OUT Destination: Vancouver, British Columbia

This edition of Out Destinations takes me to the Pacific Northwest and to a city in Canada known for great people, endless beauty and a thriving LGBT community. Vancouver, British Columbia is a destination which I’ve heard about for many years, however, never had the opportunity to visit. The best way to arrive to Vancouver is either flying direct or jump on a flight to Seattle and then board an Amtrak train for a scenic 4-hour journey along the coast.

It is never good to begin a new adventure on an empty stomach, so located almost directly across the street from the Amtrak station in Vancouver is a wonderful Italian eatery called Campagnolo. Since I had a long day ahead of me, I decided to just sample a few light items. My favorite of the bunch was called Crispy Cece, an addicting combination of fried chickpeas, chilies, mint and citrus. It sounds a bit awkward, but it was delicious.

Gay-friendly accommodations are abundant in Vancouver. For a true taste of luxury, stay at the Metropolitan Hotel. Boasting 16 oversized suites in addition to 200 standard rooms, this hotel is located in the heart of downtown Vancouver and within walking distance to all major tourist attractions. The hotel features an indoor swimming pool, squash court, complimentary limousine service and a business center.

However, one of the most extraordinary features of the Metropolitan is its fine-dining restaurant, Diva at the Met. I was not aware of the culinary experience my guest and I were about to encounter when we were asked to dine at Diva. Our host sat us at “the pass”, the bar which the kitchen staff passes off the food to be served to diners. With an obstructed view of the kitchen, we felt as if we were watching a real life episode of Top Chef. The sommelier was on hand to pair wine with every item on the 7-course tasting menu, which begins with four snacks prepared personally by Chef Hamid Salimian.

There were almost too many highlights to mention, as Chef Salimian’s Persian roots are definitely tasted throughout his dishes. After our snacks, which consisted of gastronomic delicacies such as Chicken Bacon and Mussel Coal, we were brought our first selections which included Blackened Lobster, Albacore Tuna and Veal Sweet Bread. Each selection paired perfectly with a different wine, most of which are from Canadian vineyards.

The entrée of the tasting menu is a Roasted Tender Loin served with Walla Walla onions, sherry lentils and truffles and was melt in your mouth delicious. Even after five previous courses, we were left craving more. And what epicurean journey would be complete without dessert which in this case was a delectable Buttered Toast Ice Cream with black currants, served with sweet Canadian ice wine. Those visiting Vancouver for the first time should not miss this experience.

Begin the next morning with a visit to Chinatown, home to the Chinese Cultural Center and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. Vancouver is home to the third largest Chinatown in the world and a visit to this neighborhood is really exciting. The streets are bustling with street vendors selling everything from silk scarves to ceramic figurines. Of course the dining options here are abundant and the authenticity of the food was definitely a treat. For some great dim sum, stop by Jade Dynasty. When the menu is written in Chinese, you know it’s the real deal.

Next, head over to Vancouver Lookout for a spectacular 360? view of the city. From this vantage point, one can view every neighborhood in addition to an unobstructed view of both the mountains and the water.

The people of Vancouver are extremely health conscious. Never have I seen more people jogging, riding bikes and roller blading. The sea wall, which stretches around most of the downtown peninsula, is the favorite place for locals to enjoy outdoor activities. A brisk walk is the best way to see the city and enjoy its beauty. At the tip of the peninsula is Stanley Park, larger than NYC’s Central Park and home to some of Vancouver’s main attractions including the Lost Lagoon, Lion’s Gate Bridge and Vancouver Aquarium.

The aquarium is home to over 50,000 animals and most recently welcomed the addition of Penguin Point, inspired by Boulders Beach in Cape Town, South Africa. The venue is open 365 days a year and is the perfect place to enjoy an afternoon in Vancouver. Another attraction perfect for those traveling with children is Science World. Located adjacent to Olympic Village, the museum features dozens of interactive exhibits in addition to an IMAX theatre.

Vancouver is a truly modern city and for those looking to embrace some of the city’s trendiness, head to Salt Tasting Room. Yet another unique dining experience, Salt gives guests the opportunity to pair a consistently changing selection of cured meats, artisanal cheeses and condiments written on a chalkboard near the entrance of the restaurant, located in an alley in the Gastown district of Vancouver. I suggest trying the 3-course menu for the best experience.

After dinner, check in to the Opus Hotel, recently voted as one of the “Top 5 Trendiest Hotels in the World” by TripAdvisor. The boutique hotel’s swanky décor and minimalistic approach is perfect for younger LGBT travelers looking to embrace Vancouver’s gay nightlife. Each room in the pet-friendly hotel comes with a fully functional iPad which guests can take with them as they discover the city.

The hotel is just a short walk to Davie Street, where most of the LGBT activity takes place. Davie is lined with gay bars, restaurants and nightclubs and truly comes alive at night. Each venue has its own flavor so be sure to stop by a few to really feel the vibe of the community. Another nightlife option is Commercial Drive, or what locals call “The Drive” as it is home to the highest percentage of lesbians in downtown.

Even though I was only in Vancouver for three days, I would recommend a full week visit to truly experience everything the city has to offer.