Content originally written for the Let’s Go: USA & Canada Guideby our researcher-writer, Graham Bishai.
Wood St and Cardova St.
Gastown is Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood. Once a small settlement that turned into the town center for loggers, seamen, and traders, Gastown is low filled with boutiques, pubs, and cafes. A mix of modern minimalist and old-timey establishments line its cobblestone streets. On a Friday or Saturday night, streets will be swimming with nightlife patrons. At the corner of Cambie and Water Streets, a steam-powered clock plays a tune every quarter of an hour. Don’t miss the Cambie Pub for dinner or drinks in the evening, any night of the week.
Prices vary; wheelchair accessible.
Burrard Landing (The Olympic Cauldron)
1055 Canada Pl.; open daily 24hr
Built for the 2010 Winter Olympics, this central plaza provides arguably the best postcard view of Vancouver Harbour. Right next to the Convention Center and its nearby hotels, it overlooks a seaplane terminal as ships meander in and out of the harbor. The Cauldron, which once held the Olympic flame, sits in the center, illuminated by colorful lights. One level down from the plaza, there is a walking path that has restaurants, shops, and plaques about Canada’s history. At night, it quiets down. Facing the water, walk northwest towards Coal Harbor. The trail continues down by a marina, leading to a public fountain where children can play. There’s no must-do here, other than to just walk and enjoy the scenery.
Free; wheelchair accessible
English Bay Beach
1790 Beach Ave.; open daily 6am-10pm
Skiing might be the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they hear “Vancouver,” but English Bay Beach emphasizes the “Pacific” in Pacific Northwest. Wedged between the West End and Stanley Park, it’s a slice of California’s beaches in downtown Vancouver. While there aren’t waves, it’s lush with greenery. Looks are served, and I mean both the landscape and the people. What do you do here? Really, all you’ll want to do is relax and just revel in the view before your eyes. A public art installation befittingly remarks on the human condition of laughter. You’ll laugh when you try, and fail, to climb them. (It’s allowed! You’re just a bad climber.) Beyond the sand, the grassy Morton Park brings picnickers and frisbee-throwers together. Several bistros and cafes with outdoor seating line the street. As the sun goes down, grab a cup of coffee or a beer and kick your feet up. This city is relaxing, remember?
Free; wheelchair accessible
1499 Arbutus Street; open 24hr
This city beach lounges on the edge of Kitsilano, an affluent residential area just outside of the city center. Home to the Lululemon headquarters, this area has a reputation of being filled with young, hip, outdoorsy, and athletic folk. Kits Beach is a watering hole for the active and the lazy alike. It’s sleepy, surrounded by trees. It looks out over the sailboats and cargo ships on English Bay over to the hills of West Vancouver, which sometimes fade into the clouds. The breathtaking view is a lot prettier than the beach itself. The sand is dusty and the water not great for swimming; most people sit on log benches that line the beach or the grassy park behind it, reading, picnicking, or listening to music, or tossing frisbees. There is a large public pool adjacent, which is heated and open from May to mid-September.
Free; wheelchair accessible
845 Avison Way, in Stanley Park.; (604) 659-3474; www.vanaqua.org; open daily 10am-5pm
If otters aren’t your favorite animal, you clearly haven’t been to the Vancouver Aquarium. They’re like swimming puppies that will make you grin ear to ear. You also don’t think jellyfish are pretty, huh? Don’t talk ‘til you’ve been here. The tropics exhibit is particularly fabulous, with sea turtles, a stingray, and more. Downstairs, catch the poison dart frogs. Outside, the sea lions and otters are not to be missed. If you’re lucky, the otters will be roughhousing in the water—cue adorable snap story post. The museum is very relaxed; you’ll feel like you’ve got free reign of the place. Budget an hour and a half to two hours. The cafe serves stadium food, burgers and hotdogs and the like, but is a bit pricey; maybe bring your own snack or eat ahead of time to save money.
Admission $39 CAD, students $30 CAD; last entry 5:40pm; wheelchair accessible
VanDusen Botanical Garden
5251 Oak St.; (604)257-8335; www.vandusengarden.org/; open daily Nov-Feb 10am-3pm; March 10am-5pm, April 9am-6pm, May-Aug 9am-8pm, Sept 9am-6pm, Oct 10pm-5pm
It’s the opening to The Sound of Music. “Th-e hills are a-live!” You twirl and marvel at your surroundings. Wait what? You’re in a city garden? Plants from different corners of the world are next door are neighbors. Grouped by region, these flora flow freely from one to the next. If you don’t have all the time in the world, start with the lakes. Look up close at flowers, lily pads, and dragonflies. You can relax and have a picnic at any spot you like. But after you’re done relaxing, get up! This garden lets you feel adventurous. Some of its winding paths narrow, and you duck under tree canopy tunnels and walk on rock bridges over creeks, not sure what you’ll find around the bend. Just make sure you get a map, or you will get lost. Budget at least an hour, preferably two. The only good excuse to not go here is that it is hard to get here. It’s on a bus line and roughly a 17 minutes walk from a Canada Line stop, a little ways out of the center of the city. There is a restaurant and cafe on site, both fancy affairs.
Oct-Mar admission $8 CAD, Apr-Sept admission $11.25 CAD; tours vary, about every 15 minutes on Fr and Sa, on the hour on less busy days; wheelchair accessible, tours on golf cart offered for guests with disabilities
Graham left behind the stressed-out chaos of Cambridge for the laid back life on the West Coast. A refreshing change of pace, he assumed, until the line for coffee on his first morning took 2 mins longer than he’s used to, and the Northeast nasty jumped out. Starting in Vancouver, Graham meandered south, toning his calves being a pedestrian on San Francisco’s hills and by navigating the monstrosity that is Los Angeles using just his feet and public transit (only resorting to Uber twice!) Graham’s love for the West Coast life only increased as he sat by the Puget Sound in Seattle, sipped kombucha in the crunchy cafes of Portland, climbed into a waterfall in Yosemite and stayed in an abandoned opera house in Death Valley. By the time he hit upper 80s sun of San Diego, buff calves and sun tanned, the words “West Coast, Best Coast,” almost slipped out of his mouth. Identity crisis looming, he figured it was time to go home.