I’ve been living in Vancouver for over a year now, and pretty much every day I’m still astounded by the city’s beauty and awesome quality of life. There aren’t many cities in the world where you can clock off work and 20 minutes later be sunbathing on a sandy beach, up in the mountains, or simply relaxing with a glass of wine along the Pacific Ocean. As we creep through winter, many of us Vancouverites are looking for a pick me up to defeat the dreaded rain and there are plenty of places within close reach of the city to explore. Here are the best trips to take from Vancouver.
The best trips to take from Vancouver for a weekend
A weekend in Whistler
Firstly, Whistler! Whistler is reachable by undoubtedly one of my favourite drives in the whole world, the Sea-to-Sky Highway. Just a 2 hour journey from central Vancouver with sprawling vistas of mountains and ocean, you’ll soon reach this mountainous haven. While many people associate the village with winter sports thanks to its 2010 Winter Olympics placing it firmly on the map, it’s definitely a great place to visit all year round. In fact, Whistler is rumoured to make more money through the year from summer sports like mountain biking than skiing and snowboarding combined. This is one of the best trips to take from Vancouver simply because there is so much to do for everyone.
Here are some top things to do on a weekend in Whistler, no matter which season you visit:
- Go skiing or snowboarding in the winter at one of the world’s best ski resorts. You can also go tubing or ride a bobsleigh if skiing isn’t your thing.
- Visit the Scandinave Spa in the winter for snow-topped views while you soak in one of the various hot tubs.
- Get your hiking boots on. Train Wreck, Garibaldi Lake, and Parkhurst Ghost Town are all great options that are close by.
- Check out the world’s longest continuous lift system and enjoy unspoilt views at the Peak 2 Peak Gondola.
- Be adventurous and take an ATV or off-road tour along some dirt tracks, or even do a bungee jump.
- Go mountain biking on one of the world-class tracks for incredible views across the mountains and lakes.
- Be brave and take a bear safari. Who knows, you may even be lucky and spot one of the ultra rare spirit bears.
Relaxing on Savary Island beaches
Savary Island is a gorgeous island situated in the Strait of Georgia, between the coast of BC and Vancouver Island. What makes it special is that it boasts the warmest water north of Mexico, thanks to warm currents coming up from the south. It has a plethora of stunning beaches with turquoise waters which makes it a great place for a little R&R in a semi-exotic location. Visitors can get there by flying in, sailing, or taking a water taxi from nearby Lund. It’s the perfect spot for getting up close and dirty with nature, swimming in its warm waters, and also enjoying the amazing ocean views.
Don’t miss the best things to do on Savary Island:
- Enjoy relaxing on the magnificent beaches. There’s a good mix of rocky and sandy beaches, and South Beach is beautiful with white sands. Indian Point is a little rockier but has incredible turquoise waters.
- Bike around the island, which is perfect as it’s only 7.5km long. Enjoy the views and take regular stops at each of the beaches.
- Go kayaking or paddle boarding on the ocean. Just remember to bring your equipment or hire it from nearby Lund.
A roadtrip along the Oregon Coast
Taking a drive down from Vancouver, through Seattle and Washington state and down the Oregon Coast is a must. Although it will take a few days, it’s certainly one of the best trips to take from Vancouver. When I visited, we stopped en route in Seattle for a wander round and some dinner in the evening. We then hit the road, making it to quirky Portland that night. From Portland, we drove all along the beautiful coastline of Oregon in a day, stopping to take in the amazing sights along the scenic 101. You can take your time and make it as slow or as quick a drive as you fancy, depending on how many beaches you want to see. There’s plenty to do along the way, from surfing, to hiking, to riding the sand dunes.
Some things you can’t miss on your drive along the Oregon coast:
- Walk along the famous Cannon Beach and see Haystack Rock. It’s such an expansive beach and so cool to relax on.
- Stop for a photo at the amazing Neahkahnie Mountain viewpoint. I’d say it’s definitely one of the most impressive along the whole coastline.
- Stop off at Cape Lookout State Park for more incredible scenery in an almost deserted landscape.
