Storm Brewing

What to do in Vancouver in Winter

In Blog, Canada, Featured, Gallery, Locations, North America by Erin Hardie1 Comment

But baby it’s cold outside! (I hear you!) Having visited Vancouver by summer before I had my doubts about visiting Vancouver in winter. I mean really, what is there to do in Vancouver in winter!? Now of course I can hear your response “winter sports of course!” or  “Head up to Whistler for some skiing or snowboarding, the town is pretty too!” One problem, I have to admit, I’m really not very sporty. I’m a beach and cocktails kind of girl, so Wreck Beach in summertime Vancouver where naked (but for Velcro strap sandals) long-term travelers sold cocktails out of backpacks on the beach was really more my jam… But that’s a summer story. What is it our parents used to say to us when we were stuck indoors during bad weather? Only boring people get bored – have some imagination – make your own fun? Well that’s just what you have to do in Vancouver in winter time!

Robson St Vancouver Downtown

The lights of Robson St. at night in Vancouver Downtown are gorgeous year round

Don’t let the bitter cold, sub-zero at nighttime temperatures, short days of sunlight between 8am-4pm only (if the sun is even peeking through the cloud cover) and constant drizzle or even snow, let you get stuck indoors and squander your chance to explore Vancouver! Ok it’s a bit more of a gritty looking city in this season/weather, and the rampant homelessness is a lot more obvious and sad, but it still holds so much promise to those who will don sensible footwear, a good coat, a toque (Canadian for beanie) and never an umbrella (only tourists take umbrellas – it’s only drizzle after all!). Now that you’ve explored downtown:

  • Shopped and sightseen the classic buildings along Robson street
  • Seen the cocktail bar inside the women`s fashion floor in Nordstrom
  • Seen the snow and ice covered Stanley Park
  • Seen the snow on the logs at the gorgeous English Bay beach
  • Walked the Capilano Suspension Bridge (and if your visit is in December you may even catch the Canyon Lights)

What is there left to do?

A brewery pub crawl of course! What better way to explore, but also keep warm!
English Bay Beach

Snow on the logs at English Bay Beach – a not so common sight! Vancouver is still just as pretty in winter as in summer!

We centred our one day brewery pub crawl around Commercial Drive, another of Vancouver’s main shopping zones. If you type breweries near Commercial Drive, Vancouver, into Google Maps you will find a list of no less than 20 different options! Given that we only had the liver power for one day of brewery crawling we made it through just 4 plus a restaurant! Read on for our one day brewery-crawl itinerary, or, quickly change your flights to extend your Vancouver visit and craft your own ultimate tour using the google maps link above!

Start – Storm Brewing

Much like the idea of starting with the best bottle of wine then opening the progressively cheaper/worse ones, so too we started with our tour guide’s favourite brewery: Storm Brewing. This place soon became our firm favourite too for it’s totally chilled out vibe. It’s basically just a graffiti-covered shed, where the only heating comes from the stills themselves and some of the strong offerings on rotation on tap. Don’t be fooled by the bare bones interior though, it’s also Vancouver’s longest running craft-brewery and features as a must-visit destination to craft-beer fans from across the globe. We took a flight of beer which was a four (almost!) full-sized sample of the beers of our choosing. My favourite was doubtless one of the sour beers: which these guys are also credited as being one of the first in North America to brew.

Storm Brewing

Storm Brewing is as cool as it looks on the outside on the inside too!

Then on to Adanac – Off the Rail Brewing

Our tour guide then led us up Adanac street, worth visiting in itself (can you guess why!?). Here we found Off the Rail Brewing. As we were trudging in snow this place was just the ticket for warming up, the tasting room is bright, warm and cosy. There were flights of four beer tasters available to start to make a dent in sampling the approx 10 beers on tap, including some under nitro! It was also a good time to have a stomach-lining snack. Food is supplied to this kitchenless brewery by East Side Beer Food, who make this incredible cult-following snack called `twisty bread` which is basically like grilled cheese crackling. Hard to explain but order one and be converted!

