Greater Vancouver is well endowed with beaches—from the pebbly coves of West Vancouver to a vast tableau of sand at Spanish Banks, in Point Grey—but the waters are decidedly cool, with summer water temperatures ranging from 12˚C to 18˚C (54˚F to 64˚F). Aside from kids and the intrepid, most stick to quick dips, sunbathing, or wearing a wet suit for water activities. That said, the city has several exceptional outdoor pools—right on the ocean. The most spectacular is Kitsilano Pool, a heated saltwater pool where you can gaze up at the North Shore Mountains while swimming lengths or splashing in the shallows. Beaches at Kitsilano, Spanish Banks, and Locarno are popular beach-volleyball venues. At English Bay, the city's historic beach and round-the-clock social venue, you can swim, rent a kayak, or simply stroll with an ice cream cone and people-watch. Vancouver is also known for its clothing-optional beaches, the most celebrated being Wreck Beach, which reflects the city’s cosmopolitan perspective.

If you're staying in the downtown core and looking for convenient beaches, English Bay is most accessible, followed by Kits, the Stanley Park beaches, then Jericho and Spanish Banks. Jericho and English Bay are good options if you want to rent kayaks.

All city beaches have lifeguards, washrooms, concession stands, and most have paid parking. Information is available through the city, 311 or 604/873–7000. Liquor and smoking are prohibited in parks and on beaches. With a few exceptions, dogs are not permitted on beaches.

Ambleside Park and Beach. West of the Lions Gate Bridge, this long stretch of sand is West Vancouver's most popular beach. There are tennis courts, volleyball nets, and a water park in the summer. This local favorite beach area is just off Marine Drive at the foot of 13th Street. There are superb views of Stanley Park from all along the Seawall. There's also a huge off-leash area for dogs. Amenities: food and drink; parking; showers; toilets. Best for: sunrise; swimming; walking. Argyle Ave. at 13th St., West Vancouver, British Columbia, V7T.

English Bay Beach. The city's best-known beach, English Bay, lies just to the east of Stanley Park's southern entrance. A long stretch of golden sand, a waterslide, volleyball courts, kayak rentals, and food trucks keep things interesting all summer. Known locally for being gay-friendly, it draws a diverse crowd. Special events include summer Celebration of Light fireworks and a New Year's Day swim. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (fee); toilets; water sports. Best for: atmosphere; partiers; sunset; swimming; walking. 1700 Beach Ave., between Gilford and Bidwell Sts., West End, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6E 1V3. 604/665–3424;

Jericho Beach. Home to the Jericho Sailing Centre, this Point Grey beach is popular for windsurfing and kayaking (rentals are available), especially at the western end. Swimmers can use the eastern section, where the expansive sands and a grassy park invite sunbathing. In July, the Vancouver Folk Music Festival brings thousands together over folk, world, and indie bands. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (fee); toilets; water sports. Best for: swimming; walking; windsurfing. 1300 Discovery St., Point Grey, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6R 4L9.

Kitsilano Beach. West of the southern end of the Burrard Bridge, Kits Beach is the city's busiest beach—Frisbee tossers, beach volleyball players, and sleek young people are ever present. Facilities include a playground, restaurant, concession stand, and tennis courts. Kitsilano Pool is here: at 137.5 meters (451 feet), it's the longest pool in Canada and one of the few heated saltwater pools in the world (open May to September). Just steps from the sand, the Boathouse on Kits Beach serves lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch inside and on its big ocean-view deck. There's also a take-out concession at the same site. Inland from the pool, the Kitsilano Showboat, an outdoor amphitheater hosts music and dance performances during the summer. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (fee); toilets; water sports. Best for: atmosphere; sunrise; sunset; swimming; walking. 2305 Cornwall Ave., Kitsilano, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6K 1B6. 604/731–0011;

Spanish Banks Beaches. The Spanish Banks and Locarno beaches form a sandy chain, and have huge expanses of sunbathing sand backed by wide lawns full of picnic tables. There are also volleyball courts. The shallow water, warmed slightly by sun and sand, is good for swimming. Farther west along the coastline, toward the Spanish Banks Extension, the scene becomes less crowded. Spanish Banks West and Locarno beaches are designated "quiet beaches," which means that amplified music is prohibited. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (free); toilets; water sports. Best for: atmosphere; sunset; swimming; walking; windsurfing. Northwest Marine Dr., at Tolmie St., Point Grey, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1A9.

Stanley Park Beaches. There are two fine beaches accessed from Stanley Park, with other unnamed sandy spots dotted along the seawall. The most popular with families is Second Beach, which has a playground and large heated pool with slides. Third Beach is a little more removed than the other central beaches. It has a larger stretch of sand, fairly warm water, and unbeatable sunset views. It's a popular evening picnic spot. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (fee); toilets. Best for: sunset; swimming; walking. 7495 Stanley Park Dr., Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6G 3E2.

Sunset Beach. Farther along Beach Avenue toward Burrard Bridge, Sunset Beach, between Thurlow and Broughton streets, is too close to the Downtown core for clean safe swimming, but is a great spot for an evening stroll. It's also a "quiet" beach, which means no amplified music. You can catch a ferry to Granville Island here. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (fee); toilets. Best for: sunset; walking. 1204 Beach Ave., between Broughton and Thurlow Sts., West End, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6E 1V4.

Trout Lake Beach. The only freshwater lake in the center of Vancouver, Trout Lake's sandy beach has a swimming raft and places to launch small kayaks (though no rentals available). Family picnics are popular here, and there's an attractive farmers' market on summer Saturdays. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; parking (free); toilets. Best for: walking. 3300 Victoria Dr., between E. 14th and 19th Aves., East Side, Vancouver, British Columbia, V5N 2J5. 604/738–8535;

Whytecliff Park. West Vancouver residents are fond of leaping from the cliffs along this rocky beach for a quick, cheap thrill. This calm cove is usually good for swimming and sunset watching. East of Marine Drive is a designated off-leash area for well-behaved dogs. Also along the north side of Burrard Inlet in West Vancouver are dozens of coveted retreats for in-the-know beach-seekers, including (from west to east) Kew Beach, Caulfeild Cove, Sandy Cove, West Bay, and Dundarave. Amenities: food and drink; parking (fee); toilets. Best for: sunset; swimming; walking. 7116 Marine Dr., west of Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver, British Columbia, V7W 2T4. 604/925–7275;

Wreck Beach. Clothing-optional Wreck Beach is in Pacific Spirit Regional Park, accessible via Trail 6—a winding staircase of 483 steps that's near the University of British Columbia campus. On sunny days the beach is busy with locals and visitors, most of whom strip down to their birthday suits and enjoy the clean swimming waters. The welcoming sands also stretch around Point Grey to the north, where beach logs, a foreshore of wildlife, and WWII searchlight towers are some of the many reasons to explore further. Amenities: parking (fee); toilets. Best for: atmosphere; nudists; sunset; swimming. Trail 6, Foreshore Trail, N.W. Marine Dr. at University Blvd., Point Grey, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1A7.