Friday, July 31, 2009

Crazy surreal weather in Vancouver on July 25

I still have yet to post my photos of what happened on July 25 in Vancouver, but to get a sense of what took place on that incredible night, all you have to do is watch these videos:

Thursday, July 30, 2009

And yet another record breaking day

So today they just announced that we've consecutively broken the record for the highest temperature recorded in Vancouver, at 34.4 degrees Celsius. Sounds like peanuts if you've experienced California's deserts where it can easily be 44 degrees Celsius, but with this smoggy, tropical humidity, it's pretty insane. Especially since inside my apartment it's also about 34 degrees Celsius.

Massive storm clouds have also appeared over the Coast Mountains, and apparently an hour ago lightning struck on Blackcomb Mountain in Whistler, and there's a forest fire growing exponentially near the peak. Great.

In other news, it's a great day to go to the beach!

Hottest day ever recorded in history

Last night felt like a night in Hong Kong... humid, smoggy, tropical. The air was so thick, you felt like you could swim in it. It actually felt like the warm tropical Carribbean. Soooooo weird to feel that in Vancouver. You basically never feel that kind of humidity and heat combo in Vancouver, ever.

Worth noting is that with exception to shopping malls, hotels, and office buildings, 99% of us that live here do NOT have air conditioning in our homes, so it's forcing everyone outside to the beach, to the local parks, to the swimming pools, to movie theatres, etc. We're completely obsessed with the heat at the moment, it's all anyone can talk about! Sorry Toronto! Sorry Montreal! But it looks like we stole your muggy, smoggy summer!

Yesterday, it turns out, was the hottest day ever recorded in Vancouver's 123 year history, at 33.7 degrees Celsius. But the reality is that the official Vancouver temperate is always taken at the airport, which is actually out by the water on Richmond's Sea Island. But Sea Island is often cooler than Vancouver, so 33.7 degrees was likely at the lower end of the spectrum, I'm sure.

On my way home from work, my bus overheated and broke down on Broadway and Granville. Escaping that tin can sauna, I wandered over to the Mac's convenience store based on the recommendation of my colleague, and filled a monster cup full of cream soda slurpee. I then walked across the Granville Street Bridge. I found the experience strangely satisfying. And it was 4:22pm when I looked across to the big Molson electronic billboard blinking a perpetual 4:22! 33C! 91F!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

It feels like Mexico right now...

... it truly does.


We're in day 5 of this heat wave. I don't think I've ever felt this kind of heat or humidity in Vancouver, ever. I mean, we just don't get humid summers. But this could be August in Montreal right now. This could be Atlanta. This could be the Mayan Riviera. The air is just thick. It's very tropical. All that's missing are piña coladas!

And for those who read temperatures in Fahrenheit, 29 Celsius = 85 Fahrenheit.

With the humidity? It feels like 100 Fahrenheit.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

July 25, 2009

July 25th will forever be etched in the minds of those who were lucky enough to be here.

Out of seemingly nowhere, on a hot and humid Saturday afternoon, a rogue thunder and lightning storm ambushed Greater Vancouver for hours and hours. It produced an apocalyptic blood red sunset never seen in this city before and continued to woo the 300,000 people awaiting the Celebration of Light. It was truly a battle of Mother Nature vs. the fireworks, and it was an obvious winner.

I was at Spanish Banks all Saturday, from about 3pm until about 9:30pm (hosting a BBQ with friends) when we witnessed what was the most spectacular natural event I've seen in my 29 years of living here.

My personal experiences and photos of Saturday will be posted in the next few days, but until then, I leave you with this. (Just mute the cheesy music).

Friday, July 24, 2009

Somewhere over the rainbow...

So I never made it to the fireworks on Wednesday night, but I certainly heard them! A former colleague of mine took some absolutely spectacular photos of the event. Needless to say, they capture the essense perfectly. Thanks Sam for giving me the permission to share them! :)

FYI - Canada's theme was "There's No Place Like Home". To see more of Sam Lin's photos of the Celebration of Light, visit his website, here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Fireworks, 1st night: Canada

Tonight is the first night of HSBC Celebration of Light fireworks competition in Vancouver. Tonight's country is Canada.

