By ChloŽ Ernst
Granville Island is a feast for the senses, attracting about 10 million annual visits from tourists and locals. You can head there to eat at the public market, buy fish at the docks, and watch artisans at work. You'll also hear buskers and the calls of hungry seagulls. Top attractions on the island range from guided tours to busy markets and galleries.
Granville Island Attractions and Things to Do:
Granville Island is home base for some of the city's long-time artisans. Wandering the pedestrian-friendly streets, you can look in through studio windows to watch artists and craftspeople creating fine pieces. Railspur Alley is a hub of woodworkers, potters, and even a sake-maker. And the open-air Ocean Art Works is a Johnston Street favorite to see First Nations artists carving totems or boat-builders shaping a craft.
Emily Carr University of Art and Design is based on the island, and the school's Charles H. Scott Gallery (1399 Johnston St.; 604-844-3809) exhibits contemporary art. And for student work, you can browse through the nearby Concourse Gallery.
Day or night, entertainment abounds on Granville Island. You can catch buskers performing songs and acts near the public market, especially on sunny summer days.
Come evening, theaters and performance spaces are the destination. The Arts Club is the best known, producing a full season of contemporary plays. For belly-laughs, head to the Improv Centre for quirky acting games featuring the Vancouver TheatreSports League. You'll find changing shows and independent productions (including works for the end-of-summer Vancouver Fringe Festival) at venues like Waterfront Theatre and Performance Works.
But the island offers still more after sunset. The Backstage Lounge is a reliable venue for live music. Or, you can grab a cocktail at a local restaurant.
Whether it's a summertime water park or the cool cement factory, there is plenty for children to explore on Granville Island. The Kids Market is a toy store times 10, with various shops and play areas. But you don't need to spend money -- in summer the massive free water park has slides, geysers, and water cannons. Or, watch for the cement trucks painted as fruits and vegetables at Ocean Concrete. And there's a neat moving mechanical artwork out front, known as a kinetic sculpture.
Buskers, mini-ferries, and seagulls make for other kid-favorites. And be sure to look for seals along the wharf, west of Anderson Street.
If you'd like to see Granville Island with the eyes of a local, then you'll want to go behind the scenes with an informative tour of the island. To get a feel for the island on a first visit, I recommend Tour Guys' free tour of the island. Tours run on tips rather than a set charge, and depart from the corner of Anderson Street and W. 2nd Avenue during the summer season. But check their schedule for current offerings.
Granville Island Brewing Company offers tours and tastings at its microbrewery. To tantalize your taste buds further, join a public market tour with Edible Canada, one of the best Granville Island restaurants. During the tour, a chef will lead you through the stalls to meet the vendors and taste the products.
Taking a public bus, hop-on tour bus, or mini-ferry to Granville Island means you can avoid car traffic and not have to find a parking spot. But another fun way to reach the island is by biking along the waterfront. The Vancouver seawall, most famous for its Stanley Park portion, hugs False Creek and connects the West End and Yaletown with Granville Island. The paved path then continues on to Kitsilano Beach.
Following the waterfront also takes you to more tucked-away areas of the island, including the row of floating houses that make up Granville Island's small permanent population. And just off the island, west along the seawall, you'll find the Fishermen's Wharf -- a lively spot to discover British Columbia seafood. Depending on the season, you'll find BC spot prawns, sockeye salmon, and albacore tuna, among other fresh offerings.