Bummin' around BC
September 17, 2009 11:45 PM   Subscribe

What are some free or cheap things to do in Vancouver, BC?

My girlfriend and I are heading up to Vancouver, BC and looking for a vacation on the cheap. We will be couchsurfing/camping/???, and hoping to have fun for a few days without going broke. What are your favorite low- or no-cost activities in the area? Any mix of touristy and non-touristy is fine. Stuff like house shows, student art exhibitions, and other events that might fly under the radar of mainstream media would be good.

We will arrive by car, and bring our bikes to get around the city. Any place within a reasonably short drive is fair game. We are bringing food with us, but if you are chomping at the bit to recommend a restaurant, we would appreciate it. Thanks!
posted by scose to Travel & Transportation around Vancouver, BC (20 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Stanley park is beautiful......and free! Very scenic.
posted by Taurid at 11:54 PM on September 17, 2009

I'm often in Vancouver for work, and sometimes I bring my family with me, and we're always searching for cheap things to do.

The ultimate free activity in Vancouver is a walk along the seawall. You could start at the new convention centre (it's really beautiful, as it should be for the amount of money it cost to build) and walk along Coal Harbour towards the Westin Bayshore and Stanley Park. If you were really ambitious, you could walk along the Seawall all the around Stanley Park, or you could hang a left at the Westin and hike up Denman Street to English Bay, and enter Stanley Park that way.

You can take your bike along the Seawall, too.

The new Canada Line subway goes all the way out to the airport, and there's a really cool observation deck near the entrance where you disembark from the Canada Line at the airport, in the domestic terminal.

You can also take the Canada Line to Richmond to Abderdeen Centre, which has an incredible Daiso dollar store and a really fine food court with authentic Asian fast food.

Depending on the weather (it will start raining - *really raining* - soon), you could bike out to UBC eventually hitting NW Marine Drive and Spanish Banks. There's hiking at Pacific Spirit Park, and you could visit the UBC Museum of Anthropology.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:02 AM on September 18, 2009

- Beers at the Cambie. Pitchers of Labatt are $10.50. The food is also decent and cheap.

- While your in the area, go smoke a joint at the New Amsterdam Cafe around the corner on Hastings. Marc Emery will be extradited soon, so get there while it's still around.
posted by ageispolis at 12:11 AM on September 18, 2009

Queen Elizabeth park is a little hard to get to, but it's a gorgeous, rugged meets manicured (the gardens are in a former rock quarry) place for a picnic. I think it's (gasp) prettier than Stanley Park. Thursday nites are open mic at the Anza Club. $4 Cover. Very hipster.
The Art Gallery is pay what you can on tuesday evenings from 5pm to 9pm.
Wander through the down town east side for a free horror show.
posted by stray at 12:41 AM on September 18, 2009

Oh, and take the Canada line to Daiso, the best, best, best dollar store in the world. Seriously. The best.
posted by stray at 12:43 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Do the Grouse Grind.

When you reach the sign that marks the quarter-way point, try not to cry: When you get to the top you'll have the most amazing sit-down of your life -- with a beautiful view as a bonus!
posted by clorox at 12:52 AM on September 18, 2009

Tuesday night at Celebrities Night Club on Davie street is $3 highballs "shit-mix" dance night--uh, if you're interested in seeing a gay clubbing/meat-market/bi-curious student mashup. Haven't been in years but it's a cheap way to get your dance on.
posted by stray at 12:53 AM on September 18, 2009

Use Translink Trip Planner to get to places you don't want to bike to. You can get books of ten tickets at most corner stores.

Also, every week in the Georgia Straight Food Section there is a coupon for Kam's Singaporean Cuisine, which'll get you two entries for the price of one. Add rice, and it's a big meal for two for ~$13. Maybe even with leftovers. It is not the best food in the world and not particularly Singaporean, but I like it. And you get to participate in the Davie St. ritual that is eating at Kam's with a coupon.
posted by stray at 12:59 AM on September 18, 2009

I've recently become enamoured of the South Main part of the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood. There are loads of funky boutiques and some excellent consignment/thrift shops around Main and 20th-30th Ave.

