Vancouver’s Stanley Park

If you have only one day, or even one afternoon to spend in Vancouver, go to Stanley Park.  It is one of the largest urban parks in North America, with 1,000 acres of woodlands, gardens, trails, flowers, lakes, beaches and wildlife.

I’ve lived one block off of Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park for the past seven years.  “The park is like our backyard” is a common saying among apartment-dwellers in Vancouver.  In our case, we live by this statement.  Even in the winter months, we regularly walk around Lost Lagoon to see the different animals and birds.  We also go to the Vancouver Aquarium often in the winter, as it is the least busy time of year for this very popular tourist destination.

A great way to start is by doing a loop around the park.  You can drive (vehicle traffic is one way, and counter clockwise in direction), or a more active and scenic approach would be to rent rollerblades or bikes on Denman Street, near W. Georgia Street.  By making a trip around the park first, you can see all the different landmarks.

You could also walk the seawall which is approximately 10km/6.2mi in length.  This easy walking trip takes approximately 3 hours and you will experience amazing views of the ocean, mountains, beaches and the city skyline. In the summer, tired pedestrians can see the park’s most popular attractions by hopping aboard the Stanley Park Shuttle Bus.

The easiest starting place is to enter the park from the east-side entrance on W. Georgia Street.  From here, the walk loops around spectacular Coal Harbour and Burrard Inlet, past Lumberman’s Arch, under the Lion’s Gate Bridge and Prospect Point to scenic English Bay.

While the seawall is the park’s most famous walking route, numerous trails cut through its thick-forested interior. If you’d rather look at trees, there are plenty of trails to hike along inside the park.

Following are some of the highlights of Stanley Park:

Miniature Train
The Miniature Train has become one of Vancouver’s most popular attractions and carries over 200,000 passengers per year.  Winding along a mile and a quarter of 20″ gauge track, the train travels over trestles and through tunnels in a picturesque journey through the forest.  It’s dressed up as “Ghost Train” at Halloween, and is part of the “Bright Lights” display and event every Christmas.

Children’s Farmyard
The Children’s Farmyard is home to over 100 animals, water fowl and poultry belonging to many different species. The present day Farmyard, built in 1982 and extended in 1993 is built on the original footprint of the Children’s Zoo which was established in 1962.  Situated on just over one acre of land, a spacious heated barn, outside corrals and yards, and a small stream and pond provide for the comfort of the animals while giving children the opportunity to experience the sights, sounds and smells of a rural environment.  The smaller farm animals such as sheep, goats and potbellied pigs, intermingle happily with visitors. Other farmyard inhabitants include donkeys, cows, rabbits, ducks, chickens, alpacas and a llama.  The Farmyard is a major part of the seasonal events at Halloween, Christmas and Easter.

Editor’s Note: This feature of Stanley Park was closed January 1, 2011.

Vancouver Aquarium
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre is a public aquarium located in Stanley Park. In addition to being a major tourist attraction for Vancouver, the aquarium is a centre for marine research, conservation and marine animal rehabilitation.  It is home to a dizzying variety of fish and aquatic mammals in natural habitats. Get an up-close look at the multi-coloured life inside a tidal pool, or marvel at deadly piranhas, scary insects, beluga whales and dolphins.

The newest attraction is the 4D Experience, which is a 15-minute showing of Planet Earth: Shallow Seas in BC’s only 4D theatre.  The show is filled with thrilling sensory effects such as wind, mist, scents and dramatic lighting.  It’s free with your aquarium admission price.  It can be a bit overwhelming for kids age 4 and under, so sit near an aisle and be prepared to leave early if they can’t handle it.

The aquarium is one of Vancouver’s most popular attractions.

Lumberman’s Arch
The Variety Kids Water Park is an outdoor spray facility that offers hours worth of summer fun especially for young children and families. Not a swimming pool but rather a series of water geysers and canons.  The water is only ankle-deep so it’s good for all ages.  There’s a bit of shade over the benches along the side, so parents can relax while the kids play.  There is also a concession stand located very near here.

Prospect Point
Prospect is the summit of Stanley Park at 64 metres above sea level, and it offers breathtaking panoramic views of the West Vancouver and North Vancouver on the North Shore. You can see the Lions Gate Bridge and watch cargo ships and cruise liners as they pass under the bridge.  There is a full service restaurant and bar, a gift shop and a wonderful Ice Cream Parlour.  We always take out-of-town guests here.

Third Beach
The west side of the seawall has three swimming beaches.  The first you’ll come across is Third Beach.  This is the quietest of the three beaches because it is the most difficult to get to.  If you want to get away from the crowds and still enjoy some swimming or sunbathing, it’s worth the walk (or bike ride).  There is a concession stand if you need a drink or snack.

Second Beach
Second Beach is popular with families.  It has a wonderful outdoor swimming pool, equipped with slides and a special tortoise slide for the little ones.  A special lengths area has been cordoned off for lap swimmers. The pool boasts one of Vancouver’s best views.  When the kids get tired of swimming you can take them to the playground, or go for a stroll around Lost Lagoon.   Just cross the street and follow the paved walkway; it’ll lead you to the Lagoon.

English Bay
If you stay on the seawall past Second Beach, you’ll get to English Bay, another swimming area. This beach is popular with singles. The cluster of high-rise apartments behind English Bay is the area called the West End (where I live).  It has one of the highest population densities in North America.  Just off English Bay Beach is Denman and Davie Street, both with many, many restaurant and take-out food choices.

Sunset Beach
The last beach on the strip is called Sunset.  It is much quieter than English Bay and also has a section for dogs and their owners.  It has a huge indoor swimming pool called The Vancouver Aquatic Centre.  Behind the Aquatic Centre is a small ferry dock, where you can catch a boat to Granville Island.  It takes only five minutes.

There are four playgrounds within the park.  The first is near the east-side entrance, off W. Georgia Street, near the rose garden, on your way to the Vancouver Aquarium.  This playground is not well-known and often not busy at all.  There is also a lot of shade here, which is unusual at playgrounds, and can be a great place to hang out on a hot summer day.

The second playground is just past the Aquarium, on the way to Lumberman’s Arch Waterpark and concession (open in the summer).  It’s also near the Miniature Train and Children’s Farmyard.  It’s also right beside a large, covered picnic table area.

Just outside the swimming pool and concession area at Second Beach is the third playground.  This one is the most popular and often very busy in the summer due to its close proximity to both the pool and the beach.

Cross the field at Ceperly park (beside Second Beach) and you’ll come to the fourth playground, which is the newest.  It has lots of slides and cool, climbing contraptions.  It’s also home to an old fire truck which the kids love to climb all over.

In addition to the attractions listed above, there are tennis courts and a pitch-and-putt golf course located more in the interior of the park, between Second Beach and English Bay, near Lost Lagoon, for those that want to take in some physical activity.

Stanley Park really is the “gem” of Vancouver, as it’s so often called.  A trip to the city without experiencing some part of the park is truly incomplete.

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