- Ride a sand buggy across the dunes of Oregon’s terrain. I didn’t get a chance but I’d definitely do this if I went back!
- Climb up the huge sand dune of Cape Kiwanda for some of the most beautiful views I’ve seen.
- Drive onto the beach at Cape Kiwanda (Pacific City) just because you can – then go to Pelican Brewing for a pint of craft beer and a burger.
Surfing on Vancouver Island
Going for a surf on ‘the Island’ is an absolute must if you’re staying in Vancouver for a while. As the west coast of Vancouver Island is located right on the Pacific Ocean, it unsurprisingly gets some incredible waves. The climate on the Island can also get pretty stormy, providing some perfect surf conditions. The most popular place to go for the surf is undoubtedly Tofino. Tofino is an adorable surf town that’s near amazing sandy beaches, with great restaurants, pubs, and breweries also nearby. It rocks a very chilled, hipster vibe that makes it the perfect break for great surf and relaxation. If you’re into a challenging surf, Tofino is definitely one of the best trips to take from Vancouver.
Here are some things you need to do in Tofino:
- You can surf year-round, so grab your wetsuit and get stuck in!
- Walk along one of the many beautiful beaches in the area.
- Check out the wildlife. With such a vibrant ecosystem in this part of the world, you can go bear watching, whale watching, and also spot a wide variety of beautiful birds.
- Head to Tofino Brewing Co for some excellent beer, and then check out the very first Tacofino truck. The fish tacos taste even better for being right near the ocean.
Camping at Cultus Lake, Chilliwack
There’s nothing much more Canadian than a true camping experience, so getting down to Cultus Lake in the summer is a must-do. Just an hour and a half drive from Vancouver in the Lower Mainland, there’s nothing better than the hot sun beating down near a cool lake. It also happens to be the largest lake in the Fraser Valley. There are several campgrounds, a picnic and boating area, facilities for fishing, water skiing, and windsurfing, as well as a number of hiking trails. It’s perfect for relaxing outdoors, with water sports, swimming, and enjoying a cold drink the ideal way to enjoy summer.
Here are some things you can’t miss out on at Cultus Lake:
- Simply bringing your brightest and boldest inflatables and going for a float on the lake.
- Plenty of sunbathing with an icy cold beer.
- Head to Cultus Lake Water and Adventure Park.
- Rent a kayak or paddle board across the lake.
- Go river rafting in nearby Chilliwack.
Relax on the Sunshine Coast
On the southern coast of British Columbia, you’ll find the beautiful Sunshine Coast. In the summer it truly lives up to its name! Accessible only by ferry or air, you’ll find adorable coastal villages including Gibsons and Pender Harbour. The southern Sunshine Coast specifically is perfect for a summer break, with incredible lakes, trails, and parks to discover. The northern coast, stretching from Saltery Bay to Lund, also harbours plenty of inlets and mountains to explore. It’s an amazing place to go and relax in a cabin, enjoying all the beautiful scenery and landscapes around. With the sun shining, it’s definitely one of the best trips to take from Vancouver.
Here are some things to do during your time on the Sunshine Coast:
- Go boating in the adorable coastal village of Lund.
- Check out the quirky cafes and breweries of Powell River.
- Take the Sunshine Coast trail on the north coast, also known as Canada’s longest free hut-to-hut hiking trail.
- Get on your kayak and take the Powell Forest Canoe Route for some beautiful sights.
- Enjoy some island paradise on one of the Sunshine Coast islands, including Texada and Nelson Island.
- See the beautiful rugged coastline on some of the gorgeous Sunshine Coast beaches. This includes catching a sunset at Bonniebrook Beach in Gibsons, and Halfmoon Bay in Sargeant Bay Provincial Park.
