LGBTQ Travel Guide: Vancouver

Vancouver Harbourfront

Joe Daniel Price / Getty Images

 

Vancouver is one of North America’s most LGBTQ-friendly (and environmentally progressive) cities. With a population of about 675,000 people, this Pacific Northwest gem draws record numbers of visitors each year for its scenery, extensive bike trails, refreshingly casual style, and a society in which LGBTQ folks are woven into the very fabric. 

In fact, Tourism Vancouver launched a “meet the locals” campaign spotlighting members of its colorful, diverse LGBTQ community, including Two-Spirited Squamish First Nations designer Tyler Alan Jacobs and half-Squamish, half African-American DJ, Orene Askew. 

Much like Toronto and Montreal, Vancouver also has an active gay village, aka Davie Village, peppered with LGBTQ-friendly bars, nightclubs, and one of the longest-running LGBTQ bookstores on the continent, Little Sisters. The whole area pulses with rainbow-striped energy and excitement during late summer’s Vancouver Pride. Here's your guide to all things LGBTQ in Vancouver, whether you're visiting for Pride, the annual Vancouver Queer Film Festival, or anytime during the year!

Forbidden Vancouver’s Really Gay History Tour
Lawrence Ferber 

Things to Do

First, get familiarized with downtown Vancouver and its Davie Village while taking a deep dive into its LGBTQ history with Forbidden Vancouver’s Really Gay History Tour. Donning an easily spotted pink fedora, guide Glen Tkach leads this weekly three-hour walking tour, during which he shares truly fascinating stories that he personally researched, sourcing many from extensive interviews with witnesses to history and archival material (he complements these anecdotes with photos and documents). You won’t find most of this in history books—for example, “buggery trials” that took place at the former courthouse-turned-Vancouver Art Museum—making the tour a fascinating must for even those who consider themselves very familiar with Vancouver. 

One tour stop entails Davie Village’s Little Sister’s Book & Art Emporium, an LGBTQ bookstore that opened in 1983 and has survived despite bomb threats and attempts by Canadian customs to shut it down for importing “obscene” materials. Today, the shop carries a fantastic mix of LGBTQ-interest books for all ages, including clothing, accessories, and gay pride everything. 

Vancouver is also one of North America’s most bike-friendly cities with about 279 miles of bicycle routes, including protected lanes and dedicated trails around and within Stanley Park and the glorious seawall. Rent a bicycle from or take a tour with the very LGBTQ-friendly City Cycle Tours; numerous models are available, including e-bikes, which are perfect if planning on steep, strenuous inclines (e.g. hipster Main Street) or speedier, less sweaty rides. It's a well-oiled machine with seemingly bottomless stock of rental bikes, so even during peak summertime bike days you'll still find available models. Spokes is another option and is located opposite Stanley Park’s seawall entrance on Denman and Georgia Streets. It offers numerous manual bicycles including tandem bikes. 

Also take a ride or walk around East Vancouver's residential Commercial Drive, which is known to be especially lesbian-friendly.

While Vancouver is less of a museum and gallery destination than Toronto or Montreal, downtown’s Vancouver Art Gallery is world-class with a diverse line-up and great shop, and a new building, designed by Switzerland-based architecture firm Herzog & de Meuron, is in the works. Also a gem, Chinatown's contemporary-focused, private Rennie Museum offers free tours, though reservations typically must be made in advance.

LGBTQ Bars and Clubs

Most of Vancouver’s LGBTQ nightlife is concentrated in Davie Village, and two of its most popular nightclubs are Celebrities and Numbers Cabaret. The former has been around since the 1980s, and received a major facelift in 2013 that includes spectacular light, sound, and two VIP areas. True to its name, you’ll catch some big names performing and DJing here, with Fridays generally dedicated to EDM and Saturdays featuring club hits and dancers. The three-level Numbers Cabaret, meanwhile, offers nightly drink specials, and a nightly guest list you can fill out online to get free or discounted admission before 11 p.m.: be sure to sign up before 4 p.m., lest it fill up!

The Pumpjack expanded to double its size in 2014, and hosts numerous parties and events, including “Encore,” Broadway musical piano bar sing-a-longs on Wednesdays. Bonus: Although last call at most Vancouver bars is 3 a.m., some venues and nights are afforded a 4 a.m. extension, which includes Pumpjack’s Saturdays. 

Celebrating its 13th year in 2020, Score on Davie is both an LGBTQ sports bar and decadent pub grub eatery, with a unique hook in its over-the-top menu—the Egg MC is topped by an egg, ham, cheese, and English Muffin sandwich with tater tot skewer—which is pure Instagram bait as well as delicious.

