This is a guest post from Lora Shinn, is a mom to two kids (age 4 and age 10) and a freelance writer for regional and national magazines. She now blogs about Northwest family travel at CascadiaKids.com. Her new book, “Northwest Kid Trips,” offers a whole chapter on Vancouver’s best kid-friendly activities, restaurants and shops. Here are her picks for a family trip to Vancouver.
The museum’s signature silver geodesic dome is home to two floors of innovative science experiments. Dance on a giant keyboard, build power on a giant rotating windmill and climb inside a wild animal’s home (no rabies shots necessary). If you’re a member of your local science museum, you’ll get into Science World for free — check the list of participating museums at astc.com for more details.
Arapaima fish twice the size of your toddler? Sleek sharks cutting through water, inches from your kids’ fingertips? The largest aquarium in Canada, the Vancouver Aquarium, is a two-story winner, filled to the gills with belugas, candy-colored tropical fish and poisonous swimmers. One tip: if you haven’t found the “Clownfish Cove” within an hour of arrival, ask a helpful staff member for directions. This preschooler-friendly niche is sometimes difficult to find, but it’s worth seeking out.
Canadians of Chinese descent make up 20% percent of Vancouver’s total population, and Vancouver’s Chinese restaurants, toy shops and bakery shops offer serendipitous delights. Head to Chinatown to enjoy Sunday morning dim sum, then browse for Pokemon toys, pick up exotic fruit and bribe the kids with a pineapple-filled treat. Summer evenings bring the gregarious Chinatown Night Market, and year-round, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden enchants with classical Chinese architecture, comical turtles and free tea.
There’s so much to do here, Stanley Park almost deserves a devoted entry all to itself (hmm…). Bike the park’s seawall on a rented trail-a-bike, visit the Lost Lagoon Nature House, jump aboard a miniature Canadian transcontinental train, and splash ‘n’ dash at the Variety Kids Water Park. On summer weekends, find out whether the park’s Malkin Bowl is hosting a family-friendly concert.
If your daughter loves historical novels, bring her here for a circa-1920 lifestyle reenactment. The Burnaby Village Museum is primarily outdoors, and works as a small, restored village, complete with school, city streets, a movie theater and ice cream shop. The open hours vary, but summer and Christmas seasons show off Burnaby Village at its best. My son loves the 1912 carousel, which circles faster than your average modern carousel. “Back in my day, our carousels went so fast that our wooden teeth fell out…”
Granville Island Kids Market hosts over 20 shops offering stuff and services for kids: bookstores, toyshops, kite stores, clothing boutiques, hairstylists and a two-story climbing-adventure tower. Even reluctant kids can be convinced to leave this playland-like structure with promises of a walk outside. The peaceful grounds surrounding the market contain playgrounds, a wooden boat structure and bird-filled marshy ponds.
If you don’t have time to visit the world-famous blooms in Butchart Gardens in Victoria, BC (a two-hour ferry ride away), make an effort to bring the kids to VanDusen Botanical Garden. You’ll find 55 acres to run wild in, thousands of flowers, and a challenging hedge maze. Wear very comfortable shoes – the terrain is as diverse as the botanicals. VanDusen’s website lists family programs, a great way to explore the garden with experts.
At the Vancouver Maritime Museum, learn how the first seagoing explorers reached local shores — and why so many ships wrecked in local waters. Dress up like a pirate, spend a few minutes in a below-deck recreation and try on a pair of Inuit sunglasses. In the Children’s Discovery Centre, the kids can steer a tugboat and try on a vintage metal diving helmet. Tip: The museum’s vintage schooner is definitely worth touring, but help your little ones go up the steep ladders and down narrow hallways.
Families gather at Kitsilano Beach and Pool from May through September to swim in the saltwater pool and enjoy views of Vancouver’s slopes and skyline. The water’s heated to a gentle 77 degrees Fahrenheit, and swimmers can gaze out from the infinity-style waters at Vancouver’s gorgeous English Bay, framed by mountains.
As a kid, the Capilano Suspension Bridge – 230 feet above the canyon floor — terrified and delighted me. As an adult, this bridge still terrifies and delights me. But the caretakers have added new educational features since my childhood. I love the “Treetops Experience” that allows you to walk 650 of gangplank-style walkways among towering evergreens.
Photo credit for all shots in this post except the first one goes to Lora Shinn.
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