Stormwatching in Ucluelet
Going in search of storms may not sound like the typical vacation pursuit, but it’s an amazing experience. For this reason, beautiful Ucluelet on Vancouver Island is one of the best trips to take from Vancouver. The best time to come is between November and March, when the storms can be seen from the rugged climate here. You can experience a west coast winter by watching the crazy storms while enjoying a glass of red indoors. Here, you’ll see gale force winds of over 70km an hour, as well as plenty of rain from all angles pouring down. High waves plummet the beaches, and it’s such a cool thing to go and watch with around twelve storms per month hitting Ucluelet. Afterwards, you may spot driftwood, trees and even Japanese fishing floats brought across from the Pacific Ocean.
Things to do while storm watching in Ucluelet:
- Stay at the luxurious Black Rock Resort, light your room’s fire, and also leave the windows open to hear the waves crashing against the black rocks.
- Hike the Wild Pacific Trail for some of the most beautiful views and terrains you’ll see. Enjoy the spray of the ocean and spot the snowy mountains on the route.
- Go beachcombing afterwards and spot the multicoloured seaweed scattered across the beaches post-storm.
- Set off in search of wildlife. In particular, winter is a great time for whale watching.
Rejuvenate on the Gulf Islands
The Gulf Islands are located in the Strait of Georgia between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island. Split into two groups (the north and south Gulf islands), popular spots to visit include Bowen Island, Salt Spring Island, Gabriola Island, and Texada Island. The islands each have their own charm and appeal, with the most popular islands having a ferry service to and from Vancouver. Incredible wildlife, coasts, and scenery make these islands the perfect retreat for a relaxing break away. Within easy reach of Vancouver but a whole other world, a trip to a Gulf Island is definitely one of the best trips to take from Vancouver.
Here are some activities you can’t miss when on the Gulf Islands:
- Head to the largest Gulf Island, Salt Spring Island, and sample some of the local produce the island is so well known for, from artisan cheese to organic wine.
- Peruse some of the art, created by many artists who were drawn to the islands thanks to the serene environment and views.
- Rent a boat to find secluded beaches and relax on the open waters of the Gulf.
- Visit the Saturday markets of many of the Gulf Islands to find local craft and produce.
- Go kayaking or enjoy a round of golf on one of the many courses scattered around the islands.
A weekend in Seattle
As one of the Pacific North West’s (and America’s) coolest cities, it’s great that Seattle is very accessible from Vancouver. You can either drive across the border which will take a few hours, hop on a Greyhound, or take the train. Seattle is a very tech-y city (check out the Amazon Go store) which boasts a whole range of cool places. It also has an awesome grunge history and culture. For a weekend in Seattle, I’d recommend walking along Seattle’s version of the seawall at the Olympic Sculpture Park where you can take in both views of beautiful scenery and artwork. Hang out in one of the many cool grunge bars and catch a show, or simply eat your way around the city and spot murals as you go.
Here are some things you can’t miss when visiting Seattle:
- Head to Kerry Park for some of the best views across the city and the iconic Space Needle.
- Enjoy a tipple or two at the city’s cool Capitol Hill area, a whole street full of trendy bars, restaurants, and clubs.
- Eat your way around Pike Place Market with its hundreds of incredible eateries.
- Check out the awesome Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix exhibitions at the MoPop museum.
- Have brunch and a strong drink at the ultra quirky yet iconic Five Point Cafe.
Wine tasting in the Okanagan Valley
The Okanagan Valley is, in my opinion, one of BC’s hidden gems. I was totally unaware of Canada’s wine industry, but my goodness am I glad I know now. In the summer it’s truly glorious, and Lake Okanagan is perfect for swimming in to cool off. With wineries scattered across Osoyoos and Oliver, it’s ideal for sipping your way around the valley in the hot sun and desert landscape. Make Kelowna your base and check out the beautiful city, cruising around and picking fresh cherries and peaches as you go. There are plenty of beaches around for everybody to enjoy a little sunbathing, or jumping into the cool water. It’s an incredible break away and certainly one of the best trips to take from Vancouver.
Here are some things you need to do on a trip to the Okanagan Valley:
- Plan a winery trail through the valley, stopping off at some of the beautiful wineries in Osoyoos and Oliver, including Burrowing Owl Winery and Hester Creek Winery.
- Stop off to pick some of the freshest and juiciest peaches and cherries you’ll ever taste.
