Stanley Park is one of the most popular destinations in Vancouver for many reasons – the park draws around 10 million visitors every year – as it is the perfect outdoor playground on the edge of the city. It is located at the north-west end of the downtown peninsula, surrounded by water on 3 sides, with English Bay and Vancouver Harbour marking the aquatic boundaries. The best way to experience Stanley Park is to take a trip around the perimeter of the park on the seawall – either on foot or by bike – along the 8.8-km long path that circumnavigates the park. This pathway is the perfect way to sample a little bit of everything that the park offers.
The park is almost as old as the city itself, a “gift” from then Governor General Lord Stanley (the same Stanley who gifted the Stanley Cup to the sport of hockey); in 1888 it was dedicated “to the use and enjoyment of peoples of all colours, creeds, and customs, for all time. I name thee, Stanley Park.” It still proudly serves this purpose today and the park is a playground for those who need to spend some time outside. This is the number one destination that we recommend to visitors of Vancouver for many reasons, with many attractions – both man made and natural – that make a trip to the park worthwhile.
It is one of the top destinations in the city, for both locals and tourists, and especially in the summer time, it is one of the best places to spend an afternoon or whole day in Vancouver.
It has been voted the best city park by Trip Advisor on several occasions.
There are many ways to experience Stanley Park. You can walk the many trails that take you through the untouched parts of the park, along well maintained trails that meander their way past trees that are hundreds of years old. These trails connect all corners of the park, and if you enjoy a walk through nature, this is the place for you!
As we mentioned above, there is the seawall, which stretches from Canada Place to Kitsilano, and the 8.8-km long stretch that goes around the park is one of the most popular things to do in Vancouver. This is probably the best way to first experience the park, and you will be able to visit many of the attractions along the way (just don’t forget to get a bike lock).
There are several beaches worth visiting for a swim, highly rated restaurants to eat at, and several incredible viewpoints to take pictures. If you don’t feel like going for a long walk, there are horse drawn carriages that do a loop around the lower half of the park, or you can ride through the full park on one of two “hop on / hop off” busses that have routes through the park. If you have your own car, and you only have time to do the drive along Park Drive, it is definitely worth it.
This urban oasis is one of the top attractions in Vancouver for good reason, as there is a little bit of everything for everyone. No matter how long you spend in the park, it is definitely worth it. You need to dedicate a few hours to visit here so that you can get to know this incredible destination.
8 Incredible things we did in Stanley Park
1. Take a trip around the seawall
No trip to Stanley Park would be complete without a trip along the seawall, so we’ve decided this is the best way to start exploring the park. A trip along the seawall can his can be done on foot (just over 2 hours), but the best way to experience it is to find yourself a bike (around an hour on a bike) to take the trip around the park
The Vancouver seawall is a waterfront pathway that connects the city’s waterfront areas, from the Canada Place Convention Center to Kitsalano Beach and everything in between. It is great for walking, jogging or riding a bike – and one of the most popular sections of this is the 8.8 km (5.5 mile) stretch that wraps around Stanley Park.
This is the best way to see Stanley Park for several reasons, and if you only have one afternoon to explore the park, this is probably the best way to experience it.
Not only do you get to see several great viewpoints along the way – with stunning views of the downtown skyline, the north shore mountains and English Bay – you will get an incredible taste of what the park has to offer, and whet your appetite for more.
If you plan your trip carefully (and make sure you have a bike lock) you can visit many of the best attractions listed below while doing your bike ride, and turn your bike ride into a full sightseeing tour.
The seawall will take you all over the city, as the total route covers 30km of Vancouver’s waterfront. The Stanley Park section is just the most popular section of the famous route.
The seawall was designed with for both the enjoyment of the residents of the city as well as serving a practical purpose, protecting the shores of Stanley Park from weather related erosion. In 1917, under the vision of then Park Superintendent WS Rawlings, the idea for the Seawall was conceived, and later completed under the leadership of James Cunningham, who oversaw the construction for 32 years (until his retirement) and he kept an eye on it until his death. The idea was to have a natural attraction that would showcase the incredible park to both locals and visitors to the city. The idea was obviously a hit, and it is used extensively in the summer months by both locals and tourists.
2. Visit the Totem Poles at Brockton Point
This beautiful monument is located at Brockton Point, on the east side of the park, nearby some of the best views overlooking Vancouver Harbour and the downtown skyline. If you’re on foot, this is a good place to start, as its close walking distance to many other attractions.
