Stanley Park in Vancouver, B.C., has long been touted as the city’s finest. Designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who also created New York’s Central Park and Seattle’s Volunteer Park, it attracts more than 8 million visitors a year.
But coming in a close second is Pacific Spirit Regional Park in the West Point Grey area west of downtown Vancouver. Before its establishment as a park in 1989, the area was considered part of the University of British Columbia Endowment Lands. The 1,885-acre park lies within the traditional home of the Musqueam nation.
Today, there are 33 miles of walking and hiking trails, along with 24 miles for cycling and 24 miles for horseback riding. The lush park encompasses forests that stretch across Point Grey and separate the city from the university. The park’s thin foreshore touches the Fraser River, the Strait of Georgia and Burrard Inlet.
I booked a room at A Harbourview Retreat Bed and Breakfast, a lovingly restored 1912 Arts and Crafts-style home in the West Point Grey neighborhood.
Innkeeper Penny Crosby was more than helpful, suggesting I stop by the park’s information center for a map and other information.
Less than a mile from the B&B are a number of trails that make their way down to the beach. The trailheads are easy to spot along Chancellor Boulevard, and I took Pioneer Trail that eventually hooked up with Spanish Trail.
Fortunately, the weather was much more outdoors-friendly than the day before, when a downpour forced me inside for most of the day.
The 20-minute walk along a steep ravine took me through cedar, hemlock and stands of Douglas fir mixed in with the brilliant leaves of red alder and maple trees.
A lone jogger passed me, as did a couple walking hand in hand. As I walked deeper into the forest, I had to remind myself that I was in a city of more than half a million people. At the trail’s end is Spanish Bank Creek (“Caution: Salmon at Work!”). The creek has been restored and since 2001 Coho salmon are returning here to spawn.
Crossing NW Marine Drive, I was now at Spanish Banks West, a beach operated by Vancouver Parks and Recreation. This area was settled in the late 1700s by Spanish explorers, who called it Pookcha (First Nations for “the back of a whale rising and falling”).
In front of me was English Bay, dotted with cargo ships, pleasure craft and the occasional floatplane landing on the gray water. The views from here are stunning: West Vancouver, the green peninsula of Stanley Park and the downtown skyline. The beach is sandy and clean.
The tide goes out for a quarter-mile, making it ideal for shallow wading, even at high tide. Three dozen students from the Sk’elep School of Excellence in Kamloops, B.C., were romping in the water as part of a field trip.
A fellow dressed in camouflage fired up his chain saw as I walked by (cutting wood with chain saws is permitted in designated areas). And finally, the sun began to peek out behind the clouds.
I shared the beach path with other walkers, cyclists, joggers and parents pushing strollers or being led by dogs. Next was Spanish Banks East followed by Locarno and Jericho Beaches. Restrooms are open along the way.
Ambitious walkers can go all the way to Kitsilano Beach, but keep in mind you have to walk back up through the woods to your vehicle. My morning walk took about two hours, with plenty of time for beachcombing and photography.
If you’re really adventurous, head in the opposite direction to Wreck Beach, Vancou ver’s only clothing-optional beach.
Although you may want to save that one for a warm, sunny day.
In case of rain
Two new exhibitions opened in Vancouver recently.
“Totems to Turquoise,” from the American Museum of Natural History in New York, is at the Vancouver Museum in Vanier Park, the show’s only Pacific Northwest venue.
The art exhibit brings together 500 pieces of American Indian jewelry from the Southwest desert and the Northwest rainforest: the Haida and the Hopi, the Nisga’a and the Navajo.
It runs through March 25. For more information, go to www.totemstoturquoise.com.
“Emily Carr: New Perspectives on a Canadian Icon” is at the Vancouver Art Gallery through Jan. 7.
This fresh look at the life and art of modernist painter Emily Carr is the first national touring retrospective of her work in more than 30 years.
For more information, go to www.vanartgallery.bc.ca.
Also worth a visit is the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Although the Arthur Erickson building is under renovation and expansion, it remains open to the public.
The building reflects the post-and-beam structures of Northwest Coast Nations and its collections include both archaeological material and ethnographic objects from around the world. Highlights are the totem poles in the Great Hall and “The Raven and the First Men” wood sculpture by Bill Reid. For more information, go to www.moa.ubc.ca.
Sue Frause is a Whidbey Island freelance writer and photographer. She may be contacted through her Web site at www.suefrause.com.
If you go …
Pacific Spirit Regional Park, 4915 W. 16th Ave. (off Blanca), Vancouver, B.C.; 604-224-5739; www.gvrd.bc.ca.
Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, www.city.vancouver.bc.ca/parks.
A Harbourview Retreat Bed and Breakfast, 4675 W. Fourth Ave., Vancouver, B.C.; 866-221-7273; www.aharbourviewretreat.com; rates begin at $150 and include a full breakfast.
The Listel Hotel, 1300 Robson St., Vancouver, B.C.; 800-663-5491; www.thelistelhotel.com; the “Totems to Turquoise” package is $270 and includes one night in a Museum Floor room; dinner for two at Liliget Feast House; breakfast for two; admission for two to “Totems to Turquoise” exhibit; transportation for two aboard the Vancouver Trolley Co.
Tourism Vancouver, www.tourismvancouver.com.