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EXCURSIONS & DIVERSIONS:

I have listed most of the regular annual events taking place in this section, plus some other suggestions.

 

Train Excursions:

Rail excursions seem to come & go. You used to be able to take the Train to Whislter. Now it is an expensive tourist train run by the Rocky Moutaineeer, mentioned below.

"West Coast Rail Tours" offer several train excursions throughout the year such as Murder Mystery, Photo, Northern Wilderness excursions, etc. at quite reasonable prices. Phone 1-800-722-1233 or 604-524-1011. Fax 522-1293. See the link to their website in the table at the bottom of the page.

The Rocky Mountaineer is an expensive Tourist Train running between Vancouver and Banff. It will cost you about $1200 return. If your interested, see the link in my Tours section.

 

Paddlewheelers & New Westminster Quay:

Westminster Quay is worth wandering around if you like public markets. The market is smaller and less interesting than the one at Granville Island, but worth a visit. There is also a small Paddle wheeler there, offering Cruises up the historic Fraser River. See http://www.vancouverpaddlewheeler.com/

Starline tours at the quay offers boat excursions to Steveston, Pitt lake and Harrison on various days of the week. They also offer Sealion tours and sunset dinner cruises. Phone 604-522-3506

Cheap Harbour Tour:

Ride the Seabus from Waterfront Skytrain Station across to Lonsdale Quay and back. This is a real cheap harbour tour and the market (Lonsdale Quay) on the other side is good as well. On the other hand, if you would like a proper harbour tour or maybe a trip up Indian Arm (like a Norwegian fiord), click on the Harbour Tours link in the table at the bottom of this page.

Cruises around Vancouver:

If you want a more formal water excursion, try a dinner cruise, a cruise up Indian Arm or a one to 3 day boat cruise around the many waterways surrounding Vancouver. This is a lot cheaper than you may think. Check out the link in the table below to "Seaquest" or "Vancouver Tours & Charters", two of the companies that offer these.

Take a Helicopter Tour:

Vancouver Helicopters, a Division of HeliJet Airways, a reputable company, offers several excursions around Vancouver by Helicopter. Its a great way to see Vancouver in all its geographic splendour. See Vancouver Helicopters Official Home Page. This company also has regularly scheduled flights to Vancouver Island at a reasonable price. See my "Getting Around " section for details.

Wine Tours:

In summer, Dan Goy who runs Baja Amigos, a Mexican RV Caravan company does wine tours around Vancouver. Dan is a good personal friend of mine.

South Fraser Tours

Pacific National Exhibition (Aug-Sept):

The Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) runs for the 2 weeks leading up to the Labour Day weekend. It is presently located at Hastings and Cassiar Streets and has run for over 50 years.  It features Agricultural Displays, Logging shows, myriad other events and a Midway. The Midway has one of the worlds last large wooden Roller Coasters. The Midway, which is called Playland is open all summer.  To get there from downtown, take a bus east along Hastings Street towards Burnaby.. See link in table below.

Celebration of Light (Jul-Aug):

July 27 to Aug 3, 2013

The largest & most prestigious Annual International Fireworks display in the world, the "Celebration of Light " is  held annually at the end of July and beginning of August at English Bay. What makes this particular display unique, is the fact it is staged from a barge in English Bay  offering front row seats to the crowds of 300 to 400 thousand who view it from the various beaches, each night. The fireworks are visible from the beaches in the West End, Kitsilano Beach and the beaches out towards Spanish Banks (see my beaches section). You can also view them from Queen Elizabeth Park & Cypress Bowl, but you need binoculars. The best spot is First Beach in the West End, but it usually draws between 50 and 100 thousand spectators to that location alone, so you have to get a spot early. My favourite location is Kitsilano beach. You can usually find street parking 9 to 10 blocks north of the beach on 8th through 13th Aves, (around Cornwall street) provided you get down there before 7 PM. The fireworks start at 10, PM but Kits beach has spectacular sunsets, & you can have a supper of fish & chips on the beach from the concession stand. You cannot drive a car into downtown on firework days,  you have to take transit. If you are not close to where they are being set off, take a portable radio and tune Shore 104.3 FM.  You can also watch the event from a boat if you have access to one, but make sure it has proper lighting or the Police Boat will pay you a visit and make you return to shore. There is web site, a link can be found in the table below. There is also a large Fireworks show, annually, over the inner harbour on July 1st, Canada Day (the Canadian equivalent of Independence Day in the US).Most Companies in the the table below under "Carol Ships" also do trips into the harbour to watch this event.

