Very early memories of Kitsilano are a mix of golden trees tumbling burnt red leaves down to the well-weeded pavements. I remember family trips to the bakery to enjoy cinnamon buns and pizza bagels. Kitsilano is a neighbourhood that has something for everyone, truly a diverse neighbourhood in a diverse city. The most beautiful streets are lined on both sides with coniferous trees, vibrant emerald in the summer and solid gold in the autumn. In the winter, snow perches easily on their branches and the roofs of the picturesque houses. This neighborhood has always been an excellent place to raise a family: the area is dotted with elementary and independent schools, and home to the appraised Kitsilano Secondary School. It is also a fun, exciting place as a young person or a young couple, with many cafes, parks, beaches, and restaurants for entertainment.
By looking at the number of independent cafes, bistros, flower shops, and farmers markets, one may equate Kitsilano to other culturally rich areas of Vancouver such as Main and Commercial. The difference is that Kitsilano is a dynamic character in the Vancouver scene; it not only has these artistic, independent venues, but is also rich the stunning beauty and elegant stature of the three beaches and parks of the area, a wide expanse of nature amongst the urban culture.
With so much to do and see, it is hard to describe an overall picture of this vibrant neighbourhood, but one may start by dividing the area into manageable categories: casual cafes, coffee and tea shops, restaurants, shopping streets, parks, and beaches.
My favourite part of a cafe experience is getting coffee and brunch on a Saturday morning. There’s something about birds chirping and rare Vancouver sunlight streaming in a freshly-washed window as you sip a latte and catch up on the news. One of the best casual eateries for breakfast or brunch is Benny’s Cafe, nee Benny’s Bagels, a specialty bagel shop on West Broadway. Entering the cafe, one is welcomed by a warm cashier and presented with a menu outlining their various bagel choices: sandwich, melt, or basic, and soup. Their basic bagels are served with an eclectic source of cream cheese, and are anything but ‘basic’. They come in many different flavours, and there is truly something for everyone. Overwhelmed by choices, two favourites are the Bagel Mex, a bagel topped with cheese, crushed tortilla chips, guacamole, hot salsa, jalapenos, and other taco toppings, and the fruit bagel, which comes with a melted-cheese bagel piled high with blue- and blackberries. The atmosphere of Benny’s is what makes it so special: sunlight streams in from Broadway through the huge windows, and a huge plush leather couch sits perpendicular to a roaring fireplace, making the interior of the cafe feel like your own living room. Two parallel staircases lead up to the loft seating overlooking the ground floor of the cafe. A young family spend Saturday morning together and enjoy easy conversation over bagels and coffee, and a young couple studies on their laptops in the gentle warmth of the loft.
An amazing gem in Kitsilano as far as tea goes is DAVIDs Tea on west 4th. DAVIDs is new to Vancouver, and offers an amazing solution for tea lovers. They sell their teas in leaf, tea bag, cup-of-tea, and tea latte form. Stacked on towering shelves lining the wall behind the cash registers are cylinders of their world-renowned teas: options of black, oolong, mate, green, herbal, rooibos… the list goes on. They also sell beautiful porcelain ‘The Perfect Tea Mug’s, which come complete with a fitted strainer and wooden lid, along with various tea sets and teapots. A tea lover could easily spend hours in here smelling and sampling teas, eyeing their boxed tea gift sets, and browsing their tea sets. I select three teas from the selection: Red Velvet (black), Birthday Cake (rooibos), and Love Tea #7, a black tea beautifully crafted from chocolate, rose petals, and strawberries. Twenty-five grams of each tea only amounts to a very affordable ten dollars, so I will definitely be back for more. DAVIDs Tea only has a few locations in Vancouver, North Vancouver, and West Vancouver, and it is a major perk to living near West 4th.
Feet sore and tired from shopping and walking, we darted into Cob’s Bread for a delicious gooey cinnamon bun, and discovered a small, out-of-the way coffee shop on Vine Street, off 4th. Its section of brick wall is painted a bright mustard yellow, and it is small and cozy inside. According to their website, www.culpritcoffee.com, their coffee is brewed by the local artisan Fernwood Coffee. They also offer gluten-free baked goods, and make by hand their soups, salads, and sandwiches. My London Fog (Earl Grey and vanilla tea latte) is deliciously rich and creamy, and boiling hot, which satisfies my usually disappointed-by-lukewarm-coffee taste buds.
Thomas Haas Fine Chocolates & Patisserie on Broadway is another delicious cafe in the area. It serves up the most decadent of chocolate creations, ranging from tiny individual chocolates and truffles to larger baked goods and macarons. Thomas Haas is also home to some of the creamiest, richest, most delicious hot chocolate.
On a more sit-down, formal level, a favourite Kitsilano restaurant is The Naam: a vegetarian eatery on West 4th. It is a small establishment that has been serving up natural vegetarian food for over thirty years. Nestled near the beach, it is a rectangular building covered with vines, with a narrow doorway usually trailed by a winding line of hungry patrons. The popular restaurant does not take reservations, but the food is well worth the wait. Steaming hot and pungent with spicy aromas, the well known enchiladas and other entrees pour out of the kitchen in a steady flow. Suitable for all ages and taste buds, The Naam is a healthy option for eating out in Kitsilano, and is one of the many perks to real estate in the area.
