Biking on the seawall of a 1,000-acre park with stunning views of mountains and water. Traversing a suspension bridge over a forested canyon. Sampling Asian food in a sleek mall that could be in China. The Northwest’s most cosmopolitan city — The New York Times has called Vancouver, B.C. “Manhattan with mountains” — offers every possible type of adventure to families. In addition to its spectacular setting, the city’s extraordinary cultural diversity gives it an international flavor that’s anything but stodgy, even in the English-influenced downtown core. (Note: Prices are in Canadian dollars.)
WHAT TO DO: 10 Top Adventures
1. Stanley Park
West End • Park is free; aquarium $15–$29; ages 3 and under, free • 604-873-7000
Vancouver’s beloved outdoor playground — all 1,000 acres of it — could warrant days of exploration. Most family attractions are located in the southeast corner, where kids can ride a miniature train, splash at the Variety Kids Water Park (open June 1–Sept. 1) and tour a totem pole park. For a one-of-a-kind active adventure, pedal part — or all — of the 13-mile pedestrian path on the seawall that surrounds Stanley Park; find bike rental shops on nearby Denman Street.
Pair with: The world-class Vancouver Aquarium (845 Avison Way), also in Stanley Park, which draws families to exhibits such as the Wild Coast (featuring white-sided dolphins, orphaned sea otters, rehabilitated harbor porpoises and more), the Tropic Zone and interactive shows.
2. Granville Island Public Market
1689 Johnston St. • Free • 604-666-6655
Vancouver’s lively indoor public market, located on a small “island” that you can access via boat or car, features artisan shops and food vendors reflecting Vancouver’s multiculturalism. Top picks include a European hot dog from Kaisereck Deli, Indian curry from Curry2U or a ganache tart at Stuart’s Bakery. Don’t miss the separate Kids Market (1496 Cartwright St.) with indie shops for small fry, an Adventure Zone (best for ages 2 and up) and Canada’s biggest free water park (open May 19–Sept. 1).
Pair with: The journey there. Putter from Sunset Beach Park near downtown to Granville Island on a tiny Aquabus or False Creek ferry. After visiting the market, catch another boat to Science World, at the east side of False Creek.
3. Science World at Telus World of Science
1455 Quebec St. • $15.25–$22.50; ages 3 and under, free; free for Pacific Science Center members (bring ID and member card) • 604-443-7440
Science World’s geodesic-dome-shaped building on the edge of False Creek draws tweens and younger kids with its multiple interactive galleries. Experiment with light, sound and motion in the Eureka! Gallery. Power a drum with your heartbeat in the Bodyworks Gallery and watch a science show on the outdoor stage at the Ken Spencer Science Park. Preschoolers have their own KidSpace Gallery.
Pair with: Play time next door at Creekside Park’s playground on the cool rope-climbing apparatus.
4. Museum of Anthropology
6393 N.W. Marine Drive (University of British Columbia campus) • $14.50–$16.75; ages 6 and under, free • 604-827-5932
Located on the stunning UBC campus overlooking the Strait of Georgia, the Museum of Anthropology is a window into cultures around the world, most notably, B.C.’s First Nations. Start in the airy Great Gallery for awe- inspiring large-scale totems, canoes and sculptures. Browse colorful masks, traditional clothing and bright carvings in the Multiversity Galleries. Haida artist Bill Reid’s monumental sculpture Raven and the First Men is a highlight.
Pair with: UBC’s Nitobe Memorial Garden, among the top five Japanese gardens outside Japan (1895 Lower Mall); or, for older kids, an adventure on the new Greenheart Canopy Walkway (check website for bundled admission rates to gardens and museum).
Keefer St. and Main St. • Free to browse • 604-632-3808
One of the largest in North America, Vancouver’s Chinatown is a bustling, traditional district with open-air mom-and-pop shops selling dried fish, spices and fresh fruits, kitschy trinkets and Chinese treats. Note that the popular night market, typically held on summer weekends, is on hiatus in 2014. However, the larger Richmond Night Market will be in action (click here for more on this, plus other Vancouver food adventures).
Pair with: A walk through Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Park and Garden (578 Carrall St.), a lovely public park with stone pathways, ponds and ornate landscaping. The park is free; the garden is not.
6. Kitsilano Beach and Pool
2305 Cornwall Ave. • Beach is free; pool $2.86–$5.67 per person; ages 2 and under, free • 604-873-7000
Kitsilano Beach — “Kits” to locals — offers a sandy beach and adjacent heated saltwater pool with three slides and a shallow area. The mountains-and-water views are spectacular. Fair warning: Kits gets crowded on hot summer days.
Pair with: A homemade, locally sourced cone at Rain or Shine Ice Cream (1926 W. Fourth Ave.), a 10-minute walk from the beach. Try the vegan yumaste sundae (coconut ice cream and toppings) or the blueberry balsamic ice cream.
7. Jericho Beach
Discovery St. • Free • 604-873-7000
If Kits Beach is too busy, drive 10 minutes along West Fourth Avenue to the beach at Jericho Park. There’s no heated pool here, but the park offers plenty of green space for running, a beach, concessions, a playground — and the same wonderful views.
Pair with: Lunch at Moderne Burger (2507 W. Broadway), a 1950s-style burger diner with great shakes; or Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. (1876 W. First Ave.) for artisan pizza and a kids’ menu. Both are in Kitsilano.