See Celebration of Light

Latin SummerFest : Aug 18, 2013

Annual Festival, celebrating the Vancouver & area Latino community which has been rapidly expanding over the last few years. The event is at Trout Lake (near Broadway Skytrain Station)

See LatinSummerFest

Carol Ships & Xmas Lights:

The Carol Ship event occurs in December over about a 2 week period. You can book passage on one of several boats which then cruise the various inland waterways around Vancouver (different routes on different evenings). The boats are brightly decorated with Xmas lights and you sing carols as you cruise past the shorelines which are often crowded with spectators, bonfires, etc. There are a couple of links in the table below to companies offering these, or you can book through Gray Line at 604-879-3363. Seaquest, also listed below may also offer a cruise. By the way, if you are not from Canada or the US, it is traditional in Canada, to decorate houses with lights at Xmas. Some displays are spectacular. The local papers usually list the best addresses around mid December and you can also book bus tours of some of the better ones. Van Dusen Botanical Gardens and Softball City in White Rock (first town you hit crossing the border from the US) also have large Xmas Light displays. Until 1997 there was a huge private display at a home in Newton, a Vancouver suburb, that drew thousands each Xmas and raised money for charity. The people who produced this have now decided to stop, but most of the display has now been relocated to Stanley Park. Van Dusen gardens on Granville Street near 41st Ave has the VanDusen Botanical Garden Festival of Lights in December, just before Xmas. There is also another display at Softball City in White Rock.

Santa Claus Parade:

Held the third Sunday in November in the downtown core around 11AM. This is enjoyable if you enjoy standing for 2 hours in the cold (& wet, maybe) looking at the back of other peoples heads. Get off at Burrard Skytrain station & follow the crowds.

Summer Music Festivals:

There are several Music events during the summer and links to concerts, etc. can be found in my entertainment section, however, the table below contains info on the major Music festivals of the summer. The three main ones are The International Jazz Festival in late June/early July & the Folk Festival in July. There is also a large Country Music Festival held in the town of Merrit (2.5 hours by car) in late July. It was cancelled in 2012 due to low ticket sales, whether it will return is in doubt.

Vancouver International Children's Festival:

Usually held around the end of May/beginning of June, this week long event features entertainment oriented towards Children and is held at Vanier park in the Jericho Beach area. See the link in the table below.

Gay Pride Week & Parade:

Its interesting how attitudes change. No so many years ago, this event was viewed by the less tolerant among us as a gathering of perverts & social malcontents. Now its mainstream, and even the Police & Fire Departments take place. No matter what your sexual orientation, its all good fun and despite the opinions of some, no-one will try and turn your child into a homosexual or drag queen. The festival takes place in late July/early August annually. See the link in the table below.

Movie Tours:

If you are a TV and Movie Fan, there is a  company doing tours of Movie and Television sights around Vancouver. Vancouver is known as Hollywood North, and is only second to Los Angeles in production. It may seem a bit pricey, but you are getting a tour of the city in the bargain. See the link in the table below.

Wineries:

The main wine area of BC is in the Okanagan Valley 250 miles east, but there are a few wineries in the Fraser Valley, just east of Vancouver that do tours.

If you want a driving tour, my friend, Dan Goy, who operates Baja Amigos Caravans, does Van tours in the summer of local wineries. See Baja Amigos

 

Seymour Demonstration Forest:

The Seymour Demonstration Forest is a large area with hiking trails. A good place to learn about the ecology of the West Coast Rain forest environment. Free tours on Sundays. See the link in the table below.  

Abbotsford Air Show (Airshow Canada):

The Abbotsford Air Show  runs annually at Abbottsford Airport, 60 km east of Downtown along Highway 1. It is North America's largest Airshow. It happens Friday, Saturday and Sunday, generally the second weekend in August. See the link in the table below.

Cloverdale Rodeo:

The Cloverdale Rodeo and Exhibition runs annually on the Victoria day Holiday weekend (usually the 3rd week in May). This is one of the top Rodeo's in North America and the second largest in Canada, after the Calgary Stampede. It also features a Midway. I actually only visited this for the first time myself in 1999, even though I've lived here for years. I think it will become an annual event for me. You can get there on public transit. Take a #395 bus from King George Skytrain Station or a #340 from 22nd Street Skytrain Station. Get off at 176th Street & 64th Ave. See links in table below to both the Rodeo & Cloverdale itself..

Vancouver Zoo:

If zoo's are your thing, the Greater Vancouver Zoological center is located in Aldergrove, about 60 Km east of Vancouver on 264th Street, just south of Highway 1. You need a car to get here. Its not much of a zoo when compared to those in cities such as Toronto or San Diego. It does have a large selection of large cats including 4 or 5 Siberian Tigers, Jaguars, Lions and Cougars. Maybe I'm a little jaded, having seen many of these animals in there natural habitats. See link below.

Walk down Robson:

This is one of Vancouver's most "alive'' streets, especially in summer. Usually there are lots of street entertainers & open air cafes, etc. Unfortunately, there are also a lot of panhandlers, but they are pretty polite. Start at Burrard, walk west to Denman, then south on Denman to Beach Ave.  Total time about 1.5 hours round trip. See the link in the table below for Robson Street's web site.

University of BC:

There are several attractions out at the University, including the Museum of Anthropology (see Museums section), Nitobe Japanese gardens. You can even take a tour of the Triumf Nuclear particle Accelerator facility. They have tours from 11AM to 2PM.

