There are SO MANY great non-touristy things to do in Vancouver! You may not know about them yet, but you’re going to have all the essential details very soon!
Whether you’re visiting Vancouver in winter or summer, you’ll be surprised by the variety of choice!
Here’s the deal:
Native Vancouverites don’t always want tourists to know about all the great things we do here. You know how it is – sometimes you just want to enjoy a great place without it being super-crowded or hard to get into to. I totally understand.
I’m going to let you in on information only known to people who live in Vancouver and really appreciate all it has to offer. My friends might not like it but I think you deserve to know. Vancouver isn’t just Stanley Park and the Capilano Suspension Bridge, after all!
Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Thank you for support – it means a lot!
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Riding the Aquabus
You might have seen those weird little colourful boats in False Creek as you’ve made your way around Vancouver’s standard tourist attractions. You’ve probably wondered what they were or how to get a ride.
Riding the Aquabus is one of the best things to do on a beautiful Vancouver day! It’s an extremely efficient method of transportation across False Creek. There are 8 dock locations on both sides of False Creek to ferry you quickly across the beautiful expanse of water to the other side. Service is usually every 15 minutes and tickets are cheap. You don’t even have to book in advance, although you certainly can on the very user-friendly website.
Most of the ferries and docks are pet friendly, bike friendly, large group friendly and wheelchair accessible. It doesn’t get any more Vancouver than that! You might even see a dragonboat team sweating it out or a stray kayaker and their dog.
Service starts at 7am and stops around 9:30pm. The Aquabus probably goes to an area near where you’re staying in Vancouver!
Do you remember that absolutely amazing video of otters holding hands? No? Check it out:
These super-cute otters live at Vancouver Aquarium!
You can see these otters and so much more at Canada’s leading aquarium. It was one of the first facilities to incorporate full-time professional naturalists to help interpret animal behaviours. The Aquarium is an Ocean-wise facility as well as a non-profit organization. The Aquarium has played a leading role in research of wild orcas in British Columbia.
It’s an amazing place to visit! You’ll see the cutest penguins, captivating dolphins, 300 species of fish, almost 30,000 invertebrates and 56 species of amphibians and reptiles. There’s also 60 mammals and birds.
The Vancouver Aquarium is a popular spot with locals and you’ll find long lines to buy tickets at popular times. Skip the line instead and get your tickets ahead of time. You’ll be able to spend more time enjoying this amazing place!
If you love Vancouver, you’ll really enjoy a tour from Vancouver to Banff – amazing sights and breathtaking scenery. All the details are here!
Grouse Grind – the hardest non-touristy thing to do in Vancouver
I’m not gonna lie. Hiking the Grouse Grind is tough. Running it is even tougher. You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to but if you want to count yourself among the many Vancouverites that do the Grouse Grind every week, you won’t want to miss out. It’s an especially good choice after eating a delicious brunch in Vancouver ;-).
The Grouse Grind is a 2.9 kilometre trail up the face of Grouse Mountain, commonly known as Mother Nature’s stairmaster. Elevation gain is 2800 feet and the summit is at 3700 feet. There are 2830 stairs.
On average, it takes a reasonably fit person about 90 minutes to complete the Grind. If you’re a novice or not very fit, you’ll need 2 hours.
Serious Grinders do the hike for time. They have a radio frequency chip that they swipe at the base of the Grind and again at the top of the trail. You’ll no doubt see one of them running past you up the trail and then at the top as they swipe their chip victoriously. You’ll hate them.
The course record for the Grouse Grind is 25:01!
More than 100,000 people a year take on the Grouse Grind. Most of them enjoy a cold brew when they get to the top of the mountain!
If you’re only spending 4 days in Vancouver, you get a pass on the Grind – ride the gondola to get to the top of Grouse Mountain. It’s a much better way to spend a day 😉
If you’re interested in spending time at both Grouse Mountain and Capilano Suspension Bridge park, check out this tour where you get to see both!
