Try these spots in Vancouver, B.C., both outdoors at beach and forest parks and along the hipster Commercial Drive.
Stanley Park. Granville Island. If you’ve been to Vancouver, B.C., you’ve probably been to those two top spots. But the park’s lovely Seawall walk and the farmers market can be jammed with tourists and locals on summer weekends.
Here are five places a bit less discovered by tourists. You certainly won’t be alone, but you’ll see a different side of the city.
Most are outdoor-oriented places since that’s the glory of Vancouver, which sits amid sparkling waterways and densely forested mountains — and has preserved envy-inducing public access, from dozens of miles of seafront walks to extensive forest trails.
These five spots are spread through Greater Vancouver. None is more than a half-hour drive from downtown — as long as you avoid rush-hour traffic.
Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge
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The North Shore peaks rise steeply above the city. Their lower reaches are cloaked in the suburbs of West Vancouver and North Vancouver, across the harbor from downtown, but are laced with big, semi-wilderness parks that edge the rivers and streams that tumble off the 4,000-foot mountains.
One of my favorites is Lynn Canyon Park, a 612-acre park that stretches along North Vancouver’s Lynn Creek. Walk the family-friendly, forested loop trails. Wade in boulder-strewn swimming holes. (I like the Pipeline Bridge trail, an easy 1.2-mile loop that takes walkers by the creek and through woods.)
Best of all, to get to the trails you walk across a pedestrian-only suspension bridge slung across a narrow gorge. The bridge, barely wide enough for two people to pass, is a dizzying 164 feet above the creek. Its metal cables and wooden slats undulate as people cross; teenagers love to bounce to really get the bridge moving. And the bridge is free, unlike the better known but pricey and privately run Capilano Suspension Bridge, also in North Vancouver
Tip: Don’t miss Lynn Canyon’s Ecology Centre, tucked off the main entrance road. It has photo displays of century-ago logging and the park’s natural history, plus a gift shop. There’s also a small, pleasant cafe in a separate building by the bridge.
More info: lynncanyonecologycentre.ca(for park history, trail map and the ecology center).
For seaside beauty, go west to Lighthouse Park, an enclave of rocky bluffs and towering trees, including old-growth cedar and fir, in West Vancouver.
It’s particularly lovely around sunset, with broad views across the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island. Follow the Shore Pine trail through the woods to the sun-warmed rocks, watch the sailboats and fishing boats puttering past and seals lolling near the shore. There’s been a lighthouse here since the late 1800s. It’s still operating, but closed to the public.
Be sure to get a map through the park’s website or at the park trailheads; it’s easy to get confused in the warren of trails in the densely wooded, 185-acre park.
Tip: The most scenic way to get to Lighthouse Park is west along Marine Drive, past waterfront homes and freighters sometimes anchored so close they’re practically in the front yards. Turn left onto the narrow Beacon Lane (watch for a bus stop and wooden park sign).
Hungry? You’ll find lots of restaurants to the east along Marine Drive in West Vancouver’s trendy Dundrave and Ambleside neighborhoods, plus more than a mile of a paved seafront walking path, westvancouver.ca/parks-recreation/walking-hiking/centennial-seawalk).
Now for something truly urban. Commercial Drive in East Vancouver is a hipster street, sometimes with a gritty edge, of small shops, restaurants and cafes. It’s best on weekend afternoons and early evenings when you can browse the shops, stroll and sit outdoors with a drink or meal and people-watch.
Most of the action stretches for about four blocks south and north of East First Avenue, which cuts across Commercial Drive. “The Drive” was once the heart of Vancouver’s Italian community, and was lined with coffee bars where Italian men bantered and played cards; it’s now gentrifying.
Some of my favorite places:
• Cafe Calabria, an Italian coffee bar that serves tasty espresso, cappuccino, ice cream and sandwiches. The décor is old-style Southern Italian splendid: A half-dozen life-size partially nude statues watch over you at tables set by ornate Roman columns. It’s been going strong since 1976, back in the heyday of the Italian community on “The Drive.” (An Italian grocery store and bakery are next door.) cafecalabria.ca
• Want beer, food, people-watching? The Biercraft restaurant offers 20 brews on tap, a hundred more in bottles, tapas-style food, and nice outdoor tables. biercraft.com/commercial
• For eclectic, definitely not-the-mall shopping, Doctor Vigari is a gallery/shop packed with quirky arts and crafts. doctorvigarigallery.com
• Need clothing to express your inner cowboy/cowgirl? Mintage is a sprawling treasure trove of vintage Western wear, 1950s frocks, studly leather jackets and much, much more. mintagevintage.com
Tip: If you want to make an evening of it, the Vancouver East Cultural Centre (“The Cultch”) has offbeat plays, music, video and dance. thecultch.com
More info: thedrive.ca
Kitsilano Beach Park
For an urban park with fun for everyone, head to “Kits Beach” in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighborhood. There’s a broad, sandy beach with seawater warm enough for swimming in summer, and lots of driftwood logs to sit upon and enjoy the views of the cityscape and North Shore Mountains.
You will not be alone here on weekends. It draws a crowd of locals for beach volleyball, sunbathing, scenic walking (it’s about a half-hour waterfront walk or quick bike ride to Granville Island). There also are tennis courts and an Olympic-size outdoor pool, perfect for swimming laps.
Tip: Hungry? Eat at the Boathouse Restaurant right by the beach, a good seafood restaurant with spectacular views (boathouserestaurants.ca). Or find many restaurants and trendy shops on Kitsilano’s nearby West Fourth Avenue.
Pacific Spirit Regional Park
You could get seriously lost in this densely forested park, which adjoins the University of B.C. campus. Covering 1,900 acres, it’s crisscrossed with 45 miles of walking trails (also beloved by trail runners) and 30 miles of biking trails plus horse trails. See a trail map at bit.ly/1M2GVWp.
I like the park’s northernmost trails (north of Chancellor Boulevard, where you can park at trailheads) since the paths drop down to Spanish Banks Beach, a park with miles of sandy beach and, at low tide, vast sandbars with sun-warmed pockets of water for wading.
Tip: Walk west from Spanish Banks to find secluded rock- and driftwood-strewn narrow beaches at the base of the bluffs on which the university sits. About an hour’s walk away (beware of high tides that could strand you) is the proudly nudist Wreck Beach, also reachable by steep trails from the UBC campus.
More info: Metro Vancouver parks: bit.ly/1I1xapY