Vancouver doesn’t only impress with mountain views, lush green temperate rainforests and rushing waterfalls, the Pacific Ocean is also among the city’s best attractions. It’s home to amazing ocean beaches, some of them are only a short walk away from downtown.
Ah, a sunny day at the beach is part of experiencing this fantastic city. Even if it’s a rainy day, or the wind blows like crazy, Vancouver’s beaches have an irresistible vibe. We lived in Vancouver and visited these beaches in every season, so let me show you the best ones and what they offer.
Note: the pictures of the beaches don’t look postcard perfect and sunny, and it’s intentional. I took these pictures in different seasons, and I aim to give you a realistic impression about Vancouver’s beaches. Even though you can take (and edit) pictures that make these beaches look like the turquoise sandy bays of tropical islands, in reality they don’t. Appreciate them for their unique characteristics and wild, northern beauty.
Are Vancouver beaches safe for swimming?
Of course, it’s an obvious question if we talk about beaches, and not at all a straightforward one. Ocean beaches can be dangerous, and water quality or temperature can pose a risk, too.
Vancouver is sheltered from the open sea by Vancouver Island, so its waters are protected and calm. Well, winds and storms occur, and I wouldn’t call conditions calm at those times, but on an average clear day the beaches are usually safe for swimming. The size and power of the waves on Vancouver beaches reminded me of the gentle Mediterranean Sea rather than the Pacific Ocean I’ve known from California or Australia.
However, sea temperatures remain quite cold even in the summer. With 19-22°C as the average maximum water temperature and 11-13°C as the average minimum throughout the months of June, July and Aug, it’s tolerable, but not exactly what I’d call pleasant. Honestly, I preferred swimming in the lakes near Vancouver to swimming in the ocean.
I did swim twice at ocean beaches during the hottest summer days. Twice, yes. (Considering the number was 0 when I lived in San Francisco, Vancouver actually pleasantly surprised me.) But I know that most people tolerate cold temperatures much better than me.
With that said, I absolutely loved the beaches in Vancouver! Sunbathing, wading, building sandcastles with my son, watching the sunset (it’s the west coast!), walking on the beach or observing animals, mostly seals and Great Blue Herons.
And my love is everlasting, not only for the summer. Vancouver’s beaches offer pretty ocean and mountain views, and great recreational opportunities beyond swimming.
Another thing to consider is water quality. It’s important to pay attention to posted signage and advisories from local authorities, because water quality can fluctuate due to rainfall and tidal currents.
A “No swimming” advisory might be posted at some beaches as a result. This usually means that the level of E. coli bacteria found in the water is above the recommended guidelines, causing an increased risk of illness to swimmers, especially seniors, infants, children and people with weakened immunity. Don’t swim or wade at beaches when they have this advisory.
What is the source of E. coli contamination? Storm water runoff after heavy rains often contains contamination from animal waste, vehicles or sewer overflows. In general it’s best to avoid swimming for about 48 hours after heavy storms.
Also, very shallow beaches, like Crescent Beach in Surrey or White Rock Beach, are not the best for swimming, because you can get swimmer’s itch (a skin rash) if you don’t rinse off and dry yourself after coming out of the water.
Do you need water shoes on Vancouver beaches?
Perfectly sandy beaches in Vancouver are rare. Some of the beaches have sections where the sand is soft and fine, but most beaches are a mix of sand, pebbles and rocks. Pebbles can be larger or smaller, and some beaches are rougher than others.
I walked barefoot on all of the beaches I’m mentioning below, but it can be a bit uncomfortable sometimes. If you’re more sensitive, you might prefer wearing water shoes.
The best beaches in Vancouver
First, let’s see the beaches in the city, some of them very quickly reachable from the downtown core.
English Bay Beach
English Bay is definitely among the best Vancouver beaches. It’s an iconic oceanside getaway from the West End of Vancouver Downtown, with the Seawall running along it.
It’s probably the most popular beach in Vancouver, so you’ll likely find it busy on a nice day. Nestled between the downtown and Stanley Park, you can easily add it to any Vancouver itinerary.
High rises tower above English Bay Beach, but you can also see the endless forests and the mountain peaks of the North Shore, snow-capped until early June. It’s one of the best sandy beaches in Vancouver. Like on any of the beaches, the sand is not perfect and is occasionally mixed with pebbles, but it’s as close to a sandy beach as Vancouver can offer, and you can enjoy it barefoot.
English Bay Beach is home to the legendary Polar Bear Swim, a traditional dip in the ocean on the first day of every New Year.
