Cool Things Vancouverites Do
(but Normally Don't Tell Tourists About)
This guide to our favorite non-touristy things to do in Vancouver is Part 5 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.
We can safely say the following are cool, non-touristy things to do in Vancouver because:
- They're our favorite things to do in Vancouver
- We're from Vancouver.
- We like doing cool things that aren't packed with tourists.
You won't find these in pretty much any other Vancouver travel blog and travel guide.
And they're not for everybody.
But if you like to get away from the tourist crowds, spend less money, and enjoy Vancouver's nature and culture, you might want to give them a try.
7 Cool Things to Do in Vancouver
1. Dine with Fewer Tables, More Views
Enjoy a Sunset Picnic on the Beach
The best table in town for dinner with a view is at un-creatively-named Sunset Beach.
Except there are no tables.
There's just sand, grass, and logs. But there's plenty of space for you to plop down, people watch and eat take-out while the sun goes down over the ocean's horizon with the Coast Mountains on the right and the city on the left.
Here are some suggestions on what to eat for your picnic:
- Brown rice sushi from Shizen Ya – Sushi is perfect picnic food because it's easy to eat and tastes good at room temperature.
- Poutine from La Belle Patate – Poutine is the opposite of sushi: messy and best-served piping hot. But it's also cheap, hearty, Canadian, and delicious.
- Make your own sandwiches – Buy some artisanal bread, cheeses, and meats and local produce from Granville Island, then take bathtub-sized Aquabus ferry over to Second Beach.
Warning: Drinking alcohol in public is prohibited in Vancouver. That doesn't mean don't do it—everyone does—just be discrete.
2. Hike the Other Way up Grouse Mountain
Hike the BCMC Trail
"The Grouse Grind" is a 2.9-kilometer (1.7-mile) trail straight up—850 meters (2,800 feet) elevation gain—through the rainforest to the top of one of the mountains you see from downtown.
Up top, you have panoramic views of the whole city, a cafe and restaurant, entertaining lumberjack shows, and a pair of rescued grizzly bears in a natural enclosure. And once you've seen enough, instead of breaking your knees walking back down, you can take the gondola.
So cool that Kim and I have hiked up over a hundred times. No exaggeration. Even if your idea of exercise is climbing onto a chair to reach the cookies on the top shelf of your pantry back home, it's worth the effort.
Unfortunately, The Grind is too cool.
What used to be a natural forest trail of roots and rocks with the odd outdoor enthusiast hiking up is now 100% man-made stairs teeming with a marching-ants-like stream of sweaty people.
Fortunately, The Grind isn't the only route up.
Hike the BCMC instead. It's like the Grind was in the good ol' days, though not quite as steep. There are some other "underground" trails like the Flint and Feather and The Coin, but you'll have to get a local to show you the way.
- Pack as light as possible. All you need is a light jacket for up top and $15 to pay for the ride down. And maybe a water bottle if you can't wait till you make it to the top.
- Rinse off after. Below the gondola station on the Vancouver side, there's an outdoor tap where you can wash some of your sweat off with freezing fresh mountain water.
- Hydrate. Ask at the cafe inside and they'll fill you up a cup of water for free.
- Avoid the line. If there's a big line to buy download tickets at the main booth, you can buy them in the gift shop or cafe as well.
3. Go on an Adult Gourmet Easter Egg Hunt
Go Wild Foraging
For those who know the forest, and those willing to learn, a walk in the woods is a grown-up Easter egg hunt.
In the spring and summer you're on the lookout for all sorts of berries (like huckle, salmon, thimble, and salal) and edible shoots, flowers, and greens.
And the fall is mushroom time, with porcini, chanterelle, matsutake, and that even Gordon Ramsey would squeal like a schoolgirl with delight to find. Just to give you an idea, matsutake mushrooms sell for upward of $200 each in Japan.
If you don't know a chanterelle from a shitake, please don't wander into the woods and put random stuff in your mouth. Go on a foraging tour to learn what to look for, where to find it, and what to eat from an expert.
An added bonus of these tours is they'll typically take you to off-the-grid locations.
Our promise to you is that once you learn about foraging no walk in the woods will ever be the same.
4. Play the People's Golf
Pitch 'n' Putt and Frisbee Golf
"Golf is a good walk spoiled," as the saying goes.
We don't completely agree, but it is a waste of a day in Vancouver unless you live here or are hopelessly addicted.
This doesn't apply to frisbee golf and pitch 'n' putt, though. They're a good walk made entertaining.
Pitch 'n' Putt
Pitch 'n' Putt is "real golf," but the holes are only 50 to 100 yards. They're so short our friend has played a whole round with his putter before.
Frisbee golf is similar to pitch 'n' putt except you throw a disc instead of hitting a ball and it's free (…once you have a disc. You can't rent them, but you can buy them for less than $15 at any sports store.).
It's even more casual than pitch 'n' putt.
You just show up and basically do whatever you want so long as it doesn't bother others who are playing.
Courses worth checking our include the hill by West Point Grey Academy (a short detour from the bike ride mentioned here) and Queen Elizabeth Park.
