Chris, The Unconventional Route’s Vancouver born-and-raised beach bum, describes what makes each of the Vancouver beaches special, who its typical beachgoers are, and who probably shouldn’t go.
The Best Beach City in the World… Sometimes
Not only is Vancouver one of the top ten beach cities in the world, but from late May through September we’d argue it may just be THE best.
If you don’t believe us, consider that the other nine best beach cities in the world are Barcelona (too many thieves), Cape Town (always cold water), Honolulu (too touristy), Nice (too pebbly), Miami Beach (too far from Miami), Rio de Janeiro (too cold in May-Sep), Santa Monica (far from L.A.), Sydney (too cold in May-Sep), and Tel Aviv (no views).
See? Vancouver makes a legitimate case. And even outside of summer the Vancouver beaches are beautiful to bike, run, or walk along.
And as for which ones you’ll like best, that depends on your taste. This guide of all the Vancouver beaches will help you decide.
Vancouver Beach Guide Outline
Vancouver Beach Map
Use this map to see where each beach is located in Vancouver. It also includes the dog-friendly areas (green-shaded).
Save this map to your phone in just a few easy clicks by following the instructions in our Google Maps tips post.
Must-Know About All Vancouver Beaches
Unless otherwise noted in the individual descriptions of the beaches below, here’s some helpful general info about Vancouver beaches:
- Vancouver beaches have lifeguards from late May to the beginning of September.
- There are water fountains, public washrooms, and outdoor freshwater showers.
- The water is clean enough to swim in. (See the weekly quality measurements here.)
- The water is warm. It can be 20 degrees Celcius (70 Fahrenheit) or more in the summer.
- Concession stands sell basic food like burgers, fries, snacks, and drinks. Some Vancouver beaches have additional food and drink vendors.
- It is prohibited to smoke, drink alcohol, and use inflatables in the water.
- Only certain sections of some Vancouver beaches are dog-friendly (see map).
- Particularly unique about the Vancouver beaches are the big logs that sit on the sand and made for natural beach backrests.
The Vancouver Beaches
Here are all the beaches in Vancouver along with a brief description, the people that most frequently go to them, and what makes each different from the other.
The Most Out-There Beach
There is no experience like Wreck Beach, Vancouver’s famous nude beach, in the summer.
Wreck Beach is “out there” in all different ways. It’s way out there at the western tip of the University of British Colombia, 10 km from downtown. And it’s got an out-there vibe, where pretty much anything goes (within reason).
You never know what you’ll see at Wreck Beach. And we’re not talking about the nudity. Last time we were there we saw a naked dad FaceTiming his grown-up daughter and a very fish-out-of-water pair of curious, fully covered Muslim women.
Get out there and go.
(Note: Wreck Beach is clothing optional. The majority of people there opt to wear some. We’d estimate about 20% of the people are fully nude, 30% of the women are topless with bottoms on, and 5% of men and women are bottomless with tops on.)
Typical beachgoers: Counter-culturists, UBC students, pervs, exhibitionists, deeply-tanned lifers who’ve been coming as long as waves have been hitting the beach.
Worst for: Puritans; parents and their teenaged children; photographers (no photos allowed); physically handicapped (no access); first dates.
Why it’s special: Sooo much:
- More exposed penises, nipples, and vulva than you’ve ever seen.
- The only beach where (often nude) roving vendors will offer you chocolate magic mushrooms, boozy freezies, and other homemade and completely illegal creations.
- Vendor’s row including Stormin Norman’s Grill, Lucy’s Empanadas, and colorful (see: hippy) sarong and beach blanket vendors
- The logs are arranged in all different ways, not just parallel to the shore like everywhere else, creating beach zones to hang out it
- Trail 6, which connects Wreck Beach to the road, is a beautiful, steep walk through the woods. The 480 steps are no joke, especially when you’ve got sunstroke and are slightly buzzed and
The Shyest Beach
Tower Beach is where you go if you don’t want to see people or if you don’t want to want people to see you (naked or not. It’s a clothing-optional beach.)
