What can I say? I’ve lived here 9 years and there is so much to love about this place. I came to visit when I was 15 and my heart never left, so 9 years ago I packed up and left Toronto and moved “home” to the west coast and haven’t looked back.
Everyone has their opinions and the opinions in this blog are mine. This is not meant to be an exhaustive guide of things to do in Vancouver (there are plenty of those online) but rather a list of my favourite things to do and if you’re an outdoorsy nature loving person like me, you may enjoy them as well!
Weather: It does rain a lot here. And I mean a lot. Other places might have rain in the forecast and that means an hour or two during the day. When we have rain in the forecast it can literally rain for days without a break or seeing the sun. Thankfully the mild temperatures mean you can still enjoy a lot of the fun activities in the rain and we usually don’t let it stop us!
Flying into YVR can be expensive (Canadian taxes) and Seattle is a short bus ride away (3 hours) so you may consider flying into Seattle and taking the bus north.
If you do fly into Vancouver, the skytrain goes straight from the airport to downtown faster than the line up at any car rental place (25 minutes). Save yourself time and money by taking public transit. If you are leaving the city, you may need to rent a car but our kick ass transit system makes it pretty easy to manage without. There are also some of those bike rental stations popping up throughout the city and if you’re staying awhile, get yourself an Evo, Car2Go or Modo membership.
Food: Commercial drive is probably the best spot to find a variety of eats followed by Main street (south of Broadway). I have way too many favourite spots to name but if you ask me my absolute top two places to eat I’d have to say: The Mexican and Earnest Ice Cream.
Fun Shit to Do:
– Cycle the seawall around Stanley Park and then to Kits beach and then head east. Soon after cycling this way, you’re going to have to make an important decision about the cheesecake brownies at Granville Island or Earnest Ice Cream in Olympic Village. Both areas are worth while stops but my
vote goes to Olympic Village where you can also visit the resident beaver while eating your ice cream (only in Canada is there a beaver who has taken up residence amongst the condo towers in a city centre) before jumping back on your bike to go past Science world to complete the loop via sunset beach.
– Go for a hike. There are so many fantastic hikes year round and Vancouver Trails lists most of them with clear directions and information on best time of year to go. Don’t leave Vancouver until you have a Grouse grind time to brag about.
– Visit some of the local breweries. East Van is your best bet but the Port Moody breweries are an honourable mention (and skytrain friendly) My personal favourite is the vanilla whiskey stout beer at Storm Brewing
– Hang out at the beaches. We actually have beaches right in the city! They are crowded and people don’t typically swim in the water but from downtown you can easily get to Kits beach, Spanish banks, Jericho, 3rd beach, 2nd beach, sunset beach, or if you would prefer to leave your bathing suit at home, wreck beach (nude beach).
– Rent a kayak in Deep Cove and go for an overnight trip up Indian Arm to Granite Falls, or rent a kayak (or paddleboard) in Port Moody just for a day trip to visit the seals.
– Check out a Canucks or Whitecaps game or for a cheaper option for pro sports, hit a Vancouver Canadians baseball game.
– Do a yoga class. We have outdoor beach yoga, beer yoga, goat yoga, hot yoga, seriously all kinds of yoga. We love yoga in this city. If you’re a yogi, there is going to be a class you’ll enjoy here.
– Nightlife in Vancouver is pretty quiet compared to larger centres but if you’re set on it, Granville street (younger crowd), gastown (slightly older crowd) and Davie street (GLBT friendly crowd) are the main spots but you’ll notice not a lot of people are into the nightlife because we are too damn exhausted from playing outside all day! Vancouver also has casinos, restaurants, theatre shows, comedy clubs, shopping and all that other city stuff.
– Go skiing/snowboarding/snowshoeing/cross country skiing. We have 3 fantastic local mountains: Cypress, Grouse, and Seymour.
Cypress is my favourite for snowboarding and cross country skiing but the snowshoeing at all three is awesome depending on how difficult of a snowshoe trek you’re looking for.
– Don’t forget about the burbs! New West Quay, Golden Ears Park in Maple Ridge, Rocky Point Park in Port Moody, Buntzen in Belcarra, Burnaby Lake and Deer Lake in Burnaby are a few spots a short skytrain or bus from the city.
– Chat with locals to get up to date information and tips. You’re going to see the Capilano suspension bridge heavily ma
rketed to tourists but when you chat with locals you’ll find out you can do the Lynn Canyon suspension bridge for free. Likewise, if you want to snowshoe, the local mountains will have you believe you need a trail ticket to wander around their little trails when in fact, you can snowshoe Hollyburn (Cypress) or dog mountain (Seymour) for free if you bring your own rentals (from Mountain Equipment Coop of course). Locals will always have the best tips on saving money and free stuff to do (because our housing is so ridiculously expensive we can’t really afford to pay as much for leisure).
Day and Weekend Trips
My favourite thing about living here is the ability to explore so many places in such a short period of time.
Heading west is going to require a ferry ride. They’re expensive as fuck but totally worth it so grab your White Spot burger from the ferry restaurant and make sure you get a window seat on the off chance you’ll pass by a pod of whales while explore this amazing part of BC. Hopping on a float plane is another super cool way to head west, the views are stunning but this is even more expensive than a ferry trip.
