The sweet surprise of a Vancouver sunset and afterglow
Sunsets are always beautiful, but they're especially spectacular if you have the good fortune to be in a western city where the mountains come right down to the edge of the Pacific. That includes Vancouver, the cosmopolitan jewel of Canada's West Coast. Perched at the edge of Burrard Inlet, with the Coast Mountains sloping down to the water across the harbor in North Vancouver, the city's setting has few rivals for natural drama. When you add the glorious hues of sunset to the picture, you may never want to leave.
The time of the season
Sunset falls surprisingly early in Vancouver during the colder months of the year. You'll see the sun dip below the water before 5 p.m. at the end of October, and it doesn't return to that mark until late January. At its earliest, around the winter solstice, sunset can fall as early as 4:16 p.m. Sunsets occur at 6 p.m. or later by early March, and at June's summer solstice, they'll be as late as 8:20 p.m. Autumn sees the same progression in reverse, with sunset times reverting to 6 p.m. by late September.
How you incorporate a bit of sunset viewing into your day depends a lot on what time of the year you visit. In mid-winter, you can take a break from shopping to find a suitable vantage point, while in mid-summer, a stroll along the beach can be a pleasant way to relax after dinner. If you bookmark the National Research Council's sunrise/sunset calculator before you visit, you can check the expected sunset time each day and plan accordingly.
Prepare for the climate
Like Seattle to its south, Vancouver is renowned for its bottomless supply of gray skies and drizzle. Summers are relatively dry, with precipitation skewing toward the colder months, but at any time of year it's best to have an umbrella or a lightweight, waterproof windbreaker in your luggage. The good news is that sunsets can be stunning under all but the rainiest of conditions.
Under a clear, blue summer sky, you'll enjoy the widest possible vistas across the open water. Clouds help diffuse the light and provide contrast, and some of the most stunning sunsets occur when there are irregular clouds strewn across the sky. Even on a heavily overcast evening, a few narrow shafts of brilliant light breaking through the dark clouds can make for a memorably striking image.
Best places to see the sunset in Vancouver itself
As for where to watch the sunset, your obvious starting point will be Sunset Beach. It's located at the south end of the downtown area, where Burrard Street meets Beach Avenue, and stretches for several blocks to the west and north until it merges with English Bay Beach. It's a beautiful but busy spot, worth the crowding for its views and waterfront restaurants.
The western side of Stanley Park's seawall, a popular walking and cycling route, also offers excellent sunsets from the seawall itself or from Second Beach or Third Beach. Across the Burrard Street bridge is Kitsilano's waterfront beach, another excellent spot to take in the sunset. For adventurous and free-spirited travelers, clothing-optional Wreck Beach, located at the western end of the University of British Columbia's grounds, is another prime place to watch the sun go down.
A more staid option, Queen Elizabeth Park, is located at the southern end of Cambie Street on a hill overlooking the downtown. It's further from the water but includes the city itself in your view. That's not a bad thing at all.
Best places in the greater Vancouver area
If you have use of a car while you're visiting the city, don't limit your sunset safari to the confines of the city itself. The greater Vancouver area, or Lower Mainland, offers plenty of other vantage points. Two of the best, Cypress Mountain and Grouse Mountain, are located across the harbor in North Vancouver. From their elevation, the sunset lasts longer, lighting up the entire city spread out below your feet. Grouse Mountain and its ski hill are even served by the city's bus system, making it easier to enjoy the view there.
Suburban Delta, White Rock and Richmond offer several vantage points where you can enjoy the sunset if your day takes you there, including the Tsawwassen terminal where the ferries leave for Vancouver Island. Pro tip: If you don't make time for a sunset during your visit, Vancouver International Airport has a spectacular observation area where you can take in a sunset before your departure or after your arrival.