(Aug 18-29, 2016)
Welcome To Beautiful British Columbia!
For those of you who don’t know this about me, I’ve got an uncle that lives in Coquitlam, B.C. where he works for Westjet as a pilot! Alex and I have been wanting to visit him for a while now (I’ve been twice before with the family, and Alex has never been), but we just didn’t have the budget for it. However, since my uncle hooked us up with some flight deals and offered for for us to stay at his place for the 11 days we planned on being there, we couldn’t say no! Plus, I’ve got two other friends living in Vancouver and Whistler right now, so the timing worked out perfectly for a visit.
We arrived on Thursday, and spent the first night hanging out with Uncle Brian, who we haven’t seen since last Christmas, and Ginger & Snickers (his dog & cat), who I haven’t seen since my last visit.
Brian lives in Coquitlam, which is about an hour East of Vancouver, but has pretty easy and consistent buses & trains to get to Vancouver, which is where we planned on spending a lot of our time, exploring in & around the city! We planned a visit with my friend Brad in Vancouver for the next couple nights, and a visit with Derek & Ashley (living in Whistler) for later in the week.
Here are 15 of the things (in no particular order) that we got up to that I’d highly recommend if you’re in the area. This covers MOST of what we did, though of course there are endless activities in and around Vancouver, and countless hikes throughout Whistler and all over B.C. that we didn’t get to. Here is what WE did in our 11 days:
#1 Take The Sky Train
If you’re staying outside of Vancouver, the Sky Train is basically your best option for getting into the city. Not only that, but it is actually super cool! The first time I went on a sky train was in Bangkok, and I instantly loved the idea. There is nothing worse than being stuck commuting to/from work or school every day when you live outside of a city, and as someone who commuted for an hour by bus & subway in Toronto, I think that the worst part of it was just being stuck inside and underground for the subway ride. It feels dungeon-y, and you can’t look at anything other than your shoes or the people around you, and there’s just no air!
The sky train in Vancouver was the total opposite. We looked out the windows the entire time and felt the warmth of the sun, and fresh air that flooded the train every time the doors opened and closed at each stop. A very different experience from the transit system back home, and a much better one at that! Planning a route is easy once you’ve figured out the website here, but all of the information you need is on the Translink website. I’d suggest looking on a map for the train stop nearest to your destination first, and making sure you know the name of that stop, as well as the name of the stop closest to your starting point. All you do from there is plug in your information, and the time you’re looking to leave/arrive, and it’ll do the rest for you!
It even tells you how much the trip will cost, and if you need to transfer from a bus to get to the train (like we did from Coquitlam). Make sure you bring exact change (no bills) for the bus rides, but if you’re just taking the train you can pay at any station for a compass card (your ticket) by credit card. In total, it cost us about $7 to get to the city, which wasn’t too bad at all. The people working at the stations are also really helpful if you need it, and if all else fails, just ask someone else! Most people don’t bite, and they’re usually more than happy to help us dummy tourists out. Who knows, you may even make friends out of it!
#2 Sunset Beach!
The downtown area of Vancouver is basically a peninsula, with Stanley Park (North) and the surrounding areas all connecting through bridges and small land strips. On the South Western facing shoreline of Vancouver, you will find a rocky beach looking out over the English Bay, called Sunset Beach. (Click here for the location on Google Maps). On our second night in B.C., our friend Brad took us out to the beach with some of his friends in Vancouver. We brought some drinks, and hung out by the water to watch the sunset. A lot of people seem to come to this beach for the sunset, but when the group of us sat out on the rocks by the shore we were far enough away from every other group that it felt pretty secluded actually, and we got to chat for a few hours and enjoy each others company, with the English Bay sunset view as our backdrop. As far as vacations go, you can’t ask for a whole lot more than great sunsets with great people.
Brad was generous enough to let us crash at his place for a couple of nights, so that we could hang out with him and check out some of the city together for the next few days. He lives right downtown, which was ideal for sightseeing around the city… and check out this view!
