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What is all this jazz about fall in Vancouver?
Thanks to the distinct seasons unique to the oceanic climate here, fall succeeds summer as an equally, if not more stunning and popular season for visitors in Vancouver. Allow me to paint you a picture because quite literally, fall in Vancouver is like having the entire city brushed in hues of red, yellow and brown. It is an iconic sight yet at the same time unlike any other fall destinations around the world. Fall might seem like the intermediary season as things slow down into hibernation, but fall in Vancouver, with all of its offerings in events and sights, is in fact a time to marvel and appreciate all the beauty that is around us.
Vancouverites love to talk about the weather, and that is one trait that I’m also indisputably guilty of. In fact, I used to love complaining about the fall season. Not only did it mean the end of the summer break, it was also the start of a half-year spell of rain and gloom. But one fall while living abroad, the craving for a good pumpkin spiced latte hit me and sent me on a nostalgic trip back to Vancouver. So this fall, I made sure to really live, breathe and experience this magical season, and I’ve had a pretty great time so far.
When is the best time to enjoy fall in Vancouver?
The best time to enjoy fall in Vancouver is definitely during the month of October, although the season is technically considered to be from mid-September to the beginning of November. During this time, the weather is pretty fair with an occasional drizzle. Temperatures in September and October hover around the mid-10’s (Celsius), with 6 to 12 days of rain. In November, you can expect more rainy days as well as temperatures dipping below 5 ° C. However, despite the seemingly clear skies and pleasant weather, be sure to dress warm, as this past October saw Vancouver experiencing subzero temperatures, breaking a 103-year-old record.
That said, the transitions from summer to fall, and fall to winter are gradual. The first signs of fall are when you wake up one morning and find yourself reaching for layers and a beanie. You’ll walk with bits of brown leaves stuck to the bottom of your shoes past cafes dishing out seasonal favourites like the pumpkin spiced latte and cinnamon bun. You’ll also pick up on the cues with the shorter days and the number of times you curse yourself for not bringing an umbrella out. Of course, you can simply do as the Vancouverites and brace the elements with a windbreaker and complain about it with the rest of us. If you are here for a short stay with the intent to fully experience the season though, aim for mid-October as the period of time with the most favourable colours and most number of things to do.
What is there to do in fall in Vancouver?
Vancouver Fringe Festival
An artist’s stomping ground all year round, Granville Island is more exciting than usual in September with the 10-day festival featuring hundreds of performances and events. This year, we had the pleasure of attending two performances– Kazu Kusano’s Pretty Beast and Fake Ghost Tours 2 featuring ghost-busting duo Abdul Aziz and Shawn O’Hara. I loved Pretty Beast for being side-splitting and at the same time with a profound sense of reflection. Kazu took us on a journey from her childhood in Japan to her eventual stardom as a comedian in LA. It was as intimate as could be in the slightly cramped room, where the audience moved with her through laughter and tears.
Fake Ghost Tours 2 stands out with an unusual premise of taking the audience on a purported ghost tour around Granville Island. We happened to attend in the evening of Friday the 13th, “on a night when the air is still and the night sky is pregnant with the full moon…”
It was actually a rainy evening, but we enjoyed the hilarious twists on facts and history.
The Fringe 2020 will take place from September 10 to 20.
Etsy’s Pop Up Market
One Saturday morning at the end of September, Robson Square in downtown Vancouver buzzed with an excitement that piqued my interest. I had just stepped out from an event inside the lecture halls at UBC Robson Square and was surprised by the crowds.
The usual skating rink in the middle of the square was transformed with booths featuring unique crafts and creations from the Etsy Canada community. Taking a walk around, it was hard not to dream about bringing some of the pieces home for fall-inspired decors.
Check the upcoming Vancouver Etsy events here.
During the month of October, farms and gardens across the Lower Mainland retire their sunflowers for the seasonal favourite–pumpkins. Aside from picking pumpkins and gourds of all sizes, colours and shapes, there are many other fall activities to be enjoyed, such as the corn maze and haunted house, making pumpkin patches fun for the young and the young at heart.
Stumbled upon it completely by accident, my friend and I escaped the rain at Art’s Nursery, a gardening centre with a scarecrow festival. From the end of September until Halloween, this annual festival invites visitors to stuff and dress their own scarecrows for a charitable cause.
