Despite the fact that it’s fairly easy to do a long weekend in Vancouver from Southern California, for some reason it took me a solid twenty years of living in Los Angeles to actually visit. And after spending 3 days in Vancouver, I can honestly say that there’s so much more to this city than meets the eye.
So when Tourism Vancouver invited me on my first ever visit to Canada this past spring, I was pretty excited. Not just because I’d be spending three days in Vancouver, but also because I was visiting in the spring…and being from Southern California, I love visiting seasons (we don’t get spring or autumn). I discovered that spring in Vancouver is the equivalent of winter in Los Angeles and that you can’t actually see all of Vancouver in 3 days. But, with this Vancouver itinerary for first time visitors, you can easily get a taste of what the city has to offer.
Table of Contents
Arrival in Vancouver
In an ideal world, you’ll arrive the evening before your first full day in Vancouver and get a good night’s sleep. Vancouver is a port city and is easily accessible by pretty much every mode of transportation: plane, car, bus, train, and cruise ship. If you fly in like I did, you can easily get to your hotel using the Skytrain (the Canada Line if you’re staying in Downtown Vancouver). Google Maps’ transport option is accurate and easy to use for getting around the city.
Vancouver Itinerary: Day One in Vancouver
Walk around the Olympic Village
One thing I love about Vancouver is the effort put towards making it more green – not just with parks and nature, but also through other means, such as design. The Olympic Village was built in 2010 and is considered one of the greenest communities in the world. Located in False Creek, this is a great area to explore on foot, with plenty of benches, cute cafes and restaurants, and green spaces to keep you occupied for at least an hour or two.
Aquabus to Granville Island
From Olympic Village, catch the Aquabus to Granville Island, a stretch of land home to boutique workshops, a giant public market, theaters, and more. It’s a cultural hub for some of the best of boutique Vancouver, and you can easily spend a whole day exploring. One of my favorite ways of getting to know any new city is through food, and I had a great time sampling some of the delicious goods at the market on The Granville Island Market Tour. Get your Aquabus ticket ahead of time here.
Granville Island Market Tour
Although the tour starts at 10:30 am, I recommend arriving earlier and walking around the island, since there’s so much more to see outside of the market. Alternatively, you can explore after the tour as well. Don’t miss the Osgemeos ‘Giants’, a group of colorful concrete silos that are visible from the Aquabus.
I was curious to do a food tour in Vancouver because the only food items I know of that are distinctly Canadian are maple syrup and poutine (and poutine is from Quebec). On my tour, I learned that Canada is a cultural hub to a huge variety of cuisine from all over the world – and some of the best Asian food I’ve had outside of Asia. My tour guide, Tracy, was upbeat and knowledgeable, easily answering every question that came her way. I loved that the samples were all local farm-to-table foods and I may or may not have eaten the best honey donut of my life on this tour. If you’re looking for a delicious way to explore Granville Island, this is it! Book the food tour HERE.
Not going to lie, I was prepared for FlyOver Canada to be super cheesy but it was actually SO cool. It reminds me a lot of Soarin Over the World at Disney California Adventure. Essentially, it’s a 4D film and ride showcasing some the most iconic places in Canada complete with special effects. Everything from the pre-show to the ride itself is incredibly well done and it honestly made me want to road trip across Canada. Note: reserve your ticket online to avoid long lines.
Once you’re done with FlyOver Canada, take a leisurely walk around the Waterfront; there are plenty of shops and cafes to be discovered.
Main Street Street Art
It’s no secret that I’m obsessed with street art and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Vancouver is a huge supporter of street art and murals. So much so, in fact, that Create Vancouver Society launched the first Vancouver Mural Festival in 2017, a public initiative to create permanent, large-scale murals throughout the city. To me, street art is a way for artists to comment on and critique society and it’s an ever-changing expression of ideas. Vancouver has street art in various neighborhoods throughout the city, with the biggest concentration on and around Main Street. The Vancouver Mural Festival offers tours year-round and also has a handy map for those who want to explore on their own.
Savio Volpe is a bit out of the way from downtown but it is totally worth the drive if you’re looking to treat yourself. Seriously, I’m talking some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had. The menu changes constantly, but all the food is made fresh with local ingredients. I brought a friend along so I could sample more dishes #priorities and we were both blown away. Let me just clarify that I’m not generally a fan of Italian food, but there’s a reason this place gets rave reviews – it’s really that good. The beef tartare, steak with bone marrow and pasta were the most drool worthy dishes by far, but seriously even the kale salad was amazing. Do yourself a favor and go.
