What do locals do in Vancouver when it rains? Simple. We don’t fear the rain – we embrace it.
Here are my favourite indoor activities that I like to do in Vancouver when it rains. I’ve also added in a few outdoor activities that are still enjoyable regardless of the weather. If you want to enjoy Vancouver like a local does when it rains, wear some waterproof boots, grab a sturdy umbrella, and adopt a positive attitude. Don’t wait for the rain to stop or you might never get outside!
1. Visit the Museum of Anthropology
If you’re going to visit one museum in Vancouver, this is it. The Museum of Anthropology is where you can learn about the diversity of Indigenous cultures in BC. Located out at UBC campus, it’s about a half hour drive or bus ride from downtown Vancouver and worthy of at least two hours, but easily longer if you’re academically inclined. Be sure to spend time in the Multiversity Galleries exploring the visual storage. And if you’re up for it, the Beaty Biodiversity Museum is a little gem of a space and only a 15 minute walk nearby.
2. Crawl the craft breweries in East Vancouver
When the weather’s crappy and it’s dark at 4pm, you’ll find the beer nerds hiding out in the city’s craft breweries scattered across the various East Van neighbourhoods. Purchase flights, fill your growlers, or grab a pint in the tasting room. These are tiny breweries so space is limited, but if one is full, simply stroll down to the next. Personal favourites include the Brassneck, Main Street, 33 Acres, and R&B Brewing cluster around Main Street, as well as breweries around Clark Drive/Commercial Drive, like Superflux, Strange Fellows, Boxcar, Callister, Powell Street, East Van Brewing, and Storm to name but a few. If you need even more craft beer itineraries, check out the BC Ale Trail.
3. Go shopping on Main Street
Unbeknownst to the tourists strolling on Robson Street is an entire neighbourhood with even more interesting shopping options. Main Street between E 5th and E 33rd is where you’ll find the small unique-to-Vancouver shops, book stores, record stores, independent cafes, restaurants, small music venues, craft breweries, and clothing boutiques. It’s the art school hipster side of Vancouver life and a foil from the downtown glass skyscrapers.
4. Explore the nooks and crannies of Granville Island
Sure, the Granville Island Public Market is the anchor where everyone flocks, but grab an umbrella and explore the other quirky buildings on Granville Island like the Net Loft, or the little gems tucked away in the alleys, like the art studios, independent theatres, breweries, distillery, and Vancouver’s one and only Artisan Sake Maker. Take a water taxi to get there because those are fun even in the rain, and the last thing you want on Granville Island is a car.
5. Go for a walk in the rainforest
A walk through the temperate rainforest in the rain is a magical experience. There’s the lack of crowds, a wonderful earthy smell in the air, and a heightened connectedness to nature. Plus, the canopy of trees offers protection from the rain. Stanley Park, Lynn Canyon, Pacific Spirit Park, Capilano River Regional Park, Lighthouse Park are my personal favourites and they’re free to visit and easily accessible by car or public transit. Of course, if you prefer more entertainment factor and have the budget, Capilano Suspension Bridge is always fun.
6. Spend the day in Steveston
Steveston is historic fishing village at the mouth of the Fraser River, about a half hour drive south of downtown Vancouver. It was once the salmon canning capital of Canada and a scene from the wild west. These days Steveston’s better known for its cute cafes, restaurants, and shops, plus loads of cultural heritage. It still has Canada’s largest commercial fishing fleet, and you buy fresh fish off the boats at Fisherman’s Wharf. But the real gems are found at the historic sites like the Gulf of Georgia Cannery, Britannia Shipyards, the Steveston Museum, and London Heritage Farm.
7. Cafe or bar hop on Commercial Drive
Commercial Drive used to be marketed as Vancouver’s “Little Italy” because of the wave of Italian immigration after WWII that brought to the neighbourhood the Italian delis, bakeries, pizza shops, and espresso joints. However, it has diversified to become one of the most interesting and real neighbourhoods in the city. These days Commercial Drive between Venables and Broadway has become a bohemian, artsy, eccentric neighbourhood home to third wave coffee bars and some wonderful small-scale live music venues, bars, pubs, small casual international restaurants (Ethiopean, El Salvadorean, Jamaican, Filipino, etc.), used bookshops, music stores, record stores, and independent boutiques. It’s a little bit scruffy but full of character and the people watching is the best. If you love Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, Melbourne’s Fitzroy, or Montréal’s Plateau, you’ll love Commercial Drive.