Hundreds of thousands of people will be making their way downtown in a sort of organized chaos. West End roads like Denman and Davie will be closed to traffic right after rush hour. People will be setting blankets up on English Bay as early as 4pm. But honestly? If you don't need a massive picnic spot, you can probably just wander down there for 9pm and stake out a spot on the lawns in front of those ugly 1960's-style apartment towers on Beach Avenue by Gilford. That's what I've done in the past, even 10 minutes before they start (which is 10pm, by the way). Otherwise, it's usually best to get there no later than 8pm if you're looking for a comfortable spot to sit on the beach.

People who have never attended the fireworks before often ask where the best viewing location is. Personally I've always found that English Bay beach, right in front of the barge, is best. That's where you get the full effect of the music and the artistic display of the fireworks - the way they were meant to be experienced.

However, English Bay is only great if you're already downtown and don't have to fight traffic or the hordes via public transit. It's even worse leaving, as there's a mass exodus of what could possibly be 200,000+ people - don't expect to get anywhere quickly. Even better are the police helicopter spotlights dispersing the crowds. Fun times indeed.

But a few years ago we had a friend in town and brought him out to Granville Island's Bridges restaurant for dinner. It just happened to be the same night as the fireworks. We sat on the patio and had a beautiful view of the fireworks behind the Burrard Street Bridge. It was picture perfect.

Decades ago as a child growing up in Richmond, my Dad would drive me and my sister into Vancouver for the fireworks. We'd drive down Arbutus through Kerrisdale eventually entering Kitsilano. Somewhere, somehow, we'd find parking by Vanier Park and would perch ourselves on the path, straining our necks to watch the fireworks across English Bay. But it was so worth it in the end.

For information on tonight's fireworks, visit

Friday, July 17, 2009

Vancouver Folk Fest 2009 - Go!!

Vancouver Folk Fest 2005
A glimpse of the crowds at the Vancouver Folk Fest at Jericho Park in 2005

Just a quick update! It's currently 28 degrees Celsius - a real scorcher of a July day - the epitome of a Vancouver summer.

While I'm heading out to a weekend-long wedding, if you're looking for something to do this weekend, I can highly, highly recommend that you head out to Jericho Beach for the 32nd annual Vancouver Folk Festival. It starts today, Friday, July 17th at 5pm and continues all day Saturday and Sunday, with over 60 artists from 14 countries on 7 stages located throughout Jericho Park. Needless to say, it's one of the most magical summer experiences that the city offers. World music, gorgeous scenery, a laid back west coast vibe, and glorious summer sunshine - what more could you want?

Even if you don't shell out the money to get in, it's even worth going just for the atmosphere along Jericho Beach during the festival - that quasi-hippy spirit; the Vancouver of yesteryear. As well, it's fun to explore the dozens of vendors selling all kinds of bohemian joy - always worth a peek!

I'm rather excited about tonight's line-up, specifically Arrested Development (of Mr. Wendall fame) and my personal favourites, Iron & Wine (see the video below if you're not already familiar). If it wasn't for this wedding, I'd be there in heartbeat! It's just too picture perfect not to go.

For prices, lineup, and schedules, check out their website: It will not disappoint!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

What's the best way to walk to Chinatown from downtown Vancouver?

Hastings = Bad.
Pender = Good.

It's a question that comes up frequently on Vancouver travel forums. Despite the countless warnings and words of advice, way too many visitors end up walking down Hastings to get to Chinatown. They are often found complaining about it after on sites like TripAdvisor. Then there are others who don't even make it to Chinatown. Upon venturing too far down Hastings, they turn around after encountering what they must think is a zombie apocalypse.

