Vancouver, B.C.'s Kitsilano neighborhood tempts travelers on a budget with inexpensive restaurants, neighborhood shops and homey B&Bs, 10 minutes from downtown.
VANCOUVER, B.C. — Anyone who’s stood in the line that forms nightly outside the Naam natural-foods restaurant on West Fourth Avenue in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighborhood will understand how the street earned the nickname “Rainbow Road” in the 1960s.
The head shops are gone, but the Naam, a Kitsilano fixture for 40 years, still stays open round the clock, providing nourishment on a budget to students from the nearby University of British Columbia and a population of health-conscious locals.
Together they support one of the city’s most eclectic neighborhood business districts. Along the main shopping streets of West Fourth and West Broadway, Greek bakeries, Jewish bagel shops and corner produce stands thrive alongside yoga studios, natural healers and one of the city’s largest collections of independent coffeehouses.
“People come here to escape the concrete jungle of Robson and Granville,” says Kitsilano resident Stephanie Brisebois, referring to two of downtown’s most popular shopping streets.
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A 10-minute drive or bus ride across the Burrard Street Bridge south of downtown, the “Kits” is best known for its summer beach scene and a trio of museums in nearby Vanier Park. With its inexpensive restaurants, neighborhood shops and homey B&Bs, it makes an ideal base for travelers on a budget.
“High houses” and more
The Corkscrew Inn was my headquarters for two days of exploring on foot and by bus the area Canadian writer Alice Munro described as a neighborhood filled with “high wooden houses crammed with people living tight.”
Munro, from Ontario, lived in Kitsilano when she first moved to Vancouver in 1952. Cheap rents helped make the neighborhood Vancouver’s counterpart to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s. That changed as couples with young families moved in and began restoring many of the Craftsman-style houses.
Renovated a few years ago as a B&B with five guest rooms and a small museum that houses the owners’ collection of antique corkscrews, the Corkscrew Inn was built in 1912, at a time when much of the surrounding area was forestland. For my visit, an offseason rate of $100 Canadian (about $78 U.S. at current exchange rates) netted a double room with windows overlooking a garden.
Fueled with a breakfast of fresh fruit, scones and a smoked-salmon scramble, I walked to a stretch of beach two blocks away and followed a paved portion of the Vancouver sea wall to Kitsilano Beach Park on English Bay. The views from here are of the downtown high-rises and North Shore mountains.
On a rainy day, Vanier Park museums can keep you busy. They include the Vancouver Maritime Museum, the H.R. MacMillan Space Centre and the Vancouver Museum, dedicated to history and culture. But in good weather, your time in Kitsilano is best spent walking.
I detoured up the hill along Arbutus Street, passing the white frame house where Munro lived, and found Arbutus Coffee, at Sixth Avenue and Arbutus, inside a 1907 grocery store. Lunch was a panini with artichoke and roasted asparagus, plus a mug of spiced cider, for less than $10.
Two blocks away on West Fourth, old-time businesses share coveted retail space with trendy newcomers.
Canterbury Tales, at 1990 W. Fourth, stacks used books floor to ceiling on teetering wooden shelves. Next door is Moulé, where $30 French cheese knives are displayed on glass shelves. Across the street, Chocolate Arts, 2037 W. Fourth, fills its cases with salted caramels and truffles infused with cranberry vodka.
Farther west, Tarjei Anderssen runs Anderssen’s Life, at 3514 W. Fourth, where he stuffs coconut yams, salmon or tuna into wraps made from flaxseed. Aphrodite’s Cafe & Pie Shop displays organic pies in the window. Banyen Books organizes its volumes in categories such as “Arts & Creativity,” “Fairytales & Storytelling” and “Journal Writing.”
The shop with the carved Northwest Coast Native masks displayed among a jumble of salvaged doors, stained-glass windows and hardware? That’s Instant Doors, in business at 3662 W. Fourth for 35 years.
Owner Bill Prost says he knew nothing about Indian art until a famed Vancouver carver and metalsmith, the late Bill Reid, became one of his customers. He doesn’t have any of Reid’s work, but he regularly invites local Native artists into his shop to carve and sell their masks. Kitsilano, after all, got its name from Khahtsahlanough, a chief of the Squamish Nation.
“Food not a problem”
Walk five blocks south of West Fourth to West Broadway, and Kitsilano morphs into what feels like a street market in Paris or a village in Greece.
At Solly’s Jewish Bagelry, 2873 W. Broadway, locals people-watch while sitting on a sidewalk church pew and snacking on chocolate babka and cinnamon buns.
“Food is not a problem here,” said Sylvia Bergersen, a longtime Kits resident and a regular at Yoka’s Coffee & Tea, 3171 W. Broadway. Dutch-born Yoka Van Den Berg and her partner, Larry Trotter, have been roasting coffee in the back of their shop here for 25 years.
Scattered about are family-owned Greek restaurants and bakeries. Serano Greek Pastry, 3185 W. Broadway, specializes in meringues colored to match a rainbow of flavors. Minerva’s Mediterranean Deli and Greek Supermarket, 3207 W. Broadway, stocks 10 types of feta cheese and 30 kinds of olives.
Then there’s the Naam at 2724 W. Fourth, still drawing a waiting line, even in these recessionary times. Why?
“Great big portions at really low prices,” said Jasmine Wong, who ate here two or three times a week when she went to school at UBC. Nothing on the menu costs more than $12.95 Canadian.
She recommends the Dragon Bowls, heaping portions of brown rice and steamed veggies topped with curries and salsas. “And everyone has to try the sesame fries with miso gravy.”
How to avoid a wait? Drop by at 1 or 2 a.m. when most of the customers are off-duty chefs or students on a study break.
Carol Pucci: 206-464-3701 or firstname.lastname@example.org