Vancouver, British Columbia, is only three hours from Seattle. Well, three hours plus the wait at the Peace Gate border crossing. Remember your passport so it doesn’t become a really long day of driving for you. It’s well-worth the drive, and since it’s relatively close, you could visit Vancouver for just a day or for a short weekend.

When you go, be sure to visit some of the non-chain restaurants in the city. There are many good Asian restaurants, but there are also boutique cafes and small eateries that usually get missed by the tourists. Look them up, and ask your hosts (if you stay overnight) where they like eating. Then make sure the places they mention are not chains.

When I was there in July, I stayed near the Convention Center. Take some time to visit the Center because it offers beautiful views. The Olympic Torchlight was established there, too, so go up to the fountain where the torch now stands.

For a quick bite while you’re near the Convention Center visit Caffe Artigiano. They offer sandwiches, paninis, and decent espresso drinks. They feature a local roaster, so their coffee beans are fresh and oily. The coffee is bright and strong.

I usually think of Ramen noodles as a cheap and salty experience, but Ezogiku Noodle Cafe on Robson was a delicious alternative. For dinner, which only cost about $7, you are given an extra large soup bowl laden with noodles, flavorful broth, and meat or vegetables. You probably shouldn’t eat one bowl alone, but too soon, you’ll find that the bowl is empty and you’re contemplating picking up the bowl and sipping the broth. Ask the servers for explanations about the different flavors and broth. The Gyoza are also tasty and served steaming hot.

Chocolate is my obsession, and I revel whenever I find a small chocolate shop. Mink more than met my expectations by offering drinking chocolate as well as several bars and bites of handmade chocolates. My friend and I decided to split an order for drinking chocolate, and it is well we did. We were given ten ounces of drinking chocolate divided between two cups for just a few dollars. Wow. It took us the better part of half an hour to sip and dip our spoons into the luscious liquid.

Pulled noodles are also a delicious way to fill your stomach. These noodles are handmade and pulled in front of customers, and they are dropped into boiling pots of water. This particular pulled noodle house is small and nondescript, but the food was satisfying and authentic. The servers don’t rush over to welcome you as you seat yourself, but they’re polite and prompt. If you’re looking for a romantic or high-class night, seek out a higher-end restaurant, but if you’re looking for a bowl of hot, freshly made noodle soup, Sha Lin Noodle House meets the demand.

Vancouver offers so much great shopping, too. Brand name stores are sprinkled all over Robson and the Gastown neighborhoods, and among them are smaller boutiques and specialty stores. If you have the time, stop into the BC Museum, which offers traveling exhibits and stunning art. Outside the museum you can often find spontaneous art occurring on the steps.

Vancouver is a relatively short drive from Seattle and offers a world of activity and some culture. You can absorb yourself in Canadian, Royal colony, and Pacific Northwestern culture easily. If you have visited Vancouver, what did you enjoy?