Oct 2-6: Abundant green spaces with ribbons of bike paths weaving through them. This is part of what makes Vancouver such a desirable and livable city. Miles of trails become the playground for young and old urbanites alike to explore some of the best that Vancouver has to offer. Get out on a sunny day and you will see the bike trails come to life. My DIY Vancouver Bike Tours were so much fun, they made it to my Top 5.
We were fortunate enough to have sunny days every day on my visit. And you better believe that the beaches along with Stanley Park and the Kitsilano Peninsula were beckoning. Although you could ride your bike virtually anywhere in the city, I’d like to offer a couple DIY Vancouver bike tours that will get you immersed in the local scene.
DIY Vancouver Bike Tours
Stanley Park Is Vancouverites’ Favorite Spot for Biking
I love a city with a huge urban green space. What is better than escaping city traffic on bike and exploring the trails? All you need to do is rent a bike. Head to Denman St, which is downtown, just three blocks from Stanley Park. The street is lined with bike shops that are more than happy to fit you with a bike that fits your body. In about fifteen minutes, you’ll be off like the wind.
You’ll be entering Stanley Park with Lost Lagoon on your left. The bike lanes go both ways at this point, but soon enough, it will become one way heading counter clockwise around the peninsula. You will officially be on the seawall now. So keep things simple and head to your right. If you are with kids, take note of the train (only runs in summer) and the aquarium. Otherwise, keep on chugging along or there is a visitor center where you can grab a map if you wish.
Almost immediately a total photo op will present itself. The shimmering Vancouver skyline rises up like a phoenix on your right. It provides a dramatic backdrop for the boats of all sizes that reside in the harbor. Before you wrap around Brockton Point, make a point to stop and see the totem poles. They were carved and installed in the 1980’s to recognize the First Nations residents that lived in Stanley Park before it became a public area. There are about ten of them, each one ornately carved and brightly painted. Nearby plaques give context and meaning to the totem poles. It is completely worth the time to breathe in the stories of these gorgeous pieces of art. Their stories are important.
The Stanley Park Seawall
At this point the seawall becomes one way. It continues to hug the coastline and you can make your ride as quick or leisurely as you wish. The next notable stop is at Prospect Point, the northern most point of the park. You are now looking across the water at North Vancouver, which is where Vancouverites go to hike and ski. When you see how close the mountains are to the city, you will understand why people can ski in the morning and hang out on the beach in the afternoon.
Keep on keepin’ on, because Third Beach is coming up. This beach is more expansive and less touristed than Second Beach, which is further on down the seawall. If you are anything like me, this stop will be a must do. A number of huge downed cedar trees make for a nice bench. Right now you are looking west and admiring Vancouver Island from afar. And maybe wondering about all the freight ships hanging out and about in the distance. I wasn’t here for sunset, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it. It would really be the perfect spot for sunset viewing.
Although you can continue down the seawall and exit Stanley Park, I was eager to explore the interior. There are a few trails that lead from Third Beach to Beaver Lake deep inside the park. A map would come in handy at this point, although if you do get lost, just keep going and you will hit the seawall again at some point. This interior exploration could easily be done on foot as well. It has all the makings of a perfect urban hike.
Depending on which trail you took, you will emerge on the seawall again and you just turn left, and follow the flow of traffic until you exit Stanley Park.
Beach Drive is for Riding, Eating and Some A-maze-ing Laughter
It’s still early in the day and maybe you are hungry, so let’s keep on going. Follow the bike path that parallels Beach Drive. Now you have the city to your left and the English Bay on your right. Go past Sunset Beach Park, almost to Granville Bridge and pull over at Ancora Waterfront. With outdoor seating, a prime view of Granville Island, and super fresh Peruvian Japanese food (think sushi with a Latino twist), you may just want to move to Vancouver. Or at least visit more often.
On your way over here, you may have noticed some statues on your left by tiny Morton Park. Well, they are easier to access on your way back. The official name is A-maze-ing Laughter. The unofficial description would be those ten feet tall bronze laughing statues, that all bear resemblance to each other. And the natural thing to do is to mimic them, while your friends takes pictures of you. And vice versa.
A-maze-ing Laughter has an interesting backstory. The artist Yue Minjun creates art in the style of cynical realism. That is a contemporary Chinese movement that emerged out of the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square. Minjun created all the faces to look like him. And he used humor, cynicism, and repetition to engage viewers and create dialogue.
Biking back along Beach Drive will bring you to Denman St, where you just hang a right and return your bike.
Kitsilano and the University Peninsula
We started by taking the bus from downtown over the Granville Bridge. We found our way to Reckless Bike Store on Fir Street and in short order, we were pedaling away. As a note, there are loads of bike rental shops, and they all seem to be reasonably priced and offer decent bikes, so it’s just a matter of location and convenience for picking the one that will work for you. But I will vouch for the fact that Reckless has good service and high quality bikes.
The Kitsilano neighborhood is just southwest of Granville Island and is worth exploring. However we were eager to get moving, so we opted for riding first and checking out Kitsilano on the way back. We followed the bike path that parallels the water. It’s the natural thing to do, since the scenery is most striking. You can backtrack a bit, if you want to catch Vancouver Maritime Museum by False Creek. We rode by it, but didn’t go inside. Living in the Pacific Northwest, we treat each second of sunshine like a sacred moment, knowing our glorious autumnal weathered days are numbered.
Jericho Beach is Along the Way
The bike path will ebb and flow between bike path only areas and riding on the quiet streets. With very well kept and tasteful homes, I may add. Some photo ops will present themselves when you ride through Spanish Banks Beach Park, featuring the popular Jericho Beach.
Although they were closed for the season, I saw signs of concession stands. So keep that in mind should you find yourself on a summer ride. Also, volleyball nets were set up in the sand. It’s been years since I partook, but I know how fun that can be.
Explore Pacific Spirit Regional Park on Foot
The land slowly carries you up in elevation. So be prepared to shift gears as you chug along Marine Drive. And take note of all the green space on your left. You are at the edge of Pacific Spirit Regional Park. There are lots of hiking trails through the park. So depending on your schedule, you can lock up your bike and explore on foot. If you look back east, you will see the highrises and you’ll be reminded that you are close to the city. Yet, it would be easy enough to just immerse yourself in this less populated part of Vancouver and possibly forget the city for a slice of time.
Vancouver’s Prestigious Museum of Anthropology
Keep on going and you will enter the University campus. The Museum of Anthropology is notable and one of Vancouver’s cultural gems. The architecture of the building itself is interesting enough to warrant a stop. And inside it contains cultural artworks from around the world. As in other places in the city, they take special care to honor the First Nations People that the museum ironically has displaced.
The Clothing Optional Wreck Beach
To me, the pinnacle of this bike ride is reaching Wreck Beach. Do look for signs that indicate you can get down to Wreck Beach, as not all trails will allow access. And if you think it is fun climbing down a few hundred steps to reach the beach, you will really have fun climbing back up! By the way, there is bike parking at the top of the steps.
The city now 12 kilometers away is not as prominent. What is more prominent are the nude sunbathers (in October!) and the women who appear to be running up and down the steps, purely for exercise. Serious glute work and a perfect substitute for slaving away at the gym. I would imagine the beach could get pretty crowded in the summer, but it is such a cool place, and so fun biking there, that it would still be totally worth it.
You won’t ever want to go back to the city, but alas, you will need to. Opting for the faster and more direct route toward Kitsilano, we followed Ms Google’s instructions to take 16th Ave. There is only modest development most of the way, until you approach Kitsilano.
Kitsilano Is the Place to Be
If you’ve built up your appetite and it’s before 2 PM (or after 5:30 PM), you are in luck. Fable is a charming farm to table bistro. Fable serves up a humble brunch and it does not disappoint. Soups, fresh veggies and local meat and fish, dominate the menu. Eggs benedict with olive oil hollandaise sauce got my attention.
Fable is located on West 4th Ave, which happens to be the heart of Kitsilano. So take your time after lunch to peruse the shops. It was our last full day there, and so we had the pass up the Hälsa Float Spa experience. Since spas are right up my alley, it will go on my to do list for next time.
Wanderlust is a travel store that deserves flirting with. Half the store sells travel supplies. Luggage and other accessories you didn’t realize you needed, until you walked in. The other half sells travel books. Talk about going down a rabbit hole! The book section is divided into regions and within the region, travel guides are mixed in with travel memoirs. If you have been bitten by the travel bug, you will inevitably leave with more than you walked in with. We did!
The Gourmet Chocolate Arts
Whether you left room for dessert or not, Chocolate Arts deserves a visit. It is a locally owned company that skillfully crafts small batch confections. Truffles and candied fruits are artfully displayed and the chocolates look too good to eat. Well, almost. We indulged in the exotic coffee cardamom truffle and the classical framboise (raspberry) truffle.
Chocolate Arts is on 3rd Ave and right around the corner from the bike shop. After returning the bikes, it was just a matter of minutes before the bus arrived to carry us back downtown. We were smiling the whole way home.
There are other half day bike tours to be had in Vancouver, but Stanley Park and Kitsilano Peninsula are perfect for dipping your toes into the bike scene. As well as the English Bay while you are at it. So get out there and get pedaling!