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Urban Exploration in Vancouver

Guidebooks tend to promote parts of cities that are already well known: A guidebook for Paris will steer visitors to the usual monuments such as the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, and The Arc de Triumphe. Vancouver guidebooks invariably have sections on Gastown, Granville Island, Stanley Park and UBC. However, there are plenty of areas in any city that are largely unknown to visitors. Here are a few interesting off-the-beaten-path places in and around Vancouver:

Nanaimo and Hastings: This scruffy part of East Vancouver features very busy produce stores, a wide variety of small restaurants/delis such as Laksa King (Malaysian), Ugo and Joe’s (Italian) and a mishmash of other small retail and service stores. The hipsters are moving in too, and we can expect some interesting new additions to the street in coming years.

The Fraser River in Delta: Vancouver’s oceonfront has been opened up to the public in many locations, but the Fraser River has been largely ignored until recently. One particularly pleasant stretch is from the town of Ladner–a good starting point is the Stir Cafe–, out west to the edges of the Fraser Delta. A bike is the perfect way to explore this stretch–you pedal past small marinas, houseboat communities, marine supply yards, as well as a smattering of houses. The built environment slowly gives way to a very quiet wetland– a birder’s paradise–with distant views out over the Georgia Straight.
Stir Cafe Ladner5

Fraser and Kingsway: Who would have guessed that this area of dollar stores and fluorescent-lit Pho restaurants could also host, in one short block, Les Faux Bourgoise French restaurant, a cafe which looks like it has been populated with extras from Portlandia, and a gluten-free bakery that makes a pretty mean wheat-free cinnamon bun.

Aberdeen Mall in Richmond: Malls are normally associated with bland mediocrity and chain stores, however, this Richmond landmark is a pleasant surprise. It feels a bit like Singapore, as most of the patrons are Asian and the signage is almost all in Chinese. The architecture–by local starchitect Bing Thom no less– is graceful and curving, and the interior is bathed in natural light. And even the public washrooms are a spectacular design statement.

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