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Directions to Whistler, BC
Scenic route around Downtown Vancouver

From Vancouver Airport

Scenic drive to Whistler – alternative I, part I
Use these directions to your downtown hotel or to Whistler

Here you find a super summer or winter scenic route through Vancouver to the Whistler ski area from Vancouver International Airport. These easy-to-follow driving directions also provide a great drive if you just want to reach downtown Vancouver from the airport.

This route allows you to enjoy the best Vancouver sightseeing without taking much extra time on your way to Whistler. In fact, you may save time as you avoid city center traffic.

Highlights

Highlights include
  • Incredible views from Vancouver’s beautiful waterfront and beaches,
  • Famed Stanley Park and other parks,
  • Opportunities to swim and hike (winter or summer),
  • Optional stop at Wreck Beach, most popular clothing-optional beach in North America.
  • Optional spring or summer visit to the Asian Garden at the University of British Columbia,
  • UBC’s famed Museum of Anthropology featuring northwest coast of British Columbia and other native peoples,
  • Views of Vancouver Island,
  • Scenic Howe Sound.
  • and others.

If rushed, you can just do the drive without the stops, and still have a very enjoyable time. Without the optional stops, the drive takes not a lot longer than the fastest route to Whistler.

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Save up to 75% on 4-star Whistler hotels!

Starting your scenic drive to Whistler

At Vancouver International Airport, most rental car companies are in the parking structure directly across from the domestic and international terminals.

From the rental car location, follow the signs toward Vancouver and Highway 99 North—NOT toward Richmond and the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal. Because you are on Canadian government property, airport signs are in both English and French.

As you exit the airport, you’ll cross over the north arm of the Fraser River and enter Vancouver. Note the lumber barges below. Harvesting trees, minerals, fish, and tourists are the main industries in British Columbia.

As you're on the bridge over the Fraser River, the Arthur Laing Bridge, watch for the signs pointing you toward Granville Street.

Once on Granville, stay in the LEFT lane.

As you head north into Vancouver, the avenues that cross Granville decrease in numbers (73, 72, 71, etc.).

As you approach 70th Avenue, get into the left turn lane.

Turn left onto 70th Avenue.

Seventieth Avenue soon veers right onto South West Marine Drive.

Marine Drive and Pacific Spirit Park

You’re driving toward the northwest on Marine Drive.

For the next four kilometers—Hey, this is Canada. Because your rental car shows “kilometres,” we’ll talk in kilometers—you’ll pass through one of Vancouver’s most exclusive neighborhoods. However, the mansions and country clubs are almost completely hidden by hedges and other vegetation.

Very soon you’ll reach a large forested area. This is Pacific Spirit Park, which has an extensive all-weather trail system through mostly second growth forest. The trails in urban park never feel crowded even on warm weekends.

UBC Botanical Garden

As you approach the University of British Columbia campus, watch for 16th Avenue, a major intersection.

At the first intersection (not signaled) beyond 16th, turn left if you would like to visit the UBC Botanical Garden. The garden entrance is directly ahead.

The Asian garden highlights the plant collections here and is absolutely fantastic to visit during the spring and summer in as little as 45 – 60 minutes.

Be sure to explore along some of the narrower grass and bark covered paths in the Asian section. These are really special for all ages.

A great many subtropical plants thrive in Vancouver's mild climate. Amazingly, you'll even find palm trees outdoors in an especially sheltered area of the city not far from the UBC campus. However, that's nothing compared to Victoria on Vancouver Island, which has rows of palms.

University of British Columbia

Continue on Marine Drive.

Pacific Spirit Park continues on your left, but a rather unattractive portion of the UBC campus pops up on your right.

With few exceptions, architecture is not UBC’s forte, as seen in its mostly uninspired campus buildings, even though Canada’s most famous architect, Arthur Erickson, graduated from this university and designed the famous Museum of Anthropology on campus. .

The university does have some nice features. Pleasant tree-lined pedestrian malls. A parkade (parking structure) with a rose garden and fabulous view on top almost across from the University of Anthropology. And more.

Arthur Erickson had the chance to do a university his way when he designed the new campus of Simon Fraser University, UBC's main competitor, just to he east of Vancouver.

However, in my opinion, the uplifting Robson Square complex in downtown Vancouver best typifies his work. Whereas Frank Lloyd Wright first put trees inside buildings at his Marin County Civic Center (and spawned many a Hyatt Hotel), Erickson loved putting them on top of buildings, as seen at Robson Square. Wright may not have approved, but it works for me.

Wreck Beach

Continue on Marine Drive.

Wreck Beach, the most popular clothing optional beach in North America, lies at the base of UBC and the portion of Pacific Spirit Park that abuts it on the west and northwest. Up to 12,000 people enjoy the natural setting of this beach, backed by tree covered cliffs, on a warm weekend day or holiday.

If you wish to visit Wreak Beach, watch for a University of British Columbia sign and turnoff for University Boulevard on your right. There is a stop sign here. This is UBC gate 6.

Just beyond this intersection—on your left—a very steep but well maintained trail with steps—many, many steps, seemingly endless steps, but "merely" some 500 steps—takes you down from Marine Drive to the beach—and back.

On warm weekends, you’ll be among many people, but the beach is quite long. For hygienic and other reasons, avoid the unlicensed food vendors along the beach. Bring your own water and snacks. Don't even think of taking photos, a gross breach of beach etiquette and common courtesy, if you value your camera.

Street parking at Wreck Beach can be a problem. For easier parking, turn right onto University Avenue. Go one block to Lower Mall. Turn right, and you'll see a large parkade, a UBC public parking structure, on your left a moment later. Fees are nominal on weekends.

Note: You will notice soft drug use on Wreck Beach. Do not visit if this will offend. Also, please note that RCMP constables do cite users on this beach. In spite of Vancouver's "Vansterdam" reputation, drug use has not been legalized in British Columbia.

UBC Museum of Anthropology

After UBC Gate 6, Marine Drive veers toward the right and becomes North West Marine Drive.

To your left at UBC Gate 4, the UBC Museum of Anthropology pops up on the left. This is one of the most famous museums of its type in the world, and is a joy to explore.

Known originally for its extensive collection from the peoples of the northwest coast of British Columbia, the museum’s scope now spans the world.

There’s limited parking on your left near Gate 4, and various other parking structures on the UBC campus, including our favorite, the Rose Garden Parkade, just down Marine Drive on your right.

During the summer, enjoy the rose garden on top of the parkade and fine views of the bay and mountains beyond.

Also, in this area, you’ll find the Nitobe Memorial Garden. (See the UBC map on the museum website). While not our favorite Japanese garden, Nitobe makes a pleasant stop especially during the spring. Ask for one of its interpretive maps, which give an excellent basic understanding of the principles of Japanese garden design.

Now, it’s time to continue on Marine Drive to your first “must” stop, the incredible views from Spanish Banks.

Click here to continue your scenic drive to Spanish Banks.

Or, go to:

  1. The fastest driving directions to Whistler from Vancouver International Airport.
  2. Timing your trip to Whistler, in order to avoid traffic jams.
  3. Scenic drive to Whistler - alternative I.
  4. Scenic drive to Whistler - alternative II. (under construction)
  5. Transportation to Whistler from Vancouver and Vancouver Airport.
  6. What U.S. travelers need to know about returning to Vancouver Airport.

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