When the dreaded C-virus imploded the plans we had to take our first-ever cruise with my parents back in 2020, I never dreamed that it would help us create the ultimate Vancouver to Whistler road trip followed by a grand tour of Vancouver Island. We still took that multigenerational cruise, but we did it in and out of Vancouver up to Alaska, spending two weeks touring around beautiful British Columbia first.
After more than 10 months of meticulous — and sometimes nail-biting — planning, I’m here to save you from the sweat (and tears) of doing it from scratch. Please use and share this free resource as you plan your own breathtakingly gorgeous road trip through one of Canada’s most awe-inspiring landscapes.
Whether you have just a weekend in Vancouver or you’re after a full Vancouver itinerary, this post will help you plan everything from where to stay to where to play.
And, if you have more time out west, my things to do on Vancouver Island road trip post will be the perfect companion guide.
Before we get into the details, it’s important to note off the top that if you’re planning any road trip in Canada right now and plan to fly to your destination and rent a vehicle, you should ensure rentals are actually available before you pull the trigger on non-refundable things like flights. It is notoriously challenging to find rental vehicles as post-pandemic travel continues to ramp back up. You’ll also want to carefully consider what kind of vehicle is appropriate for your trip, the number of passengers you’ll have plus all of the luggage you’ll be bringing along.
For us — a family of four plus two grandparents — there was only one choice: a Toyota Sienna Hybrid. Long one of my kids’ favourite road-tripping vehicles, the Sienna is tops in both comfort and versatility, and has enough cabin space for six people and three weeks’ worth of luggage. (Plus a heap of USB ports, drink holders, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a kid-favourite entertainment system and self-charging hybrid technology.) I can’t actually think of another vehicle that would have fit us and our things as well as the Sienna.
In fact, when we were testing out how much luggage we thought we could manage, we placed it all in my SUV and got worried we wouldn’t have enough room. But it was the Sienna to the rescue, because it easily held 30 per cent (maybe more) extra, and still provided enough leg room for adults to sit in the third row.
As a parent and daughter entrusted with my family’s safety during this road trip, the Sienna’s safety system (Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 to be exact!) is basically a long list of standard safety systems that, at every turn, helped us be on top of our driving game. Those Lane Departure Alerts and the Road Edge Detection were most welcome as we navigated some of the windiest roads in the country. The back-up camera sure came in handy every day, too!
To inspire your BC road trip, and to show where the Toyota Sienna took us — plus how little gas we paid for during two weeks from Vancouver to Whistler and all around Vancouver Island (seriously, we were SHOOK after budgeting $500 for gas!) — give the video below eight minutes of your time.
Just make sure you come back to the rest of this post to get down to the nitty gritty, including some amazing restaurant recommendations and the best things to do in Vancouver and beyond whether you’re solo, a cookie-cutter family or an extended multigenerational group. I’ve even included a link at the end of this post to download a copy of the actual spreadsheet I used for our two-week BC road trip, right down to hour-by-hour timing.
Vancouver to Whistler: an amazing sea-to-sky road trip
Now tell me you don’t want to pack your bags, rent a Sienna and get on the road?! If you only have time for two cities in British Columbia, make them Vancouver and Whistler. It’s barely the tip of the iceberg, but it’ll give you a taste of the city and a taste of the mountains. Sure, sure — there are mountains in Vancouver, too, but they’re eclipsed by the Whistler Blackcomb peaks.
And since Vancouver to Whistler is a mere 1.5-hour drive (up to potentially three hours each way if you take one of the shuttles that has several pick-up and drop-off stops), there’s no excuse but to squeeze both into a single visit, even if you only have four or five days for your BC road trip. If you really had to, it’s close enough that you could do a Vancouver day trip to Whistler.
Let’s talk details…
A (long) weekend in Vancouver
If you only have a long weekend, this is the Vancouver 3-day itinerary for you!
