Vancouver, British Columbia
Located on Canada’s southwestern coast in the province of British Columbia, Vancouver is a fascinating seaside city that is exquisitely framed within a picturesque landscape. This charming metropolis is Western Canada’s largest municipality that is widely recognized as being one of the most livable and tourist-friendly destinations in the world thanks to its vibrant neighborhoods, clean and safe streets, and exceptional quality of life. Along with being a hospitable community, Vancouver also boasts a temperate climate where mild and rainy winters make way for warm and sunny summers. Although any season can be a magical time to visit, tourism peaks during the summer when visitors can lose themselves in the tranquility of the bordering lush wilderness during the day and bask in the glow of the glistening skyline at night. Regardless of the time of year, Vancouver’s proximity to the shimmering ocean, verdant forests, and grandiose mountains of the Pacific Northwest, allow endless opportunities for outdoor recreational gratification. The following is a comprehensive list of nearby attractions within and outside of downtown Vancouver:
As Vancouver’s first and largest urban park, Stanley Park is a Canadian national historic site that has become the cornerstone for nature and outdoor enthusiasts. The park encompasses over 1,000 acres of fertile forest that include dense woods of hemlock, cedar, and fir trees that are almost entirely bounded by the Pacific Ocean. A pedestrian loop, known as the seawall, circumnavigates the entire park and past a wide range of viewpoints, scenic beaches, quaint hiking trails, and various landmarks and statues.
A common starting point is from Coal Harbour and then continuing east as the footpath winds along the perimeter of the peninsula. Some of the historic stops along the way include the Brockton Point Totem Poles, Nine O’Clock Gun, Brockton Point Lighthouse, Lions Gate Bridge, Prospect Point, and Siwash Rock. With the amount of natural, historical, and cultural landmarks that Stanley Park provides, it is no wonder why so many view it as the number one thing that visitors must experience when visiting Vancouver. So, whether you’re walking, running, rollerblading, or biking, the park offers a wide range of unforgettable experiences for sightseers to discover.
Gastown is a lively urban center in the northeastern corner of downtown Vancouver with borders that stretch from Cambie Street to the north, Richards Street to the west, Main Street to the east, and Hastings Street to the south. As the city’s oldest commercial district, and the heart of where Vancouver began, Gastown exudes an old-world atmosphere that blends seamlessly with the contemporary resurgence of the thriving indie art galleries, hip cafes, distinctive boutiques, chic cocktail bars, innovative nightspots, and critically acclaimed restaurants. In fact, the magnetism of the neighborhood’s architecture and environment come alive at night when the surrounding trees illuminate the wonderfully preserved, brick heritage structures and vintage lampposts that line the quaint cobblestone streets.
A benefit of Gastown’s compact size is that it makes it an ideal location to explore on foot, which gives visitors the greatest opportunity to fully experience the deep-seated history and romantic nature that the area has to offer. It is also the best way to appreciate the neighborhood’s most notable landmarks, like the Gassy Jack statue in the center of Maple Tree Square and the steam-powered clock on the corner of Cambie and Water Street. Both of these landmarks have become some of Vancouver’s most photographed attractions, which have contributed in drawing large crowds of gregarious tourists to Gastown’s flourishing small businesses.
Formerly an industrial manufacturing area, Granville Island is now a beloved neighborhood that resides across from False Creek and Downtown Vancouver. The deep-rooted factories now house a diverse selection of shopping delights like trendy restaurants, artisan studios, theatres, workshops, and galleries; however, the main attraction is the Granville Island Public Market. Open seven days a week, 9am to 7pm, the public market is filled with a seemingly endless array of food stalls that sell fresh produce, baked goods, ethnic snacks, and handcrafted gifts.
When the weather is nice, visitors of all ages flock to Granville Island to indulge in one of the many activities that the area has to offer. Whether it’s partaking in a waterfront lunch with a fantastic view of English Bay, sampling selections from Canada’s first microbrewery at Granville Island Brewing, or deciding between paddleboarding and kayaking along False Creek, there is something for everyone.
