Vancouver side trips without a car
September 5, 2019 6:05 AM   Subscribe

We're in Vancouver for a week or so next month, and I'd be interested in going somewhere with interesting views, nature, and maybe a good pub. Slight problem: neither of us drive.

I was looking at Vancouver to Nanaimo and then Gabriola Island, but the latter looks really tricky to navigate without a car, and it's a choice between public transport to get to the ferry (takes ages) or the seaplane either way (more expensive, last flight back at 5.30) - even if we make it an overnight trip, B+B accommodation is scarce off-season. Can it be done without a car?

Or is there somewhere else that's easier and just as interesting in early October? Only the seaplane flight to and from Nanaimo is justifiable - getting to and from Victoria or anywhere else would just be too expensive - and a lot of the ferry routes I've looked at out of the mainland are still not easy enough to navigate without a car (Victoria's centre is 45mins away from the terminal). We are staying around South Main if that makes a difference, and it looks like Horseshoe Bay is much easier to get to than Tsawassen.
posted by mippy to Travel & Transportation around British Columbia (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
it's a choice between public transport to get to the ferry (takes ages)

If you take the 250 express bus from downtown Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay it takes almost no additional time over and above what it would take to drive, and if the bridge traffic is bad, the bus is actually faster than driving because buses have priority. I don't know if that changes your calculus at all. Nanaimo is totally doable as a daytrip using transit. Members of my family do it dozens of times a year.

I don't know how the ferries work from Nanaimo to Gabriola, though. I think they leave from somewhere else in Nanaimo rather than Departure Bay.

You might also consider Bowen Island. It's also a ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay, but a much shorter ferry.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:20 AM on September 5, 2019

I second Bowen Island, it's an awesome day trip with great views, and you relly feel disconnected from the city. Also, there are buses that can bring you to straight from downtown Vancouver to Victoria, where you could spend the night.
posted by ddaavviidd at 7:38 AM on September 5, 2019

Public transit to both major ferry terminals is straightforward. Plan for 1.5 hours from South Main (less if you can start from a SkyTrain station). Public transit on the Victoria side is pretty good, as well, and you should not have any trouble getting into the city.

There are shuttle bus services for trips to Whistler (mountains, scenery, etc.), and closer to Vancouver, the 236 bus (PDF map) will take you to the base of Grouse Mountain, where you can access the North Shore trail network, including the Grouse Grind, which is a short but strenuous hike up the mountain.

The float plane trips to the Gulf Islands are quite fun and beautiful.
posted by bhive at 8:06 AM on September 5, 2019

I've done Salt Spring island without a car from Vancouver. We rented bikes, but there's also one or two cabs.

The public transit from Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay or Tsawwassen are really pretty tolerable and not that slow. The transit from Swartz Bay to Victoria is also really pretty fine - they have an express bus. Sometimes it's double-decker so you get a bit of a tour. It's a five-hour journey on the whole though so not great for a day trip.

There are lots of shuttles to and from Squamish as well.
posted by lookoutbelow at 8:08 AM on September 5, 2019

Bowen island - definitely! There's some nice hikes around there, you don't need a car to do the ones near the ferry terminal, and there's a nice pub near the terminal. The ferry ride itself is also really beautiful.

There are also more expensive (but in no way extortionate) Sea Taxi's to Bowen that skip out on the whole Horseshoe Bay trip.

That said, Horseshoe Bay itself is worth a poke around.

North Shore is also beautiful, and easy to access via transit. Public transit in general is actually *fantastic* in Vancouver, despite the many complaints of the locals. I'm not sure what utopian transit ideal they're basing these complaints on.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 9:32 AM on September 5, 2019

I used to live in the gulf islands, and the float planes are a really wonderful and unique experience. They fly really low and you can see so much from them, it's really really beautiful and worth the expense.

BUT if you are looking for nature and views with no car I would investigate taking a bus/tour to whistler for the day or overnight instead. It has all this in SPADES. This one looks good but I'm sure there are lots of options.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 9:33 AM on September 5, 2019

Yes, to Bowen Island.

Also, Gibson's is very easy to get to without a car.

From the Langdale side, it's easy to get to Gambier or Keats islands and hike around on them, but there is nothing in the way of restaurants or anything on either of them, but they are great places to explore.

I think if you explore Horseshoe Bay, Bowen, Keats, Gambier, Gibsons, you are getting pretty much all you would out of a longer trip to Nanaimo, so I say explore that side of things and don't worry about Vancouver Island, unless you've got more time.
posted by miles1972 at 11:31 AM on September 5, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks for responses so far! I did have Bowen Island in mind as a possible daytrip, but now y'all have convinced me that the floatplanes are worth the expense. Sadly they don't run them to Whistler at this time of year!

I was mostly interested in Gabriola for the sandstone formations, but I can't see that there's so much there for visitors rather than residents?
posted by mippy at 1:06 PM on September 5, 2019

Also recommending Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast (we're on our way there tomorrow). From Horseshoe Bay, it's a beautiful 40 minute ferry ride (about $13 round trip – you pay in Horseshoe Bay and don't pay on the way back). When you get off the ferry, a cab into the village is about 15 minutes and $20, or there's a cheap public bus that takes half an hour, or, if you're talkative, someone will just give you a lift (my mother-in-law does this seemingly every other time).

The village itself has some good restaurants (Lunitas, Drift), pubs (Tapworks for a nice view and the brewpub vibe, Gramma's for another nice view and the small-town vibe, the Public Market for something in between); Persephone brewing a little out of town; and hippy or hipstery coffee.
posted by Beardman at 1:09 PM on September 5, 2019

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