Vancouver is the hub, but there are a number of large cities just outside of Vancouver, each with their own benefits, nature, business opportunities and real estate options. Being outside of Vancouver, the cities offer more affordable options and generally a more residential feel, but each city does have their own hot spots and downtowns!
Have a look through my list of my favourite cities close to Vancouver, and let me know if you have any questions:
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North Van is the area north of Vancouver (naturally), east of the Lions Gate Bridge, west of the Indian Arm Peninsula, and north of the Burrard Inlet until you get to the mountains. North Van Van is one area when it comes to Real Estate, but it is separated into to distinct areas: (City of) North Vancouver (which encompasses Lonsdale and the urban area around it) and the District of North Vancouver (which is the quieter, residential areas around the City). These areas each have their own rules with regards to zoning, development, city services, etc. I’ve never lived in North Van, but I’ve always had the desire too. If you can’t live too far from the city due to work obligations, but are looking for something a bit quieter, generally more affordable and more in tune with nature, North Van should be in your list.
North Vancouver is known for its access to hiking trails, old forests and mountains. It’s home to the Lonsdale Quay, an area along the water with restaurants and shops that will benefit from upcoming City approved improvements to it’s infrastructure and community experience, Grouse Mountain & the popular Grouse Grind, Seymour Mountain & Ski Resort, Capilano Canyon & Suspension Bridge, beautiful Lynn Canyon, and much more. The major areas of North Van include Lonsdale Ave (starting at the Quay and heading north) where you’ll find a long street filled with restaurants and bars (both major chains and local options), amenities, groceries and more.
In terms of transit, there are a few ways to get to North Van from Vancouver/Burnaby/etc. There are two bridges: the Lion’s Gate Bridge out of Stanley Park and the Ironworkers Memorial/Second Narrows out of East Vancouver/Burnaby, though both are known to be quite busy during rush hour. You can also take the passenger ferry “Seabus” from downtown or a Translink bus running regularly across each bridge.
In terms of real estate, you have a lot of options in North Vancouver. Lonsdale has seen a huge increase in development over the last decade, with a number of high rises being built in Lower Lonsdale amongst the older low rise condo buildings you’ll still find. In addition, there are a number of low rise condos and townhouses scattered around North Van, both older and newer versions. You’ll also find some great detached houses, everything from small character houses, to bungalows, to luxury houses. You can find a lot of really interesting lots in North Van thanks to the incline and nature, with big lots featuring old trees and some peek-a-boo views of the mountains and even Vancouver. North Van is still cheaper than Vancouver in general, which is increased the further away from Lonsdale that you get. You’ll also find other busy shopping centres in Lynn Valley, Westview, Capilano Mall, Parkgate and Deep Cove.
Keep in mind that a portion of North Vancouver, west of Lonsdale and east of Deep Cove, is land owned by the Tsleil-Waututh Nation offering condos and townhouses on long term leased land (generally 99 year leases beginning in the 1990’s). Leasehold land in this area is generally easy to finance with a mortgage and are cheaper than similar units on freehold land, though Buyers do have to be aware that they don’t hold the same value as freehold land.
Deep Cove, the eastern most area of North Van along the Indian Arm, is known to be a bit of a quiet, resort style destination with large luxury houses along the water and big condos with great views and and a big increase in visitors every weekend thanks to the water and trails nearby.
- My Favourite Restaurants: The Soup Meister (for it’s perfect soups on rainy days), Shipyards Tap & Barrel (for the incredible patio), Gusto di Quattro (because a good Italian restaurant can’t be beat), Lift Breakfast & Bakery (it’s worth the lines for brunch), The Workshop Vegetarian Cafe (worth the drive for fresh and tasty options), and The Corner Stone Bistro (for the classics done well).
- Hidden Gems: North Van’s Brewery District is not well known to those outside of Vancouver, but it’s worthy of an afternoon! Just east of Lonsdale is House of Funk, Beere Brewing, Streetcar Brewing, Green Leaf Brewing, and more. If you brought your bike, you can head further east to Wildeye Brewing, Bridge Brewing, Deep Cove Brewers, and more!
- Best Chocolate Chip Cookies: The chocolate chip cookies from Bad Dog Bread are some of the best I’ve had!
Burnaby is a huge municipality (third biggest in the area after Vancouver and Surrey). It is the area east of Vancouver (from the Burrard I let down to the Fraser River) and west of Coquitlam, Port Moody and New West.