In particular, I strongly suggest you pop in to The Regional Assembly of Text while you are there. If you like stationery, printmaking, letterpress, design, nice fonts, or handmade goods, I can't recommend this place highly enough. There is a cool little reading room (ex-storage closet) to which people have donated hundreds of little handmade books, and there are vintage typewriters available for customers to use. I'm always reluctant to leave--it's such a charming, soothing place to be.

As for a restaurant recommendation in that neighbourhood--if you like dim sum, Sun Sui Wah is among the best I've ever had in Vancouver.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 1:10 AM on September 18, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding UBC, with the addition of Wreck Beach (if you don't mind the clothing-optional* nature of it, and the somewhat gruelling 200-foot-high hike.) Another nice day beach inside the city is Kits Beach in the Kitsilano neighbourhood.

Check out the (somewhat) new Vancouver Public Library; it's an impressive building.

There is a flea market housed in a large red building in East Van somewhere; it's huge and has new and used stuff in copious quantities.

A Seabus-ride away, Mount Seymour in North Vancouver has lovely hiking trails in amongst absolutely towering trees.

* Warning, nude Lego figures, NSFP (not safe for playroom.)
posted by Hardcore Poser at 5:38 AM on September 18, 2009

A small correction; the UBC Museum of Anthropology is only free to members, students and staff. However on Tuesday admission prices go down to $6. Well worth it though.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 5:41 AM on September 18, 2009

Other places I used to walk through near downtown: The Cambie Street bridge has a nice view of Science World and the waters of False Creek. If you have an annual membership at one of several partner Science museums in Canada, admission to Science World is free (it's amazing for kids, the young at heart, and the scientifically curious).

The Granville Island Market is on the waterfront and has a huge variety of merchants and wares, but even browsing it is fun. Just don't try parking a car there.

The Granville Street Bridge is a lovely older style of bridge but it's not for the squeamish; it is approx. 80 feet above the water in the middle, and the view out the sides can unnerve you if you have a mild fear of heights.

Granville Street itself can be quite, um, lively after dark if you want a little adventure. I once walked by a man carrying a Boa Constrictor on his shoulders on a Friday evening; for some reason people were avoiding him. An after-dinner walk down Robson Street on the weekend will give you a sense of Vancouver nightlife.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:03 AM on September 18, 2009

- The Museum of Anthropology is not free, but it has outdoor exhibits that are, so you can see some totem poles and even peer through the window and the main gallery.
- The seawall is great and so are the city's many beaches, especially Wreck, but also Jericho, Spanish Banks, Kits Beach, English Bay, 2nd beach, 3rd beach, and even Crab Park (more for the cityscape).
- Good live music listings are here; some of these are cheap, especially at downtown eastside venues (Rickshaw, Astoria, Funky Winkerbeans, Pat's Pub).
- A Vancouver visit is not complete without a trip to La Casa Gelato. I think you'll pay $4 for a gelato but it comes with infinite tasting samples and there are more than 200 flavors. You could spend a whole afternoon here.
- Granville Island is a popular tourist spot with its many cafes and galleries etc. It's also home to the Emily Carr art school, one of the best in Canada. I've been there for the grad show which was great, but it appears they also have a free gallery throughout the year. Granville Island is also a great place to wander around; it has a nice mix of pretty art and industrial (bridges and fishing boats).
posted by PercussivePaul at 8:05 AM on September 18, 2009

Lynn Canyon is my favourite suspension bridge; much quieter than Capilano, and free.
posted by scruss at 12:14 PM on September 18, 2009

Whatever you do, don't do Grouse Grind! The hike is like walking up stairs with no scenery, and then ending with little payoff. Parking and the lift down costs money, too. (Note: If you reserve to dine at The Observatory restaurant, then the Skyride, bothways, and mountaintop activities for free.)

