Vancouver is a gorgeous city, surrounded by water and ringed by tall snow-capped mountain peaks that seem close enough to touch. This young city enjoys some of the most temperate weather in the world and a staggering amount of natural beauty. You'll find lots to do here, including great indoor attractions such as museums and aquariums, theme parks, shopping, a huge array of dining options, sports, and outdoor activities.
In addition to being a wonderful tourist destination, Vancouver is a family-friendly city. There are a host of options for every type of family vacation and all ages of children. Small children will enjoy the petting zoo and railroad ride in Stanley Park, a visit to Bonkers' indoor play area, or the attractions of Maplewood Farm. Teens might enjoy sports like skiing, river rafting or in-line skating; watching a shoot of the popular "X Files" TV series; or getting an up-close view of orca whales. Kids of all ages will love a swaying walk over the Capilano Suspension Bridge as it towers 230-feet above the canyon floor, and visiting attractions such as the Aquarium and Grouse Mountain.
Before you go, call the Vancouver Travel InfoCentre at (604) 683-2000 and request their information kit. If you'd like to obtain bus passes or sports tickets before you go, Tourism Vancouver is your one-stop shop. They can take care of all your ticketing needs, help you if you're having trouble making hotel reservations, and even handle your booking for you. If you have small children, most of the hotels can help you with babysitting and cribs. If you need other baby items, however, Cribs and Carriages (604-988-2742) can deliver them to your hotel. If you're planning to visit other places within British Columbia, you may want to call Tourism B.C. at (800) 663-6000 or (604) 356-6363.
This is one of North America's largest aquariums with well over 8,000 marine species housed here. Visitors can see orca whales, beluga whales (which will be a real hit for any kids who've heard Raffi's "Baby Beluga"!), sea lions, and sea otters. In the Amazon Gallery, you'll see piranhas, tree frogs, and other fascinating creatures. Plan on spending several hours here -- there's lots to see! The Stanley Park location makes for a perfect day trip. For more information on attractions, hours of operation and admissions charges, call (604) 682-1118.
In Queen Elizabeth Park, you'll find the Bloedel Conservatory with its 360 degree city view. The building, with its 140-foot-high dome, houses a tropical rainforest with over 50 types of exotic birds and about as many interesting plant species. The Conservatory, which also houses a great gift shop, is open 7 days a week and charges $3.25 admission for adults and $1.60 for children 6-18. For more information, call (604) 257-8570.
If it's raining in Vancouver and you need something fun to do, look no further than Bonkers: The Great Canadian Indoor Playground. This indoor play center offers lots of colorful ladders, tunnels, slides and balls perfect for pre-school and school-aged kids up to 12. For more information on admission charges and hours of operation, call (604) 278-7529. Adults can always come in for free!
Capilano Suspension Bridge & Park
This is the city's oldest tourist attraction, and has been popular with the likes of the Rolling Stones, Marilyn Monroe and Margaret Thatcher. This steel-cable and cedar footbridge stretches 450 feet across the Capilano River. As you walk across the swaying bridge, you can look down to see the water thundering 230 feet below your feet! The bridge is privately-owned, and there is a small free for those who wish to cross. The 20-acre park features huge Douglas firs and red cedars, and there's also a great trading post/gift shop, a restaurant, exhibits, and the Totem Park Carving Centre where First Nations caScience World British Columbia
This hands-on science discovery center is really great for kids! You can do things like create a cyclone; blow square bubbles; play music on a synthesizer; walk through a 1,700 square-foot maze; and experience a flight through the Grand Canyon at the Omnimax Theatre. Our kids loved it, and the swarms of other kids we saw there seemed to be having a super time. In addition to being an educational, fun place to visit, this is a great place to go when the weather's not particularly great outside. For more information and hours of operation, call (604) 268-6363. Rvers demonstrate their work. For more information, call (604) 985-7474.
Cliffhanger Indoor Rock Climbing Centre
This is a fun place for kids and teens to experience rock climbing safe from the elements. This attraction is located close to Science World, so you can make a day of these two events. For more information on the centre and programs available, call (604) 874-2400.
This is one of the most popular attractions in Vancouver. The SkyRide tram's cable cars will take you to the 3,700 foot summit, where you'll be rewarded with great views of Vancouver, the Georgia Strait, English Bay and Mount Baker. Make sure to go on a clear day for the best view. You'll also find the Theatre in The Sky, a Kids Adventure Playground, chairlifts to the 4,100 foot-high peak, a restaurant, shops, and summertime demonstrations. Skiing is also available here in the wintertime. For more information on hours and admissions prices, call (604) 984-0661.
Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge
This circa 1912 suspension bridge stretches 225 feet across Lynn Canyon in North Vancouver. It's only half as long as the Capilano Bridge, but it's free and 10 feet higher than its better-known rival. The bridge is located in Lynn Canyon Park, a heavily-wooded park that offers visitors views of towering Douglas firms, good hiking, and a nice ecology centre. For more information, you can call the Ecology Centre at (604) 985-5922.
The 1,000 acre park located in the West End section of Vancouver is an absolute mecca for active families. You'll find cedar forests, wildlife, beautiful water views, and perfect places to bike and roller skate. The Park has a great children's Petting Zoo featuring ponies, peacocks, rabbits, and other animals. When it's hot, head for the heated 2nd Beach Pool overlooking English Bay. The Park is home to the Vancouver Aquarium, beautiful gardens, a long seawall perfect for waterside strolls, beaches, totem poles, a miniature railway, restaurants, and shops. Horse-drawn carriage rides are also available. For more information, call (604) 257-8400.
At this 5 acre farm in North Vancouver, kids can enjoy interacting with over 200 different domestic animals and birds. Our kids loved feeding the ducks and other birds with seed we purchased at the ticket booth. In addition to normal farm and petting zoo-type operations, the farm also hosts special events and attractions such as a Sheep Fair during the summer, a Farm Fair, and events at Halloween and Christmas. For more information on admissions, events, and hours of operation, call (604) 929-5610.
Star Watching in "Hollywood North"
Vancouver is a hot town for shooting film and television productions. As some of you might know, this is the place where "The X-Files" is filmed. In addition, many hit movies including "Legends of the Fall", "Little Women", "Jumanji" and "Intersection" were filmed here. If you'd like to see if anything's going on during your visit, contact the B.C. Film Commission's hot line at (604) 660-3569. A list is also posted at the SeaBus terminal at 601 W.Cordova Street.
Heritage Village and Carousel
This is a beautiful 19-acre re-creation of a Victorian-era village, complete with costumed townspeople and boardwalk streets. You can watch a blacksmith pound his horseshoes, sit in on a class in a one-room schoolhouse, ride a horse on a vintage carousel, and enjoy ice cream at a Victorian ice cream parlour. Special activities also take place each day. For more information, call (604) 293-6501.
Granville Kids Only Market
If your kids love to shop, this is a must-visit on your trip to Vancouver. Granville Island itself is full of shops and restaurants, but this special Kids-Only Market features playrooms and over 20 different child-oriented shops selling books, toys, clothes, food and other items. Parking can be difficult here, so you may want to take the Aquabus or Granville Island ferry over for a more enjoyable ride. Special free events also take place on selected days during the summer. For more information, call (604) 689-8477.
Playland Family Fun Park
Are amusement parks an important part of any of your family's vacations? If so, head for Playland, where you'll find a wooden roller coaster, carousel, the Nintendo Power Zone, miniature golf, and a petting zoo. Daily live shows are also offered. For more information on hours, events and admission costs, call (604) 255-5161.
Pacific Space Centre/Vancouver Museum
At this one site located at 1100 Chestnut Street, you can find exhibits and activities on space, astronomy and history. Visitors can view laser light shows, view the starts from the geosphere's satellite image display, and shoot pictures of the moon through a half-meter telescope (for an extra fee). At the hisotry museum, you'll see antique cars, a mummy, masks, and poisonous darts. For more information on the Space Centre, call (604) 738-7827; for the Museum call (604) 736-4431.
Whistler is an incredibly popular winter skiing destination, having been rated by "Ski", "Snow Country" and "Powder" magazines as North America's best ski resort three years in a row. You'll find lots of variety here. Whistler Mountain has a 5,006 vertical and over 100 marked runs. Blackcomb Mountain offers a 5,280 vertical and another 100 marked runs. The area is located about 75 miles north of Vancouver, and offers winter alpine skiing, snowboarding, and year-round heli-skiing. During the summer, the fun doesn't stop at this beautiful mountain destination. You'll find great hiking, mountain biking, golf, river rafting, and lots of wildlife watching. Great lodging is available at Canadian-Pacific's Chateau Whistler and the Whistler Resort & Club. For more information on the area, call the Whistler Travel InfoCentre at (604) 932-5528.
