Vancouver has everything: active excursions from beaches to mountains, plus shopping, dining and art. Whatever your travel plans, make sure to get the most out of your stay in this picturesque city.
We spent 3 nights and 4 full days in Vancouver hiking, biking and playing outside during July before heading south to Seattle, Bainbridge Island, and eventually Portland (check out our road trip itinerary). We stayed downtown in a high-rise building with a fantastic view of the city, which we arranged through AirBnB. Here are our highlights, some tips and a few recommendations for a fun family vacation.
Bike the Stanley Park Seawall
Situated on a peninsula on the northwestern edge of downtown, Stanley Park is one of Vancouver’s main tourist destinations. There are beaches, miles of paved and dirt trails, Canada’s largest aquarium, a miniature railway, some lakes, restaurants and a public pool. If that’s not enough, there are interesting landmarks, gorgeous gardens, and a forest of cedar, fir and hemlock trees. It is the perfect oasis outside of a bustling city.
There are numerous bike rental shops located near the edge of the park. We rented bikes and rode around the the length of the Stanley Park Seawall, originally constructed to prevent erosion. This path, approximately 6 miles (9 km) around the perimeter of the park, is part of the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path. Stunning views of English Bay and Vancouver’s mountain landscape are plentiful, as well as opportunities to see wildlife. The ride is easy and flat – perfect for kids. It took us a couple hours to navigate our way around the entire seawall and stop numerous times for pictures, snacks and a swim. This was definitely a family highlight.
Tips & Planning Tools:
- Don’t want to bike? See what else Stanley Park has to offer.
- The bike path is one-way only! Make sure to get a good trail map, like this one.
- Don’t try to explore the inner trails of Stanley Park by bike with kids unless you know where you’re going. We had a hard time navigating the map and trying to locate the landmarks as we were biking.
- Stanley Park could definitely take up one whole day – or two half-days, since there are many attractions within the park.
Eat and Shop on Granville Island
Granville Island is a hub of activity, with the Granville Island Public Market at its center. Surrounding it are multiple shops, artist workshops and craft studios. Wander in and out of these storefronts and studios, catch a street performance, or grab a picnic from the various food stalls inside the market. Getting to Granville Island is also fun: take an affordable Aquabus – one of the brightly colored mini-ferries that traverse False Creek from several dock locations.
Granville is a great place to sample loads of food – from cheese and fresh produce to handmade sausages and gourmet sweets. After filling up the kids’ bellies and picking up a few souvenirs, we took a short rest at The Liberty Distillery for some handcrafted cocktails (yep, happy parents = happy kids).
Tips & Planning Tools:
- To get you started, use this website for all things Granville.
- Visit this website for routes, locations and fares for the Aquabus. Depending on where you board, you might drive by the recent work of the famous OSGEMEOS, Brazilian twin graffiti artists. The mural is painted on six gigantic industrial silos – the largest public mural of their career and their first in Canada.
- If you know your approximate plans, make a reservation at one of the waterfront restaurants on the island ahead of time. When the shops close, restaurants fill up quickly and wait times can be long without a reservation.
- Our favorite store was Make, located in the Maritime Market. Interactive and creative, customers can create designs to be printed or embroidered on any garment – and watch as the final product is made. There were also unique and silly gifts and souvenirs that appealed to all ages.
Visit Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
The Capilano Suspension Bridge was originally built in 1889 and stretches across and above the Capilano River. Over the years, other attractions have been added to this large park, nestled in mature pine forest on either side of the bridge. Test your courage on the new Cliffwalk – a cantilevered walkway that juts out from the cliff high above the canyon. Walk the Treetops Adventure of suspension bridges that take you up above the forest floor, offering a unique perspective of the forest. There are nature tours, kids’ programs and other entertainment opportunities also.
Tips & Planning Tools:
- For rates, hours and more information, visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park website.
- There are numerous free shuttles from the downtown area to the park that are well-marked and easy to navigate. The ride is approximately 20 minutes.
- Get there when it opens as it gets crowded very quickly during the summer. Make sure to do the Cliffwalk first, as it is single file and slow moving. We spent a little less than 2 hours in the park before moving on.
- From Capilano, you can take the city bus easily up the road another 10 minutes to Grouse Mountain. These two attractions can easily be done in one day.
Explore Grouse Mountain
Grouse Mountain is a resort with a multitude of adventures and programs available at any time of year. The famous Gondola Skyride takes visitors on a 1 mile ride to the top, with breathtaking panoramic views of the city and the surrounding mountains. During the summer, there are activities from nature programs to paragliding – start your research here to get an idea of all of the options available. We chose the Ultimate Adventure, which included a ride on the Screaming Eagle Chairlift, admission to the Eye of the Wind and a trip down the mountain on the Skyride.
We decided to hike to the top via the Grouse Grind. Otherwise known as “nature’s stairmaster”, it is a mostly vertical climb of 2,830 steps. The trail is 1.8 miles long with a 2,800 foot elevation gain – the ultimate thigh burner. The trek up took us about 75 minutes, and we ate a huge lunch when we arrived at the top. This hike was our favorite trip memory – and it was free!
Tips & Planning Tools
- To help plan your itinerary at Grouse Mountain, use this handy online tool.
- On the way back down, take the city bus from Grouse Mountain back into Vancouver instead of going back to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park for the free shuttle (lines for the free shuttles from Capilano are incredibly long by late afternoon).
Soak up the Sun(set) at English Bay Beach
Last but not least, if you have spectacular weather, stop at one of Vancouver’s many beaches. Due to location and accessibility, we visited English Bay Beach in the late afternoon, with grocery store snacks in hand. This is a perfect city beach with lots of locals and close access to restaurants. There is a large floating dock with some slides not far from the shore. We ate a late dinner, took pictures by the public art display across the street, enjoyed some ice cream, and watched the sunset.
Until next time Vancouver.
To get a handle on Vancouver’s neighborhoods and their proximity to other attractions and dining options, visit this extensive list from the Sidetracked Travel Blog.
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