City Guide: Kitsliano, Vancouver
If you took a walk down West 4th Avenue in 1998 you’d probably pass a long line up of breakfast-seeking locals outside Sophie’s Cosmic Café, sip a margarita on the patio of Las Margaritas Restaurante y Cantina, wander through row upon row of vintage vinyl in Zulu Records, and shop at Semperviva which was, at the time, a natural pharmacy where you could take the occasional yoga class. All before strolling into our first-ever lululemon store in the heart of Kitsilano—a neighbourhood nestled on Vancouver's West Side along the south shore of English Bay—on the corner of 4th and Arbutus, staffed by just a handful of employees with gear being designed upstairs and sewn in the back room.
Fast forward almost 20 years and many of the old timers remain, alongside a plethora of boutique restaurants, shops, cafes, markets, community gardens, spas, and our new and improved lululemon West 4th store. Here’s our guide to soaking up Kitsilano’s storied past as a hippie haven in the 1960’s (and the birthplace of Greenpeace), alongside its new face as the place to enjoy a healthy West Coast lifestyle.
Where to Fuel
SOPHIE’S COSMIC CAFÉ (2095 WEST 4TH AVENUE)
Since opening in 1988 there has been a line up out the door of Sophie’s Cosmic Café, a true Vancouver classic. Walk through the doors, flanked by an oversized knife and fork, and you’ll enter the eclectic dining room complete with a kitschy, flea market vibe. The feeling is nostalgic as you take a seat in the room filled with classic red vinyl booths, original glass coke bottles, quirky art, vintage toys, local ephemera and if you can spot him—manager Emmanuel Dikeakos’ favourite item—a plastic green frog who gets moved around daily. At the window booth to the far right, you’ll find a row of trophies that were brought in by long-time customers whose father passed away so they could continue to enjoy breakfast with memories of him close by. While famous for their perfectly-poached Santa Fe eggs benedict—made with local, free-range eggs, topped with fresh salsa and guacamole, and served on homemade cornbread—the ashoura is a standout, unique, and healthy option. It’s chilled wheat berries served with raisins, nuts, cinnamon, vanilla, and a side of fruit and yogurt. This retro diner is touted as the best place to start your diet and the best place to end your diet—and rightly so. Sit on the patio for some prime people watching on the weekend, and don’t forget to throw the house-made hot sauce on top of everything.
RAIN OR SHINE ICE CREAM (1926 WEST 4TH AVENUE #102)
Wanna spoon? You’ll want more than that once you taste Rain or Shine’s natural ice cream. Everything, apart from the chocolate and vanilla, is locally-sourced, and made in-house (when you walk in you’ll smell freshly-baked waffle cones on the griddle). Under the watchful eye of a cone-crowned, purple cow, taste menu staples like salted caramel, honey lavender, blueberry balsamic and cracked mint or one of the ever-changing seasonal flings like Mexican hot chocolate and toasted coconut caramel. The best part? They also have legitimately good vegan options, like coconut chocolate chunk, made with GMO-free coconut milk, flaked with dark chocolate. We recommend trying this flavour in the Vegan Yumaste Sundae topped with a seasonal berry compote, candied hazelnuts and vegan chocolate sauce. Come in on Taco Tuesday for two scoops served inside a waffle cone taco shell paired with whatever toppings you like. They just might let you stack three scoops if you ask nicely.
LAS MARGARITAS RESTAURANTE Y CANTINA (1999 WEST 4TH AVENUE)
This Kitsilano institution has been around since 1981 and is about as authentically (northern) Mexican as you can get. For as long as we can remember, it’s been a fixture on the corner of West 4th and Maple with arguably the best patio in the neighbourhood, sundrenched and decorated with brightly-coloured talaveras, terra cotta pots overflowing with pastel orange flowers and cascading vines. Step inside and you’ve instantly taken a trip down south into a real Mexican cantina. The salsa and guacamole are to die for and are made fresh daily (you can buy their salsa at your local Whole Foods Markettoo, if you want to take some home). If you’re hungry, the flavourful chicken fajitas are a must, served on a sizzling hot cast iron pan. For a light, healthy option try the sopa de tortilla or the seasonal jicama, orange and strawberry salad. Thirsty? You’ll find BC’s most extensive list of tequilas and agave-based beverages. Try the jalapeño margarita, it’s ever-so-slightly spicy yet sweet.
