Route: Seaside Bike Route, Vancouver, BC
Surfaces: almost all paved
Difficulty level: very easy, almost all flat
Safety level: very safe, all off road
Distance: 15.8 km one way
Type of bike required: any, but a hybrid, mountain bike or cruiser would be the most comfortable
Suitable for: the whole family on bikes; also trikes, walkers, inline skates and wheelchairs
Congestion: can be very busy during peak, sunny hours. Gloriously quiet on an early, sunny weekday morning (starts to get busy around 10.00 a.m.)
Average Joe Cyclist Rating: Gold Bike-Star! Part 1 of this post is about the Seaside Bike Route from Vancouver’s Convention Center to the exit from Stanley Park (the red part of the route on the first map below). This post is Part 2, about the Seaside Bike Route from the exit from Stanley Park to the Maritime Museum (the red part of the route on the second map). To go to Part 1, just click on Map 1. To read about Part 2, just keep on scrolling down!
As this post kicks off, you are biking up a gentle hill, heading for the exit from Stanley Park. At the top the path will flatten out next to Beach Avenue. When you get there, bear in mind the dangers – pedestrians, roller-bladers and joggers who just wander across the bike route randomly, without looking either left or right. Keep your fingers on your brake levers …
As you crest the hill, the Stanley Park Lawn Bowling Club is on your left, should you be inclined to stop and roll a few. At the same time, your nose will encounter another treat – the smell of the hotdogs on vending carts that offer the hungry cyclist an excuse to stop, sit on a bench, and enjoy the view. Unless it’s still early morning, or the dead of winter, when the hot dog vendors are not around. But never fear – you are just about at Denman Street, which intersects the route. There is an abundance of restaurants in this area.
You can bike up Denman Street, although it’s fairly chaotic – I find it easier just to walk my bike up the sidewalk. On Denman Street you can find the iconic Delaney’s Coffee, a local favorite and a good choice for those who prefer their coffee from independent coffee shops. Alternatively, Starbucks is just across the road (isn’t it always?).
The Starbucks is just behind the famous A-Maze-ing Laughter sculpture by Yue Minjun, well worth a stop, and a great photo opportunity for the photographically inclined. The laughing faces are based on the artist’s own face.
Almost immediately after this is the old English Bay Pavilion (better viewed from the pedestrian walkway, so you might want to walk your bike down there). It’s a famous old building, and houses washrooms and change rooms and a lifeguard station, but it seems badly in need of some TLC. It is also the home of the English Bay Bathhouse, constructed in 1931 and reburbished in 1986. Apparently it is now a night-time gathering place, and is also home to the “Polar Bear Club”, an astounding group of people who take an annual New Year’s dip in English Bay’s icy waters.
Above the pavilion, right on the bike route, is a brand new Cactus Club, in case you’re still hungry. Next continue on the bike route and keep an eye out for the famous and beautiful Inukshuk Statue, which is right on the beach. Created by Alvin Kanak, and financially supported by Coast Hotels and Resorts, this sculpture is traditionally used as a landmark and navigational symbol, and is intended to represent northern hospitality and friendship.
As you continue along this beautiful Seaside Bike Route, you may be able to see the bright red and white tents of the Bard on the Beach festival (if it’s the time of the year when the festival happens, that is, June to September).
Also right in this area is the Vancouver AIDS Memorial, dedicated to those who have lost their struggle with HIV/AIDS, and the caregivers who took care of them, and “to those who live with the presence of their absence”. It’s to the left of the bike route, and very unobtrusive, easy to miss as it looks a bit like a brown fence. Incredibly, some people actually objected to this memorial – as if some people are not worthy of being memorialized!
The memorial is solid wrought iron, and so far has endured time and callous stupidity. The names of people who have died are engraved, and at the top of the memorial is a beautiful quote from Santayana, which starts: “With you a part of me hath passed away …”
Now a great, mostly flat bike route meanders along next to English Bay, offering endless views of beaches and ocean. A short ride on you will come to a little washroom and lifeguard station, right on the bike route. The great thing about this washroom is that it is big enough to wheel your bike right in, so it’s ideal if you don’t have a bike lock with you. Next is the Burrard Bridge, truly awe-inspiring architecture, well worth a detour if you have the energy to bike to the top. And of course the views from the top are stunning, with False Creek on the east and English Bay on the west. Also making this detour worthwhile is the fact that the City of Vancouver has prevailed against a minority of protesting motorists and installed a wide, safe, separated bike route right across the Burrard Bridge.
Almost directly underneath the Burrard Bridge is a selection of waterside restaurants, including the Burrard Bridge Pirate Bar, the Burrard Bridge Marine Bar and Grill and the Endless Summer Pub. You could tie your bike to the railings and get a beer, a burger, a plate of fish and chips or a salad. This is a superb place to get a drink at sunset and watch the water’s ever-changing iridescent shades of blue.
My only criticism of this area is that they have not seen fit to install bike parking, despite the fact that the local businesses are patronized by thousands of cyclists. I find that a bit disrespectful.
Continue along a very pleasant cycling route, winding along next to a seemingly endless marina. Then the route broadens into an area that accommodates people sitting on low walls, flanked by an art installation that commemorates the Sweeney saw mill workers.
Just at this point, if you look across to the street you will see the Reckless Bike Store – an excellent spot to rent bikes, or to get free air or (not free) repairs if you need them. A friendly store that solidly supports local biking. Also in this area are more opportunities for food and gelato.