Although RuPaul’s Drag Race has yet to spawn a Canadian edition, there’s some formidable, entertaining local drag talent to be seen at The Junction, including Kendall Gender, Carlotta Gurl, celebrity impersonator Jaylene Tyme (don't miss her Dolly Parton!), and Alma Bitches

Although Vancouver currently lacks a specifically lesbian-designated bar or club, Flygirl Productions presents incredible lesbian parties and events that are "inclusive of all genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and body types."

Diversity in all its beauteous shapes, colors, and sizes is the lifeblood of Vancouver Art & Leisure, which produces an artist-run, non-commercial "Alternate Pride" and special LGBTQ events and parties throughout the year. In September 2019, they helped launch Central Studios, a brand new, multi-level arts and nightlife club for Vancouver's LGBTQ, kink, and alternative communities.

Where to Eat

Although the Michelin Guide has yet to enter Canada, if and when it launches a Vancouver or B.C. edition, Botanist is almost assured a multi-starred status. Located in the waterfront's Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel, and opened in 2017, Botanist's open kitchen dining room serves Executive Chef Hector Laguna's contemporary, Pacific Northwest produce-driven cuisine, bursting with bright and earthy flavors and regional terroir (from fungi to tart flower buds), plus delectable seafood, addictively toothsome house-made pasta, and Provence-inspired Fougasse bread. Wine director Jill Spoor's bottles are outstanding, and don't miss the Botanist's equally terroir-infused "experiential" cocktails, concocted behind glass in the bar's dedicated cocktail lab.

Located right along the waterfront, Miku is a must for its sauce-topped, scorched aburi oshi-style pressed, triangular sushi, which you can also try at its Yaletown sister venue, Minami, and a newcomer to the Vancouver food scene, Blossom Dim Sum & Grill. Overlooking bustling Robson Street, this second-floor, multi-space Blossom blends East and West (feng shui experts consulted on the interiors, which include dangling, upside-down umbrellas) in both design and Chef Derek Bothwell's menus, a mix of Cantonese dim sum, sushi, and grill integrating local produce and meat and Ocean Wise sustainable seafood. The B.C. Salt Spring lamb chop is insanely tasty and tender.

Other superb, LGBTQ-friendly, and Pacific Northwest-centric options: Kitsilano's 2018 opening AnnaLena, Chinatown Japanese-Italian fusion gem Kitta Tanto, and, when you just want something quick and simple,Vancouver-born artisan sandwich micro-chain Meat & Bread, which makes one of North America's best (if not the best) porchetta sammys.

The Douglas Hotel
Courtesy of The DOUGLAS, an Autograph Collection Hotel

Where to Stay

With several hotels in Downtown Vancouver, The Fairmont certainly puts their pink dollar where their mouth is. They support and promote several LGBTQ organizations, resources, and events, including the trailblazing HIV/AIDS health and services center, Dr. Peter Centre, and the Queer Film Festival. In 2018 they engaged local drag talent Kendall Gender as Pride Ambassador and head of Fairmont's jubilant float at the 2019 Vancouver Pride parade.

Their downtown properties include the waterfront's architecturally striking, arts-centric 367-room Fairmont Pacific Rim, the nearby 368-room Fairmont Waterfront, and just a few blocks inland, the historic 557-room Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, the latter of which celebrated its 80th Anniversary in 2019 with the completion of a $56 million renovation. Meanwhile, those making an overnight connection at Vancouver Airport (YVR) in nearby Richmond should absolutely consider the Fairmont Vancouver Airport, which boasts all the amenities of its sister properties and way cool tarmac views through its floor to ceiling, miraculously soundproofed windows.

Getting back to the bicycle-friendly thing, a few Vancouver hotels provide free bicycles for guests. These can be on a first come first serve basis, or require advance reservation. Fairmont Pacific Rim falls into the former category (manual bicycles are complimentary, but a recently added fleet of e-bikes incur hourly rental fees).

You can reserve free bikes at Yaletown's incredibly LGBTQ-friendly, chic boutique property Opus Vancouver and downtown's Loden Hotel. A house car service is also available at the Opus, Loden, and Fairmont Pacific Rim, offering complimentary rides to nearby destinations.

Finally, 2017 saw a pair of sleek new hotels open within the Parq casino complex by False Creek. Autograph Collection's 188-room, boutique-y The Douglas (do try their exclusive, locally distilled Douglas Fir-infused gin) and 281-room, 48-suite JW Marriott.

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