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Best Places to Live in BC

Vancouver and the Lower Mainland

Greater Vancouver or the Lower Mainland is BC’s most popular place to live because of a mix of work opportunities and a fantastic climate and lifestyle. The climate is similar to Vancouver Island, but the island doesn’t have the same level of economic and employment opportunities. Vancouver is the regional metropolitan area for BC and where most local big business headquarters are located and where most job opportunities are.

Pros

A major urban area with many amenities and a diverse population. Vancouver offers an urban lifestyle in a dense area only found in cities like New York and San Francisco. Known as Vancouverism, this is something you just don’t get this across most North American cities.

Consistently ranked highest for quality of life in the world because of low levels of crime and pollution along with lots of economic opportunities and leisure pursuits like skiing, snowboarding, hiking, and sailing. The mountains and ocean and its beaches are conveniently accessible to basically everyone in the city regardless of income levels.

Cultural diversity means the Lower Mainland has great food made by people from all over the world who know it well – I would argue it’s some of the best in the world. I’ve even been told that Vancouver has some of the best Asian food outside of Asia, trumping places like New York, San Francisco, and London.

Tolerant. Vancouver attracts people of diverse cultures, outlooks, and lifestyles compared to other places, like rural BC. This is why it’s done so well. It’s attracted individuals from more traditional-minded areas to the city. Outsiders start great things in and around the city – it draws people that often can do great things, like in tech for instance. The city attracts success – many professionals if given the choice would choose Vancouver over elsewhere.

Natural beauty is almost unparalleled compared to other regional cities.

The Lower Mainland has great universities and research facilities and a large tech community.

Cons

Vancouver has some of the most expensive real estate in the world, if not in Canada. Housing affordability is a real challenge in the area. Because of the nice climate, there’s a high level of homelessness.

The city is slow to build new housing. New housing is very politicized and there’s not enough of it.

Incomes are lower in Vancouver than in Calgary and Seattle. It’s on par with a city like Louisville, KY but with housing prices of NY and SanFran. It’s not relative.

The city can also be crowded and busy, and the vibe can feel cold and insular, not warm and friendly.

Vancouver gets a lot of rain, which can be depressing. It experiences very dark and gloomy winters which can get people down.

Vancouver Island

Vancouver Island shares the comfortable, moderate climate of the lower mainland but with more sunshine and less rain. Housing is more affordable here than in Greater Vancouver and, overall, the island is quieter and more friendly. There are more rural opportunities than in Greater Vancouver because it’s less developed, with a slower pace of life, and it offers some great universities and research facilities, too.

Pros

Vancouver Island offers a family-oriented lifestyle and nice, small cities which are great if you’re not too career-oriented or you don’t like a busy city. You’ll get a slower, more relaxed or sedate lifestyle with less traffic there along with easy access to natural beauty, including beaches, as you can be in nature within a half-hour and without a ferry. As well, there’s great farmland and for people who want a rural lifestyle.

As BC’s capital, Victoria offers many government jobs, which is good for those looking for stability. There’s also a growing tech community there. Victoria offers great food, beaches and beauty like Vancouver. The heritage buildings in Victoria and Nanaimo’s inner harbour offer historic beauty and charm and great urban infrastructure.

Overall, housing is less expensive than in Vancouver, and there are more housing options and fewer new construction restrictions on the island. For example, Langford is very pro-development with a growth outlook. With few exceptions (like Victoria), there’s a pro-development mentality across the island. Lots of inexpensive and necessary housing is being created.

Cons

You won’t find as many economic or job opportunities as you do in the Lower Mainland, as the island has a less dynamic business environment.

Some might find the slower pace of life too quiet or boring. There are fewer cultural, shopping, or diverse food and dining options, making the communities less vibrant than Greater Vancouver’s. If you like action or are bored easily, the island isn’t the best option. Compared to Vancouver, there isn’t as much dynamic vibrancy, and Victoria is a lower-density city with less going on overall.

Communities on Vancouver Island lack nearby mountains, like Vancouver has, which means you’ll need more time to get to certain activities like hiking, snowboarding, or skiing.

Fraser Valley

Pros

The Fraser Valley offers many job opportunities. There are also some good universities in the region and great farmland for people who want a rural lifestyle. 

The area has lots of new, affordable housing and a variety of options, especially compared to Greater Vancouver.

From the Fraser Valley, there’s easy access to the US border as well as the Abbotsford International Airport. 

You’ll find a wide variety of good dining options, a family-oriented lifestyle, and fairly quick access to mountains and nature, including provincial parks.

As well, the Fraser Valley offers a laid back, diverse lifestyle. It attracts thousands of people to events like the Abbotsford International Airshow and Langley car and RV shows. There are also some interesting historical destinations like Fort Langley.

