Vancouver, BC Vacation with Public Transit?
June 3, 2013 5:37 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are taking the train to Vancouver, BC this summer. Any recommendations on what is worth, or not worth, doing or seeing when traveling without a vehicle? (Example: The Sea to Sky drive will not happen)

We are taking a week long vacation to Vancouver, BC during the summer. We have everything booked. We are taking the train up and have a room near downtown/Granville St.

We happen to be there during two of the "Celebration of Light" events, so we will be watching that. We plan on Granville Island, the MOA at UBC, Chinatown and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sent Classical Chinese Garden, renting bikes at Stanley Park, the Aquarium (we have never seen Beluga Whales), taking a harbor cruise, and Queen Elizabeth Park.

We are not doing Calpilano or Grouse Mtn. My wife is (very) afraid of heights, although I may sneak off to Lynn Canyon.

We do not have any kayak experience and I have not been canoeing in YEARS. How are the rentals? I think it would be nice to go to Burrard Inlet/Deep Cove, but what about False Creek, English Bay or somewhere else?

Do you have any tips or recommendations for two people who have never been to Vancouver and will be dependent on SkyTrain, bike rental, or Taxi? Bonus points for photo opportunities.
posted by Leenie to Travel & Transportation around Vancouver, BC (15 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Good you're going in summer, haha! I've been to Vancouver a couple of times now, including once without a car, and MOA is my favorite thing about both trips. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time for it; you'll need around three hours, at least, if you enjoy moving through museums slowly and reading information like I do. SkyTrain and buses are mostly good, but my husband and I ended up renting a car eventually to avoid frustration--YMMV, no pun intended.

Also, not to alarm you, but check what part of Granville you're on. I hated staying on Granville Street. Following Trip Advisor (for the last time), I unwittingly booked near the seedy end of the street, at a Ramada Inn, where all the adult stores and crackheads are. (Ads for erection pills don't frighten me, but some of those drugged up men did...) There was a hostage situation at the nearby 7/11 one of the nights I was there, just to make me feel more comfortable.
posted by iamfantastikate at 5:52 PM on June 3, 2013

the MOA at UBC

It's quite a long way out there from your hotel. It might be best to plan a day trip. Another nice place (for a non-Vancouverite like me) out there is Spanish Banks. Not sure how doable that is by bus, but it's worth checking out.

In terms of kayaking, I would maybe try to do something on False Creek, rather than Deep Cove. While the Seabus is a really cool experience, it would take a long time to get out to Deep Cove by public transit, the bus service is not that great.

I think one of the more interesting things to do would be to take the Canada Line to the airport and check out the observation deck there.

The Canada Line also goes to No. 3 Road in Richmond and there are a couple of nice malls there with awesome Asian fast food. It's not North American Chinese food, it's the quasi-real deal. Great selection.

Pourhouse and Chill Winston in Gastown are a couple of nice places to grab a drink.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:00 PM on June 3, 2013

Following Trip Advisor (for the last time), I unwittingly booked near the seedy end of the street, at a Ramada Inn, where all the adult stores and crackheads are.

It's not that bad. I've stayed in the Ramada on Granville several times, and most of the crap has been cleaned up, actually. The worst part about Granville is the noise on the weekend, when the street becomes a big drinking party.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:02 PM on June 3, 2013

Sorry for posting so much, but I spend several years working remotely for a Vancouver company, and brought the family over quite a bit - figuring out what to do and where to do it was a big deal:

If you're going to bicycle Stanley Park, consider using Denman, which borders the park on the east, as a base of some sort. It's a residential neighbourhood with a nice feel to it, unlike the harder-edged and monotonous neighbourhoods up around Coal Harbour and Bute etc.

The Denman neighbourhood has lots of nice restaurants and coffee shops and grocery stores and so on - it's a place for living.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:09 PM on June 3, 2013

Best answer: Kayaking in Deep Cove is really nice if you can make it out there. 45 min to an hour by bus from waterfront station. I'd say it's worth it. Indian Arm is a treasure that lots of Vancouverites forget about.

UBC is about 30-40 minutes from downtown by bus depending on the time of day. It's also a nice bike ride to get out there if you're keen. Maybe about 45 minutes to an hour by bike depending on how fast you are.

Check the Vancouver Canadians' schedule to see if you can catch a baseball game while you're here. They're right in Queen Elizabeth Park and lots of fun if you're into that. The Whitecaps are also fun to watch if you like soccer.

