Vancouver’s prime location in Southwestern BC means there are many interesting places to go for the weekend, without having to travel very far.
Whistler is the premier ski resort in North America, and is indeed world-renowned for its quaint Euro-village charm, fine dining, and range of activities. It is a pleasant 2 hour drive away from Vancouver, along the scenic Sea to Sky Highway, and offers world-class accommodations in one of its many hotels or bed and breakfasts. There are a ton of great little bistros, restaurants, cafes, and shops where you can purchase locally-made souvenirs and native crafts. In the winter you can ski or snowboard and in the summer you can dirt bike, zip trek, ride the scenic gondola to the top of the mountain, and so much more. There are many activities suitable for the whole family. The resort is situated at the base of two majestic mountains—Whistler Mountain and Blackcomb Mountain—and is at an elevation of 675 meters (over 2000 feet). Both mountains are over 2000 meters (over 7,000 feet) in elevation, with Blackcomb being the higher of the two. The area receives an annual snowfall exceeding 10 meters (over 33 feet), making it one of the best places for winter sports in the world. Because of Whistler’s proximity to the coast, the average daily temperature in the winter is around -5˚C (22˚F), and it rarely gets colder than -15˚C (5˚F). Average high temperatures in the summer are between 25˚-30˚C (75˚-85˚F).
Take West Georgia Street (westbound) over the Lions Gate Bridge. When you reach the far end, look for the West Vancouver Exit. You will circle around under the bridge onto Marine Drive. Stay in the right-hand lane over a small green bridge and take the first right at Taylor Way. Head up the hill; you’ll see Highway 1 before you. Merge to the left under Highway 1and turn left immediately under the overpass. As you approach Horseshoe Bay, watch for the exit for Squamish and Whistler. You are now on Highway 99, the Sea to Sky Highway, which will take you all the way to Whistler Village.
The best way to find accommodations or further information about things to do in Whistler is to access the website listed above. You can also check http://www.hotels.ca/ for affordable rates on accommodations.
Victoria is the capital of British Columbia, and is known for its temperate climate, historical character, and beautiful gardens. Victoria is situated at the southern tip of Vancouver Island, and is accessed by ferry. The ferry ride is a very pleasant 1 ½ hour trip, and along the way you might spot a whale, or perhaps a group of playful sea lions. You’ll pass through some of the Gulf Islands before reaching Swartz Bay at Sidney, and Victoria is just a short drive from there.
Because of the historical character of the city, there are many charming bed and breakfasts in heritage homes, making this a popular choice for accommodation. There are also several stately hotels. You won’t want to miss Butchart Gardens, a world-renowned cultivated garden offering a magnificent array of plants, trees, and flowers. You’ll also want to explore the area’s museums, gardens, castles, and historical buildings. There is more to do in Victoria than you’ll likely have time for. Children will be delighted with a visit to the Beacon Hill Children’s Farm, a local petting zoo, and the whole family will enjoy the Royal London Wax Museum, with over 300 wax figures.
From Vancouver, take Oak Street (becomes Provincial Route 99) south to Highway 99 (stay on Oak Street). Exit onto Highway 17 and follow the signs to Tsawwassen/Ferries. Take the ferry to Swartz Bay, and then continue on your journey to Victoria (about 30 km from Swartz Bay).
It is best to bring your car onto the ferry, although this is more costly than walking on, but this way you can avoid having to rent a car, and/or relying on public transit that you are unfamiliar with. There is a lot to see and do on Vancouver Island that is not necessarily within walking distance of Victoria’s city center, so having a car is worthwhile. Check the tourism site listed above for links to accommodations, dining, and area attractions. For ferry information, please visit the BC Ferries website: http://www.bcferries.com/.
Harrison Hot Springs
Harrison Hot Springs is a resort and village located in the heart of the Fraser Valley about 1 ½ hours east of Vancouver. The main attraction is two hot spring pools, which have one of the highest concentrations of minerals of any hot springs (1300 ppm). The Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa has sole rights to the water, and pipes it from the source to its 5 indoor and outdoor pools, ranging in temperature from 30˚ to 40˚C. The waters are said to be rejuvenating and they were believed by the native people of the area to be healing as well. The hot springs waters have a high sulfur content. The Resort is situated on Harrison Lake, the largest lake in the Coast Mountains (60 km long, 9 km wide). Things to do include boating, fishing, golf, area tours, hiking, horseback adventures, and relaxing in the hot springs.