#3 Granville Island: Brewery, Public Market, Food & Views!
South of downtown Vancouver, just under the bridge, (click for Google Maps) is one of my favourite little areas that I’ve been in B.C. so far. Granville Island is a tiny island that couldn’t take more than 30 minutes or so to walk around entirely, and it is an awesome spot for shopping, art, music and food! The island even has its own brewery, Granville Island Brewing, which distributes all over Canada, so you may have even tried it before. We made an appointment online in the morning for Brad, Vanessa, Alex & Myself to go for a brewery tour there, which only cost about $11 each for an hour-ish long tour, where we got to learn about the brewing process, the company, and of course (most importantly) the taste! We had an awesome tour guide, and a great group of people with us who made the experience even better. Cheers!
The Granville Island Public Market is just around the corner from the brewery, and a top spot for shopping for basically all things food. Fish, meats, cheese, fresh fruit (even some I haven’t seen since Asia), sweets, snacks, drinks and all sorts of awesome lunch spots in the middle of it all. It’s a busy area, and easy to get lost in the middle of it all, but amazing to see, and a great place for all of your snacking needs.
The 4 of us met up with Brad’s friend Lena (on a working visa from Germany) for lunch after the brewery tour, and spent the rest of the day together sightseeing & exploring the area. For lunch we decided to get some fish on Granville Island. The fish & chips here are an absolute must, but watch out for the seagulls outside! They are relentless, and Alex learned pretty quickly that they’re also not shy. Eat quickly (which won’t be hard, since it’s so delicious) and keep on the lookout.
Make sure you take your time to walk around the outside edge of the island, looking out over False Creek and English Bay, with a view of Vancouver across the water. You will see hundreds of boats all around the island and marina, so sit, eat, watch & enjoy!
#4 Kitsilano Beach!
After lunch we decided to walk around Granville, and make our way West, all the way around to Kitsilano Beach, South of the downtown Vancouver peninsula, also facing the English Bay. This beach is one of the most recommended beaches in the area, and once we arrived we could see why. Everyone was barbecuing, laying in the sun and relaxing by the water with a view of the boats all over English Bay, yet another awesome sunset spot.
The houses nearby are all incredible, and as we walked we admired the view of the Bay to our right, as we passed by the rows of multi-million dollar homes, whose owners get to enjoy this view daily (only a little bit jealous). It’s an easy area to walk to from Granville, but if you’re coming from farther you may want to rent a bike, and if you’re coming from Vancouver I’d say take a taxi or use ride share to get across the main bridge first (the bridge is a massive highway bridge that would be a bit terrifying to bike over unless you’re a pro). There are a ton of bike rental places all around the Vancouver area, and I’d say it is one of the best (and fastest) ways to explore.
#5 Explore Downtown Vancouver!
The downtown area in Vancouver is extremely small, and super easy to walk all the way around and through if you’ve got a free day to explore. Brad took us on the grand tour of the area, and while our feet were sore by the end of the day, I will always stand by my belief that walking around a city by foot is one of the best things to do as a traveller.
We walked all the way around, stopping for photos at the A-maze-ing Laughter bronze sculptures in Morton Park (artist: Yue Minjun) in the West end, where we climbed around for a bit before checking out English Bay beach, which is basically just behind the sculptures. The beach is an awesome spot to hang out and relax, and there are a bunch of big logs all over it if you’re looking for a spot to sit and enjoy the view… and it’s right inside the city! We also checked out the olympic cauldron, and walked along the Vancouver harbour near Canada Place & the Vancouver Convention Centre. This city is absolutely stunning.
Later in the evening, we met up at an Earl’s restaurant right downtown on Robson Street (the main shopping street) for some rooftop Mojitos… The rooftop patio here was perfect, and the mojitos were the best I’ve had. Highly recommend.
