Lifestyle photographer Jeremy Jude Lee‘s local guide to Vancouver, Canada, including the best spots to dig into the famous dim sum scene and the club frequented and run by rap and R&B legends.
My name is Jeremy Jude Lee, and I am a lifestyle and commercial photographer born and raised in Vancouver, BC.
Vancouver is such an interesting, young city. You could say “Vancouver” around the world, and most people will have heard of it; however, if you’re from here, it still feels like a small town. What makes our city iconic is the beautiful city-meets-nature landscape, and I’d argue that the same quality is reflected in our people. There is growth happening, and a hustle in our city, but it is never eclipsed by people’s love for their way of life.
Everyone has their own version of what a perfect day in the city looks like, but I can only give you mine, so here it is.
Jeremy Jude Lee’s Perfect Day in Vancouver
8:00 a.m. — Finding the Light
My ideal morning activity or stroll would start at Waterfront Station during sunrise. Sunrises in downtown Vancouver are pretty magical. If you get off at the last train station downtown and take the stairs behind the station, you can watch the most amazing sunrise. On a perfect day in winter, you’ll see the fog rising off of the water, slashed in half by the sunlight shooting through the mist, eclipsing the mountains of the north shore, and bouncing off of the heritage buildings of Gastown. I may sound like I’m exaggerating, but I’m really not!
It’s also the best time to stroll through downtown to shoot photos because once the sun goes over the buildings, it creates all of these interesting long shadows through the side streets and alleyways that are perfect for finding photographic inspiration.
9:00 a.m. — Coffee and Hip-Hop
After a quick morning stroll, I love sitting down at Nemesis Coffee. I’ll grab an Americano, and one of their super delicious salted chocolate chip cookies. They have a cool bookshelf with merch, and all of their favorite hip-hop records, that they often play in the shop. They always have good music, and a chill vibe so it’s a nice place to start.
If you can get a group together, the best “traditional” weekend breakfast you could have in Vancouver is… DIM SUM! Whenever I travel and talk to people about my own city, people who have visited usually rave about the mountains, the ocean, and the Asian cuisine. I’ve heard it’s some of the best Chinese food outside of Asia.
My restaurant of choice would have to be Western Lake on Victoria Drive. I would advise you to order a ton of dishes, then go for a stroll around the neighborhood to see the sea of “Vancouver Special” houses. These historical homes are essential to the heritage of Vancouver, and the childhood home of many Vancouverites.
11:00 a.m. — Land Meets Sea Meets Forest Meets Mountain, All in One Park
After a walk through East Vancouver, I’d make my way back downtown. This may be a pretty cliche thing to suggest, but if you have never been, you should take a bike or a stroll around Stanley Park. It’s a huge public park on the edge of Downtown Vancouver, and if you don’t understand what all the hype is about, just walk the seawall and you’ll get it. It’s a land-meets-sea, meets-forest, meets-mountains, meets-city kind of experience—it’s ridiculous. As a local, it’s something I’ve taken for granted, but when I take people there for the first time, I realize how crazy it is all over again.
12: 00 p.m. — Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
If you’ve already had dim sum, you might be up for something a little bit lighter. There are too many lunch options to name, so let’s narrow it down to just meatball sandwiches.
If you plan on staying downtown, you could adventure through historic Chinatown and make your way to Say Hey Cafe. It’s a bit of an oddball on the block, a western-style sandwich shop in Chinatown, but their meatball sub is juicy and satisfying. They also have this delicious Apple Sidra drink in their fridge, which seems to go perfectly with meatballs.
If you haven’t gotten your Asian food fix, hop on the bus down to my favorite Vietnamese restaurant in the city, Au Petit Cafe. They have the most delicious, house-made meatball Banh Mi, as well as the best Vietnamese spring rolls I’ve ever had. If you’re lucky, the original owner sometimes comes and teaches you to make a salt, pepper, and lime dipping sauce that is so simple and so delicious you’ll wonder why you never did it at home.