If the beach wouldn’t be pretty enough itself, there’s plenty of exciting attractions surrounding it. Like the art structure of the A-maze-ing Laughter, portraying the state of “hysterical laughter” – and intended to inspire playfulness and joy.
The Inukshuk is a very different piece of art: a stone sculpture symbolizing the Inuit culture. It’s at the southern end of the beach, and this area offers the most photogenic views of English Bay Beach.
This beach is also one of the beloved Vancouver sunset spots. Cactus Club right behind the beach is a great place to enjoy the sunset views with a cocktail in hand.
- Amenities: toilets, changing rooms, accessible beach mat, volleyball courts, concession, beach umbrella and chair rentals
- Parking: limited paid parking (the most affordable parking option is in Stanley Park, in one of the lots with a daily fee)
Second Beach, Stanley Park
Second Beach is one of the best beaches in Vancouver for swimming, and also for families. The beaches of Stanley Park are not that creatively named, but they impress with everything else. Even though they are located close to Vancouver Downtown, they make you feel you’re miles away from the city.
Second Beach has a wide sandy-pebbly beach area, surrounded by pine trees and overlooking English Bay and the Burrard Inlet. The water gets very shallow at low tide which makes it a great beach for small kids to splash around. The Stanley Park Seawall runs behind the beach, and I like taking a picnic break here any time we walk this part of the Seawall.
There’s a heated outdoor pool with ocean views in case you find the ocean water too cold. It’s right next to the beach and offers a sloped entry, two small water slides and separated lanes for lap swimmers. With the fantastic location and scenery, no wonder it’s one of the most popular outdoor swimming pools in the Lower Mainland. (It requires an entrance fee and is open seasonally, usually from May to September.)
In addition to the heated pool, families will also love the large grassy meadow behind the beach and the two playgrounds, one better suited for younger kids and another one (called Ceperley Park Playground) with more adventurous structures for older kids. The old fire engine is a particular favorite for any kid, no matter their age.
Third Beach, Stanley Park
But the most beautiful beach in Vancouver is Third Beach. It’s deeper in the park which makes it less busy than Second Beach or English Bay Beach, but even more pretty, with amazing ocean views and lush greenery all around.
It’s a straightforward stop as you circle the Stanley Park Seawall, and I never miss the opportunity to pull over for a picnic, beach walk or water splash in the summer. Similarly to Second Beach, the water can get really shallow at low tide, so it functions as a happy water playground for kids in summer (with close supervision, of course). The beach is mostly sandy, with occasional pebbly and rocky areas.
Nearby Ferguson Point is a worthwhile viewpoint to stop by, and iconic Siwash Rock is just a short walk away from Third Beach. If you’d like to sit out and enjoy a meal, the Teahouse above Third Beach offers not only tea, but meals, too, and offers nice ocean views.
“Kits” Beach is the center of beach life in Vancouver. It’s a large sandy-pebbly beach, located just across from downtown Vancouver via the Burrard Bridge. The Seawall runs behind it, so it’s easily accessible by bike from downtown.
People flood the beach and the surrounding park on nice summer days, some of them sunbathing, swimming, kayaking, paddleboarding, playing beach volleyball or having a family picnic. Restaurants and shops of the lively Kitsilano neighborhood are close, so a full day easily flies by.
Thanks to its heated outdoor seawater swimming pool, Kitsilano Beach is among the best swimming beaches in Vancouver, providing two options for swimmers. The pool is 137 meters long and is divided into three sections, making it enjoyable for everyone: a shallow area for children, lap swimming area and a casual swimming area with deep water.
a windy winter day on Kitsilano Beach
But hanging out at Kitsilano Beach has a vibe in any season. Cherry trees bloom in spring, you can take windy walks on the Seawall and marvel at the waves, play beach volleyball or rent a paddleboard in summer, go running or biking in the fall as the mountains opposite the beach turn white.
There’s also a decent playground with several swings, slides, a sand box and a huge spinner.
Jericho Beach is one of those nice beaches in Vancouver that remains quiet for most of the year. It’s further away from the downtown, also it’s more pebbly than sandy.
We didn’t usually visit it in the summer, rather in every other season, because we liked the peaceful walks behind the beach and around the pond in the park. Our son was eager to search for rabbits, and we saw lots of them each time. I’m not sure why they stick to Jericho Beach – and especially the park behind it -, but it’s the only “rabbit beach” in Vancouver.
The Jericho Sailing Centre offers sailing, windsurfing, paddleboarding or skimboarding lessons and rentals. You also find volleyball nets, tennis courts and soccer fields. Or you can walk or bike further to Spanish Banks Beach.
