Coast meets city in Vancouver, where warm sandy shorelines satisfy sun seekers, and city dwellers delight in the cool culinary scene and swanky shops found around town. But you don’t have to choose between coast and city here, because both are close by.
In Vancouver, you can sunbathe on the beach, and then stroll downtown to dine on award-winning fare. Some of the city’s biggest tourist attractions neighbor the best beaches, so you can see it all in one day.
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Vancouver’s best beaches are attractive, action-packed and accessible, making it possible to soak up the sun with all your companions – including your canine friends. Bask in the sun in your swimsuit or bear it all in the nude at Vancouver’s best beaches, which have something to offer for everyone.
Kitsilano Beach has something for everyone © Irra / Shutterstock
1. Kitsilano (Kits) Beach
Best all-around beach
Not sure if you want to chill on the sand or shoot some hoops? This beach will suit all comers. For sports seekers, the beach volleyball scene is spirited, and beachside basketball pick-up games offer a great way to pal around with locals. In August, check out KitsFest, an annual summer sports festival that lets you participate in everything from touch football to sunset yoga on the beach.
Swimmers can opt for a dip in the icy ocean, or hit Kits Pool, a heated, beach-adjacent outdoor pool and one of the longest saltwater pools in the world. The beach is accessible too, with beach mats that provide easy access to the sand for those with mobility challenges and free-floating water wheelchairs (which must be booked in advance).
For the kids, an expansive and newly updated playground offers a great place to play, with winding slides, seaside swings and a giant grass field that’s perfect for picnics and tossing Frisbees. A favorite hangout for Vancouver locals, the beach is a great place for people-watching, and if you’re feeling snacky, waterfront restaurants, cafes and snack shacks will keep you fueled as you enjoy a full day of outdoor beach play.
Detour: Take a 15-minute stroll up the street to West 4th Ave – a region regularly recognized as one of Vancouver’s best neighborhoods with quaint cafes, award-winning restaurants, swanky shops and Lululemon’s first-ever retail store.
English Bay Beach beckons both city dwellers and sun seekers © Michael Wels / Getty Images
2. English Bay Beach
Best urban beach
Sandwiched between the busy West End neighborhood of downtown Vancouver and Stanley Park – Vancouver’s best (and biggest) park – this bustling beach beckons both city dwellers and sun seekers. Its proximity to downtown makes the beach a popular choice for a car-free cavort, with a pedestrian, bike and roller-skating seawall boardwalk separating the city from the sand, and a row of beachfront restaurants only steps from the shoreline.
The scenery is one of the biggest draws, with up-close skyline views, small packs of palm trees and notable public-art displays, like the Inukshuk piece, a striking rock structure that represents Inuit culture, and the larger-than-life “A-maze-ing Laughter” figures by Beijing-based artist Yue Minjun, one of the city’s most-visited attractions.
English Bay is a popular (but crowded) spot to catch the annual summertime fireworks festival, the international Celebration of Light, and in winter, the beach is also the site of the city’s annual polar beach plunge, which takes place on New Year’s Day.
Planning tip: As one of the city’s busiest beaches, parking is at a premium here. Consider visiting English Bay by foot, bike or bus instead, and plan to arrive early if you’re hoping to snag a sweet spot to sit on the sand.
3. Second Beach
Best for families
This family-friendly beach can be found on the western side of Stanley Park and is home to a grassy playground and a concession stand that serves up cool ice-cream cones and tasty treats.
Second Beach Pool is only steps from the shore, a heated outdoor pool with a sloping entrance that’s suitable for little swimmers. Nearby you’ll find the Stanley Park Pitch & Putt course, and during the summer, there are free outdoor movie screenings; Fresh Air Cinema has the latest listings.
Planning tip: Rent a bike and cycle the Stanley Park seawall to this beautiful beach site. Along the way, there are a few spacious parks, smaller sandy beaches, such as Third Beach, and scenic spots to stop and snap photos along the way. Look out for the Girl in a Wetsuit statue and the towering totem poles that can be spotted en route.
Jericho Beach is the ideal spot to take in a sunset © Christa Boaz / Getty Images
4. Jericho Beach
Best for city and sunset views
Found outside Vancouver’s city center, Jericho Beach is the ideal spot to take in a sunset. Watch the soft glow of the setting sun as the sky shifts into shades of pastel pinks and purples against the shimmering city skyline and distant North Shore mountains.
For those looking to get out on the water, head to the Jericho Sailing Centre to rent a sailboard, stand-up paddleboard, or kayak (if needed, lessons are also available to help keep you afloat). A long seawall walk invites slow strolls, and large driftwood logs make for the perfect setting for a picnic. In mid-July, the beach can get particularly busy, as it’s the venue for Vancouver’s popular Folk Music Festival.
Local tip: When visiting with kids, be sure to bring sand toys, as this beach offers a stretch of soft sand that’s perfect for building sandcastles, especially during low tide. There’s a park on-site with a small pond, which makes for a lovely shaded stroll – just look out for a bounty of bunnies that call this area home.
5. Spanish Banks Beach
Best for a beach party
This beach is the perfect spot to gather your pals, pack a picnic, perch on a log and get social as the sun sets. Large grassy areas and picnic tables make for a great spot to BBQ too; you’ll just have to come equipped with your own grill. Be sure to bring your canine friends, as Spanish Banks is home to one of the largest off-leash dog parks in the city, with water access to keep your puppies cool.
Located in a residential area, this beach tends to be a bit quieter than its sister spots (Kits Beach and Jericho Beach), but it still offers up the same stunning city views and is home to eight beach-volleyball courts for those who want to enjoy some fun in the sand after snacking by the sea.
Local tip: Aim to visit during low tide, when the sand seems to stretch on for miles. Warm pools of water make for more comfortable wading (otherwise the Pacific Ocean can be quite cold, even on warmer days), and if there’s a breeze, be sure to bring a kite!
Wreck Beach has an eclectic mix of people, making it a great spot for people-watching © mabus13 / Getty Images
6. Wreck Beach
Best for nudists
Stroll through the forest and scale the steep steps to Wreck Beach, North America’s largest naturist beach, and you’ll find a stunning 7.8km (4.8 mile) stretch of sandy beachfront where clothing is optional.
This beach is off the beaten path, both in proximity to the city and in the people who populate the space – here you’ll find a sea of independent vendors, a crew of counterculture locals and clusters of newcomers, all in the nude. If you fancy connecting with other naturists during your stay, check in with the VanTan Nudist Club for events, including regular swimming meets at local pools.
Planning tip: There’s an eclectic mix of people here, which makes this beach a great spot for people-watching. That said, photographers should leave cameras at home, as photos are not allowed. Also, be prepared to strip down, as lookie-loos are frowned upon. A steep 490-step stairway makes this beach more difficult to access, so be sure to wear comfortable footwear for the trek down.