Where to stay in Vancouver
You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to Vancouver hotels. Like any major city, you can find everything from a budget motel in the ‘burbs to the highest-end celebrity haunts that’ll cost you your child’s college tuition for a one-night stay. Not only did we want to be within walking distance to some of Vancouver’s key attractions and funkiest neighbourhoods, but we also had to house six people, which is a lot harder than you might think when you factor in my family’s needs.
We’re two taller-than-average adults (as many of my regular readers know, my husband is 6’6″ and built like the elite rugby player he once was!), our kids are now 11.5 and 14 and unable to share a pullout sofa and also too big for us to squish into even two queen beds like we did when they were little. With my parents along for the ride, we decided to look for two hotel rooms, each with a king bed and pullout sofa. Again, it’s not as easy as you think.
We short-listed a few hotels and chose two (one for proximity to our cruise; the other to get a taste of another neighbourhood in Vancouver). First up, the Fairmont Waterfront. It’s right across the street from Canada Place, which has a gorgeous pier where you can watch float planes take off and land all day, has the cruise ship terminal (the Fairmont’s bellman will even take your luggage directly to the drop-off point if you’re boarding on your hotel departure day!) and FlyOver Canada’s interactive theatre. It’s also a mere six-minute walk to Gastown, and sits right on top of a public transportation hub if you decide to leave your Sienna in the underground parking lot during your visit.
We even walked from the Fairmont Waterfront to the Granville Island water taxi pick-up point, which was a casual 30-minute stroll down a beautiful tree-lined street with loads of cool coffee shops. Our rooms overlooked Canada Place and it was so neat to look outside each morning and see which cruise ships were docked. We also made great use of the hotel’s rooftop swimming pool, which was heated well enough to tempt me to get in despite the cool, rainy weather that’s typical for Vancouver.
We also very much enjoyed our stay at the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver. We had absolutely stunning, ultra-modern rooms and not nearly enough time to take in everything the property had to offer. It’s super-close to the Rogers Arena, BC Place and Queen Elizabeth Theatre — so if those are some of the spots on your Vancouver itinerary, you’ll definitely want to consider this hotel.
Part of the impressive Parq Vancouver hub, there’s an onsite casino and you have easy access to eight world-class restaurants and lounges, a sky-high hot tub, spa and more. I had one of the most unique cocktails of my life at The Victor, the JW Marriott’s rooftop restaurant, and we looooooved the brunch we had at Honey Salt.
No, these are not a budget hotels. But if you book far enough in advance, there are deals to be had. We carefully chose where to splurge during this (already expensive) family vacation, and these two hotels were worth it.
Where to eat in Vancouver
My only foodie regret is that I didn’t have sushi while we were in Vancouver! The city is known for some of the best sushi in the country, but only half of our group is fond of this cuisine so we (sadly) passed. But you should definitely do some digging and add a great sushi restaurant to your list if you’re a fan.
Here were our favourite restaurants in Vancouver:
- Arc at the Fairmont Waterfront — for both breakfast and dinner, plus delicious cocktails
- The Victor at JW Marriott — elegant sophistication at every corner
- Honey Salt at JW Marriott — casual but upscale, there’s a farm-to-table emphasis; brunch here was really good and not insanely priced considering it’s a hotel restaurant
- Hawksworth Restaurant — a major splurge and a helluva fine meal, worthy of something celebratory. We cheered to my Mom’s birthday here, had an awesome server from our hometown thousands of miles away and soaked up every last morsel of yummy goodness that came to our table! (Note: they have a “secret” kids’ menu)
- Granville Island Public Market — many, many different food vendors and cuisines under one roof. And loads of yummy samples, too
- Craft — one of the city’s best microbreweries with an enormous amount of seating and a family-friendly atmosphere. Plus absolutely delicious pizzas!