- As well as other wines, try a glass of ice wine, one of BC’s specialty exports.
- Sunbathe at one of the beautiful beaches in Kelowna, before going swimming in Lake Okanagan to cool off.
The best trips to take from Vancouver in a day
Hiking to beautiful Garibaldi Lake
It’s no secret that British Columbia is peppered with some of the most beautiful lakes in the world. Luckily for us, many of them are within easy reach of Vancouver. Garibaldi Lake is a surefire hike that will give you some of the most beautiful (and Instagrammable views) you ever saw. Just a two hour drive from downtown, you begin your ascent in Garibaldi Provincial Park. Within around a two hour hike up some switchbacks, you reach the glorious aquamarine lake. If you’re feeling extra brave, the Panorama Ridge hike is an extra three hours each way, but promises some incredible views. For a true adventure within easy reach with great views, this is one of the best trips to take from Vancouver.
Here are some things to try on the hike to Garibaldi Lake:
- Take some seeds to feed the adorable tiny birds near the lake after the switchbacks who will happily land on your hand. Don’t forget nuts also for the cute little chipmunks who will come and nibble them in front of you.
- Wear a swimsuit if you’re visiting in the summer and fancy a dip in the icy waters after a sweaty hike to the top.
- Don your finest activewear for all those inevitable Instagram shots you’ll likely get by the amazing coloured water of the take.
Whale watching in the Georgia Strait
If you’re visiting Vancouver, going whale watching is definitely a travel bucket list item. Between March and October, thousands of whales move towards Vancouver, making it one of the best places in the world for whale watching. You’ll have the chance to see humpback whales, orcas, gray whales, and minke whales, as well as a bunch of animals including sea lions and birds on your whale watching trip in Vancouver. With plenty of tour operators offering whale watching expeditions, it’s a pretty easy activity to do.
Here are some things to try and do on your whale watching trip from Vancouver:
- Try and take your excursion from Steveston, an adorable fishing city on the coast of Vancouver and grab coffee and lunch before boarding your vessel.
- Chat to your naturalist onboard the boat and ask them to point out all the wildlife you’re interested in, from sea lions to birds.
- Take a great camera to capture shots of all the wildlife you’ll see.
Take a dip at Deep Cove
Located in North Vancouver, Deep Cove is a haven about 30 minutes’ drive away from central Vancouver. It’s also pretty easy to reach by bus too. Surrounded by rainforests, mountains, ocean and some great restaurants and cafes, it’s a lovely little oasis from the city. Wildlife is in abound in the area, with eagles, salmon, bears, and also herons spotted around the area. Arriving at Deep Cove, you’ll see the iconic calm harbour view where visitors kayak and swim and sunbathe in the summer. There’s a great hike nearby where you can enjoy the incredible views over the cove, before checking out the ice cream parlours and restaurants of the nearby area.
Some things to do on a visit to Deep Cove include:
- Exploring the boutique shops and adorable independent restaurants on Gallant Avenue.
- Kayaking and paddling around to Indian Arm for beautiful mountain views.
- Hiking Quarry Rock – it’s a short and easy hike up to a a rock that offers panoramic vistas over beautiful Deep Cove.
- Popping into Honey’s for a delicious honey doughnut. It’s a favourite with celebrities like Kate Winslet filming in the area!
Warm up at Harrison Hot Springs
Harrison Hot Springs is a British Columbian gem, thanks to its five mineral hot pools discovered in 1886. Ever since then, visitors have come to enjoy the hot springs and marina for fishing, kayaking and tours. It’s one of the best trips from Vancouver to simply go and relax in the beautiful natural surroundings. It’s common belief that the hot springs have a number of medicinal healing properties, and they’ve attracted a number of high profile celebrities in recent years. Each hot pool has a different temperature, perfect for enabling guests to float and relax at whichever heat suits them. If you’re after some R&R, Harrison Hot Springs is one of the best trips to take from Vancouver for you.
Here are a few things to bear in mind for your visit to Harrison Hot Springs:
- Harrison Hot Springs has a range of luxurious accommodation if you also fancy extending your stay.
