Vancouver Road Trip Guide For Music Fans

Vancouver Road Trip Guide

Feature Photo: Josef Hanus / Shutterstock.com

The City of Vancouver has long been a favorite destination for visitors who wish to see what it has to offer. It has been regarded as the Canadian equivalent of America’s Hollywood and it has been a hot spot for upcoming rockers who wish to be the next Bryan Adams, Sarah McLachlan, or Trooper. As for rock and roll fans, taking a road trip to Vancouver is an experience that’s destined to be as fantastic as it gets. Whether you’re approaching the city from the east, north, or south, already you’re surrounded by the splendor of British Columbia’s mountainous landscape and extensive greenery. Listening to your favorite rock tunes as you do it makes it even better. This article focuses on how to maximize your road trip experience as a fan of rock and roll.

Approaching Vancouver

For most motorists who drive to Vancouver, the TransCanada Highway is the best way to do it.  The city is normally approached from the east as drivers first encounter Coquitlam, then Burnaby, then Vancouver’s city limits. Burnaby is where the musical icon Michael Buble, was born and raised before he became a global superstar. This neighboring city to Vancouver is still his home today.

Should motorists venture north from the American border en route to Vancouver, one can take a similar road trip Mike Fisher and Ann Wilson took in 1972 when Fisher was to be drafted by the United States Army to fight in the Vietnam War.  The couple fled from Seattle and headed straight north to Vancouver, knowing while in Canada, they’d be safe.  It didn’t take long before the rest of the band joined them.  In 1973, Heart officially began as a rock band before signing up with Mushroom Records. At the time, the label was known as Can-Base Studios.  This is where Heart made its explosive debut with Dreamboat Annie and its hit singles “Crazy on You” and “Magic Man.”

The stretch of highway between Seattle and Vancouver takes about two hours to travel under ideal road and traffic conditions.  From the United States, it’s Interstate Highway 5 with Blaine, Washington as the border city that connects to Canada and its Highway 99.  As you venture northwest, you will pass Richmond and the Vancouver International Airport.  This is the road that connects directly to some of Vancouver’s most popular landmarks, such as Gastown, Granville Island, and Stanley Park.

Road Trip Recommendation

Speaking from personal experience, the best road trip experiences are planned in advance to make sure you have all the bases covered. This includes making accommodation arrangements and obtaining important highway information you need to know about.  Under ideal conditions, you won’t encounter any serious delays due to accidents, construction, and unstable weather.  

Furthermore, if you’re an American motorist intending to cross the Canadian border, you need to be prepared. Your best bet, visit the Canada Border Services Agency website to find out everything you need to know.  This also applies if you intend to fly to Vancouver and use a car rental to embark on your road trip in and around the city.

In Canada, distance and volume are measured by the metric system. When fuelling up at the pumps, Canadians make reference to liters (also termed litres) instead of gallons. While on the road, instead of measuring distances by miles it’s by kilometers. For every mile you travel by car, it is the equivalent of 1.6 kilometers. As you drive around Vancouver, especially when factoring in the connecting communities around it, keep this in mind as your rockin’ road trip takes you wherever you want to go.

Vancouver Accommodations

Because Vancouver is a popular destination for tourists, the city and its surrounding communities are loaded with various accommodation options. Even as you enjoy your road trip in Vancouver, odds are you’ll be interested in staying at least one or two nights before moving on. However, if you really want the best rockin’ experience possible in Vancouver, I recommend at least three or four nights to soak it all up.

Ideally, when choosing where to stay, determine well in advance when you plan to visit Vancouver.  If there is a major concert or festival going on, you need to book your stay as early as possible. Speaking as someone who also worked in the hotel industry, there is no such thing as booking your room too early. Also, do your homework when going over hotel information.  A personal favorite when I drove to Vancouver to watch the legendary live performance of Metallica on August 14, 2017, was the Victorian Hotel. It was close enough that it took less than ten minutes to drive to BC Place.

The hotel is very old and loaded with character as it was built in 1898. This one is a five-minute walk from Vancouver’s Gastown District. Some of the rooms have a private bath and some don’t.  I was fortunate enough to book one with a private bathroom the day my friend secured the concert tickets.  It put a dent of about $200 (Canadian) per night, but it was worth it. It was centrally located and gave easy access to wherever I wanted to go.

We were staying in downtown Vancouver where it was easy for us to drive to BC Place, as well as wherever else we wanted to go. One of the destinations we wanted to visit was a twenty-minute drive north to the infamous Tomahawk Barbeque. Fans of Bryan Adams may recognize Tomahawk as his former employer when he worked as a busboy there before he rose to global fame and fortune as a rockin’ superstar.

