Like most cities, Vancouver has many neighborhoods, each with its own character. Here's a guide to Vancouver's most interesting districts.
Downtown Vancouver is set on a peninsula, which is connected to the rest of the city by several bridges. The tip of the peninsula is all parkland—the 1,000-acre Stanley Park. Robson Street is the main downtown shopping boulevard, where a few Canadian names remain alongside chains like Banana Republic and the Gap. In the more residential West End bordering English Bay, Denman and Davie Streets are both cheap-eats meccas.
Amid the towers of condos lining False Creek's north shore, restored former warehouses make Yaletown feel a bit like New York's hip Tribeca district. The boutiques stock the trendiest threads, and the restaurants are mostly high-end; however, even in this pricey neighborhood, you can find some value gems.
Vancouver's oldest neighborhood Gastown retains many historic buildings, which house galleries showcasing First Nations' art, clothing boutiques, and touristy souvenir shops. Further east, in Chinatown, you can browse produce markets, bakeries, and herbalists, or stop for dim sum. The one Vancouver neighborhood that tourists might best avoid is Downtown Eastside, located north and east of Chinatown, which is ground zero for the city's seedy side.
Across False Creek from downtown, the former industrial area called Granville Island is now one of Vancouver's prime attractions. You can easily spend half a day grazing and browsing in its food market and collection of art studios and shops.
Like Cambridge's Harvard Square, or Berkeley's Telegraph Avenue, Kitsilano (known as "Kits") was Vancouver's hippie central in the '60s and '70s. Nowadays, you're more likely to see stroller-pushing soccer moms in stylish yoga wear than dreadlocked Rastafarians, but it's still worth exploring the funky shops and casual eateries along West 4th Avenue. Kits Beach is wonderful for people watching, too.
West of Kitsilano, Point Grey (officially West Point Grey) is marked by leafy residential streets that lead to the University of British Columbia (UBC). Overlooking the water and mountains, UBC has one of North America's most scenic campuses. Most visitors find their way here to visit the university's first-rate Museum of Anthropology or to explore nearby Jericho, Locarno, or Spanish Bank beaches.
Main Street, from about 7th to 30th avenues, is an emerging hip district, with local designers selling one-of-a-kind clothing and shops offering well-priced secondhand furniture. Restaurants range from ethnic eateries to trendy tapas lounges and contemporary Canadian kitchens. Farther south, around 49th Avenue, the Punjabi Market neighborhood is filled with Indian restaurants, sari makers, and jewelry shops.
Once known as Vancouver's "Little Italy," Commercial Drive is still lined with cafes and bakeries where older men argue soccer and politics over shots of espresso. But this eclectic East Side street has a crunchy-granola side as well, with vegetarian-friendly restaurants, cheap clothing stores, and ethnic restaurants everywhere!