I drove to Canada over the weekend! Believe it or not, even though I’ve lived in Minnesota my entire life, I had never been to Canada. I was thrilled to complete my last big bucket item during my month in Seattle: an overnight road trip to Vancouver, British Columbia.
Fall arrived in the Pacific Northwest a week ago. Gone are the unusually warm temps, extremely dry conditions, and hazy, smokey sun from numerous nearby wildfires. It took almost three weeks before I even saw a cloud here! Drizzle is the standard weather condition now, with sunny breaks in the clouds every few hours. It is quite pleasant! With fall colors at their peak throughout the region, I was excited to head north into Canada.
USA Canada Border
The Canadian border is less than two hours away from my apartment in Seattle. The drive up Interstate 5 on Sunday morning to the border town of Blaine, Washington was gorgeous. The Northern Cascades were sprinkled with beautiful red and orange maples and golden larches.
Before going through Canadian border patrol, I stopped at the Peace Arch. What a great little international park to walk around—Peace Arch Historical Park in the U.S. and Peace Arch Provincial Park in Canada. The Canadian side of the park was closed, but I was still able to walk around the Peace Arch and get the photo above standing in both countries at once. What a fun goosebump moment.
Sea to Sky Highway
After many selfies and photos at the border, I hopped back in the car and got in a lane at the Canadian border patrol. When the nice border patrol agent asked why I was going into Canada, he was dumbfounded that I’m from Minnesota and had never been to Canada before. “It’s only about 4 hours from the Twin Cities.” I know man, I know!
He said it was an unusually sunny day this time of October, so instead of heading directly to Vancouver, I should keep going north to the Sea to Sky Highway, which has the ocean on one side and mountains on the other. Sold! I was planning to drive up the highway on Monday, so I decided to flip my plans.
My first order of business in Canada was adjusting to kilometers instead of miles on road signs. Honda for the win! With the press of a button, my digital speedometer was in KPM. It’s strange to see 105 when driving down the highway.
The agent told me to put Squamish in my GPS and head there for lunch. It was about a 90-minute drive from the border to Squamish, through a few Vancouver neighborhoods before getting on the Sea to Sky Highway. I loved the Canadian highway signs. “Cone zone” = “Construction zone.” (Why don’t we do that? Short and sweet!) There were lots of warning signs about having snow tires after October 1 and how the road was “slushy and slippery” north of where I was stopping.
There were a few beautiful overlooks and piers along the water. I especially enjoyed Porteau Cove and the Lions Bay area.
Once I arrived in Squamish I headed to the cute downtown and found a bakery with a line out the door—the key indicator it’s the place to go! I enjoyed the scenery while having a ham and cheese croissant before heading back on the highway south to find my Airbnb in Vancouver.
Since I had my car, once I was back in Vancouver I drove around Stanley Park—a massive public park about one-fifth larger than New York’s Central Park. I stopped at a few of the big tourist overlooks and the views of the Burrard Inlet and English Bay were remarkable.
Late last week I found a sweet Airbnb rental only 1.5 miles from the heart of downtown Vancouver, near Little Italy along the popular Commercial Drive. It was the perfect little spot, built only a couple of years ago, with a very modern look in a safe and secure neighborhood. I felt like I was in an upscale IKEA ad.
To get there from Stanley Park, I ended up driving right through downtown. After the crazy Seattle driving these past few weeks, I wasn’t that nervous. The biggest difference was the flashing green stoplights. What?! Not all of them are flashing, some are solid green like those in the U.S. I read later that flashing green means it’s a pedestrian-controlled intersection. Anytime those intersections turn yellow and red, it means people want to cross. Clever!
After finding my rental, unloading my things, and taking a short breather, I ventured down Commercial Drive to get a transit pass and hop on the SkyTrain to the Science World area and eventually the Vancouver waterfront.
While driving through Vancouver and now taking the train, I was amazed at how basically every building and skyscraper looked like it was made of LEGO bricks. Everyone wants picture windows with views of the water!
My first stop was walking along False Creek near Science World. I remembered their building from my days working at the Science Museum of Minnesota, so it was fun to see in person. Many tourists utilize the Aquabus or other little ferries to get them from various landmarks in downtown Vancouver. I had planned to do this but realized a scan of my transit card allows me to transfer to any other train or bus for up to 90 minutes, which ended up being cheaper than the ferries.
I hopped back on a train to the Waterfront Station to see the iconic Canada Place Sails. I walked all along that area of the waterfront at dusk, watching Harbour Air planes land along the seawall and seeing fallen red maple leaves everywhere.
I ended the evening checking out the Gastown neighborhood of downtown and the famous steam clock, before heading back to Little Italy and picking up a pizza at Via Tevere Pizzeria Napoletana, only a couple blocks from my place, recommended by my Airbnb host.
Less than five minutes after I arrived at my place for the night, it started to downpour. Talk about perfect timing!
Originally in my plans for Sunday at lunch, I was excited to head to Granville Island and the famous Granville Island Public Market on Monday morning. I read all about this place—and watched a great YouTube video—from my favorite travel bloggers, Adventures of A+K.
After packing up and checking out of my Airbnb, I left most of my stuff in my car and walked a mile to get back on the train, this time to Granville—and then a short bus ride to Granville Island.
What a fun place! My humble opinion: The Granville Island Public Market is a nicer, cleaner version of Seattle’s Pike Place Market. And probably because I visited on a cloudy, drizzly Monday, it wasn’t too crowded.
I had written down all of the places to stop from A+K and they didn’t disappoint: For lunch I had Cock-a-Leekie Chicken Soup from The Stock Market, a couple of donuts from Lee’s Donuts, and a turkey club sandwich from Kaisereck. After walking outside along the pier for a bit, I picked up a Nanaimo bar (one of Canada’s favorite confections) and peanut butter bar from Stuart’s Bakery, a tub of half sour pickles from Hobbs Pickles, and a square box of lemon squares from—duh!—The Lemon Square to enjoy once I was back in the U.S.
As of this writing, only the lemon squares remain.
I knew my time in Vancouver was coming to an end, so I made my way back to my car. Not quite ready to leave, I drove back to Stanley Island to take in the views one more time, and then to West Vancouver and Lighthouse Park.
Once I arrived at the park—winding my way down city streets through a very expensive neighborhood with mansions right along the water—I realized it was a half-mile hike to the lighthouse. My feet were tired, but I was determined!
I was amazed at how big the fallen maple leaves were from the massive trees. Some of the leaves seemed to be about 12 to 15 inches in diameter.
The Point Atkinson Lighthouse was erected in 1914 on Point Atkinson, a headland named by Captain George Vancouver in 1792 when he was exploring the Pacific Northwest. The lighthouse was beautiful—but aren’t all lighthouses?
I hiked back to my car and plugged my Seattle apartment into GPS. I ended up getting stuck in about an hour’s worth of Vancouver rush hour, before heading over yet another crazy suspension bridge on my way back to the United States.
Until next time, Canada! 🇨🇦
I’m happy to report I made it the entire time in Canada without having to get gas. I was able to quickly adjust to kilometers and Celsius thermostats, but my peon brain could not comprehend figuring out what “191.9” meant on gas station signs. I don’t even know where to begin with the multiple levels of math needed.
And I only used my credit card for purchases—no Canadian currency exchange needed. Since the Canadian dollar is currently less than the U.S. dollar, my credit card transactions were less than the totals on my receipts. Yay!
I can’t wait to return to Canada! I’ve created a photo gallery of favorites from my whirlwind visit to Vancouver. Enjoy!