Vancouver’s Rock Radio History

For fans of rock and roll music, Vancouver boasts a proud legacy that has produced some of the best rock and roll hits in the history of the genre. As you enjoy your road trip in and around the city, listening to the iconic rock radio stations CFUN and CKWX would be the way to do it. These are the two music stations that had the iconic Robert “Red” Robinson on the payroll as their DJ. Robinson was the first DJ to play rock music in Vancouver and the first in Canada to do it on a regular basis.

Robinson’s career began at CJOR while he was still in high school in 1954. Three years later, he jumped to the highly prominent CKWX and its Top 40 hit format. It was he who first introduced Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley as they held their rock concerts in Vancouver.  In 1961, after a brief stint in Portland, Oregon, Robinson returned to CKWX before moving to a brand new CFUN and its Top 40 radio station in 1962. While there, he MC’d for Presley a second time and it was he who introduced the Beatles when the Fab Four embarked on its North American tour in 1964.

Robinson’s legacy is also noted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame after he was elected for entry in 1994. While driving around in Vancouver and fancy to do some shopping, be on the lookout for Red Robinson: The Last Deejay and Red Robinson: The Last Broadcast. These books about one of Vancouver’s most beloved rockin’ celebrities are usually easy enough to come by in the city.  They can also be purchased through Amazon.

Vancouver’s Sound

In addition to CFUN and CKWX rockin’ out the hits, there are some great alternative rock stations you can listen to as you drive around Vancouver.  CFMI-FM’s Rock 101 was a personal favorite as I drove in and around Vancouver. This is the radio station that caters to classic rock fans who likely take Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock & Roll” to heart.  It was the station we listened to when we headed to North Vancouver on Granville Street to visit Tomahawk on 1550 Philip Avenue.

If you’re in the mood to take a drive to where Bryan Adams once worked after moving to Vancouver from Kingston, Ontario, be sure to do so on an empty stomach. Your tastebuds will thank you. When we were there, it was a busy place, which is the norm for a restaurant that has become a legend between its amazing food and incredible history. Since 1926, Tomahawk has been a local and tourist favorite, including a long list of celebrities such as Vancouver’s Terry David Mulligan. Canadian rock fans know Mulligan well as the original host of Good Rockin’ Tonite.

Tomahawk doesn’t offer anything fancy, but it does make a great pit stop as you enjoy your road trip. You can’t miss the place as the entrance features two big totem poles that are easy to spot. When we were in Vancouver, we couldn’t seem to get enough of Tomahawk.  We went there twice as I purposely engineered our road trips in the city to go there.

Gastown & Granville

When we took our road trip to Vancouver we were lucky to have Metallica’s concert as part of our itinerary. However, you don’t need a big rock concert as an excuse to enjoy a road trip in and around the city. If you’re into rock and roll history, Gastown and Granville are two districts that are well worth your time. The drives along Gastown’s East Hastings Street and Granville’s Granville Street while listening to classic rock added extra flavor to a road trip that was met with a great cultural experience.

The Gastown Experience

Gastown was the starting point of Vancouver’s explosive impact as one of the “it” cities for arts and entertainment as the Roaring Twenties dictated the cultural course of Americans and Canadians.  Before rock and roll officially became a genre, it all started with blues and jazz influences that would produce a wave of musicians who would forever change the music industry.

Downtown Vancouver’s East Hastings Street is one of the most popular destinations for motorists from out of town to visit. It’s loaded with history for rock music fans to capitalize on.  Between the iconic Hastings Park to the east and Seymour Street to the west, the city’s blues scene within Gastown brought in top talents such as Randy Bachman, Long John Baldry, Jim Byrnes, Jerry Doucette, and Koko Taylor.

The Metallica concert we attended in 2017 was at Hasting Park’s BC Place, which sits on Renfrew Street, directly north of East Hastings Street. Long before this awesome group performed there, Jimi Hendrix was the first to hold a rock concert at the venue after it opened its doors for the first time in 1972. If fate should have it, your planned road trip to Vancouver has a rock concert scheduled to play in BC Place, and you’re able to score some tickets, the experience is well worth it.

When we drove along East Hastings Street between Hastings Park and Highway 99 with the classic rock tunes going in the car, this was an awesome experience. While the influence of Chinese and Japanese culture is clearly evident along this stretch of road, its overall diversity beautifully illustrates how awesome Vancouver is as a city.

Since this is a road trip, there are some handy drive-ins along the way. We couldn’t resist checking out At The Waldorf while we were cruising about. This sits on the corner of East Hastings Street and McLean Drive.  While the place may not seem much to look at, the live music venue it has to offer had a local rock band that covered a number of rock classics that made one of our evenings in Vancouver a wonderfully memorable experience.