Spanish Banks Beach
Walking further from Jericho Beach, you’ll end up at Spanish Banks which is the end of Vancouver’s long Seawall. With distant views of the Vancouver skyline and a long, sandy-pebbly shoreline, Spanish Banks Beach is the quietest of the Vancouver beaches, mostly visited by locals.
Spanish Banks Beach at low tide
It has countless volleyball courts, picnic benches and overall, a large space for people to spread out. The beach has relatively shallow water, and the water is one kilometer offshore at low tide. This makes an excellent mud pond for kids to play, but it’s not the prettiest sight. Yes, the tide affects your beach experience a lot, especially at beaches with shallow water.
And what is it that I love the most about Spanish Banks Beach? Its dreamy sunsets that seem to be the most perfect on crisp winter days, when the sun sets early, and Vancouver glows in the distance in the last sunbeams.
Stating the obvious, but Sunset Beach is one of the top beaches in Vancouver to watch the sunset. At least now you know you should look for a beach named “Sunset Beach”, and you can actually easily add it to a Vancouver sightseeing itinerary, because it’s close to the downtown core, it sits on the mouth of False Creek.
You’re likely to see plenty of dog walkers, joggers and bikers in the area, as this section of the Seawall gets busy with people longing for fresh air and exercise on any day (yes, even on cloudy and wet days).
Sunset Beach has several smaller sandy bays, with rough sand and some small pebbles.
More amazing beaches near Vancouver
Not much further away from the city, countless more beaches can be found – both lakeside and ocean beaches. So let’s see some of the best beaches near Vancouver.
Ambleside Beach, West Vancouver
Some consider it a Vancouver beach, but Ambleside Beach is in West Vancouver, a neighboring community. Nevertheless, it would still deserve a spot among the TOP 3 Vancouver beaches, and it’s certainly the most popular beach on the North Shore.
It’s a long, sandy beach (truly sandy, with very few pebbles and wood chips mixed in), with grassy lawns, sports fields, skate parks, walking paths, a playground and picnic tables behind it. You get great views of Stanley Park and Downtown Vancouver from the beach, and seals can often be spotted from the pier.
The shops and cafés along Marine Drive are a short walk away. Also, Ambleside Park is a starting point of a beautiful paved oceanfront walkway that takes you to John Lawson Park, then further on the Centennial Seawalk all the way to Dundarave Park.
Ambleside Beach is not the only one worthy of a visit in West Vancouver – check out the rest of them here as I’ve written a separate article about them all.
Beaches of Cates Park, North Vancouver
Cates Park is one of the best kid-friendly parks in North Vancouver. It has a beach that’s both rocky and sandy in places, large grassy lawns, a winding trail in the coastal forest and a large playground. Actually, there are two playgrounds as the toddlers’ playground is quite well-separated from the other, more adventurous one.
The main beach is rocky and often gets very windy, but further away you find smaller beaches that are rather pebbly and considerably more quiet. They can be accessed through the trail at the eastern end of Cates Park.
The beaches of Cates Park are not the best for swimming, there’s no roped-off swimming area and boat traffic is significant in the narrow bay. But it has a boat launch, and you can rent kayaks in the summer. Indian Arm is one of the best places for paddling in British Columbia, with calm waters and stunning views.
Barnet Marine Park, Burnaby
the main beach in Barnet Marine Park
Even though we lived in Burnaby, it took me a while to realize that Burnaby has its own ocean beach – and not a bad one: the beaches in Barnet Marine Park.
The main beach at the eastern edge of the park is long and sandy, close to the parking lot. It has a roped-off swimming area. You also find a large grassy, partly shaded area with picnic tables on the shore, and a tiny playground.
As you walk on Drummond’s Walk, running for 1.5 km on the coastline, you find some more, smaller beaches, more pebbly and rocky than the most popular beach area. Then there’s another sandy beach at the western edge.
Crescent Beach, Surrey
Crescent Beach is our favorite for bird watching. Groups of Great Blue Herons stand in the shallow water at low tide, hunting for fish. The promenade running behind the beach is lovely, and you can continue walking to Blackie Spit, a unique salty marshland.
There’s a pier which is a popular spot to fish for crabs, and you can find plenty of crabs under the larger rocks on the beach, too.
With that said, Crescent Beach is not the best for swimming. The water is very shallow, part of it becomes a salty marshland at low tide. Signs warn you to rinse off or dry off immediately after coming out of the water to avoid swimmers itch, an unpleasant skin rash. A good oil-based sunscreen lotion also helps.
It’s still the best swimming beach is Surrey, and small kids enjoy splashing around (and can safely do so). But I prefer walking and bird watching there.
White Pine Beach, Sasamat Lake, Belcarra Regional Park
Sasamat Lake is insanely popular on summer weekends as it’s one of the most pleasant swimming lakes in Metro Vancouver.
