I have lived in Vancouver for almost 30 years and I have always lived within walking distance to one beach or another. Partly because there are beaches EVERYWHERE! And partly because I think once you experience living close to the ocean, it is very difficult to leave. This is especially true with Vancouver beaches. They are beautiful. Every single one of my favourite Vancouver beaches has spectacular views of something. Whether it’s downtown Vancouver, the Coastal mountains and beyond, or mesmerizing boat life, I can spend hours sitting or walking and just looking.
My Favourite Vancouver Beaches
There are a lot of similarities when I compare my favourite Vancouver beaches. If you are trying to decide which one to go to, rest assured they will all have the following.
Access by the Seawall
They are all accessible by the Seawall. The Seawall is the world’s largest uninterrupted waterfront path. It is 28km or 17mi and goes from Stanley Park to Spanish Banks Park (near the University of British Columbia).
You can walk, bike or even inline skate along the Seawall. Reasonably priced rental bikes and helmets are available all over the city through Mobi, Vancouver’s public bike share system. You don’t have to return the bikes back to where you found them. Rather, drop them off at the next Mobi station nearest to your ultimate destination.
Food is Available
Depending on the time of year, it is easy to purchase food at each of my favourite Vancouver beaches. Some have full blown licensed restaurants on the beach, while others have easy access to a variety of restaurants with a short walk away. They all have concession stands that sell the traditional hamburgers, hot dogs and fish and chips. However, concession stands are not open in the winter during bad weather.
Alcohol is Prohibited
Vancouver has some pretty archaic laws related to alcohol. The most annoying is that you can’t purchase any alcohol from convenience or grocery stores. You can only purchase alcohol from government run liquor stores or from “off sale” liquor stores, both of which can be easily located. The “off sale” liquor stores usually have longer opening hours but sell alcohol at a premium.
You can not drink alcohol on the beach unless you are at a licensed restaurant. Police patrol the beaches in the summer and you will be fined if you are caught.
Life Guards are on duty
Each of my favourite Vancouver beaches has life guards on duty from Victoria Day to Labour Day (end of May to beginning of September).
Space to Run Around
Most of the Vancouver beaches have large grassy areas nearby to throw a frisbee or football or the beach itself is very wide. Accordingly, there is a lot of space for privacy or to hang out with friends.
Notwithstanding the similarities, there are a lot of differences among my favourite Vancouver beaches. They each have their own character and offer different activities and food choices. Here are my five favourite Vancouver beaches in geographic order from Stanley Park to UBC.
Second beach is located in Stanley Park. Stanley Park 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.
Second Beach has lots of paid parking within easy walking distance. It has a beautiful ginormous outdoor pool with water slides that only costs a few dollars to use. Two playgrounds and concession stand are nearby.
Two advantages to Second Beach
One huge advantage to Second Beach is the unlimited access to all that Stanley Park has to offer. In a previous blog called Stanley Park in Vancouver: 10 of My Favourite Things, I highlight my favourite activities in Stanley Park that are either free or very reasonably priced. Many of those things are a short walk from Second Beach, such as the Pitch and Putt, the Ted and Mary Grieg Rhododendron Garden and the tennis courts.
Another advantage to Second Beach is that it is in downtown Vancouver where most Vancouver hotels are located. If you are not interested in biking to the beach or do not have your own car, then this beach (along with English Bay beach) would likely be the cheapest taxi ride away.
If you are interested in a glass of wine and a sit down meal, the TeaHouse Restaurant in Stanley Park is a 15 minute walk along the Seawall from Second Beach. This restaurant has a large outdoor patio and a refined menu offering brunch, lunch and dinner. Stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and mountains are available almost everywhere.
English Bay Beach
English Bay Beach is found just outside Stanley Park, a 20 minute walk along the Seawall from Second Beach (in the opposite direction from the TeaHouse Restaurant). However, it has a completely different vibe to Second Beach.
English Bay beach has an urban feel to it. The beach is very close to the roads, one of which is Denman Street which is packed with restaurants and eateries for every appetite and budget. This beach is a good option for those of you who want to combine exploring the city with some beach time. Denman street ultimately connects up with Robson street which has some fantastic shopping starting around Broughton Street. All told, this walk would likely take around 30 minutes.
Like Second Beach, English Bay is easily reached from any hotel in downtown Vancouver. Parking in English Bay can be tricky, especially in the summer. For that reason alone, I would suggest another beach from my list if you are driving.
There isn’t a lot of grass to throw a frisbee or kick a ball, unless you walk in either direction – towards Second Beach in Stanley Park or to Sunset Beach towards the Burrard Street bridge.
