The best part of living near a country border is that we can spontaneously say, “do you want to drive to lunch and I’ll drive to Canada?” In this post I’ll cover how to spend a weekend in Vancouver, B.C. This post has been updated as of February 2020, and I will continue to make updates with new information each time we visit, as we live in Seattle and plan to visit Vancouver on a quarterly basis. Sasha and I have now been to Vancouver six times, and we can’t wait to come back to continue exploring!
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Vancouver B.C. is one of our favorite cities in the world, known for its international diversity (on par with London and New York City), amazing food scene (that rivals Portland), and beautiful nature within a 20-minute’s drive from downtown.
Here are some ideas of things to do in Vancouver, which I’ll elaborate on throughout the post if you’ll be staying longer than a weekend:
- Visit Gastown & Chinatown
- West End Neighborhood for Asian food (Robson Street for Chinese Foot Reflexology Massage, Bubble Tea, and Excellent Food!)
- Bike or Walk the Seawall at Stanley Park
- Find the “Two Spirits” in Stanley Park (giant mysterious heads carved into a tree)
- Kitsilano (Kits) Beach for Outdoor Beach Volleyball
- Lonsdale Quay Market (North Vancouver)
- Take a Walk at Lighthouse Park (West Vancouver)
- Hike (Spring/Summer) or Ski (Winter) Grouse Grind (Mother Nature’s Stair Master)
- Hike Jug Island Trail in Belcarra
- Drive to Deep Cove and Hike Quarry Rock
- Eat Your Way Through Richmond Summer Night Market (Summers Only)
- Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge – a (free) lesser known option if you’re trying to save money rather than going to Capilano Suspension Bridge
- Visit Granville Market
Take a Stroll or Bike Ride Through Stanley Park
This 8.8 kilometer (5.5-mile) seawall loops around Stanley Park along the waterfront with delightful surprises at every curve, including swings, a giant kids play pool with waterslides, hidden trails, and outdoor workout stations. Stanley Park is one of Vancouver’s most visited areas by both tourists and locals alike. During winter, bundle up and stroll along the beach front for sunset.
During summer, rent bikes from any of the many shops that line the West End (bike rentals start at $5 per hour). However, be mindful that the trail is only one-way and has separate paths for wheels and pedestrians, so don’t go against the grain unless you want to get some “polite dirty looks”.
While you’re in the park, look for the Two Spirits – two mysterious and enormous heads carved into the side of a tree. To get here, follow these directions:
– Head North on Bridle Trail behind the Second Beach concession stand
– Take the first trail on the left, which is Rawlings Trail
– Head West for a few hundred feet until there is a bit of a clearing (10-minute walk from Second Beach and Ceperley Park)
Take Photos with the A-Maze-Ing Laughter Statues
This fun maze of 14 bronze statues consists of a shirtless man laughing hysterically in different poses. It was installed in 2009 as part of the Vancouver Biennale and is now one of the most photographed places in B.C. How can you not smile looking at these? 🙂
Grab a bubble tea and go for a Chinese Foot Reflexology Massage at Big Feet (Robson Street). There are so many to choose from along the West End, but this place stood out because they were always busy and as soon as we entered, we were met with friendly service. We both had two really strong Japanese girls work on us, and they were fantastic! They actually get trained to learn proper reflexology massage techniques, and this was THE BEST foot massage I’ve ever had in my life (better than in China and Hawaii!)
Dinesty Dumpling House was busy with a queue out the door in the evening during supper time, but moved fairly quickly. They are also open for lunch. Order the soupy dumplings.
Gastown is known for its whistling steam clock (yes, it really sings!), trendy eateries, talented bartenders, and happening nightlife. Perfect for a romantic walkabout with your partner or a night out with friends, Gastown is sure to please any palate!
Where to Eat in Gastown
Our most memorable meal was at Mezcaleria, a hip-and-happening authentic Oaxacan restaurant. Their specialty?…oozing queso fundido topped with your choice of red or green salsa. Think French onion soup, Mexican style.
For $22 Canadian dollars, this may make you skip right over it, but not to worry, just come for happy hour on Friday and Saturday from 3 – 6 PM when it’s only $8 for a mini version!! (pictured above) Also, it’s way less crowded and you can sit at the bar and actually have a nice conversation with your bartender. Our favorite drink was the Panacea, a craft cocktail with mezcal (the derivative of the restaurant’s name) and smoky undertones. By the way, our U.S. dollar went a lot further in Canada with the current exchange rate in our favor. There are three locations of this restaurant: Gastown, Commercial Drive (also in Vancouver), and Oaxaca, Mexico.
MeeT (multiple locations)
This play on words vegetarian eatery is a place to meet up with friends but not eat meat. Their vegan poutine is excellent.
Nightlife and Where to Go Dancing in Gastown
We didn’t stay out late enough to go dancing (talk about an old couple! Don’t judge us for wanting to go home and cuddle with our Airbnb cat) 😉 but we spoke to our local servers and bartenders, and here are the local joints that they recommended for late-night dancing and craft cocktails:
Guilt & Co
Enjoy Brekkie at Birds & The Beets
This casual order-at-the-bar breakfast/brunch joint has a limited menu, but plenty of space to dine in (you can also take away). Order the avocado toast, a generous portion of avocado smeared all over their home made brioche bun, topped with a soft-boiled egg and pickled onions. They also serve local kombucha! Delish!