Off the Rail Brewing Co

Off the Rail Brewing Co is cosy and popular plus they have cult-following tasty treats!

Further up Adanac – Bomber Brewing

By this point in the late afternoon we were starting to feel a bit fussy about our individual tastes in beers. We needed somewhere that would fearlessly try to cater to all picky tastes: Bomber Brewing was the answer. They had plenty of choice both on tap and bottled including craft cider for those complaining that beer was now feeling too heavy, wine for those wanting a total change and still plenty of interesting beers including a chocolate porter and a Russian Imperial stout (these made the hankering for a Guinness totally forgotten!) The fireplace was cosy and there were board games for our addled brains to try instead of making conversation.

Bomber Brewing Chocolate Porter Poster

The walls at Bomber Brewing are decorated with these vintage inspired posters advertising their brews – they give the bar a real cosy vibe perfect for winter – plus inspiration for your next beer choice!

Time for Food – Pourhouse or Gringo

Our East Vancouver brewery tour had centred around East Hastings Street so we headed down to West Hastings Street to one of Vancouver’s most beautiful neighborhoods by night: Gastown. You must visit Gastown because a) it’s Vancouver`s oldest neighbourhood that started from one single tavern (all hail beer!) founded by John `Gassy Jack` Deighton in 1867. (Check the link – you can`t make this s**t up!) You must also visit Gastown by night because b) it features this awesome historical style `gas` lamp lighting that is magical at night and you can see the steam off the beautifully lit up steam clock (the most famous attraction in Gastown) more easily in photos. (Bonus: visiting in winter means even steamier photos!). Actually I can’t remember if we dined at Pourhouse this night or Gringos (forgive me, we`d just visited 3 breweries…) Pourhouse is a dark and moody restaurant and bar with a nod to the speakeasy style of its 1910 warehouse building surrounds. It’s a bit upscale so maybe it was Gringo we ate at this night: a loud, almost standing room only, tiny Mexican taco-bar hole in the wall with an impressive hot sauce collection and equally impressive neon lights collection. Raucousness is not a problem in this fast-paced, colourful, soul-food shack.

Gringo chips and salsa

Colourful tortilla chips and salsas at Gringo plus an assortment of booze and hot sauces… mouthwatering!

A Nightcap – Steamworks Brewing Co.

If you’ve got any steam left head to the Vancouver Steamworks Brewing Co. (Sorry just had to make that pun!) Its towards the direction of Vancouver Downtown where you’re probably staying, features a good selection of beers, servable as flights and has a large lively atmosphere, but comfortable chairs too for sore feet from traipsing around breweries all day. (It’s a hard life!)

Steam Clock at Gastown

Don’t forget to get your picture in front of the Steam Clock at Gastown – what did I tell you about Gastown at night? Truly magical!

We were lucky enough to be squired around by a local (referred to herein as our tour guide) so this was a very unofficial and definitely unpaid tour. However if you want to take the legwork out of planning your own (and literally take the legwork out of getting from brewery to brewery) there are also tour companies for guided tours of Vancouver’s many breweries. Not a heavy drinker? You could instead tour your way around Vancouver’s picturesque neighbourhoods eating and sipping on gourmet coffees/teas. The eating and drinking culture in Vancouver is second to none. The first time we tried authentic Shanghai (Soup) Dumplings for example was in Vancouver, not in Shanghai where we live now as you might expect! 

We hope you enjoyed our list. It’s by no means comprehensive! So if you’ve visited Vancouver in winter, and/or toured some of it’s many other brewery options we’d love to hear from you in the comments section below to craft our next tour list for when we return to Vancouver. Until next time, cheers! Erin & Ryan.

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Don't hide indoors just because its cold outside! Vancouver is still very beautiful in winter, and there's more than just winter sports to do! Read our brewery-crawl itinerary to inspire your own to sample Vancouver's incredible craft beer scene!