8. Eat authentic Chinese food in Richmond
If you’re curious about Vancouver’s famous Chinese restaurant scene, Richmond is where you’ll find it on steroids. While Vancouver always had a sizable Chinese community, in the late 1980s there was a massive immigration wave from Hong Kong to Richmond and a subsequent wave from mainland China. This transformed Richmond dramatically, turning the sleepy suburb into a modern hub of affluent, sophisticated Asian culture in Metro Vancouver.
Richmond now boasts hundreds of Chinese restaurants, blocks of densely-packed Asian shopping malls where the most authentic cuisine can be found in the most unlikeliest of places. Richmond’s only 20 minutes south of Vancouver. Hop on the Canada Line from downtown and get off at Aberdeen Station. Seek out Aberdeen Centre, Yaohan Centre, and Parker Place and Richmond Public Market. Be sure to stroll Alexandra Road too and be overwhelmed with choice. Don’t expect old fashioned Chinatown ambiance or western Chinese food. Visiting this part of Richmond is like you’ve transported yourself to a hybrid of modern Shanghai, Taipei, and Hong Kong.
9. Watch birds in their natural habitat
For real! The birds don’t care that it’s raining, only you do. In fact, the rainy winter months are the best times to be birding in Vancouver, especially at places like the Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Ladner at the mouth of the Fraser River. That is wonderful place to spend an afternoon, especially if you enjoy feeding the ducks or the chickadees. For something closer to downtown Vancouver, Maplewood Flats in North Vancouver is a small little gem along an unassuming waterfront. Iona Beach by the airport and Boundary Bay in Delta are also a birding hot spots.
Note: You must pre-book a visit to the Reifel Bird Sanctuary, ideally a day or two in advance. Details are on their website.
10. Spend the day touring the Fraser Valley wineries
The Okanagan Valley is too far to visit from Vancouver as a day-trip, but within an hour’s drive is the Fraser Valley, which is home to some lovely small-scale wineries. If you’re wanting to explore the local countryside, this is a good excuse to do so. There are tour companies if you don’t have your own designated driver. The Fort Wine Company’s great for local fruit wines. Township 7, Backyward Vineyards, Chaberton Estates, and Vista D’Oro are great for traditional wines made from locally-grown BC grapes.
11. Go for a romantic stroll in a botanical garden
Butchart Gardens in Victoria gets all the hype, but fewer visitors know about Vancouver’s own botanical gardens. VanDusen Botanical Garden is super romantic in the rain because you’ll practically have the place to yourself, and almost all the pathways are paved. Nearby is the (free) Queen Elizabeth Park, with its garden built out of a former rock quarry. Out at UBC campus are three gardens: the UBC Botanical Garden and Nitobe Memorial Garden, and the UBC Rose Garden. And in Chinatown, the adorable Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden was made for rainy day exploration.
12. Check out some live music
The Georgia Straight has traditionally been Vancouver’s most reliable event listings. Whatever scene you crave, from hardcore punk in dingy dive bars to symphony orchestras, you can usually find it. Not every night, perhaps, but there’s always something happening. Some of Vancouver’s live venues to look up are the Commodore, the Vogue Theatre, Rogers Arena, BC Place, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the Orpheum Theatre, the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, the Rickshaw Theatre, the Pacific Coliseum, the Rio Theatre, Frankie’s Jazz Club, the Wise Hall, Fortune Sound Club, the Biltmore Cabaret, Celebrities Nightclub, The Fox Cabaret, The Lido, the ANZA Club, Venue, the Malkin Bowl, Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre, Thunderbird Stadium. Keep your eyes peeled around the city for posters advertising upcoming events.
13. Attend an art exhibit
There’s a lot of art in Vancouver if you know where to look. The Vancouver Art Gallery is the biggest art gallery in the city, located downtown in a former court house. Also downtown is the tiny Contemporary Art Gallery in Yaletown and the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art. Across from downtown in North Van is The Polygon Gallery. But these days the bulk of Vancouver’s galleries are small venues tucked away in unassuming areas outside of downtown, like Arts Off Main Gallery, Bau-Xi Gallery, ViVo Media Arts, Winsor Gallery, Burrard Arts Foundation, Kimoto Gallery, Lattimer Gallery, just to name to view.
