Vancouverites have gained a worldwide reputation for being adventurous and laidback, taking full advantage of any bout of free time to conquer the ski hills of Whistler or hop on a ferry to the Gulf Islands. When the weekend hits, it’s easy to stay within the city limits, too, especially with a new wave of restaurants like Kissa Tanto, Botanist, and Savio Volpe opening their doors, and the beaches and Seawall beckoning with their unparalleled views.
But what’s to say of the more suburban destinations surrounding Vancouver? There’s a lot to do, see, and eat—and perhaps all that’s needed is a simple push in the right direction, a full tank of gas (or a Compass Card), and a healthy appetite. With that, we suggest some of the most worthwhile day destinations to visit from Vancouver.
Steveston Village, Richmond
On the southern edge of Richmond is Steveston Village, well-known for Fisherman’s Wharf, fresh fish and chips, and a storybook-like atmosphere (indeed, ABC’s fairy tale show Once Upon a Time is filmed here). Sure, it might be easier to head into downtown Richmond (there are some exceptionally good hole-in-the-wall restaurants there, and some incredible handmade dumplings) or to stop off at the Night Market come summer—but Steveston is where the fishing industry started in young British Columbia, so it’s very much worth the journey deeper into the city.
First, head down to the water where it all started and grab a table at the dockside Blue Canoe, watching below as commercial fishermen cruise in with the daily catch. “We’re right by the ocean,” says Blue Canoe executive chef Daryle Nagata. “So we work a lot with not only seafood, but local farmers.” It’s hard not to be amazed as a three-tier seafood platter arrives with all the colours, flavours, and sweet delicacies of the ocean: snow crab legs, Matane shrimp, ahi tuna poke, grilled octopus.
“We try to support local, what’s best, and what’s fresh in season,” adds Nagata. As the seafood platter disappears, sablefish on ramen noodles arrives; it is finished with salty seaweed, shun dung peppers, radish sprouts, and shimeji mushrooms. The enclosed patio’s tarps come off in the summer, meaning the open-air space is one of the busiest in Steveston.
Next, pay a visit to the stacks in Village Books & Coffee, or head into Outpost Mini Donut Company, which serves up local favourites like Boston cream and salted caramel, baked to soft perfection and then packaged in a charming hand-held paper cone. Steveston is of course surrounded by water, so a walk, jog, or cycle along the South Dyke Trail is a must-do as well. Head one way to Garry Point Park, or journey the other direction to London Heritage Farms, an 1880s farmhouse that hosts fairs and festivals throughout the year. The property is also home to a delightful high tea that rivals anything found in Vancouver. “The scones and all the goodies are made here,” says Maureen McGovern, tea room supervisor. Find caramelized onion, feta cheese, and red pepper scones, but also finger sandwiches and decadent desserts, all served on delicate dishes.
When it’s time to wrap up the afternoon, head to Britannia Brewing for the award-winning Sirens Chai Saison. “There’s nothing like it in the market,” explains general manager Kevin O’Neill, recalling the story of dumping the tea leaves from a French press into a barrel to make the beer, which won Best Saison at the 2017 Okanagan Fest of Ale. And oh, is it good. If craving a snack to go with it, try the hummus and crunchy focaccia, green beans tossed in red wine and chili, or perhaps the pork scaloppini with togarashi and nori aioli.
For dinner, step into a hidden nook and discover Steveston’s cool, moody Gudrun Tasting Room. Opened by retired ballerina Patrick Tubajon who danced his way through France, Gudrun was named after Tubajon’s dear friend. For food there is cheese from France, and for dessert there is sticky toffee pudding, which Tubajon mentions people travel large distances to get their hands on. And after one bite, newcomers will discover that it, like Steveston as a whole, is worth every kilometre.
Update: The Gudrun Tasting Room is now permanently closed.
In late 2016, the Evergreen SkyTrain line was expanded deeper into the Lower Mainland. Almost immediately, the corners of suburbia became more accessible than ever—including the misty city of Port Moody. And for most Vancouverites, it’s discovering Brewers Row that has been the most exciting.
Much like Portland’s Belmont Street or even Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant, these breweries are all located within a five-minute walk of one another. Expect big warehouses, some great patios, and a very hoppy time. “At the soft opening, within 20 minutes we had a lineup out the door,” says Yellow Dog Brewing owner Melinda Coghill. Yellow Dog was the first brewery and tasting room to open here back in 2014, so it is a great place to start before checking out neighbours Twin Sails, Moody Ales, and Parkside.
