Summer Fun List: How to Enjoy Vancouver on a Budget

More than half (53%) of British Columbians say they’re already feeling the effects of interest rate increases. Inflation has increased to the highest rate in 40 years, which has caused an incredible strain on monthly budgets. Gas prices have increased by more than 50 percent in the last 12 months. The cost of groceries is surging and air travellers are stuck at airports due to flight cancellations, lengthy delays and lost luggage. Labour shortages, lack of equipment and global bottlenecks are wreaking havoc on the supply chain, which has affected our access to goods and services.

stanley park trail

These headlines are not my idea of summer fun. And rising costs mean that an increasing number of families are struggling financially and watching their debt climb. While creating a budget — and sticking to it — can help you manage your money and keep your debt in check, it’s more important than ever to find fun summer activities that don’t cost much.

Fortunately, there are plenty of things to do in the Lower Mainland for little or no money. If you need a break from the doom and gloom, check out our list for having some fun on a dime!

1. Sightsee at Stanley Park

This is a must on your summer fun list. Spanning almost 1,000 acres, this lush rainforest is nestled beside Vancouver’s downtown. There is no shortage of scenic views of the water, the mountains, and majestic red cedar trees.

You can spend hours in this natural wonderland, exploring the trails, beautiful beaches and totem poles, while having some great eats from a local restaurant or a picnic lunch from home. Stanley Park offers a dizzying array of memorable experiences for all ages and interests, for pennies on the dollar.

2. Stroll around Granville Island

Most locals would argue that Granville Island is the artistic and cultural heart of Vancouver. This little gem is surrounded by an urban backdrop and wrapped by the False Creek Inlet. A unique destination, it attracts millions of visitors each year from Vancouver and around the world.

The magic of Granville Island lies in its eclectic selection of shops and services. The public market has more than 50 independent food vendors, and visitors quickly understand how Granville Island continues to be a revered culinary destination. Plenty of Canada’s renowned artists and designers can be found here, as it is home to many cultural venues and hosts numerous performing arts and cultural festivals throughout the year. Kids Market is a great place to window shop with the kids and the outdoor play areas, spray park and waterslide are also popular hot spots for families.

The cost to wander around Granville Island? Free.

3. Take in the Richmond Night Market

Located on River Road near Bridgeport Station (Canada Line), the iconic Richmond Night Market runs on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings (and statutory holidays that fall on Mondays) from May to October. The market provides a stunning array of unique street food with hundreds of new and exciting options as well as other attractions (merchandise, games, live performances) to tempt all of your senses. Inspired by the night market scene in Asia, the Richmond Night Market has grown to become one of the largest of its kind in North America since its inception in 2000. You don’t want to miss this budget-friendly, multisensory adventure!

4. Explore the Seawall

Approximately 28 kilometres in length, the Vancouver Seawall is the longest uninterrupted waterway path in the world. The Seawall starts at the Vancouver Convention Centre amongst office towers and hotels, borders Stanley Park and continues all the way to Spanish Banks Park.

This pathway is an ideal destination for a walk, jog, cycle or rollerblade. There are plenty of stops along the way that appeal to everyone. The Seawall offers opportunities to play volleyball and use other sports courts, lounge on the beach, kayak or paddleboard, to name just a few activities. Families can spend hours at the playgrounds and public outdoor pool or combing the beaches for rocks, sea creatures, shells and other treasures—all for free!

5. Marvel at the VanDusen Botanical Garden

The VanDusen Botanical Garden is another bit of paradise located in Vancouver’s core. The garden has a staggering collection of plants species and varieties from all around the globe — more than 7,500! This lush destination covers 55 acres and is home to various wildlife. Be sure to bring your camera!

Make your way through an Elizabethan hedge maze as you unwind in this serene setting. The Summer Food Truck Series runs from mid July to the end of August and offers a variety of delectable options at reasonable prices. Check out the events calendar to plan your trip around art exhibits and education sessions. The cost of admission is low (even lower from October to April) so this is an ideal family activity when watching your spending.

6. Visit historic Chinatown

This is a part of Vancouver’s history that you don’t want to miss. Chinatown is a distinct, historic neighbourhood located near the downtown core. This cultural landmark affords something to see and taste for everyone.

An emerging sector of chefs, artists, and entrepreneurs is the lifeblood of this neighbourhood. Grab a light snack as you marvel at the character of heritage buildings adorned with murals and window art that will transport you back in time to the days of the early Chinese pioneers in the city. Numerous new attractions and activities are located nearby, which makes Chinatown a one-stop shop for every budget while honouring the rich cultural history of Chinese settlers.

7. Spend the day at Kitsilano Beach

If you’ve ever been to Kitsilano Beach (Kits Beach, if you’re local), you already know why this is arguably the most popular beach in Vancouver. There are plenty of free outdoor activities to enjoy while lounging away the summer. Kits Beach is known for being home to the longest swimming pool in Canada. This outdoor salt-water oasis (Kitsilano Pool) is usually open annually from May to September, with a low admission fee.

Play beach volleyball, use the basketball and tennis courts, or try windsurfing, paddle boarding or skimboarding – just some of the many free outdoor activities you can enjoy at Kitsilano Beach. You’ll find an off-leash dog area, playgrounds and plenty of beach to wander while hunting for sea treasures, all at no cost.

8. Go hiking or kayaking at Deep Cove in North Vancouver

Another must see! This quaint community is the gem of North Vancouver. You can easily spend a full day here window shopping and grabbing a snack from the local donut shop. People also flock to Deep Cove for its marina and kayaking. If you don’t have your own watercraft, you can rent kayaks and paddleboards from local rental shops. If your budget does not include “kayak rental money,” then hiking up the popular Quarry Rock trail is a great alternative. Round trip, this gentle hike will take an hour and a half — even if you’re new to hiking. The views from the top of Quarry Rock are worth the effort. Be sure to bring your camera! The invigorating hike and panoramic views are priceless - literally and figuratively.

9. Check out the Steam Clock in Gastown while window shopping

If you like history — and free activities — you’ll love the Steam Clock located on Water Street in iconic Gastown. Dating back to the 1970s, the Gastown Steam Clock is one of the few remaining functioning steam clocks in the world. Check out its intricate design and wait to hear it whistle. Then wander around Gastown window shopping and you’ll hear it again and again — every 15 minutes.

This densely populated neighbourhood covers 12 city blocks and boasts an assortment of local fashion shops, perfect for window shopping. There’s plenty of authentic heritage architecture juxtaposed with a vibrant creative and tech scene that can be enjoyed while eating a bagged lunch or grabbing a coffee.

10. Admire the Murals of East Vancouver

If you ask most Vancouverites where the best street art can be found, the unanimous answer is East Van. More specifically, the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood on Main Street (between 4th and 14th avenues). It’s here where summer fun seekers can explore the creative side of the city. You’ll find murals, artists and performers, especially in the summer months. Every August, the city is home to the Vancouver Mural Festival, which is touted as the largest annual free public art celebration. 

Our Summer Fun List can help you and your family get the most out of the season, but if you’re experiencing financial challenges, talk to us. We can help you overcome your debt so you can focus on what really matters. We offer a Free Confidential Consultation to review your financial situation and help you determine which Life-Changing Debt Solution might best fit your unique needs so you can have a financial fresh start.