It’s a small lake and gets pleasantly warm in the summer. White Pine Beach, its beautiful white sand beach, is ideal for families, with shallow water, soft sand, great amenities (washrooms, picnic benches, concession) and lifeguards on site during the summer months.
There’s also an easy, almost completely flat 3.1 kilometer loop trail around Sasamat Lake, running directly on the lakeshore, offering pretty lake views. The floating bridge that crosses Sasamat Lake and is part of this loop trail is also a great spot to jump into the water. It has metal ladders to help you get in and out, and you can sunbathe on the deck.
But summer parking is a challenge at White Pine Beach. Parking fees are introduced to Belcarra Regional Park every summer season: $2.50 per hour or $15 per day, from April 1 to September 30 in 2023. There’s no option to reserve parking in advance, but there’s no time limit for how long you can park either, so once you get a spot, you’re good for the day.
Alternatively, bus #182 takes you into the park during the summer, so you can choose a park & ride.
South Beach, Buntzen Lake, Anmore
Buntzen Lake is actually a reservoir, managed by BC Hydro, yet you feel in a remote wilderness here, with crystal clear water surrounded by forested mountains everywhere you look. But it gets lively in the summer, because South Beach is a popular lakeside beach in Metro Vancouver.
It has a roped-off swimming area, a sandy beach with a grassy area and picnic tables right behind it, and lifeguards in summer. You also find a separate dog beach. The water of Buntzen Lake doesn’t get too warm, but it’s pleasant for swimming on a hot day.
Parking can get very challenging in the Buntzen Lake Recreation Area on sunny summer weekends, even weekdays. It’s not allowed to park outside of the park gates on the streets of Anmore (unless you’re a resident), so if the parking is full, you’re out of feasible options. It has about 600 spaces, so it’s really not small, but it is when summer crowds arrive.
A parking reservation system was introduced in the summer of 2022. Parking is still free, but requires advance reservation. It was in effect only for the summer though, and parking is not a problem outside of the summer months.
Rolley Lake, Mission
The sandy beach at Rolley Lake is one of the best family-friendly beaches in Metro Vancouver, especially for small kids. The small lake gets pleasantly warm during hot summers, and the water is relatively shallow. It also has a roped-off swimming area, and the sand is soft and fine (even a bit muddy at places).
Fishing, canoeing, kayaking and hiking are also popular activities in Rolley Lake Provincial Park, and there’s a campground nestled in the trees, a few minutes walk away from the shore.
Vancouver beaches FAQ
What are the best beaches in Vancouver for families?
Kitsilano Beach and Second Beach are great for families, because they have (mostly) sandy shores and shallow water, and offer facilities like a heated outdoor pool, playgrounds and picnic areas.
Barnet Marine Park and White Pine Beach at Sasamat Lake are also popular choices for families, and they’re a short drive away from Vancouver.
Are there amenities available at Vancouver beaches?
We were impressed by the amenities. You usually find public washrooms (restrooms), changing facilities rooms and drinking water fountains at each beach, and concessions and lifeguards in the summer months. Many of the beaches have accessible beach mats, as well.
Amenities vary from beach to beach though, so check the one you plan to visit.
Are there lifeguards on duty at Vancouver beaches?
Lifeguards are present on the most popular Vancouver beaches from late May through early September.
Can you have bonfires on Vancouver beaches?
No, bonfires are not allowed on most of Vancouver’s beaches due to fire safety regulations and environmental concerns. The only exception is Wreck Beach, a clothing-optional beach, where small contained fires in designated fire pits are allowed.
Can you rent a kayak or paddleboard at Vancouver beaches?
On some beaches, you can. Jericho Beach and Spanish Banks certainly have rental facilities, and also Cates Park in North Vancouver.
Is there parking available at Vancouver beaches?
The closer the beach is to the downtown, the more challenging parking is, especially in the summer months. While Kitsilano, Jericho and Spanish Banks Beach have large, designated parking lots, the downtown beaches don’t. Parking can be limited and quite expensive.
Parking in the Metro Vancouver area (outside of Vancouver) is usually free, but time limits can apply, and summer parking can still be challenging.
Are dogs allowed on Vancouver beaches?
Dogs are typically not allowed on beaches, but you can find separate dog beaches. Check the specific regulations before visiting each beach.
What food options are available at Vancouver beaches?
The most popular beaches in Vancouver have concessions that are open in the summer season. English Bay Beach, Kitsilano Beach and Third Beach have cafes and restaurants nearby, as well. But not all beaches have food options, and concessions are closed outside of the summer season.