Cap off a visit to Vancouver with a jaunt along the winding Sea-to-Sky Highway. Drawing travellers from around the world for decades, this ocean-forest-and-mountain-lined route underwent a $600-million upgrade prior to the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Scenic as ever, it's no wonder so many car commercials are filmed here.
What does the drive look like?
- Start by immersing yourself in Vancouver's laid back lifestyle for a day (think inner-city biking, paddling, and craft brewery hopping).
- Then hit the Sea-to-Sky section of Hwy 99 for a 65-kilometre drive north to the industry-turned-outdoorsy town of Squamish — worth an overnight stop all in itself.
- Onwards to the bustling alpine village of Whistler and its plethora of activities, attractions, and all-you-can-want amenities. Indeed, there are good reasons why this four-season destination scoops up armfuls of awards each year.
Experience big city lights and mountain town heights on this leisurely three-day road trip, passing island-dotted Howe Sound and waterfall-flushed peaks along the way.
Day 1: Vancouver
Your starting point
Must-stops along the way
Whether indoor or outdoor, manmade or natural, Vancouver's numerous attractions make for one giant holiday playground. Here are just a few to help kick-start a day of discovery in British Columbia's biggest city.
- Cycle the Seawall: Pedal a section of this 27-kilometre waterfront path - the world's longest - or the entire thing. Either way you'll get to see the best of the city at your own pace. Cruise underneath the Lions Gate Bridge on your ride around Stanley Park, then push past moored yachts in False Creek and sandy beaches in English Bay. Didn't pack a bike? Rent one or even book a tour.
- Granville Island: Peruse fresh produce and craft stalls before nibbling lunch on the dock at the Granville Island Public Market. Then scope out the city from another angle by kayak or stand-up paddleboard.
- Vancouver Brewery Tours: Get a taste of B.C.'s burgeoning craft beer scene on a three-hour tour of three breweries. Sample award-winning suds like Brassneck Brewery's Klutz or East Van Brewing's Humble Hive Brown Ale.
From award-winning eateries to down-home local favourites -- and eclectic street vendors in between -- Vancouver has your stomach covered.
- St. Lawrence: Find out what all the fuss is about at this homey Quebecois bistro (it won Restaurant of the Year in Vancouver magazine's Restaurant Awards 2018, and ranked fourth among enRoute magazine's Canada's Best New Restaurants 2018). Here, haute country cooking -- fried pork rinds in maple syrup or braised lamb shoulder with ratatouille, pistou and rosemary lamb jus - meets teal-blue walls, family photographs, and softly glowing brass lamps.
- Pepino's Spaghetti House: Located in East Vancouver's colourful Commercial Drive neighbourhood, Pepino's serves up Italian comfort food like chicken piccata and porchetta ravioli.
- Vancouver Food Trucks: Feel like gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches? Fully-loaded Japanese-style hot dogs? Or spicy Bombay street food? More than 100 licensed vendors on wheels now roam the streets of Vancouver, offering a culturally diverse mix of choices.
End your day
Hang your hat in some place new, true, or behind the scenes. You'll want to rest up for the high road tomorrow.
- Parq Vancouver: Choose from two luxury hotels at this casino resort downtown. Bask in ocean, mountain, and city views from your softy hued room at the waterfront JW Marriott, or connect with B.C.'s forestry roots from your wood-panelled perch in the Douglas overlooking Parq's 2,800-square-metre sixth-floor rooftop garden.
- Skwach?ys Lodge: Gaping at gorgeous works of art could keep you up all night at Canada's first Indigenous arts hotel, on the edge of Chinatown. After perusing the gallery lobby, settle into one of 18 themed suites like the Hummingbird, Forest Spirits, or Longhouse.
- Granville Island Hotel: Tuck into quiet ambience at one of Vancouver's best-kept secrets. Enjoy wrap-around False Creek views in a Boardwalk suite or floor-to-ceiling windows in a Penthouse suite.
Day 2: Squamish
Total drive time: 1 hour
Must-stops along the way
Leave the city behind by heading north along the Sea-to-Sky corridor (Hwy 99). Known as the Adventure Capital of Canada for its hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing (the 700-metre-high Stawamus Chief towers over the townsite), Squamish and its surroundings also promise pursuits of the more leisurely kind.
- Britannia Mine Museum: Make like a miner in 1914 and embark on an underground train ride through an early haulage tunnel. A popular movie set location, this National Historic Site is also home to a gold panning pavilion and several heritage buildings - take a peek inside cavernous Mill 3, where ore was once processed.
- Shannon Falls Provincial Park: A short, easy walk through a forest of hemlock, fir, and red cedar takes you to the viewing platform of B.C.'s third highest falls (335 metres).
- Sea to Sky Gondola: Amp up those Howe Sound vistas on a 10-minute gondola ride to lookouts, a suspension bridge, interpretive walking trail loops, and hiking trailheads.