Some of the best photography spots of downtown can be achieved by walking along the seawall of Granville Island, but my favorite is from pedestrian walkway that runs along the western span of the Granville Street Bridge. This elevated view is the perfect contrast between Granville Island and the marina in the foreground with the Burrard Street Bridge and Vancouver skyline in the background. As it is often the case, the best vista is often the one that requires the most work to get to, so expect a decent amount of ingenuity and legwork to capture this vantage point.
Vanier Park is a public park that resides at the edge of English Bay in the Kitsilano neighborhood of Vancouver. The park is open 7-days a week from 6am to 10pm and features a pathway that navigates along the well-manicured grounds and past vast grassy fields, placid fishponds, a thrilling BMX bike park, and a plethora of modern art installations. In addition, Vanier Park, boasts a variety of attractions such as the Museum of Vancouver, H.R. MacMillan Space Centre, Gordon Southam Observatory, and the City of Vancouver Archives.
It is one of the most beloved municipal parks and is one of the premier locations for flying kites or taking in the astounding panoramic views of the Vancouver skyline and Stanley Park. Besides being known for its breathtaking views, the park’s optimal waterfront location places it within a reasonable walking distance to other popular landmarks like the Burrard Bridge and Kitsilano Beach Park. As with most of the parks in Vancouver, Vanier Park is swarming with visitors during the summer when the weather is ideal and outdoor recreational activities are in full swing.
Queen Elizabeth Park:
Perched atop Little Mountain, Vancouver’s highest point at approximately 500 feet above sea level, the Queen Elizabeth park features a spectacular elevated view of the surrounding landscape. At its peak is what many consider the park’s centerpiece, the exquisite courtyard and indoor gardens of the Bloedel Floral Conservatory. Within the Conservatory’s large, glass-domed structure are covered walkways that navigate past the brilliantly lit fountains, intriguing art installations, and the diverse assortment of exotic plants and free-flying birds.
Outside of the Conservatory, a series of intertwining pathways traverse the 120-acres of the world’s most stunning horticultural masterpieces. The walkways take visitors through the Arboretum, which is an impressive collection of over 1,500 exotic and native trees that highlights the park’s inclusion of every native tree specimen in Canada.
Eventually, the footpath leads to the sensationally designed gardens with their striking annual and perennial flowerbeds, which also features a cascading waterfall and babbling stream flowing through it. Throughout the park, private enclaves are tucked away beneath the trees and allow for a temporary reprieve where visitors can fully appreciate the tranquil nature that the park elicits.
Along with enjoying all of the vibrant flowers, diverse trees, and peaceful water displays, the Queen Elizabeth Park has a number of recreational offerings. The park incorporates amenities like tennis courts, disc golf, lawn bowling, tai chi, and an 18-hole pitch and putt course, which all operate on a ‘first come first served’ basis.
The grounds are open 7-days a week from 6am to 10pm, with the Bloedel Floral Conservatory operating from 10am to 8pm. Access to the park can be gained via any one of the various entrances on all sides of the park, including Cambie Street at West 29th or 33rd avenues, or from Ontario Street at East West 33rd Avenue. There are pay parking lots available, at an hourly or daily rate, near the park’s center, as well as a limited amount of free parking around the park’s perimeter.
Kitsilano Beach, known as Kits Beach by the locals, is located along the northern coast of Kitsilano and is the city’s most popular swim spot. The beach features a wide, sandy expanse that faces English Bay to the west and abuts a grassy area with basketball courts, tennis courts, and a playground to the east. At the northern end of the beach there are large rocks along the shoreline that make fantastic foreground elements when photographing the Vancouver skyline and North Shore Mountains.
For swimmers looking to avoid the frigid water of English Bay, the Kitsilano Pool is a heated, saltwater pool that is open from May to September. It is nearly three times the size of an Olympic pool and its enormous size is perfect for swimming laps. An adult single-day admission is $6.10 CAD ($4.70 USD); youths, ages 13 to 18 years old, is $4.36 CAD ($3.36 USD); children, ages 3 to 12 years old is $3.07 CAD ($ 2.36 USD); and preschoolers, ages 0 to 2 years old, are free.
