The rocky coast of Second Beach in Stanley Park.

The rocky coast of Second Beach in Stanley Park. Photo © Futurestreet, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Map of Vancouver, BC


Vancouver might not be best known for its beaches, and the water may be too cold for swimming most of the year (don’t tell that to the 2,000-odd locals who take to the water each January for the Polar Bear Swim), but in summer the long stretches of sand that fringe the city are a hive of activity.

The best beaches are along English Bay, a shallow body of water between downtown and central Vancouver. English Bay Beach, in the West End, has been a popular summer hangout for Vancouverites since the 1920s, when legendary Joe Fortes began his 25-year-long self-appointed role as local lifeguard. The white, sandy beach is surrounded by parkland, behind which is a crush of beachy boutiques and outdoor cafés and restaurants. To the north along a seaside promenade is Second Beach, with a large outdoor pool complex, and more secluded Third Beach.

On the south side of English Bay is trendy Kitsilano and “Kits” Beach, a mecca for sun worshippers and the place to be seen on a summer day. The beach extends for more than half a kilometer between Arbutus and Trafalgar Streets, backed by a park dotted with trees, picnic tables, and benches. The water off Kits Beach is relatively shallow, making the water warmer than on the north side of the bay. Continuing west is Jericho Beach (distorted from the original name “Jerry’s Cove”), backed by a large park. This stretch of sand gives way to Locarno Beach and then Spanish Banks Beach; the beaches become less crowded as you travel westward.

The westernmost of these beaches on Point Grey is also Vancouver’s most infamous: Wreck Beach is a nudist hangout, where the unabashed prance around naked, and nude dudes sell hot dogs and pop from driftwood concession stands. Swimming here isn’t particularly good, but the beach still gets extremely busy. Access to the beach is down a steep trail from Northwest Marine Drive, near the end of University Boulevard (take trail number 4, 5, or 6).

In the south of the city, the warm, shallow waters of Boundary Bay are surrounded by sandy beaches. Point Roberts, south of Tsawwassen, is a popular swimming spot, as is Crescent Beach, across the bay in Surrey. The actual beaches around Boundary Bay are much wider than those at English Bay, and at low tide many spots come alive with shorebirds. One particularly good bird-watching spot is Blackie Spit; walk up to the spit from Crescent Beach.

The coastline on the North Shore is generally steep and rocky. The beach at Ambleside Park, West Vancouver, is the exception. A few rocky beaches lie along Howe Sound, north of Horseshoe Bay, including Porteau Beach, a popular scuba-diving spot.

The ocean waters around Vancouver reach a maximum temperature of 17°C (62°F) midsummer, but swimming is still popular. All of the beaches listed here have lifeguards on duty from late spring to late summer. For the not so brave, Second Beach and Kitsilano Beach have outdoor pools in which the temperature is considerably warmer than the ocean.

Excerpted from the Sixth Edition of Moon Vancouver & Victoria.