5. Laugh with Them (or at Them)
Comedy Clubs and Improv Shows
Laughter is contagious. Even if only one person truly thinks something's funny, you can't help but instinctively chuckle along with them. Or at least smile.
That's why you can never go wrong with a comedy or improv show in Vancouver.
Normally the performers are truly hilarious but even if they're not it's a fun experience. You'll leave full of endorphins with a smile on your face.
For stand-up comedy, check out a Jokes Please! show on Thursday or Friday.
For improv, get tickets for a show at the Vancouver Improv Theatre on Granville Island.
Keep an eye out for shows at the Rio Theatre, too.
6. Get to Know Some New Buds
Try Some BC Weed at New Amsterdam Cafe
As is the case up and down America's West Coast, marijuana is an important part of (and reason for) our laid-back culture. And New Amsterdam Cafe has played a role in keeping that culture going strong.
Ever since it opened in 2000, it's been the hub of Vancouver's weed scene.
Whether you're a hardcore stoner or curious novice it's a friendly spot to get a toke, or at least a whiff, of our famous BC bud.
Upstairs is the main cafe, which looks like any other modern, well-designed cafe aside from all the marijuana leaves. There's also a shop with every imaginable type of paraphernalia and souvenir attire. This floor is smoke-free until 5 p.m., when they "bring out the ashtrays."
Downstairs is the Vapor Lounge is definitely never smoke-free. For $5 an hour, you can hang out and use any of their volcano vaporizers, dab rigs, and bongs while enjoying (at extra cost) coffee, sandwiches, and milkshakes from the cafe upstairs.
New Amsterdam Cafe is a BYOBud establishment, meaning they don't sell weed.
You don't have to look far to find where to buy it though. Across the street at 312 Hastings is a dispensary where everyone's a welcome customer (as long as you're over 19 years old).
7. Do Vancouver's BEST Bike Ride
Cruise the Beaches from UBC to Downtown
Biking around Stanley Park is cool so long as you do it early in the morning on a weekday when it's not too busy. But it's not the best ride in Vancouver.
The following route has better views, better beaches, and fewer people. It's only about 10 km (6 mi), all downhill or flat, and almost entirely on dedicated bike lanes, so everyone can—and should—do this ride:
1. Get a Bike
2. Ride to UBC (on the Bus)
Put your bike on the rack in front of the bus(es) and take it to the University of British Colombia, at the far west end of Vancouver.
Don't be intimidated by using the racks; it's really easy. Pull the rack down, put your bike on, and pull the lever up over the front wheel and you're done. Watch 15 seconds of this instructional video (from the 20 to 35-second mark) and you're ready.
4. Pedal Through UBC's Beautiful Campus
Bike west through UBC's picturesque campus, where about sixty thousand students enroll during the fall, to Wreck Beach.
5. Wreck Beach
Lock your bike, walk down the 473 steps through the forest to Wreck Beach, and let loose on the most natural and wild beach in the city.
Yes, it's a nude beach but no it's not mandatory to expose yourself, no it's not only creepy old men who go there (there are some, but it's also a favorite among students and young professionals), and no it's not cool to whip out your camera.
6. (Optional) Museum of Anthropology
Learn about the West Coast's indigenous history and culture at the Museum of Anthropology.
Some people love this museum. Others wish they hadn't spent the $18 entrance fee. It depends on your appreciation of museums and interest in the subject.
7. Cruise the West Side Beaches
Ride down to Spanish Banks and Jericho Beach. Keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles and stop anywhere to take photos and walk along the tidal flats.
A bike path goes all the way along the beach.
8. Stop for a Bite
Stop for a beer, nachos, burger, or salad at The Galley, a super informal second-floor beachside grill on the second floor of the Jericho Sailing Center.
The food's nothing special, but the setting is.
That's why it's on the list of our favorite only-in-Vancouver dining experiences.
9. Roll Past the Rich People
Bike along the most exclusive real estate in the city on Point Grey Road, a once busy artery that is now only for bikers, runners, and local traffic.
Lululemon's founder, Chip Wilson lives in the double-wide lot a couple of blocks before Macdonald Street.
10. Chill at Kits Beach
Watch some volleyball and basketball and ogle the fit bodies at Kits Beach then grab a spicy caesar, Canada's cocktail, at The Local across the street.
11. Go Downtown or Extend Your Trip
Either return downtown by crossing the Burrard Street bridge (Don't worry. There are bike lanes) or go under the bridge to Granville Island and around False Creek.
You might want to make a small detour or two to stop at one of the many breweries in the Olympic Village.
Want More Cool Things to Do and Inside Vancouver Tips?
As proud, born-and-raised Vancouverites, Kim and I 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, to help you plan the most memorable Vancouver trip possible we put together this:
Our 5-part Not Your Ordinary Vancouver Series:
- Vancouver Travel Guide: The 11 Questions You Want Answered Before Visiting
- Vancouver Travel Tips You Likely Haven't Heard Already
- Where to Stay in Vancouver: The Best Neighborhoods, Ranked
- 7 Things Everyone Actually Must Do if They Visit Vancouver
- Our Favorite Non-Touristy Things to Do in Vancouver (Done!)