As a child one of the best things to do in Stanley Park was to show up with a garbage bag stuffed with an autumn’s worth of acorns to feed legions of the park’s bushy grey squirrels.
For me it wasn’t yet TripAdvisor’s ‘top park in the entire world‘.
Half a million trees? I wasn’t counting.
For a young Vancouverite like me having a 4.049 km² old growth forest as a backyard was just considered normal.
Here to visit? Let me take you on a journey through the famous Stanley Park Vancouver.
Stanley Park Vancouver
Stanley Park is an 405 hectare (1,001 acre) public park situated alongside the Westernmost border of downtown Vancouver.
This lush urban oasis is unique in the fact that it was not created by landscape architects. The park is just a natural evolution of the pre-existing coastal rain forest – located in an urban environment.
This grants Stanley Park an idyllic and unspoiled charm not present in other famous urban parks such as Hyde or Central Park.
In fact, a large portion of the park remains just as densely forested as it was prior to European settlement. Many of it’s aforementioned half a million trees are hundreds of years old and stand as tall as 76 metres (250 ft).
But don’t worry, there is still plenty to do. Stanley Park has a variety of popular attractions like the Vancouver Aquarium, the Totem Poles, and the world famous Seawall.
You’ll also find several of Vancouver’s best beaches, some amazing lakes and a vast network of trails.
So lets take a closer look.
Things to Do in Stanley Park
The Vancouver Aquarium
Note (22/07/2021): The Vancouver Aquarium is still closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but a re-opening date will be revealed soon.
When thinking of what to do in Stanley Park this is a no-doubter.
The aquarium is one of Vancouver’s top tourist attractions and is the site of so many great childhood memories.
The 58,000 animals here get to live in 166 displays at Canada’s first Coastal America Learning Center. This is a sought after designation by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Of the almost 600 species the most popular animals remain the Pacific white-sided dolphin, sea otters, a green turtle, a zebra shark, and a California sea lion.
Kids in particular love the extensive amphibian and reptile offerings in the Tropic Zone and Amazon Rainforest.
Other popular galleries include Canada’s Arctic, Penguin Point, and Treasures of the BC Coast.
- Adults: $38.00
- Senior/Kids (4-12): $1.75
- Kids under 4 are free.
FYI: all tickets include free entrance to the aquarium’s 4-D theatre.
The Stanley Park Seawall
The Seawall is Vancouver’s outdoor gym.
It’s the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path and is equal parts transportation corridor and outdoor recreation hub.
After us locals have stuffed ourselves into a state of self-conscious oblivion with too much sushi we send texts to friends saying simply: “seawall?”.
It’s here that redemption begins.
Walking, rollerblading, or cycling around Stanley Park’s nine kilometre stretch of the seawall gives you access to some of Vancouver’s best beaches.
There’s also an amazing view of the mountains and the Lion’s Gate Bridge.
Along the way you’ll get all the info you need about the history of the park and the topography of the area with many placards.
There’s also a ton of First Nations artifacts including the famous totem poles at Brockton Point. This is actually British Columbia’s most visited tourist attraction, but more on that later.
Since walking the whole way around can take upwards of 2-3 hours, I suggest renting a bike to cut this time in half.
Stanley Park Beaches
There are three aptly-named Stanley Park beaches: First Beach, Second Beach and Third Beach. Depending on what you’re looking for one of them may be more appropriate than others.
Let’s preface all of this by saying that since Vancouver is a relatively cold climate, the swimming season is typically limited to between June and early September.
If you’re looking to swim and get that full beach experience then First Beach (often called English Bay Beach) is the one for you. Here there are volleyball courts, paddle board and kayak rentals, and even a huge swimming raft with a slide.
It’s also your best bet for people watching, with urban professionals, tattooed hipsters, starving artists and tourists alike fight for a small piece of oceanfront real estate.
Over at Second Beach, those who are afraid of ocean swimming can take advantage of the large heated outdoor pool. From these vantage points you’re going get a great view of the English Bay and Vancouver’s skyline.
Further up the Stanley Park Seawall you’ll find Third Beach with its secluded vibes that are perfect for getting a piece of sand and enjoying a romantic sunset without the crowd chaos of the other two.
All three beaches have concession stands serving a wide variety of food, hot and cold drinks and ice cream, as well as full washroom services.
The most easterly portion of the peninsula is where you’ll find most Stanley Park attractions, a far stretch from its early existence as a graveyard and a patch of land cleared for a sawmill.
Fortunately, it was never built due to strong ocean currents and the area became the home of the city’s first sports fields.
The main venue the Brockton Oval is a throwback to Canada’s colonial past and still plays host to cricket and rugby games. In fact, many legendary batsmen like Donald Bradman have visited the site.