There are plenty of trails that are better. Check out:
posted by jayne at 6:02 PM on September 18, 2009

You can check out the salmon at the Capilano Hatchery. There is a nice path along the river, and a bit of a climb up to the nearby dam.

I second the Lynn Canyon suspension bridge.
posted by birdsquared at 9:31 PM on September 18, 2009

Find Family Fun - Top Twenty is your ticket to all things free, cheap and fun in and around Vancouver.

*Hugely* visited site, it's written from the perspective of a family with kids, but singletons like myself have drawn inspiration when I was bored and in town for the weekend.
posted by seawallrunner at 11:36 PM on September 18, 2009

Much of what has been said is indeed good advice!

A few more points of consideration:

Walk the seawall certainly; but if you can, try a bike! It's even better by bike!

Take lots of transit! Transit built this city! From the early streetcars, to the 'futuristic SkyTrains!'

Translink Trip Planner is good; discounted books of ten tickets can be found at most variety and drug stores (MACs & Shoppers Drug Mart) but also consider, if you want to do a day of transit, try a Day Pass for unlimited travel ($9)! http://www.translink.ca/en/Fares-and-Passes/DayPass.aspx

You can also find the entire Translink map called "Getting Around" at the map display rack at the Shoppers Drug Mart stores, for $1.95. This shows you exactly what all the bus routes are, where they go, and where they connect to the SkyTrain. Very useful. (2008-09 version does not yet contain Canada Line). For more transit geekery, get your fix of trivia from the Buzzer Blog: http://buzzer.translink.ca/

The new Canada Line from the airport will now be most folks first opportunity to take transit in Vancouver. And yes, Daiso in Richmond (located in the Aberdeen Centre) is indeed the best dollar store this side of Tokyo. The entire Aberdeen Centre mall is an architectural jewel, and definitely worth visiting. Yes, it seems hard to believe, I'm recommending you visit a mall when you come to Vancouver! http://www.aberdeencentre.com/ Not so much for the shopping, but for the Asian infusion of culture to the region. Now easier than ever to get to, thanks to the Canada Line! (Aberdeen Station)

Also try the SkyTrain from Waterfront at least as far as Commercial Drive. You can easily spend an afternoon wandering up and down the Drive from Broadway to Venebles. Essential Vancouver.

Seabus is the famous $3 cruiseship! Take it to Lonsdale Quay for a coffee, and then take it right back to Vancouver (on the same ticket!)

Queen Elizabeth park is no longer hard to get to! Just take the Canada Line to King Edward Station, and walk a few blocks north...(trivia: they couldn't put a station at QE Park because of the volcanic rock under the park!)

Museums are nice; look also to free lectures!

Museum of Anthropology, perhaps Vancouver's signature museum, is getting major renovation upgrades, and is not open at the moment. However, the architectural genius of Arthur Erickson is still worth the trip! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Erickson Re-launch of Museum of Anthropology is being planned for January 23, 2010. Also on the Arthur Erickson theme, wander the Law Courts downtown, from the rooftop patio to the interior courtyard (inside courtrooms are comfy chairs, too!). Remember, this could have been a tall tower like all those around it, but Arthur decided to lay the tower on it's side instead!

In lieu of MOA, try the newly branded Museum of Vancouver, situated between Kit's beach (another great walk or bike along the seawall) and Granville Isle. MOV charges admission, and isn't open late except Thursdays. Check their website for special events/free talks/etc. http://www.museumofvancouver.ca/

Speaking of free talks, the VPL (Vancouver Public Library) Central Library Square is indeed another architectural landmark worth seeing! They also have free talks/events regularly, so check the calendar to see if there's a conversation you'd like to join in! For example, Word on the Street is a great festival of books, held every year in late September (on the 27th this year). http://www.thewordonthestreet.ca/wots/vancouver

Lookup > Lectures at Central Library here: http://www.vpl.ca/cgi-bin/api/calendar.cgi

SFU City program also has free lectures about urbanism and city making, if that's what you're interested in: http://www.sfu.ca/city/fpl.htm

See if there are any events happening at Emily Carr...


