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25 Budget-Friendly Summer Activities

Live music, outdoor movies and bathtub races—here are 25 of the best things in life that truly are free, and a few that come pretty darn close

Sunset Beach is home to ocean views and public art, including “217.5 Arx x 13,” a steel sculpture by French artist Bernar Venet (Photo by KK Law)


1. Braving the crisp waters of English Bay to reach the floating dock waterslide, which rockets you right back into the waves from whence you came.

2. Clambering all over public art pieces from the Vancouver Biennale, like the curved “217.5 Arc x 13” at Sunset Beach, cast-bronze “A-maze-ing Laughter” figures at English Bay and oversized “Public Furniture | Urban Trees” at Spanish Banks Beach.

3. Hiking the 2,830 steps of the Grouse Grind, locally known as the best way to build buns of steel, and gaining a new appreciation for the scenic (and sweat-free) gondola ride down Grouse Mountain afterwards.

4. Time-travelling—sort of—back to the 1920s at the Burnaby Village Museum, where you can ride a vintage carousel, churn butter, meet the town blacksmith, cruise around in a vintage Ford Model T and more.

5. Window-shopping in historic Gastown, which is home to unique local shops such as John Fluevog Shoes, Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery and One of a Few.

6. Splashing around with zero risk of fishy encounters in a seaside swimming pool such as Second Beach Pool near Stanley Park, or Kitsilano Pool, the only saltwater pool in the city.  

Outdoor movies at Stanley Park kick off at dusk each Tuesday, and feature fan favourites such as Titanic (Photo ©Leon Wang/Shutterstock.com)

7. Getting lost in the Elizabethan hedge maze at VanDusen Botanical Garden, where thousands of pyramidal cedars form an elaborate labyrinth fit for the Minotaur. 

8. Busting a move with dance classes at Robson Square that range from salsa to West Coast swing to cha-cha, at the Summer Dance Series (Fridays to Aug. 31) and Sunday Afternoon Salsa (Sundays to Aug. 26).

9. Enjoying Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Grease and Black Panther at outdoor movie screenings like Stanley Park’s Evo Summer Cinema Series (Tuesdays to Aug. 21) and Waterfront Cinema at Canada Place (Thursdays to Aug. 23), weather permitting.

10. Downward-dogging in the sun at Mat Collective’s free outdoor yoga classes (to Aug. 31), which take place at beaches, parks and plazas across the city.

11. Letting the kiddos feed bunnies, chickens and ducks, or watching a milking demonstration at Maplewood Farm, home to nearly 200 domestic farm animals and birds.

12. Strolling through bright, bustling farmers’ markets filled with fresh produce, arts and crafts, souvenirs, craft beer and wine, live music and the occasional adorable canine visitor.

13. Ooh-ing and aah-ing as competing pyrotechnic teams from Sweden and South Korea light up the sky above your beach blanket with fireworks during the Honda Celebration of Light (Aug. 1 and 4).

False Creek Ferries’ mini cruises offer a fresh perspective on local landmarks like Science World (Photo by Nelson Mouellic/Tourism Vancouver)

14. Packing a picnic fit for royalty and settling in at Queen Elizabeth Park to watch the sun set behind the mountains that tower over Vancouver’s skyline.

15. Taking a 25- or 40-minute mini cruise with False Creek Ferries, and stop at Granville Island to explore the artisans’ studios, water park and Kids Market, and catch open-air performances of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

16. Tickling your funny bone at Vancouver TheatreSports’ improv show Avocado Toast – Vancouver Grown, Organic Free-Range Comedy, which lampoons local stereotypes.

17. Cultivating an artistic eye with free admission to the Bill Reid Gallery on Aug. 3 from 2 to 5 p.m. and the Contemporary Art Gallery. Or visiting the Museum of Vancouver on Aug. 30 between 5 to 8 p.m. and the Vancouver Art Gallery on Tuesdays, when admission is by donation.

18. Stargazing at Gordon Southam Observatory or journeying past meteor showers and black holes to the outer edges of the universe at H.R. MacMillan Space Centre’s planetarium.

19. Cutting loose at the CBC Musical Nooners (to Aug. 17), hour-long weekday concerts featuring local bands that rock the stage with everything from bluegrass to Latin funk to R&B. 

The cyclist- and pedestrian-friendly seawall stretches from Vancouver Convention Centre all the way to Kitsilano Beach (Photo by Rishad Daroowala/Tourism Vancouver)

20. Tackling the inflatable obstacle course at the Richmond Night Market—the largest night market in North America—then chowing down on a smorgasbord of Asian-inspired snacks, from spicy kimchi fries to strawberries wrapped in red bean paste and mochi.   

21. Navigating more than 80 of the Vancouver Mural Festival’s (Aug. 6 to 11) eye-popping artworks, most of which are concentrated in the alleys along Main Street between Terminal Avenue and West 16th.

22. Hopping aboard the SeaBus to North Vancouver on Saturdays to dance the night away—or watch others dance while you savour ice-cold brews in the beer garden—at the Summer Sessions Concerts (Aug. 4, 18 and 25) in Shipbuilders’ Square.

23. Renting a sleek cruiser or tandem bike to cycle the seawall around Stanley Park in style, and pulling over to photograph the totem poles, Lions Gate Bridge and Siwash Rock along the way.

24. Cheering for unconventional sea captains at KitsFest’s (Aug. 10 to 12) bathtub races, which mark the return of this quirky contest after a hiatus of more than 20 years. 

25. Exploring one of the largest Chinatowns in the world, especially on Aug. 11 and 12, when the TD Vancouver Chinatown Festival brings more than 57,000 spectators together for live music, games, food-tasting and heritage tours, and more.

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