Bard on the Beach – a beautiful non-touristy thing to do in Vancouver
Bard on the Beach is a Shakespeare Festival that has been celebrated in Vancouver since 1990. It runs every year from early June to late September under the tents at Vanier Park in Vancouver.
I can tell you from personal experience that there is nothing more magical than sitting in comfortable chairs, munching popcorn and drinking a glass of wine while watching talented performers against a backdrop of Vancouver’s False Creek.
Bard on the Beach selects 4 works to perform each year, running in repertory on two stages. From classically-inspired productions to edgy modern interpretations, you’ll find Shakespeare as you’ve never seen it before. In 2019, the productions are: The Taming of the Shrew (western edition!), Shakespeare in Love, All’s Well that Ends Well, and Coriolanus. Can’t wait!
Despite being in tents, the facilities are elegant and clean. Seating is comfortable and there really are no bad seats as sightlines are excellent. There is an onsite gift shop and there’s great Canadian food available for purchase, including wine and beer.
Vancouverites vie for tickets to these productions, with many (myself included) purchasing seasons tickets months in advance. Shows are often sold out. If you want tickets, I suggest you cozy up to a local friend or buy your tickets as far in advance as you can!
Check out the post I wrote for Creative Travel Guide about all the great romantic things to do in Vancouver!
Richmond Night Market
Richmond Night Market is a peculiar Vancouver event beloved by many. Inspired by night markets in Asia, it is a hard-to-describe experience!
Combine gourmet food stands with a myriad of vendors selling everything from phone cases to lingerie and you’ll get a sense of what the Richmond Night Market is like. There are over 100 food stalls and 200 retail vendors!
When you go, make sure you go hungry! You’ll be overwhelmed by the variety food choices available. Many top chefs have stands at the market to test out new ideas so you might be surprised by a a delicious new taste. From tornado potatoes to dragon’s beard candy, you’ll find something you’ve never tried before. Of course, you’ll also find traditional fair food and games as well as nightly live entertainment and carnival rides.
The Richmond Night Market is very easy to access via the Bridgeport Skytrain station. If you’re driving, parking is free but get there early!
The Market opens in May and runs to October. There is also a Christmas Night Market during the holiday season.
Richmond also has some of the best Asian food in North America, according to a source no less than the New York Times! This tour will take you to a variety of excellent Asian restaurants where you’ll get to sample some of the best authentic Asian cuisine. Make sure you go hungry!
Located at beautiful Kits Beach, the Kitsilano Showboat has been operating as a community stage for amateur entertainment since 1935!
Don’t be fooled by the name – it’s not a boat! It’s a stage in the shape of an old riverboat, uniquely positioned so that the audience sees both the stage and the background of Burrard Inlet. It’s a genuine Vancouver experience for sure!
This is the kind of venue where you can see entertainment of all varieties, from little girls putting on their first dance performance to near professional singers and musicians. Many traveling groups from across Canada and around the world are featured every summer.
Entertainment is live at the Showboat from June to August each year with family-friendly concerts Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. All shows are free!
More than 1/2 a million people see shows at the Kitsilano Showboat every year. Don’t miss out on this great experience!
Kits Beach is a great place to see fireworks on Canada Day!
Kits Pool – an athletic non-touristy thing to do in Vancouver
According to a source no-less authoritative than Red Bull, Kits Pool is the third on the list of world’s sexiest pools to train in!
Just down the hill from the Showboat you’ll find the stunning Kits Pool. At 137 metres long, Kitsilano Pool is Vancouver’s only saltwater swimming pool. Beautifully situated at the top of Kits Beach, the views from the pool can only be described as outstanding. Swimming in Kits Pool is an experience like no other as the buoyancy from the salt water can make you feel extra floaty!
On a typical day at Kits Pool, you’ll find serious triathletes training hard for their next event, Moms & tots splashing in the water, and bathing beauties looking for their next Insta-worthy moment.