From Vancouver, you can take Highway 1 (access from 1st Avenue or Grandview) or the Scenic 7 Highway (Broadway turns into Lougheed Highway which then turns into Highway 7) to reach the Village of Harrison Hot Springs and Harrison Lake. Highway 1 provides the quickest route, while the Scenic 7 is a slower gently winding route.
Most people stay at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort and Spa, and they offer attractive vacation packages throughout the year, so it is worthwhile checking their website: http://www.harrisonresort.com/.
Often compared to Vancouver, Seattle’s flavour is very similar; the city is trendy, urban, with a prominent coffee culture, much like its northern counterpart. Seattle, however, has some unique attractions, such as the famous Space Needle, and the Pike Place Market. For American expats, it can be comforting to know that a taste of home is just across the border, a short 2 ½ hour drive away (of course the border itself is accessed within 30-45 minutes). In addition to the Space Needle and Pike Place Market, there are many more area attractions and things to do in and around Seattle. If you want to see the sites, purchase the Go Seattle Card, which entitles you to free admission to over 30 area attractions. The card can be purchased from a number of locations in Seattle, including the Seattle Visitor Center and Concierge Services: 206-461-5888.
From Vancouver, take Oak Street to Highway 99, and follow all the way to the border, where it becomes Interstate 5. Take I-5 south to Seattle, exiting at 165B onto Union Street. From Union Street, take a left onto 5th Avenue, and then a right onto Madison Avenue. You will find yourself in downtown Seattle, close to the waterfront and Pike Place Market.
Check the website listed above and hotels.com for area accommodations. Be sure to bring passports for the whole family when crossing the border. Passports are now required for all land, sea, and air crossings. If you plan to shop while in the U.S., remember that you can claim up to $400 (CAD) worth of goods without paying any duties ONLY if you stay out for at least 48 hours. If you stay out for 7 days or longer, you can claim up to $750. Otherwise, you are only allowed to claim up to $50 in duty-free goods. Be sure to declare the full value of any goods purchased while in the States when returning to Canada (keep receipts).
The Gulf Islands of British Columbia are a chain of islands situated in the Strait of Georgia, between Vancouver and Vancouver Island. There are more than 200 islands, and the major ones can be accessed by ferry (the smaller ones by private boat or plane). The most popular island is Salt Spring Island, and it is also the most populated. The other most major islands are Denman Island, Galiano Island, Mayne Island, Hornby Island, Saturna Island, Gabriola Island, and Pender Islands (actually two islands joined together by a bridge). The area is famous for its mild climate and calm waters. The islands are home to many artisans/craftspeople, and there are a number of good wineries and holistic farms in the area.
Things to do include the famed Saturday Market at Ganges on Salt Spring Island, outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, swimming, fishing, golfing, kayaking, beach-combing, bird-watching, and cycling, wine-tasting, artisan-food sampling, and touring the artist studios.
Many people spend at least a week “island-hopping,” taking time to fully enjoy the attractions of each island before moving on to the next, but the Gulf Islands are a terrific destination for a weekend getaway as well.
Take the ferry from Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal to Sturdies Bay on Galiano Island; from there you can hop over to Mayne Island, then Saturna Island, Pender Islands, and last, Salt Spring Island. From Salt Spring you can catch a ferry directly back to Tsawwassen. Denman Island can only be accessed from Buckley Bay (1 1/2 hour drive north of Nanaimo) on Vancouver Island, and once on Denman Island, you must drive to Gravelly Bay (east Denman, short drive) where you can catch the ferry to Hornby Island. Gabriola Island can be accessed only from Nanaimo Harbour at Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.
The best way to plan your trip to the Gulf Islands is to visit the BC Ferries website in order to check on ferry schedules and departures. BC Ferries also features a sample itinerary for traveling the Gulf Islands, accessible here: http://www.bcferries.com/travel_planning/itinerary/tours/Gulf_Island_Getaway.html. You can find accommodations on the Gulf Islands by accessing the Hello BC website above. The Gulf Islands Guide website, accessible here, http://www.gulfislandsguide.com/accommodation/index.htm, also provides useful information on the Gulf Islands and where to stay.