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7 Things To See, Eat, And Do When You’re In Vancouver

Vancouver is dazzling. It’s generously endowed with natural splendor -- snow capped mountains! Temperate rainforests! The ocean! -- but it’s also a vibrant city with a glassy downtown and dozens of unique neighborhoods to explore.

OK, so it rains. A lot. The winter is notoriously wet, but honestly, so is spring and fall. The summer, however: *Italian chef kiss.* From June to September, life moves outside, to al fresco restaurants and breweries, and to the beaches and hiking trails nearby. And even on miserable February days, the dankness brings a certain moody charm (see: Twilight).

Vancouver might be Canada’s third biggest city, but you’ve got to get out of the urban center and into nature. It’s on the ocean, is replete with parks and beaches, and there are mountains nearby for hiking in summer and skiing in winter. All in all, there’s an overwhelming number of outdoor activities to enjoy, including but not limited to sailing, whale watching, salmon fishing, ziplining, kayaking, swimming, paddle boarding, and biking.

Vancouver summers, when the sun is shining but the lack of humidity means you can still cool off in the shade, are perfect for hiking. That said, winter hikes can be just as beautiful, when the forests become lush with rain. Drizzle is typical, but that shouldn’t stop you from taking long winding walks through any of Vancouver’s 230 parks, including the stately VanDusen Botanical Garden and the cedar-scented Pacific Spirit Park.

Or you can get out of the city altogether. Grouse Mountain, a 20-minute drive from downtown, is a favorite local hiking spot. The 1.75 mile climb to the top, which ascends some 2,800 feet, is known as “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster” -- you can find out why the hard way, or take the aerial tramway. You’ll find an observatory at the peak and, on a clear day, Vancouver glistening below.

There are tons of beach options, including Kitsilano (excellent people watching), Jericho (more chill), Second Beach (on Stanley Park) and Wreck Beach (where clothing is optional). Sunning, swimming, picnicking, and barbecuing are (rightfully) the most popular beach activities, but for the more culturally minded, Shakespeare is also on the table. From June through September, English Bay hosts Bard on the Beach, Vancouver’s long-running Shakespeare Festival.

Finally, if you’re looking for a wide-open scenic walk, head to Spanish Banks; at low tide, the waters recedes more than half a mile and you can walk right out onto the wet, rippled sand.

No trip to Vancouver is complete without a visit to Stanley Park, a 1,000-acre wooded expanse that juts into the Burrard Inlet. Rent a bike and do a lap around the 5.5 mile, beach-studded perimeter, known as the Seawall, which features views of the glassy downtown district to the south and blue-purple mountains to the west. The loop also makes for an excellent run -- the air is bracing and sea-salted, and the scenery is distractingly pretty.

To dig a little deeper, head inside on one of the park’s many winding paths. Cathedral Trail, for example, will take you under canopies of massive, moss-covered pines, while Beaver Lake Trail has a lovely lunch spot by the lily-covered pond (you might recognise it from the Fifty Shades movies, if you were one of the suckers who actually paid to go see them).

The Metropolitan Museum it isn’t, but the Vancouver Art Gallery is worth a visit for the works by Emily Carr, the Group Seven, and Marc Chagall. But if you can only go to one museum in Vancouver, make it the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. It’s one of the top anthropology museums in the world and the home to thousands of First Nations artifacts, including totem poles, textiles, and canoes.

The museum is the main draw, but the UBC campus is beautiful in itself. After the museum, check out the Japanese Tea Garden or the Botanical Garden, where a suspended bridge leads over a canopy of Douglas firs, cedars, and grand firs.

In a city that averages 161 rainy days annually, a noodle obsession just makes sense. Vancouver has enough options for an extensive noodle crawl, but start with Kintaro Ramen or its sister Motomachi Shokudo, which serves up health-conscious takes on Kintaro’s rich pork broths, including bamboo charcoal miso ramen. Jinya Ramen, which has multiple locations, is also a consistently satisfying.

For variety, try Harvest, a grocery store/restaurant that serves up udon, ramen, and rice noodles in homemade broths. And pho fans shouldn’t leave without a trip to Pho Goodness or Chau Veggie Express, which has an outpost on Granville Island (get the candle-lit lantern pho soup).

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The Ultimate Chicago Summer Bucket List

If you moved to Chicago in the past nine months, maybe you’ve heard about this thing called summer. Those of us who have been here a while promise it exists -- and that it’s worth waiting for.

Now that daffodils are tentatively opening and restaurants are removing the wind covers from their doors, it’s time to start scheduling your outdoor time. Pro tip: It’s a bad idea to leave the city between June and September. Instead, lure your out-of-town friends with our ultimate Chicago summer bucket list. How many items can you cross off?

Chicago’s cultural, musical, neighborhood, food, and beverage-focused street festivals are so numerous, we won’t even attempt to list them all here. Every resident should experience at least one of the city’s Big Three music festivals -- Pitchfork, Lollapalooza, and Riot Fest -- once in their lives. But for a truly Chicago festival experience, think smaller: Andersonville’s community spirit shines through during Midsommarfest (June 8-10), a celebration of the neighborhood’s Swedish roots, which features music, dancing, crafts, beer, craft beer, and everything else that makes a Chicago street festival great. Or drown out the swan song of the end of Summer Fridays with some sweet notes at the Chicago Jazz Festival (August 29 to September 2). The Millennium Park mainstay features legends and newcomers alike, as well as art, food, a New Orleans-style second-line procession, and tons of adorable dancing children.