Vancouver was founded in 1886, but the region had been inhabited by the first nations that make up the indigenous populations of the Pacific Northwest. This history is underrepresented in the now metropolitan city, so having a place to see some of the most impressive storytelling and artwork of the Indigenous people in one place, makes this a must see destination. The Anthropology Museum at UBC is another good place to learn about this history as well.
The Totem pole is designed to tell a story; it was traditionally carved into Giant Red Cedar by the indigenous populations of the North West Coast. These beautiful monuments had many meanings, the carved symbols and figures could represent a mythological story, or tell a notable recent family event; and sometimes just as art.
The city of Vancouver began buying and collecting Totem Poles in the 1920s, with the idea of re-creating a First Nations village inside Stanley Park. They were once located in different places throughout the park, but in the 1980s they were moved to their current location at Brockton Point (there are only 3 other Totem Poles in the park not located here).
The totem poles are located close to the easternmost point of the park, and you are able to walk to some of the nearby attractions including the Harry Jerome statue (which has one of the best views of the downtown Vancouver), the 9 o’clock gun and and it is a short walk towards the Aquarium from here. If you are planning to take a horse drawn tour of the park, this is nearby where those tours depart from.
Don’t miss out on a chance to see this beautiful spot in Stanley Park.
3. Ferguson Point / 3rd Beach
Ferguson Point is one of the most scenic places in Stanley Park, with a view of English Bay that rivals any other point in the city. Major bonus points if you are able to visit during the sunset in the summer, as this is one of the best places to watch the sun go down in the entire city.
Fergusson Point is home to one of the most highly rated restaurants in the city – the Teahouse Restaurant – where you can stop for brunch, lunch or dinner. This restaurant has been in this same location for over 40 years. The building it is located in has a historical connection to the area, as it was once used as a summer summer teahouse (serving light snacks and tea in the garden) and before that, it was used as an Officers garrison during the World War 2. With its strategic vantage point overlooking English Bay, Fergusson point was transformed into a massive gun emplacement overlooking to protect the harbour from potential invasion.
This was also probably one of the best places to have spent the Second World War for the same reasons this is a good place to visit today, as it is a short walk down to the beach.
A short 3-minute trek down the hill from Fergusson Point is 3rd Beach, one of the most far out beaches in the city, and a great place to hang out in the sun for a few hours mid afternoon, or stick around for the sunset.
Because it is further away from downtown, it is much less crowded than English Bay or even nearby Second Beach. It is popular with younger groups (it has a very laid back vibe) but is also great for families and kids. Find yourself a spot on this sandy stretch and just enjoy the views.
This small beach is perfect for lounging around for an hour or an afternoon. It’s a good place to stop if you’re doing a trip along the seawall too. When you get hungry, head up the hill to the Teahouse Restaurant or stay at the beach with cheap snacks from the concession. No matter what you do, make sure you plan to be here during the sunset; the sunset here is unforgettable.
4. Second Beach
Second beach is located on the English Bay side of Stanley Park, and is one of the best places to go hang out and relax in the city. There are many wide open fields and parks here. It is perfect place to set up for a picnic on the edge of the city.
This also has to be high up on the list of “best places in the city to watch the sunset”, and it is one of our favourite places in the park to hang out, as there are incredible views of English Bay.
While this isn’t our favourite beach for swimming (we would prefer to head over to Spanish Banks or nearby third beach) there is a small strip of sandy beach here that is a good spot to set up for a few hours of sunshine.
If you do feel like you need to take a dip in the water, the best place to swim is the Second Beach outdoor pool located here. There are many attached amenities here – parking, bathrooms and concessions for food – which make it a reasonable place to spend a few hours.
Close to here there are many other ways to pass a few hours; there is the small pitch n putt golf course, a lawn bowling club and tennis courts located nearby, and soon there will be a tasting room for the Stanley Park Brewery. The brewhouse is currently being built into the old location of the Fish House Restaurant and will certainly be a destination for visitors to the Stanley Park.
What makes this one of our favourite destinations in the park, isn’t the beach itself, but the park located here. Next to second beach there is a big grassy field (not sure if it has an official name, but it’s located next to the Ceperley Park Playground) and it is the perfect place to set up for a picnic or kick a ball around for a few hours.
Every Tuesday in the summer this is also transformed into an outdoor movie theatre, where they set up chairs and an inflatable movie screen and play classic movies like Titanic, Back to the Future or the Lego Movie. Have a look at their selection of movies for the year and decide which movie is the one you want to watch outdoors. Just be warned that this has become a popular attraction for locals, so make sure you show up early to claim a spot. If you can avoid bringing a car, please do, as the grid-lock traffic when the movie finishes is definitely worth avoiding.