In terms of food and refreshments, there are several conveniently placed concession stands that are spread along the beachfront. Many of these stands operate with a speedy precision while serving locally sourced, healthy food choices and fast food options at affordable prices. For more upscale options, The Boathouse Restaurant has a formal dining room that serves from a wide-ranging menu of wild and sustainable seafood with unbeatable waterfront views.
Although access to the beach is free to the public, there are hourly and daily charges for parking in the parking lot at Kitsilano Beach Park. The prices vary depending on the time of year, so from April through September the hourly rate is $3.50 CAD ($2.70 USD) and daily is $13 CAD ($10 USD), whereas from October through March the hourly rate decreases to $2.50 CAD ($1.90 USD) and daily to $7 CAD ($5.40 USD).
Lynn Canyon Park & Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge:
Lynn Canyon Park is a free, self-guided exploration into North Vancouver’s ecosystem where visitors are treated to incredible vistas and exhilarating adventures. Its crown jewel is the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, a 130-foot long wooden bridge that spans 167-feet above the clear pools of Lynn Creek. Although the bridge is only wide enough for two people to cross, and is notoriously bouncy, overcoming any fear of heights will be immediately rewarded with magnificent views of the waterfalls and canyon below.
After crossing the bridge, sightseers are connected with a series of trails that navigate through over 600 acres of moss-draped trees and other key attractions like the Pipe Bridge, Twin Falls, 30 Foot Pool, and Blue Pools. The trails and boardwalks are well maintained by the North Vancouver Parks System and are open year-round, 7 days a week, from 7am to 7pm. During the summer, rangers from the park system are on hand to give narrated walking tours about the flora and fauna that are native to the area. They go into in-depth explanations regarding the temperate rainforest of North Vancouver and how it is a relatively rare ecosystem that extends from the coast of Alaska down to British Columbia and Northern California.
High View Overlook:
The High View Overlook is a stunning vista point on Cypress Mountain that is accessed via a turnout at the second hairpin turn on Cypress Bowl Road. On clear days, it is a phenomenal location for a distance, panoramic view of downtown Vancouver, the Lions Gate Bridge, and the surrounding bodies of water. The parking lot is relatively small and is open from 6am to 11pm, which makes it possible to catch a stunning sunrise or sunset from the overlook. There are also a handful of picnic tables available so that visitors can enjoy a snack while taking in the view and watching different shipping vessels cruise in and out of the harbor.
* A FUN SIDE TRIP: SEA TO SKY HIGHWAY FROM VANCOUVER TO WHISTLER *
Sea to Sky Highway:
The Sea to Sky Highway is an incredible scenic road that runs along the coast of British Columbia from Vancouver to Whistler. It is one of the most beautiful drives in the world and is teeming with majestic mountains, cascading waterfalls, and lush temperate forests. The highway hugs the shoreline of Howe Sound and guides motorists pass the quaint, coastal communities that are framed by glaciers and jagged peaks. There are plenty of stimulating opportunities to engage in along the way, including recreational activities, historical sites, and informative kiosks that explain various cultural points of interest. Highlights of coastal drive were the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, Lighthouse Park, Horseshoe Bay, Porteau Cove, Shannon Falls, Sea to Sky Gondola, Squamish, Brandywine Falls, and Whistler.
I. Capilano Suspension Bridge Park - The Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is a 27-acre park that features a 460-foot suspension bridge spanning 230-feet above the Capilano River. Other features of the park include the Treetops Adventure (a series of seven interconnected suspension bridges soaring high above the forest floor) and Cliffwalk (a narrow, cantilevered walkway jutting out from the granite cliff of Capilano Canyon); however, the suspension bridge is the gateway to them all. Although none of these are for the feint of heart or acrophobic, the aerial view of the canyon and old growth forest below are worth the bravery. These thrilling attractions are open from 9am to 5pm and an adult’s general admission is $46.95 CAD ($36.26 USD)
II. Lighthouse Park - Lighthouse Park is a serene and alluring park located along the coast of West Vancouver on the North Shore. Its extensive offerings of hiking trails through the giant old-growth forest make this park a local favorite, but come prepared since a decent amount of maneuvering is required. After an easy 10-15 minute hike culminates at the rugged shoreline, there are ample opportunities to scramble about the cliffs in search of a perspective of the Vancouver skyline and Point Atkinson Lighthouse that is the most appealing.
