Despite what people may believe, I've never actually left the United States. I've been to Los Angeles, New York and quite a few cities in between, but never crossed the border until my friends Myles and Carly begged me to join them in an international adventure to Vancouver, Canada. After a surprisingly quick trip to the Passport Agency and an effortless drive up north, Vancouver became our home for a weekend.
One of the first places we visited was Granville Island, a hub for locals and tourists alike to enjoy fresh food, arts, shopping and recreation. The focal point of this destination is the Public Market, which reminded me of the colorfully chaotic Seattle's Pike Place Market, only with quite a few more international accents filling the air. After taking out some Canadian cash (which is quite a bit flashier than the US Dollar), we tried some delicious pumpkin spice donuts from Lee's Donuts. A cute ferry took us off the island and to the south end of English Bay Beach.
We ate a leisurely lunch at Beach Bay Café and Patio, near the iconic Stanley Park. The airy aesthetic of the restaurant was accented with bright blue chairs and natural wood tables. Grapefruit mimosas and smoked salmon eggs benedict made this a refreshing stop on our list of afternoon activities.
We discovered rather quickly that Gastown is home to all the action. This neighborhood's antiquated charm provides the perfect backdrop for Vancouver's hippest bars, trendiest restaurants and chicest shopping. We found ourselves spending most of our time (between dining, drinking and watching live music) in this historic neighborhood that's full of possibilities. Complete with an ornate clock powered by a steam engine and a heritage flatiron building, Gastown is the kind of place anyone can enjoy any time of day or night.
One of Gastown's cutest coffee shops is Prado Cafe, which serves small bites like mint pea avocado smash toast and a waffle with ricotta, honey and pecan in addition to delicious espresso. The cafe's rustic interior lends itself to relaxation and comfort amidst the bustling brick streets outside.
Finding high quality, unique items to bring back to the States wasn't hard in Gastown. Stores like Old Faithful Shop and Ollie Quinn offer fashionable finds that would be welcome in any traveller's wardrobe. One of my favorite brands that I discovered while exploring Vancouver was called Roots, and I ended up purchasing one of their beautiful varsity jackets with genuine leather sleeves. For Sunday brunch, we chose the delightfully French L'Abbatoir. Being a creature of habit, I ordered a dish reminiscent of eggs benedict: poached eggs with cheddar sabayon and smoked pork belly. In need of a caffeine boost afterward, we visited Nemesis Coffee, which was named Vancouver's newest world class multiroaster cafe. The cafe's communal aspect and tagline of "coffee creating culture" was immediately evident when talking to the friendly, knowledgeable baristas.
Our favorite moment on our Vancouver adventure was Myles' birthday dinner at Brix & Mortar, a glamorous dining house in Yaletown. There we celebrated my friend turning another year older while enjoying dishes like Pork Cheek Tagliatelle, Vancouver Island Lingcod and Brome Lake Duck Breast. To say our meal was delicious would be an understatement, especially when complimented with the moody, indoor-outdoor atmosphere of the restaurant.
I was so happy that my first experience outside of the United States was one shared with good company. I loved feeling like a foreigner, ready to absorb a new destination's culture and open up my worldview. While Vancouver may just be a baby step in my international travels, I know it's only the beginning.