Chris went on a recent blisteringly hot Sunday (which means 27 Celcius or 80 Fahrenheit in Vancouver) and saw only eight other people. Every other beach in the city was packed.
The reasons it’s less busy than other beaches are it’s not easily accessible (the trail down is even longer than the one to Wreck beach and there is even less parking up top) and the beach isn’t sand. It’s rocks and pebbles.
Another reason to go to Tower Beach is to walk Foreshore Trail, a 5 kilometer part dirt, part rock and pebble trail along the shore and cliffs of Point Grey, from the western edge of Spanish Banks to Wreck Beach.
Typical beachgoers: Older nudists chased away by the growing hordes at Wreck Beach; people walking along Foreshore Trail.
Worst for: Tourists who collect sand from all the beaches they visit; people who easily sprain their ankles or have sensitive soles of their feet; those who want to see and be seen.
Why it’s special: If you go and walk one way or another along Foreshore Trail, you’re guaranteed to find a piece of (rocky) beach all for yourself.
The Most Spacious Beach
If you want space—whether that be for personal space, for a group gathering, or a game of ultimate frisbee—Spanish Banks is the place to go.
Spanish Banks covers a mile-long stretch at the farthest western edge of the City of Vancouver. Because it’s so wide, it has not one, but two concession stands.
And Spanish Banks isn’t just wide, it’s deep. Behind the beach, especially at the western end, are open fields that are popular for group cookouts, events, games, and picnics. And in front of the beach the tide can go out as far as one kilometer at its lowest point.
Typical beachgoers: Families and other bigger groups, studying UBC summer students, skimboarders, kitesurfers, sandcastle builders.
Worst for: Lazy people that want a quick dip (when the tide is out).
Why it’s special: For its endless low tides, being the only kite-boarding-approved beach, the most family-friendly beach, and, along with Locarno Beach, having the best views of English Bay, downtown, and the local Mountains.
The Simplest Beach
If you were to ask a local to name all the Vancouver beaches, they’d probably forget Locarno. That’s because there’s not much that stands out about it and it’s really just an extension of Spanish Banks.
It has everything that Spanish Banks has, but the tide doesn’t go out quite as far and it’s a bit closer to the city and therefore a bit less remote and less spacious.
There’s nothing wrong with Locarno, but there’s nothing particularly special about it either. It’s the simplest beach in Vancouver.
Typical beachgoer: Wealthy West Side homeowners and their kids; the odd foreign work visa holding summer student; people who think they’re at Spanish Banks.
Worst for: Nobody. It’s too simple to offend.
Why it’s special: Parking is free, it’s a designated quiet beach, and it’s got great views just like Spanish Banks.
The No Frills Beach
Just because you won’t hear the cool kids say, “Let’s go to Jericho!” doesn’t mean it’s not a cool beach. It’s just no-frills instead of fancy or fashionable.
It may be a no-frills beach, but there’s a lot to do at Jericho Beach. You can rent a boat or paddle board from the Jericho Sailing Centre, have a no-frills meal at The Galley, our favorite beachside patio in the city (and one of our eight recommended only-in-Vancouver dining experiences), walk the trails picking berries and chasing bunnies in Jericho Beach Park, watch people fish and take some photos on the pier, or just do regular beach stuff.
It’s like Kits Beach, but less rambunctious. For no-frills people, it’s perfect.
Worst for: Yaletown-types.
Why it’s special: Bunny rabbits.
The Least Beachy Beach
Trafalgar Street Beach
Trafalgar Street Beach isn’t a beach. It’s a shore. There’s no sand, and it’s not an official beach according to the city, so there are no public facilities like lifeguards, a concession, or washrooms. All it is is a nice place to walk along behind some of the most expensive real estate in the city, sit on a rock and have a quiet chat with a friend, take some pictures of downtown and the mountains, or sway on the rope swing and collect your thoughts.
Typical beachgoers: Local residents going for secluded walks and small packs of high school kids who go there to smoke weed out of the eye of adults.
Worst for: Sunbathing and swimming.
Why it’s special: For its seclusion, despite being in the middle of the city.