Complete with a cafe, slides and a water park, Kits Pool is a great day out for families and couples alike. It’s a very good non touristy thing to do in Vancouver!
If you’re going to add a trip to Kits Beach to your day at Kits Pool (and why wouldn’t you?), you’ll need some good water shoes. Check out Chelsea’s great recommendations for the best water shoes.
Granville Island Public Market
Open 7 days a week year round, the Granville Island Public Market is a favourite shopping destination for many Vancouverites.
It’s hard to know where to start with Granville Island – there are so many things to see and do that it can be overwhelming! Vancouverites love Granville Island for the excellent fresh food choices in the public market. I swear, Granville Island has the most beautifully presented fresh fruit and vegetables that I have ever seen. Seriously, have you ever seen more perfect strawberries?
From butchers, bakers and candlestick makers (seriously!) to exquisite artisans of every description, you’ll be spoiled for choice. This is definitely another place to go hungry and leave happy!
Some of Vancouver’s best restaurants and bars are found on Granville Island, complete with world-class patios with outstanding views.
There are many art galleries on Granville Island too, and you can actually see the artists at work. Potters are busy at their wheels and print makers both established and emerging share their love of printmaking. There’s also a treasure trove of First Nations artwork including wood carving, jewelry and basket making. See a blacksmith working at a forge and photography exhibits that will inspire you.
There are buskers and street performers galore at Granville Island – you’ll find yourself vastly entertained.
There’s an excellent walking tour of Granville Island where you can learn all about Vancouver’s eclectic food culture and meet some of the local artisans and vendors. You’ll also get some insider tips on Vancouver’s best eateries. Check it out here.
Theatre Under the Stars
Commonly referred to as TUTS, Theatre Under the Stars presents two full-length musicals every summer in Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park. Productions have been going on since 1934!
Set amongst the majestic firs of Stanley Park, Malkin Bowl is an open-air theatre and a quintessential Vancouver summer experience.
TUTS performers are a combination of talented youth and professionals, providing an excellent outlet for developing talent both on stage and off.
Running in repertory every night, TUTS presents musical theatre classics and recent productions such as Beauty & the Beast, West Side Story, Hairspray, Oliver!, and Legally Blonde: The Musical with new shows every year. In 2019, the shows are Mamma Mia! and Newsies!
The TUTS Theatre at Malkin Bowl seats 1000 people. Dress code is casual and patrons are encouraged to bring blankets. Snacks and drinks are available on site. Many patrons bring a picnic dinner to enjoy beforehand in the grounds around Malkin Bowl.
If you’re thinking that you might want to live in Vancouver, check out this article I wrote for Life Part 2 about what it costs to live in Vancouver!
Dude Chilling Park – a relaxing non-touristy thing to do in Vancouver
Undoubtedly the best name for a public park in Canada, Dude Chilling Park is a real Vancouver park on the corner of Brunswick Street and East 7th Avenue in Vancouver.
Of course, Dude Chilling Park has a subversive backstory. You knew it did!
Back in 1991, a local sculptor placed a piece of public art he titled Reclining Figure in this small Vancouver Park.
Denizens of the neighbourhood were impressed by the installation, interpreting the figure as a “dude chilling”. The name spread, and soon the locals were colloquially referring to the park as Dude Chilling Park rather than its official name (the rather boring Guelph Park).
Fast forward to 2012 when another local artist installed a new sign at the park that very closely resembled the city’s “official” Parks Department signs, proclaiming the park as Dude Chilling Park. The city, being a bureacratic institution, removed the new sign much to the consternation of local residents.
After getting up a petition with more than 1500 signatures, the city relented and agreed to rename the park. It is now officially Dude Chilling Park.
Take a selfie with the sign and then chill at the park. You’ll be glad you did.
If you’re visiting Vancouver, you must think about doing the road trip from Vancouver to Banff! It’s one of the most spectacular drives in the world! If you prefer a guided tour, check out all the information you need here.
What the best non-touristy thing you’ve done on your travels?
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