Hastings is a long street spanning 13 km (8 miles) from the luxurious Coal Harbour condos overlooking Stanley Park all the way east to the foot of SFU campus on Burnaby Mountain. Most of it's completely fine. In fact, Hastings is rather upscale through most of downtown Vancouver. Chanel has a boutique on Hastings & Hornby, for example. And outside of downtown it's a major commercial strip, including an up and coming neighbourhood.

But as you head east down Hastings from downtown, it does get more seedy and sketchy, especially once you get to the few blocks around Main Street where it's downright depressing, smelling of urine, and lots - and by that, hundreds - of drug addicted, mentally ill, and homeless people on the sidewalks. It's not a violent place and in all honesty, if you were to walk through there, you'd likely be ignored by the people hanging around there, but the biggest tip I can give you is to NEVER take Hastings to get to Chinatown.

Take Pender Street instead.

Map to Vancouver's Chinatown
You can walk down Hastings to Abbott Street. Once at Abbott it's probably best to walk the block south to Pender and continue east down Pender. It's just after Pender and Abbott when you enter Chinatown - that's where the Chinatown gates are located.

Note that aside from the Chinatown Night Market, Chinatown is otherwise not a very vibrant place to be at by evening/night as most stores are closed, locked, and gated. It's best to visit in the morning or afternoon.

So if you're going to walk to Chinatown from downtown, do yourself a favour and take Pender Street.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Kitsilano - Vancouver's sexiest beach?

Kitsilano Beach on a slower, colder day

So it turns out that Forbes Traveler magazine has ranked Vancouver's meat market, Kits Beach, as one of the Top 10 Sexiest Beaches in North America.

Funnier yet is this photo which they decided to include with their article.

What were they thinking? Is that even Vancouver? It looks like it was taken in the Fraser River!

I mean, if you're going to write about the splendour of beachside debauchery "among the sand, beachwood, and mountain vistas", at least use a photo that fits the profile, like this!

Needless to say, the local media are in a frenzy about the ranking. Not a Michael Jackson-proportioned frenzy, thankfully.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Vancouver's Beaches

Kitsilano Beach in the early 90'sMy sister and I playing around Kitsilano Beach, 1990.

One of Vancouver's greatest assets is its public beaches. At one moment you can be in the heart of the hustle and bustle and only minutes later transport yourself to where mountains and saltwater meet, where ocean kayakers are paddling, harbour seals are swimming, and blue herons are nesting in trees.

So close and yet worlds apart.

In 2006 I attended a UBC Geography alumni event where the guest lecturer was urban commentator Lance Berelowitz. Berelowitz had just released his book titled Dream City: Vancouver and the Global Imagination, and shared with us his thoughts on his adopted city. He remarked quite matter-of-factly that Vancouver doesn't have any real public gathering places in the urban core. Those that were designed as one are hardly ever used as such. Unlike other cities where public gatherings occur in the middle of the city - in city squares, city parks, and busy plazas - Vancouver's public gathering spaces are peripheral. The largest public collective experience (the HSBC Celebration of Light) exists for 4 days in the summer at the edge of the city along its waterfront, when over 100,000 come together and gaze outwards with their backs to Vancouver. That is the collective Vancouver experience, and really explains so much. His interpretation was rather enlightening and it really explained what made Vancouver feel different - something I could never put my finger on.

With that in mind, it becomes apparent that to really understand Vancouver - what makes it this liveable, enjoyable place (or so the polls apparently say) - you really have to experience Vancouver from its shore. Sure, Vancouver's beaches don't complete with those of Mexico, Hawaii, Brazil, or Australia, but nobody should come here seeking tropical water and powdery sand. Heck, the majority of these beaches have the sand trucked in! Vancouver's beaches (as rocky, dusty, or barnacle-infested as they are) are more about the scenery and recreation - they're spaces where one can venture alone or with others and feel connected with the spirit of the west coast. If anything, they'll give you a taste of what it means to live here and a chance to test out the local lifestyle.

My overviews of Vancouver's beaches are incomplete - basic at best - but should hopefully help give a sense of the differences between the popular beaches in and around Vancouver should you want to visit one... and you should!