Day Two in Vancouver
One of the many perks of staying at The Douglas is access to delicious restaurants, such as the delightful Honey Salt. With its cozy ambiance and varied menu, it’s easily the best choice for breakfast (or brunch on a weekend) in the area. I was an enthusiastic fan of the salmon board, complete with locally caught salmon and veggies galore. While I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to eat here, I do recommend it if you’re staying in the area.
Howe Sound Sea Safari
While there’s a ton to do in Vancouver itself, I’m always a fan of getting out of city centers for a bit. Enter the Howe Sound Sea Safari, a two-hour excursion around Howe Sound, located about an hour north of Vancouver. I was picked up from my hotel at 10 AM (although you can drive yourself as well) and the Deep Fjord Tour started promptly at 11 AM. Thankfully, I was given a warm waterproof jumpsuit that kept me dry during the drizzle. Despite the weather, I really enjoyed the tour around Howe Sound. The landscapes are truly breathtaking, and it was such a joy to see so many animals in their natural habitat. I was fortunate that we saw a couple of whales splashing about as well, which are apparently quite rare. This was such a fun and unique adventure and I’m really glad I didn’t let the stormy skies deter me from going. British Colombia has some spectacular nature, and this tour is an excellent way to escape the city for a few hours for a sampling of some of Howe Sound’s best views.
La Belle Patate Poutine
At this point, it’ll be early afternoon, so make your way to La Belle Patate downtown for a filling lunch. Despite the fact that the majority of Canadians told me that there was no way I’d find good poutine outside of Quebec, my experienced taste buds told me that La Belle Patate was a worthy choice. My food tour guide also gave it the stamp of approval. I ordered the smoked meat poutine and devoured the entire thing. It was perfectly flavored with just the right balance of ingredients. Whether this is your first poutine experience or you’re a long-time poutine fan, this is definitely a must-visit spot in Vancouver.
Meander through Downtown Vancouver
Since you’ll already be downtown for lunch, take advantage of your location and stroll around the area. Scope out the cool architecture (such as that of the Vancouver Public Library), check out the Vancouver Art Gallery or window shop on Robson Street (Vancouver’s version of Rodeo Drive). End your walk at Trees Organic Coffee on the edge of Gastown. It’s a great place to people watch, especially because it’s conveniently located next to an Instagrammable pink street. Not only do you get to watch people take cheesy photos, but you can take some of your own as well. Win-win!
Take the bus from the café directly to Stanley Park for a bike ride (or walk) along the famous Seawall. I’m a huge fan of large city parks and Stanley Park is no exception. There’s so much to do inside the park itself that you could easily spend an entire day here. There’s even a “Secrets of Stanley Park” Walking Tour because the park is that big! Don’t miss the First Nations totem poles, the Hollow Tree, Brockton Point Lighthouse, and the breathtaking views from Prospect Point. I’ve been told the Vancouver Aquarium is pretty impressive as well although that would require entering before the building’s 5pm closing time.
Dinner: Asian Cuisine
End your evening at a dinner spot of your choosing. I didn’t love my dinner that evening but my local Vancouver friends recommend Minami for sushi, Anh and Chi for pho, or Marutama for Ramen. Alternatively, you can eat at one of the cafes and restaurants inside Stanley Park itself.
Day Three in Vancouver
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
After breakfast, make your way to one of the pickup points for Capilano Suspension Bridge Park. There’s a free shuttle starting at 8:45 AM that picks up and returns visitors from seven different points in the city.
Located 20 minutes from Vancouver, Capilano is a large rainforest complete with suspension bridges, a cliff walk and a treetop adventure. Aim to spend at least a few hours getting up close and personal with some of Vancouver’s finest flora and fauna. I was seriously impressed by the park and found that it was such a refreshing and educational way to spend a few hours outside of the city. Note: while tickets are a bit on the pricier side, it’s totally worth it. However, if you’d like to save on the admission price, you can get a 30% discount on tickets if you enter after 5 pm (in the summer). If the weather is good, I recommend doing a combined visit to Grouse Mountain – I unfortunately had to skip it due to bad weather.
Walk around Gastown into Chinatown
Take the shuttle back to Canada Place and spend the rest of the afternoon exploring Gastown and Chinatown on foot, starting with a stop at the Vancouver Lookout (get your ticket ahead HERE). Gastown is Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood, and is home to plenty of boutique and brand name shops, cute cafes and charming architecture. Don’t miss the iconic Gastown Steam Clock, where pretty much every tourist has to take a photo (myself included). Continue wandering until you arrive in Chinatown. Vancouver’s Chinatown is quite small compared to many I’ve seen worldwide, but it’s home to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, which is well worth a visit, time permitting.
