Beaches, parks, and treed, quiet residential streets: Kitsilano extends from the Burrard Bridge west through Point Grey over to Alma Street near Jericho Beach. On the map below, it’s south-west from downtown, across False Creek and into English Bay.
Because the seaside route is not continuous between Kits Beach and Jericho and Spanish Banks to the west, we split this route down into two gross sections – an eastern Burrard Bridge-Vanier Park-Kitsilano Beach park ride; and the western residential streets section between Kits Beach and Jericho Beach.
Kitsilano (4.4 km/2.7 mi):
Eastern (Park) Section – Burrard Bridge-Vanier Park-Kitsilano Beach
At the eastern end, the whole neighbourhood area up to Cornwall Street and over to Kits Beach forms a point of land into English Bay called “Kitsilano Point.” It guards the mouth of False Creek to the east, and contains Vanier Park.
While the main attraction of the Kits route is undoubtedly Kitsilano (Kits) beach, nearer the Burrard Bridge (adjacent to the Fairview section of the False Creek seawall), windy Vanier Park on Kits Point hosts kite flyers, a summer-long Shakespeare festival, the Vancouver Museum and the H. R. MacMillan Space Centre.1 It’s hard to believe that the CPR had plans to make this a Vancouver dockyard and that it was once an air force station.
Vanier Park is a large open and square-ish park lawn with ocean on two sides. Being exposed as a point on the north and west it gets strong westerly winds at times, and a detour up Whyte Avenue near Burrard Bridge and around the Museum will avoid them. Changing into a low gear (smaller ring at the front) will make the winds easier to fight against. Coming from the other direction, of course, you’ll be impressed at how fast you are.
A large tree at the foot of Whyte Avenue, by the boat launch contains a large eagle’s nest and you will often see the eagles roosting there, as well as on the totem pole at Hadden Park (picture, top).
The gravel path around Vanier will be wet after a rain and although it’s not muddy, your bike will get a crust of dirt over time. Dogs and pedestrians use the path too, and nobody pays attention to the signs directing bike traffic to the inside. As always, the rule for cyclists ends up being go where the pedestrians aren’t.
Approaching the Maritime Museum going west to Kitsilano Beach, avoid following the path going behind the museum, and take the paved path in front of it. If you go around the back of the museum to the dog park, you’ll see there are stairs back up to the bike bath.
As the Park Board tries to decide on the best way to split the pedestrian and bike paths, they have made a protected temporary bike lane (2021) through the Kits parking lot that you can get to (or from) by following the roads bordering Kits Beach and Hadden Park. So from Vanier Park, you’d just ride up to the road and along.
West of Vanier Park, the Maritime Museum and the Mungo Martin totem pole (picture, top) closer towards the beach are in Hadden Park, which connects Vanier Park to Kitsilano Beach. There are washrooms at the top of the hill going down to (or up from) Kits Beach, but there are more and better facilities at the larger washrooms only a minute away downhill at Kits Beach.
Passing by the Maritime Museum, you can see the St. Roch housed inside. The St. Roch was an RCMP Arctic supply and patrol ship specially built in North Vancouver, and is the first ship to completely circumnavigate North America. With museum admission, you can climb around on it and explore its insides.
If you want to explore behind the museum, there’s a heritage boat exhibit, a passenger ferry dock, and a dog beach. If you’re cycling, go around the back of the museum from the east side.
Kits Beach can be crowded on summer weekends, and it’s often hard to drag one’s self away from volleyball and basketball games and tournaments, but Kits is where the beautiful people go, so you may just stay there.
There are washrooms here, and a concession – as well as a full service restaurant. There’s a drinking fountain, but rather than try to fill up your water bottle there, use the tap on the shower posts at the end of the short walk-way to the beach. They operate by push button. The harder and longer you push, the longer and stronger the flow. There’s a delay, so you might get more water than you wanted. It’s an art. Be sure you push the right button – that’s a shower head above you.
At the western end of Kits Beach park, beyond the pool, the seaside route is interrupted by houses along the seaside. To go further west you must cut inland and travel by road – about 15 blocks or 2.8 Km. To leave Kits Beach, west-bound travellers must make their way up to the path which runs alongside Cornwall Street to the south. Since you’re up there, there are places to get food and drinks.
In October 2013 we discovered Hadden Park and Kits Beach may be getting a new separated bike path, a development that aroused protests after a clever vandal spray-painted a proposed route cutting through the lawns. As it is, there is hardly enough room to throw a Frisbee on the grass, so even those who support the City’s vision of a route of bike paths accessible to all might feel our parks are disappearing under park amenities. It reminds us of the time the Parks people cut down the famous Seven Sisters trees to protect the people who came to see them from falling branches.
In February of 2014 the City decided there was too much opposition to a separate bike path, and so we will continue to share the path with pedestrians. One thing that came to the public’s awareness through this upset is that this park was given to the city under the condition that it be maintained in a natural condition.
In 2021 the process is underway again. The temporary bike lane beach bypass that takes you through the parking lot and out onto Arbutus street to Vanier Park is part of that.
Western Road Section
While the path of the Burrard Bridge-Vanier Park-Kits Beach route is fairly self-evident and doesn’t follow any roads, the remainder to the west of Kits Beach to Jericho Beach is entirely by road.
The seaside ride is interrupted through much of Kitsilano because there is no room for a seaside path below the houses along the shore past Kits beach, and so one must take a road diversion for now. There were talks about extending the seaside path with a private donor offering a large amount of money to do it… one wonders if was out of spite.