English Bay Beach

English Bay (rarely but sometimes known as First Beach) is the most popular downtown beach and one of Vancouver's oldest recreational sites. It's located at the focal point of the West End where Davie, Denman, and Beach intersect. The sand is a little on the dusty side, but you don't go there for the sand, you go for the view and the people watching.

In the summer months there's a kayak rental shop and floating waterslide for those brave enough to swim. On the last Wed/Sat of July and the first Wed/Sat of August, English Bay becomes packed with tens of thousands of people to watch the annual Celebration of Light fireworks competition - the best viewing location is here.

English Bay especially comes alive when it's sunny - especially moreso on warm, sunny evenings - the sunsets here are spectacular. English Bay tends to be a bit of an after-dinner stroll destination with all the little restaurants, coffee shops, and dessert places across the street on Denman. If you only have one evening in Vancouver and want to know where to end up at the end of your day, this is where I'd go.

Official website:

Sunset Beach (map)

Sunset Beach is English Bay Beach's cousin to the southeast - a strip of gritty sand where False Creek opens into English Bay. It's mostly used by locals for recreational purposes because it's a lot less crowded than English Bay. The abundant pavement across from the beach makes it a popular place for ball hockey and skateboarders. There's also a tiny dog park where dogs can be let loose to frolic off leash - that part of the beach is underneath the Burrard Street Bridge east of where the False Creek Ferries dock.

Official website:

Second Beach (map)

If English Bay is "First Beach" then next beach along the waterfront into Stanley Park is Second Beach. It's a smaller, more natural-feeling beach than English Bay with more of a family-friendly vibe. It has a massive concession stand, a large playground area, and an outdoor swimming pool right on the water. I remember coming here when I was 6 years old and it was one of my favourite places to play. In a way, the convenient infrastructure is what makes Second Beach super popular with families with young kids, especially those wanting a picnic.

Lost Lagoon (a major bird/raccoon habitat) is located behind the beach so you'll often get Canada geese feeding in the nearby fields. In the evening watch out for the resident skunk snooping around the garbage cans. And if you look up in sky at dusk, you'll spot bats flying around feeding on insects. In the summer months, there can often be spontaneously drum circles nearby.

Official website:

Third Beach (map)

Third Beach is my favourite beach in Stanley Park. While it's a relatively small beach, it has some of the cleanest, softest sand in town, and a very peaceful, relaxing atmosphere.

Third Beach is located on the opposite side of Stanley Park's entrance, so I think that half the attraction of the beach for me is that it requires a tad bit more effort to get to, which is why it's never as crowded as English Bay or as busy as Second Beach. It just feels like you're more secluded... like you're on vacation on some island, miles away from the city.

There are logs placed in rows along the beach, which offers a bit of privacy. There are designated swimming areas, and life guards on duty during the summer. As well, there is a concession stand up the stairs from Third Beach which is open when the weather's nice, selling hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream, and other fun snack food.

Oh, and the sunsets? They're absolutely spectacular from here!

Official website:

Kitsilano Beach (map)

Kits Beach is the über popular beach - the gem of Kitsilano. It's also somewhat of a meat market as far as Vancouver beaches go. Located where Arbutus and Cornwall intersect, if you're seeking beautiful bodies, beach volleyball, and an overall Santa Monica vibe, this is where you'd get it. A large public swimming pools flanks the side of the beach - a popular summer activity. Basketball courts, tennis courts, and large green spaces means this is the quintessential summer hangout for locals when people watching is in order. Very popular with local students chilling out, playing ultimate, hacky sack, or just sleeping in the sun. Lots of great restaurants along Yew and Cornwall nearby (Octopus' Garden and Hapa Izakaya come to mind) making it a great after-dinner stroll. The views of downtown, the mountains, and English Bay make for those postcard perfect photos of Vancouver - the kind you send to your out-of-town friends to make them feel envious of your beachy lifestyle.