Tune in, Turn on & Drop Out:

There are two Marijuana Cafes in Vancouver that I know of, almost right next to each other. The "New Amsterdam" is at 301 West Hastings and "Blunt Brothers" is at 317 West Hastings. This is the area where Gastown merges into Skid Row. These are the only establishments of their type in North America. Are they legal? No. Do the police turn a blind eye to them? Yes. Occasionally, I have heard the police pay them a visit and it's amusing watching all the Americans in there, scatter in 4 directions. I have never visited either establishment, despite the fact I'm an old pothead from the 60's (I don't do it anymore, and I didn't inhale when I did).

Native Indian Culture

Canada is not like some countries where our Aboriginal people dress up in native costumes for the tourists. Canadian natives are a proud people & generally are more integrated into Canadian society than is the case elsewhere. For that reason, I did not place a silly logo of an Indian in Headdress at the top of this section. There has been a movement over the past few years to restore & preserve native Culture & language & try to right some of the wrongs that were done in the past against Native people. If you want to experience some native culture, you can visit the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia or visit XA:YTEM  in Mission, BC about 40 miles NorthEast of Vancouver where the Sto-Lo nation has a Longhouse & interpretive center set up. There is also a Longhouse located at the top of Grouse mountain, but I'm not sure how much of a "Tourist Trap" that one is.

Heritage Events calendar

This web site lists events & activities to do with BC's history & heritage that are happening around the province & Vancouver.

Heritage Events

Plane watching:

If you like watching planes land, there is a small picnic area located at the end of one of the runways at Vancouver International Airport. The planes are so close to you, they will ruffle your hair. To get there, head south from downtown up Oak and across the Oak street bridge. Take the right hand exit at the end of the bridge, proceed west along Bridgeport to No. 3 Road, turn left and then right following the signs to the Airport. After crossing the small swing bridge turn left at the first light and its about 1/2 a km on your right.

Join the Mile-High club:

"Love Air" in Pemberton, just north of Whistler will accommodate you in a small private plane fitted with a bed for $250 for 1/2 hour or $350 for an hour. Seems like a lot of money, just to sleep in an airplane for an hour, but at least you get to keep the sheets. It's  a subsidiary of Coastal Mountain Air. Phone 604-894-5850 or 1-800-953-7755.

(2013- I think this service may no longer be available, I have to check on it)

Polar bear Swim:

If you are a masochist, you can participate in one of the Polar bear swims every New Years Day. The main one is at First Beach, English Bay in the West End. (Davie & Beach) There are also similar events in the southern suburbs of White Rock (Marine Drive) and Tsawassen. They usually happen around noon on Jan 1st. Water temperature is usually around 5-10 C. Its a bit warmer in White Rock & Tsawassen - maybe.

Sea to Sky Highway:

This is one of North Americas most scenic drives. To get there cross the Lions Gate Bridge and proceed westbound on Highway 1 until it becomes Highway 99 at Horseshoe Bay. Better still take Marine Drive West instead, after crossing the bridge and follow it along the shoreline to Horseshoe Bay and join Hwy 99 there. If you like mines, you can stop at Britannia Beach (link in table below) and take a tour. (If you are an X-Files fan, you will recognize this place). About 6 km before reaching Squamish, look for Shannon Falls on the right (its marked). These are one of the highest in North America. If you have 3 or more hours to spare, you can continue up to Whistler, the premier ski resort in North America. About 6 km before Whistler, also on the right are Brandywine Falls, also worth a visit. See also my Whistler and Ski sections.

 

Shannon and Brandywine Falls on Vancouver-Whistler Highway.

Links for Excursions, Airshows & Music Festivals
Pacific National Exhibition Annual Summer Fair
Celebration of Light Annual International Fireworks Competition-late July early August
Vancouver International Children's Festival Annual event held in late May/early June
Fringe Festival Offbeat plays, usually September
Sunset Bay Charters Charters & Tours
Carol Ships Parade of Lights Society General Page for Carol Ships
Pride Of Vancouver Charters Ltd. Carol Ships & other tours
Vancouver Dinner Boat Cruise Carol Ships & other tours
Sea Quest Cruises Carol Ships & other tours
Welcome to...Harbour Cruises Ltd. Carol Ships & other tours
Vancouver Yacht Charters Carol Ships & other tours
Vancouver Cruises Carol Ships & other tours
Get married on a Yacht in Vancouver  
Abbotsford International Airshow Bi-Annual Event (1999,2001,2003, etc) Early August
Vancouver Folk Music Festival Annual Event at Jericho Beach, mid-July, usually 3 days
International Jazz Festival Late June, various locales around town, some free, lasts about a week
Movie Tours Tour Movie and TV locations
Cloverdale Rodeo and Exhibition Annual May Event
Cloverdale, B.C. on the Web Web Site for Cloverdale
Vancouver Zoological Center Located in Aldergrove, east of Vancouver
West Coast Railway Tours Year round Railway Excursions
Seaquest A Company offering 1 to 3 day Coastal Cruises
Paddlewheeler River Adventures Trips from New Westminster Quay
Vancouver Pride Society Info on Gay Pride Week Festivities