Also, if you’re looking to shop during the day or party at night, the Robson Street area is what you’re looking for. Tons of bars, tons of restaurant, and way too many places to shop.
#6 Hike The Coquitlam Crunch!
If you’re like me, and not really feeling like you could handle the Grouse Grind in your current physical state, I’d definitely recommend the Coquitlam Crunch trail. It’s nothing too crazy, and of course the views won’t be anything like those from Whistler or Grouse Mountain, but since we spent a couple of days “taking it easy” in Coquitlam, we figured we’d make the most of them and go for a mini hike.
At the start point of the trail, you will find a small parking lot just past Scott Creek Middle School (on the left), when you’re heading West on Lansdowne Drive, off of Guilford Way. Parking is free, and the trail starts right there, easy peasy!
From the parking lot, you will head North on the trail to the top of the hill where the trail ends, at Eagle Mountain Dr. (about 2.3km from the parking lot, click here for the full route on Google Maps). The trail is only about 5km round trip, though of course the first half is uphill, so it’s a bit of a challenge (but it only took us 1hr 15min total, and we’re no athletes). There are lots of signs along the way marking the trail, and most of the steep spots on the hill have stairs on them, so it’s completely doable for pretty much anyone, and it’s up to you how challenging you want to make it and how fast you’d like to go. (Some of the people we saw were running all the way up and back down again several times in a row for their workout… maybe next time…). The view from the top wasn’t incredibly exciting, but if you’re in Coquitlam and looking for a nice little hike like we were, I’m sure you’ll find this fits your needs.
After our hike, we drove about 25 minutes to the Old Bavaria Haus (in New Westminster) for some schnitzel dinner with Uncle Brian. If you happen to be in the area and you like traditional Bavarian/German style food, I’d definitely recommend this spot. It’s a bit on the fancy side, and a little bit pricey (expect to spend $20-$30 per person at the end), but absolutely worth it. I tried the schnitzel with crab meat and hollandaise sauce on it and it was incredible. Massive portions, delicious food, it will not disappoint… Make sure you’ve worked up an appetite beforehand!
#7 Capilano Suspension Bridge!
The Capilano Suspension Bridge is located just North of Vancouver, and about an hour drive from Coquitlam with traffic (where we were staying), or just a quick 15-20 minutes from downtown Vancouver. Tickets can be purchased in advance online, or at the entrance. If you have a CAA card, make sure you bring it with you for a 10% discount (a nice surprise!), which meant our tickets cost us about $37, compared to the regular price of $40 per adult. It’s a fairly expensive attraction in the Vancouver area, but definitely worth checking out at least once.
The bridge itself is 140m long, and 70m above the river, and the surrounding areas are full of the famously massive trees that grow here in British Columbia. Once you’re in the park, all of the areas are free to explore. The treetop adventure will take you on miniature suspension bridges from tree to tree, and the cliff walk will take you out above the river on a walkway that hangs off of the side of the cliff for a pretty awesome view overlooking the area.
In total, I’d suggest giving yourself an hour and a half to 2 hours to explore the area, but probably no more than that. It’s super touristy and there are usually a lot of people there (try to go earlier rather than later in the day), but like I said it is worth checking out at least once in your life.
Dogs are also allowed in the park, and so we decided to bring Ginger with us! Please note though, if your dog is anything like Ginger, they may not be a huge fan of the bridge idea… be prepared to carry them like Brian did!
#8 Explore Stanley Park, By Foot & By Bike!
Since we had a decent amount of time in the area, Alex and I actually went to Stanley Park twice, once with Uncle Brian for a short walk with Ginger, and once by bike (which we rented just outside of the park).
The park is almost an island, connected to North Vancouver by the Lions Gate Bridge, and Downtown Vancouver from the south (here it is on the map). In total, the distance around Stanley Park is about 9km along the Seawall, which takes about 2-3hrs to walk, or an hour to bike around (depending on your speed or how often you stop for photos of course). The Seawall starts at the Convention Centre in downtown Vancouver, then continues around Stanley Park and the Southern shoreline of downtown all the way to Kits beach (22km in total) if you’re looking for a bigger route. Click here for a little map for reference.
