As soon as it was announced that Vancouver was getting a donut tour, I wanted in. I figured it would be like a pub crawl, but instead of drinks you get to try a curated assortment of donuts, as recommended to you by the pastry experts.
It is hosted by two local women, originally from San Francisco, who have since moved to Vancouver and have fallen in love with the city. So much so that they have done their research for this tour, which requires learning, memorizing, and retaining much of Vancouver’s history. A collection of tidbits and factoids that they figure others would want to know as well.
They have chosen the respective donut stops to make, and have plotted out the route to take to us there. A 3km casual stroll that not only speaks to their favourite donuts, but gives you a history lesson of the city they now call home. This includes points of interest, historical buildings, tourist attractions, and landmarks.
As a resident, even I learned something new, but this one is definitely more ideal for those not local to the city. Much like the family of three from the Netherlands, who we were walking with today.
I did appreciated their fun facts on donuts. Like how donuts used to be considered the layman’s snack, due to its inexpensive cost to make. And that the most expensive donut comes out of LA; gilding in gold leaf this one ring retails for $100 each.
The tour is also a good way to get in some exercise. Although the pace is leisurely and the ladies are very accommodating. They often check-in, gage interest, and offer to help take photos. They want to make sure you have a good time and cater to your needs while you are travelling with them.
And don’t worry if you can’t finish 6.5 doughnuts, they do encourage you to take them home . Although with all this walking you can burn off all the donuts and their calories, that you do eat and finish right away.
I won’t be going into much more detail of what we saw and what we had, as to not reveal too many of the details of the tour. Or the to ruin the overall experience for those who decide to play tourists to their own city, but with treats every 30 minutes.
The Underground Donut Tour begins at Breka Bakery’s Bute location. It is underground so there is nothing marking the start of it or who runs it. Trust me, linger around and they will find you.
You are directed to take in each donut stop shop, but don’t actually go in. The number of donuts are preordered, picked up, and paid for by either of your hosts. One speaks to the stop, the other presents the box of donuts to the group, along with napkins, and paper sleeves to pack any leftovers with.
Keeping things light I would only take a bite of each and save the rest for later in my backpack. A backpack, which I suggest you wear, along with proper walking shoes, and anything else you need to be out in the elements on the day.
At Breka we learned that they were originally a German bakery and have kept many of their recipes. With so many locations opened up, they have since become a hot spot for students to congregate and study at.
Here, we enjoyed their spongy yeast doughnuts. A Hazelnut filled with a thick glop of Nutella spread. And a creamy dulce de leche, which I preferred for its toffee crunch topping.
From here we travelled through the residential area of downtown Vancouver, pausing at historic houses built in 1900’s, one with their original windows and wood. And even one that has since been converted into a bed and breakfast.
We also stopped at historic landmarks and were given the run down on their prestigious rise to fame. Including the famous Fairmont Vancouver hotel borne out of the depression area.
Our second donut stop was the cafe named after the 49th Parallel and their donuts by Lucky’s. Each of their locations are tailored to the neighborhood that it resides in. This was in Vancouver’s downtown business core, where visitors could watch their donuts being made in house.
The donuts we had here spoke to Lucky’s rotating seasonal offerings. As this was the summer season we see more fruit and floral flavours. The group was a fan of their Mango Passionfruit Bismarck. A heavy yeast donut stuffed with tangy and sweet fruit filling. I liked the Strawberry Rhubarb berliner as the less sweeter of the two, and for its sugar coated crunchy crust.
The walk then went classic touristy with a pass past the Olympic Cauldron and Canada Place. Here, we learned that Vancouver is one of the only cities to have to share their Olympic hosting (with Whistler), and that Canada Place was built for Expo 86 and came with a monorail. The city would later sell said monorail to an amusement park in England, due to noise complaints. And did you know that the city use to also have a McDonald’s Mcbarge?
As a local, we weren’t excited for stop number 3 to Tim Hortons. This is so common to many of us, and felt like we were on a errand to McDonald’s or Superstore. Very mundane. I even refused to eat any of the timbits purchased for the group to share; as they are an every day sight at my work place. Here, I felt like you did not get your monies worth. I would have had this as a bonus stop. A not advertised 5th stop to surprise and delight, furthering the value of the tour. Especially as you didn’t get 2 more donuts to try here, but just the holes of them. This was definitely the least popular stop.
Although for a tourist visiting from the Netherlands, if you are talking about donuts you have to inject this Canadian institution into the conversation. Here, I learned that Tim Hortons was a real man. He was also a legendary hockey player who helped the Toronto Maple Leafs win 4 Stanley Cups, before opening his brand of Canadian coffee shops.
The tour ended at Cartems, 6 minutes past the 2 hour mark, but only because as we passed by Canada Place we spotted the Haribo gummy mascot and the whole of the group had to stop for photos and free candy. Thus showing the versatility and go-with-the-flow nature of the tour.
At Cartems we learned that this donut shop came about as a literal dream. Where the owner, while backpacking in Korean dreamt of opening a local donut spot in his home town of Vancouver. This happened with the name “Cartems” and the location “Main Street” also appearing to him in the same dream. Today, we were visiting one of their subsequent locations on Pender Street. The whole chain is well known for their vegan and gluten-free donut selection. And their ability to bring together savoury and sweet through such doughnuts as their Honey Parmesan and thanksgiving donut flavoured like a turkey and cranberry dinner.
At Cartems we had one of their well known cake doughnuts, a dark chocolate ring with blueberry. I was not a fan of its dense and dry texture. Nor was I particularly excited about the overly sweet London fog cream stuffed yeast doughnut. I liked the flavour, it just had me aching over the sugar.
In short, this a fun way to get to know the city better, whist trying some of its more popular donut options. More appropriate for those coming from out of town, or something you bring someone visiting you to. Though still a fun, new to-do in the city.
Vancouver Downtown & Gastown Donut Tour