Cactus Club Restaurant has a location right on the beach at English Bay. This is a fabulous place to have cocktails and watch the sunset.
We are now heading out of downtown and over the Burrard Street bridge to Kitsilano Beach. This is one of my favourite Vancouver beaches because it has everything. It combines together all that is good from Second Beach and English Bay beach.
Like Second Beach, there is a large outdoor pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It is open to the public in the summer and costs only a few dollars to enter. It has a large grassy area, playgrounds, and free tennis, beach volleyball and basketball courts.
Like English Bay beach, there are many restaurants and cafes just a few minutes walk away. However, Kitsilano Beach is a little removed from the main road and is nestled in a beautiful neighbourhood. Accordingly, it retains a more relaxed atmosphere and doesn’t have that urban feel like English Bay Beach does.
Similarly to English Bay, there is phenomenal shopping close by, but in this case, it is only a 10 minute walk away. Just above Kitsilano Beach is West 4th street. There are a few well known stores like Urban Outfitters, Lululemon and North Face. However, the majority of stores are Vancouver owned and operated with lots of cool fashion choices appropriate for both young and old for reasonable prices.
Parking in off season is not a problem. There is a large paid parking lot at the beach. However, it is a problem in the summer months. Most of the street parking is for the residents of the neighbourhood.
There is a concession stand open in the summer and intermittently in the winter (dependent on the weather). For those that want a sit down meal with a glass of wine on the beach, Watermark Restaurant is available.
Jericho Beach is a 45 minute walk west of Kitsilano Beach, enroute to the University of British Columbia. If you indeed choose to walk there from Kitsilano Beach, you will pass some of the most expensive real estate in Canada along the water on Point Grey Road.
Jericho Beach is the start of an enormous beachfront and park system that almost reaches the University of British Columbia. You are completely removed from any urban feel and are surrounded by the beach, the Pacific Ocean and recreational activities.
Jericho Beach has several free tennis courts, a pier (from where locals will often fish) and a swimming dock. Jericho Sailing Centre is also located here. Sailboats, kayaks, rowboats, skim boards and windsurfers are available to rent. If you want a guide or a lesson, those can also be arranged here.
Food choices are limited. There are three places to purchase food. There is a concession stand that is open all summer long and in good weather in the winter and two no frill restaurants. The first is NSCS Discovery in the Youth Hostel, about 100 m or 330 ft. from the beach. Opening hours are untraditional. You may want to contact them to confirm their hours on the day that you are visiting.
The second is The Galley Patio and Grill in the Jericho Sailing Centre. The menu consists of a burger bar, lots of fried fish options, and some salads. A simple beer and wine menu is also available. This restaurant has killer ocean views and an ocean view patio. You will be hard pressed to find another beach front restaurant in Vancouver with such low beer and wine prices.
There is lots of parking in and around Jericho Beach.
Spanish Banks Beach
Spanish Banks Beach is the farthest beach from downtown Vancouver and is the most removed from an urban setting. It has the least amount of activities for you to do while there, but it is still one of my favourite Vancouver beaches. Why?
It is an enormous stretch of beach with very little to distract you from the natural surroundings. In front, there is the Pacific Ocean and the beach with unbelievable views, and behind is Pacific Spirit Regional Park which offers a network of walking and biking trails in more than 750 hectares or 1850 acres of forest. Nothing else. Here you feel like you have driven for hours out of Vancouver and found this little piece of paradise tucked away someplace. But, you haven’t had to do that. You have either walked 20 minutes from Jericho Beach along the Seawall or driven 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver.
One of my favourite things to do at this beach is to walk out onto the tidal flats at low tide. During low tide, the water recedes hundreds of yards or meters from the beach. This allows you to walk into what feels like the centre of the Pacific Ocean and explore what has been left behind. It is a magical experience that is loved by children and adults alike.
Not a lot of food is available here. There are a couple of concession stands but they have limited menus and operating hours, and no alcoholic beverages.
There is a lot of free parking but parking would still be challenging on a beautiful summer weekend day. Unfortunately, if the parking lots are full, the only option is to park in the nearby neighbourhood, a minimum 20 minute walk away.
The Best Vancouver Beaches?
Quite frankly, you really can’t go wrong when you decide to spend some time at a beach in Vancouver. You will be exposed to spectacular views and wonderful activities, depending on the beach. The question will be which one do you pick first!
For other Vancouver recommendations, please see:
- Stanley Park in Vancouver: 10 of My Favourite Things;
- Granville Island in Vancouver: 10 of My Favourite Things;
- Vancouver Airport with Kids: 7 Layover Ideas.
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