B.C. Sports Hall of Fame
If you have a sports nut in your family, put this attraction on your must-visit list. You'll view galleries and displays showcasing British Columbia's greatest athletes, but the highlight for families is certainly the Participation Gallery. In this huge playroom, kids can get active in running events, climbing, rowing, racing, and other athletic activities. For more information, call (604) 687-5520. B.C. Ferries to Victoria
If you have some time (especially if you can stay overnight in Victoria), consider taking a ferry trip to Vancouver Island. The most direct route for those staying in Vancouver is the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay route. This 95-minute trip is particularly lovely when the weather is clear, and kids love the trip. Keep a close eye out for the abundant wildlife in this area. There's a restaurant, snack bar, play area, gift shop, and game arcade on board. While in Victoria, you can go orca whale watching (best during the summer months), visit spectacular Butchart Gardens, view the bottom of the harbor at the Pacific Undersea Gardens, go to the Beacon Hill Children's Farm, shop, and visit the Royal London Wax Museum. Allow 5 hours round trip for the travel time between Vancouver and Victoria using this means of transportation. For more information on schedules and other ferry routes available, call (604) 385-3431.
There are so many options for sports and outdoor activities in Vancouver. Mountain biking, jogging and in-line skating are popular year-round. One of the best places to enjoy these activities within the city of Vancouver is in Stanley Park. Other sporting options within the city limits include skiing, parasailing, hiking, golf, fishing, boating, tennis, canoeing, swimming, ice skating, windsurfing and sea kayaking. Outside the city, but within a short drive, are additional world-class skiing options, as well as river rafting, heli-skiing, and diving. Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island is known as the "Graveyard of the Pacific", and according to the Cousteau Society is second only to the Red Sea in dive quality. Wildlife watching in this area is also excellent. During the summer months, orca whales, seals and bald eagles can be easily seen off the islands near Victoria. During January, thousands of the eagles feed on spawning salmon at the Indian Arm fjord and the Squamish, Cheakamus and Mamquam rivers.
1601 West Georgia Street
(800) 228-3000 or (604) 682-3377
This beautiful hotel offers beautiful views of Coal Harbor and its marinas. The West End location near Stanley Park offers the best of both worlds: close to downtown yet wonderfully removed and easily accessible to the Park and the Aquarium. If at all possible, request a room in the tower. The rooms are larger and offer balconies, bigger windows, and exceptional views. The hotel has a nice outdoor pool, an indoor pool, boat and bicycle rentals, restaurants and a small number of shops. Expensive.
FOUR SEASONS HOTEL
791 Georgia Street
(800) 332-3442 or (604) 689-9333
The Four Seasons knows how to do it right for kids, providing them with milk and cookies each night along with their own pint-sized terry bathrobes. You'll find the usual brand of Four Seasons luxury at this premier hotel located in the heart of Vancouver's business district. There's an indoor/outdoor pool, fitness center, and special kids-only room service menus. Very expensive.
HYATT REGENCY VANCOUVER
655 Burrard Street
(800) 233-1234 or (604) 683-1234
This 34-story tower is built over a shopping mall in the middle of Vancouver's business district. Rooms are large, and the corner rooms have balconies with the best views. The hotel features a heated outdoor pool and health club, restaurants, and a small number of shops. Very expensive.
THE SUTTON PLACE HOTEL
845 Burrard Street
(800) 543-4300 or (604) 682-5511
Excellent service is one of the hallmarks of the Sutton Place Hotel. This luxury property, located in downtown Vancouver, offers beautifully-furnished rooms, restaurants, an indoor pool, exercise area, babysitting, in-room movies, and a limited number of shops. Very expensive.
900 W. Georgia Street
(800) 441-1414 or (604) 684-3131
This Canadian Pacific hotel is one of the landmarks of downtown Vancouver. In the style of many of the Canadian Pacific properties, it has a beautiful chateau-style roof, lots of interior marble, old-style high ceilings and lots of spaciousness. The informal ground-floor restaurant is especially nice for families. The hotel offers an indoor pool, a wading pool, a health club and jacuzzi, babysitting, restaurants, shops, and a host of other amenities. At this time, some of the areas and rooms in the Hotel Vancouver are being renovated. Please make sure to ask for a renovated room located away from any current work areas. Expensive.
2030 Barclay Street
This converted apartment building offers a great option for families desiring additional space and kitchen conveniences. Each suite has a living room, separate dining room, a full-sized kitchen, and one or two bedrooms. Cots and cribs are available, and some of the suites have fireplaces. Moderately expensive.
