So it's Valentine's Day and I'm sure a large majority of lovey-dovey couples are scrambling around last minute trying to plan what to do. (Hint: check the Georgia Straight).
While there's always Purdy's, red roses, and candlelight dinners, this year Valentine's Day falls on a Saturday!
That got me thinking... why wait until evening to celebrate? Why not turn your Valentine's Day into a full day's outing instead? Or better yet - make it a Valentine's Weekend!
Here are 9 Valentine's Day activities that I think could be fun, memorable, and atypically romantic... all in and around Greater Vancouver!
#1 - George C. Riefel Bird Sanctuary
Westham Island, Ladner (Delta), BC
What's more romantic than a tranquil stroll along the river through wooded parkland while seeking out the local wildlife? Thousands of migratory birds call this large piece of Fraser River estuary home, especially right now in the winter months. For $0.50 a bag of seed, you can feed the birds by hand, whether it be the tiny chickadees or the frenzy of mallard ducks and Canada geese. Keep your eyes peeled for eagles, owls, and the elusive sandhill crane. You may even witness the flight of the snow geese. Walk the outer perimeter of the park where the Fraser River empties into Georgia Strait and you'll be rewarded with panoramic vistas from Mount Baker to the San Juan Islands, the Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island, and even the mountains along the Sunshine Coast.
Daily Hours: 9am-4pm (although once inside, you can stay later than 4pm)
Admission: $4 adults, $2 children
#2 - Snowshoeing on Mount Seymour
North Vancouver, BC
Forget about skiing & snowboarding with the hoards at Cypress, Grouse, or Whistler. Forget about all the equipment and expenses that go along with it. Take it easy (on the wallet and your body) with a romantic winter walk on Mount Seymour through the snow-covered forest. While the other mountains are more famous for their skiing, I really liked Mount Seymour for snowshoeing when I went last February. Snowshoe rentals are cheap and you don't need any special equipment. Tromp through the forested trails on your own, or register in advance for their guided Valentine's Day snowshoe & fondue tour. Where else do you tread up the mountain to a panoramic vista overlooking the city lights where your personal tour guide creates a candlelight "fire" and prepares chocolate and fruit fondue? And the best part? When you're descending, you can use the steep snow-covered hillsides as slides!
Saturday Hours: 8:30am-4pm (daytime) 7-9pm (fondue tour)
Admission: Full-day trail pass w/rental $27 (adults) $22 (kids) or $9 for trail pass only. $130 per couple for the Valentine's Day chocolate fondue tour.
#3 - Vancouver Museum’s "Unnatural History of Stanley Park" Exhibit
For the curiosity seekers, the history lovers, or visiting Vancouverphiles, the Vancouver Museum's latest feature exhibit - the Unnatural History of Stanley Park - is in its last weekend. This is your last chance to see a really interesting exhibit on the secrets of Vancouver's most beloved urban park. If you think you know Stanley Park now, think again. Much of what we take for granted as "natural" is in reality a legacy of careful planning and management - some of it totally socially unacceptable by today's standards. When you're done with the Stanley Park exhibit, you can tour the Vancouver History Galleries featuring Vancouver through the decades, from the 1900's until the present. Most fascinating are the exhibits on the 60's and 70's, especially the social movements which helped save neighbourhoods we take for granted today, like Chinatown and Commercial Drive.
Weekend Winter Hours: 10am-5pm
Admission: $11 (adult), $9 (senior), $7 (youth: 5-17), free (5 and under)
#4 - Lynn Canyon Regional Park
North Vancouver, BC
If you're seeking a memorable outdoor activity, several hours at Lynn Canyon Regional Park is a favourite of mine. Unlike the overhyped and overpriced Capilano Suspension Bridge, Lynn Canyon has a very similar suspension bridge, except that it's free (and lacks the busloads of tour groups) and the surrounding park is massive. The easy walking trails scale both sides of Lynn Canyon where you can wander under the canopy of the temperate rainforest, across turquoise pools and waterfalls, and down to the riverbed of meltwater streams. Last year when I visited Lynn Canyon, it was around the same time, and despite there being no snow in the city, there was actually snow on the ground in the park. The entire scene was enchanting and mystical. Honestly? If you can't get out to Tofino's rainforests this weekend, consider Lynn Canyon to channel that primal atmosphere instead.
