A long weekend exploring Vancouver Canada

driving to whistler canada

After two months of stressing out trying to find work, I have just found a job so I thought that a celebratory big trip was (naturally) in order. However, not excited about the prospect of plunking down almost $2k on my credit card to visit Hong Kong, nor wanting to deal with the crowds in Europe, I decided to save some cash and scratch Vancouver off my ‘to do’ list. And save some cash I did…I found an Internet special on Alaska Airlines for $175 round trip.

Not even thinking twice, I booked it (and nearly breaking my arm patting myself on the back for finding such a good fare). I found a cheap hotel too (the airport Ramada in Richmond), so I decided I would splurge a little on the rental car – a Mustang convertible. The plan was to just go up there and explore. I had two and a half days, so I figured that I would do a drive into the mountains on my full day (July 3rd), and then explore the city center (er, centre) on the morning of the 4th. Absolutely no aviation photography was planned…I didn’t want to deal with the stress of finding good shooting locations, so this was classified as a relaxation trip and nothing else. Knowing that the scenery was going to be spectacular, and the weather was going to be good, I was very excited to be heading back to Canada after my near-disaster of a trip to Toronto earlier this year.

Here are my flights for this trip:

07/02/01 Alaska Airlines MD-82 economy class (exit row) San Diego to Seattle
07/02/01 Alaska Airlines 737-400 economy class Seattle to Vancouver
07/04/01 Horizon Air Dash 8 Vancouver to Portland
07/04/01 Alaska Airlines MD-83 economy class Portland to San Diego


I got up with the sun on the morning of my flight to YVR. It was a typical beautiful summer morning in San Diego, and I made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare – even after finding a spot in the Budget long term lot, and scoring an exit isle seat for my flight up to SEA. So then I had about an hour before the flight…I grabbed a quick bite to eat, and found a spot in terminal 2 (Delta gates) to watch the sun come up. Yes, I did end up taking a couple pictures of the morning sunrise, but the camera was quickly put away – I had to force myself to do it, but I did. And having a few minutes to sit and watch the airport come alive, I was glad I did.

frontier airlines 737-300 san diego
Sunrise shot of a Frontier Airlines 737-300 sitting at gate 38 in terminal 2 at SAN
Norhwest A320 SAN
Sunrise shot of a Northwest Airlines A320 sitting at gate 22 in terminal 2 at SAN

The Flight up to SEA was about 75% full, and I had an empty seat next to me. Breakfast and sleep took up most of the time, and we made it into Seattle right on schedule. It’s amazing how different SEA seemed to me since the last time I was there. Two years ago, I flew in on Southwest, and I got a much different perspective of the airport. Anyway, it was good to get off the plane and stretch my legs. I had about an hour and a half before my connecting flight to YVR, so I just walked the terminal a few times to do a little plane and people watching.

The flight up to YVR was full, and I was kinda bummed that I didn’t have a window seat for this flight. From the quick peeks of the scenery I got, it looked to be an amazing view. We landed a few minutes behind schedule, and was into the airport and at customs in no time. Two things of note here: one, YVR is a beautiful airport with great views of the scenery and airplanes. Two, Canadian customs officials are HARSH. I did learn something though: never, ever say that you have no plans. Once I said that I didn’t really have any plans for the weekend, the agent held me for about ten minutes asking every question she could possibly think of to ask. I actually walked away from her feeling a bit violated and irritated! I even felt a little guilty about the entire trip right then too…she had the hardest time believing that I would travel alone just for the hell of it. Great way to start a trip, eh? Welcome to Canada! Not.

I was soon free from that mess, and grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading out to get my rental car – a bright red 2001 Mustang convertible.

ford mustang rental car
My rental car for the weekend: a Ford Mustang convertible!

The top was already down when I drove it out of the lot, so knowing how nice of a day it was, I decided to leave it down. I wasn’t three minutes out of the airport when I decided to pull over and put the top up. The sun was harsh, and I would have burnt my white-boy head to a crisp in no time! The plan was to try and find my hotel – the directions the rental car guy gave me were really confusing, so I eventually turned around and headed BACK to the airport to start over and follow the directions a little more carefully. Just as I was entering the airport, I noticed a line of cars parked along a dirt road to my right. Upon a closer look, they were parked right along the perimeter fence of the airport. Sweet! I found a kick ass spotters lot! So I cut across three lanes of traffic and made the turn.

aircraft spotting at YVR
Just a small sample of pics from my first afternoon of spotting at YVR.