We also visited Laity Pumpkin Patch on a weekday in early October, and had the farm practically all to ourselves. The farm is massive, and in fact has two sides, catered to visitors of different age groups. We posed in front of the huts, with the pumpkins, and got pecked at by the curious goats while trying to get a photo with them too. As we were leaving, Gilbert the calf came out to greet us. He actually escaped the pen because he was hungry, so we got to try our hands at bottle-feeding, which made our visit even more amazing.
Fort Langley Cranberry Festival
Among the many fruits in season, it was a difficult choice to attend just one festival. UBC’s Botanical Garden has an Apple Festival, but if cranberries are more of your thing, it’s definitely worth the drive to Fort Langley.
Frankly, I wasn’t expecting a festival of this scale. It was evident that the whole community came out for this seasonal event, with food trucks and music performances, along with over a hundred vendors selling all things cranberry for a very sweet festival indeed.
Fort Langley Cranberry Festival resumes in 2020 on October 10.
Festival of Hallows
A man in a puffy, white dress held together with giant spiders and yellow construction tape caught my attention. The wiggly eyes glued all over his vest stared at me as I stared back. I asked him how he acquired such an interesting idea. “My friend gave me this—her wedding dress, after her divorce,” he said, before concluding “well, it’s the day of the dead after all, eh?”
It was the night of Halloween and just ahead of Day of the Dead. Emery Barnes Park, a neighbourhood park in Yaletown, brought together different cultures in celebration of life, death, and spookiness. Everyone was in high spirits in spite of the numbing cold, singing along with the mariachi band and moving with the dancers, whose skirts twirled and fanned out into splendid patterns. As the evening drew on, the crowd only got bigger. Candles illuminated our painted faces as we visited the shrines and joined in on the parade up and down the streets of downtown.
Check out the Festival of Hallows blog here.
VanDusen Botanical Garden
VanDusen is a favourite in the dark winter months for its Festival of Lights. But on the cusp between summer and fall, the day is long and tirelessly bright. I paid a visit then to beat the holiday crowds and catch a last glimpse of the bloom. The garden made for a scenic stroll with vibrant colours and the soothing fragrance of lavender. It was prime wedding season, and a wedding reception was taking place, filling the garden with laughter and love songs amid the humming of the bees.
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park
In the heart of Chinatown is a walled compound whose beauty and tranquil quality is only revealed upon entry. On a clear day, classic Chinese architecture reflects over the surfaces of the jade-green pond, home to the koi and a bed of lotus. The park and its adjacent garden are especially meaningful over the weekend of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, the celebration of the full moon each fall. On the 15th day of the eighth lunar calendar month, a bright, full moon can be observed, a symbol of reunion that brings students, travellers and workers home for the occasion. As a rare and treasured Chinese monument in the city, the classical garden celebrates the thousands of years old tradition over poetry, tea, and moon cakes.
The next Mid-Autumn Festival falls on October 1, 2020.
Stanely Park is a good idea in any season. Fall’s pleasant weather sees locals and tourists alike running, rollerblading, and bicycling along the seawall. But I headed deep inside the park on foot to see the array of fall colours.
Just past the pool at Third Beach, I found Merilees Trail, a lush walkway that offers quietude and enormous maple leaves, perfectly shaped and untouched except for the wind. The trail splits off into the Siwash Rock Trail and ends at Prospect Point, both with stunning views and a cool breeze in the fall.
Deer Lake Park
I love going to my own backyard for seasonal inspirations. Unbeknownst to most tourists and even many locals, Deer Lake is a gem in the suburbs.
In summer months, the park sees outdoor concerts and festivals on the lawn outside of the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts. Canoes and kayaks graze the calm surfaces of the lake. With the summer season drawing to a close, many of the park’s inhabitants, the Canada geese, have begun migrating for the winter, leaving the park free save for a few joggers and dog walkers. Each time the wind blew, the whole forest quivered in unison. I waited in the clearing for the leaves to flutter and zigzag their way down to the ground. Then, finding a pile of leaves along the wooden paths that surround the lake, I reveled in the sounds of the crackling and crunching.
The Lynn Canyon suspension bridge is closed for a couple months in winter for repairs and maintenance. Before its September 30 closure, I followed the throng of visitors across the suspension bridge 50 metres above the canyon, and enjoyed a refreshing respite away from the city.