There is then of course the famous Brockton Lighthouse (1914) which has seen its fair share of misery and heroics in the current-heavy waters below.
It was said that the original light-housekeeper saved 16 people from drowning in his 25 years of service. Fully automated since 1914, the lighthouse is now one of the parks most favoured viewpoints.
Stanley Park Totem Poles
Today you’ll find ten totem poles dating back to the 1880’s – a stunning reminder of the area’s origins and a great example of some of the amazing Aboriginal art that can be found in the region.
This is the best of the free things to do in Stanley Park.
To kick things up a notch though I do suggest taking the Spoken Treasures Indigenous Walking Tour.
Here, an indigenous cultural ambassador will share with you the history of the region, the traditional uses of the park’s flora and fauna, and touch on the aspirations of local Indigenous peoples today.
The tour ends at the famous totem poles, where you’ll be provided with a complete overview of the deep symbolic meanings of these stunning, uniquely Westcoast pieces of artwork.
Theatre Under the Stars
Note (22/07/2021): Theater Under the Stars has made the difficult decision to postpone the 2021 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For those balmy summer evenings that seem like they’ll never end (though unfortunately they do end way too early in September) there’s Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS).
I very rarely use the word ‘nestle’ but let me say you’ll be nestled among some pretty amazing Douglas Fir trees to watch prized performances of some stage classics.
The 2019 version featured Mamma Mia! and Newsies.
Tickets range from $30.00-$49.00 and can be bought here.
The biggest of Stanley Park lakes is home to a lit fountain which was part of the city’s golden jubilee.
It takes its name from canoeing indigenous poet who would lose her favourite paddling place at low tide, when the lagoon wasn’t yet landlocked.
It’s here that nature rules supreme. Geese, ducks, swans and the great blue heron all call this home. There’s also a friendly group of turtles living on the northern shore.
The views along the 1.75 km trail that loops around the lake pull you in and out of the city and at times you’ll swear you’re out in the countryside miles from anything – until the 62-story Shangri-La Tower pokes proudly out of the marsh grass.
Check out the southeast corner for the Lost Lagoon Nature House.
Stanley Park Railway
Note (22/07/2021): In 2021 the Stanley Park Railway is running at reduced hours from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm Wednesday through Sunday – debit or credit only.
If you’re traveling to Vancouver with kids there’s hardly anything better to do than a mini–train ride through the forest.
I say this as a former kid who was there!
History buffs will appreciate the replica locomotive of Canada’s first transcontinental passenger train which steamed into Vancouver in the 1880’s. Gear heads also really love the vintage engine.
The 2 kilometer journey winds its way through a path ravaged through the park by Typhoon Freda in 1962.
All in all the trip lasts 15 minutes.
The Stanley Park train is seasonal from June 30th to September 6th with special nights like the Halloween Ghost Train and Christmas Bright Nights.
Prices range from $7.00 for a single ride to $14.00 for a family of 4.
Stanley Park Pitch & Putt
Fans of golf and/or drinking a few ciders in the sun and pretending you’re being sporty – I’m talking to you.
You’d do well to tee off at this par 54 (1200 yard) golf course which is a challenge for beginners or vets.
The words lush green seem to take a new meaning in the middle of old growth forest. The bordering rhododendron garden will put you at ease as will the realization that raccoons and geese are the only true hazards you’ll run into.
Best of all? They rent out clubs for super cheap.
Prices: Adults $14.83, Senior/Student $10.37.
Equipment (min. 2): putter/wedge/ball $2.33, tee $1.00.
More info on the Stanley Park Pitch and Putt website.
Stanley Park Map
So where exactly is Stanley Park in located?
You can find it on to the edge of the downtown peninsula adjacent to Vancouver’s famous West End: one of the best areas to stay in Vancouver.
How to Get to Stanley Park
Renting a car? It’s just a matter of pointing your GPS to downtown and getting to West Georgia street. From here you’ll follow it west all the way down to the exit signs at the park.
Cars can also access Stanley Park using Beach Avenue along English Bay.
You could also take a quick $12.00 Vancouver taxi ride from downtown.
Unfortunately, Stanley Park is not well serviced by any of the Skytrain lines. However, the #19 Stanley Park bus is a great way to get to the park, which is contains the Stanley Park Bus Loop.
The directions from downtown are as follows:
- Locate a stop servicing the #19 Stanley Park bus. They’re on the North side of Pender Street or on Georgia Street West of Denman.
- Purchase a single cash fare ($3.00 or $2.40 with a Compass Card).
- Stay aboard until the bus reaches its terminus stop at the Stanley Park Bus loop.
My favourite way to get to Stanley park is either walking or cycling using the world famous Stanley Park Seawall.
Your best bet is to get off the Skytrain at Waterfront Station and then walk along the Coal Harbour portion of the seawall. It will lead you right to the park in about 30 minutes.
