Vancouver, British Columbia had long been a destination on our travel bucket list. Brian had his sights set on scenic surroundings, and I craved roaming around its city streets. After years of talking about it, we finally booked a trip. A weekend in Vancouver wasn’t enough time for us to see and do everything, though it did provide a glimpse into a city infused with urban spirit and natural elements.
The Reality of Time & Change
While Brian and I shared an interest in visiting Vancouver, it took a little over ten years for our conversations to turn into action. Truthfully, we found that it probably would have been ideal for us to have visited sooner rather than later. Life happens, though. Between other travel plans, work schedules, and the fluidity of life experience, we simply hadn’t prioritized our trip until recently.
The reality is that I wanted to road trip the west coast of America and explore the Olympic Peninsula before making the trek to Vancouver. With time and change, Brian and I turned that daydream into an even dreamier, budget-friendly reality. Unfortunately, by the time we managed to venture out west, the pandemic had created an immense amount of socioeconomic, political, and criminal turbulence.
These changes reinforced that life is short, and so we geared up for a quick adventure to Canada. After more than a decade, we thought, if not now, then when? We planned for a weekend stay and adjusted our travel expectations.
It wasn’t practical anymore for us to explore our original itineraries and earmarked to-dos in this post-pandemic reality. Shuttered businesses, evolving neighborhoods, increased homelessness, and open drug use impacted our intentions. From what we have learned, Vancouver’s historic Chinatown is a shell of its former self. We decided that Chinatown would have to wait for another time. Instead, we found ourselves exploring the “new” Chinatown as well as other areas in and around Vancouver.
Dim Sum Treats
Vancouver’s dim sum scene is impressive, to say the least. The city is home to some of the best dim sum outside of Hong Kong. It was a can’t-miss experience for us! I was especially interested in how it compared to the dim sum I grew up eating in New York City. Even after all of these years, I’ve yet to find anything that comes close to the chaos and flavor that NYC possesses.
We stayed in Richmond, a suburb of Vancouver that has become known as the new Chinatown. Almost 75% of its population is ethnically Chinese, primarily coming from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China. Home to more than 800 of the best Asian restaurants in the Vancouver area, Brian and I chose to stay in town for our dim sum adventures.
Empire Seafood Restaurant
We walked into Empire about thirty minutes after it opened and found ourselves waiting for a table. A twenty-minute wait turned into a forty-five-minute wait as Cantonese-speaking Chinese regulars streamed in and were promptly seated. We expected this.
Eventually, we were seated in a private room at a table for two. Empire offers fresh, cooked-to-order dim sum, which means no cart service. We marked off our selections and were soon greeted with our nine dishes.
- Har Gow (Steamed Shrimp Dumplings)
- Siu Mai (Steamed Pork & Shrimp Dumplings)
- Steamed Wild Mushroom Dumplings with Black Truffle
- Steamed Spare Ribs
- Steamed Minced Shrimp Dumplings
- Steamed Chicken Feet
- Steamed BBQ Pork Buns
- Steamed Egg Yolk Buns
- Marinated Jellyfish with Shredded Chicken
Honestly, we probably could have eaten more, but we didn’t want to overstay our allotted free parking time! The only dish that didn’t quite hit the mark was the wild mushroom dumpling; it lacked flavor and felt too gummy. Other than that, Brian and I were pretty happy with the meal. The service was efficient, the food was fresh, and it was actually somewhat close to the dim sum I’ve had in New York! The restaurant even offers a 20% “Early Bird Discount” for those who order before 11AM. Win! I love a discount.
Total Cost for Dim Sum: $61 USD
Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant
I was a bit leery about visiting Chef Tony since the restaurant appears to be fairly trendy. Sometimes, when a place is too trendy, it runs the risk of delivering an overrated and overpriced experience.
Chef Tony has won awards for Best Cantonese Restaurant, Best Dim Sum Restaurant, and Best Chinese Upscale Restaurant, among others. We read that reservations are recommended, but we took a chance and lined up at the entrance just before opening. The restaurant seated those with reservations first. As we waited for our seats, we noted that the guests were more diverse than at Empire. It took less than five minutes for us to be seated.
Like Empire, Chef Tony also serves cooked-to-order dim sum. We marked our selections and waited in anticipation.
- Steamed Shrimp & Matsutake Dumplings
- Black Truffle Pork & Shrimp Dumplings
- Steamed Chicken Feet
- Steamed BBQ Pork Bun
- Steamed Cuttlefish Ink Shrimp Dumplings
- Chicken Bitter Melon Juice Rice Noodle Roll
- Fresh Scallop & Egg Tofu Rice Noodle Roll
- Yi Dong Egg White Custard Tarts
- Sweet Salty Egg Yolk Lava Bun
- Stir-Fried Lotus Root with Red Bean Curd
The cuttlefish ink dumplings, charcoal lava buns, and bitter melon noodle rolls surprised us. All of the food was delicious. Sure, it was definitely trendy and upscale, but at least the food wasn’t a disappointment! The bitter melon-infused noodle roll was our favorite; it was a unique twist on the standard rice roll.
