Vancouver is kinda like if New York City and San Francisco had a baby. It’s got a gorgeous skyline, bustling downtown, a celebrated art scene cultural hubs galore, incredible public parks (see: a 137-meter heated saltwater outdoor pool) and fantastic food—all in close proximity to snow-capped mountains and bay views. If you haven’t visited this Pacific Northwest gem yet, you really should; and if you have, it’s probably your favorite little travel secret. Plus, with a new daily direct route from JFK and YVR on JetBlue, now’s the time to get yourself to this coastal metropolis where there are no shortages of activities to fill your days. Here, we’ve got 22 of our favorite things to do in Vancouver.
Vancouver is home to the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path. The 17 mile (ahem 28 kilometer) seaside pathway includes the Stanley Park Seawall, which is the most popular portion to visit and is best explored by bicycle. You can rent a bike from one of the many shops around Denman Street and it takes about an hour to complete the loop, but you’ll want to budget extra time to visit a few landmarks like the Girl in a Wetsuit sculpture, the Kakaso’Las Totem Pole carved by Ellen Neel, and the rose garden. Fun fact: Those gray squirrels that are twice as large as and much more prevalent than the native black ones? They are the descendants of the eight pairs of gray squirrels that the park received as a gift from New York City in 1909.
The Asian-themed Richmond Night Market is Metro Vancouver’s most spectacular night market–and the largest of its kind in North America. The street food is bonkers (we’re looking at you Aloha Boys!), the retail vendors will have you buying things you didn’t know you needed, and the entertainment (which ranges from musicians to martial artists) offers something for everyone. Plus it’s easily accessible via the Canada Line.
Like their name indicates, it’s always a good time for ice cream and with irresistible flavors like blueberry balsamic, lavender honey, and passion fruit with white chocolate, we can see why! This small batch, artisanal, ice cream shop has three permanent locations (in Kitsilano, UBC, and Cambie), but our favorite spot to snag a cone is from their truck at the beach in English Bay–a sandy beach in Vancouver’s downtown. Psst: Word is Blake Lively personally messaged them asking for the waffle cone recipe!
The only thing better than retiring at the end of an action-packed day to a comfortable hotel room, is spending the entire day there. The Loden is a pet-friendly, luxury boutique hotel in Vancouver’s Coal Harbor and with their oh-so relaxing spa offerings, a fully equipped gym, and an award-winning restaurant, we won’t blame you for not wanting to leave! But should you decide to venture out, they offer complementary use of their Electra-Townie bikes and free drop-off service via their Loden Cab anywhere downtown.
5. Take in the Sights (and Sounds and Tastes!) of Granville Island
Granville Island is beloved by locals and tourists alike. The former manufacturing plant turned arts and cultural hub is tucked underneath the Granville Street Bridge. It comprises a public market, artists studios, shops, marinas, restaurants, breweries, and even a hotel. The market is brimming with fresh produce, seafood, and other local goods that you can enjoy outside on the dock. The buskers are plentiful and delightful (everything from musicians to balloon artists). Stay for the evening and catch some live performances at the Waterfront Theater.
With its world-class ski slopes and unmatched hiking and biking trails, everyone knows Whistler is a must for thrill-seeking athletes, but the hour-and-a-half drive from Vancouver is also a worthy trip for aesthetes. The Audain Art Museum was established in 2016, as a gift to the public from philanthropist, Michael Audain and his wife Yoshiko Karasawa, to house their expansive British Columbia art collection, which includes pieces by Haida Chief James Hart and Emily Carr. In addition to the museum’s permanent collection it also hosts temporary exhibitions featuring both historical and contemporary art. And don’t skip the gift shop–the beautifully curated boutique sells gorgeous original art, pottery, jewelry and more.
Quite literally. This 55-acre outdoor park is home to the popular Elizabethan Hedge Maze.. The maze is made of 3,000 pyramidal cedars—Thuja occidentalis ‘Fastigiata’ to be specific—all planted in the autumn of 1981 and slowly grown into the form of the maze. The park also boasts 7500 other species of plants and flowers to marvel at. Be sure to wander down the Azalea Trail and the hidden path along the Rhododendron Walk. If you’re visiting during the holidays you won’t want to miss their elaborate Christmas light display.
Vancouver was one of the first North American cities to introduce sushi to Western palates (ironically, it’s the birthplace of the California roll) and has since become one of the best places to get sushi outside of Japan. Opt for casual takeout from Koko Sushi (the chef procures fresh seafood daily from the harbor) or a fine dining experience at Miku Waterfront (here the presentation is an art form and the service is impeccable).
There are over 300 murals throughout Vancouver. Some of our favorites can be discovered in Mount Pleasant, the birthplace of the Vancouver Mural Festival and the organization who spearheads the creation of these impressive public art pieces. Most of the murals are clustered along Main Street between Broadway and 2nd Avenue. You can explore the area at your own pace (download a map) or sign up for guided tours that have themes like Black artists and hidden gems.
This picturesque island is a mere 20-minute ferry ride from West Vancouver. We suggest taking public transit or parking your car on the mainland and walking aboard (avoids the need for reservations). There’s tons to do within walking distance of the ferry dock in Sug Cove–starting with a visit to Tell Your Friends Cafe. They serve excellent coffee and seasonal menu items using high quality and often locally-sourced ingredients (you will daydream about their breakfast sandwiches long after your last bite of that crunchy homemade sourdough…). Further down the marina you’ll find dockside yoga classes hosted by Nectar Yoga and kayaks available for rent from Bowen Island Sea Kayaking.