For Coghill, bringing the wonderful world of hops to both the newbie and expert drinker was the goal. “There are definitely lighter beers that you can start with, and then your palate will evolve over the years,” she says as a flight of beer arrives. Try the Golden Ale, the Chase My Tail west coast pale ale, and The Super Secret Sour—as Coghill says, it’s a “beautiful summer beer.”
Just a few moments away from Brewers Row is Rocky Point Ice Cream, a beloved place in town known for something a little different. “We serve about six thousand dogs a year,” says owner and master scooper Yvette Cuthbert. The Sydney native brings a ray of sunshine to a cold spring day as she shows off her kibble ice cream, which is served in a cone and topped with a milk bone. It’s a sweet treat for any customer’s four-legged companion. For those with two legs, grab a scoop of the lemon yogurt or the Earl grey (made with real, extremely potent steeped tea leaves, says Cuthbert). “There’s the nostalgia of what ice cream means to somebody,” she says. “And that’s what makes our job so awesome.”
Port Moody boasts some exceptional history, and much of it can be discovered at the Port Moody Station Museum, which houses an original Canadian Pacific Railway car from 1921. If nature is more appealing, take a walk along the Shoreline Trail and get the mountain experience without having to go too far into the woods. Need to cool off? Take a 20-minute drive north to White Pine Beach on Sasamat Lake. Known for exceptionally warm waters (and hot temperatures due to its mountain location), it is the only white-sand beach in the Lower Mainland.
On the way out, drop into Port Moody’s favourite cafe, Gabi and Jules. Nestled among a series of heritage homes (Port Moody has 65 in its Heritage Register), it’s known especially well for one thing: crostatas. “People come and say, ‘My friend had a pastry…’” says sales manager Sarah Breitenbach, explaining how often customers come in searching for the famed treat. It is indeed worth every moment of searching once snackers can dive into the Italian folded-dough tart filled with sundried tomatoes and cheese. There are also fruity versions like bumbleberry, ginger-peach, and strawberry. A perfectly sweet ending to a perfectly sweet day.
Fort Langley, Langley
Langley is probably the most difficult suburb to get to on transit, so we recommend driving. Don’t let this scare you off, though—it can be reached in under an hour from Vancouver. And hiding within this township is a charming and historic village: Fort Langley.
The first point of interest is Blacksmith Bakery. Situated in the historic Reid Block (which was home to the first blacksmith here in 1910), it is now the place at which to grab a Republica coffee and pastry to go, or to pull up a chair and spend the day reading. “It was either expand the restaurant or expand the family,” recalls owner Stephan Schigas. This spot is as busy as a bakery gets, with loyal customers lining up around the corner to get their hands on a crispy hazelnut croissant, a Swiss tarte, or an éclair topped with local fresh fruit.
Schigas is originally from Langley, but he and his wife lived in London for 12 years. After he worked as the executive pastry chef at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, the couple opened the Blackheath-based bakery Boulangerie Jade (it’s still found there today, just moments from beautiful Greenwich). After perfecting his pastry and culinary skills with different apprenticeship programs (many of which were in Michelin-starred restaurants throughout London and Toulouse, France), Schigas and his wife returned home to Canada, founding Blacksmith in Fort Langley. It serves what could very well be the best flaky crescent in town, if not the Lower Mainland.
Just across from Blacksmith is the family-run Sabà Cafe and Bistro (“sabà” means plenty in Hebrew): a place for brunch, baked goods, and niche international dishes. “We wanted to recreate the sense of community that we felt when we were living in Italy,” says owner and head chef Simone Hurwitz. Though Canadian, Hurwitz and her family lived in Italy for a number of years, and she is also of Israeli heritage—making the food at Sabà deliciously multicultural.
She hovers over an amazingly savoury shakshuka, a dish commonly found throughout the Middle East. “It’s Israeli to me because that’s where I learned to eat it,” Hurwitz says. A base of tomatoes, peppers, and caramelized onions is slow-roasted and topped with eggs and lamb meatballs, served with crispy bread on the side. “It made sense for me to have a space where I could create dishes with flavours of all of my heritage and our travels and bring it all together,” she explains. A Benedict with in-house smoked salmon, stacked French toast with homemade jam, and a blackberry, lemon, and thyme spritzer all arrive for consumption.
