17 Reasons To Visit Vancouver This Summer

By Jane | July 29, 2015

Is Vancouver one of the best cities in the world? We’ll leave that question to the pollsters (who overwhelmingly say yes). All we can tell you is that when the sun is shining, it’s the best city we’ve ever visited. We never get tired of the mountains, the ocean, the beer, the coffee… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

If you visit Vancouver, here are the best 17 things to see and do, according to us!

Related: Have kids? Here’s your list of things to do in Vancouver with kids from Carpe Diem Our Way

1. Bike Culture

We’ve had a lot of unforgettable days cycling around the world, but Vancouver is one of the best biking cities we’ve experienced. For a start, the infrastructure is amazing.

visit vancouver, bike Vancouver, cycle Vancouver, Vancouver bike infrastructure

The Dunsmuir separated bikeway takes cyclists safely into the heart of Downtown Vancouver.

There are plenty of dedicated bikeways, fully separated from the streets, and there are bike lights at busy intersections. On streets where the bike paths share space with cars, drivers often avoid the routes, so you encounter far more cyclists on the road than cars. Drivers in these areas are almost always courteous, giving cyclists the right of way (even, frustratingly, when it’s not deserved) and lots of space.

People routinely cycle to work from all over the city, or cycle around the Seawall on a Sunday morning, or happily bike to concerts and other evening events, cycling home through the city at night. Vancouver bike routes form a web of safe cycling paths around the city.

Vancouver has reached critical mass, making cycling in the city safe and enjoyable for everyone.

That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to use caution when cycling around Vancouver’s streets. Always pay attention to traffic and pedestrians when you’re on your bike, folks! Also, make sure to lock your bike well; bike theft is on the rise in Vancouver.

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2. The Seawall

In Vancouver, the best way to get a feel for the city is a trip along any stretch of the Seawall.

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Cycling Vancouver’s incomparable Seawall.

The 28 km bike and pedestrian path is “the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path” according to the City of Vancouver. It starts downtown at Vancouver’s waterfront Convention Centre, winds its way around the rocky seashore of Stanley Park, takes in the beaches of English Bay, loops past the Science Centre, Olympic Village, and Granville Island, and officially ends at Kitsilano Beach. Enthusiastic riders can continue on bike routes all the way past the University of British Columbia and through the coastal rainforest of Pacific Spirit Park.

If there’s one activity in Vancouver you shouldn’t miss, it’s a walk or ride along the Seawall.

3. Granville Island

Yes, Granville Island is as touristy as it comes in Vancouver, but it is also one of our favourite spots in the city. The market is chock-a-block with delicious BC fruits and veggies, artisan pasta, exotic spices, and fresh meats and seafood (should you eat that kind of thing – which you shouldn’t).

The Kids’ Market is a toy-filled wonderland perfect for rainy days with the little ones. It contains kid-oriented shops, a huge indoor adventure playground, a gaming area (skeeball anyone?), and even has a kids-only hair salon. There are plenty of grown-up attractions on the island, too, including restaurants, a brewery, and a small-batch distiller, so you can take the whole family and make a day of it.

4. Craft Beer

Beer is booming in Vancouver and tiny craft breweries with tasting rooms are popping up like Vancouver’s famous mushrooms after an autumn rainstorm. If you’re a beer lover, stop off in Vancouver’s brewery district, located in the previously grimy industrial port on Vancouver’s East Side, and indulge in an afternoon of tastings. If you’re still thirsty, head up the hill to Mount Pleasant, where another cluster of excellent craft breweries awaits.

At most of these pint-sized breweries, you can sit and have a glass of beer, buy bottles and cans to go, or bring in your growler to be filled. We didn’t get to try nearly enough of the breweries during our two weeks in Vancouver but we are planning a craft brewery bike crawl when we go back (stay tuned!). As a fan of light, fruity beer, my favourite brews so far are two summer seasonal specials: the Parallel 49 Watermelon Wit Seedspitter and Bomber Brewing’s Parklife.

Bomber Brewing, Vancouver, Vancouver beer, craft beer

Get thee to a brewery. Ultra-cool Bomber Brewing does two of our favourite Vancouver beers.