- Earnest Ice Cream — I don’t care if you think you’ve had the best ice cream in the world, if you haven’t had ice cream from this joint, don’t @ me
- Nuba in Gastown — one of three locations, this Lebanese restaurant requires reservations but it’ll be worth the effort for its modern take on authentic dishes
- Around the Bean — absolutely beautiful coffee to go!
- Purebread — we first tried pastries from Purebread when we went skiing in Whistler and when I found out there were locations in Vancouver, I promptly added it to the itinerary
- Breka Bakery & Cafe — similar to Purebread but with its own twist, this multi-location cafe and bakery is another must for nosh
- The Cheshire Cheese Restaurant — we wanted to eat on a patio at Lonsdale Quay Market with views of some mega-yachts, and this was the best option. Overall, the food was fine but pricey. The best dish of all was the fish & chips so stick to that if you end up here
- Beach House — although they inexplicably changed our reservation from six to four people, failed to give us the sunset seating they said they could accommodate, then forgot to order a few of our dishes (we eventually got them after we were no longer hungry for them and they still appeared on our bill, which isn’t cool at all but I didn’t make a scene), if you’re looking for one of the most upscale, scenic patios in Vancouver, this is it. The cocktails were a standout here; just be ready to spend big bucks on a meal that may be memorable for the wrong reasons
Where to play in Vancouver
If you want the abridged version, hit up the spreadsheet itinerary I’ve shared at the end of this post. For a bit of a deeper dive, here you go:
- Canada Place — wander down the pier, watch the float planes, visit the free Port of Vancouver Discovery Centre, see the big cruise ships and definitely take in a showing of FlyOver Canada. We watched both the main and limited-run features and they blew us away. When I say I was moved to tears during these interactive experiences, I’m not exaggerating. This is one of the most unique ways to experience Canada in all its spectacular glory and should not be missed
- Head to Granville Island — we opted to walk down Hornby St, which ends at the water taxi terminal. En route, go inside the HSBC building at the corner of Hornby and W Georgia Streets to see the massive and mesmerizing installation art in the foyer. Just before you get to Robson Square, there’s a moving Every Child Matters commemorative display that’s worth seeing and discussing with your kids. You’ll see the “ferries” signage once you hit the end of Hornby and you can hop on any water taxi and choose whether you just want to go to Granville Island and back or continue onto one of its many onward stops
- Granville Island is such a unique and iconic part of Vancouver, and you’ll want to bring your appetite and wallet because the market has so many great food options and the entire core is made up of the most adorable, interesting shops (like a broom store; literally, all they sell are beautiful hand-made brooms!)
- If your kids are toddlers through about age eight or nine, you’ll want to hit up the Kids Market. Heck, even my way-too-big kids thought it was neat! It’s kind of like walking into Alice in Wonderland and there’s a mini play structure, baby bumper cars, a VR experience and much more
- Have a beer (or something non-alcoholic) at Granville Island Brewing
- Carry on through False Creek in the water taxis if you want to see more of Vancouver from the water, like the colourful houseboats, or reach Science World without using your vehicle. Hop out at The Village Dock to explore another Vancouver neighbourhood. My kids loved seeing “The Birds,” two huge bird sculptures that sit at the corner of Athletes Way and Manitoba St.
