Even though Vancouver is modern and progressive, its glass skyscrapers reflect mountain and sea views, so urbanites are always connected to nature.
British Columbia’s Hip West Coast port attracts families with nature and culture galore
Vancouver is special to my family for many reasons. For starters, it’s where my daughter learned to ride a bike. On her first attempt without training wheels, Cady was tentatively making her way along the Stanley Park seawall when she found her groove. “I’m doing it!” she yelled, as she cycled past the sparkling waters of English Bay. For my family, it was just one more reason to love this Canadian getaway, just 24 miles north of the United States border.
Set against the Coast Mountains and edged by water, the city offers international culture and outdoor adventure. Half of Vancouver’s school-age children speak a language (from Punjabi to Tagalog) other than English, giving the city a multicultural flavor that always makes us feel as if we’ve traveled far beyond North America. And even though it frequently rains – about 44 inches annually – the precipitation never seems to dampen anyone’s spirits. Vancouverites always seem relaxed and friendly, making visits with kids especially fun.
Here’s our favorite weekend itinerary.
Noon, Grouse Mountain Resort
We started our trip on a high note by driving to this 4,100-foot-high mountain in North Vancouver. North America’s largest aerial tramway transports two million visitors per year to the resort’s mountaintop village. At the peak, there’s a movie theater, hiking trails, snack bars and restaurants, seasonal activities (from skiing to lumberjack shows) and helicopter tours (604-980-9311; www.grousemountain.com).
1 p.m., Lupins Café
This tasty self-serve café in the stone-and-timber Grouse Mountain chalet offers fabulous city views (604-980-9311).
4 p.m., Gastown
After we checked in to the Listel Vancouver (see Places to Stay) on fashionable Robson Street, we headed to Gastown, a waterfront neighborhood known for its art galleries, gift shops, and steam-powered clock (604-683-5650; www.gastown.org).
5:30 p.m., The Old Spaghetti Factory
After exploring, we carbo-loaded at this popular family restaurant. There’s a dining car built by the B.C. Electric Railway Company in 1904 and all manner of pasta dishes (604-684-1288; www.oldspaghettifactory.ca).
9 a.m., Stanley Park
Named for a 19th-century governor-general, this 1,000-square-acre park has so much to offer, we could have played here all weekend. After renting a tagalong bike at Spokes (604-688-5141; www.vancouverbikerental.com), we enjoyed a five-and-a-half mile ride on the seawall trail. Along the way, we saw colorful First Nations totem poles and stopped at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre, home to more than 70,000 animals, including sea otters and beluga whales (604-659-3474; www.vanaqua.org).
12:30 p.m., The Mill Marine Bistro
Parents can dine on the patio while kids run through water fountains at the adjacent Coal Harbour Waterfront (1199 West Cordova; 604-687-6455; www.millbistro.ca).
2:30 p.m. Granville Island
Once an industrial zone, Granville Island is now a top tourist spot. To avoid bridge traffic, we parked in the Sunset Beach lot and took the False Creek Ferry to the island (604-684-7781; www.granvilleislandferries.bc.ca). Once on shore, we explored the indoor Public Market, a sprawling space with stalls jammed with fresh flowers, seafood and fruit, artists’ studios and eclectic boutiques stocked everything from hats to First Nation’s art. The island also has a free outdoor water park and a Kids’ Market packed with coin-operated games and shops (604-666-5784; www.granvilleisland.com).
5:30 p.m., Kidsbooks
After returning via ferry to the parking lot, we drove to Kitsilano, a progressive neighborhood with a sandy beach, ocean-edge swimming pool, and one of the best children’s bookstores we’ve ever visited (3083 West Broadway; 604-738-5335; www.kidsbooks.ca).
6 p.m., Sophie’s Cosmic Café
This memorabilia-packed eatery has toys to play with and entrees from falafel to perogies (2095 West 4th Avenue; 604-732-6810; www.sophiescosmiccafe.com).
9 a.m., O’Doul’s
Located downstairs from our hotel room at the Listel, O’Doul’s features famous eggs Benedict and other scrumptious daybreak offerings; lunch and dinner also served (1300 Robson Street; 604-661-1400; www.odoulsrestaurant.com).
Noon Sewell’s Sea Safari
Outfitted in red flotation suits, we boarded a 12-passenger, 28-foot inflatable boat for a two-hour tour through the Strait of Georgia. Our playful guide, jetted past scenic mountains and rugged islands. On the trip we saw a seal colony and purple starfish (6409 Bay Street, Horseshoe Bay; 604-921-3474; www.sewellsmarina.com).
2:30 White Spot
This popular Canadian chain serves kids delicious burger in cardboard pirate ships, complete with a gold chocolate coin (752 Marine Drive, West Vancouver; 604-922-4520; www.whitespot.com).
4 p.m. Capilano Suspension Bridge
We ended our trip as we began, with our head in the clouds, this time on a 230-foot-high suspension footbridge. Once across, we wandered through the nature park, then returned to Totem Park to check out the colorful collection. Treetops Adventure entices visitors to explore the west-coast rainforest via a series of elevated suspension bridges, some 100 feet high. (3735 Capilano Road, North Vancouver; 604-985-7474; www.capbridge.com).