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This list of 7 things everyone (really) must do in Vancouver is Part 4 of our 5-Part Not Your Ordinary Vancouver Series. Don’t miss the links to the other four parts at the bottom of this post.

An Easy Checklist to Plan Your Trip Around

Whatever your budget, interests, and timeframe, there are some things you must do in Vancouver to get a feel for the city, Kim and my hometown.

Seven, actually.

On top of these, there are hundreds of other things you can do, but those depend on what you’re visiting for, your budget, and your preferences.

These Vancouver must-dos don’t depend on anything. They’re true musts.

But as you’ll see they’re easy to do and flexible, so make sure to include each of them in your planning. After that, you can add whatever else you want.

Tanned guy at Kits beach lying by logs in Vancouver.
It looks like this guy on Kits Beach got stuck on number 5 on our list of must do things in Vancouver.

7 Vancouver Must-Dos

Diners and stalls at Crystal Mall
Go to Crystal Mall to get a taste of the most Asian city in the world outside of Asia.

1. We’re Can-Asian, Eh?

Experience the Asian side of Vancouver

Just about everyone who comes to Vancouver for the first time 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 makes up a huge part of our identity. It’s the most Asian city in the world outside of Asia, so diving into it a bit deeper while here is something everyone must do in Vancouver.

Kim eating at Kosoo on Robson in Vancouver
You’ll be as impressed as Kim was by this huge chicken galbi platter at a Korean restaurant on West Robson.

Best Bets

Crystal Mall Food Court

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.

Richmond Night Market

Between May and October, take the SkyTrain to the Richmond Night Market from Friday to Sunday between 7 p.m. and midnight. Only go when the weather’s nice. And only go when you’re hungry.

Real Asian Food

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).

Kim foraging mushrooms in Squamish.
Searching for treasures in the BC forest.

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.

In Vancouver you’ve got plenty of options.

The only option you don’t have is not to go.

Kelly standing on helipad on top of Anvil Island
If you’re really adventurous, consider hiking Anvil Island just outside of town.

Best Bets

Stanley Park

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

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 Vancouver must-do #5). This is part of our favorite bike ride in Vancouver, which we detail in our guide to our favorite non-touristy things to do in Vancouver.

Lynn Canyon Park

Lynn Canyon has jump-able waterfalls, a suspension bridge, trails, and no entrance fee (unlike Capilano Suspension Bridge Park).

Grouse Mountain

Take the free shuttle over from Canada Place in the summer, hike up on the Grouse Grind, or better yet the BCMC, admire the grizzlies, lumberjacks, and views up top, then take the gondola back down.

More Options

Head to Seymour, Cypress (there’s a great viewpoint two-thirds of the way up), or up the Sea to Sky Highway to Squamish, Canada’s outdoor adventure capital.

Sunset colors at Sunset Beach in Vancouver
Our view on a sunset picnic from last week at Sunset Beach in Vancouver

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.

Fish and chips on picnic table from above
Another option we don’t mention here, but do in our Unique Vancouver Dining Experiences guide, is Go Fish.

Best Bets

Sunset Picnic

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 of drinks (with plastic cups so the cops can’t see what it is), and go to Sunset Beach for a sunset meal.

The Galley

The Galley at 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

Cactus Club on English Bay Beach has an unbeatable location and surprisingly good food for a local chain restaurant.

Find Your Own

Plenty of waterfront restaurants on Granville Island and at Coal Harbour serve great food over the water.

Close-up of poutine
If you haven’t eaten poutine yet, put it atop your must do in Vancouver checklist.

4. No, Beaver Isn’t 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.

Wild foraged berries picked near Vancouver
Pick some wild berries in the parks, like these salmon berries and blueberries, during the summer. Better yet, sign up for a foraging class, which we recommend in our favorite non-touristy things to do in Vancouver.

Best Bets

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

They are such delicious chocolate, coconut, icing desserts that I’m drooling from the photos I just saw when I pulled up the link.

Get one at Granville Island.

Caesars

Canada’s clammy version of the Bloody Mary, 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

This is the restaurant to go to for First Nations-inspired cuisine

Forage

Downtown on Robson Street, Forage restaurant uses locally-sourced ingredients, some of which you might not have heard of before.

You can also go forage for some wild berries, herbs, and mushrooms, which we explain further in our post, Cool and Non-Touristy Things to Do in Vancouver.