QUALITY INN DOWNTOWN
1335 Howe Street
(800) 663-8474 or (604) 682-0229
This is an excellent, moderately-priced choice for families in the downtown Vancouver area. One-bedroom suites at this property tend to be large and have fully equipped kitchens. There is also a casual restaurant on-site which is nice for families as well. Request rooms on the back side of the building if possible to avoid proximity to the Granville Bridge on-ramp. Children under 18 stay free in parents' room. Moderate.
PACIFIC PALISADES HOTEL
1277 Robson Street
(800) 663-1815 or (604) 688-0461
This is another good, moderately-priced choice for families. Studio, executive, and penthouse suites are available. Some of the units have full kitchens, but those with just kitchenettes are equipped with microwaves and coffeemakers. The hotel offers an indoor Olympic lap pool, bicycle rentals, in-room movies, and laundry services. Children under 18 stay free in parents' room. Moderate.
1154 Gilford Street
This relatively inexpensive hotel is a great bet for families -- but make summer reservations far in advance. The price, size of rooms and location of this property make it very popular. The hotel is located just a few blocks from Stanley Park overlooking the beach. The views from the upper floors are (obviously) the best. Suites have full kitchens, and are great for families looking for more room and the opportunity to save money by eating-in. Children under 18 staying in parents' room stay free. Inexpensive.
THE HOTEL AT THE YWCA
733 Beatty Street
(800) 663-1424 or (604) 662-8188
This is another great option for families on a limited budget. This 12-story hotel is located in downtown Vancouver across the street from the B.C. Place Stadium. Bedrooms are furnished simply, and some have televisions. The building contains three TV lounges, a laundry, and free access to the YWCA Fitness Centre which is about a 15-minute walk from the hotel. There are no restaurants in the building, but quite a number are located nearby. Inexpensive.
BEACHSIDE BED AND BREAKFAST REGISTRY
4208 Evergreen Avenue, West Vancouver
(800) 563-3311 or (604) 922-7773
If you're looking for bed & breakfast options in and around Vancouver, give Gordon and Joan Gibbs a call. Their registry can arrange for accommodations in Vancouver, the Whistler Mountain area, and Victoria, to name a few. This registry personally inspects every one of the properties they represent, so they are very knowledgeable about features and suitability to your particular situation. A wide variety of price ranges are available.
OLD SPAGHETTI FACTORY
53 Water Street
This family-style restaurant in a renovated grocery warehouse contains lots of vintage stuff for kids to look at and an old electric trolley car in the main seating area. In addition to nine different types of spaghetti, you can get lasagne, veal parmigiana, steak, burgers, and other entrees. Kids get their own menus for ordering and coloring. Inexpensive.
1 Water Street
The "brothers" in the name of this restaurant refers to the old monastery setting and the Franciscan style "monks" who are your servers. The restaurant offers large portions of prime rib, steak, lobster and other seafood, burgers and pasta. There's also an oyster bar. Kids get balloons and their own kids menus. Inexpensive.
1540 Old Bridge Street, Granville Island
This restaurant places an emphasis on natural foods, including seafood, vegetarian and meat dishes. The food was fresh and inventive. Entrees include burgers, sandwiches, salads, pastas, and stir-fry dishes. There's also a children's menu featuring burgers and pizzas and a play area available. Inexpensive.
THE FISH HOUSE
2099 Beach Avenue, Stanley Park
This became one of our favorite restaurants in Vancouver because of the wonderful atmosphere, great seafood, and good kids menu. The restaurant is housed in a converted clubhouse located next to the tennis courts, and surrounded by huge cedar trees, gardens, golf and lawn-bowling greens. Inside, you can choose from tables in an airy garden room with a view of the greens, or in a cozy room near the fireplace. The food is fresh and innovative, and the grilled Ahi tuna steak with buttermilk mashed potatoes is to die for. The kids' menu offers fish 'n chips, grilled cheese sandwiches, pasta, and chicken. Save room for dessert! Money saving tip: if you can, get here between 5-6 p.m. for their 2-for-1 dinner specials. Moderate.
ROMANO'S MACARONI GRILL
1523 Davie Street, West End
This casual Italian restaurant is housed in the West End's earliest mansion built in the early 1900's by sugar baron B.T. Rogers. It features entrees including many varieties of hearty pasta dishes, veal scalloppini, chicken dishes, pizzas, and other similar fare. Portions are large, and the kids' menu offerings are good as well. The best part, however, is that you can use crayons to draw on the paper tablecloths -- and your waiters will help, too! The Macaroni Grill is a fun place to go for good food. Moderate.
