If you are looking for something to do in Vancouver to spend just a few hours or even the full day, head over to Stanley Park. Stanley Park to me is one of the best public parks I’ve ever been to in my entire life. So much of the park is untouched and nature has been allowed to just make its own way. It’s over 1000 acres, which is much larger than Central Park in New York, and the whole park is surrounded by the Vancouver Harbor and English Bay so you don’t have to go far to get a great view of the water.
You can travel around the park by car, by foot, by bike, on rollerblades, in a boat, in a kayak, horse-drawn carriage or see it from above in a seaplane. I honestly love being out in nature and in parks and even at a full day, it doesn’t seem like enough time to fully explore all the little areas of Stanley Park. I actually had to make a bookmark list on Yelp prior to coming because there’s so many monuments, art pieces and historical landmarks throughout the park. You can go to the Stanley Park website as well to find a complete map of all the treasures of the park. Now, let’s get down to what there is to see.
Since it’s one of the most visited tourist attractions within Stanley Park, the first stop that you can make is at the First Nations totem poles. The number of totem poles varies from time to time but there are normally seven to nine poles all crafted by different First Nations tribes or peoples. They are superb in coloring and made in the amazing time-honored tradition and craftsmanship of the First Nations peoples.
If you take just a short walk across the street from the totems, you’ll find the Vancouver seawall. It’s pretty obvious that it’s a wall against the sea, but it’s a perfect place to take a panoramic picture of the iconic Vancouver city skyline.
If you continue east from the totems, you will pass Hallelujah Point and make your way down to the Nine O’clock Gun. The gun was used by mariners to help navigate around the channels of the harbor. You will find a lot of stopping points around the edges of the water that were used to help guide boats before modern alert systems. The gun has been fully restored and goes off every day at 9:00 PM.
If you head down a little further you will come to Brockton Point lighthouse. There are several lighthouses within Stanley Park but I believe Brockton point to be one of the more prominent and better maintained lighthouses. I am pretty sure that none of the light houses are still fully functioning but it’s still worth a stop. You can see a lot of the larger ships and cruise ships from this point as well as see Canada Place in the distance.
Now, as you head north west, you will come to a fork in the road. You can either go to the Vancouver Aquarium or you can continue on around the perimeter of the park to take in the rest of the sites. If you have kids it’s probably worth a stop to go to the aquarium. Personally I do think that the tickets to this aquarium are kind of expensive and it’s actually quite a small aquarium compared to others. Since you won’t be spending a lot of money to see the rest of Stanley Park, this may be your splurge, but look at the ticket prices before you go. If you decide not to go to the aquarium, you can head back out to Stanley Park Drive (which runs around the entire perimeter of the park) and keep going in your travels.
I really enjoy how everything within Stanley Park is super well maintained. I guess you shouldn’t expect anything less when you’re in Canada. If you’re continuing on Stanley Park Drive, you will come to the RMS Empress of Japan replica figurehead and the Girl in a Wetsuit statue by Elek Imred.
I really love the Girl in a Wetsuit sculpture because she sits on a little rock a few feet from the seawall edge just gazing over the span of the water toward the Lions Gate Bridge. She looks relaxed after a day of diving and exploring the magnificent waterways of Vancouver. It’s only a wonder as to what sort of sea life she may have encountered. It’s such a wonderful sculpture and an excellent place to sit and join her in thought to find peace in the reflections of the harbor.
After you’ve found a little peace or had your zen moment of the day, keep on trucking over to the Lumberman’s Arch which was erected to honor the British Columbia lumber industry & welcome the visiting Duke of Connaught at the time. It’s one of the more simple monuments of the park but it’s quite a large and powerful one.
It might be a perfect time for you to pull out your picnic basket or cooler to have a bite to eat in the grass or at the picnic tables before you continue on. There is a concession stand over by the arch in case you didn’t bring any food. If you prefer to eat later you can keep going down Stanley Park Drive until you arrive to Prospect point. There is another lighthouse there and it’s the perfect place to get a spectacular view of the Lions gate Bridge. Try to catch the Lions gate Bridge during the day and during the night if you can because it lights up at night and the view is spectacular. If you need to get to North Vancouver or the Capilano Suspension Bridge area you can cross the bridge.
As I mentioned earlier, there is a picnic area if you prefer to stop and eat. Otherwise, you can make your way towards the trails that lead to Siwash Rock. Each time I’ve been to Stanley Park, I have not been able to see Siwash Rock because each time I’ve went the trails were a bit too muddy.
This photo of Stanley Park is courtesy of TripAdvisor
The Hollow Tree is nearby though, so if the trails are not quite what you were looking for, just go up a little further to the tree. It’s exactly as the name sounds. It’s a hollowed out tree…go figure! I’m not sure if it’s actually still living, but it’s the stump of a very old western red cedar tree. It was damaged even further by a windstorm a few years back but a conservation team was developed in order to keep the legacy of the tree alive.
On your way out you can stop at third beach or second beach or any of the other beaches to take a swim. Again, that is one of the main benefits of the park being surrounded by water. You can practically swim anywhere.
You may also stop at the Air India memorial which honors the 331 people who died in the bombing of Air India flight 182.
If you’re not looking to leave on a somber note you can play a round of golf at the golf course or stop by the rose & rhododendron garden.
This is not an all-encompassing list and if everything I’ve mentioned is not enough to fill your day there is a whole heck of a lot more to do. You can also ride the Stanley Park train, shop at the gift shop near the totems, visit the teahouse, look for bald eagles or bats, use your binoculars to keep an eye out for harbor seals, visit any of the other monuments or sculptures within the park, have your portrait painted by one of the many artist with in the park, or stay to catch one of the performances of the Theatre Under the Stars.
Stanley Park is a wonderful place to get lost and lose yourself, so be sure to stop by if you’re in Vancouver.
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