Chic city boutiques, outdoor craft markets in country towns, bustling Asian-style night markets, farm gate wineries and artists' studios tucked away in the woods: shopping in BC is fun, varied and original.
Where to shop
BC's big cities have all the commercial vigour of any urban centre, with plenty of pedestrian-friendly shopping areas, independent boutiques and offbeat shops.
Vancouver's main fashion centres are Robson Street, downtown, with over 200 shops and services, including most of the better-known chain stores, and the nearby underground Pacific Centre Mall, covering three blocks in the downtown core. South Granville Rise, between about 7th and 16th avenues, and Sinclair Centre, at Hastings and Granville streets downtown, have pricier designer boutiques.
South Granville Rise is also home to several private art galleries. Gastown has the largest concentration of First Nations galleries, while Main Street, around 21st Ave, is a hub for both antiques and works by up-and-coming local designers. Further south, around Main and 49th Avenue, is Little India, where sari and sweet shops abound. Granville Island's many studios, galleries and artists' cooperatives are your best bet for locally made crafts.
Kitsilano, just south of downtown, is the place for food, fashion and housewares with a new age, eco-friendly edge, while Yaletown shops cater to that area's loft-dwelling residents. Planning a camping trip? Outdoor stores cluster at Broadway and Cambie, just south of downtown.
On summer weekends, shoppers flock to Vancouver's two Asian-style night markets for imports, bargains, entertainment and food. The Chinatown Night Market takes over several blocks of Chinatown in downtown Vancouver, while the International Summer Night Market in Richmond, 20 minutes south of downtown, boasts about 250 booths, over 80 food vendors, and hoards of visitors a night.
Victoria's shopping is concentrated along Government Street, just north of the Inner Harbour. This pedestrian-friendly route is the place for British imports, First Nations arts and crafts and international fashion chains.
Just off Government Street are Trounce Alley, a pedestrian-only street lined with designer shops; Bastion Square, an historic area filled with craft stalls in summer; Market Square, a 19th century courtyard surrounded by three levels of specialty shops and cafes; Johnson Street, where heritage storefronts house funky boutiques; and Chinatown, rich with Asian imports. Fort Street, a short stroll away, is called "Antique Row" for its dozens of antiques and collectible shops.
Thirty minutes north of Victoria is Sidney, Canada's only Booktown. Modelled on the original in Hay-on-Wye, UK, it's home to 12 bookstores in a four-block area.
Just offshore is Salt Spring Island, where, at the popular summer-only Salt Spring Island Saturday Market, everything at the dozens of outdoor stalls must be made or grown on the island. Salt Spring Island is also one of several BC artist communities offering self-guided studio tours. Maps at Salt Spring's Visitor Centre will lead you to dozens of galleries and artists' studios on the island.
On the Sunshine Coast, north of Vancouver, you can follow the Purple Banner tour to visit studios and galleries between Howe Sound and Lund. Local Visitor Centres and the Coast Cultural Alliance (www.suncoastarts.com) have details.
Another popular arts colony is Nelson, a funky town situated lakeside in the Kootenay Rockies. Rich with galleries, studios, and scenery, it's been named, by John Villani in his book “The 100 Best Small Art Towns in America”, as one Canada's leading arts towns.
The province’s Thompson Okanagan region is renowned for its orchards and vineyards, thereby establishing itself as an ideal locale to pick up some the province’s best vintages. With numerous wineries dotting the landscape, one can procure wines from names which include Mission Hill Family Estate, Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Winery and Summerhill Pyramid Winery.
Arts, crafts and pretty much everything else are available at Whistler, the renowned ski resort north of Vancouver. Here designer boutiques, art galleries and, of course, ski and snowboard outfitters, line the pedestrian-only village streets.
What to buy
Popular souvenirs of BC include First Nations art and handcrafted items. You can find these at shops and galleries and, in some cases, directly from artists' studios, throughout BC. Popular items include silver jewellery and cedar boxes carved with traditional motifs. Watch for thick hand-knit sweaters made by the Cowichan people of Vancouver Island, and items carved in argillite, a soft black slate found mostly on Haida Gwaii.
Food and drink are good buys, too. Pacific salmon can be packed for travel at shops in Vancouver; and you can pick up hard-to-find BC wines directly from wineries. Look for Icewine, a dessert wine made by allowing grapes to freeze on the vine.