This route will guarantee you amazing views of the harbour, the North Shore Mountains, and Vancouver’s forest of glass residential towers.
Still confused? Drop me a line with your starting point and I’ll help you out!
Stanley Park Parking
There is both street parking and a variety of parking lots in Stanley Park. Unfortunately there is no Stanley Park free parking.
You’ll find parking on North Lagoon Drive, Pipeline Road, and Stanley Park Drive. For street parking you’ll simply need to pay at any of the meters run by EasyPark.
There are designated parking lots servicing the aquarium, Royal Vancouver Yacht Club, Brockton Oval, Prospect Point, Second Beach, Third Beach, and the Stanley Park Pitch and Putt.
Hours and Prices
High season (Apr 1 to Sept 30) rates are $3.70 an hour/$14.00 daily max.
Low season (Oct 1 to Mar 30) rates are $2.70 an hour/$7.50 daily max.
Pay parking hours are between 6:00 am and 11:00 pm.
If you’ve got data you can download the EasyPark app to pay and add time as well as be eligible for all sorts of promotions.
Where to Eat in Stanley Park
While you won’t find many Vancouver must eats here – there are a number of concession stands, restaurants and even a brewpub to quell the hunger pangs.
One idea would be to grab some ingredients from the West End or Granville Island Market and have yourself a picnic in any one of the green spots, particularly Prospect Point for views.
That said, you’d likely be better off booking a spot at any of downtown Vancouver’s best restaurants if you’re looking for a little more variety.
Stanley Park History
The history of Stanley Park closely mirrors the history of Vancouver itself.
The area was long useful to First Nations peoples who set up villages on the peninsula to access fresh water and harvest seafood like clams, salmon, and crab. Traditional cedar long houses here were once home to large extended families.
Evidence points to over 3000 years of human settlement in the area that was once called Xwayxway.
Long before Europeans arrived the beaches here were cleared to launch canoes while the greenery was a source of traditional medicine like frog leaf, a natural anti-septic.
Those looking to learn more should check out the Stanley Park Ecological Society.
European Arrival and Settlement
The area now known as Stanley Park was first explored by Spanish captain José María Narváez in 1791 and British captain George Vancouver in 1792.
While the Spanish didn’t show such a keen interest, it was Vancouver who took a shining to the area. Perhaps this was due to the generosity of the natives who warmly welcomed him with cooked salmon and an impressive feather display.
It wasn’t until the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush in 1858 that settlers began to construct houses in the area. Shortly afterwards came a survey which turned the land into a military reserve against American invasion.
The park was then the site of extensive logging over the next 3 decades. Infact, most of the trails you’ll walk on during your visit are the result of old logging skid roads.
It was only in 1888 that the city turned the area into a park naming it after Canada’s sixth Governor General, Lord Stanley.
Yes, the Lord Stanley of the Stanley Cup of hockey.
Most of the man made structures in the park were constructed between 1911 and 1937, with popular attractions such as the Vancouver Aquarium, miniature train and much of the Seawall added in the post war period.
Where is Stanley Park?
Stanley Park is located on the Westernmost part of the downtown peninsula. It’s right off to the side of the city’s West-end neighbourhood, one of the best areas to stay in Vancouver.
It’s bordered by Burrard Inlet to the North, the Salish Sea to the West and English Bay to the South.
What is Stanley Park?
Stanley Park is a large urban park that contains a large variety of recreational facilities, trails, beaches and lakes.
In addition, the park is home to tourist attractions like the Vancouver Aquarium, totem poles, and the famous Seawall.
How big is Stanley Park?
Stanley Park is 405 hectares making it one of the largest urban parks in the world.
Is Stanley Park free?
As a public park, entrance to Stanley Park is free for all visitors.
However, admittance to some attraction such as the Vancouver Aquarium and Stanley Park Railway require additional fees.
Can you drive through Stanley Park?
You can drive through Stanley Park via Stanley Park Drive.
This road circumnavigates the park from West Georgia Street at the parks North entrance all the way to the exit on Beach Avenue.
How far is it around Stanley Park?
If you’re doing the seawall it’s about 9 kilometres (5.5 miles).
How long will it take me to do the seawall at Stanley Park?
Leave about 2-3 hours for a casual walk or 60 to 90 minutes for a run, roller blade, or bike.
How long does it take to drive around Stanley Park?
The drive only takes about 15 or 20 minutes so I recommended walking, cycling, or rollerblading to soak up the sights for real.
Park Your Questions Here
I’ve done my best to equip you with all the info for visiting Stanley park but maybe I’ve missed something?
Make sure you get in touch in the comments below with any questions about Stanley Park or anything else regarding your Vancouver vacation.
Fire away! 🙂