- Head to historic Gastown to see the Gastown Steam Clock and eat or drink in one of Vancouver’s funkiest neighbourhoods. Skip Blood Alley unless you’re a fan of graffiti and dumpsters; it’s not nearly as interesting as I thought it would be and my family was NOT impressed that I dragged them there
- Drive over the Lion’s Gate Bridge! It’s the gateway between North and South Vancouver and it’s a beautiful bridge with great views on both sides
- Capilano Suspension Bridge is a must, even if you think you’re afraid of heights. We had two in our group who thought they’d be too scared to make it across but they nailed it! We appreciated that there was so much more to do and see beyond the bridge itself here, like loads of wildlife and old-growth trees, a big treetop adventure course with elevated walkways, totem poles and more fun facts and science-y info than you’ll probably be able to take in if you only devote a couple of hours to your visit. This was very grandparent-friendly but do note that it’s not for those who rely on mobility aids, unfortunately
- Lonsdale Quay Market isn’t a far drive from Capilano, and it’s a great place to explore and stop for lunch without heading back into downtown Vancouver. There are also some really beautiful homes to ogle on Edgemont Blvd as you make your way there. We were fortunate enough to be there when a gazillionaire’s three yachts were in dry dock for some off-season maintenance
- Stanley Park, of course. If you visit Vancouver and don’t step foot in Stanley Park, can you really say you’ve “done” Vancouver? I think not. Now, the park is ginormous so you need to plan ahead. We started our visit by simply driving around the little road that winds its way around the park’s perimeter; it took about 25-30 minutes and was a great primer. We decided to park at the Brockton Point parking lot (important note: once you’ve paid for parking at any of the lots in the park, you can actually get back in your vehicle and drive to any of its other onsite lots and use the remaining time on your ticket elsewhere as long as you can find a spot). Inside of three hours, we drove the entirety of the park, saw the Hollow Tree (pictured early on in this post alongside the slick Toyota Sienna), Lighthouse, Chinese Dragon and Nine O’Clock Gun, visited the Vancouver Aquarium, walked some of the Seawall, plus saw the Totems and Girl in a Wetsuit sculpture (phew, right?!)
- Cypress Mountain Eagle Coaster — definitely one of the biggest highlights of our Vancouver itinerary! The drive alone up to the mountain is gorgeous, but then you get to take a chairlift to the top and climb into your very own cart and ride the longest mountain coaster in Canada. Even my anxiety-filled kid who doesn’t like speed or heights loved the Eagle Coaster because you control your speed. Be sure you pull into the Cypress Mountain Provincial Park parking lot on the way up or down the road to the mountain to check out Barrett’s View — an incredible bird’s-eye view of Vancouver
- On your way back into the city, take a drive through West Van, one of the ritziest hoods in Vancouver
From Vancouver to Whistler
Distance from Vancouver to Whistler: 120 kilometres (or 75 miles). And it’s probably the most scenic drive we’ve ever taken.
This is where a road-tripping dream like the Toyota Sienna Hybrid really shines — the Sea-to-Sky Highway (a.k.a Highway 99). With its ultra-quiet, precision handling, you’d never guess you’re cruising in a minivan. Even my race car-fanatic father was impressed.
How to get there
You’ll get on to the Sea-to-Sky Highway in West Van(couver) and take it all the way into Whistler, passing through Squamish at about halfway mark. It’s a Point A to Point B situation that you really can’t screw up. While Toyota’s nav system is great, we still prefer using Waze for directions, so the Sienna’s built-in CarPlay functionality meant our iPhones were plug-and-play.
Pro Tip: plug in your phone, set your GPS co-ordinates and then ignore your device during this drive. It’s magical and you don’t want to miss it.
Where to pee
If you’re travelling with kids, older folks or those who simply like to remain super-hydrated, chances are you’ll need to stop for a potty break on your way from Vancouver to Whistler. Just before the half-way point, when you see signs for the Brittania Mine Museum on Copper Dr., pull into the parking lot and there’s a little building with public washrooms (separate from the museum). It’s right off the highway and won’t take you out of your way at all.
Where to play along the way
I really, really regret not making time to pull over and take in Shannon Falls. It’s apparently a quick and easy hike in from the parking lot, and as we drove past the falls on the way back from Whistler to Vancouver, I knew we’d missed out.
There’s also the Sea to Sky Gondola, but since we were heading to Whistler and had tickets for the PEAK2PEAK Gondola, we didn’t need to do both and I already knew from riding PEAK2PEAK earlier in the year that it would rock my family’s world.
