No Excuses, No Exceptions
There are really no excuses for not completing this checklist of things every visitor must do in Vancouver.
Actually, it’s not just for visitors. Even residents should check them all off.
Whatever your budget, interests, and timeframe, it’s not hard. It’s possible to do multiple items on the list at the same time. Almost all are basically free. And they’re all open-ended.
So get out there and check off these seven things every
visitor person must do in Vancouver this summer.
7 Things Everyone Must Do in Vancouver this Summer
1. We’re Can-Asian, Eh?
Experience the Asian side of Vancouver
Just about everyone who comes to Vancouver for the first time, especially via the airport, tells us how surprised they are by how strong the Asian influence is here.
They come expecting a bunch of friendly, healthy-looking white people with funny Canadian accents and instead discover that about half of us are yellow or brown and have all sorts of types of funny accents.
This Asian-European heritage is what Vancouver is all about. It’s the most Asian city in the world outside of Asia, so diving a bit deeper into in while here is something everyone must do in Vancouver.
- For an unconventional eating excursion, take Vancouver’s metro, the SkyTrain, either east to the Crystal Mall Food Court in Burnaby or south to Aberdeen Centre in Richmond. Both are overwhelmingly busy food courts offering fast food from all over Asia.
- Between May and October, take the SkyTrain to the Richmond Night Market on Friday to Sunday between 7 p.m. and midnight. Only go when the weather’s nice. And only go when you’re hungry.
- If you’re really short on time or have some bizarre SkyTrain-phobia, at the very least go out for food in Japan/Korea Town area by Denman and Robson (try the hidden but delicious Hida Takayama), for dim sum (consider Kirin, Western Lake, or Sun Sui Wah), or Indian on South Main (like Tandoori Oven).
2. Go Green
Get into the Woods
Get out of the forest of buildings downtown and into the original forest to pick berries, play with squirrels, and breathe some fresh(-er) air. You’ve got plenty of options. The only option you don’t have is not to go.
- Stanley Park is the most obvious choice here. Despite being right beside downtown, if you dive in deep you’ll find the woods to be surprisingly dense, quiet, and wild.
- Pacific Spirit Park towards the University of British Columbia to the West of Vancouver is similar to Stanley Park but more beautiful, twice as big, and less crowded. You could combine a walk or bike ride through it with a visit to Wreck Beach, our top-recommended beach (see point #5).
- Lynn Canyon has jump-able waterfalls, a suspension bridge, trails, and no entrance fee (unlike Capilano Suspension Bridge Park).
- Do the Grouse Grind. Or, better yet, the BCMC.
- Head to Seymour, Cypress, or up the Sea to Sky Highway to Squamish.
3. Add Some Salt to Your Meal
Eat by the sea
You may as well have gone to Calgary if you go to Vancouver and don’t eat by the water.
Food tastes better when you’re outside sitting by the water and you and your dining partner(s) will have more to look at and talk about if the conversation gets dry. Or you can just stare in awe at the sunset.
- Our top recommendation, and one of our eight top only-in-Vancouver dining experiences, is to get some take-out—sushi is a good choice—a couple drinks (with plastic cups so the cops can’t see what it is), and go to Sunset Beach for a sunset meal.
- Jericho Sailing Center is a casual, low-key, and still off-the-beaten-path spot to eat some basic food from the grill with extraordinary views.
- Cactus Club on English Bay beach or at any waterfront restaurant on Granville Island or at Coal Harbour are more yuppie, but worthy, alternatives.
4. No, Beaver Is not on the Menu
Eat some Canadian food
There isn’t such a thing as “Canadian cuisine,” but there are some foods here in Vancouver that you’ll have a tough time finding outside of Canada. Before you leave you have to try at least one of them.
- Poutine. You’ve probably already heard of this gluttonous Quebecois creation of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. But if you haven’t tried it yet, don’t be scared. Eating it all the time may kill you, but having it once won’t.
- Nanaimo bars are such delicious chocolate, coconut, icing desserts that I’m drooling from the photos I just saw and linked to here. Get one at Granville Island.
- Caesars. Canada’s Cocktail, it’s the go-to pick-me-up after a night of one too many craft brews or Okanagan wines. Try The Local by Kits Beach or The Score on Davie in downtown’s West End for some of the best.
- Salmon n’ Bannock in Kitsilano for First Nations-inspired cuisine
- Forage, downtown on Robson Street, for a restaurant using locally-sourced ingredients.
5. Take Off Your Shoes (and Maybe a Whole Lot More)
Go to the beach
Going to the beach is a no-brainer must do in Vancouver. At the very least take your shoes off to walk along it, admiring the views and fit bodies of the locals. Better yet, take off your shirt and jump in the water. (It’s clean, refreshing, and not as cold as it looks.) Or really let loose and take everything off to tan the areas where the sun don’t normally shine (only at Wreck Beach, please).
- Second and Third Beaches are laid-back spots where Vancouver urban professionals go to escape the crowds and tourists go to chill out after rounding the Seawall.
- Kits Beach is where 20-somethings flock to check each other out behind their oversized sunglasses
- Jericho Beach and Spanish Banks are more family-friendly and spacious, especially when the tide goes out for hundreds of meters.
- Wreck Beach is the wildest beach in town, both in terms of its environment and the people who go there. It’s clothing-optional, so you won’t get disapproving looks if you don’t take everything off. You will if you try taking photos, though.
6. Escape the Masses
And then turn back to look at them from afar
We don’t care which direction you go, but you gotta get out of downtown at some point while visiting Vancouver. Yes, there’s tons to do on the downtown peninsula, but there’s tons to do away from it too, you’ll get away from most of the tourists, and be rewarded with some beautiful views.
- Grab a bike and peddle your way along the West Side’s beaches of Spanish Banks, Jericho, and Kits. (Follow the route in our list of cool things to do in Vancouver.)
- Get an aerial view of the city and all the way down to the US border by driving up to Cypress Mountain viewpoint, grinding to the top of Grouse and riding back down in the cable car, or hiking on Seymour.
- Bike, bus, or run over the Lions Gate Bridge, then take the SeaBus back.
- If you really don’t want to stray too far from downtown, go to Crab Park. It’s a worthy detour from Gastown where you’ll get a grittier view of downtown, its port, and the mountains.
7. Get Sweaty
Do some sort of physical exercise
On the West Coast, the only hard work we’re famous for is the type that gets us fit. No matter what your fitness level is, joining in and breaking a sweat is something you must do in Vancouver.
- Bike or run around the Seawall. Just avoid it on weekends and late afternoons, when it gets dangerously and frustratingly busy.
- Take part in a drop-in yoga class
- Hike the to the top of Grouse
- Do your own rock workout at Sunset Beach or go to one of Vancouver’s outdoor calisthenics parks
- Workout with us by joining one of Kim’s outdoor workouts with FRDM Athletics.
Sticking Around Vancouver For a While?
Kim and I are proud, born-and-raised Vancouverites, so we 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 top Vancouver travel tips that answer your questions about visiting the city before you ask them
- Our favorite non-touristy things to do in Vancouver
- 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.