Vancouver, the largest city in western Canada, stands out for its spectacular natural beauty and its cosmopolitan charm. The city’s art, culture, and food reflect its multi-ethnic character, one that incorporates the traditions of many peoples.
In Vancouver, you and your family can bike and stroll parks, relax on beaches, admire totem poles and First Nations art, go whale-watching, cross suspension bridges for a bird’s eye view of the rainforest, and shop along trendy Robson Street.
Here are 10 of the best things to do in Vancouver with kids.
Explore Stanley Park
Every great city comes with an impressive urban park. In Vancouver’s gem, a nearly 1,000-acre West Coast rainforest, you and your family can hike trails that wind through thickets of tall hemlock, fir, spruce, and cedar trees.
Cycle and walk a nearly six-mile seawall that hugs the shore. Catch some sun on the beaches (Second Beach has an outdoor pool), admire totem poles, and learn about marine life at the aquarium.
Stanley Park’s totem poles, rising tall among the trees, are star attractions. Long before Europeans came to North America, indigenous First Nations people inhabited the land.
You can see several totem poles at Brockton Point. A First Nations’ gateway constructed by the Coast Salish people—three carved, wooden planks—serves as a welcoming portal to the Brockton Point Visitor Centre.
Another Stanley Park icon is the sculpture Raven: Spirit of Transformation, carved from a Douglas fir stump by aboriginal artist Richard Krentz. The piece is located at the Miniature Railway Plaza.
Stanley Park Brewing, an outdoor restaurant and pub in the park, is a good place for lunch or snacks. Kids should enjoy the cheeseburgers, pizza, fish tacos, and nachos. You can sample the brewery’s noteworthy craft beers, too.
Visit the Vancouver Aquarium
The Vancouver Aquarium, also in Stanley Park, reigns as Canada’s largest aquarium. Exhibits focus on aquatic life off Canada’s shores as well as marine life from other regions.
At the Pacific Canada Pavilion, view herring, halibut, crabs, and other critters inhabiting Vancouver’s waters in a two-level tank.
At Treasures of the BC Coast, eyeball octopus, rockfish, and sea cucumbers. At Wondrous Jellies, watch colorful, undulating jellyfish float up and down. African penguins waddle on land but swim gracefully in the water at Penguin Point.
Walk through an Amazon rainforest with a regularly scheduled “thunderstorm” and see sloths, frogs, and scarlet ibis. Kids can gently handle sea cucumbers, pink starfish, and green anemones at the Touch Pools.
Hungry? Choose from the Aquarium’s Upstream Bar + Grill or dine in or get a takeout picnic lunch from the aquarium’s Bicycle Bistro.
Sunbathe & Kayak on English Bay
You’ll find plenty of locals at English Bay Beach, also called First Beach. The strand is the most popular in Vancouver because of the beach’s downtown location and splendid views of one of the best skylines in the world. You can rent kayaks, beach umbrellas, and chairs.
For lunch, try the onsite Cactus Club Café. Although the beach lies outside Stanley Park, English Bay Beach connects to the popular park via the seawall.
Stroll, Shop, & Eat in Chinatown
For more than 135 years, Vancouver’s Chinatown has nurtured Chinese immigrants and supported Chinese businesses. In 2011, Canada granted Vancouver’s Chinatown National Historic Site status.
Take in the sights and tastes of this culturally significant area, whose main commercial section is bordered by East Pender Street, Gore Avenue, East Georgia Street, and Carrall Street.
Kids will appreciate Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, a neighborhood oasis modeled after a Ming Dynasty Scholar Garden. The twisting paths slow your steps, encouraging you to focus on the space near you. Admire koi ponds, 150-year-old miniature trees, plants, and rock gardens.
Treat your kids to a lunch of dim sum, a Chinese meal of dumplings, buns, and other small plates. Good choices include two classic Chinatown restaurants.
At Jade Dynasty, don’t miss the crystal prawns and at Floata Seafood Restaurant, try the shrimp dumplings, scallop dumplings, and steamed pork buns. Join the line at New Town Bakery & Restaurant, famous for its BBQ pork buns, steamed buns, and apple tarts.
What better place to purchase fine teas than in Chinatown? Treasure Green Tea Company sources its premium brews from China and also sells teaware, as does The Chinese Tea Shop.
At Chinese herbal shops such as Cheung Sing Herbal, Hang Hing Herbal Medicine, and Hang Loong Herbal Products, learn about the healing powers of ginseng, ginger, and other spices.
Like many neighborhoods, Chinatown experienced periods of growth, stasis, and decline. In 1886 about 90 Chinese residents lived on Carrall Street and Dupont Street, now called East Pender Street. More settlers came to live and work along Canton Alley and Shanghai Alley.
Many labored in British Columbia’s farms, mines, logging camps, and canneries. Because of a tax on Chinese immigrants passed in 1885, and limits on Chinese immigration from 1923 to 1947, Chinatown declined. The area experienced a resurgence in the 1970s and 1980s when refugees fleeing Hong Kong arrived.
But by the 1990s, Chinese products and foods became available in other parts of Vancouver, causing another economic downturn. Despite challenges, Chinatown survives with historic buildings, decades-old restaurants and shops, and new ones. Chinatown remains an essential part of Vancouver’s cultural heritage.
Admire First Nations Art and Totem Poles
The University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology houses a world-class Northwest Coast First Nations art collection.