We closed out our meal satisfied and relieved that we didn’t feel let down by the overall experience. It was more expensive than the dim sum at Empire, but not excessively so.
Total Cost for Dim Sum: $84 USD
I’m happy that we were able to experience two different versions of dim sum. The next time we are in Vancouver, we are definitely diving into more dim sum! These two restaurants fed us well while we were in town. Thankfully, we balanced out all of this eating with some serious walking.
Rain or shine, Brian and I planned to venture outside. Road tripping and hiking around the Pacific Northwest was an incredible experience; we knew we wanted to dedicate a good chunk of our time to seeing the sights and exploring the outdoors during our weekend in Vancouver.
We kicked off our morning with a shaded stroll through Stanley Park, the city’s 1,001-acre public green space. This urban park features plenty of recreation, including beaches, lakes, trails, a water park, and more. Brian and I spent a little over an hour roaming around forested trails and soaking in scenic views.
Next, we hit the road to Whistler with GuideAlong (formerly GyPSy Guide), a GPS-led audio driving tour. This was the first time we used this self-guided tour app, which was timed perfectly to let us know of upcoming turns, scenic stops, and even suggested activities along the way.
GuideAlong took some of the trip-planning off of our shoulders, which was super helpful for a weekend trip. Among the many suggested sights and stops, we particularly enjoyed hiking the trail to Shannon Falls, British Columbia’s third-tallest waterfall. The app offers a simple and engaging way to learn more about one’s surroundings. We highly recommend it!
Among the Trees
Before heading back to our hotel for the night, Brian and I visited the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and Lynn Canyon Park. Both parks feature stunning suspension bridges originally built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is a top-rated tourist attraction that offers unique ways to experience the surrounding temperate rainforest. Visitors can immerse themselves in nature one step at a time across the Treetops Adventure, Cliffwalk, and the Capilano Suspension Bridge. The entrance fee to experience this park is approximately $55 USD per person, but we visited during evening hours, which awarded us a 30% discount.
Lynn Canyon Park was our final stop of the evening. It’s free and not nearly as crowded as the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. Brian and I walked one of the several trails in the park and took our time appreciating the view from the uncrowded suspension bridge. It was a beautiful way to end a day outdoors.
My favorite experience pretty much anywhere is walking around town. Sometimes, when you only have a short window to explore, the best way to get to know an area is by foot. A weekend in Vancouver was enough time for us to get a sense of the city. For twelve hours, we intentionally got lost without any set plans.
Getting lost can be one of the best ways to experience a city, as long as you’re smart about it.
After dim sum, we took a quick drive into the city for what I like to call a little reconnaissance. We were cautioned that historic Chinatown wasn’t a safe area to visit, but I still wanted to see it for ourselves. Driving through the area helped us get a feel for the neighborhood. It turns out that Chinatown was indeed rougher around the edges than we cared for, at least during this trip. Signs of severe mental illness, open-air use of hard drugs, and homelessness lined the sidewalks and spilled onto parts of the street. At least now we knew which streets we’d prefer to avoid.
We drove back to our hotel, dropped off the car, and hitched a ride downtown on the very efficient SkyTrain. Boy, did it make me miss big city transit! Our public transportation system at home isn’t the most reliable.
We made our way into Mount Pleasant, ventured through some residential neighborhoods, and found ourselves enjoying a few beers at local craft breweries. The streets were uncrowded, and the breweries were near empty aside from us and a few others.
The sidewalks of Gastown were busier, filled with both tourists and locals as they walked alongside each other. We happened upon the iconic Gastown Steam Clock just as it sounded its 6PM whistle. Happily, we stood across the street, away from the crowds but still close enough to appreciate one of the world’s rarest clocks.
Brian and I roamed the streets, popped into a few shops, and soon found ourselves feeling a little peckish. It was time for a bite! We stumbled into Kozak, a bustling corner restaurant that serves homemade Ukrainian food. This particular restaurant is one of three locations, all of which employ Ukrainian refugees who have settled in British Columbia since the Russian invasion. Brian and I had a great experience here; it genuinely radiated a welcoming sense of community.
A shared bowl of borsch, pickles, and a handful of pierogi later, we ended our delicious visit with a nightcap. Brian ordered a Negroni resembling the colors of the Ukrainian flag, and I ordered a Sourdough Vodka with horseradish. We left the restaurant, wandered through Yaletown, and made our way back to Richmond. It was a fantastic day full of random exploration and incredible flavor.
What’s in a weekend?
Brian and I initially struggled with committing to a weekend trip more than 2,500 miles away in a different country. We planned for a much longer getaway, but plans don’t always work out. You can choose to change plans as life changes.
While we weren’t able to experience all that we wanted to over a single weekend, we are really happy with how things turned out.
What’s in a weekend? For us, it’s what means the most to us in the here and now:
- Good company
- Spending time in nature
- Eating delicious food
- Supporting local businesses
- Seeing new sights
Our weekend in Vancouver left us curious enough to return for more. I’d love the opportunity to visit some of the city’s museums, hike more trails, and hopefully explore a revitalized historic Chinatown.
‘Til next time, Vancouver! Thanks for the experiences!