Now, I said that I wasn’t planning on doing any aviation photography on this trip, but having stumbled upon this great location, I figured that a few pics wouldn’t hurt. I ended up staying there for about two hours, until the desire to use the bathroom grew too strong to resist. Time to find the Ramada. It took a little time, but I found it…nice location, right in the heart of a little Asian community called Richmond. I was even upgraded to a room that overlooked a nice nature park in the rear. Once settled in, I decided to go back to the spotters lot for more pics before finding a place to eat. I ended up hanging out taking pictures until about 7:30pm, and then set off in search of a good meal – I was starving! I drove back to Richmond, found a sub shop, then headed back to the hotel to watch some TV before crashing at about 10:30pm.

Day 2: driving to Whistler

I was up the next morning by 8:30, and the plan for the day was to drive. Specifically, drive north on highway 99. I was on the road by 9:30, and the map showed that I’d have to follow 99 through the center of the city, and then once through that, it was clean and clear twisties for hundreds of miles. In a word, trying to get out of town was a major chore. Traffic was nasty, and the roads were not clearly marked at all – I was guessing at every turn. But I did get the chance to drive through downtown Vancouver – a beautiful city, I must say.

driving into Vancouver Canada
Apologies for the blurry pic (that’s what happens I try to take pics while driving) , but this was my first view of the city of Vancouver.

In all, it took me an hour to get out of the city and I was soon on my way north. Highway 99 was everything I hoped it would be; tight, smooth, and very scenic.

driving to whistler canada
Taking a quick break along the drive to Whistler. This place must be even more beautiful in the winter time!
highway 99 Vancouver
Amazing scenery here along highway 99, isn’t it?

I ended up driving all the way to Whistler (the ski resort), and that was the point I got out of the car to walk around a stretch my legs. What an amazing resort town! The money was everywhere, and it was very busy – even though the calendar said July. It was really hot though, and I was sweating like crazy – not much shade to be found anywhere. A nice relaxing walk around the resort town of Whistler was not to be.

whistler resort summertime
This is what Whistler looks like in the off-season. I’d love to come back in the winter time!

I got back in the Mustang, and drove south back into Vancouver. It was a spirited drive back, and I really felt the limitations of the V6 mustang – to be quite honest, I would have preferred to have my Neon on that drive. The suspension was way too soft, and having an automatic transmission on a drive like that wasn’t very fun.

highway 99 scenery vancouver canada
This Mustang wasn’t the perfect car for this drive, but the scenery sure was spectacular.

Long story short, I didn’t make it back to my hotel until almost 5pm that evening. It was such a long drive – I wanted to avoid the traffic of driving through downtown Vancouver, so I took Hwy 1 around the city. That ended up being a really long drive.

driving 2001 ford mustang
It was a long drive back to Vancouver that afternoon.

To make things worse, I hit major traffic just about 5 miles from the Hotel. Talk about frustrating. It felt so good to get out of that car! In the end, I put about 400k/m on her that day. I camped out in my hotel watching cable TV that evening, and fell asleep by 11pm.

Day 3: time to go home

The morning of departure greeted me with more sunshine, and I took my time getting everything together before heading back to the airport for my 3pm flight. I was out of the hotel by 10:30am, and I stopped by the spotters lot for a couple hours before returning the car and heading into the airport for lunch and the flight home. The flights home were worth the price of the trip…light loads, spectacular views, and good food/drink. My flight from PDX to SAN was especially nice, as there was only about 20 people on it. It was by far the emptiest flight I have ever been on, and it was really nice.

departing PDX
Volcano! Actually, TWO of them! Nice view as we depart PDX.
Portland Oregon
Portland from the air. Great looking city.

The thing that made it really nice was the view I got of Southern California as the sun was setting. The clouds broke just north of LA, and I got a spectacular view of downtown Los Angeles. From there, we went right down the coast, and I followed along the 405 as it went by Long Beach, SNA, El Toro, Camp Pendleton, Oceanside, an awesome view of the Del Mar Fair all lit up, Miramar, and the rest of San Diego. It was absolutely amazing. It was just a touch too bright out for the July 4th fireworks to begin, but I did get to see the Sea World fireworks display as I drove home from the airport.

It was a great trip, and it ended just as nice. It’s really amazing: the three trips I’ve taken to the Pacific Northwest have given me spectacular weather each time. For an area that is known for its gloom, I feel quite lucky to have never seen clouds or rain in that part of the country.

I would have liked to spend at least another day there to check out the city center, but otherwise, I felt like I got a good look at Vancouver. It’s definitely a city I’m going to return to.

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