Phnom Penh was easily one of the best restaurants I ate at in Vancouver (tied with Savio Volpe). Despite arriving ridiculously early for dinner, I still had to wait for an hour to get in. This Vietnamese-Cambodian restaurant is incredibly popular with locals and with good reason. The food is authentic, mouthwateringly delicious, and reasonably priced. Several locals recommended it to me and warned me about the long wait, but I would have happily waited for another hour to eat here. That’s how good it was. Must order items include chicken wings, fried rice and marinated butter beef. If you have to choose one restaurant to add to your itinerary out of all my recommendations, make it this one.
Earnest Ice Cream
If you still have some room in your dessert pocket – the place in your stomach reserved solely for dessert – make your way to Earnest Ice Cream for some of Vancouver’s best. Home to both classic and trendy flavors alike, this is the perfect way to end your last day in Vancouver.
Additional Activities and Recommendations
If you’re spending four or even five days in Vancouver, I’ve got you covered. Here are a few extra things I did while I was in town (shout out to My Suitcase Journeys for being the real MVP and showing me around) that could easily be added to an itinerary.
- Crackle Crème: a small café in Chinatown serving the cutest macarons.
- Medina Café: a popular downtown eatery serving brunch all day.
- Queen Elizabeth Park and Gardens: A gorgeous place for a leisurely stroll, particularly during springtime.
- Cherry blossom hunting: Come to Vancouver in the springtime to catch beautiful blooms all over the city. There’s even a handy map.
- Museum of Anthropology at UBC: An informative museum highlighting The First Nations of Canada.
- Kitsilano Beach: An excellent place to relax with scenic views of Vancouver. You can also swim here when the weather is warm.
- Grouse Mountain: A peak with a large variety of outdoor activities such as ziplining, a gondola, and more. Best combined with Capilano (visit when the skies are clear).
- Day Trip to Victoria: Get out of the city and explore another part of British Columbia – like the spectacular Butchart Gardens in Victoria. Check out the day tour here.
- Bird’s Eye View of Vancouver: Get the best view of Vancouver on a seaplane flight above the city. It’s a pretty cool experience! Book it here.
- Vancouver lunch cruise: Cruise along Vancouver’s gorgeous waterfront. You’ll get spectacular nature views of Vancouver and surrounds plus a delicious lunch buffet to go with it. It’s the perfect way to spend a relaxing afternoon – especially if the weather is nice. Check it out here.
- Spend the day in Whistler: Whistler is British Columbia’s world-famous ski destination, and with good reason – it’s incredibly beautiful. You’re guaranteed to experience epic landscapes, spectacular waterfalls and the opportunity to ride the Peak 2 Peak Gondola, ATV and more. Be sure to wear warmer clothes – it’s cold up on the mountain! Check out the day trip here.
Where to Stay in Vancouver
If it’s your first time in Vancouver, I highly recommend staying in the downtown area: think Yaletown, Gastown, Downtown or The West End. The majority of places you’ll be visiting are in this area and are easily accessible by foot. I stayed at The Douglas, a chic boutique hotel in Yaletown located inside the Parq Vancouver. Seriously, the hotel couldn’t have been more perfect. The location was walking distance from pretty much everywhere without the downtown noise and crowds. The service exceeded expectations with everyone going above and beyond to ensure my stay was wonderful. And the rooms were beautifully designed, with detailed touches that made me feel ultra pampered. The Douglas definitely gets my stamp of approval.
Alternatively, my other recommendations are below:
- Backpack: Samesun Vancouver | Read Tripadvisor reviews | Book a Stay
- Save: Residence Inn by Marriott Vancouver | Read Tripadvisor reviews | Book a Stay
- Splurge: The Fairmont Pacific Rim | Read Tripadvisor reviews | Book a Stay
Or browse all your options:
Transportation in Vancouver
Getting around Vancouver is pretty straightforward. Most of my favorite sights and activities were in and around downtown, making walking my preferred mode of transportation. To explore other neighborhoods, use the Skytrain or pubic bus. Lastly, it’s worth noting that there is no Uber in Vancouver, but yellow cabs are easily available (although they can get pricey).
What to Pack for Vancouver
Despite the fact that I visited in May, I was surprised to find that springtime is actually chilly (at least compared to California) and can be rainy. So, be sure to pack waterproof clothing and a sturdy umbrella.
