Story by Susan Mate
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — If you are among the nine million people who visit Vancouver each year — half of whom are Canadian — chances are you’ve toured its many and varied landmarks: Stanley Park, English Bay, Gastown, the inner harbour and a cornucopia of galleries, museums, attractions and events.
With so much to see and do (let’s face it, it’s hard not to love this coastal wonder), it’s no wonder many tourists never venture beyond the Port Mann and Lion’s Gate bridges. Whether you’re visiting the Lower Mainland of British Columbia by land, sea or air, it’s worth taking a day or more to soak up the surrounding communities and enjoy a West Coast perspective without big-city lineups and traffic.
- Richmond: Never been here? Sure you have, if you’ve flown through Vancouver International Airport (a cool destination in its own right due to its fantastic architecture and art collection). While industrial and a tad gritty-looking at first glance, Richmond is home to the stately Olympic Oval, a major casino, the historic fishing village of Steveston (leave time for a cannery tour, craft shopping, and fresh fish and chips). The teeming section of strip malls along No. 3 Road offer some of the Lower Mainland’s best and cheapest Asian eats, as well as weekend summer night markets. Another must is the Flying Beaver — quaff a pint and nosh on appies while watching float planes take off from the sunny enclosed patio, which stays toasty year-round.
- White Rock: One of the busiest spots outside Vancouver, this immaculate oceanside community south of the city is known for its many days of sunshine and an abundance of senior citizens, retirement homes and amenities geared to older folks (and other visitors). With its wide swath of prime beachfront and hodgepodge of eclectic homes tumbling from the hills to the sea, White Rock’s main strip is lined with seafood eateries, pubs and coffee joints. Join the crowds making sand castles, digging for clams and flying kites during low tide. Or opt to people watch on the pier or promenade as anglers drop their lines. There’s also fine picnicking at regional parks such as Peace Arch and Sunnyside Acres.
- Surrey: Look beyond the suburban sprawl to vast tracts of irrigated farmland, numerous market gardens and dykes/canals/rivers teeming with bird life. The Surrey municipal district, comprising six townships, is BC’s second-largest city by population after Vancouver and has a notable diversity of ethnic eateries. Tiny Cloverdale township plays host to a major rodeo each May long weekend that is Canada’s second largest after the Calgary Stampede. Head to Crescent Beach in South Surrey for an early-morning jog or sunset picnic — the pathways get busy on summer days, but off hours are much more serene.
- Burnaby/New Westminster: These two communities east of the city and along the north side of the Fraser River are loaded with treed parks, pathways and lots of opportunity for wildlife viewing. Aptly named Deer Lake Park, home to a nice gallery, arts centre and museum, also boasts open-air summer concerts and a handy cartop boat launch sprawls on the south side of the Trans-Canada Highway. Just north of Highway 1 is Burnaby Lake, a picturesque nature refuge where internationally ranked rowers (and recreationists) play and train. Plenty of great birding, boating and kilometres of walking trails are found at both parks, Burnaby is also home to the mountaintop Simon Fraser University.
- Langley/Abbotsford: Situated along the Trans-Canada less than an hour east of Vancouver, Langley is frequently considered a refuelling stop for tourists and truckers. Big-box stores and fast-food outlets dominate the thruways, but the savvy traveller could easily spend a few hours at the city’s parks, markets, wineries and gardens (Bakerview Ecofarm tours spotlight modern, sustainable farming ). Langley Centennial Museum offers insights into pioneer and First Nations history, as do Fort Langley historical village and its heritage CN rail station. Many visitors come for the Abbotsford International Airshow each August.
- Harrison Hot Springs: Along with its famous hot springs and resort at Harrison Lake, the area 128 kilometres (80 miles) east of Vancouver is said to be home to the infamous Sasquatch or Bigfoot. The family-friendly Sasquatch Days festival, resurrected in 2013 after seven decades in hiatus, is hosted by the Sts’ailes First Nation and local “Sasquatch experts.” Your drive along the Trans-Canada will also take you past the scenic Bridal Falls, as well as loads of agri-tourism spots in the south Fraser Valley near the towns of Chilliwack and Aggasiz. There’s excellent camping, boating and other recreation along the lake.
- Squamish north to Whistler: The much-photographed Sea-to-Sky Highway weaving northwest of Vancouver is reason alone to leave the city. Great stops along the way include old-growth forested provincial parks as well as the town of Squamish, where the hardiest of climbers tackle the daunting rock face of the Squamish Chief. Continue a few kilometres north to Brackendale, where thousands of bald eagles winter annually along the salt-water flats of Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park. About 125 km (78 miles) north of Vancouver is the year-round outdoor playground of Whistler and nearby Pemberton, which has been home to a popular three-day summer music festival. Skiers and mountain bikers flock to the famed ski resorts of Whistler and Blackcomb, but leave time to explore its chain of alpine lakes, fantastic regional cuisine, spas, shopping and eco-adventures such as paddleboarding and ziplining.
MORE ABOUT TRAVELLING TO VANCOUVER AND AREA
Best Time to Go: While spring to fall get the most visitors, the sprawling Lower Mainland’s coastal climate is mild enough to attract crowds year-round.
Events: The Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival showcases the migration of the great birds with events such as boat tours, photography outings, jetboat viewing tours and First Nations dancing. The Surrey Festival of Dance — the largest dance competition in North America — takes place over several weeks in March and April, while the Fire and Ice Show at Whistler Village plaza each Sunday evening from December to late March showcases top skiers performing acrobatics with flaming hoops.
Getting There: Airports at Richmond and Abbotsford are the main airline hubs; ferries run regularly to Horseshoe Bay and Tsawwassen, while cruise ships dock at the Port Metro Vancouver. Highway 5 (aka the Coquihalla) is another major gateway.