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Canada 150: Bliss in British Columbia

This year our national neighbors to the north celebrate their 150th anniversary and we’ll be celebrating with them as they do. Each month we’ll focus on one part of their magnificent country and share it with you. From the sky-high trees and brown bears in British Columbia to the kitchen parties and codfish-kissing in the Maritimes, our toast to Canada will give you well over 150 reasons to make this the year you take the trip. This month we’re exploring ocean views and First Nations experiences in beautiful British Columbia.

Canada 150: British Columbia

The west coast is where Canadians head when they’re starved for warmer climes, mountain views, and active adventure. Hugging the Pacific Ocean and stretching up to the southeastern Alaskan border, British Columbia offers big cities and even bigger trees along with unique First Nations experiences and exceptional culinary offerings.

The Cities: Victoria and Vancouver

Victoria, the province’s capital, and Vancouver, its cosmopolitan, culinary gem are among the most popular cities for visitors. Neither will disappoint, but those who stay longer or return for another visit know that broadening your scope to include spots like Whistler, Tofino, Osoyoos, Kelowna, the Sunshine Coast and others will only deepen your love for the province.

A City fit for a Queen: You don’t go to Victoria to sit inside … at least not for long. Easily explored by foot or bike, this city on the southern tip of Vancouver Island offers up gorgeous gardens, a popular harbor front and the 29-mile long Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. Got an hour to spare? Board a ferry for a tour of the inner harbor, keeping an eye out for whales and harbor seals as you go. Prefer an aerial view? Try a seaplane adventure. If you must be inside, opt for spots that feed your body or your soul. Book a cooking class at The London Chef,  sip craft beers at Spinnakers, or stroll past more than 160 pieces of art by famed wildlife artist Robert Bateman at the gallery bearing his name. An afternoon enjoying the renowned high tea service at the recently renovated Fairmont Empress hotel rounds out a perfect day.

Hippie meets Hipster: Vancouver may be the perfect city. A cosmopolitan vibe, eco-savvy locals, and a belief that we should all get outside more has created a city that has something for everyone. Start with the seawall—a paved path that runs 17.5 miles along the city’s waterfront. You can hit most of the city’s most popular highlights from the path, including Stanley Park, the Olympic Village, Granville Island, and Kitsilano Beach. Walk, hike, or Rent a bike to explore. Then eat yourself silly: From local seafood, including oysters and salmon, to the authentic Chinese cuisine of neighboring Richmond. Visits should also include a stop at the Northwest Coast First Nations art at the Museum of Anthropology and a stroll through the rainforest at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.

Go higher:  Take the Skyride gondola to Grouse Mountain’s peak 5,282 feet up for a 360 degree view of Burrard Inlet, the temperate rainforest, and the city skyline. Need a bigger thrill? Ride on the roof. The new Skyride Surf Adventure is available during the summer.

Why Now is the Perfect Time to Go

Winters are mild but the Canadian Rockies and Coast Mountain ranges offers perfect conditions for sports enthusiasts. Mild climates at the coast mean you can snowboard, ski, snowshoe, or even winter zipline one day and then stroll comfortably on city streets the next. Opt for a few days at Whistler Blackcomb, or keep it local at one of the urban slopes in Vancouver. That fantastic mix of weather also makes Tofino, the coastal town on Vancouver Island, a draw. Families of all ages can surf the waves year-round or settle into cozy villa style stays for winter storm watching parties.

Why It’s Great Other Times of Year

Spring:  Vancouver transforms in March and April when more than 40,000 ornamental cherry trees—gifts from Japan—bloom along the city pathways. Come for the annual Vancouver Cherry Blossom Festival.
July:  Each year, Canada Place in Vancouver hosts the largest Canada Day celebration outside of Ottawa, with more than 1 million attendees. Join the extended three-day celebration (July 1-3) for fireworks, food trucks, games and shows.

Year Round:  Did you know that Canada has a desert? Yup, and when you pair those temperatures with the lakeside town of Osoyoos, what you get is the perfect year-round getaway. Plan a trip for May and you can take in the world’s largest culinary film festival, Devour!  (May 5-7). The celebration of cinema, food and wine culture highlights the area’s offerings through a film-inspired event featuring BC chefs, art shows and more.

If You Go Don’t Miss …

The Sea-to-Sky Highway

The Sea-to-Sky Highway is one of the world’s most beautiful drives. The 75-mile route from Vancouver to Whistler offers winding roads that hug the mountains, views of Howe Sound, interpretive centers, waterfalls, communities like Squamish and Brackendale, and parklands like Porteau Cove Provincial Park. The entire route offers views that stretch from the sun-kissed ocean to the blue skies above. You’ll want to take your time and take it all in. You’ll also want to opt for the passenger seat so you can truly appreciate the views.

The National Park

Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve, National Marine Conservation Area Reserve, and Haida Heritage Site is located at the south end of Haida Gwaii, an archipelago 120 kilometers across the Hecate Strait from Prince Rupert, British Columbia. You can only get to Haida Gwaii by air or sea, but once you arrive you’ll realize you would’ve been willing to paddle for days if it was required. Cedar trees you can’t wrap your arms around, ancient totem poles, lush rainforest and the Haida people themselves make for an incredible national park experience. No roads, no cell phones, no stores, just you, nature and First Nation’s guides whose ancestors have roamed the land for generations.

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Heather Greenwood Davis is a lifestyle journalist and a National Geographic Travel columnist. Follow her on Twitter @greenwooddavis or keep up with her family’s adventures on GlobeTrottingMama.com.

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