In between meals, take a trip up to 80-acre Aldor Farms: a third-generation gem where animal enthusiasts can watch the cows and the pigs, and even cuddle up to the fuzzy bunnies. Fort Langley is also a major hub for filming, so don’t be surprised to have a run-in with an actor down at the colonial city hall or amongst the scenic Fraser River walking paths. There’s also an annual vintage car show held at Fort Langley, and a series of boutiques like Aimee B and the Little White House. And within the village is Fort Langley National Historic Site, a former Hudson’s Bay Company fur trading post that is now an educational centre.
In the evening, walk over to Fortitude. Championing the kitchen is chef Romy Prasad, who brings with him an impressive resume (12 years of working in France and Italy in Michelin-starred kitchens, as well as in New York, and attending the Ritz Escoffier School in Paris). Enjoy a simple Caesar salad: crispy, light, and done right. “When I started out years ago, I always put a lot of stuff on the plate,” Prasad says. “Now I use a few ingredients with a few flavours, put together well.”
Other noteworthy destinations include the local institution Wendel’s Bookstore & Cafe (which owner Diane Morrison says serves “refined comfort food”) and Little Donkey for Greek-inspired burritos, plus Roots and Wings craft distillery and Trading Post brewery. With so many places to check out, this is one trip that can be made again and again.
Crescent Beach, Surrey
A swift turn off of Highway 99 and a drive through Crescent Road’s lush canopy leads to Crescent Beach, one of Surrey’s most-visited locations throughout the summer. Crescent Beach was the original warm-weather vacation town for Vancouverites, with the Great Northern Railway operating here until 1952. Elite families of the city built beautiful cottages along Beacher Street and well up into the Ocean Park bluff area, overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean, out to the Delta, and even further to the North Shore mountains.
Recently, the City of Surrey announced that it will potentially purchase all parcels of land and homes here, with the prediction that all of Crescent Beach will be under water in 80 years due to climate change. So really, there’s no better time to visit than the present.
“You’re sitting here, you’re having a glass of wine or beer. You’re watching the sun set, you’re eating chips,” says Hooked Fish Shop owner John Kavanagh. “You’re somewhere else, even though you’re in Crescent Beach.” It is a quiet afternoon; the ocean is still. A pile of taro root chips arrive with a generous helping of avocado dip. It’s not quite what you would expect from a fish and chips bar, but that’s the point.
Kavanagh, who opened Hooked alongside his wife in 2011, was first known in the Crescent Beach community for opening the Seahorse Grill, a contemporary dinner spot down the road. The pair have a history of travel; they met backpacking in the 1980s in Australia and have worked their way through kitchens in Holland and France.
“Travel, I think, is the key for any chef—moving around the world, seeing different cultures and how they cook,” says Kavanagh. He notes that during his time in the Netherlands, chefs would arrive with hand-picked vegetables and lettuce, but also with foraged goods like chanterelles and morels. He brought this localized approach to cooking when he returned to Canada in the ‘90s, and although it’s a common trend found in the Vancouver scene today, it was almost unheard of back then.
For this writer, it’s the pommes frites and bouillabaisse that are most exceptional at Seahorse. At Hooked, it’s a hearty bowl of seafood chowder or the classic fish and chips. “Ninety-five per cent of the stuff here is done from scratch in this kitchen,” declares Kavanagh. It’s a difference that can be tasted.
When in need of some movement, walk along the beach to Blackie Spit for some bird watching or take the Sandy Trail up to the not-so-secret 1,001 Steps, a canopy of trees over a wooden staircase that leads from the Ocean Park bluff down to the water. If craving coffee, stop at the Sunflower Café or Fieldstones Bakery. Grab a cranberry and white chocolate scone, or if still hungry, nip into the Windsor Meats-run Beast & Brine next door for a sandwich. Find locally-made goodies like pickles, olives, antipasto, and cheese here, too. “That’s made by a group of Somalian ladies who are living here in the area,” says manager Aaron Silk, referencing a jar of the incredibly tasty Xidig Basbaas Sauce. Pick something special to take home as an edible souvenir.
So start the car and fill the backpack. There’s adventure waiting just outside the city.
Read more from destinations throughout British Columbia.