The Most Happening Beach
“Kitsilano” is a mouthful, so everyone calls it “Kits.” And everyone knows Kits Beach. It’s gotta be the most well-known beach in Vancouver, and it’s certainly the most happening one during the summer.
One one end is 137-meter long Kits Pool, which is very kid-friendly in addition to being somewhat ridiculously named the third sexiest pool in the world. Beside the pool is a flat grassy area where groups of cool kids congregate to do acro yoga, play spike ball, and toss frisbees, and The Local Eatery (one of our recommended only-in-Vancouver dining experiences) across the street.
On the other end and behind Kits Beach is where some of Vancouver’s top tennis, basketball, and beach volleyball players come to show off their skills. You can also rent stand-up paddleboards there. (Go for half-priced Mondays and 2-for-1 Tuesdays.)
And in the middle, whenever it’s nice out the beach itself is packed with young yoga-loosened, outdoor adventure-tanned, gym-hardened bodies in big dark shades so they can check each other out. There’s also The Boathouse Restaurant on the second floor above the washrooms and the odd food truck.
Like we said, Kits Beach is a happening place in the summer.
Typical beachgoers: Young people recovering from last night’s party and/or preparing for tonight’s; super athletes who come to play volleyball, tennis, and basketball, work out at the calisthenics park, or just show off; tourists who managed to escape the downtown vortex (a must-do for Vancouver visitors, by the way); swimmers, and families at Kits pool.
Worst for: Making sandcastles and meditating. It’s way too busy.
Why it’s special: With so much action going on, it’s an exciting place to people watch, meet others, and get a feel for just how alive Vancouver gets during the short summer months. During the rest of the year… it’s kind of depressing but at least has decent views.
The Best Dog Beach
Hadden Park Beach
Just around the corner from Kits beach, Hadden Park Beach is the place to go if you’re a dog-lover. It’s actually quite a nice beach in its own right. Not many people swim there, but plenty put down a towel and relax while their dog frolicks in the sand and sea and makes new friends.
Typical beachgoers: Spot, Rover, Fido, Patches, and their owners.
Worst for: Cats
Why it’s special: There are always tons of dogs for your dog (or you) to play with.
The Laziest Beach
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Sunset Beach is best-known for its sunsets. They’re beautiful and everyone should try to go for a sunset picnic one evening.
Other than that, Sunset Beach isn’t beautiful. The sand’s not that soft, the beach isn’t that wide, and there are no views other than of Burrard Street bridge and Vanier Park across False Creek. People mostly go there because it’s quiet and they’re too lazy to go to a nicer but more distant beach.
The upside is that despite its central location it’s not nearly as busy with tourists or even locals as the other central Vancouver Beaches.
Typical beachgoers: Individual and pairs of West End residents on a day off or working at night, sunset picnickers (see here and here for more), rock workout-ers (see here), meditators, 420 celebrators.
Worst for: Open-water swimmers. Boat traffic and the False Creek current is only about twenty meters offshore. You can take a dip no problem, but can’t swim very far out.
What makes it special: There’s a grassy slope behind the beach, which is actually four different coves, so there is plenty of seating for sunset viewers and daytime readers and relaxers. It’s also one of Vancouver’s designated quiet beaches, meaning amplified music is prohibited. At the tip of each cove are rock breakwaters that people can carefully walk to the end of to meditate and get away from the crowds.
The Most Convenient Beach
English Bay is by far downtown’s busiest beach because it’s easy. It’s easy to get to because it’s right at the intersection of busy Davie and Denman streets in the West End. And it’s easy to stock up on supplies or get a bite to eat at one of the food trucks (Rain or Shine ice cream and San Juan Bolivian food are regulars), or at trendy beachfront Cactus Club Cafe.
Because of this, most people don’t come for the day. People come, hang out for a bit, leave, and others take their place. It’s always in flux.
Typical beachgoers: Lively younger (20-30 years old) people, international students in Vancouver to study English, tourists with their shoes and socks off and jeans on because they didn’t realize Vancouver has awesome beaches, Polar Bear swimmers, Celebration of Light firework viewers.