We tried some Japadogs by the park entrance, which are Japanese hot dogs, so basically sushi-type ingredients on hot dogs. They’re interesting, and worth a try if you haven’t had them before, but nothing too exciting. For me they were more of a novelty item than anything.
When we went to the park for the second time by bike, we rented at Spokes, close to the park entrance, for only $20 each (for 2 hours). We biked all the way around the park, but decided not to continue to Kits beach since we had already walked that whole route with Brad earlier in the week. The loop took us a total of about an hour and a half, including our stops along the way for photos. We chose a great day for it in terms of weather, and enjoyed a nice relaxing bike ride around the park seawall, right next to the water the whole time. Awesome way to spend our afternoon.
#9 Check Out Vancouver Art Gallery!
If you’re into art & museums, you definitely cannot miss the Vancouver Art Gallery. (Click here for location and hours on Google Maps). At $24 admission ($18 for students) it’s not incredibly cheap, but generally speaking a lot of large art galleries I’ve been to are similarly priced so it’s what I expected. The layout of the gallery is really nice, 3 floors around an open round centre. When Alex & I went, the show “Picasso and His Muses” was up, which was absolutely amazing, and took a look at the artist in a way that I had not experienced up until then.
Throughout the rest of the gallery, we got to see some beautiful works by Emily Carr & Wolfgang Paalen (on the top floor I believe), among several other exhibits that were extremely well presented in a way that was very digestible and not overwhelming, which is sometimes hard to do in large gallery spaces with multiple exhibitions.
While the exhibitions of course are always changing throughout the year, the gallery space was beautiful, and I’m sure it will leave your art craving satisfied whenever you go.
Outside of the gallery we grabbed a bite at a food truck called “Tacofino,” where we ate a fish burrito the size of my head that was to die for… There were a ton of food trucks in the area, and of course I have no idea what the others were like, but I’d highly recommend Tacofino. If you see the truck, do yourself a favour and get a fish burrito. You won’t regret it.
#10 Go Whale Watching!
While walking around Granville Island, we stumbled across the Prince of Whales Whale Watching company. We went in out of curiosity, sure that we wouldn’t be able to afford it, but figuring it was worth at least asking what options they had available.
As it turns out, their “Ocean Magic Whale Watching Adventures” tour was only $159, (but we paid $143.85, the student price), which actually isn’t too bad at all. Certainly it’s not a cheap activity, but it’s a pretty good deal considering that the tour was 4-5hrs, and the boat went as far South as Victoria & crossed the border into the waters alongside Washington state. We thought about it for a bit, and decided that since we had free accommodation (with my uncle), and we had been cooking a lot of our own meals, we could actually afford it in our budget, and that we had no real reason not to. We booked the tour for the following morning, where we met at their main office inside the lobby of the Westin Bayshore Hotel, Vancouver. Our tour left at 2:30pm, and we were back around 7pm.
This time of year (August) is great for Orcas, and we were lucky enough to see 4 or 5 different Resident Killer Whales. The Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) are the smallest of 4 communities within the Northwestern portion of the North America Pacific Ocean. They are sadly now listed as endangered, as there are only about 80 whales that make up the small population. These orcas are known as “fish-eating orcas” as their diet consists of mostly salmon and other fish, but they have been moving farther and father from the coast of British Columbia due to a declining fish population in the area, as well as pollution and contaminants in the water. The boats also disrupt them near the shore, though they are apparently very used to the whale watching boats, especially away from the busy harbour, and are far from shy when it comes to visiting the boats.