Southern Gulf Islands – Pender, Salt Spring, Galiano, Saturna, Mayne. This is where you go if you want to camp, stay in a cabin, kayak, or partake in random island fun (I ended up attending the annual Pender Island fun dog show last year and it was a blast!) Each island is different so do your research. This is also the place you’re most likely to spot the southern resident killer whales. These islands are probably my top getaway from the city spots.
Vancouver Island is massive and I have yet to visit many parts of it (Telegraph Cove and kayaking Johnstone Strait and the Cape Scott hike near Port Hardy are top of my list of places to go)
Victoria -cool little city with lots of city things to do.
Tofino – surf town, a bit expensive as it is such an incredible place with great beaches. Ucluelet, further down the road is
equally as awesome and slightly cheaper.
Meares Island – amazing island off the coast of Tofino with a kick ass campsite Lone Cone that makes you feel like you are at adult summer camp.
Juan de Fuca trail and West Coast Trail – I haven’t done the WCT yet but the Juan de Fuca trail is a 3 day/2 night MUST do hike. You can also do parts of it as day trips.
Quadra Island – This little paradise has some great kayaking and everything else you’d want for island vibes.
Bowen Island – such a short ferry ride away (20 minutes) but feels as though you’re in another world. Hippies and beaches if I had to summarize in two words. Caution: The annual bowfest lip sync competition is NOT for adults so entering can be a bit embarrassing if you’re over the age of 10.
North: Northern BC has some cool (and very cold) spots that are definitely worth visiting if you have the time and money. Haida Gwaii is top of my list of places I’d love to go but I’m sticking within a small radius of the city for the purpose of this post.
Sunshine Coast: Another ferry ride but you’re going to end up in another paradise. You can stop in Gibsons or Sechelt for some small town coastal vibes, or keep going all the way up to Savary Island for the Hawaii of the north.
Squamish: Less than 45 minutes north of Vancouver is Squamish, a mountain town full of fun activities. I stick to hiking (usually the Chief or Sea to Summit) and beer, however have tried white water rafting (epic!) but more adventurous people love Squamish for the mountain biking and mountain climbing.
Whistler: Another 45 minutes north of Squamish is Whistler. A total winter playground and the best snowboarding/skiing in Canada (in my opinion and since this is my blog, that is the opinion that is published) but not to be missed in the summer either. My favourite part of Whistler is being able to park my car and walk or cycle the entire time I am there unless heading to places on the outskirts of town like some hikes or the Scandinave Spa.
Pemberton: Keep going another 30 minutes north from Whistler and you’ll arrive in Pemberton. Great hikes (Joffre Lakes is a favourite of most and Wedgemount Lake is a tough one if you’re looking for a challenge) is what I head up here for but there are also some natural hot springs tucked away in this area. I have only been to keyhole hot springs which was tiny and would have been difficult to find if not with someone who knew the way, but totally worth the trip up north.
East: The rest of Canada is technically east of Vancouver but I’ll just just name a couple of my favourite spots within a few hours’ drive.
Harrison – hiking, the awesome inflatable waterpark (such a work out trying to climb up all those inflatable things!) and the hot springs hotel. These hot springs are more like pools than the natural ones at key hole hot springs but it makes for a nice romantic getaway. The Harrison beer fest and Oktoberfest dance are a great time!
Okanagan – wineries and fresh water lakes. Desert beauty and SO many cool places to choose from in this area. In the winter, the snowboarding/skiing at some of the mountains such as Sunpeaks, Apex or Big White is awesome but I rarely get out that way in the winter as you won’t catch me driving on the Coquihalla highway in the snow or chancing a road closure.
South: Just 30 minutes south of Vancouver is the border to America. Before America, is White Rock which is such an amazing little beach town and better than anything you’re going to find over the border but if you are set on visiting the USA, Bellingham, the San Juan Islands and Seattle are a short drive away.
Bellingham – cheap gas and shopping. We also use their airport as a quick and cheap gateway to Vegas. I’m not sure what else anyone goes to Bellingham for.
San Juan Islands – not quite as cool as the Southern Gulf Islands, but pretty amazing for kayaking and camping.
Seattle – more cool city stuff. My favourite probably being the MoPOP museum – museum of pop culture (and I don’t usually like museums, it is that cool!) and of course, the annual Jays weekend when a mass exodus of Canadians head down to Safeco field to cheer on our beloved Toronto Blue Jays as they play the Mariners. Be prepared for long border waits to get back, but observing the full Canadian takeover in Safeco field with the sea of blue jerseys is pretty awesome.
Portland – keep going a few more hours and you’ll get the best beer and donuts. Take the long way back up the Oregon Coast for most stunning look outs.
A couple good websites to check out if you’re coming to Vancouver:
Best source of information on current events: Daily Hive Vancouver
Best site for rideshares/buying stuff/apartment rentals/activity partners/casual encounters: Craigslist
Best site for saving some dollars: Groupon
My favourite Vancouver song: Vancouver Song