It’s a city where pewter-dark skies can dissolve into relentless rain at any time of year. But when you’re in Vancouver and the deluge hits, you have two choices: retreat to your hotel bed or make like a local and pretend it’s just another liquid sunshine day.
For those visitors unprepared for a 'Wet Coast' tempest or three, here are our top suggestions for what to do in the city that’s often called Raincouver.
The Pacific Northwest has a temperate rainforest climate, but you can sample a far balmier jungle inside Queen Elizabeth Park’s Bloedel Conservatory. Under its glass triodetic dome, this perfect antidote to a dank day is a warm mini-paradise of palm trees, fragrant flowers and clusters of ripening bananas. It’s also home to a cawing coterie of parrots and busy canaries engaged in rowdy birdseed-hoarding battles.
Alternatively, the Great Hall of the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology is ideal for watching raging storms pelt the floor-to-ceiling windows. Home to many breathtaking First Nations’ artifacts, its collection of carvings include two wooden men in a boat who seem well prepared for any tempest.
But if the lowering sky taps your darker side, hit the quirky Vancouver Police Museum. A preserved former morgue is its grisly star attraction, but save time for the cabinets illuminating several real-life local murders. If the rain hasn’t sent a shiver down your spine, the bloody photos and exhibits here will.
After, embrace the light across town at Christ Church Cathedral. A tranquil spot to shelter from inclement weather, its celebrated stained glass windows offer the chance of rainbow-like hues – whatever the weather.
Granville Island is a popular sunny afternoon hangout in the heart of Vancouver. But it can also be a savvy rainy-day spot: jam-packed in summer, showers typically discourage the crowds here, leaving the shops, galleries and restaurants far less-frenzied than usual. Buy a pertinent accessory from the island’s Umbrella Shop (theumbrellashop.com) and you’ll be well protected for ducking between attractions.
The island’s best storm-weathering hangout is Granville Island Public Market. Snag a window table and watch the rain-soaked gulls on the False Creek shoreline while staying warm with a cup of ginger rooibos from the market’s Granville Island Tea Company (granvilletea.com).
Need something stronger? Dash through the deluge to nearby Granville Island Brewing. One of Vancouver’s oldest microbreweries, the small-batch operation here offers tours and leisurely tastings. And for a chaser, it’s a two-minute dart around the corner to Liberty Distillery (thelibertydistillery.com) – the 3-6pm happy hour (Mon-Thu) is a local favourite.
But if you love hunkering down in cozy bars on wet afternoons, it’s hard to beat Main Street’s Brassneck Brewery (brassneck.ca).
Gather a group for the secret table at the back – it has no windows so you can pretend it’s sunny outside – then dive into Vancouver’s finest microbrews. Check the ever-changing board above the bar (Passive Aggressive Dry Hopped Pale Ale recommended) and add an elk sausage side order from the countertop jars.
Those still standing may want to sober up with a short uphill stroll and a coffee at Gene Cafe, located in a flatiron building with floor-to-ceiling windows that often steam up on rainy days. Can’t find a seat? Open your umbrella and keep walking south on Main and you’ll find the larger 49th Parallel Coffee a hangout for hipsters with MacBooks and naughty Lucky’s Doughnuts.
Then it’ll be time to hit the bookshops. Vancouver has a good array of hidden-gem independent bookstores that invite hours of rainy-day browsing among the stacks. On Main, you’ll find ever-popular Pulpfiction Books (pulpfictionbooksvancouver.com) while downtown’s Pender and West Hastings intersection includes the piled-to-the-rafters Macleod’s Books and the charming little Paper Hound (paperhound.ca).
Rain, of course, can also be a symptom of cold weather – heralding the kind of days when mainlining soup is the only way to stay warm. But some restaurants are ideal for damp, chilly stretches, creating a cozy glow that keeps you glued to your seat rather than returning to the bone-chilling streets.
But Acme Cafe takes the cake as arguably Vancouver’s best wet-weather restaurant hangout. Snag a window seat and watch the locals struggle past with broken umbrellas or sink into a back booth and faceplant into house-made meatloaf or bangers and mash. Still raining? Add fresh-baked fruit pie and steaming custard to your day.
If your shoes are prone to leakage, you might be persuaded by the dry-sock lure of the nearest shopping mall – or the chance to spend an afternoon stroking the wall-to-wall waterproof jackets at Mountain Equipment Co-op.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Instead, choose a street with such a high concentration of great stores you’ll only be outside for mere nano-seconds while darting between them. In Vancouver, that means Kitsilano’s West 4th Avenue, Gastown’s Water Street and – especially – the few blocks running south of 18th Avenue on Main Street.
Here you’ll find a cornucopia of adjoining or just-across-the-street indie stores worth an afternoon of anyone’s slightly damp time. Peruse the new and vintage togs at Front & Company; dive into the achingly cool clothes at Smoking Lily; and flick through the albums at Neptoon Records and Red Cat Records.
But if it’s still raining when the shops close, make sure you’ve timed your visit for the first Thursday of the month. That’s when the area’s Regional Assembly of Text – a hip stationary store lined with must-have journals, quirky Vancouver postcards and an under-the-stairs reading room crammed with handmade chapbooks – hosts its regular social night.
From 7 p.m., this free-entry Letter Writing Club offers all-comers the chance to hammer away on vintage typewriters, crafting missives to loved ones as the rain whips the windows outside. The perfect way to spend a wet evening indoors, find a chair, compose your thoughts and thump out your letter: 'It’s raining again in Vancouver – wish you were here.'