The first time you come to Vancouver, you should absolutely walk or bike through Stanley Park, shop the streets of Gastown, gawk at the glimmering highrises and wild mountains across Coal Harbour, dine in Chinatown, and browse the stalls on Granville Island. See all the attractions that your guidebook tells you to—the city is full of good food, striking buildings, and scenic outdoor fun.
But venture a bit further to discover where Vancouverites live and hang out. Head across False Creek, the inlet that bisects the city, and aim for Mount Pleasant and South Main. (South Main is its own neighborhood or a subset of Mount Pleasant, depending on whom you talk to.)
The area, two miles from downtown, is full of coffee houses, startups, exercise studios, endlessly groovy shops, pottery workshops, restaurants, bars, ice cream stores, and lots of locals living their best Pacific Northwest lives. Go on foot or rent an e-bike (true to its name, Mount Pleasant is hilly, plus the neighborhood sprawls across a few miles) and get a satisfying taste of a scene unseen by most cruise ship passengers wandering downtown.
What to do in Mount Pleasant
On Main Street, head uphill (away from the downtown skyline) and check out the storefronts—the stretch of boutiques, cannabis shops, and thrift stores brings good finds. At 8th & Main are clothes for men and women and some curated vintage finds. The shelves and shelves of used and new books and indie magazines at Pulpfiction Books may delay your exploration for hours, so browser beware. F as in Frank offers racks crammed with Def Leppard T-shirts and ugly Christmas sweaters, as well as some clothes you could wear unironically.
City Centre Motel
Large-scale murals, part of year-round efforts related to Vancouver’s annual Mural Fest, have not only transformed Mount Pleasant’s walls but also have extended a colorful invitation to creative thinkers and businesses. City Centre Motel, a 1950s-era holdover, was used as a canvas for the first Mural Fest in 2016 but has been fully revived with a fresh all-encompassing coat of many colors. The motel now provides temporary studio spaces for 75 artists in its 75 rooms, and its open parking area serves as the occasional site for community events like dance parties and skateboard competitions.
You do you, of course, as you walk up Main Street, stopping wherever fancy takes you, but don’t miss Alexander Lamb Antiques (3271 Main St.), a small shop full of delightful pieces like a tin toy chicken that lays tin eggs or an intricately hand-carved side chair. Neptoon Records, a classic old-school vinyl shop (though prettier than most with red painted beams and pale turquoise bins), has the requisite band T-shirts stapled to the wall behind the cash register, loud music, packed crates of records, and lots of opinions.
If you’ve left someone at home who deserves a present from your Vancouver trip, the local businesses between 20th and 21st avenues may save your bacon. For dog parents, Good Boy Collective designs and sells a variety of dog collars, leads, and harnesses. If you have actual human children, Collage Collage carries children’s books, art supplies, craft project kits, stickers, and cool gifts to win you an enthusiastic welcome home.
Regional Assembly of Text
Perhaps you like stationery. Well, clutch your pencil case tightly as you enter the arty and divine Regional Assembly of Text because it will blow your mind. The shop, opened in 2005 by two art school graduates, is a modest and joyous celebration of letters and books and friendly design. Notebooks, cards, pencils, pens, erasers, tote bags, tea towels, and vintage typewriters (please touch!) are lovingly arranged in cabinets and on tables. In a snug adjacent room, dubbed the Lower Case Reading Room, visitors are invited to sit and peruse small-press and self-published books and zines. Though still paused for the pandemic, the shop’s letter-writing club meets monthly to sit and tap out letters at the typewriters.
Where to eat in Mount Pleasant
Alas, many of Mount Pleasant’s notable restaurants, like the hyper-locally inspired and sourced Burdock & Co, Chinese concept Old Bird, elevated vegetarian restaurant the Acorn, and Published on Main (PNW-focused fare with an exciting bar program) don’t open until 5 p.m. on weekdays. This means either you visit on a weekend or instead, enjoy the neighborhood’s wide array of cafés and bakeries. Liberty Bakery + Café serves sweet or savory pastries, strong coffee, and open-faced sandwiches in a sunny space decorated with thrift-store portraits. At Fifth Avenue and Ontario Street, sidewalk tables fill up with locals lingering over coffee and baked goods (brioche buns!) from Purebread.
Some other recommended tasty daytime options: the Arbor, which serves up plant-based comfort food, like steamed buns folded over tangy barbecue jackfruit, in the attractively spare indoor space or out on the shady patio. Or maybe a squash tempura taco from Tacofino Ocho, an outpost of the ubiquitous and delicious B.C. taco chain.
Mount Pleasant Vintage & Provisions
While you may get the feeling that cocktail bar and grill Mount Pleasant Vintage & Provisions was engineered by Instagram-fodder bots for optimal adult fun, it is actually fun.
You enter the booze-fueled playground through the porch door of a 1901 house straight into a ’70s rumpus room kitted out with chic turntables, harvest gold sofas, and knotty pine paneling. This space opens up into a soaring room, bookended by vast windows that maximize the light pouring in and illuminating vintage wallpaper, beaded curtain doorways, old neon bar signs, and busy employees whose rainbow-spectrum of hair color, tattoo distribution, and consistent yet diverse pulchritude also seem to satisfy an algorithm.
An open front patio and a covered back patio (carved out of an adjoining modern building) feature splashy selfie-backdrop murals above Astroturfed decks with picnic tables and plastic aluminum tube lawn chairs. Two daily menu specials—one meat, one veg, like bang-bang short ribs or grilled miso radicchio—are fired over the Brazilian-style grill. The cocktails are mixed, shaken, or dispensed from frozen drink machines, all to the driving pulse of a curated-fun soundtrack.