Along Point Grey’s English Bay shore are a number of Vancouver’s larger and less busy beaches, linked by a gravel sea side bike and pedestrian path. Beaches are within short walking distance and during the summer they all have a place to get food, and all have change rooms, washrooms, fresh water, cold showers and shelter.
As the peninsula reaches westward toward the point and UBC, so the beach bulges out at low tide revealing a huge 1 kilometer-wide sandy intertidal expanse good for walking out to see the freighters.
Going from east to west, the beaches in this area are as follows:
- Jericho Beach
- Locarno Beach
- Spanish Banks East
- Spanish Banks West
- Spanish Banks Extension
Jericho, Locarno & Spanish Banks Beaches (4.3 km/2.6 mi):
Eastern Residential Section
But before you get to the beaches, if you’re following our route and coming from Kitsilano going from east to west (to UBC), there is a section of residential blocks to cover between Kitsilano, and the beaches.
The road to take is Point Grey road – just follow the bike path.
For many decades the city wrestled with the question of how to connect pedestrians and cyclists between Kitsilano and the western Point Grey beaches and seaside. The problems included that there was no land available to make a corridor; the waterfront was unsuited to a seawall; and Point Grey road was an over-used fast, busy and narrow connector route to the bridge.
We hadn’t taken it in years, far preferring the quiet southern residential streets instead. But now Point Grey road has been converted into a safe and quiet bike and pedestrian route between the beaches you can take the kids on.
West from Kits Beach follow Point Grey road down and along and up again. Where it comes up at Trafalgar, a separated two-way bike path runs to MacDonald on the north side. It dumps you onto Point Grey road running between MacDonald and Jericho Beach. It’s a quiet road now. There’s a west-bound bike path, and the east-bound riders travel with the car traffic – if there is any.
Going the other way – from Jericho Beach to Kits Beach, you just have to follow the road and you’ll end up at Kits Beach. It’s not hard (anymore).
Jericho Beach Park
West-bound after that short stretch of road, it’s all beach going west. Well, there’s some parkland to start.
Jericho is a large attractive park with a pond, ducks, apple trees, blackberry bushes, playing fields, rabbits and paths through the woods. There’s a washroom and concession stand at the beach just as you enter. Playing fields and tennis courts are to the west.
The rabbits among the brambles by the tennis courts and boatyard are there because people have abandoned them there. Rabbits aren’t native to Vancouver, and if they weren’t replaced so quickly and didn’t find shelter in the boatyard nearby, the coyotes would eat them all up.
A thing we note on riding past is that despite all the available attractions like Science World, and the Aquarium and different museums, kids still like to come and feed the bunnies. But why don’t they feed them to the coyotes?
In the early days when forest came down to the beach, Jericho was a sawmill, named by or after Jeremiah (Jerry) Rogers. It’s commonly said it got its name as people shortened “Jerry’s cove” to Jericho.
In the ’30s there was a golf course in the park land away from the water.
Jericho used to have a wharf and buildings – hangers – back from both when it was a naval reserve in the twenties and then RCAF Station Jericho Beachup until 19721, but they’re unfortunately almost all gone now, with only a few buildings such as that housing the Jericho Sailing Centre and the hostel remaining.
Jericho Sailing Centre bills itself as a community centre, so feel free to stop and explore Vancouver’s “ocean access community centre.”
Habitat Forum ’76 (UN Habitat Conference on Human Settlements) took place there with the sea plane hangars beautifully converted to exhibition and meeting space using raw materials. Rather than bear the expense and upkeep of the spaces, the buildings were subsequently torn down and recently the marginal wharf was removed to return the beach to a natural setting.
Locarno is a designated-quiet, un-intrusive beach you may think would be better called Spanish Banks East East, because it’s the east-most beach of a long beach-side drive along beaches otherwise all called Spanish Banks-something. It’s really all one beach and depending on your direction, Locarno is either the beginning of an uninterrupted beach-side drive, or the regretted end. The road is N.W. Marine Drive.
A lot of the beach is actually east of the concession stand you see as you come out of the park, and the tall shady trees behind make for a popular picnic spot.
Warmer swimming in the summer after the tide comes in over a huge stretch of sand revealed at low tide. You can almost walk out to the freighters, and shallow enough as the tide comes in for swimming, skimboarding, and frisbee in the water. There are great views of the city, West Vancouver, Cypress Mountain, and of Burrard Inlet and Howe Sound to the north with Bowen Island in the front.
