Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia is a massive park almost entirely framed by the Pacific Ocean. It is 400 hectares in size (just under a 1000 acres!) and sits right in downtown Vancouver. It is packed with walking and bike trails, playgrounds, water activities, restaurants, and recreational sports’ attractions. It’s a local’s and tourist’s mecca that is waiting for you to discover whether you have a few hours, or a couple days to spare.
I have spent many, many days over the years enjoying Stanley Park. One of the best things about it is that there is lots to do for free – if you know where to look!
Here is a list of 10 of my favourite things. They are either free or reasonably priced. Better yet, most of them will appeal to people of all ages.
The Stanley Park seawall is a 5.5mi or 9km uninterrupted paved path around Stanley Park. It has stunning views of the park, the ocean, downtown Vancouver and the North Shore Mountains. I have been to over 55 countries and I have rarely seen anything more beautiful than the views from this path.
Rent a bike, tie up some inline skates, or simply stroll! Everyone is welcome on the Seawall. It is open all year round and completely free to use.
2. Second Beach Pool
Second Beach Pool is an enormous heated outdoor pool that is perched over top of the Seawall and the Pacific Ocean. It has a couple of waterslides suitable for toddlers or for thrill seekers of all ages. On one side, there is a sloped entry; on the other, there are swimming lanes for laps; and in the middle, there is tons of space for having fun. For a few dollars, you can spend the day laying by the pool, swimming or being mesmerized by the breathtaking scenery.
Just outside the pool, is a decent Concession Stand selling hamburgers and fish and chips. There are also vegan and other healthier options. Bring a picnic or buy lunch, you really can’t go wrong.
The pool closes in September.
There are two main beaches in Stanley Park. They are Second Beach and Third Beach. As expected, Second Beach is just next to Second Beach Pool. It is small, but mere steps to the pool, two playgrounds, tennis courts and the Pitch and Park (see below). Third Beach is a 20 minute walk from Second Beach. Third Beach is larger and has lifeguards on duty in the summer months. Both have Concession Stands and picnic tables nearby.
Beaches are open all year round, although Concession stands and lifeguards (at Third Beach) are seasonal. They are free of charge to use.
Ok, maybe adults without children won’t be too interested in this, but there are several playgrounds in Stanley Park. One of the best is right next to Second Beach Pool. Take a break from swimming or laying about in the sun, and challenge yourself to some monkey bars!
These playgrounds are free and open all year round.
5. Stanley Park Pitch and Putt
Pitch and Putt is a 10 minute walk from Second Beach Pool. It is an 18 hole golf course with holes that range between 40 – 100 yards in length. The course is largely nestled under enormous trees and in between beautiful flower gardens (see below). For a couple of bucks, you can rent clubs or buy a golf ball or two on site. At $10 (USD) for a round (adults – less for youths and seniors), it is a fantastic way to spend a couple of hours enjoying the outdoors.
6. Tennis Courts
Just behind the Stanley Park Pitch and Putt are 11 tennis courts that are free for most of the year. In the summer months, six courts are operated as pay courts during certain hours. Those cost $11 USD per hour. You can book them a week in advance by calling the Stanley Park Pro Shop. Racket rentals and tennis balls are also available for purchase at the Pro shop.
There are three spectacular gardens at Stanley Park within walking distance of each other.
First is the Ted and Mary Grieg Rhododendron Garden located near the Stanley Park Pitch and Putt. This garden has approximately 4500 plants and is at its peak during the first two weeks of May. However, there is always something in bloom and to be discovered between May and September.
Second is the Rose Garden located near the causeway off of Georgia Street. There are approximately 3500 rose bushes. In addition to roses, other annuals and perennials bloom from March to October.
Third is the Shakespeare Garden which is located near the Rose Garden. This garden is made up of diverse trees that are mentioned within Shakespeare’s plays. Each tree has a plaque with the Shakespearen quote from the specific play.
All gardens are free and open to the public year round.
8. Stanley Park Train
A few minutes from the Rose Garden is the Train. The Stanley Park train is a replica of the Canadian Pacific Railway Engine #374, famous for pulling Canada’s first transcontinental passenger train into Vancouver in the late 1880s. This 1.3mi or 2 km ride takes you on an adventure through trees, over trestles, and into tunnels.
It is open from April to the beginning of September, with special train rides during Halloween, Christmas and Easter. Single tickets for regular in season rides range from $2.50 – $5.00 USD (depending on age).
Every time I go to Stanley Park, I take the train, even now that my children are all teenagers. I think it is a timeless experience that I encourage every visitor to Stanley Park to take.
9. Variety Kids Water Park in Stanley Park
From the train, the Water Park is a 10 minute walk away. It is beside the Seawall, mere feet from the Pacific Ocean, with killer views of the North shore Mountains. It is open in June, July and August and it is free for everyone.
Nearby is a Concession stand and picnic tables. I can guarantee you from personal experience that if your child spots this enormous water park on your visit to Stanley Park, you will eventually end up with a wet, soggy, yet very happy child.
10. Totem Poles
If you walk around 15 minutes east from the Water Park, you will come to Brockton Point and the First Nations’ Totem Poles.
This is an outdoor collection of Totem Poles and art produced by a number of different First Nations groups that live all over British Columbia. It is a free exhibition and open all year round.
This is a magnificent introduction to First Nations art and culture. I highly recommend spending time admiring their craftsmanship.
Stanley Park has many wonderful activities that you can enjoy without breaking the bank. It is truly one of the most beautiful places, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
For other Vancouver recommendations, please see:
- Granville Island in Vancouver: 10 of My Favourite Things;
- Vancouver Airport with Kids: 7 Layover Ideas.
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