- Enjoy a delicious meal at one of the four restaurants onsite, whether you prefer something healthier or a fancy meal.
- Take part in some of the activities nearby. Choose from jetskiing or golf, with a number of lakeside courses around the area.
- Indulge in a relaxing massage or treatment at the Healing Springs Spa.
Relax in Victoria
As the capital of British Columbia, it’s pretty imperative you go and check out Victoria on Vancouver Island. It boasts the warmest climate in all of Canada, and offers the perks of both land and ocean for plenty of cool activities. With a strong British background and First Nations history, it has a very interesting culture and is super easy to explore on foot. Highlights include exploring the pretty Inner Harbour and seeing the iconic Parliament Buildings. You’ll also find plenty of amazing restaurants and cafes in the area too. Heading to the coast is perfect for a walk, with views of Washington state’s Olympic Mountains serving as a beautiful backdrop. Victoria is particularly pretty to visit at Christmas time when the city’s festivities and decorations are out in full force.
Here are a few things you can’t miss on your trip to Victoria:
- Seeing the Parliament Building by day, and also the lights of night.
- Going for afternoon tea the legendary Fairmont Empress Hotel on the harbour. You’ll have fancy china as well as an impressive choice of teas, cakes, and pastries.
- Seeing the city’s British roots by exploring the shops of downtown Vancouver and purchasing some English goodies.
- Exploring the many beautiful flowers and displays at Butchart Gardens, which have been growing for over a hundred years.
- Heading to the Bard and Banker for a drink in this Scottish-style pub. You’ll have a wide choice of whiskey and drafts, meanwhile being served by hosts in kilts and live music.
Take a stroll around Dundarave, West Vancouver
Just across Vancouver’s famous Lionsgate Bridge is the impressive and affluent neighbourhood of Dundarave in West Vancouver. A good way to get there is beginning from Ambleside and walking the beautiful Centennial Seawalk up to Dundarave. Once you reach the beach, there are over fifty metres of sandy beach to enjoy as well as views across to Vancouver, Stanley Park, Lionsgate Bridge, and beyond. Dundarave village has some elegant boutique stores, as well as some incredible cafes and restaurants, all framed by the nearby mountains.
Here are some of the best things to do in Dundarave:
- Walk the small pier of Dundarave for the best views across the ocean to Vancouver and beyond.
- Head to The Beachhouse for a delicious brunch before your walk of the Centennial Seawalk. The crab Eggs Benedict is absolutely delicious!
- Browse the boutique shops of the village and stop off for a coffee. For pastries, don’t miss the Savary Island Pie Company, and also the Bakehouse.
Hike Joffre Lakes Provincial Park
Undoubtedly, the Joffre Lakes hike is one of the most beautiful in the whole world and one of the best trips to take from Vancouver. Located just north of Pemberton, near Whistler, it can be reached within a few hours from Vancouver, making it an ideal day trip. Whether you choose to go ice climbing in the winter, or in the summer for the incredible turquoise waters, you won’t be disappointed with the views. A 10km round hike, it’s fairly straightforward with a steady climb uphill. You’ll come across three beautiful aquamarine lakes, all stunning colours of blue-green thanks to the glaciers feeding them. Sights you’ll pass also include creeks, waterfalls, and amazing views of the surrounding mountains. If you’re feeling brave, it’s also possible to camp near Upper Joffre Lake and Matier Glacier.
Some of the best things you can do on the hike at Joffre Lakes Provincial Park include:
- Taking your camera and getting an iconic snap on the log perched across Middle Joffre Lake.
- Bringing your swimsuit and taking a dip if you’re feeling extremely brave in the summer. Even on the hottest days, the water is freezing cold thanks to the glacier-fed waters.
- Don’t forget to bring bird feed – beautiful tiny birds will perch on your hand to eat from you.
- Fill up your water bottle from the running waterfalls you’ll pass on your hike. There’s no better water you’ll taste!
What do you think are the best trips to take from Vancouver? Let me know in the comments below!