Burnaby has everything a big city should have: great transit options, post secondary schools, corporate headquarters, accessibility to nature and a variety of neighbourhoods, big and small. You’ll also find Simon Fraser University and BCIT in Burnaby, ensuring a large student population around the schools. Overall, Burnaby is known to be a well run, liberal minded city. You’ll also find a lot of park space, nature and access to water in Burnaby, including, Deer Lake, Burnaby Lake, Central Park and Burnaby Mountain, among others. Burnaby has some of the most park space per capita in the region! Burnaby is also home to some great sports amenities including the Burnaby Lake Sports Complex, Swangard Stadium, and within the parks.
The most populated areas are Brentwood (in North Burnaby), Metrotown (in Central Burnaby) and Edmonds (in South Burnaby). Each of these areas has a mix of high rises towers, low rise condos and townhouses and detached houses, and is serviced by major shopping centres and businesses. There are many other great neighbourhoods in Burnaby that are a less urban with more detached houses, particularly Burnaby Heights, South Slope and around Deer Lake. Burnaby Mountain is home to some amazing views while you’re surrounded by trees. In terms of transit, various areas of Burnaby are serviced by both the Millennium and Expo Skytrain lines, along with many bus lines within Burnaby and to nearby transit hubs.
Burnaby is big enough for everyone to find their nook. In my experience, Buyers tend to look for the area that allows the best commute to their work, and then dives into the options from there.
- My Favourite Restaurants: The Pear Tree (one of the best and most high end restaurants in Burnaby!), Brokenrice (it’s really good Vietnamese with some extra interesting options!), Cotto Enoteca Pizzeria (because it’s good and can be gluten free, both the pastas and pizzas), and STEM Japanese (for the high quality and interesting Japanese options. The menu is big and best enjoyed with an appetite and open mind to try everything since it’s seasonal and well done!).
- Hidden Gems: One of my Favourite things about Burnaby is some of the lot sizes and interesting, large houses. There are a lot of really family friendly neighbourhoods too. Concerts at Deer Lake Park are a favourite too!
- Best Chocolate Chip Cookies: Without a doubt, Chez Christophe. You’ll find desserts with great flavours and high quality ingredients.
Port Moody is a great suburb of Vancouver: it’s small enough to have a community feel with a top notch location to give it some vibrancy… and it’s along a transit line to a number of other areas (including Vancouver) making it a great area to live in while still commuting to other cities. Port Moody wraps around the end of the Burrard Inlet and sits between Burnaby North and Coquitlam. The areas of Belcarra and Anmore are technically different districts, but they also offer the nature focused lifestyle with large lots, hiking trails and water activities nearby.
Proximity to the ocean and to some great trails and hiking nearby is a big draw for residents, so the city has a young population of folks who wanted a Vancouver style of life without the high price tag. Most of the shops and restaurants are located near Rocky Point Park but you’ll find other options dotted around the area. In terms of Real Estate, Port Moody has it all: both older and new condos and townhouses, including a number of larger (house sized) townhouse communities, a great inventory of older homes (ripe for renovations, additions or coach houses) and some gorgeous homes with views of the inlet. Much of Port Moody is located on a hill so you can find great views in a number of different areas.
In terms of transit, you’ll find the West Coast Express (the commuter train line) to get you to Vancouver, Coquitlam, Pitt Meadows or Mission, and the Millennium Line Skytrain to get you to Coquitlam, Burnaby or Vancouver.
- My Favourite Restaurants: Have to mention Brewery Row, where you’ll find a handful of breweries (Yellow Dog, Parkside, Moody Ales, Twin Sails) with food trucks, sunny patios and tasty brews. The breweries are a buzz on weekends, so plan to wait in line if you don’t get there early enough! In terms of food, Caffe Divano (for the amazing selection of made from scratch treats, and it’s also a good spot to pick pick up a picnic style lunch before a day at Buntzen Lake or Rocky Point Park), Saint St Grill (a classic and excellent restaurant hitting all the right notes).
- Hidden Gems: Rocky Point Park, on a nice day you’ll find lots of people enjoying the park, random concerts and events, and activities for everyone, whether it’s a BBQ, water sports, etc. you can also take a short drive a bit further to Buntzen Lake or White Pine for a deeper dive into wilderness.
- Best Chocolate Chip Cookies: Not a typical cookie, but the ice cream sandwiches from Rocky Point Ice Cream are decadent!!
New Westminster is located on the south eastern side of Burnaby, next to Coquitlam and a short drive to South Vancouver and North Richmond and Surrey.