Next you will go under Granville Island Bridge, which is not fun for riding over, so don’t bother. Just past the Granville Bridge you will see the rather unappealing brown building that houses the Vancouver Aquatic Centre. Don’t be fooled by appearances – if you’re a swimmer, this is a great place to stop. It houses a magnificent pool, incredible diving facilities with a fun deep diving pool, and a kid’s pool as well. There’s bike parking right outside the front door. (But it’s not a very safe place to lock a bike, so bring a BIG bike lock if you plan to stop there.)
Then you will go under the Cambie Bridge, and approach the northern end of False Creek. Next you will approach BC Place and Rogers Arena. Both are pretty spectacular buildings, and are well worth a look. BC Place has a brand new retractable roof, which is said to leak, but looks great. Then you will bypass the Edgewater Casino (because you’re too smart to stop and throw your money away).
The bike route then hugs the north side of False Creek, taking you close by a rocky beach. This area has been dubbed “The Met,” according to signage that has been put up. The route is wide and unmarked here, and usually quite chaotic, so proceed with caution to avoid mowing down absent-minded pedestrians.
As you loop around to the eastern side of False Creek you will find a children’s park that makes for a pleasant stop if you have kids with you. Straight after that you will encounter the unmistakable silver dome of the Telus World of Science (which everyone still calls by its old name, Science World).
Here’s a video of this part of the Seaside Bike Route:
I took this video with my GoPro Hero camcorder, a very affordable camcorder that is ideal for cyclists. Because it is so tiny, it can be easily worn on your helmet. And if you drop it – no problem! I dropped mine from the 10th floor onto concrete, and it was fine.
If you have kids with you and a bit of time, you could park your bikes at the whimsical bike art outside Science World, and take the kids in to check out the endlessly entertaining science exhibits, or perhaps see a movie in the spectacular Omnimax. I logged about a million hours at Science World when my kids were little, and never got bored once.
They also sell great popcorn, and the building houses a White Spot Restaurant, which you can access from the outside without having to go into Science World, if you would prefer fries to education. (The first time I went to that White Spot with my kids, I asked if there was even one item on the menu that wasn’t fried … the man looked at me as if I was insane and said no, everything was fried. I thought this was a strange way to feed kids, but that was 15 years ago, and I understand the menu has improved since then.)
Cycle on a few hundred more meters to come across a great smell – coffee! You are now at the new Athlete’s Village, a legacy of Vancouver’s spectacularly fun 2010 Summer Olympics. You will notice giant bird statues on your left, a clue that you are close to Terra Breads. Here you can lock up your bike safely and within view, and then go in to enjoy snacks, coffee, wine or beer. Continuing on, you will pass the Cambie Street Bridge, and then get to Monk McQueen’s Restaurant, which is a great seafood restaurant with stunning views.
After that you cycle through a very pleasant residential area right on the water, and then come to Granville Island, a festive market/restaurant/entertainment/marina area nestled just under the Granville Bridge. The first entrance to Granville Island is signposted as False Creek Community Center – turn right off the bike path. There are other entrances further on, as well.
Granville Island is another great place to lock up your bike, have a walk, and find great things to eat, drink and do. There’s something for the whole family here. If you just want a coffee, there’s a JJ Bean Coffee Shop inside Granville Island Market.
The coffee shop is close to one of the entrances, so you can get a coffee without getting crushed by the pack of people who usually fill the market to bursting point. But be warned, you will probably be lured further into the Market, because right next to the JJ Beans is a chocolate and candy stand, and a bakery, and fresh fruit stands … everything a hungry cyclist could want!
Granville Island is also a great place to take a detour on the Aquabus. There’s an Aquabus dock right behind the Granville Market. The boats with rainbow roofs take cyclists, with no charge for your bike. It’s a cheap and interesting way to hop all around the Creek and see a lot of sights. You could take your bike with you on one of the rainbow-roofed boats, or leave it locked up at Granville Island while you go on your maritime expedition.
Moving on from Granville Island, yet another place you might want to stop is the open-air fresh fish market, also situated right on the seawall and the Seaside bike route.
Next you will come to Vanier Park. If you turn left and cycle up the road in the middle of this area, you will very quickly reach Vancouver’s famous HR McMillan Space Center in Vanier Park. When my kids were little I loved this even more than Science World. The center includes an Observatory, a Star Theater, and a Space Museum, full of replicas of space ships and assorted fun exhibits. The best part: it even has a real, retired space shuttle that used to be used to train astronauts, but which now provides a virtual space ride experience for the public. Bizarrely, this is not even mentioned on their web site, but I know it’s there, because I’ve been in it! Certainly this is another place that is well worth a stop, and bike parking is provided.
If you go through Vanier Park in mid-summer, you will see the huge red and white tents that house the annual Bard on the Beach festival. Not to be missed, if you like your Shakespeare set to music! Maggie and I once suffered through a singing King Lear, and another year barely survived Troilus and Cressida set during the American Civil War – at least, thank God, no one sang in that one. Seriously though, the festival showcases a lot of great theater as well – and, like thousands of others, I do enjoy the magical experience of watching a play surrounded by the natural beauty of Vanier Park and False Creek.
Then the Seaside Bike Route takes you right past a spectacular wooden totem pole. Soon after this the bike route goes onto the road, but don’t panic – it’s a quiet road and after just a block, the route goes off-road again.
After that you will soon arrive at the Vancouver Maritime Museum. At this point the sea wall ends, and if you want to keep biking, you will be forced onto the road at several points. Actually it continues to be a fun bike ride, but that’s the stuff of a different post …
The Seaside Bike Route is another great bike ride that should be on everyone’s bucket list. And it’s safe and fun for the whole family!
The only downside to this ride is that there are so many fun things to do, it’s impossible to do them all in one day. You could spend a week exploring everything on this route … but whatever you do, the Seaside Bike Route s a great bike ride. I can’t wait to do it again this year … if the rain ever stops.
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