Once a hippie haven, Kitsilano has gone upmarket. Distinctive homes and specialty shopping now make up some of the country's most expensive few square miles of real estate. The West Side has the city's best gardens and natural sights; "Kits," however, is really where all the action is.
Leave downtown via Burrard, Granville, or Cambie Street bridge and you'll be on the West Side, an area of diverse neighborhoods just south of the downtown core. Any reference to "the West Side" usually has moneyed connotations, as in South Granville's chic galleries and upscale shopping, the old-family mansions of Shaughnessy, the tony university district, and even the up-and-coming area surrounding Cambie Street. The West Side is the antithesis of the city's funkier, lower-income East Side. Some of Vancouver's best gardens, natural sights, and museums, including the renowned Museum of Anthropology on the campus of the University of British Columbia, are south of downtown Vancouver. Established in 1908, UBC is the city's main university campus with a student population of approximately 46,000. The university is where you'll also find the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, the Botanical Gardens, and Pacific Spirit Regional Park—the latter, although it can't compare with Stanley Park, is where the locals go for meandering forested trails that put you in touch with nature. Except during rush hour, it takes about 30 minutes to drive and 30–40 minutes to travel by bus from downtown to the University of British Columbia.
The beachfront district of Kitsilano (popularly known as Kits) is among the trendiest of Canadian neighborhoods. Originally inhabited by the Squamish people, whose Chief Khahtsahlanough gave the area its name, Kitsilano began to attract day-trippers from Vancouver in the early part of the 20th century. Some stayed and built lavish waterfront mansions; others built simpler Craftsman-style houses farther up the slope. After a period of decline in the mid-20th century, Kits became a haven for hippies and their yuppie offspring who have since restored many of the wood-frame houses, and the neighborhood is once again chic. Kitsilano is home to three museums, some fashionable shops, and popular pubs and cafés. Kits has hidden treasures, too: rare boats moored at Heritage Harbour, stately mansions on forested lots, and, all along the waterfront, quiet coves and shady paths within a stone's throw of Canada's liveliest beach. Vanier Park, the grassy beachside setting for three museums and the best kite-flying venue in Vancouver, is the logical gateway to Kits. Every summer, it also hosts the Children's Festival, and Bard on the Beach theater—both presented under billowing tents. Because Vanier Park is home to three indoor attractions, it's also a great rainy-day activity center.