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With its proximity to beaches, nature trails, golf courses and cross-border shopping, South Surrey is a perennial favourite for retirees and families seeking to escape the city din—and for those looking to up their postal-code cred. And while Surrey proper still hasn’t shaken its long-held reputation for theft, vandalism, drug crime and violence, Surrey City Centre represents a new leaf being turned. There, condo towers, a walkable core, a growing number of hip cafés, a stunning Bing Thom–designed library, a Simon Fraser University campus, a SkyTrain hub and more have transformed the area from one of the roughest ’hoods west of the Rockies into one of the region’s smartest upstarts. Still, it’s a bit of an island, as rundown houses, strip malls and payday loan places aren’t far from the new lustre.
Crescent Beach: Since 1912, Crescent Beach has been promoted as a resort area, and for good reason: it’s the perfect place to take a dip, soak up the views, go boating, break out the barbecue or stroll along a nature trail. The northernmost point is Blackie Spit, where more than 300 species of birds stop on their annual migrations north and south; thousands of golfers also flock to the area, which has some of B.C.’s top courses. Wander too far beyond the large boulder, however, and you might find nudists who love to, er, feel the wind in their sails.
Central City: Surrey is the fastest-growing city in B.C., and Surrey City Centre is the locus for that skyrocketing expansion. Central City Shopping Centre, which has gone through various incarnations since the 1970s, now shares its home with Simon Fraser University, while Bing Thom’s modern City Centre Library provides a breathtaking architectural landmark. The new Civic Hotel, a B.C.-themed boutique hotel by Marriott, recently opened its doors, and Hilton just announced a new seven-storey hotel that will be topped by a 180-unit residential tower.
Surrey Art Gallery: Vancouver proper is home to most of the city’s best-known galleries, but Surrey Art Gallery is the second-largest public gallery in Metro Vancouver, and well worth a detour. You won’t find Emily Carr and Group of Seven retrospectives, however, because the gallery, which features renowned international, national and regional artists, has a decidedly contemporary flare—as well as a soft spot for audio and digital art. They also host talks, tours, workshops and symposiums, and admission is always free.
“My favourite thing about the Cloverdale area of Surrey is how family oriented it is, on any given evening you will see SO many couples, families, kids either walking or riding bikes around the neighbourhood or playing at the park.” —Michelle Tyerman, 40, Investigative Assistant
My Shanti: With its plethora of chain stores—Winners, the Gap and Starbucks, to name a few—Morgan Crossing doesn’t exactly ooze soul, but star chef Vikram Vij brings a blast of culture to the stucco-heavy landscape (and of hot-pink sequins to the building itself) with his most recent restaurant offering. Vij calls My Shanti “an homage to the diversity and richness of Indian cuisine”—one that is inspired by the culinary journeys he has taken across India, with each dish reflecting the uniqueness of a particular region. Its eclectic menu and over-the-top Bollywood style has won the shimmering spot Gold for Best Indian at our Restaurant Awards, and, unlike Vij’s in Vancouver, most nights there’s no wait—and you can make reservations.Tap Restaurant: If you’re named B.C.’s top sommelier by the Canadian Association of Professional Sommeliers, you’d think that wine would keep you plenty busy—but Alistair Veen is also owner and chef at this top Surrey dining spot. Partnering with local farms, Veen blends French and West Coast cuisine in dishes that range from mussels with coconut curry to crispy pork belly to a sandwich the menu promises is the “Best Clubhouse Ever.”Central City Brewers: Long before craft breweries fanned out across the Lower Mainland, Central City Brewers and Distillers were producing some of the region’s finest beers, ciders and spirits—and they’ve been winning heaps of awards for their Red Racer beers, their Queensborough gin, and their Thor’s Hammer barley wine-style ale. Visitors can check out their popular pub, located right in Surrey City Centre, or head to the brewery down the road for a behind-the-scenes tour.Fieldstone Artisan Breads: Local restaurateurs Tom and Tracy Gass of the Cabin loved Fieldstone so much that they not only served their baked goods at their restaurant, they also recently took over the bakery, too, which is legendary among local carb lovers. The bakery has always relied on traditional techniques and fine ingredients—organic flours, filtered water, sea salt and plenty of real butter—and the Gasses promise that’s not about to change.West Village Café: Surrey gets a dose of downtown Vancouver in this slick, modern daytime café, where you can boost your health quotient with fresh juices, kombucha, fusion tacos, grain bowls and, yes, avocado toast. Not a health trend tracker? Fear not: they serve up more sinful eats, too, from bacon cheddar breakfast wraps to chili chicken sandwiches.The Carvery Sandwich Shop: While its name says “hipster,” the Carvery’s King George Boulevard location screams “Surrey strip mall” so don’t expect any after-lunch boardwalk strolls here. What’s remarkable are their sandwiches, made from fresh local meats that are seasoned and marinated to perfection then piled high, with hearty soups and chowders to match.Old Surrey Restaurant: As the name implies, nostalgia is the bread and butter of this restaurant, first opened in 1975 by Spanish native Valentine Aguirre—and one of two Surrey eateries named in a recent “Canada’s most romantic” list. (The other was Tap.) French classics made from local ingredients are the focus, including lamb and veal from the family’s Chilliwack farm.
The push to turn Surrey City Centre into a bustling downtown, complete with distinct neighbourhoods, an innovation-rich business centre, cultural venues, historic districts, greenways, public plazas and more, continues as the official City Centre Plan enters its next phase and cranes dot the skyline. Along the way the area’s population of 32,000 is expected to more than double by the year 2033—and Surrey’s wider population is predicted to surpass Vancouver’s within the next three decades. That means a whole lot more people to move, so a key part of the plan is a new street-level light rail system that will connect several communities, with phase one linking Newton, Surrey Central and Gilford, and phase two connecting Surrey with Langley rapid transit. It likely won’t lead to smooth sailing, however, on already-packed bridges and highways.