Visiting the museum is one of the best things to do in Vancouver with kids. The award-winning building with its tall glass walls also showcases a collection of large totem poles.
Intricately carved with ravens, bears, killer whales, and birds, the impressive totem poles tell stories of a family or a nation.
Also impressive is The Raven and the First Men, by noted Haida artist Bill Reid. The work depicts a raven pecking at a clamshell, prying it open to coax the first men into the world.
Outside, framed against a background of mountains and the sea, tall memorial poles guard a Haida longhouse. The arrangement allows you and your kids to see just how majestic these totems look in the outdoors, the setting for which they were designed.
You won’t soon forget the thrilling sight of a whale breaching the sea or slapping the water with its fluke. Some pods of orcas, or killer whales, inhabit the Salish Sea that borders Vancouver.
Canada is known for being one of the best places to spot whales in their natural habitat, and the prime whale-watching season runs from March to October.
In spring, look for humpbacks migrating north to Alaska; in fall, spot them heading south to Mexico. Sometimes gray and minke whales head into Vancouver’s waters, but mostly, those species stay in the open ocean.
A whale-watching tour is not just about whales. En route to the feeding grounds, you’re likely to come across harbor seals, sea lions, porpoises, great blue herons, cormorants, and maybe even a bald eagle. Most Vancouver whale-watching boats launch from Granville Island.
Explore Granville Island
Exploring Granville Island, a rejuvenated industrial area, is one of the best things to do in Vancouver with kids. The fun starts with getting there. Instead of boarding a bus or a taxi, hop on a ferry or a wind-in-your-hair 15 to 20-minute cruise.
Granville Island entices kids and teens with its food, shopping, and setting. Several former warehouses contain craft shops and workspaces. Peruse hand-blown glass vases, pottery, stained glass, whimsical sculptures, jewelry, wooden furniture, and more.
For First Nations artwork, visit Eagle Spirit Gallery, and Granville Island Treasures, which also sells clothing and jewelry.
Foodies love the indoor Public Market with its stalls of fresh seafood, produce, and artisanal cheeses. Kids like the pastries and real Canadian syrup, a great take-home treat.
Stop by Terra Bread for fresh loaves, Zara’s Deli for sandwiches, Chau Veggie Express for Vietnamese-style vegetarian dishes, and Pizza Pzazz for tasty slices.
Beyond the market, kids have fun running through the sprays and fountains at the Granville Island Water Park. Teens might enjoy listening to the Ecuadorian flute players, violinists, and other impromptu musical groups that add to Granville Island’s lively scene.
Get Your Thrills at Capilano Suspension Bridge & Treetops Adventure Park
“Yes, you can.” That’s what you tell yourself as you face down the Capilano Suspension Bridge, around eight miles from downtown.
Crossing the gently swaying, 450-foot-long platform that hangs 230 feet above the Capilano River is exhilarating. Once you relax, you can smell the surrounding cedar forest.
Experience Vancouver’s nature at the park’s Treetops Adventure. Each of eight relatively short spans of elevated bridges, some as high as 110 feet, connect you to a platform surrounding a 250-year-old fir tree, affording you what the park calls a “squirrel’s” experience of scampering tree to tree.
Then there’s the Cliffwalk, perfect for thrill-seeking teens and parents. You walk suspended, narrow walkways that curve out from a granite cliff, thrusting you into the rainforest.
Get Hands-on at Science World
There are hundreds of interactive exhibits at Science World. At BodyWorks, kids learn about their bodies by constructing a human skeleton before a buzzer goes off, and by peering through microscopes to learn about DNA genetics.
In the Puzzles and Illusions exhibit, kids challenge themselves to untangle metal loops and to position pegs correctly to get a toy to climb. At Tinkering Space: The WorkSafeBC gallery, budding engineers can use sticks, blocks, and other items to create structures.
Outside at The Ken Spencer Park, find out which plants will keep away pests, and how to create a pollinator garden.
Shop Robson Street
A shopping spree on Robson Street is one of the best things to do in Vancouver with kids who enjoy retail therapy.
Robson Street stretches from BC Place Stadium to Stanley Park. The well-known promenade blooms with chain stores and shops, some of which showcase Canadian products.
At Aritzia, a Canadian women’s fashion brand now in the U.S, and other countries, look for deals on in-house brands as Wilfred, TNA, Sunday Best, and Main Character.
Roots, another Canadian brand, is known for its sweatshirts, sweatpants, tops, and rugby shirts for men, women, and kids. The company also sells a gender-neutral line.
At Geomania, find gemstones fashioned into rings, necklaces and earrings as well as crystals purported to heal and native carings. Canadian Crafts sells art and crafts created by First Nations artists.
There are numerous places to refuel. At Rice and Noodle, concoct your own dish by choosing a base noodle or rice, adding chicken, prawns, or mixed vegetables and picking your spice level from mild to scorching hot.
The Little Café on Robson serves sandwiches, smoothies, pies, and coffee, while Spicy 6 plates tasty Indian cuisine.
Visit Lush, a chain that originated in England, for handmade cosmetics and products for your face, hair, and body. After a day of intense—but fun—shopping, many an ardent shopper has retreated to a tub for a good soak with a Lush scented bath bomb that explodes like a giant Alka Seltzer.
No tub, no problem. Try a fizzing and fragrant shower bomb. Either one relaxes you before dinner.
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