Natural and urban pleasures define West Vancouver, B.C.
The elderly lady climbed briskly up the path, walking stick in hand. "Lost, are you," she said with a Scottish rasp, and a faint sneer...
Seattle Times travel staff
WEST VANCOUVER, B.C. — The elderly lady climbed briskly up the path, walking stick in hand. "Lost, are you," she said with a Scottish rasp, and a faint sneer, as I stepped out of her way, clutching my little trail map of Lighthouse Park.
Well, yes, I had taken a wrong turn on the trails of this thickly-forested waterfront park, just a 20-minute drive from downtown Vancouver, B.C. It didn't matter; most paths eventually lead to the park's shoreline and its centerpiece, the postcard-perfect Point Atkinson lighthouse that perches on a rocky bluff above the sparkling sea.
It's hard to believe the 185-acre Lighthouse Park is so close to the big city. And that's its appeal: In an easygoing, half-day outing from Vancouver, visitors can get a quick taste of nature at the park and enjoy the urban pleasures, from shopping to waterfront dining, of surrounding West Vancouver (which is just across the Lions Gate Bridge from Vancouver).
The park's Point Atkinson Lighthouse is the magnet for visitors, an almost century-old hexagonal white tower that sits on a rocky point at the entrance to Burrard Inlet, the Vancouver-area harbor.
Lighthouse Park is in West Vancouver, seven miles west of Lions Gate Bridge along the scenic Marine Drive. The rather obscure turnoff to the park is in the 4900 block of Marine Drive; look for a wooden park sign on the south side at the crest of a small hill. The park is a quarter-mile down Beacon Lane. Park information: www.westvancouver.net (click on "parks").
This "urban village" of West Vancouver is east of the park along Marine Drive; see www.dundaravevillage.ca. To get to the Dundarave waterfront park and Centennial Seawalk, turn south off Marine Drive on 25th Street, which dead ends by the Beach House at Dundarave Pier (www.atthebeachhouse.com or 604-922-1414; the restaurant specializes in seafood and has a view patio).
Traffic can be congested around Lions Gate Bridge, a three-lane bridge with a reversible lane. Avoid the morning and afternoon rush hours.
Visitors can admire the lighthouse (which is closed to the public) from a tiny cove and rocky bluffs that edge it. Beyond, the views stretch across the water from downtown Vancouver west to Vancouver Island and south to Washington's San Juan Islands.
It's a peaceful place, quiet except for lapping waves and winds rustling the dark evergreens of Point Atkinson that are the lighthouse's backdrop. The point, named by Capt. George Vancouver in 1792 in honor of a friend, is little changed from when the English explorer sailed past.
The lighthouse can only be reached on foot. The quickest and easiest route is Beacon Lane Trail, a road-like path (park staff occasionally drive it). It's about a 15-minute walk from the park's parking lot to the lighthouse.
I preferred the Valley Trail, a smaller trail that winds through a narrow, fern-strewn valley on its way to the lighthouse; it takes about a half-hour to walk. Sunlight filters through centuries-old hemlock, Douglas fir and cedar, some more than 200 feet tall.
The Valley Trail also is a self-guided nature trail (get a free park map and Valley Trail brochure at the information kiosk at the parking lot). Numbered signposts indicate natural sights, from licorice ferns, once used as a sweetener by native Indians, and massive cedars to soaring eagles and barely moving banana slugs.
On summer weekends and romantic sunset evenings, the park's roughly seven miles of trails and waterfront bluffs and coves can draw a crowd. The pillowing rocks near the lighthouse can be carpeted with people picnicking, sunbathing or simply enjoying the view.
On a midweek spring morning, however, I came across only a handful of walkers, including the steely Scotswoman and her portly friend puffing up a trail behind her.
For another side of West Vancouver, head to some of the little urban villages that lie along Marine Drive between Lions Gate Bridge and Lighthouse Park.
West Vancouver once was a sleepy, residential outpost to Vancouver. But it's grown in recent decades into an affluent, self-contained municipality with luxurious homes and condos lining the waterfront and upscale shopping areas, restaurants and waterfront walking paths and sandy beaches.
One of the nicest of West Vancouver's several "villages" is Dundarave, with small shops, cafes and antique stores clustered in old-fashioned, one-story buildings along Marine Drive near its intersections of 24th and 25th Streets.
Dundarave's real charm, however, is its waterfront, at the foot of 25th Street. Sandy beaches and grassy lawns line the shore; there's a children's playground and an old pier where passenger ferries once shuttled to and from Vancouver (before the Lions Gate Bridge opened in 1936).
A paved waterfront walkway, called the Centennial Seawalk, stretches a mile east toward Ambleside, an even more upscale West Vancouver "village."
Your reward for all the walking in Lighthouse Park or along the waterfront path? Indulge in a meal or a drink at the elegant Beach House at Dundarave Pier, a restaurant with views of cityscape, sea and mountains.
Kristin Jackson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-2271.
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