Enjoy a short trip to this waterfront city for a song.
Vancouver can be an expensive city, but there are ways to keep daily expenses low. The big advantage for Americans is the favorable exchange rate. One Canadian dollar equals $0.75, which makes it seem like you get a 25 percent discount on anything you buy. Here's our plan for spending a weekend there without breaking the bank.
Saturday: Whirlwind Overview
Fuel up for your day at Tim Hortons, the ubiquitous Canadian fast-food cafe. The coffee is strong ($1.47 for a large) and the breakfast options substantial, such as the Bagel B.E.L.T. with bacon, egg, lettuce, tomato, and cheese ($2.86). Once you've got your energy going, the Stanley Park Seawall is a must for its incredible views of the city's natural beauty, and access is free. You can walk, run, or bike the roughly 5.5 mile paved trail, which follows the water and offers vistas of the mountains, trees, and dramatic rock formations.
Come lunchtime, Meat & Bread in Gastown is a foodie sandwich shop with an enthusiastic following. You can sit in the industrial-chic dining space and enjoy a porchetta sandwich ($7) at the communal table or bar counter. Afterwards, head to Chinatown: The first big wave of Chinese immigrants into Vancouver settled into Shanghai and Canton Alleys between 1890 and 1920. Today, the Chinese make up a high percentage of the city's population. You can explore the cradle of this ethnic group in Chinatown and browse through exotic markets and stores.
Asian cuisines are big in Vancouver, so for dinner, grab a seat at Marutama Ra-Men, which specalizes in the chicken broth-based noodle soup. This is a popular spot in the West End, so get there early to avoid the line out the door, and try the original Marutama Ra-Men for $7.
There's still time to sight-see in the evening. H.R. MacMillan Space Centre charges an entrance fee, but you can visit the Observatory next door for free (or choose to give a donation) from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Saturdays. You can look at the stars up close via a half-meter Cassegrain telescope and ask questions of the knowledgeable staff.
Sunday: The Great Outdoors
Ease into the day at JJ Bean, a local, family-owned coffee roasting company with several popular café locations around Vancouver. You can get a large coffee for $2 and a breakfast chorizo wrap for $5.50. To save on lunch, grab a ready-to-eat meal for less than $8 at a Safeway downtown—they offer a wide variety of options, from fresh-fish sushi to fried chicken—then make your way to Lynn Canyon, a free park about a half-hour drive, or an hour bus ride, from downtown. You can marvel at rushing water below while standing on the suspension bridge and hike through trails along pine-scented forest and a tranquil lake, then settle down for lunch in the park.
Later in the day, the Granville Island Public Market is worth a stroll for culinary inspiration. There are beautiful local, artisanal, and handcrafted items on display, such as cured meats, specialty cheeses, and baked goods. Make your way to Canada Place, a landmark in Coal Harbour with lovely panoramic views of the water and mountains. You can watch the boats, rowers, and sea planes go by.
In the evening, get a taste of authentic Cantonese cuisine at Hon's Wun-Tun House, a cafeteria-style eatery on busy Robson Street. You can order a dish of 12 pork, beef, chicken, or vegetable potstickers that are fried, steamed, or in soup for $5.
Aileen Torres-Bennett covers the Vancouver beat for Travel + Leisure. Follow her blog at: abttorres.wordpress.com.