New West has a long history, thanks to its status as the former capital of the Lower Mainland, because Vancouver took the reigns. This is in no small part thanks to it’s location on the Fraser River and proximity to other areas. New West itself is fairly small, so with 10 minutes you can be in 5 other municipalities, making it the perfect place for commuters who also want to live in a great community. New West offers a lot in terms of lifestyle and day to day fun. They have a great Seawall for walks and dining, a great Culture and Arts scene and a growing young population moving in from Vancouver bringing some new life and great restaurants and shops to the area.
In terms of Real Estate, New West offers everything: low rise and high rise condos, both brand new and old enough to offer large floor plans, townhouses, row houses and detached houses, including some gorgeous heritage homes from the city’s early history. Downtown New West, located near the Quay, is primarily condos and townhouses, while the other areas will be a bit more residential. Queensborough is a unique area located on the corner of Lulu Island, a bit removed from downtown (accessible by car via the Queensborough Bridge) but offering big box shopping and master planned communities with a great community centre. New West is along the Expo Skytrain line and offers 5 stops along the south end of New West, which can get you downtown Vancouver, Burnaby or Surrey.
- My Favourite Restaurants: Definitely El Santo (because it’s one of the nicest and best Mexican restaurants in the Lower Mainland), Piva Modern Italian (for the amazing Italian) and Longtail Kitchen (for the top notch Thai).
- Hidden Gems: The River Market is still a great destination to spend some time.. it offers something for everyone: music, kids activities, good food, unique shops and it’s right on the Seawall.
- Best Chocolate Chip Cookies: Definitely Cloud 9 Bakery since it’s gluten free and delicious!
Squamish is the area north of Vancouver, between Horseshoe Bay and Whistler, along the edge of the northern top of Howe Sound.
Squamish is a great area for people who want to take advantage of the outdoors – for the hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, lakes, trail running, sailing, skiing and scuba diving. Squamish is home to the Sea to Sky Gondola offering amazing views of the area, along with The famous “Stawamus Chief” along with Garibaldi Provincial Park, Alice Lake Provincial Park and so much more. Squamish is always busy in the summer thanks to the overwhelming popularity of its lakes and campgrounds, and there are potential plans of a new ski resort to come in Squamish in addition to its close proximity to Whistlers winter and summer resort community.
Squamish has always been a popular area for people who work in Whistler but can’t afford the high living costs, though it’s becoming a lot more popular with folks looking to enjoy a balanced and relaxed lifestyle with lower living costs than Vancouver. It’s the perfect outpost for people who work from home, or who are looking to start their own business in Squamish, a growing area popular with young families looking for the amenities of the city in a cottage like environment.
Squamish has two main areas, Downtown (which is the peninsula west of the highway near The Chief) and Garibaldi/Tantalus (which is east of the highway and north of Downtown), where you’ll find most of the restaurants, shops and amenities. There is a growing brewery scene that began with Howe Sound Brewing (and their great patio) and now includes Back Country Brewing, A Frame Brewing and Northyards Cider. You’ll also find a number of health conscious restaurants and cafes, major chains and local options, some great breakfast options and a couple really quality farm to table style restaurants. The area is a bit sleepy at night since everyone spent their energy being active during the day. Squamish also has a great community feel with festivals, events and friendly neighbours.
In terms of real estate, Squamish has a mix of low rise condo buildings, generally newer but there are a few older options, along with large townhouses and detached houses. The area saw a big boom in condo and townhouse construction recently and you’ll find some gorgeous modern houses taking advantage of the great views and big lots. The area should continue to see an increasing population given its affordable prices and easy lifestyle: you can get a newer 2 bedroom condo in Squamish for less than the price of a 1 bedroom in Vancouver and a 3 bedroom townhouse with garage for less than the price of a 2 bedroom in Vancouver. There is only one way to get to Squamish from Vancouver – up the Sea to Sky highway. There is a bus service available for the journey, though it’s not something to rely on for every day travel.
- My Favourite Restaurants: Fergie’s (because it’s the best breakfast place anywhere in Vancouver, and recently opened again after an unfortunate fire), Crabapple Cafe (for the tasty food and easy atmosphere), Zephyr Cafe (for the creative and healthy eats), Cloudburst Cafe and The Locavore (for the good coffee and sandwiches), Howe Sound Brewing (for the pizza) and The Salted Vine (for being the best date night spot… and the cocktails!).
- Hidden Gems: The chance to go on a hike or relax by a lake every summer evening, without the long drive. Live in the place everyone else escapes too every weekend!
- Best Chocolate Chip Cookies: It has to be Tall Tree Bakery for their big and flavourful cookies.. you’ll dream about them after.