There's a night market in Chinatown on weekends with some good food and amateur performers on weekend evenings. There's a HUGE chinese night market down in Richmond if you want to see the real deal. It's a pretty easy Skytrain+Bus trip, but a little out of the way.

When you're near Granville Island I really recommend Go Fish for some fresh-off-the-boat seafood.

Seconding KokuRyu that anything near Granville St is nice and totally safe. Even the legendary Downtown Eastside is completely safe -- if not pleasant -- to walk through. Don't worry about walking through it when you're checking out Chinatown and Gastown.

The False Creek Ferries are a nice way to get between Downtown and Granville Island and other spots on False Creek. Something like 5 bucks a trip, and scenic in nice weather.

Lighthouse Park in West Van is a really great spot for a picnic and awesome views of the city, but about an hour on the bus from downtown.

You can get over to the Gulf Islands pretty easily via transit, but not really as a day trip. You'd have to find somewhere to stay overnight.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 6:33 PM on June 3, 2013 [3 favorites]

The MOA at UBC is definitely worth it. While you're there, since it's a bit of a trip, you can walk to the Nitobe Memorial Garden, or along Main Mall from the Rose Garden (at the North end) towards the Beaty Biodiversity Museum which has a cool blue whale skeleton that you can see without paying to enter the museum (which is probably only worth it if you're really into biology.)

I hear the Richmond night market is quite fantastic, but haven't made it out myself yet.
posted by lookoutbelow at 7:51 PM on June 3, 2013

We were in Vancouver 6-7 years ago. We flew in a seaplane between the city and one of the islands. It was a commuter, not a tourist flight that you should be able to find without much trouble. We were one of the few people enjoying the view. Most of our fellow passengers had their faces in newspapers. My memory of the details is too fuzzy to give you more detail.
posted by Raybun at 8:03 PM on June 3, 2013

Agreed that kayaking in Deep Cove/Indian Arm is worth the trip, it's much nicer than False Creek and English Bay (which is nice, but a little crowded with larger boats). It will be a bit of a hassle by bus, but if you take the Seabus then a taxi from Lonsdale Quay it'll be fine.
posted by ripley_ at 8:07 PM on June 3, 2013

You might be able to find a bus to take you on the Sea to Sky Highway; last time I drove it, the locals drove it at an insane speed, making it the most harrowing drive I've ever had. Let someone else take you!
posted by Napoleonic Terrier at 8:43 PM on June 3, 2013

Seconding the MOA, and there is actually quite a bit to see out at UBC too if you want to make it a day trip. Be warned, the museum is a decent walk from the main UBC bus depot but bikes are great on campus. In addition to what lookoutbelow suggests there's also the botanical garden (with a canopy walk), and it might be worth checking to see if anything is playing at the Chan Centre while you're out there. The Rose Garden is very beautiful but I might be slightly biased -- I had my wedding there two years ago. Additionally the western edge of Spanish Banks often has a drum circle on (I think) Sunday evenings, and the (clothing-optional) wreck beach is also very beautiful.

Others have suggested Deep Cove -- it is spectacular, but personally I would hesitate to do it without a car as it is a decent distance. Well... if you do go you might want to make more of a trip of it, there is a spectacular and not too long hike along the bluffs on the north side of the cove that would nicely complement a kayak/canoe rental. Renting kayaks in Granville Island is a decent fall-back.

Cycling the Stanley Park sea wall is very beautiful, but on sunny days is *very* congested. Depends on how fast you both cycle -- I've been stuck in 30-bike lineups trying to pass some slow, slow tourist who thinks that 5 km/h is just fast enough, thank you (note - please don't be that tourist :p). It's also worth checking out the city side of the park near Lost Lagoon, and seconding Davie street as a good base for such a trip. The interior of the park is also very nice and typically gets much less attention than the sea wall.