If you think Chicago’s architecture tours are just for visitors, you’d be dead wrong. There’s really no better way to see all of downtown in an afternoon than by water. We recommend Wendella’s Signature Lake and River Tour ($39), which takes passengers on a 90-minute journey through the locks and into Lake Michigan for an unparallelled view. In true Chicago fashion, the tour boats have bars. If you’re looking for a slightly more budget-friendly option, the Chicago Water Taxi connects commuters and tourists alike to locations from North Avenue and Sheffield Avenue in Lincoln Park to Chinatown. An all-day pass will run you just $9.

Chicago is lauded as one of the top culinary cities in the world, which, duh. But the cocktail scene is world-class in its own right. Pick your signature cocktail of summer and taste-test it at bars throughout the city, or try different ones depending on your mood. At Estereo, try the Breezy -- the permanent menu option features a base of yerba mate, house falernum, lime juice, and bubbles; customers then choose their add-in spirit. Devereaux, the newest project from former Billy Sunday beverage director Lee Zaremba, features a spread of creative signature cocktails and daytime sippers; we’re itching to try the Pineapple Collins (tequila blanco, pineapple, lemon, mineral water). If you like your summer cocktails frozen, Parson’s Chicken & Fish does a slushy version of a negroni, along with a rotating daily slushy special (like a margarita and Dark & Stormy). In search of a dive bar that’s not really a dive? Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar is the answer to your quandary, where our go-to is the Hornswagglers High Tea, a blend of Earl Grey-infused vodka and cream soda. It’s yours for the low, low price of $7.

We’ve never seen a group of humans more excited about sitting outside than Chicagoans in summer. A great patio is the sprinkles on the soft-serve cone of the Windy City. A couple new options this summer: Nine-year-old taco haven Big Star, the gold standard of Chicago patios for years, recently gained a sibling; Big Star Wrigleyville opened in early April in a massive space at Hotel Zachary with some fresh menu items to go with the same old honky-tonk soundtrack. And Avondale’s Ludlow Liquors, located in the former Orbit Room space, is bringing picnic tables, two-tier stadium seats, and lounges to its revamped outdoor area. (Has someone invented a word for a patio makeover yet? We’ll call it a pati-over.) Create a drink sampler with cocktails served by the ounce.

If you like pitchers of vodka-lemonade and dancing, there’s Roscoe’s. If you’re looking for some less innocent dancing, there’s Berlin Nightclub. There’s truly a bar to fit every mood in Boystown, and on a hot summer night, the hours fly by so fast, you won’t believe it’s 3am. The neighborhood is especially lively during the annual Pride festival and parade (June 16-17 & 24), and Northalstead Market Days (August 11-12).

One of the surest signs summer is on its way: The return of private boats to Chicago’s harbors. Whether you’re part of the party-hard “playpen” scene at Ohio Street Beach or looking for a calmer afternoon of sailing, there’s a ship life for every Chicagoan. But before you can live out your aquatic fantasies, better make sure you’ve got a boat friend lined up to help make them come true. (Even better if it’s a friend-of-a-friend, so you’ve got an easy out in case of a summer romance gone sour.)

There are two groups of Chicagoans: Those who hate the annual Air & Water Show, and those who are either from the suburbs or have a friend who lives in a lakeside high-rise. If you’re in the latter group, you know how to play this one. (Step 1: Ply your high-rise friend with lots of bubbly.) But for those who have HAD IT with the noisy fighter jets and lakefront crowds, Air & Water Show weekend (August 18-19) is a great time to check out all those places on the West and South Sides that you keep missing. Head down to Calumet Fisheries for legendary smoked seafood, or, if ribs are more your style, check out the barbecue at Smoque.

Across the street from the Loop business district, it’s almost as if Millennium Park was planned to taunt office workers during the summer. Take a break for an afternoon (or just for your lunch hour, if you can’t get away), and spread out on the lawn next to Pritzker Pavilion. Read a book, listen to a podcast, or just people-watch as friends chat and kids chase each other across the grass. We’ll also let you in on a little secret: At the southeast corner of the Pavilion is the entrance to Lurie Gardens, where visitors can take off their shoes and dip their feet in a man-made stream.

With miles and miles of lakefront, and even more parks and trails outside the city to explore, Chicago is best seen on two wheels, and summer is the perfect time to do so. Rent a Divvy bike if you don’t own one (but don’t forget a helmet) and hit the pavement. Biking can also be a great way to make new friends. Join Critical Mass as riders take over the streets for a massive group ride the last Friday of every month, or strip down for the World Naked Bike Ride on June 9.

While you’ve certainly enjoyed more than your fair share of local produce in Chicago’s restaurant scene, the city’s plethora of farmers markets mean it’s time for you to become the chef. Check out this schedule to find your neighborhood market. We’re particularly fond of Lincoln Park’s Green City Market, which features chef demonstrations, live music, and more dogs per square foot than a humane society.

This Chicago classic’s sole location is so far south, you’d swear you’re in the suburbs. (They actually start across the street.) But the cone’s layers of chocolate, strawberry, Palmer House, pistachio, and orange sherbet have kept Chicagoans young and old making the journey for decades. You can get the cone at select festivals like Lollapalooza, but nothing compares to the 92-year-old storefront.

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Bucket List Ideas

What Kind of Music Do You Like?

Mario Peshev piano.

You need to listen to something that focuses you. It needs to keep you motivated, as well as keeping you calm and collected. Ready for business.