NOOK (1525 YEW STREET)
This is one of those cozy, casual, unpretentious-yet-delicious joints that every neighbourhood wants to have. It is an absolute must for dinner after a long day at the beach, or a post-work glass of wine. On a busy stretch of Yew Street one block up from Kits beach, Nook serves casual, authentic, Italian comfort food like charred, wood-fired pizzas, homemade focaccia served with gooey burrata and prosciutto, and simple pasta dishes like rigatoni boscaiola prepared by newly-appointed head chef Kevin Snyder. Just in for a drink? On warm summer evenings, the large garage-style windows are opened and face towards the ocean. We recommend grabbing a seat there, ordering an aperol spritz (we think they make the best one in the city) or choosing something from their impeccably curated wine list. Then, sit back and watch the city go by.
Where to Sip
CULPRIT COFFEE (2028 VINE STREET)
This charming little coffee shop nestled between 4th and 5th Avenue on Vine Street is the perfect definition of your favourite neighbourhood coffee shop, but with a twist. Its sunny yellow brick exterior will catch your eye, but step inside and you’ll find a friendly, young, international staff serving lattes made with delicious Fernwood coffee from Victoria and grass-fed milk from Agassiz alongside a full gluten-free menu of fresh-out-of-the-oven treats. Potted succulents and vines line the window sills, the light fixtures are works of art made from flashlights, and entering the bathroom feels like you just stepped into a page of The Great Gatsby. They boast the best banana bread in Vancouver, and also are a lactose-free person’s dream with their homemade almond, cashew, and pepita (pumpkin seed) milks. Try the cookies and the frittata—you don’t even have to regret it (everything is gluten free).
O5 RARE TEA + KOMBUCHA BAR (2208 WEST 4TH AVENUE)
For an experience unlike anything else in Kitsilano, step into O5 Rare Tea + Kombucha Bar. While outside may be bustling, inside you’ll find a calm, cool oasis, reminiscent of a Japanese garden—a temple of tea. Take a seat on a stool at the long, dark, wooden bar, in a room dimly lit by paper lanterns. Watch the steam rise from the stainless-steel kettles and the expert swoosh of the matcha whisks by bartenders who know exactly where your tea came from. The owner, Pedro Villalon, personally visits micro tea farms, builds relationships with the farmers and selects the freshly harvested tea himself. Not into hot drinks? Try the kombucha—it might be the freshest you’ll ever taste. If you’re lucky, you’ll come in on a day when resident Japanese expert, Noriko Aramaki, is there (the sweetest lady you might ever meet, trained by the Omotesenke school of Japanese tea practice, a 400-year-old tradition) or you can book a private intro tea ceremony with her complete with tasty Japanese tapas, sake, and two rounds of matcha. The ‘O’ in the name stands for ‘origins’ and the ‘5’ is referring to the five elements – earth, water, air, wind, and fire—a testament to their philosophy that all tea comes straight from the land and is not manufactured. Sign up for one of Aramaki’s mocha making classes, learn how to make kombucha, or create ikebana flower arrangements in store.
CAFÉ LOKAL (2610 WEST 4TH AVENUE)
This place is little slice of Europe in Vancouver, where the coffee is strong, the food is delicious, and the service is impeccable. When Epicurean on West 1st Avenue closed, we didn’t know what we were going to do without our favourite barista, Zoran Milakovic, who we’d dubbed an expert in the art of creating the perfect cappuccino froth. To our delight, we found him and partner Sara D’Avri behind the counter of their newly opened Café Lokal, just a few minutes down the road. If you’re looking for beautiful food and a cozy-yet-quirky, welcoming atmosphere to catch up with a friend, get some work done, or simply a place to grab a glass of wine, cozy up with a good book, and feel like you’re nestled somewhere in the middle of Europe, this is it. It’s a place with the kind of charming hospitality where they’ll remember your name and order, and pull the chair out for you before you sit down. The prosciutto sandwich is incredible, made with fresh, organic arugula, toasted walnuts, cambozola cheese and pears stacked on a warmed filone bread. On the weekend grab a slice of D’Avri’s speciality, homemade tiramisu, with whatever you’re drinking—it goes with everything. Don’t forget to check out the bathroom (even if you don’t have to go) the sink is built right into a vintage bike.
BE FRESH LOCAL MARKET (900 WEST 1ST AVENUE)
Be Fresh is the kind of place every neighbourhood needs, a welcome alternative to rich café fare and high-end boutique restaurants. This wonderful Kitsilano addition offers healthy, organic food that you can either take to go or enjoy inside, as well as an organic marketplace featuring all of your favourite local products; from homemade pasta sauces and cashew dips to local produce, they have a little bit of everything. Created by SPUD (online organic grocers), Be Fresh has one mission: to create meaningful relationships with local vendors, ranchers, farmers, fishermen, bakers, and artisans to deliver the best and freshest ingredients to your home or office. The avocado toast is a breakfast staple, and paired with the turmeric latte (with espresso added) it’s the perfect start to your day. For an afternoon pick me up, grab a slice of Erin Ireland’s To Die For banana bread or a house-made chocolate chia seed cookie.
