An Easy Checklist for Your Vancouver Trip
Find out the true Vancouver must-dos then continue on our Vancouver travel blog with the best neighborhoods to explore and stay in, inside travel tips, unique restaurants, and non-touristy things to do.
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.
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.
7 Vancouver Must-Dos
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
5. Take Off Your Shoes (and Maybe a Whole Lot More)
Go to the beach
Going to the beach is a no-brainer Vancouver must-do.
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).
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.
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 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, see Chris’s guide to Vancouver’s best beaches.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bike, run, or walk around the Seawall.
Just avoid it on weekends and late afternoons, when it gets dangerously and frustratingly busy.
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.
Do your own rock workout at Sunset Beach or go to one of Vancouver’s outdoor calisthenics parks.
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And if none of those answer your questions, please ask us in the comments below.
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4 thoughts on “Vancouver Must-Dos: 7 Things You Honestly Can’t Miss Out On”
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
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.
This was so helpful and a great read! Thanks for the ideas!
What would you suggest for top day trips from Vancouver? (we are renting a car for a couple days). We will be coming to Vancouver for a week. Would you recommend Bowen Island? Deep Cove?
Thanks, Kallie. It’s nothing you won’t read elsewhere, but I’d recommend driving up the Sea-to-Sky highway. Maybe stop at Squamish and do a hike there. Or go up the gondola and hike from the top. Or find more off-the-beaten path paths to hike on.
Bowen’s cool. So’s the Sunshine Coast. But if you take a ferry, make a reservation. It’s not worth the wait and stress otherwise.
Enjoy your visit!