If you're in Vancouver for the Winter Olympics, congratulations. If not, fear not - the city will still be there when the Games are a memory, and it will still be a cool place to be.
The first time I visited Vancouver, I was in backpacker mode. I took a Canadian National train from Toronto through the lakes and woods of Ontario, across the broad Prairies, through the Canadian Rockies of Alberta and British Columbia and on into Canada's largest West Coast city. I slept in my seat during the three-day trip to save money. When I arrived, I found that Vancouver was booked tight for an international convention of Jehovah's Witnesses. I hopped a Greyhound bus and kept going all the way to Oakland, California. I spent only a few hours in Vancouver, so the inaugural visit was pretty much a bust.
Things have picked up for me since then, I am happy to say. I have revisited Vancouver many times and stayed more than a few hours. I've had some great food, stayed in some great hotels - I've actually been able to sleep while prone instead of crumpled into a seat - and had fun exploring the town and just hanging out.
Here are good places to check out in Van - as the city is known to some of its fans - if you are planning to go. It's a short list of tips, and totally subjective - omitting, for example, the fabulous Asian food and shops in Richmond, near the airport, and designated fun zones such as Gastown. But I think it will hold up. Anyway, here it is:
Bacchus, Wedgewood Hotel, 845 Hornby St., tel. 604.689.7777, http://www.wedgewoodhotel.com/. My wife's favorite eatery in all of this redoubtable food town. This is formal French cuisine at its best, in elegant surroundings, with a fine wine list. Not cheap, but worth it.
Glowbal Grill, 1079 Mainland St., tel. 604.629.3024, http://www.glowbalgrill.com/. Yes, that's Glowbal with a W. Juicy steaks and savory satays are featured. Located in Yaletown, a lively district of converted warehouses. Glowbal is a good place for a drink, too.
West, 2881 Granville St., tel. 604.738.8938, http://www.westrestaurant.com/. Cutting-edge, seasonal food in stylish surroundings with a chic bar. Formerly known as Ouest, reborn under executive chef Warren Geraghty.
Refuel, 1944 W. Fourth St., tel. 604.288.7905, http://www.refuelrestaurant.com/). Located in the Kitsilano district, a 10-minute cab ride from downtown. I liked its predecessor, Fuel, where I sat at the counter and chatted with the hospitable cooks and servers. Writing of Refuel, the New York Times cited "the tattooed chef Robert Belcham.'' There's something more interesting about him: his food. Refined but not intimidating, Belcham's fare is very good comfort food.
Wedgewood Hotel, see above. A small, European-style hotel with conservatively elegant furnishings and comfortable suites. Downtown. The Bacchus Lounge is a good place for breakfast.
Fairmont Hotel Vancouver Airport, Richmond, B.C., tel. 866.540.4441, http://www.fairmontvancouverairport.com/. Don't laugh. This decade-old 4-star hotel is located actually in the airport, right above U.S. departures. It has essential sound-proofing and a stress-busting spa. 20 minutes from downtown by SkyTrain.
Loden Hotel, 1177 Melville St., tel. 604.669.5060, http://www.theloden.com/. This cool 'style' hotel, with its chic bar, opened in late 2008 in the Coal Harbour area near downtown. Voya restaurant keynotes the 77-room hotel.
Shangri-la Hotel, 1128 W. Georgia St., tel. 604.689.11120, http://www.shangri-la.com/. Opened in 2009, this branch of the Hong Kong luxury chain occupies the first 15 floors of a tallest-in-town 61-story tower. Don't miss the Tibetan-themed CHI Spa and the groovy bar.
Vancouver Art Gallery, downtown Vancouver, http://www.vanartgallery.bc.ca/. A good place to check out West Coast art and artists such as the painter Emily Carr, associated with Canada's Group of 7. Through May 2, the VAG is mounting a display of Leonardo da Vinci's master drawings of the human body, called "Leonardo da Vinci: The Mechanics of Man.''
Robson Street, also downtown. Just walk it and follow your nose. Noodle joints, bars, shops, lots of car-cruising and eyeballing, it's central Van's liveliest street.
Granville Island, on False Creek, near downtown by the Granville Street Bridge. Actually a tidy spur of landlocked shops, food markets, eateries and more. It's served by water taxis from parts of downtown. I met Masa Shiraki there in his Artisan Sake Maker shop. Shiraki, who emigrated to Canada from Japan, holds tastings of his house-made saki on-site. Don't miss the surprisingly rich and finished B.C. red wines in shops on and off Granville Island.
University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology, 6393 NW Marine Dr., tel. 604.822.5087, http://www.moa.ubc.ca/. Nope, it's not dry as dust and not boring. This is an extensive and thoughtful take on the cultures of B.C.'s First Nations, the native cultures who preceeded Europeans and other later arrivals in this beautiful province.
Stanley Park, West End, on English Bay. Well, duh! you say - how obvious. It IS obvious. But Stanley Park, the green heart of Vancouver, ringed by a scenic seawall great for biking, walking, roller-blading, jogging and taking in the breathtaking view of the mountains across the water, is a must-do anyway. It's one of the great urban parks.
For more information, contact Tourism Vancouver (http://www.tourismvancouver.com/, tel. 604, 682.2222), which represents the city, or Tourism British Columbia (http://www.hellobc.com/, tel. 800.435.5622), which represents the whole province. Both are among the best in the business.