Fill up your water bottle, use the washrooms or get food at the concessions. Spanish Banks East concession is the larger one, more fully stocked and more likely to be open in the off season. They have a deep fryer and good fish and chips with tartar sauce in the summer.
Spanish Banks West – washrooms not always open in the off-season (and no food then) – is the last opportunity to stock up going west to UBC, and the last water for Wreck Beach. Of course Spanish Banks West is the first concession you hit going the other way and both the washrooms and concession stand may be less crowded in the summer.
Spanish Banks West concession building (ie. washrooms) may be closed in winter, but East always has washrooms available. In the past when they closed West washrooms for the winter they hung a large sign on the washrooms door saying WASHROOM OPEN in large letters, and after you’d walked – or hurried – up to read the rest, you’d see that the little letters said “…At Spanish Banks East.”
Spanish Banks Extension is a dog beach and has no concession or washrooms or even water. It is at the end of the sea-level route to the tip of Point Grey. You can ride to the log at the end of the path and enjoy the view of everything from Howe Sound to the City. Then you can turn around and go back in the other direction, or lock up your bike to something (please, not the gate posts to Marine Drive) and walk along the rocky shore to Acadia Beach, or ride up University Hill to UBC.
Because of the hill behind, Spanish Banks gets less sun in the afternoon than other places. It’s colder where the sun doesn’t shine and it gets and remains icy in the winter. When it gets slushy in the late winter, it’s impassible. It looks inviting, but you get about 10 feet in and slow to a crawl and have to put your foot down into two to three inches of sparkling ice slushy.
While the sun goes down early at Spanish Banks it is great for the weather – spectacular in rain storms, mists and fogs.
Walking along the shore to Acadia Beach you walk out of the jurisdiction of the Vancouver Parks Board into that of the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) who maintain the tip of Point Grey. If you want to continue walking along the shore, Wreck Beach (also a GVRD beach) is about 15-20 minutes of rocky, log-strewn shoreline away. Otherwise you can ride up the hill to get there. These beaches are un-serviced but are patrolled. While there are toilets at Wreck Beach, there are no facilities until then.
Instead of walking to Acadia, you can ride a short distance up N. W. Marine Drive to the parking lot and lock your bike up at a stand.
Spanish Banks History
Spanish Banks history seems to lie in names.
The Musqueam had names for coastal landmarks as well as stories behind them to teach lessons to the children as they paddled past. In teaching both the stories and the landmarks, they ensured the children would forget neither.
All of Point Grey was called Ustlawn. The islands of sand revealed as the tide rose and fell at the end of Spanish Banks were called Pookcha for looking like the backs of whales in the water. Walking to Acadia Beach one comes to a stream and the area there is called Tsa-atslum for being a cool place on a hot day.
Mixed in among native place names and English ones in Vancouver and along the coast of British Columbia, Spanish place names are almost as common. The Spanish were early modern-day European explorers up the Pacific coast and it is near Spanish Banks that Spanish commander, explorer and cartographer Dionisio Galiano encountered English explorer George Vancouver in June of 1792 each with the same mission to explore and chart the coast.
Fortunately, Spain and England were on friendly terms at the moment, and so were Captains Vancouver and Galiano. They agreed to divide the duties, and Spanish Banks commemorates that. The “Bank” referred to is the steep drop at the end of the 1km wide sandy tidal flats.
The city of Vancouver Park Board has pointed out that it’s one bank, not more than one, so it should be called “Spanish Bank,” especially considering the actual bank is a hazard to ships and one prefers to be consistent and clear about things like that. They briefly changed its name but people objected and it’s back to being called Spanish Banks. Perhaps years ago when Vancouverites were more involved with industry and marine transportation it might have gone over, but nowadays people sit in bright, glassy condos and drink Starbucks coffee and don’t think much about things like that.
Coincidentally or not, that same Park Board, which used to be known as the “Parks Board” changed its own name about that time. Going from “Parks” to “Park” and otherwise reducing significant plurals to singulars demonstrated their commitment to efficiency and economy at a time of cut-backs – and left them immune to criticism should they lose one or two.
Riding On: Adjoining Seaside Routes
East: To Vancouver via Kitsilano,
West: All the way up University Hill to UBC with the option of heading down to Wreck Beach.
- http://www.militarybruce.com/history/base-history_21.html [↩]