Traveling west our bike path runs above the beach parallel to Cornwall Street and then dips down Point Grey road only to come up again two blocks further west. We’re avoiding the hill Cornwall runs up. There’s no point going up the hill because you’ll just come down again on the other side, and Cornwall is a fast and busy road. We stay off of it by turning right down Point Grey road and going around.
Note that that “dip” road is Point Grey road, and the main road above Kits Beach (from Burrard Bridge) was Cornwall. Coming up from the dip going west, they merge. Cornwall is no more, and Point Grey road continues over to MacDonald. However – it’s not a road anymore – it’s a bike path!
Point Grey road past MacDonald is now closed to automobile through traffic, and the new bike path will deliver you onto it. Watch out for cyclists coming from the other direction – it’s a two-way path!
Traveling east from Jericho you follow the bike path along Point Grey road. It dumps you onto the quiet section of Point Grey road that dips down and comes up again at Kits Beach. Once you’re at Kits Beach, you’re finished with any roads for now. You can just follow the seaside bike and pedestrian routes.
Closure at MacDonald:
Since about 2015, Point Grey Road has been closed to car through-traffic between MacDonald and Alma. Bike traffic is welcome.
East-bound or west-bound, from MacDonald to the Alma Street end to the west everything is well marked and easy. Just remember that there is still car traffic on Point Grey – but a lot less than there used to be.
Why was Point Grey Road closed to automobile through traffic?
The desire for a continuous seaside “promenade” to Jericho Beach goes back at least 80 years (and led to Hadden Park connecting Vanier Park and Kits Beach being purchased), but here already-established residential property and the ocean meet abruptly at a bluff along the shore.
To make a proper promenade, an intrusive walkway would have to be built in the intertidal zone below; or private property would have to be expropriated (those one-lot pocket parks are part of the city’s continuing efforts to acquire land to reclaim the shoreline); or something done to tame Point Grey Road.
Point Grey road was the de facto route between Kits and Jericho Beach, but it sucked. With traffic flowing in both directions it was fast, narrow and dangerous. After some consideration, the city decided to close it to through traffic.
Riding On: Adjoining Seaside Routes
To get into the False Creek section from Kits Beach, follow the path down to the Kits Beach concession and ride along the sandy beach, up the hill, past the washrooms, the Maritime Museum and then into Vanier Park. Ride down along the water and pass underneath Burrard Bridge into Fairview.
Burrard Bridge: If you want to make your way over Burrard Bridge to downtown, Yaletown as the north side of False Creek, and the West End; then follow Cornwall to Burrard Street and get onto the bridge on the False Creek (eastern) side only. The bike lanes on the bridge follow bridge traffic. You can also get to the bridge from Fairview.
West: At the other side of the Kitsilano section you come to the Jericho Beach area. There are still a few residential blocks to pass through, but soon you’ll be feeling like you’re out of the city, though you’ll see it in the distance.
Kitsilano is not exactly a Squamish name, but was applied by developers who needed a name for the area in the ’30s and is derived from the title of a chief of the area, and also recognises his grandson, August Jack Khatsahlano (July 16, 1867 – June 5, 1971) who lived at Snauq where the Burrard Bridge comes to land, and who conveyed much native history (see Fairview for Snauq or Senakw, the native village under the bridge).
Before the Europeans came this was all dense forest and tall trees, creeks and bogs. Natives hunted deer, elk and bear and fished in the streams, and dug clams at the beach. The natives didn’t travel extensively in the dark forest, but preferred to travel by canoe if possible. Some of the land at Kits Point and in the western – roads – section was low and marshy.
When the early Europeans came they established sawmills along the water (eg. between Bayswater and Trutch, and at Jericho) and set about clearing the forest.
In the 1880’s, the tidal flow of First Narrows (where the Lion’s Gate Bridge is at Stanley Park) being at times too much for the steamships of the day, the idea was held to make the docks at Kits instead of in the current harbour. This, combined with a magnificently sprawling industrial age Art Deco city hall conceived for the opposite side of the Bay in later years would have made for a different Vancouver. The CPR (Canadian Pacific Rail) held the land at Vanier Park and Kits Beach until the Second War – long after those plans were rendered infeasible and abandoned.
Before the CPR took the land, Kitsilano Beach was squatted on by Sam Greer and was known as “Greer’s Beach.” Of course before that there were native residences there. Who wouldn’t want to live on a beach?
The CPR had been granted Kitsilano in the late nineteenth century and planned to develop docks there.
There is a long-removed but still traceable rail line that went past the end of Kits Beach from the old railway trestle (in Fairview). The CPR rail right of way extended to Trafalgar Street a few blocks past Kits beach, and is still there as the waterfront path that extends from the walkway between Kits Pool and the shore past the Kitsilano Yacht Club over to Trafalgar. For a short while it was the westernmost extent of the pan-Canadian rail line. After abandoning those plans, the rail line was leased by the BC Electric Railway Company for streetcar service from Kitsilano Beach to the city in 1905.
The low and marshy intervening land in Kits Point (along with a creek) was filled in to build houses. Vanier Park itself is perhaps a quarter fill around the edges and where the pond is.
The streetcar service closed in 1955, and the cut through the by-then residential Kits Point was filled in with housing in the 70s. You can trace the line from above by following the axis of the trestle along a path by Burrard Bridge and then through the Kits Point residences by noting the peculiarly angled in-fill of narrow lots.
Vanier Park was the home of Royal Canadian Air Force Station Kitsilano during the Second World War up until 1964 when it was turned over to the city for park land.
Ten acres of land which was expropriated from the native reserve by the CPR was returned to the Musqueum in 2002, and explains the presence of that socio-environmentally retro electronic billboard at the south-west landing of Burrard Bridge.
- Not the actual centre of space [↩]