Exploring Vancouver on Canada’s West Coast

Exploring Vancouver on Canada’s West Coast

Being in the middle of a global pandemic has meant cancelled trips and altered travel plans for many of us over the last 18 months. For my wife and I, this meant postponing our summer trip to Croatia and coming up with a Plan B. We were in dire need of a getaway, so we took advantage of relaxed travel restrictions in our own country and decided to drive all the way to Canada’s west coast towards Vancouver. We’d both been before, but had never driven across the continent on our side of the border.

Our mission was to see new places and visit friends and family along the way. We covered over 11,000 kilometers or 6,000 miles, driving from Windsor, Ontario to Victoria, British Columbia. In this three-part series, I share our adventures in Canada’s western-most province, British Columbia — more specifically Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast, and Victoria.

White Rock (AKA Vancouver’s Beachy Neighbor)

For Americans, who now can cross the Canadian border, the City of Vancouver is just over two hours north of Seattle on the west coast. If you’re driving up from the state of Washington, you’ll enter Canada in the City of White Rock. This is a place worth visiting. It’s right on the Pacific Ocean, marked by the giant white rock that sits on West Beach. There’s also a cool pier that is topped by a lookout at the Centennial Clock. 

Crescent Beach is slightly north of that, with miles of walking paths and excellent conditions for sailing and windsurfing. There are lots of beachfront restaurants. We dined at the Hooked Fish Bar to sample the local chowder and catch of the day. You can find more restaurants, bars, and plenty of shopping uptown, not far from the beach. 

Surrey/Langley

Heading north from White Rock takes one into the orchards and vineyards west of Langley and south Surrey. There are dozens of wineries to visit, and, depending on the season, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Fort Langley Village offers a variety of specialty shops and an antique mall. Everyone can find any restaurant they desire in Surrey. For a great steak, try the S & L Kitchen & Bar Langley.

Granville Island

If you drive up from the US on Hwy 99, and continue north, you’ll come to the Granville Island Bridge. Instead of crossing the waterway, exit and check out what lies below. There’s a public market, a multitude of specialty shops, and Granville Island Brewery. The island is easily walkable, and there are water taxis to shuttle you around False Creek. 

Be sure to check out the sea village and colorful floating houses. If you’re looking for even more fun, there’s a waterpark, plenty of restaurants, seafood outlets, live performers (or buskers) in the town square, and a theater. After taste-testing local beers at the brewery, we wandered through the public market. We sampled smoked salmon, fresh baked goods, and ice cream.

Gastown

Continue north from Granville Island and you’ll end up in Gastown. This area is named after a character named Gassy Jack. This seaman and steamboat captain opened the area’s first saloon in 1867. This is the oldest section of the city, on the Vancouver Harbourfront. 

Gastown seems to have lost some of its luster since my last visit. This may be partly because of business closures caused by the pandemic. However, the area is still worth visiting, if only to check out the unique flat iron buildings and the steam-powered clock that’s across the street from Gassy Jack’s statue. 

Science World is nearby, and Canada Place sits right on the waterfront. You can take a 10-minute ferry ride from there across the harbor to North Vancouver. Once you do, stepping ashore is like travelling forward in time — the old shipbuilding yards have been converted to upscale waterfront shops, restaurants, and a waterpark for children, all overshadowed by gleaming condo towers. 

Stanley Park

Keep heading north to visit Stanley Park. This is a 1,000-acre peninsula, with access to the ocean and harbor, larger than New York’s Central Park. It is densely forested with about a half-million trees, some of which stand as tall as 250 ft and are hundreds of years old. There is a polar bear exhibit, aquarium, and miniature train. Park features also include forest trails, beaches, lakes, and children’s play areas. 

Stanley Park is the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Whether you’re planning a hike, picnic, or just looking for the perfect vantage point to see Vancouver’s impressive skyline, it’s the place to go. The park also offers a view of the Lion’s Gate Bridge that carries Hwy 99 further north to the Trans Canada Highway. 

While in the area, we stayed with family and at Airbnbs or hotels in Surrey because they are much cheaper there than downtown Vancouver. Traffic can be quite heavy at times in the city. However, they have a mass transit system called the SkyTrain that can whisk you from South Surrey to Gastown in about 40 minutes.

Parts Two and Three

In the following two parts of my series, I’ll take you to British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast and then to the province’s capital city of Victoria, on Vancouver Island. If you have enjoyed reading this article, you’re going to love my website. It would be great to see you at Life Written and Reviewed

64 thoughts on “Exploring Vancouver on Canada’s West Coast

  1. I still haven’t been to Canada. I definitely want to visit Vancouver someday. Lots of cool things to see there. I would like to visit Banff too.

