majestic Coast Mountains, Vancouver is one of the most diverse cities in the world. With delicious food, gorgeous surroundings, vast shopping and diverse influences from many cultures, I guarantee you will fall in love with this city.
And if you are in love, you can actually get hitched legally here. That's right! Same-sex marriage was legalized here in July 2003. It's a reflection of the unconditional love you feel from this city as a visitor.
My partner and I visited for the first time, and I have to say I truly did fall in love with this city. We did not get married. Not yet. So perhaps we have an excuse to go back again soon andwho knows?maybe get hitched!
We stayed downtown at the Westin Grand ( 433 Robson ) , an exceptional hotel chain committed to the LGBT community, and this was one of the best. Our hotel had gorgeous views of the waterfront and city, plus outstanding service from the concierge, Lisa, to our server in the hotel's restaurant each morning. The Westin Grand is in the middle of everythinggreat shopping, food, beachfront and theatre.
Here is my "must do" list for Vancouver when you visit.
Fresh Markets, troubadours and art galleries abound on Granville Island. You can spend a full day here or just a wonderful afternoon. Because of the influence of Emily Carr University of Art and Design, there is always activity on the island, a cornucopia of delights, and lots of people watching. The locals of Vancouver hang out here so you will feel like an insider. Check out The Arts Club Theatre for a touring show or Granville Island Brewing company for beer sampling. But do not miss lunch at Go Fish, a small metal shack with fresh fish specials caught an hour before it is fried up with chips for you to eat al fresco by the water. Heaven!
And though there are a number of ways get to Granville Island, none is better ( or more gay ) than taking the rainbow-colored Aquabus. Ride open-aired on the waterway from downtown for a great view of the city.
Commercial Drive ( The Drive )
There are two villages in Vancouver, much like Chicago, where the boys and girls gather. For the women, it is Commercial Drive, or "The Drive," as everyone calls it. It's a mixture of a vibrant Italian community with gelato shops and Italian bakeries to free- trade world-beat culture shopsand lesbians everywhere. It's the most eclectic area we visited in Vancouver. While on the Drive check out these hotspots.
Womyn's Ware ( 896 Commercial Drive ) : Vibes, Lube, and toys galore fill this inviting store celebrating women's sexuality since 1995. They even have a DIY area to create the perfect sex toy just for you. Listen to my indepth interview on the store in my Vancouver podcast #383 Article Link Here . Or visit Article Link Here ( and, yes, they ship to the states ) .
Havanna ( 1212 Commercial ) : This restaurant was one of Jennifer Beal's favorites when filming The L Word. Sit out front, people-watch and drink refreshing mojitos. There's live music, Cuban food, and sassy art in their own gallery.
Virgin Mary's ( 1136 Commercial ) : This place features bags, jewelry and women's clothing in a small unique space. These are pieces, sourced locally.
Dream Designs ( 956 Commercial ) : It sells bed, bath, baby and yoga apparel of all-natural goods.
In Again ( 1124 Commercial ) : Consignment shops abound on The Drive and this one brings novelty to their finds. Warm, inviting and easy to shop for that rare piece.
The food is amazing in this city with an emphasis on local grown and fresh fish. Here are some diverse eats that are tops!
Go Fish ( Granville Island ) Off the beaten path on the water in the west harbor boat yard, do not miss this small metal hut cooking freshly caught halibut, salmon or tuna for amazing fish and chips.
Chambar ( 562 Beatty, Crosstown ) This is one of the city's hottest restaurants. The atmosphere is seductive and alive with warm people and staff. Belgian fused with North African cuisine creates a rare and extraordinary dining experience. Moules frites are the house special, but don't pass up the lamb shank with honey, figs, cinnamon and cilantroor the duck filled with flavors of hazelnut and scallions and a side of goat cheese and tarragon gnocchi. Belgian brews plus award-winning cocktails make this place pop. Try the Blue Figoven-roasted figs steeped in gin served with a side of Danish blue cheese. Yum!
Rodney's Oyster Bar ( 1228 Hamilton ) : Rodney's is a good old-fashioned oyster bar with a very young hip clientele and super-hot male staff. Sit at the bar at this Yaletown eatery and enjoy flirting with staff steaming mussels and clams and shucking oysters wearing shirts saying "Suck Me Off" and "Eat Me Raw." Not gay but super queer. And the food is out-of-this-world fresh and tasty.
Nanaimo bars: These bars are in bakeries around the city. Named for the West Coast British Columbian city, Nanaimo, it is most traditionally a chocolate coconut wafer with light vanilla cream filling and bittersweet chocolate on top. Truly my favorite Canadian find!
For the men, location central is Davie Village in the West End. With hot pink bus stops and rainbow flags, it is obvious that this is the gayborhood. There are bars for all types. For example, Score is the gay sports bar, and Celebrities always has exciting and diverse nights for boys and girls. And, just like Chicago, there is a Hamburger Mary's and a Steamworks right on Davie. Stop by these unique businesses:
1181 Tightlounge ( 1181 Davie ) Hot comedian/bartender Ryan Steele will make you a fabulous drink after a day of sightseeing. Queer movies play on the back screen such as Mommie Dearest. 1181 Davie
Qmunity Queer Resource Centre ( 1170 Bute ) Formerly know as the Center, Qmunity is a rich resource for what is happening in the LGBT community. Outreach programs, services and events.
Little Sisters Book and Art Emporium ( 1238 Davie ) The largest selection of LGBT literature in North America. DVD's, local LGBT magazines/papers, lube, toys and more. It's a one-stop shop and an institution.
English Bay: If the weather is nice, head to Davie and Denman to the beach where the boys are. See beautiful bodies, the Pacific Ocean and mountains all from the shores of the bay. However if you want clothing optional, check out Wreak Beach.
Bike ride in Stanley Park
Nothing says Vancouver more than Stanley Park. Lush and magical. An oasis of over 400 fir trees on 1,000 acres. A perfect escape to urban life right next to downtown. Best way to see it is on a bike and they are easy to rent. Ride the outer edge and explore inside for as long as you can.
And special events are always happening in Vancouver. In September the Vancouver Fringe Festival takes over the city. The Out on Screen Queer Film Festival is Aug. 12-22. Vancouver Pride ( July 30-31, 2011 ) is late enough that you can enjoy Chicago's Pride and then head north. And, for you sporty types, don't miss the 2011 North American Outgames ( July 25-31, 2011 ) .
Best of all, Tourism Vancouver wants to bring you and five of your friends to this amazing city with its "Take A Party of 5 To Vancouver Pride 2011" Sweepstakes. Enter to win at Article Link Here . It is free to enter through Dec 31, 2010.
Hope you win or plan your own trip soon.
Resources for any travel to Vancouver should include: tourismvancouver.com and gayvan.com.
Listen to my two-part podcast series on Vancouver at Article Link Here .