Have your own Top Gun moment and explore the city from above with a Harbour Air seaplane tour. They offer an assortment of tours including the 30-min Panorama Classic Experience where you will see aerial views of Vancouver’s downtown and Stanley Park or the hour-long Alpine Lakes & Glaciers Flight that offers breathtaking views of the snow-capped mountains and a remote alpine lake.
12. Get Comfort Food on Commercial Drive
Commercial Drive, or “The Drive,” as it’s affectionately called, has historically been considered the cultural hub of East Vancouver. The strip is teeming with an assortment of local and independent restaurants. We love Lunch Lady for homemade Vietnamese fare (if it sounds familiar to the gastronomes among us, it’s because the late Anthony Bourdain raved about their original location in Vietnam–Lunch Lady Vancouver is their second and only other location). Two blocks north you’ll find Downlow Chicken Shack, for fresh made-to-order fried chicken and across the street is The Drive Canteen, famous for their snacks and munchies–served with a side of nostalgia.
The Grouse Grind is nicknamed “Mother Nature’s Stairmaster” for good reason–this grueling hike is made up of 2,830 stairs that ascend straight up the face of the mountain. But we promise the view from the top is worth the sweat (and blisters). Once you’ve reached the summit, celebrate your hard work with a bite at the mountaintop restaurant, The Observatory and a visit with the resident rescued grizzly bears Grinder and Coola (who are housed in a spacious yet secure area!). Oh and don’t worry, for the return trip you can take the gondola.
There’s nothing sexier than sipping a cocktail in a hotel lobby bar—and the lobby at Fairmont Pacific Rim is one for the books. The luxury waterfront hotel’s Lobby Lounge Raw Bar is a seductive space with refined furnishing and unrivaled harbor views. Their menu features creative cocktails and local raw oysters but what really makes it worth the visit is the impressive roster of local emerging musicians who perform nightly.
15. Ride the False Creek or Aquabus Ferry
Since the downtown core is surrounded by water, commuting via small passenger ferries (either the False Creek Ferry or Aquabus Ferry) has a practical component, but we like to hop aboard just for fun. The small boats zigzag back and forth across the creek making stops in False Creek North (where you can spot the iconic 7,500 pound hanging chandelier, a public art piece by Rodney Graham), swanky Yaletown, and bustling Granville Island as well as passing by the colorful collection of floating homes.
Home of minor league baseball team, the Vancouver Canadians, tickets to Nat Bailey Stadium’s for a “C’s Game” are cheap but fun. The stadium oozes with nostalgia, and the concession offerings are surprisingly impressive (sushi and craft beer!). We love going for a daytime “nooner at the Nat” or on one of the fireworks nights.
Although Vancouver is a coastal city lined by the Pacific Ocean, it’s shielded by Vancouver Island, meaning it doesn’t get whitecapped waves like the beaches down the California coast. However, the calm waters make for great conditions for standup paddle boarding or “SUP.” Our favorite spot to get on a board is in Deep Cove. You can rent boards from Deep Cove Kayaks ($45 for 2 hours) and don’t leave without getting a donut from Honey’s up the road!
East Vancouver’s brewery district, aka “Yeast Van,” is wedged between the Strathcona, Grandview-Woodlands and Hastings-Sunrise neighborhoods. Take a self-guided tour (with a designated of course!) and bounce between the diverse group of craft and micro breweries such as Postmark, Strathcona, Luppolo, Off the Rail, Andina, and Parallel 49 or check out one of the many public tours and events. And you’ll want to pace yourself, a Canadian pint is 20 ounces instead of the usual 16 ounces we find in the US.
While we applaud the brave souls who embrace the frigid temps of the northern Pacific Ocean, for us fairweather swimmers, a dip in Kitsilano’s public pool is a great option. The massive outdoor salt-water pool is located oceanside and is directly on the beach. It’s the largest salt water pool in Canada–and it’s heated.
20. Snack at the Food Trucks in Lonsdale Quay
When it comes to outdoor community events, there is really nothing better than this quaint North Shore waterfront community. It’s a hub for pop up shops, live music, food trucks and beer gardens. We love snacking at the food trucks at the Shipyards and watching the cruise boats sail by. It’s easily accessible via the Seabus from Coal Harbor.
Published on Main, a refined neighborhood restaurant inspired by traditional English coffeehouses from the 18th century, was named Canada’s Best Restaurant in 2022. They offer an elaborate 11-course tasting menu as well as an a la carte menu that takes a playful and creative approach to local and sustainable dining. You really can’t go wrong with anything on their menu, but if we had to pick our favorite entrees it’s a toss up between the smoked steelhead trout with an elderflower butter sauce and the sticky pork ribs with smoky cheddar semolina pudding. Not surprisingly, since the honor was bestowed on them, reservations have been tough to get, so plan ahead.
A visit to the interactive science center is a no-brainer if you’re traveling with kids, but even if you’re not they have evening programming geared specifically to adults. Science World After Dark is a special event where adults (ages 19+) take over the iconic geodesic dome every third Thursday of the month. With admission, you are free to explore the exhibits and galleries at your leisure—with a drink in hand.