803 Thurlow Street
This chain restaurant has a branch located in the heart of downtown Vancouver. If you're looking for a wide variety of fun food and a kid-friendly environment, this can be a good choice. There are over 100 items on the menu, from light appetizers like nachos and potato skins to full dinners like salmon, steak, and pastas. A kids' menu offering pizza, burgers, grilled cheese and hot dogs is also available. Inexpensive.
HARD ROCK CAFE
686 W. Hastings Street
This branch of the Hard Rock chain is located in an old downtown bank building. You'll find lots of rock 'n roll memorabilia gilding the walls and a Bucker Biplane hanging from the ceiling. The restaurant offers a wide range of light fare, pastas, seafood, and big burgers. A kids' menu is also available, and the usual trademark Hard Rock merchandise is sold here as well. Moderate.
801 Pacific Street
If you're in the mood for a ribs feast, this is a good place to go. You'll find five different types of ribs including Original Baby Back Ribs, Blue Ridge Smokies, Carolina Honeys, Bountiful Beef Ribs, and Tony Roma's Red Hots. The restaurant also offers other dishes including chicken, grilled seafood, steaks, burgers, and salads. A special kids' menu is available. Take-out or delivery to your hotel room is also an option. Moderate.
CLOUD NINE REVOLVING RESTAURANT
1400 Robson Street, on top of the Landmark Hotel
We've always found that our kids love these types of "revolving restaurant" concepts. The constantly-changing view helps to keep them occupied before the main meal comes, and we can always look down and find places we've been or things we'd like to see. Come to this restaurant on a clear day for a great view. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. Dinner specialties include prime rib, filet mignon, rack of lamb, and grilled salmon. We chose to come here for breakfast to enjoy the experience at the lowest expense. Expensive.
THE TEA HOUSE RESTAURANT
Ferguson Point, Stanley Park
If you're looking for a romantic dinner option, this is one of the best in Vancouver. This restaurant is tucked away in a secluded part of Stanley Park. If the weather is nice, reserve a table out on the terrace and watch the sun set over Vancouver Island. It's unforgettable. The food here is also good, and includes rack of lamb, game dishes, and seafood. The B.C. salmon is excellent. Expensive.
Here are a few tips to think about when planning your trip:
* Check with the Vancouver Travel InfoCentre at (604) 683-2000 before your trip. They can send you a free complete information package, and Tourism Vancouver offers a one-stop shop for purchasing all bus passes, sports and entertainment tickets.
* The climate in Vancouver tends to be temperate all year round. Be aware, however, that Vancouver has the potential for cool, rainy weather. We visited the city in late July when the temperature was expected to be in the high 70's to low 80's and sunny. Unfortunately, as soon as we arrived, the weather became cold and dismal with daytime high temperatures in the low 50's. Since we hadn't planned for this type of weather, we ended up purchasing some sweatshirts and an umbrella. Try to pack accordingly, and do bring a light jacket for the evening in the summer months. For weather updates, call (604) 664-9010 or (604) 664-9032.
* Public transportation in Vancouver includes electrically powered buses, the magnetic rail SkyTrain, and the SeaBus catamaran ferries. All of these modes of transportation are fun for kids, and they're also relatively inexpensive. Try to use them whenever possible, as parking in the city can really be expensive. Schedules and routes for public transportation are available at the Travel InfoCentres and at many of the major hotels.
* If you will be arriving and departing Vancouver by plane, be aware that there is currently a $10 per person airport expansion tax collected upon departure. Budget accordingly.
* "High season" in Vancouver is June through mid-September. This is typically when the weather is at its best (it tends to rain more during the winter), the gardens are blooming, the orcas are frolicking in Victoria, and the tourists are out in force. Special packages and lower hotel prices are available during other times of the year, which means ski season in Vancouver can be a really great deal. If you can swing it (and you don't mind the possibility of misty, light rain or snow up in the mountains), think about coming to Vancouver during the off-season.
* Quite a large number of Vancouver hotels, including some of the most expensive ones, participate in the Entertainment Club and Traveler's Advantage programs. When space is available, membership in these clubs allows you to book a room at 50% off the standard rack rate. It is important, however, to verify your savings by calling the hotel directly to see if they are offering any specials or package deals that might be cheaper than the "club price" you've been quoted. To get more information on Traveler's Advantage, look for their site on America Online (keyword: Travelers Advantage). The site has a listing of hotels that participate in the Vancouver area, as well as information on how to sign up for the program. For information on the Entertainment Club, call Entertainment Publications at 800-285-5525. Special books with discounts on dining and attractions, as well as the 50% off listings, are available for specific states or major destinations.