Vanier Park dog beach (map)

Technically called Hadden Park, it's not really a beach you'll want to lounge around and sunbathe on unless you're seeking the company of playful off-leash dogs! This tiny sandy beach at the base of the cliffs on the west side of Vanier Park is a designated dog beach where it's legal to keep your dogs off leash. I've honestly seen 30+ dogs on this tiny beach at one time. It's amusing nonetheless.

Official website:

Jericho Beach (map)

Jericho Beach is located in front of Jericho Park in Kitsilano by Alma and 4th Ave along the southern shore of English Bay. Jericho forms the eastern segment of the vast Vancouver beach that stretches from the northern foot of Alma Street at the way west to the cliffs at UBC. Famous for being a large mellow beach with plenty of green space - a popular place for large group gatherings, picnics, beach volleyball. Sailing club nearby means lots of boating activity, including a rather large windsurfing community. This beach is also ground zero for the Vancouver Folk Festival in July - an incredible must-do-at-least-once Vancouver experience, just for the ambiance of it all.

Official website:

Locarno Beach (map)

Just west of Jericho, Locarno is the next beach over and one of my favourite evening picnic sites. You can drive right up and presto - instant beautiful scenery, gorgeous evening light, kayakers, harbour seals, blue herons, people playing volleyball, people having large family picnics. There are numerous picnic tables located in a variety of locations - in cedar groves, in grassy fields, or right at the sand's edge. The beach is pretty spacious, all things considered. In the day it can be quite busy with recreation but by evening it's this absolutely spectacular.

Official website:

Spanish Banks (map)

West of Locarno and Jericho - and to be honest, it's just a continuation of them both. Spanish Banks is at the base of Pacific Spirit Regional Park closest to UBC - lots of green spaces and wide stretches of sandy beach make this a popular "let's get out of the city" beach despite the fact that you're on the fringe's of Vancouver's most expensive residential neighbourhood, West Point Grey. The massive green spaces and endless parking makes this a popular picnic and group gathering site. Named after the Spanish explorers of the 1770's - the first Europeans to scout these shores - the beach's official name is "Spanish Bank", but almost everyone makes the name plural. I'm not sure why.

Official website:

Wreck Beach (map)
The famous "clothing optional" beach and one of the last remaining beaches in Vancouver where the hippy legacy continues. Drum circles, naked people, bonfires, skimboarders, university students - those looking to chill. For the longest time it used to be known as the only beach where there was no view of civilization from the shore, up until a few years ago when UBC developed condos nearby - a cause of greatly heated debate. Despite the occasional RCMP patrol, the area is known for its cheerful black market where vendors (nude or otherwise) go around selling alcohol, recreational drugs, food and trinkets. Some call Wreck Beach a nude beach, but it's a bit of a misnomer as every time I've been here (summer or otherwise) the majority of people were clothed. As long as you're respectful, all are welcome. Located at the base of steep rainforest-covered cliffs behind the Museum of Anthropology out at UBC, it's only accessible by a staircase carved into the cliffs. Be prepared for a strenuous climb up afterward.

Official website:

Tower Beach (map)

Around the corner from Wreck Beach is Tower Beach, named after the long abandoned WWII pillboxes installed to warn of Japanese attacks that never came. Like Wreck, you can't get to Tower Beach without descending stairs down a cliff, although one set of stairs follows down a ravine. As far as beaches go, it's mostly cobble and eroding cliffs - a beach best used as a field trip destination where local physical geography professors drag their students to ponder the Vashon till and rates of erosion. (Don't ask how I know). It's not known as a clothing optional beach, although you will find the occasional lost nudist wandering over while confused university students stand around pretending not to notice. When I studied at UBC I sometimes used Tower Beach as a quiet place to stroll around to waste time between classes. And on dreamy June nights, a week before summer soltice, spontanious parties happen where admidst the poi dancing, drummers, and DJ's, hundreds of locals unite to embrace the morning sun.

Unofficial website: