The Definition of Cool
The kid in this video thinks what he’s doing is cool. You may or may not agree. We all have our own definitions of “cool.” For the purposes of this list of cool things to do in Vancouver, here’s what we’re classifying as “cool”:
Cool doesn’t mean popular. It’s not cool to wait in line to pay way more than you would otherwise and take the same Instagram photo as everyone else. It is cool to have your own advenutes—unique, non-touristy experiences that immerse you in the local culture.
Based on this post’s definition, Vancouver attractions like the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Gastown’s steam clock, and Stanley Park aren’t cool things to do in Vancouver.
These things are cool:
7 Cool Things to Do in Vancouver
Dine with fewer tables, more views (yellow icons in map below)
Hike the other way up Grouse Mountain (purple icons)
Play the People’s Golf (green icons)
Laugh with them (or at them) (brown icons)
Get to know some new buds (pink icons)
Do Vancouver’s BEST bike ride (blue icons)
1. Dine with Fewer Tables, More Views
Sunset Picnic on the Beach
Un-creatively-named Sunset Beach has the best table in town for dinner with a view. Except there are no tables—just sand, grass, or logs. But there’s plenty of space for you to plop down, people watch and eat take-out while the sun goes down over the ocean’s horizon with the Coast Mountains on the right and the city on the left.
Here are some suggestions on what to eat:
- Brown rice sushi from Shizen Ya – Sushi is perfect picnic food because it’s easy to eat and tastes good at room temperature.
- Poutine from La Belle Patate – Poutine is the opposite of sushi: messy and best-served piping hot. But it’s also cheap, hearty, Canadian, and delicious.
- Make your own sandwiches – Buy some artisanal bread, cheeses, and meats and local produce from Granville Island, then take bathtub-sized Aquabus ferry over to Second Beach.
Warning: Drinking alcohol in public is prohibited in Vancouver. That doesn’t mean don’t do it—everyone does—just be discrete.
2. Hike the Other Way up Grouse Mountain
Hike the BCMC Trail
If you haven’t read about it yet in every other Vancouver travel guide, “The Grind” is a 2.9-kilometer (1.7-mile) trail straight up—850 meters (2,800 feet) elevation gain—through the rainforest to the top of one of the mountains you see behind downtown. In the summer there are free shuttles between the base of the mountain and Canada Place downtown (about 25 minutes).
Up top, you have panoramic views of the whole city, a cafe and restaurant, entertaining lumberjack shows, and a pair of rescued grizzly bears in a natural enclosure. And once you’ve seen enough, instead of breaking your knees walking back down, you can take the gondola.
It’s so cool that between the two of us we’ve hiked up over a hundred times. No exaggeration. Even if your idea of exercise is climbing onto a chair to reach the cookies on the top shelf of your pantry back home, it’s worth the effort.
Unfortunately, The Grind is too cool. What used to be a natural forest trail of roots and rocks with the odd outdoor enthusiast hiking up is now 100% man-made stairs teeming with a marching-ants-like line of sweaty people.
Fortunately, The Grind isn’t the only route up. Hike the BCMC (map) instead. It’s like the Grind was in the good ol’ days, though not quite as steep. There are some other “underground” trails like the Flint and Feather and The Coin, but you’ll have to get a local to show you the way.
- Pack as light as possible. All you need is a light jacket for up top and $15 to pay for the ride down. And maybe a water bottle if you can’t wait till you make it to the top.
- Below the gondola station on the Vancouver side, there’s an outdoor tap where you can wash some of your sweat off with freezing fresh mountain water.
- Ask at the cafe inside and they’ll fill you up a cup of water for free.
- If there’s a big line to buy download tickets at the main booth, you can buy them in the gift shop or cafe as well.
3. Go on a Wild Gourmet Easter Egg Hunt
Most people who wander the rainforests in and around Vancouver can’t help but tilt their heads back to marvel at the huge trees. But the real marvels are lower down.
For those who know the forest, and those willing to learn, a walk in the woods is a grown-up Easter egg hunt. In the spring and summer you’re on the lookout for all sorts of berries (like huckle, salmon, thimble, and salal) and edible shoots, flowers, and greens. And the fall is mushroom time, with porcini, chanterelle, matsutake, and that even Gordon Ramsey would squeal like a schoolgirl with delight to find. Just to give you an idea, matsutake mushrooms sell for upward of $200 each in Japan.
If you don’t know a chanterelle from a shitake, please don’t wander into the woods and put random stuff in your mouth. Go on a foraging tour to learn what to look for, where to find it, and what to eat from an expert. An added bonus of these tours is they’ll typically take you to off-the-grid locations. We highly recommend reaching out to Camille from Museum Eats to see if she’s available, and if not who might be. Click here to email her.
Our promise to you is that once you learn about foraging no walk in the woods will ever be the same.
4. Play the People’s Golf
Pitch ‘n’ Putt and Frisbee Golf
We wouldn’t agree with the saying that, “Golf is a good walk spoiled,” but it is a waste of a day in Vancouver unless you live here or are hopelessly addicted. This doesn’t apply to frisbee golf and pitch ‘n’ putt, though. They’re a good walk made entertaining.
Pitch ‘n’ putt is lilliputian golf. It’s “real golf,” but the holes are only fifty to one-hundred yards (so short our friend has played a whole round with his putter before), it only costs about $20 to play, takes just two to three hours, and is fun for all levels. Better yet, the courses are scenically located in the heart of Stanley and Queen Elizabeth Parks.
Frisbee golf is similar to pitch ‘n’ putt except you throw a disc instead of hitting a ball and it’s free (…once you have a disc. You can’t rent them, but you can buy them for less than $15 at any sports store.). It’s even less informal than pitch ‘n’ putt in that you just show up and basically do whatever you want so long as it doesn’t bother others who are playing. Courses worth checking our include the hill by West Point Grey Academy (a short detour from the bike ride mentioned here) and Queen Elizabeth Park.
5. Laugh with Them (or at Them)
Comedy Clubs and Improv Shows
Laughter is contagious. Even if only one person truly thinks something’s funny, you can’t help but instinctively chuckle along with them. Or at least smile. That’s why you can never go wrong with a comedy or improv show in Vancouver. Normally the performers are truly hilarious but even if they’re not it’s a fun experience. You’ll leave full of endorphins with a smile on your face.
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6. Get to Know Some New Buds
Try Some BC Weed at New Amsterdam Cafe
As is the case up and down America’s West Coast, marijuana is an important part of (and reason for) our laid-back culture. And New Amsterdam Cafe has played a role in keeping that culture going strong. Ever since it opened in 2000, it’s been the hub of Vancouver’s weed scene.
Whether you’re a hardcore stoner or curious novice it’s a friendly spot to get a toke, or at least a whiff, of our famous BC bud.
Upstairs is the main cafe, which looks like any other modern, well-designed cafe aside from all the marijuana leaves. There’s also a shop with every imaginable type of paraphernalia and souvenir attire. This floor is smoke-free until 5 p.m., when they “bring out the ashtrays.”
Downstairs is the Vapor Lounge is definitely never smoke-free. For $5 an hour, you can hang out and use any of their volcano vaporizers, dab rigs, and bongs while enjoying (at extra cost) coffee, sandwiches, and milkshakes from the cafe upstairs.
New Amsterdam Cafe is a BYOBud establishment, meaning they don’t sell weed. You don’t have to look far to find where to buy it though. Across the street at 312 Hastings is a dispensary where everyone’s a welcome customer (as long as you’re over 19 years old).
7. Do Vancouver’s BEST Bike Ride
Beach Cruising from UBC to Downtown
Biking around Stanley Park is cool so long as you do it early in the morning on a weekday when it’s not too busy. But it’s not the best ride in Vancouver. This ride has better views, better beaches, and fewer people. Here are the Cliffs notes, which maybe we’ll elaborate on in a future post:
- Get a bike
- Put that bike on the rack in front of the bus(es) and take it to the University of British Colombia, at the far west end of Vancouver. Don’t be intimidated by using the racks; it’s really easy. Pull the rack down, put your bike on, and pull the lever up over the front wheel and you’re done. Watch 15 seconds of this instructional video (from the 20 to 35 second mark) and you’re ready.
- Bike west through UBC’s picturesque campus, where about sixty thousand students enroll during the fall, to Wreck Beach.
- Lock your bike, walk down the 473 steps through the forest to Wreck Beach and let loose on the most natural and wild beach in the city. Yes, it’s a nude beach but no it’s not mandatory to expose yourself, no it’s not only creepy old men who go there (there are some, but it’s also a favorite among students and young professionals), and no it’s not cool to whip out your camera.
- (Optional) Learn about the West Coast’s indigenous history and culture at the Museum of Anthropology. Some people love this museum. Others wish they hadn’t spent the $18 entrance fee. It depends on your appreciation of museums and interest in the subject.
- Ride down to Spanish Banks and Jericho Beach. Keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles and stop anywhere to take photos and walk along the tidal flats.
- Stop for a beer, nachos, burger, or salad at The Galley, a super informal second-floor beachside grill on the second floor of the Jericho Sailing Center. The food’s nothing special, but the setting is.
- Bike along the most exclusive real estate in the city on Point Grey Road, a once busy artery that is now only for bikers, runners, and local traffic. Lululemon’s founder, Chip Wilson lives in the double-wide lot a couple blocks before Macdonald Street.
- Watch some volleyball and basketball and ogle the fit bodies at Kits Beach then grab a spicy caesar, Canada’s cocktail, at The Local across the street.
- Either return downtown by crossing the Burrard Street bridge (Don’t worry. There are bike lanes) or go under the bridge to Granville Island and around False Creek. You might want to make a small detour or two to stop at one of the many breweries in the Olympic Village.
From Wreck Beach to downtown is only about 10 km (6 mi) and all downhill or flat and it’s almost entirely on dedicated bike lanes, so everyone can—and should—do this ride.
As proud, born-and-raised Vancouverites, Kim and I want you to have an unforgettable time in our hometown. And we have lots and lots of tips to share to help you do so:
- Our first-time visitors’ guide to Vancouver will get you acquainted with our hometown
- The top Vancouver travel tips that answer your questions about visiting the city before you ask them
- Checklist of things everyone needs to do in Vancouver’s summer
- 8 only-in-Vancouver dining experiences—and we mean experiences
- The best ice cream / gelato and the best California roll sushi (it was invented here) in the city
- A guide to all the Vancouver beaches (some of which are great for doing rock workouts)
- A couple of our favorite off-the-beaten-path hikes nearby Vancouver: Anvil Island and Brandywine Meadows.
And if none of those answer your questions, please ask us in the comments below. If you had a blog, you’d appreciate getting comments, questions, and feedback from your readers, so do us a favor and leave us a note.