Stephen loves the Bomber IPA and made several return visits to the brewery. He also can’t get enough of 33 Acres Brewing. Due to its proximity to bike shops, Elysian Coffee, and the Ontario Bike Route, it’s easy to drop in, and BC liquor laws allow them to be open from 9am to 11pm most days.

We also really enjoyed hanging out at Brassneck on Main, a tasting room and fill bar (with a separate growler fill area) in Mount Pleasant. They only serve the beer they brew, but they like to experiment; there’s always so much choice that we usually end up with at least one tasting flight alongside our pints.

5. Odd Society

If you prefer your drinks a with a little more bite, Odd Society, also in the brewery district, is an ideal place to while away an afternoon.

Odd Society gin, craft gin, distillery Vancouver

Odd Society’s label design is just the icing on the spirits.

As dedicated gin drinkers, we love Odd Society’s Wallflower gin, with its distinctive flavours including rose petals, lavender, and elderflower. It’s great for sipping straight, but I prefer it in a gin and tonic or in one of the signature cocktails mixed by the friendly bartenders at the tasting room.

Odd Society, gin, creme de cassis, cocktails

The cocktails at Odd Society are every bit as good as they look.

Odd Society also makes the lightly fragrant East Van Vodka, a blackcurrant Crème de Cassis, and an oaked gin, which is a dark and stormy version of the Wallflower. If you want something a bit more lasting, you can special order your own cask of Canadian Single Malt, which Odd Society will distill, age, and bottle for you.

Not just a treat for the palate, Odd Society is also a feast for the eyes, with their highly polished hand-made copper stills on full view behind a wall of glass.

East Van, Odd Society, gin distillery

Copper stills on display at Odd Society in East Vancouver.

The tasting room features a mural by local East Van artist Shwa Keirstead, which depicts Odd Society’s stills as a steampunk dreamscape: part machinery, part living, breathing forest creature. Finally, I can’t get enough of the graphic design on Odd Society’s award-winning bottle labels, created by branding agency Cause + Affect.

6. Wreck Beach

Canada’s first official clothing-optional beach within a regional park, Wreck Beach is also one of the focal points of Vancouver’s counter-culture community.

This isolated beach on the edge of the University of British Columbia property is separated from the campus by a mere 500 stairs. The hike is worth it though, taking you down through old-growth trees and ferns growing so large they look like they belong in Jurassic World.

As the beach appears, so do the naked people. You don’t have to go au naturel, but if you don’t you are kind of missing the whole point of a naked beach. Be assured, absolutely no one will judge you or your cellulite if you decide to liberate yourself from your clothing.

Just don’t forget to put extra-strong sunscreen where the sun doesn’t normally shine.

The freedom that comes with being naked creates an openness among the beach bums at Wreck, so don’t be surprised if more than one person talks to you, offers you a hit, or ends up becoming a lifelong friend.

The beach is maintained and patrolled by police, park wardens, and fish and wildlife officials, yet still maintains the anarchist, Playa, libertarian vibe that has been there since beach lovers chose Wreck as the place to throw their caution (and their clothes) to the wind. That means that drugs and alcohol, which are technically illegal on the beach, are all readily available and will be delivered to your towel by wandering entrepreneurs.

Pro beach bum tip: If you buy beer or smoke anything keep an ear out for calls of “Police”, “Cops”, or “Hide Your Beer”. Also, empty beer cans can just be left on the dry beach. Someone will be along shortly to pick them up and return them for the refund. A couple of people do that seven days a week as their full-time job, so help them out.

7. Vegan Food

For years, Vancouver’s vegan scene was pretty underwhelming, with The Foundation on Main Street and The Naam over in Kitsilano being the only decent options. Those mainstays are still around and still popular, but there are now plenty of places for a hungry vegan to grab a quick burrito, a tasty burger, or a fancy meal. Our current favourites are the laid-back Bandidas Taqueria on Commercial Street, which does Mexican-inspired dishes and has a tasty brunch menu, and Meet on Main, where the fries and cashew gravy are a massive winner (but you can also get delicious burgers, salads, cocktails, and desserts).

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There’s no meat at Meet On Main, one of our favourite Vancouver vegan spots.

Both of these places attract omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans, making them the perfect meeting spot for parties with a range of dietary needs.