Daily Hours: 7am until dusk
#5 - Domaine de Chaberton Winery Tour
Most people don't realize that they don't have to drive 5 hours to the Okanagan in order to visit a winery - with a climate that mirrors northern France, there are actually quite a few wineries in and around the Fraser Valley. Owned by a French expat couple, Domaine de Chaberton is one of the longest established local wineries, located out in southern Langley. If you have access to a car, a winery tour makes for a great excuse to take those slow and scenic backroads through the pastoral countryside. Take a winery tour, taste the wine, and when you're done, buy some bottles to bring back for a romantic dinner later on! Or, if you feel like treating yourselves, have a meal at the winery's very own Bacchus Bistro.
Daily Hours: 10am-6pm Monday-Saturday, 11am-6pm Sunday - winery tours at 2pm & 4pm
#6 - Aberdeen Centre
So this isn't traditionally romantic as far as Valentine's Day is concerned, but that's the point. If you've never visited Richmond's Asia West (aka: the Asian shopping district) before, now is the time to do so! Culturally, it's more similar to flashy, image-conscious, contemporary Hong Kong than to anywhere else in North America, including Vancouver's old relic of a Chinatown. Well, Asia West dwarfs Chinatown. Richmond's No. 3 Road (between Bridgeport and Granville Avenue) is home to dozens - and I do mean dozens - of shopping plazas (often as big as city blocks) full of businesses, restaurants, and services that cater to the predominantly affluent Hong Kong immigrant clientele - a significant portion of Richmond's demographic. Particularly noteworthy, however, is Aberdeen Centre - a large feng shui behemoth of a shopping centre. Inside the mall you'll find a variety of Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurants, food courts (with street food favourites and bubble tea), clothing boutiques, and my favourite: the Daiso - a Japanese department store where every item is $2. When you're done with Aberdeen, you can stroll across the street to Yaohan or nextdoor to Parker Place - tripling your Hong Kong shopping mall experience... and that's only scraping the surface!
Daily Hours: 11am-9pm Thursday to Saturday, 11am-7pm Sunday to Wednesday & holidays
#7 - VanDusen Botanical Garden
I know. You wouldn’t typically think of visiting a botanical garden in February, but you'd be surprised at just how enjoyable it is. After all, this is coastal BC - the plants don't die and the trees are still green. You'd be surprised at what actually persists through the winter. And at this time of year it can feel as if you have the entire 55 acre gardens to yourselves! So that's 2-3 hours of meandering through beautifully maintained gardens arm in arm with that special someone. This is truly one of my favourite retreats from the hustle and bustle, and hey - they have a hedge maze! A hedge maze!
February Hours: 10am-4pm
Admission: $6.50 (adult), $4.70 (senior), $4.70 (youth)
#8 - Vancouver Police Museum
If you're a fan of CSI, Law & Order, or any of the various forensic shows, then this museum is for you. Seriously, this must be one of the most underrated museums in Vancouver - most people have no idea that it even exists... but those that do, love it! Located in the city's old morgue, if you're looking for a strange, out-of-the-ordinary Valentine's experience, this pretty much takes the cake. I mean, where else do you get to play around in Vancouver's former coroner's forensic lab, or gawk at a collection of rare and handmade weapons which were confiscated off the streets of Vancouver? Exactly.
Hours: 9am-5pm Monday-Saturday
Admission: $7 adults, $6 seniors/youth, children under 6 free
#9- Richmond Winterfest at the Richmond Olympic Oval
While Whistler is partying and Vancouver is protesting, the city of Richmond is celebrating the one year countdown to the 2010 Winter Oympics. One year from now to the day, Richmond will be hosting the speed skating events from inside the newly-constructed Richmond Olympic Oval. Although I initially thought that it would be sweet (in an old fashioned kind of way) to go ice-skating at the new oval, it turns out that the venue is hosting the Richmond Winter Festival of the Arts this Valentine's weekend. So there goes that idea. But in a way, it's a nice surprise. The party is free and features live entertainment, music, art, and sports demonstrations. While perhaps more family-fun than anyone's idea of romance, it's certainly a unique way to spend a Valentine's Day. Then next year, as you're watching the 2010 Olympics and speed skating is on TV, you can fondly look back and claim to your friends, "Hey! I've been there! That's where we went last year for Valentine's Day!"
Weekend hours: 12-9pm on Feb 14, 12-7pm on Feb 15