Exploring Vancouver

By Paul Horne for PASSPORT Magazine

Once you're settled into your hotel, get outside and take advantage of the many adventure activities that have helped earn Vancouver the title "fittest city in North America." Whale watching is huge here, and you can take one of the half- or full-day boat tours to see orcas in the wild.

At the Vancouver Aquarium, there's no Shamu, but you will see dolphins, sharks, sea lions, those amazing hand-holding otters you've seen on YouTube (insanely cute), and the spectacular Beluga whales. The high point of my trip was an unforgettable "Beluga Experience" ($150) where I went backstage with a trainer to help feed, touch, train, and interact with one of the ghost-white Belugas. Despite his 3,800- pound size, he still had the agility, friendly intelligence, and playful personality of my Golden Retriever back in L.A. The Aquarium is located in Stanley Park, the largest city park in North America and Vancouver's crown jewel. Rent a bike or in-line skates and hop onto the park paths, or along the six-mile seawall, and enjoy the park's sandy beaches, formal rose garden, forests, and lawns. Other outdoor activities offered around town include sailing, rock climbing, hiking, rafting, kayaking, golfing, swimming, tennis, golf, and snowshoeing. The best resource for booking these kinds of activities is the giant Tourism Center on the Waterfront.

Nothing beats the stress of travel like a spa visit, and first on my list was Skoah, a day spa that does one thing only, but does it well: facials. I was convinced to give it a try when even a therapist at a competing spa in town recommended the Skoah facial. My own face felt squeaky clean and smooth after my appointment, and I picked up a few items from their impressive signature skincare line before I left.

Another great spa is the Absolute Spa at Hotel Vancouver, one of the few spas in North America that caters primarily to gentlemen. The large, private treatment rooms feature dim lights, oversize soaking tubs, and spacious high-tech showers. The lobby walls here are filled with headshots of celebrities who have ducked in for a quick refresh.

I also booked an appointment at Miraj, Canada's only Middle-Eastern hammam. It's located on the ground floor of a nondescript residential building in the prestigious South Granville area, so I was surprised to pass through the glass doors into a Turkish oasis of arched doorways, Moorish columns, and Moroccan silk pillows. After a quick shower I warmed up in a spacious and private marble hammam (steam room) before being led to a low-mist antechamber by my therapist for a total body gommage (exfoliating scrub) with Moroccan soap. I was naked as a jay bird, but so relaxed. My therapist must have scrubbed away any modesty I had left. Then she passed me off to my final therapist who gave me a fantastic massage using traditional scented oils before dropping me in the Sultana lounge with a cup of hot tea and a delicious Lebanese sweet cake. I collapsed on the velvet bed for almost an hour, reading magazines and gazing out the arched window at the rush of traffic outside. With only an inch of glass separating me from the throng of humanity, it felt a world away.

Published: 2 Nov 2008 | Last Updated: 1 Apr 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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