8. Bagels

Vancouver is home to a long-term bagel rivalry between Solly’s Bagelry and Siegel’s Bagels. Each has its staunch supporters who would never dream of visiting the rival bagel shop. Both outlets specialize in traditional boiled and baked bagels (sometimes called Montréal-style bagels), which are the perfect combination of crispy and chewy. Siegel’s does an absolutely unparalleled rosemary and rock salt bagel, which was once a staple in our home. However, Siegel’s bagels are not vegan, so these days, Solly’s wins for us. As a bonus, Solly’s is on Main Street, just a few blocks from our current home-away-from-home in Vancouver. Now, early morning bagel runs are part of our daily routine when we’re in the city.

9. Whimsy

Wander Vancouver’s residential neighbourhoods and you’ll notice something curious. Rather than the identi-kit houses you find in many modern cities, Vancouver features splashes of unexpected personality and whimsy around every corner.

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Tiny houses in the trees, Vancouver.

There are decorative birdhouses nailed haphazardly to trees, micro-libraries in wooden boxes, miniature vegetable gardens in the roundabouts at intersections, and elaborate chalk art on quiet streets.

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A whimsical parklet off of Main Street in Vancouver.

There are also nano parks on busy commercial corners, providing bench seating and a splash of nature for tired urbanites.

10. Whales

How many major cities can you name where whales can and do swim right into the city centre? To be honest, I have yet to see whales in Vancouver but I always keep my eyes open when I ride around English Bay and Stanley Park because… whales in the city!

Who needs the aquarium? (Answer: No one. Capturing wild animals for human entertainment is just wrong – please do not visit Vancouver Aquarium.)

Instead, watch this video of Orcas in Vancouver Harbour (and enjoy the hilarious Canadian accents).

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11. Multiculturalism

When we left Vancouver on our first trip to Europe way back in the 90s, we were shocked by the relative monoculture of European society. Even in cities that are widely multi-cultural, like London or Paris, the neighbourhoods tend to be divided by ethnicity.

Not so in Vancouver, where people of almost every culture you can imagine seem to have been shaken up and scattered across the city. In Vancouver, kids go to school with kids who don’t look like them and don’t celebrate the same holidays, and you can easily find streets that house an Italian deli next to a Malaysian hawker stall next to Middle Eastern grocery store.

multicultural, Vancouver

Multiculturalism is just a part of Vancouver’s DNA.

Of course there are a few dominant cultures in Vancouver and there are neighbourhoods where certain cultures congregate, but visiting Vancouver can be like a mini trip around the world, with different cultures happily co-existing wherever you go.

12. Coffee Culture

Tim Horton’s is Canada’s leading coffee retailer which means our people have been steeped too long in a dark, dark roast. Finally, a tribe of lighter roasts are starting to emerge on the Vancouver scene.

49th Parallel Coffee Roasters started small, but quickly grew to be a massive roaster in the speciality coffee world. Lucky’s Donuts (who sadly don’t make any vegan donuts) have locations in their cafés. There is also people-watching galore, making 49th Parallel feel like Vancouver’s answer to American hip coffee chain Intelligentsia.

speciality coffee, best coffee Vancouver, Elysian Coffee Vancouver

Service at Vancouver’s Matchstick Coffee is friendly and personal.

Elysian Coffee and Matchstick Coffee Roasters are two of Stephen’s favourite roasters in town, with their smaller production and customer-centred approach. Plus, they both work with the lighter roasts around which Stephen’s entire world revolves. Elysian can’t be beat for its location on the Ontario Street Bike Route, just around the corner from 33 Acres Brewing.

13. Insane Views

It doesn’t really matter where you are in Vancouver, stop to look around and you’ll probably see a gorgeous view.

False Creek, a deep blue inlet dotted with sailboats, kayaks, and luxury yachts, separates downtown from many of the city’s residential districts.

Vancouver scenery

False Creek never fails to impress on a sunny day in Vancouver.

Golden beaches line both sides of English Bay and the wide open Georgia Straight beyond provides plenty of gazing material for beachgoers.

scenery, beaches, English Bay, Vancouver

Vancouver’s beaches are a view-lover’s dream.

Look to the north from almost anywhere in the city and you’ll see the glorious Coast Mountains towering over the city.

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Vancouver’s scenic Lion’s Gate Bridge.