- Rope Runner Aerial Adventure Park: Climb your way through a 17-metre-high outdoor maze of steel, wood, ropes, and wire. Surrounding Sea-to-Sky mountain views: priceless.
Once just a pit stop for gas and fast food, Squamish now halts weekend warriors in their SUV tracks with its expanding culinary offerings.
- Backcountry Brewing: A relative newcomer to the B.C. craft beer scene, Backcountry Brewing has already scored mugfuls of accolades - including first place in the 2018 B.C. Beer Awards for its Suck It Trebek pale ale. Pair their brews with pizza in the '70s-ski-cabin-styled tasting room, complete with lanterns and trail-map-lined tabletops.
- The Salted Vine: A contender for Canada's Best New Restaurants 2017 in enRoute magazine, this country-farmhouse-themed room serves up Pacific Northwest-inspired fare like fresh oysters, Cache Creek flat iron steak, and prawn and squid Bucatini.
- The Locavore Bar & Grill: Mix, match, and share locally-sourced meat and veggie plates inside an up-cycled glass-roofed greenhouse with wooden bar.
End your day
Fall asleep dreaming about mountain life in a warm and comfy inn, B&B, or cabin.
- Howe Sound Inn: After settling into your room with mountain views, soft-shoe on down to the onsite brewery for house-made cod tacos, ale and cheddar soup, or a Brewpub burger -- washed down with a rich Pothole Filler Imperial Stout or tropical Hazy Daze Northeast IPA.
- Squamish Highlands B&B: Take in ocean and mountain scenery from one of two tastefully-adorned rooms, best enjoyed while digesting the house veggie omelette, French toast, or eggs benedict.
- Sunwolf: Check into cosy cabins with vaulted ceilings, hardwood floors, and gas fireplaces at this riverside resort just under 15 kilometres north of Squamish in the community of Brackendale. Relax riverside at Fergie's Caf? and enjoy fabulous views while feasting on fresh, locally sourced and lovingly prepared food. Sunwolf also offers rafting and eagle float tours
Day 3: Whistler
Total drive time: 45 minutes
Must-stops along the way
Just a few snowball-throws up the road, Whistler hums with skiers and boarders in winter and hikers and mountain bikers in summer. A compact pedestrian-friendly village at the base of two lift-accessed mountains, it makes for the perfect jumping-off point for adventure near and far.
- Whistler Blackcomb: Reach this resort's 200-plus runs and 8,150 acres of terrain via the world's first three-gondola connection. The 10-person Blackcomb Gondola joins the Peak2Peak and Village gondolas to form a nearly 13.5-kilometre loop. Which means less time waiting and more time schussing.
- Cloudraker Skybridge: Spanning 130 metres from Whistler Peak to the West Ridge, this seriously high walkway above the resort's Whistler Bowl joins up with the Raven's Eye Cliff Walk platform - which means unreal views for summer sightseers.
- Ziptrek Ecotours: Appreciate the slopeside scenery on the Falcon tour as you soar over the Fitzsimmons Valley between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. Featuring 3 ziplines and 4 treetop bridge, this tour is full of heart-pounding adventure and spectacular panoramic views.
You don't have to go far in the village area to find a spot to nosh or apr?s-ski. Proven winners include Araxi for farm-to-table fare, the Garibaldi Lift Co. for elevated pub grub, and Hunter Gather for craft beer and house-smoked goodness. But don't miss the newer one-of-a-kind players at the table too.
- Umbrella Bar at the Roundhouse Lodge: Amp up the mountain views by stepping out onto this popular lodge's latest addition - a round, wood-lined space serving cold brews and hot chocolate under a retractable roof.
- First Nations Winter Feast & Performance: Bite into baked bannock, alder smoked and slow roasted bison brisket, cedar roasted salmon, and other Indigenous-inspired dishes at this twice weekly winter dinner (returning winter 2020) - traditional dance on the side - at the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre.
- The Blue Room: For a mere $20,000 CAD, you and your bestie could be whisked by helicopter to a secret cathedral-like ice cave for a private five-course luncheon, prepared by an executive sous chef. The experience also includes a private interpretive tour of the natural ice sculptures and ice flows by a wilderness expert You only live once, right?
End your day
Rest your weary toque-topped head in a luxury hotel, townhome, chalet, or condo. Looking for something a little different? Whistler has those too.
- Nita Lake Lodge: Take a break from the bustling village and retreat to Whistler's only lakeside hotel. Kick back in rooms with heated floors and basalt-rock fireplaces, then ogle lake views over French plates - served up in the recently-renovated Aura Restaurant's open-concept kitchen.
- Pangea Pod Hotel: Not your typical Japanese pod hotel, this new, hip, and surprisingly comfortable accommodation boasts memory-foam mattresses, wood-lined walls, and storage spaces in its private sleeping spaces. Savour snacks and cocktails in the communal living room while people-watching from the ample windows.