What could be nicer on a sunny spring day in Vancouver than biking Stanley Park (around the Seawall) – and beyond!
It was the first day of May. Not a cloud blurred the bluebird skies, and the temps hit the low 70s with just the gentlest of breezes. We scooted out the door and made our way to Denman Street. Here, we rented bicycles from a bike shop and made for Stanley Park.
Stanley Park – the “best park in the world”
For most visitors to Vancouver, Stanley Park is the Number 1 star attraction.
And move over Central Park! Stanley Park is so gorgeous (at least on a sunny day) that TripAdvisor named it the “best park in the world” in 2014. (It’s bigger than Central Park too.)
We have to thank Vancouver’s original city planners for preserving this 1,000-acre tract of forest as parkland right in the heart of downtown Vancouver.
Want to gape at a half-million trees that are hundreds of years old? This is your place.
During our many visits to Stanley Park in the years we’ve lived in Vancouver, we’ve fed robins and songbirds from our hands, marveled at huge pink and purple blooms in the beautiful rhodo garden, spied great blue herons nesting in trees, watched the antics of octupuses and beluga whales in the Vancouver Aquarium, laughed at curious raccoons and sprightly squirrels crossing the walking paths, and lost track of time gazing at Canada geese watching over their goslings by Lost Lagoon.
Walking, jogging, roller-blading and biking Stanley Park
You can drive – and even take a horse-drawn carriage tour – around the park.
But the most popular way to enjoy it is to walk, jog, roller-blade or bicycle around the 5.5 mile (8.8 km) Stanley Park Seawall.
Stay in your path!
- The Stanley Park Seawall is divided into two clearly marked paths – one for walkers and runners (closest to the water), and one for bicyclists and roller-bladers.
- The bicycle and roller-blading lane is one-way only, going in the direction from Coal Harbor around to English Bay.
This day, we couldn’t immediately start pedaling around the Seawall as the 45th BMO Vancouver Marathon was finishing up. (The marathon was just named by Forbes Travel Guide one of the “12 top marathons worth traveling for.”)
But what fun it was to watch and cheer on the last of the 16,500 runners from over 60 countries – some dressed in costumes – as they jogged (and limped) toward the finish line.
Once we were given the “all clear” by the marathon organizers, we started our Seawall ride, beginning with biking Stanley Park.
Sights on the Seawall
Many people enjoy just biking Stanley Park. But the Seawall actually extends much further.
After you pop out from Stanley Park at English Bay, you can continue along Beach Avenue and all the way around False Creek (an inlet from English Bay) to Granville Island, even a little further to Kitsilano Beach (next to Vanier Park).
The full Vancouver Seawall bike ride is 13.5 miles (22 km) one way, from the Vancouver Convention Center to Kitsilano Beach. (The red biking path shown above, from the Coal Harbor side in Stanley park to Granville Island, underneath Granville Street, is slightly shorter.)
What do you see as you bicycle around the Stanley Park Seawall and beyond? Here are just some of the sights you encounter.
Vancouver Rowing Club
Being almost surrounded by water, Vancouverites are pretty passionate about all water sports, including rowing. One of the first sights when biking Stanley Park is the Vancouver Rowing Club, still going strong after 125 years.
Brockton Point Lighthouse
Built in 1914, the Brockton Point Lighthouse was busy in the days of old – alerting ships to potential collisions and warning them of impending storms. It was decommissioned as a lighthouse in 2005, and now serves as one of Stanley Park’s best viewpoints. We always stop here to look out at Burrard Inlet (which separates downtown Vancouver from Vancouver’s North Shore) and the Lions Gate Bridge.
Girl in a Wetsuit
No, she’s not a mermaid. “Girl in a Wetsuit” (with flippers on her feet and her mask pushed up on her forehead) is a life-size bronze sculpture of a scuba diver sitting on a granite rock in the water. The creator who sculpted her in 1972 was inspired by the fact that scuba diving was becoming quite popular in Vancouver at the time.