Cons

The Fraser Valley doesn’t offer as many economic and high-paying job opportunities as you may find in Vancouver, especially downtown. 

Weather here can be more extreme. It tends to get hotter in the summer and cooler in the winter than Greater Vancouver.

Urban sprawl and traffic can be bad, and if you need to commute to Vancouver it can take a long time.

There is no ocean access or many urban amenities or city life throughout the region.

Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley

Kelowna is a very young, energetic and vibrant city, the largest in BC’s Okanagan Valley. For a long time, it has been undervalued or underappreciated in terms of real estate. COVID has pushed where the city was anticipated to go over the next 5-10 years – it’s happened much quicker. Kelowna’s finally growing up to what it should have been years ago, but many locals are having a hard time. Other smaller markets in the Okanagan Valley are experiencing something similar, though to a lesser degree.

Pros

Mild climate with full seasons. The Okanagan Valley has a very warm, hot, dry climate, sitting at the northern tip of the Sonoran desert. The weather is amazing, and most people love it. The Okanagan Valley gets a true four full seasons, and it might be the only location in all of Canada that gets a true spring and fall. People are snowboarding and golfing at the same time – it’s very unique this way and you just don’t get it elsewhere in Canada.

Laid-back lifestyle. Just like Whistler, where people ski or snowboard before work, people in the Okanagan have a recreational mindset and do things like waterski early in the morning before work. There’s a relaxed, laid-back vibe in terms of day-to-day business especially compared to larger cities like Vancouver.

Family vacation destination. The Okanagan Valley offers many family leisure activities, like floating down the river in Penticton, wakeboarding on Lake Okanagan, and mini-golf. Skaha Lake sits on the other side of Penticton and runs south toward Osoyoos, which is at the border and sees many American tourists.

Strong and growing economy. The Okanagan Valley economy is primarily service and tourism-based, with world-renowned wineries and some of the province’s best restaurants. In fact, the region’s wine industry is often compared to California’s Napa Valley. The area also enjoys strong export opportunities for cherry farmers, and China is one of its largest markets.

There’s also a growing tech industry that is arguably outpacing tourism. While Vancouver might have the big tech players like Microsoft and Amazon, Kelowna has a thriving tech sector, too.

Value for money despite rising home prices. Unaffordability got worse with COVID, but before that people were still coming because – though the condo market was still underdeveloped – you could buy a single-family home for was very inexpensive compared to markets like Vancouver, Victoria, or Toronto.

Kelowna might feel unaffordable to many people who have lived there throughout their lives, and though there’s a major affordability issue that will push people away and to the outskirts, relatively speaking, it’s still an affordable market for BC and for what you’re getting, especially compared to Vancouver and Victoria.

Growing cities. Kelowna has a young city council and mayor that is trying to grow the city. Part of the 2040 Official Community Plan is to stop urban sprawl (detached single-family homes) and push to build upwards and densify with condos and townhomes. Central and South Okanagan are going through the same thing, just to a smaller degree since Kelowna is the region’s biggest city.

Cons

Housing supply is low and prices are at all-time highs. Throughout the Okanagan Valley, whether it’s Penticton, Vernon or Osoyoos, housing prices are at an all-time high, a major disadvantage, especially for younger people. This has mostly resulted from a housing supply shortage. The City of Kelowna is trying to build more but can’t keep up. For instance, three recent presale towers sold out in only two days.The supply issue has also resulted in an extremely low rental vacancy rate at less than 1% and very expensive rental units.

City planning can’t keep up. The city has undergone a massive amount of development in the past five years. No matter where you go, almost every corner is being developed to some degree – either construction or vacant land in the process of being developed. Because of this, development has outpaced city planning and things just can’t keep up, like public transit. The area is still disconnected – you have Lake Country, Kelowna, and West Kelowna. It’s a large area but there’s no rapid or quicker ground transit than bus.

Another side effect of this is traffic and congestion. The congestion between Kelowna and West Kelowna is a concern, especially in the summer tourist season from May through September. The population goes from about 130,000 to 200,000 then and it’s hard on infrastructure.

Slower or limited access to major centres. While the Kelowna airport was an international one pre-COVID, this was halted to reduce the spread of the virus. There were direct flights to places like Mexico but now everything routes through Vancouver. Kelowna is waiting to get its international status reinstated and hopefully, when the dust settles with COVID, the demand will justify more flights again.

Summers can be tough. The Okanagan is very mild and desert-like, whereas Vancouver is more humid. This is often a plus for people, but it can get too hot. For example, the summer of this year saw 40+ degrees for 2-3 weeks, causing the electrical grid to max out and air conditioning units to fail. Residents of the Okanagan Valley must also contend with wildfires every year. 

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