The Granville Experience

Aside from the Metallica concert, cruising Granville Street by car and by foot was a must.  For rock music fans, this lively stretch of road between East Hastings Street and Pacific Street continues to play a major role when it comes to Vancouver’s vibrant music scene. The Aura Nightclub, just north of Davie Street, features a rotation of guest DJs and great rock music.  So does Studio Lounge & Nightclub just south of Smithe Street.  These are just two of the many clubs and rockin’ hangouts that grace the Granville Street landscape.

As part of your road trip in Vancouver, should you wish to park the car awhile and go for a walk, doing so along Granville Street between Nelson Street and Robson Street may be worth your time? On foot, this takes about one or two hours to complete as you go down one side of the infamous BC Entertainment Hall of Fame StarWalk and then the other.  It took us just over two hours as we left our car parked at the Victorian Hotel and simply walked it over because it was that close.

The StarWalk is Vancouver’s equivalent to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. You will find stars on the pavement dedicated to actors and musicians.  These include notable rockers such as Bryan Adams, Randy Bachman, Colin James, Loverboy, and Nickelback.

Rockin’ In Vancouver

Vancouver’s Hastings Park is the home of BC Place and Pacific Coliseum.  Both venues have brought in some of the biggest rockers in the business, with one sold-out show after another.  In 1968, Jimi Hendrix held his concert here, as did Led Zeppelin as it opened for Vanilla Fudge.  It continues to be a popular venue to host rock concerts as a multipurpose arena that used to be the home of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks.

Aside from BC Place and Pacific Coliseum, another multipurpose venue known for its rock concerts is Rogers Arena.  This popular venue sits across the TransCanada Highway from BC Place at 800 Griffiths Way. When the Canucks are away, some of the world’s most popular rockers come to play.

Five years before Metallica held its concert in BC Place, this glam metal band performed three shows between August 24 and August 27, 2012, for its concert film Through the Never.  On January 31, 2019, this was the venue where KISS kicked off its End of the Road World Tour.

Rockin’ Around Vancouver

When driving in and around Vancouver, preferably with rock tunes playing in the car, the experience seems so much better whenever hearing a classic coming from one of the city’s local talents.  Aside from Bryan Adams, there is also his longtime songwriting partner, Jim Vallance. Before becoming a legendary songwriter responsible for so many awesome bands and artists, Vallance started off as a drummer and wrote songs for Vancouver-based Prism.  At the time, he went by the pseudonym, Rodney Higgs.

When listening to Vancouver’s radio stations, whether it be today’s hits or the classics, the city doesn’t hold back from showing off its local talent. With classic rock, odds are you’ll hear some Chilliwack, Sweeney Todd, and Trooper as the city’s homegrown favorites.  Vancouver also loves to play as many songs written by either Bryan Adams or Jim Vallance as possible.  These include .38 Special’s “Teacher, Teacher,” Aerosmith’s “Rag Doll,” and Glass Tiger’s “Don’t Forget Me (When I’m Gone).”

Rockin’ Vancouver Landscapes

There is a reason why Vancouver is so popular to visit, especially as part of a big road trip.  This city is surrounded by the majestic scenery of mountains and water.  It is also one of the greenest cities in the world with its impressive collection of beautifully manicured parks.  For some of the biggest rockers in the music business, Vancouver has established itself as a favorite.

For years, Vancouver has been a retreat for celebrities all over the world, including rockers.  As for Burnaby born and raised Michael Buble, he still lives in the Metro Vancouver community. His twenty-seven thousand square foot home is situated across the street from Seaforth Elementary, the school he went to when he was a kid.  However, the best you can do here is just drive by the house and maybe go pay a visit to Burnaby’s Music MadHouse Records near Lougheed Village Mall on 9526 Erickson Drive.

This is where you go to access old vinyl records and other rockin’ memorabilia. It’s not easy to find and you’ll probably think you made a wrong turn. The key is to keep your eyes open and when you approach the door, ring the buzzer.  For a tiny, hard-to-find record store, the trip is worth it. Even if you don’t have a record player, imagine bringing home an old vinyl cover of an old AC/DC album and simply having it mounted and framed as a memento on your living room wall. That’s what we did when we found Back in Black.

While in Burnaby if you happen to get hungry, go retro and visit Lost in the 50’s Diner on 7741 Edmonds Street. Once you’re there, just relax and enjoy the vibe as you wait for your food.  This is not a fast food restaurant, nor does it try to be, even though it does have a drive-in. What makes a road trip rock like a classic are the pit stops you make along the way.

Vancouver Road Trip Guide For Music Fans  article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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