Lions Gate Bridge
You’ll cycle right underneath the Lions Gate Bridge, a suspension bridge that connects the city of Vancouver with Vancouver’s North Shore communities. (We live on the North Shore, and during rush hours, the bridge access can be a traffic nightmare on your way to or from downtown Vancouver. We’ve learned to ditch the car and take the bus – so much quicker, as it bypasses snarled car lanes.)
Got your bathing suit on? Join the many cyclists biking Stanley Park who stop to cool off for a swim at Third Beach. The logs are handy for resting against in the sand. Washrooms and a concession stand are tucked up behind the beach. On hot summer days, you’ll sometimes find us swimming here – the water is calm and surprisingly warm!
English Bay is a gorgeous beach area in Vancouver’s downtown, on the edge of Stanley Park. When the thermometer rises, sun-starved Vancouverites love to hang out here on the large swathes of grassy lawn and sandy beach.
After English Bay, you come across the north end of Burrard Bridge. From here, the distance around False Creek to Granville Island, another star attraction for Vancouver visitors, is about 4.7 miles (7.6 km).
On the north side of False Creek in downtown Vancouver, Yaletown was once an industrial area full of warehouses and railyards. But that was back before Vancouver morphed into the cool city it is today. The warehouses have now been converted into funky residential lofts, and a slew of ultra-modern, high-rise condos have since been built. You’ll find many of Vancouver’s best restaurants in Yaletown – Cioppino’s, Blue Water Café, The Flying Pig – along with swanky hipster bars and nightspots.
It looks like a giant golf ball. But Science World is actually a geodesic dome, built for Expo 86 (when Vancouver hosted a huge World Fair). And it’s a very interesting place – a non-profit science center with tons of hands-on, interactive displays and the world’s largest OMNIMAX dome theater screen.
When our son was still a kid, the three of us spent many a happy winter day at Science World learning about the human body (should you drink your own pee?), puzzling over illusions and generally having geeky fun. You’re probably not going to stop here on your bike ride – but Science World is definitely worth visiting in Vancouver (especially if you have kids and it happens to be raining).
Hey, you made it to Granville Island! Like Stanley Park, it’s one of Vancouver’s most popular visitor attractions, and a thriving shopping and entertainment hub for locals as well. Home to art studios, boutique shops, restaurants, a live theater, craft breweries and colorful floating homes, Granville Island is anchored by the huge Public Market – we never tire of browsing its cheese stalls, bakeries, deli counters, and fresh fruit, veggie and flower stands.
Practical info for biking Stanley Park (and beyond)
- Bike rentals: You have a great choice of bicycle rental shops on Denman Street (just a few blocks from the Stanley Park seawall). We’ve rented from many of them. This time, we went with Bayshore Rentals and had comfy Norco bikes. Bayshore Rentals is open until dusk (which is late in spring and summer) so you have plenty of daylight hours for riding and relaxing, without stressing about returning the bikes before they close. Bike rental rates are $12 CAD ($9.50 USD) for 2 hours or $23.80 CAD ($18.50 USD) for the day.
- How much time should you allow? You can comfortably pedal the Stanley Park Seawall (including photo stops) in 2 hours. Allow up to 4 hours for biking Stanley Park and around the False Creek waterfront to Granville Island (more if you stop for a leisurely lunch or swim along the way). To cut your return time considerably, Aquabus Ferries can take you and your bicycle from Granville Island across False Creek to the Hornby Street landing near Burrard Bridge.
- Be aware: Biking Stanley Park gets very busy on warm, sunny weekends and in summer. You’ll have to share the trail with thousands of other people all wanting to enjoy exactly what you want to do. So be careful and go slow – you don’t want to mow down a pedestrian! It’s best if you can go first thing in the morning, or make it a late afternoon/early evening ride (Vancouver has long days of sunshine in the summer when it’s still light past 8:00 pm – and the bike rental shops stay open late).
- Where to stay in Vancouver? The Pinnacle Hotel at the Pier in North Vancouver is a great 4-star hotel (see our review) – you can easily get to downtown Vancouver by taking the SeaBus from the dock right by the Pinnacle Hotel. Search the lowest prices for the Pinnacle and other Vancouver hotels here.
- For more Vancouver info: See the Tourism Vancouver website.