We love Vancouver, British Columbia, and I couldn’t believe it had been about six months since I’d last visited. We decided to make it one of our January adventures and booked a night in Gastown for a brief weekend getaway.
As it turned out, the weather was crummy across the region so we certainly weren’t missing anything at home by heading out of town. (Un)fortunately the regional bad weather extended up to Vancouver, which gave us the opportunity to finally do some of the indoor things on our list that we’ve literally been saving for a rainy day.
We left early Saturday morning, spent the first part of our day snowshoeing (LOVED it!), and spent our afternoon mesmerized by the animals at the Vancouver Aquarium.
Here are a few highlights from our trip and some recommendations if you should find yourself experiencing a rainy day in this wonderful city.
Snowshoeing on Mount Seymour
As I was researching hikes in the mountains around Vancouver for our trip, I quickly became overwhelmed by the options as well as the weather forecasts, which didn’t look promising. Although we had a hotel room and were planning to clean up before dinner, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to setting off on a long hike in the middle of the pouring rain and then wandering around town soaking wet.
During my investigation I had a stroke of genius. If we hiked high enough in the mountains, we wouldn’t be contending with rain–we’d be enjoying snow! I quickly found that among other winter sports and activities, Mount Seymour offered snowshoeing, which we’ve been wanting to try for some time.
We started our morning heading to Vancouver’s North Shore and up Mount Seymour. The traffic wasn’t great as they were plowing the roads, but we eventually made it to Parking Lot 5, which is where the snowshoeing folks are relegated. Our blood was pumping by the time we made it to the lodge and rental buildings where a nice group of kids helped us with our rental shoes and showed us the Discovery Trails where we could begin our explorations.
There weren’t that many people snowshoeing so it felt like we had the trails all to ourselves. There was tons of snow on the ground and trees and more falling throughout our hike.
I thought the snowshoes might take some getting used to but they were very simple to strap on over our hiking boots and very easy to walk in. We ended up loving the experience and took some pictures of the brand so we can acquire some when we get back home.
We circled around two lakes and all of the available trails in the Discovery area and then started our trek back to the ski slopes where we were going to cut across to a backcountry area the kids had recommended. Unfortunately the snow had really picked up and some fog was rolling in, such that by the time we reached the other trail system there was an employee stationed there warning of avalanche danger.
It was obvious we would have no visibility of the surrounding area given the weather conditions, and it didn’t seem worth the risk of an avalanche if we weren’t even going to have a good view so we decided to conclude our visit.
Our hike ended up being just over two miles and was a great way to start our ‘rainy’ day!
Lunch at Japadog
We had worked up an appetite after our morning snowshoeing adventure and were in the mood for a crazy, highly recommended Japanese-inspired hot dog operation I found online called Japadog.
While a food truck is not typically an ideal lunch destination in the rain, if you have a nearby hotel or car (as we did) where you can escape to eat your food, then there’s nothing to stop you from grabbing a meal. The service was fast, and before we knew it we had a Kurobuta Terimayo (pork dog with teriyaki sauce, seaweed and Japanese mayo) and an Okonomi (pork dog with Japanese special sauce, Japanese mayo, Bonito flakes and fried cabbage) in hand as well as some butter and shoyu fries and some shichimi and garlic fries.
Note: We were quite hungry but agreed we did not need two orders of fries. Despite the low price, you receive a very generous amount of fries. Both were good but we really like the butter and shoyu fries and if we were to go again, we’d get one order of those to share along with the dogs.
Animal Watching at Vancouver Aquarium
After lunch we drove to Stanley Park to find the Vancouver Aquarium. Despite our love of animals, zoos and aquariums are not usually high on our list of things to do in new cities because we tend to want to see things unique to the area. Many zoos and aquariums feature the same animals as other locations.
Brian was quite skeptical of this stop, especially when he saw the hefty price tag, but not long into our visit he quickly changed his mind. A friend of mine who volunteers with the Seattle Aquarium told me this was one of his favorite aquariums, and I can see why. The space is large with both indoor and outdoor areas, and the animal species range from fish to reptiles to birds to large sea mammals.
One of the standout elements of this aquarium was the variety of jellyfish they care for–almost two dozen kinds! Brian took some awesome shots of a few of them below, which was no small feat on his phone in the dark with them swimming all over the place!
There were tons of tanks filled with fish, coral, anemones, and other species native to the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, which were fascinating. It’s always amazing to me to think about what thrives below the surface of Puget Sound, and a number of similar species exist just off the coast of British Columbia as well.
There was also an area dedicated to the tropics with all kinds of interesting frogs, fish of all shapes and sizes, and snakes! Perhaps the oddest creature we saw was the axolotl (pictured below), which is an endangered salamander from Mexico. This almost translucent white creature has external red gills and unlike other salamanders, lives predominantly under water.
By far my favorite encounter was seeing the giant sea turtle in one of the large tanks on the lower floor of the aquarium. The picture doesn’t remotely demonstrate just how big this creature is, especially from our position directly along the glass. After rooting around in the sand he spread out, turned his belly toward the glass and beat his limbs– it was incredible.
A close follow-up to this experience for me was the outside area of the tropics, which featured monkeys, scarlet ibis, and a sloth! The sloth was making its way along a rope overhead, heading from one end of the open greenhouse to the other to get some lettuce from a lofted bowl. There was nothing separating us, and when it paused to peer down a the crowd below, it literally took my breath away.
Brian’s favorite moment was watching the marine mammals outside. In addition to otters and seals there were a number of sea lions swimming about, including some Steller sea lions, which are the largest species of sea lion in the world and indigenous to the Pacific Northwest. They were bellowing and belching and at one point several of them came out of the water bawling for food.
We stayed right up until the announcements that the aquarium was closing and could have used a little more time–plan to spend at least three hours during your visit.
Dining out in Gastown
After checking into our hotel and cleaning up, we walked over to Gastown for dinner. Usually we check out a few places for drinks and small plates, but we’ve been doing dry January for a few years and wanted to instead have one really nice meal.
The menu at Bauhaus, a German restaurant on the same block as Gassy Jack, looked delicious so we gave it a shot. I would recommend making a reservation–we did not, and we were seated over in a small area with no one around. The kitchen was directly behind me and we enjoyed watching some of the meal preparation, but we certainly didn’t experience the vibe of the overall restaurant, which was taking place around the corner from where we were seated.
I ordered a beetroot soup that was very good as my first course and cheese spaetzle as my entree. I have to admit, the spaetzle wasn’t at all what I was expecting and while it was good, I had trouble getting over the departure from what I was envisioning. This dish was heavy with cooked onions with more fried onions on top–reminiscent in flavor to French onion soup.
Brian was similarly confused by his beet carpaccio initial course, which he thought would have the traditional meat as well as beets. This was instead only beets, and not many of them at that. Happily his wiener schnitzel entree was excellent.
We were ready for bed by the time our meal ended so we wrapped up our evening by enjoying views of Vancouver from our hotel suite. Despite the weather and thanks to a little creativity, we had some incredible experiences during our rainy day in Vancouver that I won’t soon forget.
Until next time, Vancouver!
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