Vancouver is a family-friendly city (well, except for some bits of Granville Street after dark), and there’s always something for the kids to do, and it’s usually something that has them burning off energy.
To give kids an overview of the city, with clanging bells for special effect, take the trolley tour offered by Vancouver Trolley Company (tel. 888/451-5581 or 604/801-5515; www.vancouvertrolley.com). Gas-powered trolleys run through Downtown, Chinatown, the West End, and Stanley Park.
Stanley Park offers a number of attractions for children, including a fabulous and free Spray Park near Lumberman’s Arch. Some of the most popular options include the Miniature Railway, the totem poles at Brockton Point, and the immense oceanside pool at Second Beach. Oh—and don’t forget the horsedrawn carriage rides that begin near Lost Lagoon. Your kids will also get a kick out of what appear to be giant bronze trolls, but are actually a sculpture called “A-maze-ing Laughter,” by Chinese artist Yue Minjun. It comprises several giant figures making faces (laughing hysterically, according to the artist) in a ring near the south entrance to the park. People tend to love it or hate it, but your kids will probably find it as funny as the artist did.
Also in Stanley Park, the Vancouver Aquarium has sea otters, sea lions, whales, penguins, and numerous other marine creatures, as well as many exhibits and special programs geared to children. If you can, see if you can join one of the fun slumber parties.
On the East Side and easily accessible by SkyTrain, Science World at TELUS World of Science is a terrific interactive kids’ museum where budding scientists can get their hands into everything. Afterwards, they’ll love hopping onto one of the small foot passenger ferries that scoot around False Creek to destinations like the Museum of Vancouver in Vanier Park and Granville Island.
Granville Island especially provides enough activities to keep the whole family busy for the whole day. In May, it’s the site of the annual Vancouver International Children’s Festival, which is a great time for the short set to visit. Even if you can’t make it to the fest, the Carousel Theatre for Young People offers terrific children’s programming year round. The Kids Market has playrooms and shops filled with toys, books, kites, clothes, and food, and the nearby waterpark has movable water guns and sprinklers as well as water slides and a wading pool. There are loads of yummy snacks to be had at the Granville Island Public Market (plus candy and ice cream), and seagulls to chase on the wharf outside. And there are always boats to explore in the busy marina if you get bored of everything else.
Meanwhile, over at Vanier Park, there are three great venues to explore: the Museum of Vancouver, Vancouver Maritime Museum, and H.R. MacMillan Space Centre (better known as the planetarium).
Over on the North Shore, Maplewood Farm (405 Seymour River Place, North Vancouver; tel. 604/929-5610; www.maplewoodfarm.bc.ca) has more than 200 barnyard animals from cows to chickens living on its 2-hectare (5-acre) farm. Your kids will love playing farmer for a day. There’s also the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park and the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge, as well as the hiking trails (in summer) and ski slopes (in winter) of Mount Seymour, Cypress Mountain, and Grouse Mountain Resort.
In Richmond, they’ll enjoy the interactive learning experience—it involves hooking and tossing fake fish, and who doesn’t enjoy that?—of the Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site, as well as the fun of hanging out at the marina in the fishing village of Steveston. It’s also a good spot to hop aboard a whale-watching excursion. Further out in Fraser Valley, a couple of great historic sites offer lots of fun for the whole family: Burnaby Village Museum and the Fort Langley National Historic Site.
And if you’re in town during the summer months, head to Playland at the Pacific National Exhibition grounds (Hastings and Renfrew sts.; tel. 604/253-2311; www.pne.ca). There are rides, games, stuffed animals to be won, a special area for the littlest kids, and those little donuts everyone loves so much. What could be more fun in the summertime? One-day “Playpass” C$33. Open May through September daily 10am to 6pm.
For even more ideas, pick up Tourism Vancouver’s Kids’ Guide at Granville Island’s Kids Market and the visitor center at 200 Burrard St.