The whale population is built upon a matrilineal system (connected by their mothers), and the oldest female within each “pod” of 1-17 individuals, is in charge. We were lucky enough to even catch a peek at Granny, the oldest known killer whale, estimated to have been born around 1911 (about 105 years old), which is pretty spectacular. Apparently they were able to guess the date in part due to a small mark on her dorsal fin, which appears to have been made by a musket, when they (during the time) would use dorsal fins for shot practise.
My photos were taken using the GoPro, which unfortunately is great for just about everything except distance shots, so I grabbed one or two photos but mostly just enjoyed watching the whales (which actually came quite close to the boat). We saw each whale pop out of the water several times, as well as some sea lions, porpoises, and deer (on the land as we passed through a very quiet area) all along the way. It was honestly well worth the money for a half day of sightseeing from the boat, and our guides made the experience even more enjoyable. I’d definitely recommend it for anyone looking to see some whales while in B.C., and I’m pretty sure they have an office in Victoria as well as Vancouver (where we went) for booking. Bring some snacks if you don’t want to spend money on the snacks available on the boat, and make sure you bring a jacket (it gets pretty cold) as well as a good camera for distance shots… and have fun!
#11 Go To Whistler!
So this probably goes without saying, but Whistler is absolutely AMAZING. If you love mountains and hiking around from one spectacular view to another, this is the place for you (and if you don’t love mountains and spectacular views then what is wrong with you? Seriously…)
Getting to Whistler (especially from Coquitlam) is an expense of its own unfortunately, and a lot of the round trip options for trains and buses are very pricey, and not at all what we were hoping for. What we ended up doing to save a bunch of cash was taking the bus & sky train to Vancouver, where we got off at the Main St. Science Centre stop, and walked across the road to the Pacific Central Station, where the Greyhound leaves from. We booked our greyhound tickets in advance online, but remember that for Greyhound they unfortunately insist on a printed copy of your ticket as you board the bus, so take that into account when booking. Our round trip Greyhound tickets cost us each only about $50, which was less than half of what we had seen online with other bus services, so we were happy. From Vancouver, the bus left at 2:30pm, and arrived in Whistler at around 5pm (2.5hrs trip), with one stop in the middle.
There are several hostels, hotels and Airbnb options inside Whistler town or the village area, but they’re definitely not cheap. Lucky for me though, my friend Derek and his girlfriend Ashley actually live in Whistler, and offered Alex & I their couch to crash on for 2 nights, which we will be eternally grateful for. Not only did they offer their couch, but they basically were our own private guides who even cooked for us and took us to their favourite spots while we were there, for which I seriously cannot thank them enough (locals always know best!).
From wherever you’re staying in Whistler, you’ve got a ton of options for hiking and exploring. If you’d like to stick to Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, it’s easy to buy lift tickets to the top from the village, though it ain’t cheap. I’ve been on the Peak 2 Peak Gondola here as well (a few years ago, that links Whistler & Blackcomb mountains from the top), which is a really amazing view, and definitely worth doing. However, since we’re on a tight budget, and since we had Derek & Ashley with us willing to take us to some of their favourite hikes (for free) we decided we were happy to skip the big tourist area at the main mountains this time, and go for some of the hikes that they recommended. The first hike was at Joffre Lake…
#12 Hike To Joffre Lake!
About an hour Northeast of Whistler, you’ll find Mount Currie, and Joffre Lakes Provincial Park. You’ll find a parking lot (free parking, yay!) at the bottom of the hike, just off of Duffey Lake Rd. I’d highly recommend going as early as possible, to avoid the crowds and to give you a chance to take some awesome photos without having to wait in a lineup. We left at about 5:30am after a quick breakfast, and drove for an hour up to the mountain. We saw a nasty car accident along the way, which wasn’t hard to imagine happening on such winding roads, so whatever you do, please drive safely and slowly.
From the parking lot, it’s only about a 2 minute walk down the trail until you’re at the bottom lake, where we put tiny bits of granola bars out on our hands as the Whiskey Jacks (birds) swooped down and landed on our hands. We laughed as we took turns, all of us squealing except for Derek who somehow was unfazed by the birds landing on him.
Within the area are 3 lakes: Upper Joffre Lake (the largest one at the top), a smaller lake in the middle, and Lower Joffre Lake (medium sized, at the beginning of the hike). The trail is extremely straight forward and well travelled, so there’s nothing to worry about in terms of getting lost or confused, and you can click here for a link to the Map of the whole area. It’s about 4km to the top, or 8km round trip, and it took us close to 3hrs, including the time we spent standing around admiring the view and taking photos along the way.
It was fairly challenging, and I definitely had to stop a few times along the way to catch my breath, but it was totally doable for most fitness levels I’d say, and just take your time if you need it. Whatever you do, just remember to GO EARLY. We had each lake entirely to ourselves on our way up, but passed by a TON of people on our way back down. The hike & the views along the way are ten times more enjoyable without a crowd.
The blue water in each lake is absolutely spectacular, but the best view is definitely at the top, where you’ll get an awesome view of the glacier and mountain top. Sit down for a bit, take some photos, and enjoy the view!
#13 Chill Out at Rainbow Park!
On the West side of Alta Lake in Whistler, is a gorgeous grass (and some sand) beach/park by the water called Rainbow Park! After our hike with Derek & Ashley, the 4 of us met up with a few of their other friends in the park for some beach volleyball and relaxation.
The park is an awesome little spot to hang out that seems to be pretty popular around here, but not too crazy busy. If you have the weather for it, bring some drinks, a beach blanket, a volleyball and some equally crappy volleyball players and enjoy!
#14 Check Out Brandywine Falls!
Just a 15 minute drive from Whistler, is Brandywine Falls Provincial Park. Just off of the sea to sky highway, you’ll find parking and a trail that leads you right to the top of the falls at a lookout point.
Apparently, the best view is not from the top, but the bottom, which unfortunately isn’t a part of the trail anymore. The rocky pathway leading down to the bottom of the falls is now marked by a “No Entry, $115 Fine” sign at the top, but it was pretty clear that just about everyone ignores this sign and goes to the bottom as long as there are no park rangers around. Of course, that’s exactly what we did.
The falls are 70m high, and actually one of the nicest waterfalls I’ve seen. It was a bit rainy when we went, but still an absolutely amazing sight from the bottom, and worth the wobbly walk down. It only took us about an hour in total to get down and back up again, including the time we spent taking photos of the crystal clear glacier water running from the top down to the river below.
Whatever you do please be careful! It’s a bit slippery down below, so watch your step when you’re trying to get that perfect photo!
#15 The Train Wreck!
Close to both the falls and Whistler, lies a train wreck that has since become a graffiti zone and bike park here in Whistler! To get there, you’ll want to park somewhere relatively close, and then walk to the site. We parked in a small area of shops (click here for our route), and walked about 1.5km along the train tracks to the site.
The cars from the train are spread out throughout the forested area, covered in different graffiti both inside & out, with ramps that have been built leading up to, or off of each section of the train. Cheakamus River runs through the area as well, making for an awesome little area to walk around. We took a few photos, explored the old cars, and left since it was starting to rain.
Until Next Time…
We left Whistler later that day on our Greyhound bus (7:45-9:45, 2hrs), back to Vancouver, where we caught the sky train and then the bus to take us back to Coquitlam. We met back up with my Uncle Brian back at his place for our final night in B.C.
We are so grateful to my Uncle Brian for helping us out with out flights and for letting us stay with him, as well as to Brad for letting us stay with him in Vancouver, and Derek & Ashley for letting us crash in Whistler. In every place we visited, we had friends showing us around and sharing their home with us, and we could not feel more lucky. Thanks again everyone for making this trip possible for us, and for giving us the best 11 days in B.C. we could have ever hoped for.
This certainly won’t be our last time out West, and we’ve come back home with plenty of ideas for our next visit. Until then, cheers to beautiful British Columbia, Canada! We love you!