Into local, organic food? Don’t miss the Kitsilano Farmer’s Market every Sunday from 11-2pm between May and October in the parking lot of the Kitsilano Community Centre. You’ll find some of our favourite local suppliers there like The Juice Truck, Chickpea, Nuez nutmilks, Cropthorne Farms (where you can also order your CSA box from).
Where to Explore
HÄLSA SPA (2028 WEST 4TH AVENUE)
The moment you take a step through the doors of HÄLSA Spa, everything suddenly feels lighter. Maybe it’s the calm, soft-spoken voice of co-owner Christian Mackenzie making sure you’re prepared for your floating experience, the impeccable Scandinavian design with natural wood and white walls, or the scent of natural soaps and lotions being hand made in their in-house dispensary—or perhaps it’s just the aura of the space. Take your pick between floating in an enclosed, egg-shaped genesis pod, or a more spacious ocean room and get ready for 90 minutes of pure, uninterrupted, meditative bliss. The spa also has two infrared saunas, a massage room where they have a variety of bodyworkers, and a sky-lit relaxation room complete with charcoal filtered water, a daily calming tea, and an unparalleled library of spiritual books to fill your afternoon with. Block off your entire afternoon, you’re not going to want to leave this place once you get inside.
Where to Sweat
KITSILANO POOL/KITSILANO BEACH (2305 CORNWALL AVENUE)
To see Vancouver at its finest is to spend a summer day at Kitsilano beach, soaking up the sun while facing the North Shore mountains and forest-fringed open sea. Whether you lie on the beach, take a dip in the ocean, play a couple rounds of tennis, shoot some hoops, join in on a beach volleyball game, or rent a kayak or SUP from Vancouver Water Adventures, it’s hard not to find a way to break a sweat. Up for a challenge? Swim a couple laps at the Kitsilano Pool, the city’s only heated salt-water pool, nestled right on the edge of the ocean (at 137m long, one length is the equivalent of 5.5 regular 25m lengths of a standard pool). We dare you to do 10.
SEMPERVIVA YOGA (2201 WEST 4TH AVENUE)
Founded by our original West 4th ambassador Gloria Latham, this place was—and still is—the heart of Kitsilano’s yoga community. From the moment you walk in you can tell you’re in expert hands, from the warmth of the staff, to the large, bright, no-frills studio space. Classes are offered at all hours of the day to suit any schedule, and you don’t even need to bring your own mat (you can use theirs free of charge). With everything from Latham’s morning kundalini class (an incredibly inspiring, high-energy Kitsilano favourite) to a mid-day restorative class, and special candle lit yin classes, Semperviva is where you’ll find the best of the best. After class, sip on a cup of tea and wander around the shop filled with yoga accessories, jewelry, baby gifts and various home wares (don’t miss the macramé planters hanging in the windows).
TURF (2041 WEST 4TH AVENUE)
This place truly has it all: a healthy restaurant, bar, workout space and shop. Hit up Michelle Kuhnreich’s A.S.S. (absolutely sleek and solid) class to set an intention, get seriously inspired to appreciate your body, and work some lower body muscles you’ve likely never used before. Alternatively, sweat out those emotions and join in on The Class by Taryn Toomey taught by Ange Hartman. Re-fuel post class with the mushroom and ricotta toast (wild mushrooms and herbs on top of cashew cream ricotta) and a glass of iced golden milk or scoop up a BC smoothie bowl perfectly paired with local cherries and cacao nibs. While you’re at it, you might as well treat yourself to an L*Space bathing suit, BKR bottle or one of the other pretty items found in the shop.
LULULEMON WEST 4TH (101 WEST 4TH AVENUE)
Nearly two decades later, the new store—all 6,300-square feet of it—is the perfect blend of past and present. While we wanted to hang on to some relics from the past (like the original filing cabinets used when the head office was located just above the store) the original store has been completely converted to a men’s shop, where you’ll find a commemorative plaque right next to the new free-flowing kombucha and beer taps and an all-around classy man cave vibe. The new part of the store, which was formerly the Midas building, has been converted into a bright and spacious women’s section, complete with a rooftop patio for community events. Stop by and take a class with us soon.