No-one else has really talked about the Celebration of Lights, so allow me. It is well worth attending and definitely one of the highlights of Vancouver in the summer. The only downside is that the whole city agrees with me. The crowds of people can be a little... overwhelming at times, and don't count on getting a bus from anywhere near English Bay for about an hour after the event is over. Also, seating in the prime viewing spots gets very limited at least 1-2 hours before the start so if you want a good view, come early and bring a beach blanket. The best views are probably English Bay beach, Sunset beach, and Kits beach.
posted by Arandia at 8:43 PM on June 3, 2013

Best answer: You have planned a really great trip. I would be jealous of you if I didn't already live in Vancouver! :)

I strongly recommend you make a day trip to Bowen Island. It is an easy excursion -- you can catch the bus right downtown, it goes straight to the ferry terminal at Horseshoe Bay, ferries are more-or-less hourly and the ride is only twenty minutes -- and the trip on the water is beautiful. On Bowen you can do nice short hikes or you can climb Mt Gardner if you're up for something more adventurous. There are nice restaurants and a pub just near the ferry. It's a great way to get out of the city.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:13 PM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the info.

We are staying a few blocks off of Granville, and a few from the Aquatic center. I think it is decent and saved us hundreds of dollars (we can spend elsewhere). We don't plan on being there that much anyway....

I think we will spent most of the time at Stanley park away from the seawall, we will still be there, just not only there...

Thanks for the Bowen Island tip. I'll have to check it out.

Deep Cove via a Seabus then a taxi from Lonsdale Quay - Good idea! I never would have thought of that.

I am ~so~ looking forward to this trip :-D
posted by Leenie at 9:31 PM on June 3, 2013

Ahh, I always do that -- I meant Denman street as a good base for Stanley park, not Davie. But you probably figured that out.

My wife just read the post and would like to add that she thinks you need to come at least 3-4 hours to get a good spot on English Bay beach before the fireworks. It does have the best view, however. If you've got cash to burn I think that Cactus Club has $100 dinner tables with a view on that night, or you could try for a dinner cruise. Also, be aware that motor traffic is completely cut off for the event so taxis are out, but bikes are good options. If you're going to be outdoors and not near the big speakers on English Bay, try and bring a portable radio so you can listen to the music that goes with the fireworks.

A few other thoughts. The Vancouver Theatresports in Granville Island is highly recommended, as is the Bard on the Beach. Vanier park also has a by-donation observatory that is open on clear nights. The Capalino Suspension Bridge is a little over-hyped (IMO), and Grouse Mountain is better but still very touristy so you're not missing much. Lynn Canyon is also better than the Grouse Grind (first part is easier, and as an added bonus is not a giant staircase).

Not sure about your tastes in restaurants, but for Sushi we'd recommend Bella Sushi on Davie and the Eatery in Point Grey. Also good if you're on Denman street anyways is Korean food at Ma Dang Goul -- hole-in-the-wall but with good Bi Bim Bap & BBQ Chicken. Bob Likes Thai is (you guessed it) Thai food on Granville and Broadway that is very good. Stephos on Davie is good but not worth the always-present out-the-door lineup, if you really want Greek Takis three stores down is slightly pricier but very good. Also on Davie is India Bistro, which gets a good grade from us but if you want best (and priciest) Indian food you'd want Vij (11th and Granville).
posted by Arandia at 9:35 PM on June 3, 2013

For watching the fireworks, consider going to the Vancouver Museum/Vancouver Maritime Museum that day and grabbing a spot on Vanier Point. It's not as busy as English Bay, which is NOT a pleasant place to watch the fireworks if you dislike rabblerousers at all, and offers a great view from across the Bay. Those Museums are both pretty cool, too - the Maritime Museum (disclaimer - used to work there!) has the RCMP St Roch, the second ship to go through the northwest passage and the first to circumnavigate North America.

Otherwise, Sunset Beach (just down from the Aquatic Centre) tends to be where the locals from the West End go to watch the fireworks and it's much more chill than English Bay is.

Stephos on Davie is good but not worth the always-present out-the-door lineup

Monday is the day to go to Stephos - or call ahead and order takeout. It's just as good consumed on the beach - and there's no one rushing you.

Downtown Sushi on Davie at Bute is my favourite place to go for Sushi when I am in Vancouver.
posted by urbanlenny at 7:25 AM on June 4, 2013

Burnaby Lake Park is easily accessible from the Sperling Skytrain station. It's a really nice walk that goes through what feels like five or six separate 'ecosystems' - marshland, boardwalk, deep forest, horse trails, grassland - in about an hour. I don't know if they have canoe rentals, but nearby Deer Lake does.

Fun Stanley Park tip - go to the trails near Beaver Lake and hold out a handful of birdseed. Chickadees will fly down to your hands.
posted by Gortuk at 9:47 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]

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