If you’re looking for fabulous coffee and mind-blowing doughnuts, 1914 Coffee Company and Fox & Oak in Squamish need to make it into your BC road trip itinerary! I’m so thankful that we decided to stop for gas here and Google for java and snacks. This was the best coffee we had during our whole two weeks in BC and the nicest doughnuts I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a few, as my behind will attest).
Pro tip: driving a self-charging hybrid vehicle like the Toyota Sienna means you never need to find a charging station and you’re going to save a LOT on fuel. Our first gas stop came on day seven and cost $73.
Things to do in Whistler
From the best hotels in Whistler to accommodate families, big and small, to high-octane adventure in the mountains, there are more things to do in Whistler than you could possibly accomplish in just a weekend — but that’s all we had, so we made the most of it. Here’s how you can, too:
Where to stay in Whistler
Smaller groups and families who want to stay in the main village should put the boutique Sundial Hotel on their list; it’s in a fab location and has some larger units with full kitchens. It’s by no means budget accommodation but if you have to be in Whistler Village and prefer to do a lot of cooking yourself to save money on food, it’s a great option.
We wanted to stay in the older, quieter Creekside Village this time around — which locals will tell you its where it’s at anyway! And we wanted to take a break from a traditional hotel and find a place that could house all six of us together and give us an opportunity to do some laundry. The answer? Legends.
Our three-bedroom condo-style unit was so well-equipped that we could have stayed for months. From comfortable beds, a kitchen and big dining table, washer and dryer and two bathrooms, we were mere steps from the Creekside Village action and had more than enough space to chill when it came time.
There’s also a great-looking pool at Legends, which we sadly didn’t have an opportunity to use because we were so pressed for time.
Where to eat in Whistler
Between two trips to Whistler this year, we’ve had the pleasure of eating and drinking in some noteworthy places. For the most part, however, I’m only going to focus here on those we visited during our summer road trip. You can find more in my Skiing in Whistler post.
- BReD — even if you’re not staying at Legends, get yourself to Creekside Village to have an oat milk mocha from Bred. Because OH MY GAWD
- Lift Coffee — if you can’t make it to Creekside for java, this coffee shop is our fave in the main village
- Peaked Pies — so flippin’ good that we broke our own general rule of not eating in places we’ve already eaten when we return to a destination
- Caramba! — one of our favourite meals during the entire BC road trip, this Italian restaurant in the heart of Whistler Village offers a lively atmosphere with incredible wood oven-fired pizza and the tastiest brussel sprout salad EVER
- Creekside Market — I don’t have a tonne of restaurant recos for Whistler because we saved a whack of money by grocery shopping and making a lot of our meals in our vacation home. Legends was right across the road from this little market store and we found everything we needed for breakfasts, lunches and one of our dinners
Where to play in Whistler
Between two villages — Whistler and Creekside — plus the surrounding Whistler area, this is a mountain paradise begging to be explored.
