In the shadows of Vancouver’s looming skyscrapers, Granville Island is doing something different: thinking small.
The tiny island plays home to more than 300 local businesses, largely food vendors and artist studios, all housed in an open-air public market alongside small, winding alleyways. Founded in 1979 on the site of a derelict industrial complex, the island was named "Best Neighborhood" in the world in 2005 by non-profit group Project for Public Spaces and its nearly 10 million visitors each year appear to back up that assessment.
Granville Island sits in the middle of False Creek, the body of water that separates Vancouver from the city's West End. The island is accessible by bridge, but for a more unique arrival, visitors can hop on the False Creek Ferry, which stops at several popular tourist locations throughout the day.
The heart of Granville Island is its public market, populated daily by local food vendors. Stop by Seafood City, in business now for more than two decades, for expertise on salmon, halibut, scallops and other fish on display. Sample the new and old of Granville Island sweets with visits to Lee's Donuts and nearby ChocolaTas. An island staple for 27 years now, Lee's Donuts offers up donuts regularly raved about as Vancouver's best. The honey-glazed donuts are a perennial staple, alongside seasonal flavors like the Pumpkin Spice. ChocolaTas, a fairly new addition to the market, offers specialty Belgian chocolates. To get the full Granville Island experience, stop by when the Farmer's Market is open: 9 am to 3 pm every Thursday, from June through October.
Alongside its bustling food market, Granville Island has also made a name for itself as a serious destination for local artisans, who regularly work in on-Island studios. Tourists can get a first-hand look at crafts in progress, whether it is a hand-blown glass vase or welded bracelet.
Tucked into one of Granville Island's many winding alleys is the Michael Dean Gallery, which offers a wide array of rings from the designer himself. The studio, celebrating its fifth anniversary on the island, recently expanded to include the work of 10 top Canadian jewelry designers. Peak into the nearby New-Small & Sterling to watch glassblowers at work in the open studio and peruse finished projects in the adjoining gallery. Get a full look at all the artists on Granville Island through the city's interactive map.
The island is also a jumping-off point for some of Vancouver's best outdoor activities. Hit the water with Granville Island Boat Rentals, where rentals come with basic boating instructions and a one-day certification, or the Ecomarine Kayak Center, which offers lessons and rentals from its Granville Island location.
No Granville Island tour is complete without a stop at the Granville Island Brewing, Canada's oldest microbrewery. The brewery is best known for its Island Lager, but the Imperial Chocolate Stout and Brockton IPA took home gold and silver medals, respectively, in last year's Canadian Brewing Awards. A behind-the-scenes Brewery tour is offered daily at noon, 2 pm and 4 pm. Tours are booked on a first-come, first-served basis and, for $9.75 Canadian, include three four-ounce beer tasters.