    1. Banff is a cool town but can be overly touristy at certain times of the year. Seeing both places in one trip is easily doable.

  2. You explored beautiful places! I would like to visit Canada too, hopefully soon! I’m in need of a vacation, too bad the pandemic makes you think twice about traveling.

  3. I was a flight attendant in the mid-late 90s and I loved bidding on Vancouver trips. Surrey was actually where we did our overnights, which was so fun—I was at uni in the UK in Surrey and lots of the placenames always matched up. Your post was a nice trip down memory lane. There are so many fun things to do in the Vancouver area!

  4. It’s really a wise idea to focus on local tourism for now. Anyway, like them, my wife and I had to cancel a lot of travel plans, too, when the pandemic hit.

    1. I agree, Ivan, and can only shake my head at those who are travelling abroad now and then complaining about everything.

      1. Yes, that’s true. I mean, why complain when all information (and restrictions) have been made clear to them from the start.

  5. I haven’t been to Vancouver since I was child and bet it has changed so much! It looks really scenic and I’d love to go back there and explore it as an adult.

    1. My first trip there was in 1979, and although some things have evolved and changed, the friendly and laid back attitude of the people has not. I hope you get back there, Talya.

  6. I need to make it to Canada one day. I always hear how gorgeous it is and I can see from the photos that it looks amazing.

  7. I have always wanted to explore more of Canada! I’ve only been to a few cities. Hopefully soon we can travel more again!

  8. This made me happy and sad! I miss Vancouver and I can’t wait to be able to travel again like we used to, so I can go back and visit all these amazing places again!

  9. I have wanted to visit Canada for as long as I can remember. I can’t believe that my family lives in NYC, and we still haven’t been there.

  10. Canada has been on my list for forever so this post came at just the right time! I’m missing traveling and a trip up north seems perfect right now. I’d love to visit all of the shops on Granville Island!

  11. Wow, these are amazing places. I would love to go to Canada and visit a bunch of spots like these. Thank you for sharing!

  12. I look forward to your Victoria report, I lived in Victoria and made it my regional travel base many years ago.
    I also have a fond memory regarding White Rock.
    Back in the day, they held an elaborate sandcastle competition yearly. More often sand sculptures rather than castles. I had heard it was cancelled eventually, due to it becoming more of a party atmosphere and not so family friendly.
    White Rock also held some notoriety as it was a thinly-veiled secret that people in the know where to go could walk into Washington state via the beach and forest paths – without being detected. White Rock became a popular haven for ‘bike enthusiasts’ who liked to transport certain things,unencumbered by official border formalities.

    1. I have to say Victoria was the highlight of our trip. We met up with an old friend in White Rock and he mentioned no-mans land, where the unprotected border has allowed families from both sides to gather during the pandemic.

  13. I’ve been hearing about this place from my friends, and I reckon Vancouver is a lovely place to visit very soon. I reckon I will enjoy more the attractions on Granville Island. Enjoying the view at Stanley Park while sipping coffee would be nice too.

  14. Vancouver looks gorgeous! My brother and his family live in Quebec. We hope to visit them someday and hopefully get to explore Vancouver, too.

  15. Never been to Canada. My aunt lives there and my brother plans to move there too. It really is a beautiful country. Maybe I’ll be there someday.

  16. I absolutely love Vancouver and can’t wait to travel there again. It is absolutely beautiful and so many wonderful places to visit.

  17. This sounds like the perfect road trip! It’s not only my dream to visit Vancouver, but also to migrate in Canada, not only because of the available opportunities but also because of the culture as well as the beautiful sceneries as this. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  18. I would love to explore more of your country. Vancouver seems fantastic! I can’t wait to read your next article.
    You are not the only Canadian I know of who can drive for thousands of kilometers with ease. I’ve read that a European road trip that takes you through all 47 countries is 27,000km long. Maybe this is something for you to consider since it’s only a bit longer than your “casual” drive, Ed! 🙂

    1. I have driven through France, Portugal and Spain, and plan to drive through Croatia next summer, but 27,000kms is long even for me. The price of a car rental would be a substantial cost too but I like your thinking, Anna.

  19. I’ve always wanted to go to Vancouver until Corona happened. For sure this year, it’s included in my travel plans. I will definitely visit these places.

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