Once your bellies are full and well-caffeinated, drive half an hour to Deep Cove to hike the made-famous-by-Instagram Quarry Rock.
Hike Quarry Rock
This easy one-hour round trip hike is Vancouver’s equivalent of Rattlesnake Lake in Snoqualmie, Washington, rated easy. This is one of the reasons I love Vancouver; within only a 30-minute drive, you can be skiing in the mountains or hiking at lower elevations without snow. In Seattle, the closest hike in forested nature is a 50-minute drive to the area of North Bend.
Usually overly crowded, we lucked out and had the views entirely to ourselves because of non-ideal weather. Luckily, we arrived to the top and snapped a few photos right before the clouds socked in the view and we were caught in mystical mist.
Hike Jug Island Trail in Belcarra
Another excellent hike in the area is Jug Island, located just on the other side of Quarry Rock.
We went in February and saw people kayaking!
You’ve probably worked up an appetite after all this hiking. Well, your timing is perfect! Head on down to Bluhouse Market & Cafe located in the quaint small town of Deep Cove, just a five-minute walk from the Quarry Rock trailhead. This adorable vegetarian, local, organic cafe will welcome you warmly.
I was so excited by their delicious menu of smoothies and protein bowls along with their plethora of raw and baked homemade goods, including my favorite Canadian dessert…the NANAIMO BAR!!!
What is a Nanaimo Bar, you ask? Well, besides the most delicious dessert you will find in Canada (wildly biased and subjective opinion), it is a dessert that requires no baking. It consists of a chocolate and crumb crust base, layered with custard-flavored butter icing and topped with melted chocolate. Are you drooling yet?
We had a seriously difficult time deciding what to order (first world problems). We went with the Raw Power Protein Smoothie, the Buddha Bowl, and of course, a Nanaimo Bar!
After your vegetarian foodie delight, if you’re still up for more hiking, head on over just a 20-minute drive to Lynn Canyon and test your balance walking across the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge.
Or do the splits over the rail edges…
Or pretend like you’re a ballerina…
Capilano Suspension Bridge gets all the hype, and while it’s great (I did this on a previous trip to Vancouver), in my opinion it wasn’t worth the $50 admission fee per person! So skip the tourist crowds, keep that $50 in your pocket for dinner later, and hike around Lynn Canyon Park instead. The suspension bridge is quite small, but still stunning as it overlooks waterfalls and dense forest. So much green!
Once you cross over to the other side, there are plenty of hiking options for short or long day hikes. The greenery and mist reminded me of Hoh Rain Forest in the Olympic Peninsula on the Western coast of Washington.
Hike Grouse Mountain
Grouse Grind is also known as “nature’s stair master”. This challenging all-uphill hike has quarter-mile markers so that you know how far you have to go. It’s an incredibly rewarding view at the top after an elevation gain of 2,800′ (855 meters) in just under two miles. Don’t worry, you can take the tram back down for $10 rather than hiking both ways. During the winter season, this turns into Vancouver’s closest ski resort.
Take a water taxi to Granville Island Public Market, or drive there with your car. Parking is $3.50 for one hour, $7.00 for two hours, and $10.50 for three hours in an open car park.
This is a touristy spot, but has some great options for gifts and souvenirs, such as tea!
There are almost always live musicians performing outside in the open area during all seasons. We were lucky enough to catch a guy playing guitar and singing romantic songs in French. It was the perfect opportunity to dance under the moonlight. Be sure to show your appreciation by giving them a tip, as they are not paid by Granville Island Public Market.
On a nice long summer evening, you can also rent bikes and pedal from Stanley Park to Granville Island (around 5 kilometers (3 miles), or 20 minutes.) There’s a nice bike path along the waterfront the whole way with giant colorful bean statues in the park, like you’d see in Chicago.
Visit Lonsdale Quay (pronounced “Lawns-dale key”) Market
Located in North Vancouver (or NorthVan as the locals call it) just over Lionsgate Bridge, Lonsdale is a quaint small neighborhood on the way to nature and some of Vancouver’s best hikes. Stop by the waterfront market for some beautiful views across the water looking towards downtown.
Eat at Buddha-Full for raw, organic vegan smoothies, bowls and sweets.
Talk a Walk at Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver
Just a 20-minute drive from Stanley Park is an easy, mellow forested walk to the Lighthouse. Great for families, dogs and children, this easy out and back hike rewards you with beautiful views of the water and the lighthouse.
Driving Back to Seattle
If you have Global Entry, be sure to go online before visiting Canada and check the box that includes country border crossings. Coming from Canada back into Seattle with your global entry card, you can hop into the far right lane that says Nexus, which is the expedited lane. Unfortunately you cannot use this card to get into Canada, as it only works to get back into the U.S. And don’t forget your passport! 🙂
Seattle –> Canada: 143 miles / 230 kilometers
Drive time: Approximately 2.5 – 3 hours depending on traffic and country border crossing wait times
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