III. Horseshoe Bay - Horseshoe Bay is a charming seaside village on the western end of the North Shore and serves as a gateway community to Howe Sound. It is most notably cherished for its captivating scenic views from Horseshoe Bay Park in the heart of town. The park overlooks Sewell’s Marina, Howe Sound, and the Coastal Mountains as they tower over the community and is incredibly photogenic. Many visitors utilize the benches and deck chairs that are scattered along the Horseshoe Bay Park’s promenade for relishing in the beautiful landscape and its reflections in the placid water.
IV. Porteau Cove – Porteau Cove is situated on the eastern shore of Howe Sound between Lions Bay and Squamish along the Sea-to-Sky Highway. It is home to the Porteau Cove Provincial Park, which features a pebble-strewn beach with some of the most exquisite vistas of the tree-lined fjord. Along the park’s shoreline is a boating pier and waterfront campsites where many of the park’s visitors engage in recreational pastimes like swimming, canoeing, and boating. Just north of the park is the Porteau Cove Dive Site, where scuba divers can immerse themselves in a diverse sub-tidal ecosystem that is complete with a series of man-made reefs and two old sunken ships.
V. Shannon Falls – Less than a 10-minute drive south of Squamish is Shannon Falls, British Columbia’s third tallest falls at over 1,100 feet. Although it is visible from the Sea-to-Sky Highway, it is worth taking the time to stop and explore the well-maintained boardwalks for a more intimate view of the waterfall’s roaring waters. The trail winds through old growth forests and past Shannon Creek before culminating at the viewing platform at the base of the falls. An optional viewing area, which is smaller and more elevated, can be accessed via a 5-minute hike that ventures further up the mountain. Both views are worth the short, easy detour as they feature the surging water of Shannon Falls as it gushes over a series of cliffs and blankets onlookers in its mist.
VI. Sea to Sky Gondola – The Sea to Sky Gondola is an enclosed, ski-lift type aerial ride that transports visitors over 2,900 feet to mesmerizing views over Howe Sound and the surrounding Coast Mountains. Once at the upper terminal area, distinctive perspectives of the scenic backdrop can be achieved via the well-marked paths, viewing platforms, and 328-foot suspension bridge. Adjacent to the lift’s terminus is the Summit Lodge and Summit Plaza, which feature a restaurant, bathrooms, retail shop, and picnic area amid the timbered landscape. The gondola operates daily from 10am to 6pm and general admission for an adult is $43.95 CAD ($33.88 USD); however, a slight discount is applied to tickets that are preordered online.
VII. Squamish – A short drive from Shannon Falls and the Sea to Sky Gondola is the community of Squamish, a coastal town that is positioned at the northern tip of the glacially etched Howe Sound. Being at the confluence of shimmering water, sheer granite cliffs, and dense alpine forests has given the township worldwide reverence as being the outdoors recreational capital of Canada. This notoriety is clearly understood as Squamish boasts a litany of adventurous options that are suitable for visitors of all fitness levels. These activities include, hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, boating, sailing, whitewater rafting, and wind surfing. Talk to any of the natives and most would agree that the ‘best way to enjoy the naturally stunning landscape of Squamish is to get into the middle of it.’ They would also recommend that stopping by the Howe Sound Brewing to sample some of their traditional craft beer and local eats would be the perfect ending to an adrenaline-charged day, which I agree with 100%.
