Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Top 8 Outdoor Activities in Vancouver, British Columbia

As much as Vancouver is known for its sophisticated restaurants and vibrant cultural scene, the city is also an exciting outdoor playground. Within the city limits are miles of sandy beaches for sunning, leafy parks for strolling and biking, and inlets, bays, and wide open waters for paddling and sailing. Plus its moderate climate, highlighted by dry and sunny summers, enable outdoor enthusiasts to take advantage of active pursuits year-round. And if skiing and snowboarding is your thing, you can do that here, too, for snow-capped mountains are only a short drive away! Here are 8 ways to experience Vancouver outdoors:

Bike or Hike Stanley Park Like the Locals

The spiritual center of Vancouver, Stanley Park is a stunning natural setting of placid lagoons, beaches, green meadows, and shaded walking paths that meander through towering cedar and Douglas fir trees. Bike or hike the Seawall promenade which rings the park and provides camera-melting views of sea, sky, and forest. Other diversions include Vancouver Aquarium, the Stanley Park’s Children’s Farm, Lost Lagoon Nature House, and plenty of restaurants should you want to enjoy the sun dipping into the sea during dinner.
Stanley Park Totem Poles
The famous totem poles featured at Stanley Park, a favored hangout of locals in Vancouver

Unwind in a Soothing Urban Retreat

One of the finest urban gardens in Canada, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is a peaceful escape of tranquil ponds and stone walkways. The yin-yang design reflects a balance and harmony of elements, such as dark pebbles placed next to light pebbles and water flowing over solid stones. It’s a soothing experience for sure, and you can really remove yourself from the busy city. Guided tours, included in the ticket, last about 45 minutes, and explain the philosophy and symbolism of the garden’s design.

Beach it!

With more than 60 days of summer sun, Vancouver offers plenty of beaches for sun-worshipers to stretch out on. On the western end of Stanley Park, Second Beach is a popular spot for families, with a playground and heated pool. Farther north along the seawall is secluded Third Beach, a popular spot for summer evening barbeques. In Downtown Vancouver, English Bay Beach provides a great place to see sunsets, while just south is Sunset Beach, another popular spot. In Greater Vancouver is Kitsilano Beach, which is near the Maritime Museum, and Ambleside Park, which faces Burrard Inlet on the North Shore.
English Bay Beach
Relax and people watch at English Bay Beach by Stanley Park in Vancouver

Hiking and Biking on Grouse Mountain

Only a 15-minute drive from Stanley Park, Grouse Mountain is a popular recreation park, drawing hikers and bikers in summer to traverse its myriad trails. Once you arrive, take the SkyRide gondola to the mountain’s 3,700-feet summit, where you can take in an amazing panoramic view of Vancouver and the surrounding countryside. Serious hikers can forgo the gondola, and hike the near vertical Grouse Grind, which takes about 90 minutes to reach the top. If you want to save the activity for another day, take a sunset tour for the views, restaurants, and those amazing sunsets.

Whales and Eagles and Sea Lions – Oh My!

Vancouver waters teem with orcas, or killer whales, and other wildlife. In fact, some 80 whales return to the area every year to feed on the salmon that come to spawn in May in the Fraser River. See the action up-close on a whale-watching tour. You’ll head out on a high-speed boat, learn about wildlife from a trained naturalist, and then look for the whales. You may also spot seals, sea lions, eagles, herons, and other wildlife on your trip.
Vancouver-Whale Watching
Catching sight of a spectacular Orca whale in the waters around the islands by Vancouver

Kayak Scenic Vancouver Waterways

The calm waterways that surround the downtown peninsula provide pleasant kayaking excursions. Rent a kayak on Granville Island for a float on False Creek, or head to North Vancouver for a paddle up the Indian Arm fjord. For a full day adventure, take a Kayaking Adventure from Vancouver, which includes a salmon barbecue lunch on a beach and ample wildlife-spotting opportunities.
Kayaking False Creek
Popular in a city surrounded by water: kayaking False Creek, near Granville Island

Hit the Slopes!

Snowboarding and skiing opportunities abound in Vancouver. You can head to Grouse Mountain for 26 runs, with a vertical drop of 1,200 feet, or Cypress Mountain for 38 downhill runs and a vertical drop of 1,750 feet; both mountains have excellent facilities and are easily accessed from the city. If you have more time, head to Whistler Blackcomb, home to the 2010 Winter Olympics, for world-class slopes and facilities, only 2 hours from Vancouver.
Whistler Skiing
Visualizing the next run down an epic steep slope at Whistler Mountain, British Columbia

Explore Charming Granville Island

One of my favorite Vancouver outdoor experiences is wandering the pedestrian-friendly alleyways on Granville Island on a sunny afternoon. You can spend hours browsing the arts and craft studios, smelling the fresh fish in the food stalls at the Granville Island Public Market, or sipping a glass of wine on a café terrace while watching the kayaks and ferries ply False Creek. If you’re with kids, take them to the Granville Island Water Park for a refreshing splash.