1:00 p.m. — March Down Main Street
The ideal afternoon activity varies from season to season. In the summer, you could walk from lunch to Nat Bailey Stadium to catch a baseball game. But I’d say my personal favorite thing to do on any day would be to hang out around Main Street, anywhere from Riley Park to Mount Pleasant.
Any time of year, you could grab a coffee after lunch at Milano Coffee or Elysian Coffee. Stroll around the area and check out all of the amazing murals from the Vancouver Mural Festival. Depending on the time of year, you might actually catch the artists painting.
2:00 p.m. — Brewery Hop(s)
Once you’ve finished your coffee, head to one of the many breweries in this neighborhood: Brassneck Brewing, R&B, and 33 Acres to name a few. During the summer, my friends and I like to go from brewery to brewery and sample a beer from each spot—there must be seven to 10 microbreweries in the area so you do the math.
3:00 p.m. — The Antisocial Skateboard Shop Is Actually Very Social
After your mini brew tour, walk up to Antisocial Skateboard Shop, and grab yourself a new skateboard deck, or if you’re lucky they will have their flower shop open and you can grab a bouquet. Antisocial is one of the coolest hidden gems in Vancouver for me because it’s always been a humble local shop with a worldwide reputation. The shop owner Michelle is so involved in the community that you’ll see someone wearing an Antisocial Tee at any skatepark you go to. Plus, you’ll see them doing something cool for the community at almost every arts or cultural event that the city puts on year-round. They often have art shows, video premieres, and other events going on in the shop as well.
4:00 p.m. — Vancouver by Sea(Bus)
If you have time, you can take the SeaBus across the water to the North Shore, and enjoy your early evening watching the sun go down at Lonsdale Quay. This neighborhood is directly across the water from Downtown Vancouver, so it’s probably the best view of the city you could ever see on foot. Plus, the ride on the SeaBus is pretty beautiful in itself, you might even see a seal or sea lion swimming alongside the boat.
6:00 p.m. — The Most Memorable Dinner in Town
If I could only take a visitor on one memorable dinner for them to remember Vancouver by, it would most definitely be at Phnom Penh. It’s a Vietnamese/Cambodian restaurant in Chinatown that is a local institution and has been there for years. The most popular dish there has to be their famous chicken wings or butter beef. Its appearance is nothing fancy or modern, just a traditional family restaurant vibe, but the food is out of this world. There is a reason that people wait 45 minutes to an hour for a table, at almost any time of day. (Pro tip: If you have a party of six or more, you can make a reservation, but they only take a few reservations every day, so act fast!)
7:30 p.m. — Where to Start Off Your Night
There are a number of bars in the area that I would visit before a night out in Vancouver. The Boxcar is a nice narrow little bar, that has an awesome selection of local beers and ciders. If you’re after a proper cocktail, The Diamond in Gastown or The Keefer Bar are both great options. Alternatively, if you’re looking to sample a ton of flavors of beer, you could trek out a little bit further to Parallel 49 Brewing. It’s one of the original craft breweries in Vancouver, and their tasting room has a full-on food truck parked inside.
If you’re feeling like some good hip-hop and R&B, you can head to Fortune Sound Club. It just celebrated its 10 year anniversary in Vancouver and has hosted famous acts from Drake to Odd Future, Snoop Dogg, and Virgil Abloh to name a few. The owner, G-Man, is another one of those Vancouverites whose names are synonymous with the city, and his long-standing support of the music community is part of what makes this venue so special.
The Vancouver Essentials
Where to Stay in Vancouver
If you’re going the Airbnb route, Olympic Village is probably the most central neighborhood. It’s walking distance from a ton of great places and close to transit to get everywhere else.
Know Before You Go
If you are visiting Vancouver, I highly suggest you visit during the spring or summer. The temperature is perfect, the city is alive, and the days are long. It’s perfect for a grand adventure and to attempt my entire itinerary!
Read Before You Go
If you can find a copy of “Fred Herzog: Photographs,” he’s a legendary photographer who captured Vancouver in the 50s and 60s. His book gives you a taste of the old Vancouver, which will give you an interesting perspective to ponder while exploring the city today.