VIII. Brandywine Falls – Brandywine Falls is a dramatic, free-falling waterfall that plummets 230 feet off of an abrupt cliff face and into a crystalline pool of water below. The best views of the thundering falls can be achieved from one of the wooden observation platforms along the Brandywine Falls Lookout Trail. In order to access these vistas, begin at the trailhead located in the parking lot of Brandywine Falls Provincial Park and then proceed along a wide, well-maintained gravel trail. The 15-minute hike traverses through the temperate forest, over railroad tracks, and along Brandywine Creek before it culminates at the various overlooks that jet out over the eroded canyon. For more stunning views, continue on to the trail’s terminus for an expansive vista of Daisy Lake and the formidable Black Tusk.
IX. PEAK 2 PEAK Gondola – The Peak 2 Peak Gondola is Whistler’s most exciting experience that climaxes with unparalleled panoramic views of the endearing Whistler Village, immense glaciers, and spectacular peaks of the Coast Mountains. By purchasing a Peak 2 Peak 360 Experience Pass, guests are permitted access to all of the open-air chairlifts and gondolas during operating hours (Summer: 8:30am to 8pm, Winter: 10am to 5pm), as well as a behind-the scenes look at the machinery, the 2010 Olympic Games display, and much more! An adult admission ticket can be preordered no more than 3 days in advance for the discounted price of $58 CAD, with all walk-up purchases costing $63 CAD.
After purchasing a pass, the adventure starts as visitors board the gondola in Whistler Village and ride it to the top of Whistler Mountain, then transfer to the Peak 2 Peak lift and travel nearly 2.75 miles over the valley floor to the Rendezvous Lodge on Blackcomb Mountain. During the summer, the mountains are teeming with hikers and mountain bikers utilizing the extensive alpine trail networks, while during the winter skiers and snowboarders enjoy the snow-capped mountains. For anyone who visits, each season shows a different side to the environment, from the breathtaking vistas to the adventurous recreational offerings.
X. Whistler –Although it isn’t the end of the Sea-to-Sky Highway, Whistler is often the terminus for many motorists thanks to its chalet-style pedestrian village and the Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains. It is known around the world as one of the largest and most premier ski resorts in North America. This untamed mountain playground is an adventurer’s paradise where the plentiful trails and verdant forests of British Columbia beckon to every outdoor enthusiast.
Whistler’s central district, Whistler Village, is nestled at the base of Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains where a paved, pedestrian walkway, called the Village Stroll, weaves through different boutiques, cafes, and restaurants.It is the beating heart of the region and is humming year-round with a liveliness and panache that sets it above all other resorts. Depending on the time of year, events like open-air concerts, festivals, street entertainment, markets, and sports competitions are hosted in this elegant ski atmosphere.
For anyone looking for a more subdued experience, Whistler offers informative museums, impressive art galleries, lakefront parks, and challenging golf courses.Although there are a plethora of activities to participate in, nature and fresh air are usually the common denominator.
Recommended Local Eateries:
Grounds For Coffee – 7am-6:00pm - (2565 Alma Street, Vancouver, British Columbia) – They make the world’s best cinnamon buns that are made fresh daily by hand using locally-sourced, wholesome ingredients.
The Cannibal Cafe – 11:30am-12:00pm (Monday-Thursday), 11:30am-11pm (Fridays), and 11:30pm-10pm (Sunday) - (1818 Commercial Drive, Vancouver, British Columbia) – An informal, punk-rock-themed burger establishment with a list of creative concoctions and build-your-own possibilities.
Lee's Donuts– 9:00am-7:00pm (Sunday-Saturday), 10:00am-4:00pm (Saturday), and Closed on Monday - (1689 Johnston Street, Vancouver, British Columbia) – A small bakery in the Granville Island Public Market that serves a variety of deliciously warm baked treats.
Deacon’s Corner– 8:00am-6:00pm - (101 Main Street, Vancouver, British Columbia) – They are best known for their massive Fat Cow burger, which is comprised of two giant beef patties, a fried egg, cheddar cheese, onions, jalapenos, and bacon.
Off the Wall Waffles – 3:30pm-11:00pm (Monday-Friday), 11am-11pm (Saturday & Sunday) - (2665 Kingsway Street, Vancouver, British Columbia) – A quaint shop that serves a select menu of freak shakes that are loaded with delectable sweets.
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