Another well-known and well-frequented restaurant is Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe, a diner originating from the 1980s and loved since then. It is covered in ‘galactic’ decor, a unique retreat from the usual chain restaurants. It serves up everything from breakfasts to burgers to vegetarian fare, and all at reasonable prices. It’s a great, unique date night spot, or an awesome place to take your kids, and distract them with all the space-age art until their food arrives.
West 4th is also home to some of the best shopping Vancouver has to offer. Stores such as Spank, American Apparel, and Urban Outfitters, standing majestically within its heritage stone building, serve many young peoples’ clothing needs, with off-the-rack clothing choices, while the street is also full of thrift shops, where the determined shopper can discover amazing treasures for likely less than ten dollars. Bookstores also populate the area, with second hand book shops and chain stores alike. You can’t miss the huge Kids’ Books on Broadway, always full with gigantic colourful window displays and books for every child and young adult.
Specialty gift shops are also abundant in the area, offering cards and gifts for every occasion. Ten Thousand Villages and Wishlist are two favourites, carrying very different items. Ten Thousand Villages is an eclectic world store with hand crafted items from around the globe. They carry beautiful jewellery, home wares, children’s items, and art. A range that caught my eye was full of paper products- that is, items such as covered bowls and picture frames made entirely from rolled-up paper. Wishlist is a more girly boutique, with hilarious cards, bath products, and novelty items. It is new to the area, and feels much like a French boutique.
A popular hangout area in Kitsilano is Vanier Park and the H.R. Macmillan Space Centre. The Space Centre offers education in astronomy to school-aged children and teenagers, as well as putting on shows in the evening. With affordable family rates, it is a fun day trip or Friday night activity to do with friends and/or family.
Adjacent to the Space Centre is Vanier park; a wide expanse of green grass that is bordered by the ocean and a winding seawall to Kits Beach. At the park, people of all ages gather to read, study, sketch, play, and fly kites. Yes, the vast quantities of wind that sweep dramatically over Vanier lend a helping hand to both the amateur and enthusiast kite flyers. As I walk along the seawall, a woman gracefully manipulates the long strings of her kite to cause the triangular contraption to arc and swirl in beautiful patterns.
Another hangout spot is Kitsilano Beach. The beach runs parallel to Cornwall Ave and is home to Kitsilano Pool. In the winter time, the beach is mostly deserted save for a few seawall walkers and kite flyers, as well as the smattering of small children playing in the sand. Huge cumulus clouds rise above the city skyline and beautiful sunsets can be seen on a clear night. In the summer time, the beach transforms from a quiet meditation locale to a bustling hangout for Vancouverites of all ages. Blankets and picnics span the green grass and Frisbees are tossed across the bright blue sky. The ocean is spotted with swimmers and paddlers, and windsurfers dart between the cresting swells. If the expanse of ocean does not hold appeal, Kitsilano Pool is located on the west side of the beach and is salt-water and outdoors, providing a great alternative to the seaweed and sand of the open ocean. Hadden Dog Park is also a fun activity in Kits Beach, where dogs and owners get outdoor exercise at all times of the year. The park is off-leash from 6am to 10am and 5pm to 10pm between May 1st and September 30th, and from 6am to 10pm between October 1st and April 30th.
The two other beaches in Kitsilano are Jericho and Spanish Banks. Jericho is located on Point Grey, and is a beautiful expanse of warm sand opening to a peaceful ocean. Quieter than Kits beach but more centrally located than Spanish Banks, Jericho is a perfect medium between the popular and the peaceful. The yacht club sits peacefully in one corner, and tennis courts are amongst the beach’s other amenities. The seawall meets the traveller here again, and continues through to Spanish Banks.
Spanish Banks is truly a unique Vancouver beach, and a real gem to residents of Kitsilano. When the moon pulls the tide miles from the beach’s mouth, the ocean is drained of seawater, revealing its naked and sandy underbelly. This beautiful layer of untouched sediment is laden with skeletons of sea life abandoned by the receding tide; sand dollars, crab shells, and sea shells are found in abundance. One can walk the smooth beach for what seems like infinite miles, toes sinking into jello-like sand and discovering the beauty of solitude. One’s mind can finally be at peace at Spanish Banks, a long stretch of sand and shells between a person and reality.
Kitsilano is full of beauty, be it urban or natural. It is a small cultural haven separated from the city by a bridge and a frame of mind, where time seems to last just a little bit longer and everything seems just a little more saturated, full of the very stuff that causes us to have hope for long days with the family, long adventures on foot, or the thrill of finding the perfect used book. Here, it is easy to find joy in the small pleasures of life, and real estate in Kitsilano can make this dream a constant reality. It can make the easy mornings at Benny’s Cafe, the unique boutiques of 4th and Broadway, the deliciousness of the Naam, and the peace of mind of Spanish Banks only a step outside your front door, only a small walk along the seemingly infinite stretch of seawall connecting haven to haven, neighbourhood to neighbourhood.
So come. Be a part of it. Experience it for yourself