We’ve visited and enjoyed cities all around the world, but we’ve never seen one that can match the beauty of Vancouver.

14. Food Trucks

Once upon a time, the only street food to be had in Vancouver were greasy hot dogs or chewy roasted chestnuts from the carts along downtown Vancouver’s Robson and Granville Streets. Those carts are still there, but now they have competition from more than 100 gourmet food trucks which offer a variety that reflects the multicultural nature of the city.

Fans of food cooked in a moving vehicle can visit North Vancouver (near the SeaBus station) on Friday nights for the Shipyards Night Market, where a seemingly endless array of trucks gathers to feed hungry locals. Or go to the Olympic Village on Sunday afternoons for Food Cart Fest. You can nibble your way around the trucks, sip on local brews, watch bands, and play games in the summer sun. We weren’t in Vancouver long enough to choose our favourite trucks, so let us know if you find one you love!

15. The SeaBus

Public transportation is usually dark, stinky, overcrowded, and a generally unpleasant experience. Not so with Vancouver’s SeaBus, which is efficient, fast, and a relaxing way to get from downtown Vancouver to the North Shore. The trip across Vancouver Harbour takes less than 15 minutes, making the SeaBus a quick and stress-free alternative to driving over the traffic-choked Lion’s Gate Bridge. I never get tired of bobbing out onto the water alongside the city’s commuters and gazing back at Vancouver’s striking waterfront. As an extra bonus, your bike is welcome on the SeaBus for free!

16. Creamy, Delicious Pudding

Do we really need to explain this one? Vegan Pudding & Co is a little hole-in-the-wall (literally) in downtown Vancouver where you can order up a delicious creamy serving of organic vegan pudding. What’s not to love? Go ahead and top your creamy treat with some organic vegan whipped cream. Seriously yum.

vegan, vegan food, Vancouver vegan, vegan pudding, Vegan Pudding & Co

Get a creamy serving of organic vegan pudding at Vancouver’s Vegan Pudding & Co.

Vegan Pudding & Co also pops up in markets across the city – check their Facebook page for the schedule.

17. Mountains

It takes less than an hour to drive from downtown Vancouver into the wilderness of the Coast Mountain Range. From the parking lot at one of the local ski areas (Cypress, Grouse or Seymour), you can hike, snowshoe, cross-country ski, downhill ski or mountain bike, pretty much any day of the year. (Snow permitting, of course.)

Black Mountain, Vancouver, hiking, visit Vancouver

The summit at Black Mountain provides mind-boggling views of Vancouver.

This is the kind of wilderness you don’t find adjacent to most cities; the kind where if you accidentally wander off the trail, you could become inextricably lost amongst bears, cougars, and other deadly wildlife. Luckily, there are plenty of well-marked hikes available, so if you stick to the trails, the only exposure you’ll suffer is to some astonishingly glorious views of Vancouver.

Vancouver in the summer could just be the best place on Earth. Not convinced? You will be after you read these 17 Reasons to Visit Vancouver This Summer!

Yup, Vancouver rocks. It’s always fun, but in the summer when the sun actually shines it is easily the best city in the world (that we’ve seen). Plan your trip for July or August, bring or rent a bike, and spend at least a few weeks if you can.

Related: Heading to Victoria, too? Check out the Best Things to Do in Victoria by See Her Travel →

  Happy adventures, Stephen & Jane

3 comments

  1. Pingback: 3 Unbelievably Gorgeous Vancouver Bike Routes | My Five Acres

  2. Comment by Maaike - Travellous World

    Maaike - Travellous World Reply August 1, 2015 at 1:33 pm

    I visited Vancouver two years ago and absolutely loved it! It just has everything all wrapped up in a super attractive package: nature, city life, great food, great drinks, shopping, going out options… You name it. Add to that the kindness of the people of the city and the possibility to bike such a beautiful route in Stanley Park and along the sea (as a Dutchie, I find biking very very important obviously ;) ) and you really have it all. Thanks for this roundup, I definitely see some new things to try and see for myself whenever I make my next visit.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane August 6, 2015 at 9:17 am

      Thanks for the comment Maaike. Cycling in Vancouver is really amazing – we are working on a post about a few bike routes we love there, so next time you visit, you can try out some new ones.
      J

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