Cloudy rainy Vancouver view from English Bay Beach.
Even on an ugly day, the beaches of Vancouver are beautiful. This is the view from English Bay Beach downtown. See Chris’ guide to his favorite beaches in Vancouver for more info.

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).

Busy day at Wreck Beach viewed from the stairway in Vancouver.
A lot of people like to let it hang loose at Wreck Beach.

Best Bets

Second and Third Beaches

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 Stanley Park Seawall.

Kitsilano Beach

Kits is where 20-somethings flock to check each other out behind their oversized sunglasses.

Jericho Beach and Spanish Banks

These are more family-friendly and spacious, especially when the tide goes out for hundreds of meters.

Wreck Beach

Wreck is the wildest beach in town, both in terms of its surroundings 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.

For more info on Vancouver’s beaches, and which to visit, see Chris’s guide:

Vancouver skyline views from Jericho Beach
Get out of downtown to check out places like Jericho Beach, pictured above, where you’ll enjoy beautiful views of the skyline, bay, and mountains.

6. Escape the Masses

Get Out of Downtown, then Turn Back to Admire the View

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.

Kim on a bike in Kits.
Kim biking away from downtown at Kits Point.

Best Bets

The Best Vancouver Bike Ride

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.)

The North Shore Mountains

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.

Cross the Burrard Inlet

Bike, bus, or run through Stanley Park and over the Lions Gate Bridge, then take the SeaBus back.

We don’t recommend North Vancouver in our guide to where to stay in Vancouver, but we totally endorse spending some time there around Lonsdale Quay and lower Lonsdale Ave.

Crab Park

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.

Chris rolling boulder at Sunset Beach in Vancouver.
LA’s got weights on Venice Beach. Vancouver’s got boulders on Sunset Beach.

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 a Vancouver must do.

Kim doing a handstand on the Seawall under Cambie Bridge with Science World in the background.
Everywhere you look in Vancouver, people are being active, like Kim here doing handstands under the Cambie Street Bridge. You have to join in at least once.

Best Bets

The Seawall

Bike, run, or walk around the Seawall.

Just avoid it on weekends and late afternoons, when it gets dangerously and frustratingly busy.

Yoga

Take part in a drop-in yoga class, ideally in Kits, which is yoga-central and the birthplace of mega yoga brand Lululemon.

Hike Grouse Mountain

We already mentioned this in Vancouver must-do number two.

Outdoor Workouts

Do your own rock workout at Sunset Beach or go to one of Vancouver’s outdoor calisthenics parks.

View of Vancouver, Stanley Park, English Bay, and UBC from the North Shore

Still Not Sure What to Do, Where to Eat, and Where to Stay in Vancouver?

Kim and I are proud, born-and-raised Vancouverites, so we want you to have an unforgettable time in our hometown. That’s why we took some time off hiking, eating, and beaching to put together this:

And if none of those answer your questions, please ask us in the comments below.


Disclosure: Whenever possible, we use special links that earn us a cut if you pay for stuff we'd recommend anyway. It costs you nothing, so we’d be crazy not to.

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2 comments

  1. LOVE everything you have written!

    We are coming in July from DC with our 3 children (ages 25, 23, 18)

    We found a house in Kitsalano and a rental car but now worried that we should be in the city in a hotel where the kids can go out later and also we can see the views all the time. We want to whale watch and possibly go to Vancouver Island and Whistler. My daughter is obsessed with orcas.

    We have 5 1/2 days….should we stay in a hotel in Vancouver then head to Vancouver Island for 2 nights? Would love your thoughts! Thank you so much

    1. Hey Marybeth, I’m glad you appreciate our tips. It’s really hard to give you a definitive recommendation without knowing your family’s interests better. I would say trying to squeeze Vancouver, the Island, and Whistler into 5.5 days is a stretch. Maybe skip Vancouver Island and do whale watching from Granville Island.

      Definitely drive up Highway 99 some. Squamish has some good food, breweries, hikes, cafes (Zephyr), and better scenery than Whistler, too, so don’t overlook it. It’s closer to the city, too.

      As for where to stay in Vancouver, I’d say a house in Kits is more family-friendly than a hotel downtown. And more pleasant with a rental car, too. The views from Kits Beach, and the other beaches further west, are better than any downtown. Depending on where in Kits it is, it’s an easy bus ride or $10-12 taxi from downtown anyway.

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