Cycling Vancouver’s Seaside Cafes

éA Two-Wheel Odyssey to a Table by the Sea

Ulysses can attest that sometimes the longest journey begins with a single malt. Not long after they set out on their fabled odyssey, Ulysses and his crew found themselves lingering in the land of the lotus-eaters for spirits and nosh by the sun-warmed sea.

It kind of sounds like patio season on the sea wall, doesn’t it? Like Ulysses, you set out with the best of intentions: your bike is tuned and you’re determined to ride hard, but the cafés, by God, the outdoor cafés! Their breeze-blown tablecloths, tinkling glasses, and promises of sublime indolence make them nearly impossible to just…ride…past.

Fortunately, you don’t have to. The solution to combining hard-core and Hefeweizen is literally attached to our familiar Seaside pathway signs. It’s a stylized maple-leaf symbol indicating that by merely getting on your bike and pedalling a few bite-size kilometres, you are cycling the Trans Canada Trail, a 17,000-plus-kilometre, coast-to-coast recreational trail soon to be the world’s longest. The Vancouver section happens to include a smorgasbord of roll-in café patios that are entirely free of traffic and blessed with views of the North Shore mountains, the Pacific Ocean, and the Gulf Islands.

If you decide to take on this section of the famed TCT, be aware: the path is long and the cafés many. There are almost 30 patios along the 20 flat kilometres of waterfront, and some are up to six kilometres apart. You can make like a randonneur and do the entire distance in one go, but it’s probably better for novice bike adventurers (‘bladers, skaters, wheelchair riders, and strollers too) to divide up the trip.

The Lower Mainland portion of the eastbound Trans Canada Trail begins at Waterfront SeaBus and SkyTrain station, but–in true lotus-land fashion–the beaches lure it west for a spell before it continues east toward Burnaby and the rest of the country.

Coal Harbour offers a backside perspective on Vancouver’s business and hotel districts to the south and a vista of marinas, Stanley Park’s Brockton Point, and the Coast Range to the north. Start at the Harbour Air Seaplanes terminal and in addition to being able to rent everything from in-line skates to a motorcycle, you can eat, drink, and study a free map on the cedar deck. Parking in their large lot is $19 for 24 hours; consider bringing your bike on the SkyTrain.

A quick spin westward gets you on the signed start of the Seaside/TCT path. The Mill Marine Bistro, Coal Harbour Community Centre, Bojangles Café, the Seawall Bar & Grill, and Bravo Bistro join Cardero’s in a two-kilometre collection of cafés that rivals English Bay’s. The Mill is family-friendly, with a ride-through water park. The community centre (like others on the route) has reasonably priced snacks and easy washroom access, and the Seawall’s poolside patio feels like an all-inclusive resort without the wristbands.

The trail opens into the north end of Denman Street; adventurers can either ride a 10-kilometre loop around Stanley Park or dive into a titch of traffic. For a quick fix-it, the Denman Bike Shop is nearby; their tandem cruiser bike deserves a ride-by viewing.

Avoid busy Denman by riding a block west to Gilford Street. It will deliver you sanely to English Bay, about three kilometres to the south. Both the Sylvia Hotel and Milestone’s Restaurant offer car-level patio views (the former is a good alternative to the lineups of the latter), but they don’t compare to the Boathouse’s rooftop sunsets a block south. Unfortunately, sports TVs and Muzak have recently replaced the tiki torches and bamboo bar.

In contrast, Fiddlehead Joe’s Eatery and its coffee-shop neighbour, the Ash Café, are intimate and infinitely better soundtracked. Tucked under the arches of the Burrard Street bridge and due east of the washrooms and snacks of the Sunset Beach concession, they mark the beginning of north False Creek’s series of water-view cafés. Tugboats, barges, and floating homes peacefully coexist with Aquabuses, dragon boats, and kayaks.

C Restaurant, Stonegrill, and the Riley Waterfront Café form a sort of pier square less than a kilometre east of the Burrard bridge. The Riley is the most accessible of the three if you don’t cycle in Prada.

Continuing east under the Granville Street bridge, the seaside path detours through a garrison of chainlink fences. They temporarily protect an expanse of concrete forms, park space, and public art that wavers between the amusing (yellow-steel Adirondack-style chairs) and the morose (tiered fountains that resemble autopsy slabs). They also transition False Creek’s former Expo lands south of Pacific Boulevard into what some have dubbed Falsetown. The area’s glossy take on “lifestyle living” is best enjoyed at a brisk 15 kilometres per hour, but if you must stop, the Roundhouse Community Centre has the Java Express courtyard café and clean washrooms. At Davie Street and Marinaside Crescent, the Reckless Bike Store offers free air.

A quick couple of kilometres east reveals lively, historically themed outdoor art, the Plaza of Nations, the Indy-lands eyesore, and Science World. The end of False Creek marks the quest’s halfway point at Kilometre 9 (and patio No. 18). Like Coal Harbour, Science World is a good start or finish point: parking, SkyTrain, and Aquabus are nearby, toilets are inside, and a roll-in White Spot Triple-O’s window around back serves burgers and smoothies all afternoon.

The south section of False Creek has become newly accessible to wheel travellers, thanks to the city and neighbouring industries. Cafés (or any retail activity, in fact) are absent along the asphalt path that winds past barge-loading ramps and patches of greenery. The path regains its manicured look after a couple of kilometres, and south False Creek’s first community of cafés appears at the Heather Civic Marina, better known as Stamp’s Landing.

Despite the popularity of its Monk McQueens Fresh Seafood & Oyster Bar and Stamp’s Landing Neighborhood Pub patios, this marina-view bay has maintained a hideaway status among out-of-towners. Monk’s patio is upscale and expansive compared to Stamp’s casual two-level nooks, but both spots are frequented by locals, boat owners, businesspeople, and sports fans.

The two-kilometre roll westward is a bone-shake of stone, brick, and wood surfaces, but the waterfall parkland is lush and a corridor of flowering bushes opens to a signpost pointing to the Vancouver pavilion of the Trans Canada Trail. In addition to galleries, markets, and bakeries, Granville Island has pedestrian-access patios in a range of prices. Bridges Bar is great for pub-priced food, the Dockside Pub at the Granville Island Hotel has microbrew and a 15-metre aquarium, the Arts Club Backstage Lounge is casual and cheerful, and the Cat’s Meow and the Sandbar are beautiful places for beautiful people.

Granville Island itself could take an entire day, so determined voyageurs are advised to keep their wheels moving west for the long stretch ahead. With the exception of a couple of park concessions at Kitsilano and Jericho beaches, this most popular segment of Vancouver’s beach coastline is dishearteningly bereft of traffic-free outdoor cafés.

The next and final patio is six kilometres away, and you must shoulder off aggressive traffic from Cornwall and Point Grey Roads, coast through Jericho Beach Park, and insinuate yourself past the intimidating fence enclosure of the Jericho Sailing Centre to get there. Look upward and there the club’s Galley Patio & Grill has your number. When they call it, your nachos are ready for pickup.

The final rewards of the 20-kilometre voyage you just completed are simple but satisfying: an uncrowded patio, a reasonably priced beer, and a spectacularly panoramic view of Burrard Inlet, Stanley Park, and the Vancouver skyline. Put up your feet, pull down your sunglasses, and savour the moment. It’s a workday tomorrow and you’ve got a Cyclops to deal with.

ACCESS: For information on the Seaside and other Vancouver routes, see city.vancouv er.bc.ca/engsvcs/transport/cycling/. Trans Canada Trail is at http://www.tctrail.ca/. The Trails Society of British Columbia’s Web site (www.trailsbc.ca/) offers updates on the 2,700-kilometre B.C. component, as well as an annotated map book.

SKYTRAIN AND SEABUS 604-453-3333, http://www.translink.ca/

AQUABUS 604-689-5858, http://www.aquabus.bc.ca/

HARBOUR AIR SEAPLANES 1081 Coal Harbour Road, 604-233-3500, http://www.harbourairadventurecentre.com/

THE MILL MARINE BISTRO 1199 West Cordova Street, 604-687-6455, http://www.millbistro.ca/

COAL HARBOUR COMMUNITY CENTRE 480 Broughton Street, 604-718-8222, http://www.coalharbourcc.vancouver.bc.ca/

BOJANGLES CAFÉ 1506 Coal Harbour Quay, 604-687-6599; 1089–1097 Marinaside Crescent, 604-683-7556; http://www.bojanglescafe.com/

SEAWALL BAR & GRILL 1601 Bayshore Drive at the Westin Bayshore Resort & Marina, 604-691-6967, http://www.westinbayshore.com/

BRAVO BISTRO 100–550 Denman Street, 604-688-3714

CARDERO’S 1583 Coal Harbour Quay, 604-669-7666, http://www.carderos.com/

DENMAN BIKE SHOP 710 Denman Street, 604-685-9755

THE SYLVIA’S LOUNGE 1154 Gilford Street at the Sylvia Hotel, 604-681-9321, http://www.sylviahotel.com/

MILESTONE’S RESTAURANT 1210 Denman Street, 604-662-3431, http://www.milestonesrestaurants.com/

THE BOATHOUSE RESTAURANT 1795 Beach Avenue, 604-669-2225, http://www.boathouserestaurants.ca/

FIDDLEHEAD JOE’S EATERY 1A–1012 Beach Avenue, 604-688-1969, http://www.fiddleheadjoeseatery.com/

ASH CAFÉ 3–1010 Beach Avenue, 604-689-7800

C RESTAURANT 2–1600 Howe Street, 604-681-1164, http://www.crestaurant.com/

STONEGRILL RESTAURANT 1661 Granville Street, 604-637-0388

THE RILEY WATERFRONT CAFÉ 1661 Granville Street, 604-684-3666, http://www.therileydining.com/

PROVENCE MARINASIDE 1177 Marinaside Crescent, 604-681-4144, http://www.provencevancouver.com/

JAVA EXPRESS 181 Roundhouse Mews at the Roundhouse Community Centre, 604-694-0383

RECKLESS BIKE STORE 110 Davie Street, 604-648-2600, http://www.rektek.com/

THE QUAY 1137 Marinaside Crescent, 604-683-5335, http://www.thequaylounge.com/

TRIPLE-O’S AT SCIENCE WORLD 1455 Quebec Street, 604-647-0003, http://www.whitespot.com/

MONK MCQUEENS FRESH SEAFOOD & OYSTER BAR 601 Stamps Landing, 604-877-1351, http://www.monkmcqueens.com/

STAMP’S LANDING NEIGHBOURHOOD PUB 610 Stamp’s Landing, 604-879-0821

THE CAT’S MEOW 1540 Old Bridge Street, Granville Island, 604-647-2287, http://www.thecatsmeow.ca/

BRIDGES BAR 1696 Duranleau Street, Granville Island, 604-687-4400, http://www.bridgesrestaurant.com/

ARTS CLUB BACKSTAGE LOUNGE 1585 Johnston Street, Granville Island, 604-687-1354, http://www.artsclub.com/

THE SANDBAR 1535 Johnston Street, Granville Island, 604 669-9030, http://www.sequoiarestaurants.com/

THE DOCKSIDE RESTAURANT & PUB 1253 Johnston Street at the Granville Island Hotel, 604-685-7070, http://www.docksidebrewing.com/

THE GALLEY PATIO & GRILL 1300 Discovery Street at the Jericho Sailing Centre, 604-222-1322, http://www.thegalley.ca/

Published in the May 6, 2004 Vancovuer Georgia Straight

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