Monday, December 8, 2008

Kitsilano: a neighbourhood overview

Kitsilano (aka "Kits") is a popular Vancouver neighbourhood. It's located south-west of downtown Vancouver and is bordered by Alma Street to the west, Burrard Street to the east, W 16th Avenue to the south, and Burrard Inlet to the north.

Kitsilano's neighbourhood boundary (in red)


Kits is often thought of as a trendy beachfront community which is home to many environmental and health conscious folk, yoga and fitness buffs, yuppies, university students, and middle class families. These are huge generalizations for sure, but you get the idea. And hey, David Suzuki lives there!

David Suzuki
David Suzuki


Kits used to be the heart of Vancouver's hippy counter-culture in the late 1960's. While some places, like The Naam - a 24 hour vegetarian restaurant - are still around from that era, Kits has undergone a lot of gentrification since then. But if you're interested in Vancouver's hippy era, this video is slightly amusing:


Hippy culture in Vancouver, 1967


People like Kits because it's close to downtown but you don't have to deal with the noise or the hustle and bustle outside your bedroom window. While it has many small apartments, the residential side streets are mostly lined with beautiful houses with lush, mature gardens. In April the trees along the streets are in bloom with delightful pink cherry blossoms. The average Kits house sells for about $1,200,000 these days, but if that's too much, you can always rent a small basement suite for around $1000 a month.

I think Kitsilano really gives people a sense of what living in Vancouver is all about. Here are the places I think would be the most interesting to a visitor:

Kits Beach

Located along Cornwall Avenue, this is one of Vancouver's most popular beaches. In addition to the sandy beach, it has an outdoor swimming pool, beach volleyball nets, outdoor tennis courts, outdoor basketball courts, and lots of green space. It tends to be one of the busiest beaches in the summer months and can be a bit of a meat market as far as Vancouver's beach culture goes. It's an excellent people-watching location as it's a popular hangout for locals, especially on summer evenings - the sunsets are spectacular. And when you're feeling peckish, there are pubs, cafes, and restaurants across the street along Cornwall and Yew.


Kits Beach on an April afternoon


Kits Beach, Vancouver
...and a sunset later that day


Cornwall & Yew in Kitsilano
The pubs, cafes, and restaurants across the street


West 4th Avenue

This is the commercial heart of Kitsilano. It has a good selection of restaurants and boutiques, including some local institutions such as Zulu Records, Skull Skates, Duthie Books, and Bishop's. There are also some notable grocery options along W 4th including the locally-founded organic and natural foods specialty store, Capers Community Market. W 4th is also known for its cluster of snowboard and skateboard shops which are located just east of Burrard.

Vanier Park

This is a large and relatively nondescript grassy park immediately north-east of Kits Beach at the mouth of False Creek (the body of water that separates the downtown peninsula from Kitsilano). Vanier Park's home to three small museums which are worth visiting on a rainy day: the Vancouver Maritime Museum, the Vancouver Museum, and the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre (otherwise known as the Planetarium).

In the summer months Vanier Park hosts the annual Bard on the Beach Shakespeare festival. There's also a "dog beach" along the west side of Vanier Park where people can take their dogs off-leash (which is typically not permitted on city beaches otherwise). And for those venturing across False Creek, you can catch a water taxi from the dock at Vanier Park.

Vanier Park
Vanier Park


Vanier Park's dog beach
Vanier Park's dog-friendly beach


West Broadway

This is the second commercial heart of Kits located along Broadway west of Macdonald. This particular stretch of Kitsilano feels more like a village in atmosphere, and since it's about 10 blocks away from the water, it lacks the beachy vibe. Because it's closer to UBC (and along a major bus route), it has a large student population. W Broadway is not as self-consciously trendy as W 4th, but that's precisely its charm.

What I like about this area is its slower pace and its mix of smaller, independently-owned boutiques and services. While there are some fantastic shops like the ├╝ber high end men's boutique Mark James Clothing, and some great restaurants like the cozy and exotic East is East, I quite enjoy the neighbourhood's locally-owned bakeries, delis, and cafes. My favourites is Notte's Bon Ton Pastry & Confectionary which is possibly Vancouver's longest-running pastry shop. And finally, Kitsilano is the traditional home of Vancouver's Greek community, so you'll find a few Greek restaurants and speciality shops, like Parthenon Importers. In the summer, they close down entire blocks of Broadway so that the neighbourhood can hosts its annual Greek Day festival.

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