8. Capilano Suspension Bridge Park
3735 Capilano Rd. • $12–$31.95; ages 5 and under, free • 604-985-7474
Swing across a canyon on a 230-foot-high suspension bridge into the heart of this forested 27-acre park, 10 minutes north of downtown Vancouver. Woodsy boardwalks, the cantilevered Cliffwalk tucked against a granite rock face, and a Story Centre profiling Capilano’s early history introduce families to Vancouver’s thriving coastal rain forest. Kids will love the Treetops Adventure treehouse and its seven aerial bridges suspended among massive trees.
Pair with: A visit to the raptor birds exhibit — hawks, falcons and owls — near the Nature’s Edge Boardwalk (weekends from May 18, every day June 22–Sept. 2).
9. Grouse Mountain Skyride
6400 Nancy Greene Way, North Vancouver • $13.95–$39.95; ages 4 and under, free • 604-984-0661
Just five minutes up the road from Capilano Suspension Bridge is Grouse Mountain, Vancouver’s highest peak, with unparalleled views of Greater Vancouver. Hop the Skyride (leaves every 15 minutes) for an eight-minute cruise up to Peak Chalet. Or if you’re adventurous (and fit), hike the Grouse Grind, a 1.8-mile trail that gains 2,800 feet. From Peak Chalet, ascend to the summit at 4,100 feet via the Peak Chairlift (must be 3 feet 3 inches tall).
Pair with: Eye of the Wind, a wind turbine with an enclosed glass viewing tower for 360-degree views from Grouse’s summit (via the Peak Chairlift). Check website for admission bundles that include chairlift, wind turbine and zip line.
10. International Buddhist Temple
9160 Steveston Highway, Richmond • Free; open daily • 604-274-2822 ∙
Just a few minutes from the Aberdeen Centre in Richmond, 20 minutes south of Vancouver, the International Buddhist Temple is a tranquil oasis of outdoor gardens, warm colors and the largest Buddha in North America. Keep in mind it’s not a place for loud voices or running.
Pair with: Richmond’s Aberdeen Centre for trinket shopping, a grocery store with more kinds of seaweed than you can imagine and truly authentic Chinese food (more on Vancouver food here). Kids will especially love Gacha Gacha Hobby and Toys.
4 insider tips for Vancouver
1. Getting there
From Seattle, consider arriving via train on the Amtrak Cascades, a journey with breathtaking Puget Sound views. Another good option is the cheap, quick Bolt Bus. Whether you fly, drive or go by train, don’t forget your passport or other necessary documents.
2. Getting Around
With its compact downtown and top-notch public transportation system, it’s possible, and arguably more fun, to ditch the car in Vancouver. For the best value, buy day passes for unlimited travel on TransLink, which operates buses, SkyTrain and SeaBus.
3. Find deals
Stop in at Tourism Vancouver’s Visitor Centre (200 Burrard St.) to ask about discounts on admissions, family rates, adventure products, sightseeing tours and lift tickets. Some museums also offer discounts on specific days, such as the Museum of Anthropology’s $9 Tuesday rate.
4. No more pennies
Canadian pennies were phased out in February. Purchases are now rounded up or down to the nearest five cents for cash payments; cards are charged exact price.
What to eat: 3 Vancouver food adventures
1. Small plates, Japanese style
Why: You can’t leave Vancouver without sampling izakaya, tapas-style plates of savory skewers, noodles, sushi and edamame in an informal Japanese “pub” setting.
Find it: The cheerful Guu with Garlic downtown (1698 Robson St.) makes a great kid stop for naan pizza, udon and kimchi, as does Guu Original Thurlow (838 Thurlow St.). Try Kingyo (871 Denman St.) for sushi and green-tea-Japanese–lime gelato.
2. Sublime Malaysian
Why: Your visit to Vancouver is an opportunity to try a new-to-you complex cuisine that blends several cultures of Southeast Asia, including Indian, Chinese and Malay.
Find it: Go to Banana Leaf, with five locations in Vancouver; try the cozy Denman Street location, which mimics a Malaysian house with shutters and carved doors. Best bets include roti canai, a flaky chapati-like bread kids love, and delectable seafood, chicken satay and kid-friendly rice dishes.
3. Straight-from-China cuisine
Why: One of the most authentic places to experience Asian culture and cuisine is Richmond, a small city a SkyTrain ride away from Vancouver with a population that is 65 percent Asian.
Find it: The Food Court at Richmond’s shiny Aberdeen Centre (4151 Hazelbridge Way) is a taster’s paradise, with udon soup, Chinese noodles, bubble waffles, dumplings, Taiwanese shaved ice at Frappe Bliss and much, much more. Head back in the evening for the amazing Night Market, reputed to be the largest such market in North America (weekends May 16–Oct. 13).
Where to stay: Best family-friendly Vancouver lodging
1. Blue Horizon Hotel
1225 Robson St. • $103 and up • 800-663-1333
Located in the heart of Vancouver’s West End, near Stanley Park, the sleek Blue Horizon offers a pool, an on-site restaurant, and spacious rooms with mini fridges, TVs and free Wi-Fi. Ask for a Superior room (fourteenth floor and up) for fabulous skyline views. Picnics from the restaurant and bike rentals are available.
2. The Residence Inn by Marriott
1234 Hornby St. • $144 and up • 877-515-4135 • 604-688-1234
Just a few blocks from Granville Island, this extended-stay Marriott offers spacious suite-style rooms, full kitchens, free Wi-Fi, a complimentary hot breakfast buffet and a pool.
3. Times Square Suites
1821 Robson St. • $183 and up • 877-684-2223
You’ll find one- and two-bedroom apartment-style suites with kitchens, washers and dryers, TVs, free Wi-Fi, and a rooftop patio with a barbecue. Located on a tree-lined section of Robson, two blocks from Stanley Park, the hotel is across the street from grocery shopping and restaurants.
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