Fall is festival season in Vancouver (IMHO); there's a host of festivals back to back, and you might want to join in the festivities! Vancouver Film Festival happens early October, but the VanCity Theatre is also a great meeting place (especially for a rainy day!) See what's playing here: http://www.vifc.org/home.htm

The Granville Street Bridge is a great bridge to walk over WHILE HOLDING HANDS! The handrail is a little low, and there's a bit of a gap a the bottom of the railing offering just enough sense of unease when crossing! It's a poor man's roller coaster/Ferris wheel! Take a photo in the middle of the bridge!

South Granville between Granville Island and Broadway is known as Gallery Row; it's where most of the high end art galleries are located. Unlike the Art Gallery (Tuesday eve excluded), you can visit them all for free in the middle of the day! Walk up and down this stretch as there are notable galleries and shops on both sides of the street.

Speaking of walking, the Police Museum also has a fun tour called Sins of the City; eyeopening, and a great tour even for locals! http://www.vancouverpolicemuseum.ca/SinsoftheCity.htm Another super guided tour tip: take one of John Atkin's tours! He is a legendary historian and walking tour guide; too many locals don't even know how great he is!! http://www.johnatkin.com/

Main Street really is getting very chic, with lots of worthy boutiques to visit. Add Vancouver Special to the list of cool stops, http://www.vanspecial.com/ nearby The Regional Assembly of Text http://www.assemblyoftext.com/. And for local crafters and art scene folks, Main Street has a host of small art gallery destinations. Blim, http://www.blim.ca Video In, http://www.videoinstudios.com and Grace Gallery http://www.grace-gallery.com are signature stops!

Other streets I like walking down include Homer (from the Library all the way to Gastown). A much more subtle experience, you'll almost miss the Vancouver graffiti supply store/gallery THIRD http://www.thirdstore.com/ if you aren't looking for it! Look for graffiti alley nearby! At the end of Homer, you can reward yourself to lunch or dinner at Brioche (my fav Eggplant Parmesan) http://brioche.ca/ or So.cial Sandwich http://www.socialatlemagasin.com/

Since Vancouver is famously reknown for it's sushi, you probably will want to sample some. Try Okonomiyaki at the Clubhouse (near Olympic Village Station) 255 West 2nd Avenue, or order some quick and inexpensive takeout from the tiny Fujiya shop (Downtown) just off Burrard and Pender (1050 W Pender St #112). Rest assured, you'll have about 1000 other opportunities to walk into a sushi shop in this town. They're almost as ubiquitous as Starbucks.

Beer at the Cambie recommendation doesn't appeal much to me. Walk by if you're nearby and wave to all the exchange students, and then pay a visit to Victory Square, the original heart of the city. Take in the architecture that is the Dominion Building, the Flack block, and the new revitalized Woodwards development. See what's happening with the community at Woodwards W2 http://www.creativetechnology.org/ and the nearby Centre A (in a former trolley garage!) http://www.centrea.org/

Wander Gastown during the afternoon / early evening. Once it gets dark, most of the tourists disburse, and the streets become a bit edgier, somewhat more Dickensian. I think it's still important to view the social changes to the streets, so don't be too afraid of the area at night; just be aware. Alright, if you feel the urge to have a beer, I recommend stopping at the Alibi Room instead for a drink. http://www.alibi.ca Admittedly, not as cheap as the Cambie, but worth writing home about.

Well, that sums up a whole lot of Vancouver from me! I haven't really begun to cover the camping/hiking scene though! Take what you like from this list, and by all means, make it your own! However you choose to spend it, enjoy your visit!
posted by jmv at 1:40 AM on September 19, 2009 [6 favorites]

...ehr, SOUTH! ...walk a few blocks SOUTH to get to QE Park...
posted by jmv at 1:43 AM on September 19, 2009

you might try vancouverisawesome.com for fun stuff to do. or pictures of cute dogs. (i like both.)
posted by bellbellbell at 12:59 AM on September 27, 2009

« Older Missed a Promise to Appear   |   San Francisco Vacation Neighbourhood Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.