5. Vancouver Aquarium
Vancouver Aquarium is one of the most popular destinations inside Stanley Park, and it is one of the best and largest Aquariums in the country. It is run by a non-profit society that focuses on research and conservation of local wildlife.
Since 1956, when the Aquarium first oepend, it has become one of the top destinations in Stanley Park. It is the perfect place to spend a few hours in the park, especially if you have kids with you. It has over 9,500,000 liters of water (over 2 million gallons) with 166 aquatic galleries, and does a good job of featuring Canadian underwater landscapes, with a large display featuring the Straight of Georgia. One of the highlights is their daily dolphin show.
Inside the aquarium you will find many different mammals and water species, including otters (our personal favourite) alongside Beluga whales, harbour seals, sea lions, penguins and many different local fish species. They also have a great Amazon rainforest display, with many different bird species (like caimans), snakes, fresh water fish and three toed-sloth inside of a contained ecosystem.
You should definitely give yourself 2-3 hours to visit, as there are many exhibits to explore. The Vancouver Aquarium does a good job of combining entertainment with education while doing a lot of really great work behind the scenes rehabilitating wild animals. The Vancouver Aquarium is a world leader in the marine conservation and innovation, and they are designated as a Coastal America Learning Center.
Like most aquariums, there has always been a little controversy. Vancouver Aquarium was the first to put captured Killer Whales (Orca) on display. When the last Orca left the aquarium in 2001 (later dying in captivity), they have refused to allow any newly captured animals to be introduced, and have only used captive animals for breeding.
Since then, they are now more focused on educational aspects as opposed to putting on a “show”. They are in the process of removing the last of the Beluga Whales from here as well, which will only help their reputation as a world leader in Marine conservation.
They also run the “Oceanwise” program in Vancouver, which is run alongside many restaurants and promotes sustainable fishing practices. Look for their logo on menus throughout the city to help inform you about how the city is working on protecting and lessening the impact of the local wild fish stocks.
6. Prospect Point
Another one of the best views in Stanley Park can be found at Prospect Point. It is one of the highest points in the park. You might think to yourself this is just a tourist trap when you drive by and see the many tour busses parked here, but it is much more than that.
In fact, this is one of the oldest viewpoints in the city of Vancouver, drawing visitors for over 100 years. From here, there is a great spot where you can look at the North Shore Mountains, English Bay, West Vancouver and the Lions Gate Bridge. If you’re a fan of cruise ships, this is a good place to watch them leave the harbour on their way to Alaska.
It is the northernmost point of Stanley Park, it is here that the Lions Gate Bridge (which began construction in 1937) crosses the Burrard Inlet towards North Shore. You can take the less than 5 minute walk along Park Drive for one of the most classic viewpoint of the bridge, or go for a longer walk into the forest. From here, you have easy access to the upper trails of Stanley Park (that lead all the way back to the city) or you could take a walk down towards the seawall to see the Prospect Point Lighthouse or Siwash Rock.
Just a bit further down the road is the hollow tree, which is one of the oldest attractions in Vancouver. This is a monument to the 1000 year old Red Cedars that once called Stanley Park home, and is sometimes referred to as the “big tree”. It had survived wind storms and logging, eventually becoming a favourite place to have your photograph taken, dating back to the time of black and white photography.
Alongside the incredible views, there is a small cafe located here, and a trading post where you can buy yourself a souvenir. The incredible views of the mountains are worth making this a stopover point during your visit to Stanley Park.
7. Walk around Lost Lagoon
There are many trails that run through the park, and if you’re interested in going for a walk through nature, Stanley Park is definitely the place for you. This is one of the best places to enjoy a walk through the forest, and if you’re traveling from the Vancouver Harbour side towards English Bay, this is the perfect place to visit en route.
Whether you’re planning to take a long hike through the forest, or just want to get a quick taste of the park, this is a good place to stop over first. It is easy to walk here from the west end or downtown, and won’t take you long to explore this side of the park.
This is where you can find one of our favourite views of Vancouver, looking over Lost Lagoon with the skyscrapers of downtown in the background. It is an amazing contrast of man vs nature. Even if you don’t have time for a long walk through the trees, you can settle for a short walk around the lagoon (a good 30-40 minute trail) or connect to the other trails that link the different areas of the park.
The trails that run through Stanley Park create a network that connects all parts of the park, with three points where you can cross the causeway. East of the causeway is where most of the manmade attractions are located – the Aquarium, the Rose garden and the Totem poles – and on the west side of is mostly tall trees and nature. This is our favourite side of the park. It is easy to find yourself a happy place wandering through the forest; just make sure you bring a map with you, as you don’t want to get lost in the forest.