The seawall along the northern shore of English Bay runs along a long strip of sandy beach and rocky shore from Stanley Park to False Creek. This is the southern edge of the West End. From Stanley Park east, the beaches are English Bay and Sunset beaches.
The primary beach is English Bay beach, also known as “First” beach (Second and Third are in Stanley Park). This urban beach is at the southern end of the West End’s main retail street, Denman (at the northern end is Coal Harbour).
On summer days and especially during special events like fireworks and the gay pride parade, it can be crowded, but that’s okay. It’s a good place for not really going anywhere – stop and enjoy the water, the sunset, the people, and the activity.
Being at the foot of Denman Street, the beach is close to grocery stores and restaurants. There are bank machines in corner stores, ice cream parlours, burger joints, shops, bars, hotels, and all the comforts of life here. There’s a No Frills grocery store and a Shopper’s Drugs midway up Denman in the Denman Mall, and a Safeway and a London Drugs on Davie. Give $5 to the valet in the lane between Milestones and the Boathouse and he will lock up and watch over your bike for you while you walk around.
You’ll find plenty of pedestrians on the bike path here, but be especially careful around the Cactus Club at the foot of Denman. The Cactus Club was deliberately designed to exit onto the bike path. The result – somehow obvious to everyone but to the designers – is that people enter and exit the restaurant by walking along and cutting across the bike path. That makes it dangerous.
[Due to the need for social-distancing, the bike path along Beach, down the hill to Sunset Beach and on and under Burrard Bridge is temporarily closed to bikes. Instead, use the south lane of Beach which has been set aside for bikes, so the next paragraph is obsolete – for now!]
At English Bay beach, the bike path is a separated path running alongside Beach Avenue near Stanley Park, but going east, it drops down a hill to Sunset beach well before Burrard Bridge. The hill is a bit steep and long, but since the seaside rides are usually pretty flat, it’s worth looking at it as either a short bit of exercise if you’re going up, or bit of fun if you’re going down.
Sunset Beach is a quieter, less used beach. There’s a concession stand with washrooms and a playing field here. Washrooms, water and food can be found at any of the concession stands – English Bay or Sunset Beach – or at the Aquatic Centre by the bridge.
The West End (1.9 km/1.2 mi) (light green line along Beach Avenue):
Riding On: Adjoining Seaside Routes
West: You can ride a short distance into Stanley Park along the bike path, but you can’t continue around the seawall because it’s one-way only, and the entrance is across the peninsula at Coal Harbour. To cross over ride to the park along English Bay beach and take Park Lane at the Park Board office, past the tennis courts to Lost Lagoon Drive, and instead of going along Lost Lagoon Drive (which you can do), cross the road to the trail going down to Lost Lagoon. Follow the bike path north under Georgia Street to the park entrance.
The bridge is Burrard Bridge. While you can ride under it into False Creek, you can also ride across the bridge into Kitsilano.
Burrard Bridge (about 2 km/1.3 mi):
Burrard Bridge offers an opportunity to take a shortcut over False Creek to Kitsilano and Point Grey. The bridge tends to the south-west, so if you need to cross over and go any distance east, then the Cambie bridge might be your better bet. The bridge paths are one-way only. Don’t get on the wrong side. Ride in the south-bound bike lane to go to Kitsilano.
To go over to Kitsilano, go up the hill on the west (Stanley Park) side of the bridge to Pacific Avenue. Thurlow on the west side of the Aquatic Centre is steep but short, and connects directly to the bike path on Pacific.
If you don’t mind carrying your bike up a few flights of wide stairs, go straight up to the bridge by the Aquatic Centre. If you’re standing at the bottom of those stairs deciding you’d rather not carry your bike up there, then take that laneway to the left over to Thurlow and then around to the bridge.
Get on the bike path and head over the bridge, watching for merging cyclists at the bridge (if you want to get back on the seawall in Kits at the other end, follow Cornwall around to the right once you’re in Kits, and head back to the water from there).
Bicycle traffic over the bridge has separate lanes – the Kitsilano-southbound lane is on the English Bay side and the downtown-northbound lane is on the False Creek side. You want the south-bound Stanley Park-English Bay-side lane. Don’t get them mixed up. If you’re a pedestrian, walk only on the English Bay side.
Downtown: If you want to go downtown then you’ll want to be on the eastern side of the bridge. The easiest route is to ride east along the seawall under the bridge to the foot of Hornby (first block past the bridge to the east) and go downtown by going directly north on Hornby. It has a bike lane.
From fall to spring the bike path along Beach Avenue above the beach can be cold and windy. Going east, it doesn’t get better until you reach the shelter of False Creek condos east of Burrard Bridge. Except for adjacent Stanley Park and Vanier Point in Kits, this is generally the coldest and most windy part of the seawall.