Vancouver is just a short hop away

Neighborhoods to explore, lots of entertainment choices -- and beer

Alaskans will find much familiar in Vancouver. On the shores of the Pacific Ocean, with a backdrop of the North Shore Mountains, the tail end of the Coast Mountains, it could almost be Anchorage or Juneau. But there's a difference.

Home to close to 640,000 people, it's near the population count of 739,000 of all Alaska. But think of it – that means in the 1,111 square miles of the city you're among the number of people that inhabit Alaska's 663,300 square miles. Tight squeeze.

Cosmopolitan with lots to do

And they keep all those folk amused with festivals, world-class entertainment, excellent restaurants and, of course, beer.

Should you want to celebrate Valentine's Day in the city there's a David Bowie celebration on Feb. 16 that features alumni band members Mike Garson, Earl Slick, Gerry Leonard and Carmine Rojas, along with world-class vocalists such as Bernard Fowler and Corey Glover, among others, and drummer Lee John performing a mix of Bowie's hits. Info at

Or maybe attend a comedy show, Howie Mandel and Friends, for a memorable night of laughs on Valentine's Day at the Orpheum Theater. Go to

Events and entertainment options are available on the TourismVancouver site at as well as guides to the unique parts of the city – its neighborhoods.

An international enclave with a distinct experience

First of all, Vancouver has a Chinatown, which means you'll find excellent Chinese food if you've hungered for some in whatever far-flung part of Alaska you live in.

One of the largest Chinatowns in North America, its brightly colored Millennium Gate welcomes you into this unique neighborhood.

In 2002, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien inaugurated the towering entrance to highlight this distinct part of the city. At the top, the inscription in Chinese reads, "Remember the past and look forward to the future."

The first wave of Chinese immigrants came between 1886 and1920, settling around Carrall and Pender streets. By 1890, the area was home to more than 1,000 Chinese residents who brought their traditions with them, like the three Chinese opera theatres, the first built in the 1890s.

Today, the area bustles with tourists and locals enjoying the many places to dine out, a lively arts scene and teashops.

Take a ferry ride

Like Alaska, Vancouver has a series of islands accessible by ferry. This is a chance to see the city from a different viewpoint, as you would, say, from a boat ride to Bainbridge Island off Seattle. From the Aquatic Center in Vancouver it's a three-minute trip to Granville Island. Go to for the schedule and fares. But for seniors it's a mere $2.25 to $4 – and that's in Canadian dollars, now at $.76 in U.S. dollars!

The island, completed in 1916, from material dredged from False Creek, was once a mud flat. It became home to the warehouses, mills, factories and shops that serviced local industries. One chain-making factory left behind a massive chain link in 2009 and can be seen inside the parking garage on Old Bridge Street.

Once on the island, amble toward the Public Market Vendor Booths in the Railspur District, featuring artists' booths that offer hand-painted silks, yarn, blacksmith art, a bakery, pie shop, beadwork, photography, fused and stained glass, handmade body care, jams and jellies and a broom maker too.

Across from the public market on the island is the Net Loft, a building full of interesting retail stores with authentic First Nations art and gifts, block-printed and painted textiles, or ceramic pieces. There's even an artisan who repairs and restores antique musical instruments.

Enjoy the tranquility of this island before returning to the city.

Vancouver proper

Once back in the city, if you still have stamina there's some attractions not to be missed.

Located in the downtown Harbor Center at 555 W. Hastings Street, the 430-foot-high Vancouver Lookout gives you a birds' eye view of the city and beyond. Senior tickets are $15.25 CDN or $11.55 USD.

There's an aquarium, the VanDusen Botanical Garden, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the Vancouver Art Gallery, Science World, and a gondola ride up Grouse Mountain with an even more expansive view of the area.

Or you could drink beer. A fun and informative craft beer adventure takes you to three breweries in three hours with each located in a different brewery district and neighborhood of Vancouver. It's $79.99 plus tax – but again that's only $ 60.56 US. Go to for details.

Packages make it affordable

Thanks to the AARP travel site, packages that include flights, car and hotel make it very affordable for a stay from Feb. 12 to 15.

In downtown Vancouver you can book the Sandman Suites for $457 per person or the Pan Pacific with magnificent views of the harbor for $560 per person. The most expensive is the Fairmont Vancouver at $667 per person.

Car rental will cost from $39 to $50 depending on what type of car you prefer to drive.

Hotel and car rental prices are in U.S. currency.

The best thing is that even though Canada is still attached at the hip to Britain, at least you don't have to drive on the left side of the road.

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