- Stroll the villages, taking in the shops, cafes, restaurants, and even a museum if you have time. Each village has its own vibe and Whistler Village is actually made up of two distinct areas — both of which are worth checking out, so make sure you walk over to Village North as well where you’ll find the big Olympic rings, much more shopping and an awesome playground
- The PEAK2PEAK Gondola has to, has to, has to be on your agenda! It’s the first lift in the world to join two side-by-side mountains, and especially for those who wouldn’t otherwise find themselves near the top of such big mountains, it’s an incredible way to experience them. My kids thought it was so neat that they were in shorts with snow everywhere (just come prepared for it to get cooler as you ascend — layers are your friend! I’ll have a packing post coming soon to help). If you wait for one of the blue cars, they have glass bottoms and it’s pretty amazing to think that at its midpoint, you’re about the same height as the CN Tower
- If you haven’t experienced any of the Moment Factory’s interactive, awe-inspiring, multimedia nature installations, then you’ve got to get tickets to Vallea Lumina. My dad (who has a pair of fake knees and some mobility concerns) bailed when he heard it was a 1.5-km night walk and my mom almost turned back at one point because we had to climb a pretty steep incline for just a bit too long for her comfort, so please keep this in mind if your group is multigenerational. But to say that it’ll be worth the climb is not cliché — it really is! Get ready for your senses to go into overdrive as you walk through a forest that comes to life
- Whitewater rafting in Whistler may go down as my son’s favourite activity — like, ever. As a fairly anxious kid, we definitely had to push him to agree to go, push some more to get him into the raft and push even more to encourage him to try the front row at one point, but all that tough love came pouring back to us in gratitude as he thanked us multiple times that day and for weeks after. We’ve been rafting before (in Ottawa) and even though the trip we did in Whistler with TAG Whistler was kid-friendly Class 2/3 rapids just like Ottawa, with a more rugged landscape and narrower waterway, it felt much more adventurous. Plus, how many people get to say they’ve rafted in glacier-fed water?! If you’re a group of six, you’ll have a raft to yourself with an experienced guide, but keep in mind that kids must be 90 lbs. to guarantee they can get on (sadly, Miss Q weighed in at 84 lbs. and couldn’t go, but they kindly let her do the treetop trekking course instead)
- Should you have a “car guy” (or gal) in your group like we did, then you’ve gotta plan a RZR tour. These dune buggy-style off-road vehicles fit two or four passengers and take you through bumpy trails and up into the sky for mountain views. We lucked out with some rainy weather, which meant we got wet and muddy — and we loved it! (You can actually book this with the whitewater rafting as a full-day experience, called the Float & Ride Combo, and I couldn’t recommend this more)
BC road trip itinerary (from Vancouver to Whistler and beyond)
At the beginning of this post, I promised you a detailed breakdown of our entire British Columbia road trip — and here it is. Download it and make it your own. This was definitely our BC road trip bible and we wouldn’t have fit in so many cool things without it. Do note that you may find some departures here and there between this post and the itinerary; at times, we had weather that wouldn’t co-operate and we had to find an alternative in the moment, while at other times we may have been too tired to make it to a planned experience. Consider it a really strong outline with flexibility.
You’ll also see the outline for our Vancouver Island road trip in this spreadsheet, but don’t forget to look out for my next blog post, which will detail all of it much more elaborately.
Also! Please check out my Toyota Sienna Hybrid review to find out more about the best road-tripping vehicle on the market. It’s based on the 2021 Sienna Hybrid, but the 2022 is pretty darn close. Incidentally, you might be wondering how many more times we stopped for gas during our two-week BC road trip – and the answer is just once more. Yes, really!
We only stopped twice during our whole vacation; as I mentioned earlier, it was $73 for our first stop and then we spent another $94.68 at the tail end. We were GOBSMACKED! This was a lot of mileage for just $167.68.
Next up: check out my things to do on Vancouver Island post to keep the BC road trip going! Looking for road trip ideas around the GTA instead? Then you’ll want to bookmark my road trips from Toronto post and probably check out these 9 awesome weekend getaways in Ontario as well.
DISCLAIMER: Toyota Canada provided us with a 2022 Sienna Hybrid to test drive and compensated me for content. Trust me when I tell you, however, that we spent five digits of our own money on this trip-of-a-lifetime, so this was definitely a hardcore family vacay that took a lot of saving on our part! As always and forever, opinions and recommendations are my own.
This is amazing and so helpful! My Type A personality loves every organized detail.
Would you please share what company you rented your van from? Thank you!
Mommy Gearest says
Ha ha! You are definitely the intended audience, then!! I’m so glad you love it and I hope you make your own memorable trip out of it. We didn’t use a rental company since Toyota was a partner of mine for this road trip, however I would definitely look at rental companies located directly in YVR if you’re flying into that airport to make things as easy for yourself as possible. Bon voyage!
Barbara Di Mambro says
What a great story about your Western vacation. Makes me want to visit Vancouver again.