Worst for: A beach day or morning/afternoon getaway. You’re not getting away at all.
Why it’s special: Because it’s there. Whenever you’re downtown and want to take your shoes off, sit on a log, grab a bite to eat and stare at the mountains and the bay, you can go at a moment’s notice. Plus during the summer there’s a big slide on the floating raft.
The Most Overlooked Beach
Second Beach lives up to its name by always being second fiddle. Its outdoor pool is rarely mentioned because it is overshadowed by the much more famous one at Kits Beach. Everyone talks about Third Beach in Stanley Park, but Second Beach is in the park too. And Spanish Banks and Locarno are the go-to barbeque beaches, but Second Beach has a barbecue picnic area too.
It’s a nice beach but since it always comes in second to another Vancovuer beach, it doesn’t get much attention.
Typical beachgoers: Families of tourists and locals who don’t have access to cars to get to more distant family-friendly beaches like Spanish Banks, tons and tons of kids campers in the summer (especially at the pool).
Worst for: People afraid of gangs of Canada geese (and their droppings) that rule Stanley Park; and people watching. There’s nothing that goes on at this beach.
What makes it special: Not much. It’s a good place for kids because there are two kids playgrounds in the park behind it. Also, for whatever reason, the outdoor showers at the east end of the concession have warm water, unlike the cold outdoor showers at every other Vancouver beaches are freezing.
The Nicest Beach
Third beach is nice a nice alternative to Wreck Beach for those who want to avoid nudity and counter-culture vibes but still enjoy a relaxing, natural beach. It’s nice and quiet, located far from the sounds and action of the city on the edge of Stanley Park, backed by huge trees and nothing else. But it’s still nice and close to downtown. There are nice views, nice sunsets, and nice people.
It’s the nicest beach in Vancouver.
Typical Beachgoer: 25 to 45-year-old downtown resident, working professional cyclists and rollerbladers letting off steam, Stanley Park Seawall cyclists, Tuesday evening drum circle-ers, bikini-line haters (being the only beach other than Wreck where some women tan topless).
Worst for: Lazy people who go everywhere by car. There is a small parking lot, but if it’s full you’ll be out of luck.
What makes it special: It’s natural Stanley Park location.
The Grittiest Beach
Crab Park Beach
Crab Park is gritty. It’s tucked away in an industrial part of the city, right beside the main port. And it’s only a stone’s throw from Vancouver’s infamous Downtown Eastside, the epicenter of the homeless, psychologically ill, and drug-addicted population.
But it’s got its own beauty. The Coast Mountains loom largest here, as does the downtown skyline, because it’s the nearest beach that faces them. And it provides a different view of Vancouver, maybe not of its underbelly—that’d be too harsh—but definitely its backside. A side that most people miss.
Typical beachgoers: Fixie-bike riding hipsters trying to be different, Gastown-resident dog-owners, the odd nodding-off hard drug-users.
Worst for: Idyllic relaxation seekers.
What makes it special: The alternative, back-side view of Vancouver that few tourists (or even locals for that matter) ever see.
The Freshest Beach
Trout Lake Beach
Tourists have no reason to go to Trout Lake Beach unless they happen to be in the area to check out the Saturday Farmers Market. It’s not the ocean and there are no mountain views. Tourists may as well go to Toronto if that’s the type of beach they’re looking for.
That said, this actually makes Trout Lake Beach the MOST local of all Vancouver beaches. Even residents like us from other parts of town would never think of going. Only people who live nearby go. In that regard, those interested to see what regular residential Vancouver life is about may want to check it out.
Typical beachgoers: Saltwater haters/freshwater lovers, deep East Van-habitants, and young families.
Worst for: Floating (it’s a freshwater lake, so you don’t float as well as in the salty ocean) and swimming (sometimes). Sadly this lake, which back in the day was always swimmer friendly (or maybe people cared less then), is now sometimes too contaminated to swim in. Check the city’s weekly water quality report before going.
What makes it special: Freshwater!
Before and After the Beach
If you want to do more during your stay in Vancouver than get a sunburn, here are some tips: