9 Essential Vancouver Beaches

With Vancouver’s sheltered oceanfront there are opportunities to enjoy the beach life in 9 distinct places. Three of these beaches are accessible to downtown Vancouver via Stanley Park and the others are all south of downtown heading west toward and into UBC (University of British Columbia).

My favourite memory of a few years back was a remarkable convergence of an extremely low tide, a glorious sunny day and the time to enjoy a long walk. Three of us realized that we could literally walk along the exposed tidal mud all the way from Kits Beach to Wreck Beach. It was as if we were walking where the ships and sailboats would normally be.

This memory made me wonder, with the improvements to bike lanes, could you visit all 9 major Vancouver beaches in one day? Yes, but it would be rushed, and physically challenging. (As I’ll describe momentarily with Spanish Banks.) However, if I could bike to all these, this is the order in which I’d do it.

Third Beach
This is the quietest of the three Stanley Park Beaches. It’s located on Ferguson Point and the best way to get there is to walk in via the Stanley Park Seawall.

Second Beach
For families wanting it all, Second Beach has a playground, sandy spots, grassy spots, a concession stand and an outdoor heated pool with a slide. It’s accessed from Stanley Park Drive or the Stanley Park Seawall.

First Beach (a.k.a. English Bay Beach)
This beach is the transition from Stanley Park as it’s accessed via Beach Avenue. Often in the summer (around and during the August long weekend) there is a fireworks competition. The barge holding the fireworks sits out in the water right in front of English Bay Beach. If you want the best seat in the house, come down early on one of the competition nights with an evening picnic and stake out your place.

Sunset Beach
This is another of the quieter beaches, east of First Beach. It’s below where Thurlow Street ends and is next to the Burrard Bridge. It has a more contemplative feel to it and, as the name indicates, has stunning sunsets. One cool part of Sunset Beach is that there is a tiny ferry dock that will take you over to Vanier Park (or Granville Island). From there you can walk to the next beach on our list.

Kits Beach
The full name is Kitsilano Beach Park, but everyone calls it Kits Beach. The section by the concession stand, and the restaurant above it, is — during summer — often home to the beautiful people. But don’t let that fool you. As you head back toward the ferry dock, the park and beach changes nature. There’s a sports focus with basketball courts, and beach volleyball courts, but as you get around the point, you will find an off leash dog beach. During non summer weather, the beach is quite peaceful. With access to restaurants of many sorts on Yew Street, you can go from beach bum to 4-star restaurant aficionado in minutes.

Jericho Beach
This beach is about 3.5 km by foot or bike from Kits Beach along Point Grey Road. Jericho is home to sailboats and windsurfers plus what feels like endless stretches of beach with a view of Burrard Inlet. There’s a concession stand and washrooms.

Locarno Beach
This beach is right beside Jericho Beach, but has the advantage of starting to be a bit quieter and, surprisingly, has free parking. There’s a raft in the ocean for swimming and volleyball courts.

Spanish Banks
This beach park is named after the event where Captain Vancouver met the Spanish and convinced them there was nothing of interest in this part of the Pacific Northwest. This is the western most beach park until you start to go uphill, and I mean really uphill, towards UBC. In fact if you are a nominal cyclist, make sure to take the hill slowly and in the lowest possible gear you have. It’s OK to give up and walk your bike.

Wreck Beach
If you were able-bodied enough to walk or cycle up to UBC, you are certainly able to walk down the rather long set of stairs to the beach. Just make sure to save enough energy to make your way back up the stairs. Wreck Beach is accessed from NW Marine Drive just north of University Blvd. It is unusual in that it is Clothing Optional. When you go to visit, you don’t have to go au naturel, but there’s a certain amount of peer pressure to ditch your duds once on the beach. There’s an entire culture and vibe about the place, plus the most interesting snack vendors. There’s a preservation society www.wreckbeach.org that claims Wreck Beach “is an internationally-acclaimed 7.8 km long clothing-optional beach” and is “North America’s largest naturist beach.” It is unique and if you’re feeling like a total change of scene this is the beach for you.

Way back after we avoided the stairs by walking along the low tide mud flats we enjoyed Wreck Beach and the freedom it offered. We did not walk all the way back. There’s public transit nearby from UBC. After that trek, we needed the break.

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