Despite it being a sunny day, the dense forest, heavily shaded and surrounded by evergreens and Lynn Creek, was cool and felt invigorating to the senses.
Lynn Canyon is a good place to start for a leisurely hike in fall as it connects to a network of trails in the north shore. Beyond the suspension bridge and past the 30 foot pool, I continued onto the Baden Powell Trail and started towards Norvan Falls, 16 km away. Along the way, a kind, elderly man warned me of frequent bear sightings in recent months. That, and the shorter days at the end of September didn’t do me any favours. I started late, and soon had to head back for another try next fall.
This hike in early October was exceptional for its views of the city and the autumnal sunset that cast a warm amber hue over the landscape.
We weren’t expecting the bracing wind that froze my hands as we hiked up the steep slope. Soon, I decided to forgo hiking poles and stuck my hands in the fluffy warmth of my puffer jacket, hands only occasionally resurfacing to reach for the hot tea I’d thankfully packed in a thermos. After about 40 minutes of a workout, the ground leveled out and was replaced with mud patches that inevitably wrapped around my shoes.
It was approaching sunset when we were just halfway through the hike, and the further we hiked, the more we encountered parties returning from their trips. A dog ran excited into the puddles, then shook the mud off with all of its might, sending nearby hikers into a shrieking and laughing fit. But the view, when we finally reached it, was perfect at the cusp of sunset, a golden hue that oversaw the water and city below. My favourite part, though, was the return trip to Cabin Lake. With the sun now hovering just slightly above head, the lake was an intoxicating sight difficult to tear myself away from.
The Kits Swing
The swing at Kitsilano Beach is a well-kept secret among the photo-seekers in Vancouver. On this drizzly day in fall, gone were the beach crowds. We took a long stroll on the beach, walking past the yacht club and the pool for sometime in the rain before finally reaching it. Tied to two towering branches, the swing was not all that easy to get up on. It was also slippery in the rain, so I had a death grip on the ropes. It might have passed for the infamous Bali swing on a clear day, but the foreboding grey that shrouded the landscape was a unique sight reserved only for fall in Vancouver.
Not many people know about this tiny island tucked between the shores of Fraser River, although it once held significance as a cannery producing the largest amounts of salmon. Deas Island is now a regional park with easy walking trails looping the island. There is a rowing club on site, as well as three historic buildings, one of which is said to house 3,000 bats in its attic. It was a serene way to spend a fall afternoon doing absolutely nothing except for taking in the sights– a man sat at the end of the moor fishing. Out of the corner of my eye, a wild bunny crept up, but soon disappeared behind the bushes.
Overlooking the Salish Sea and downtown Vancouver is an iconic lighthouse with history dating back to 1912. The gentle slopes from the parking lot first led us into a forest of looming Douglas Firs, then along the rugged coastline until the lighthouse came into sight. Out in the clearing, the wind swept across the sandy-coloured boulders, sending a shiver through my grips on the crevices of the rocks. Waves crashed beneath my dangling feet as I managed a smile for the camera.
For a short time in fall, this oceanfront landmark on English Bay flocks with visitors in awe of unparalleled fall colours. Each fall, the ivy that’s taken up the walls of the hotel flourishes with a brillant red. However, most of the lush coat would have turned brown and got carried away with the wind by mid-October, testing to both the season’s beautiful and fleeting quality.
University of British Columbia
When I was a student at UBC, walking across the expansive campus to classes was a pain. But the occasional visits since then have proven to be far more worthwhile.
Towards the end of October, the city was blessed with weeks of beautiful sunshine, and my friend and I took this opportunity to check out fall colours in and around the city. Not far from UBC’s Botanical Garden, we found the residential streets a stunning sight, with the sidewalks completely paved with lush foliage. Standing in the middle of the empty street, we could see neatly lined trees stretching all the way down the horizons in a gradient of colours.
Leaving the UBC campus, my friend suggested that we pop by this neighbourhood on the west end for some more fall foliage. These streets in Kitsilano undoubtedly steal the crown as the most photogenic streets for fall in Vancouver. We clung to our coats as the wind picked up, sending the leaves scurrying across the streets.
Writing this post now towards the end of fall, I realize how beautiful yet accessible fall in Vancouver is. It is all around us, albeit fleeting and ever-changing. What have you found surprising this fall?
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