- Moisture-wicking socks: These moisture-wicking socks are perfect for all-day wear without smelly or sweaty feet. Just a few pairs will do.
- Moisture-wicking clothing: Avoid being damp and pick up several moisture-wicking tops and bottoms as well. I’ve linked my favorites but you can also browse all your options at REI.
- Secret pocket scarf: One of my favorite minimalist hacks for travel is to bring several scarves and several basic shirts and mixing and matching them to make it look like a whole new outfit. Cool trick, right? My favorite scarf to pack for every trip is this secret pocket scarf. It’s cute and functional and has the added bonus of having a hidden pocket, where you can keep your passport, some money, or any other valuable you’re worried about.
- Fleece: I went to Vancouver in the spring, and found the weather to be unpredictable. It was definitely worth having a fleece handy.
- Packable down jacket: There are some days when it gets pretty chilly so a proper jacket does come in handy. I really like this packable one because it’s warm but doesn’t take up much room in your suitcase.
- Waterproof jacket: It rained on and off the entire time I was in Vancouver, and I was thankful that I brought my rain jacket. This jacket is insulated to protect you from the wind and keep you dry. It also fits into its own pocket to make packing lightly that much easier.
- Waterproof hiking shoes: I cannot stress this enough. Make sure the shoes you bring are waterproof and conducive to walking and/or hiking (there are tons of great hikes around Vancouver). I’m personally a fan of these but you can also bring along comfortable waterproof boots if you have them.
- Samsonite Flexis Carry On: I travel with my backpack most of the time (especially if I’m going to multiple cities) but if I don’t bring my backpack, I use my Samsonite bag. I used to always buy inexpensive suitcases to save money but most of them didn’t survive longer than a few trips. This suitcase has been adventuring with me for several years and it still looks new. It’s definitely a worthy investment!
- Travel First Aid Kit: I love that this travel first aid kit is small enough to stick in your bag but still has tons of items in it. I’d remove the scissors if you aren’t planning to check your luggage, but otherwise, this is incredibly handy, especially if you’re going to be doing outdoorsy things.
- Power bank: I don’t know if I’m a phone addict or what (jk, the answer to that is an unfortunate but resounding yes) but I legit don’t understand how people can travel without a power bank. You’re out and about all day and using your phone to navigate, take photos, and who knows what else. I always carry my Anker PowerCore while I’m out. It’s light, holds multiple charges, and charges phones quickly. Win!
- Portable WiFi: Once upon a time, I used to collect SIM cards like 90’s kids collected Beanie Babies. I had one for each country I visited and multiple phone numbers I could never remember. Why? So I could always have internet (I’m an addict and I know it). Nowadays, I use a TEP Wireless Hotspot. I get internet pretty much everywhere and can use it for multiple devices. P.S. read my TEP Wireless review here.
- Travel Camera(s): I know all the cool kids are about that #iPhoneOnly life, but I still like taking photos with a camera. Does that make me old? Whatever, I’m embracing it. Anyway, for adventure footage and photos, the latest GoPro is seriously the best. It’s waterproof, image stabilizing, and a bunch of other cool features. If you’re looking for a nice digital camera that doesn’t involve complicated lenses, I personally use the Sony RX100 II, which I’m obsessed with. This is the older model (I think they’re on the 6 now) but it works great. The Carl Zeiss lens helps take spectacular, high-quality photos but the camera is small enough to fit in a purse. I also bring my Instax Mini 9 with me cause I’m extra like that, but I also understand that most normal people don’t travel with three cameras.
- Insulated water bottle: I always bring a water bottle with me when I travel because single-use plastic sucks for the planet and buying lots of bottled water is expensive and inconvenient. You CAN drink the tap water in Vancouver so there’s no need to buy bottled water. My favorite bottle is my CamelBak Insulated Water Bottle – it’s particularly awesome because holds 20 oz and keeps water cold, which you’ll want when you’re out and about all day.
- Travel Insurance: Yes, you need travel insurance for if things (hopefully don’t but often do) go wrong. I’ve been sick, needed stitches, crashed a rental car, had cash stolen and have dealt with luggage delays. Let’s just say I’ve learned my lesson about travel insurance the hard way. My go-to insurance is World Nomads cause they’re awesome. Be sure to check out the different plan options to pick one that’s right for you!
So how many days you should spend in Vancouver? I’d say at least a week to explore the city and surrounds. So, while a 3 day trip to Vancouver certainly isn’t enough to do everything, it offers a great overview of this spectacular city. I know I’ll be back for more.
Tell me: have you ever been to Vancouver? What’s your favorite place in the city?
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