With over eight millions visitors annually, Vancouver’s Stanley Park is one of the most visited sites in BC – and for good reason. Designated a National Historic Site of Canada, the 1000 acre park (404.9 hectares) is located on a peninsula on the northwestern edge of the city’s downtown. As a result the park is almost entirely surrounded by the waters of the Pacific Ocean, letting visitors feel far away from the noise and energy of downtown and providing stunning views of the city’s skyline from nearly every vantage point.
Vancouver’s first park, Stanley Park was established in 1886 and is unique in the fact that it is not the creation of a landscape architect. Unlike many public park spaces, Stanley Park has grown out of an evolution of the natural forest and urban spaces over many years, meaning that even many of the man made structures within the park are a century old. Visitors to Vancouver are in for a treat with Stanley Park. To shake up the structure of today’s A to Z post a bit, here are five reasons to visit Stanley Park during your next trip to Vancouver.
Loved by jogging locals, spandex clad cyclists, and tourists alike, the Seawall is a stone wall that runs for 8.8 kilometers around the entire 1,000 acre park. It was originally constructed to protect the park’s shoreline and prevent erosion. While the majority of the wall was constructed between 1917 and 1971, the entire wall was not completed until 1980. Sine this time the wall has continued to expand, with the entire stretch now totaling 22 kilometers. Starting from Coal Harbour, the Seawall pedestrian path runs around Stanley Park, along Sunset Beach and the neighbourhood of False Creek, through Vanier Park, and finishes at Kitsilano Beach. On sunny days, nothing in Vancouver can beat a walk along the Seawall.
The Vancouver Aquarium
The largest aquarium in Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium is home to 70,000 animals and 6,000 different species including dolphins, sea otters, eels, and beluga whales. It opened in June of 1956 and at the time was Canada’s first public aquarium. Forty years later, the aquarium successfully bred the first Beluga whale born in captivity in Canada, a female names Qila.
The aquarium has seen its share of controversy of late, with some notable public figures calling for an end to the practice of breeding and holding dolphins and whales in captivity. Yet the Vancouver Aquarium emphasizes the educational aspects of captive animals which set it apart from others that focus on public displays and spectacle. The Vancouver Aquarium has created and operates Ocean Wise, a program that promotes sustainable seafood in restaurants, as well as the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup Program, and Marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation program.
This commitment to environmental conservation, as well as the Aquarium’s location within Stanley Park, make for a wonderful afternoon outdoors. This is also one of Travis’ favorite things to do in Vancouver.
Stanley Park is well known for its gardens, which are in bloom year-round. Of note, the Ted and Mary Greig Rhododendron Garden features 4,500 hybrid breeds of Rhododendron and Azalea. While the Rose Garden, established in 1920, contains 3,500 rose plants as well as numerous beds of perennials, annuals, and bulbs. The gardens are best visited during the peak blooming months of May to August and make a great subject matter for photographers. Don’t miss the nearby Pavilion, the most distinguished building in the park. The Pavilion was built in 1911 and is now used as a restaurant and event venue.
While a string of beaches line the Seawall, only two are accessible for swimming. The Second Beach features the popular Second Beach Pool, a heated freshwater pool with views of English Bay and the Western Mountains, while Third Beach is a secluded sand beach with stunning sunset views. There are also many rocky beach areas along the Seawall that are accessible only during low tide. These rocky areas often house small saltwater pools that are home to starfish, shellfish, and other marine life.
Due to Stanley Park’s unique positioning in the waters off the coast of downtown Vancouver, the park is full of wonderful lookout points and photography opportunities to capture the city’s skyline. Of note, Brockton Point offers views of Burrard Inlet and the Lions Gate bridge.
The Totem Pole display at Brockton Point is one of the most famous sites within Stanley Park and the city of Vancouver as a whole. Beginning in the 1920’s, the display features wonderful examples of local First Nations Totem Poles.
In a 2013 poll of it’s users, Trip Advisor named Stanley Park the Best Park in the World. New York’s Central Park took second place. There are very few large cities with such a large expanse of dedicated park land, and even fewer with park land as valuable as that in Vancouver. Stanley Park is a wonderful attraction just outside the downtown core that allows visitors to “escape” the city for a few hours. It’s also one of my favorite attractions in BC.