We've been in-kind sponsors of the Vancouver Heritage Foundation for as long as Martin Knowles Photo/Media has been around (and before!), and besides supporting an excellent cause, it gives us a great reason to come out to their wonderful tours. In particular, the annual Heritage House tour is one of the events we look forward to every year. It's happening on June 2nd this year, so get your tickets before they sell out.

But there's one little problem: the Vancouver Heritage Foundation puts ten houses on tour, and you probably want to make it around to at least most of those 10 houses in the 7 hours the houses are open on tour. This year, you have it a bit easier: while there are 12 (!) houses, 5 of them are within trivial walking distance of each other on opposite sides of Kitchener and Woodland, just off the Drive. For the last three years, we've made it to either all 10 or all but one, and since this past year we managed to make it around to all ten with an hour to spare, so we thought it's time to share a few tips.

  1. Plan your route carefully. While the VHF usually groups houses on tour into neighbourhoods, you're going to have to get from Dunbar to the Downtown Eastside--and points in between, in addition to seeing great houses. Usually this means going west to east (or east to west), but depending on where the houses are, starting on one of the "middle" houses and spiralling out often lets you avoid lines.
  2. Speaking of lines, figure out where the big lines might be and try to visit those houses either early or late. The house captains and volunteers do an excellent job of making sure the houses don't get too crowded, but that also means that smaller houses tend to have longer lines. A few years back, we were way ahead of schedule until we hit a Strathcona house with a tiny laneway, where the line went nearly around the block. There went the schedule--but the wait was worth it.
  3. The sit-down lunch options are marvelous, but often aren't the best option if you want to see all the houses. Grab and go is the way to go here, whether you eat in line or en route. East Van tends to have the best to-go lunch spots and the smallest but well-clustered houses to facilitate eating and walking. Just make sure to pack your garbage into your shoe bag as you won't be able to drop garbage at the houses. This year, there's a Heritage Info Fair at 1517 Kitchener which looks like a good bet for combining lunch with seeing cool stuff--and the Mangal Kiss food cart is an official lunch spot again this year. (Yum!)
  4. Consider your transportation options. Shaughnessy, Strathcona, and the Drive are all parking nightmares, and you don't want to be fuming trying to find parking when you'd rather be looking at houses. One great way to get around this is to book a Modo, Zipcar, or car2go car-share, all of which allow you to use 'residents only' parking spots. If you have to drive, carpool. If you're not up to cycling the whole thing, consider combining bike and bus: interesting heritage houses are often near old streetcar lines which are now frequent-service bus corridors, from which you can easily bike to the houses. This past year, we cycled to the Shaughnessy houses and around Kits, then hopped in the car and drove out to Dunbar, back through Main into Strathcona, and out to Cedar Cottage.
  5. Start at 10. I don't mean leave your house at 10: plan to get to the first tour house you choose at 10 sharp, or just a wee bit before--you'll probably have to wait in a small line before 10, but you'll be well on your way to making the most of a long day.

Finally, logistics aside: have fun, enjoy the houses, and appreciate all the work of the Foundation, sponsors, homeowners, and everyone else who makes the tour happen. See you on tour!