14. Tour a museum
Vancouver is not and never has been a museum city. You won’t find palatial museums here like you would find in, say, New York. But if you’re a museum person and it’s a rainy day, sometimes they just hit the spot. The Museum of Vancouver, Vancouver Maritime Museum, and HR MacMillan Space Centre are all conveniently located next to one another in Vanier Park, and you can take a water taxi there from downtown. But if you’re more into the dark underbelly of local history, the Vancouver Police Museum may appeal.
15. Go see a movie
If you’re in Vancouver and the rain is endless, it could be a good excuse to see a movie in one of Vancouver’s signature movie theatres. East Van’s retro Rio Theatre is the kind of place where you can grab a local craft beer and a grilled cheese sandwich to enjoy while you enjoy a David Bowie sci-fi. Science World – the spherical Epcot Centre-looking building on False Creek – is home to Vancouver’s 5-storey high OmniMax Theatre, great for experiencing short documentaries. Or if the Criterion Collection is more your style, look up the Cinematheque for the most dynamic curation of cinematic gems.
16. Escape into a tropical jungle
The Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park is hugely popular rain or shine, and a lot of it is indoors, so it’s always a great place to escape to when it’s raining, as long as you don’t mind being surrounded by toddlers. One exhibit features a tropical jungle ecosystem complete with sloths, birds, and the sticky equatorial humidity. At the cheaper end of the spectrum is the Bloedel Conservatory, which was built in 1969 at the top of Queen Elizabeth Park as a dome-encased tropical jungle complete with 200 tropical birds. If you like parrots, it’s the best $7 you’ll ever spend.
17. Play in the snow
When there’s rain in the city, there’s snow on the mountains. At least that’s the case in the winter months (December-March). Grouse Mountain is the most touristy of the three. You pay admission and take a 200-person gondola up the top. They have all kinds of activities like sleigh rides, reindeer, and ice skating. Cypress Mountain is for serious snow sports. You drive to the top and they have the biggest and most diverse terrain for alpine skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or even tubing. Mount Seymour‘s my personal favourite for snowshoeing, but you can also ski there too. It’s quieter than the other mountains, and on evenings they do a candlelit chocolate fondue snowshoe tour!
18. Take in a theatre production
While Vancouver’s not Broadway, there is a small theatre scene if you know where to look. First place to look? The Georgia Straight’s listings or the VancouverPlays.com website. Queen Elizabeth Theatre and the Orpheum Theatre are the larger theatre venues in the city and will often host touring Broadway musicals. For smaller theatre, The Arts Club has three theatres in the city. Granville Island is home to many of Vancouver’s small independent theatre troupes and venues like the Waterfront Theatre and Performance Works. The Cultch and the Firehall Arts Centre are two treasured theatre venues in East Vancouver, and out at UBC Campus is the Frederic Wood Theatre.
Note: Due to COVID-19, most theatres have been temporarily closed. Always check ahead to see when theatres reopen.
19. Eat and drink your way through Gastown & Chinatown
Vancouver’s best cocktail bars have sprung up in Gastown and Chinatown. If you’re looking for a night on the town, consider a bar crawl through these adjacent downtown neighbourhoods. Some of my favourites include Pourhouse, The Diamond, The Keefer Bar, Bao Bei, Belgard Kitchen, Clough Club, Alibi Room, Salt Tasting Room, Tacofino, Union Bar, The Irish Heather, and Cuchillo.
20. Attend a local festival
There’s a good chance there’s some festival or event happening in Vancouver when you’re in town. When Vancouver’s at its rainiest, you can usually find an event that revolves around being indoors. Some of my favourites include the Eastside Culture Crawl (late November), the PuSh Festival (January), the Vancouver Fringe Festival (September), Dine Out Vancouver (January), and Vancouver International Wine Festival (February).
Did I miss something else? It’s very likely. These are my personal suggestions based on activities I actually do. If you have another suggestion or a question, please leave a comment below.