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Living in the very upper left part of the U.S. has its perks. One of the major ones: We’re within a short drive of the beautiful lower mainland of British Columbia, Canada. Rare border-crossing hassles aside, we get easy access to all of the awesome kid fun in Vancouver, without having to endure the cost of living in this spendy little part of the world.

Taking Kids to Vancouver, BC

Here’s a collection of some of our favorite affordable kid-friendly spots in the Vancouver metro area:

The Stanley Park Miniature Train

 

City Gems: Stanley Park Miniature Train in Vancouver, BC

Built in 1964, the Stanley Park Miniature Train carries more than 200,000 passengers each year. It runs year-round but in the late fall changes to a Halloween Ghost Train (save that trip for your older kiddos!) and during the holiday season becomes the widely-popular Stanley Park Bright Nights Christmas Train. We rode the little circuit it travels on last summer and it was a blast!

The SkyTrain

Kid Fun in Vancouver, BC: Riding the SkyRail

From kid-sized train to big one. Large-scale events like the 2010 Winter Olympics and well before that, Expo 86 (the 1986 World’s Fair) boosted the need for public transportation from parts of the lower mainland to Vancouver’s downtown area. Enter the Skytrain. Above ground in the suburbs and underground in the city, just the experience of riding this train can be an adventure for little ones. We park in Richmond, BC and take the train straight to downtown, watching the sights as we go.

Vancouver Aquarium

Visiting Vancouver with Kids: Don't miss the aquarium!

A list of kid-favorites in Vancouver wouldn’t be complete without including the Vancouver Aquarium, located in Stanley Park. While you can see most of the aquarium in a few hours, it’s well worth it to visit this spot again and again. The educational shows, held in different areas throughout the aquarium, are entertaining and informative. The highlight of our last trip to the aquarium for my girls? High-fiving a scuba diver while he was swimming in the shark tank.

The beaches

The Best Vancouver Beaches for Kids

We’ve dug our toes in the sand at both Kitsilano Beach (Insider Tip: Call it Kits’ Beach to sound like a local) and Second Beach in Stanley Park. Sandcastle building for the kids; amazing people watching for the adults. Both have playgrounds located adjacent to the beach for some bonus sand-free fun.

Granville Island

How to get to Granville Island in Vancouver

Touristy? Yes. Worth it? Yes. Granville Island is a spot we visit over and over again, both with kids and without. Part of the fun is getting there: From downtown, hop on one of the tiny foot ferries to take you across busy but beautiful False Creek. Visit the Granville Island Public Market to sample of variety of Canadian goodies and pick up lunch from one of the numerous food vendors. In a separate building, the Kids Market has a giant indoor play area with kid-centric shops and eats. Granville is home to the biggest free water park in North America, complete with water slide, plus an awesome playground.

Side note: A few weeks ago, on a very hot Saturday, we decided to go on a big adventure to visit Granville’s splash park. We endured a longer-than-usual border crossing, parked in Richmond, took the Skytrain to Yaletown, boarded the Aquabus to Granville, ate lunch in an extremely-crowded spot and finally walked to the splash park only to turn the corner and find it shut down due to water restrictions resulting from the bad forest fires in Northern BC. Word to the wise: Check the website before you make this sort of trek. Both kids were toast by the time we got back to the Skytrain.  (Read: #parentingfail.)

Sans-kids bonus: Granville Island is also home to one of our favorite date-night spots, The Sandbar. There’s yummy food, a great local beer selection and best of all: an incredible view of the city from the rooftop patio. Read more about it here.

Watermania

Taking Your Kids to Watermania in Vancouver

Watermania is one of those places that’s soooo good that I almost want to keep it a secret. A hidden gem tucked less than a mile kilometer off of the freeway in Richmond, Watermania is our go-to spot in Canada for rainy days. While it has an Olympic-size pool for lap swimming, a giant hot tub, a full fitness center and two water slides, the crown jewel is the large wave pool, complete with a toddler-sized play area right in the middle of the shallow end.

We seriously love this place. It’s super clean, with family-friendly changing areas and huge locker rooms. And, it’s a great value – admission for our family of four is $15 Canadian. On our last visit, my 4-year-old went down the slide approximately 45 times. Watermania is located in Riverport Sports and Entertainment Complex which also includes an ice rink, bowling alley, IMAX movie theatre, trampoline park, laser tag area and an Old Spaghetti Factory. It’s also conveniently around the corner from the Richmond Ikea. We’ve been known to spend the morning at Watermania, do lunch in the Ikea cafeteria and enjoy a quiet ride home with two exhausted kids konked out in their car seats.

Our list of favorites continues to grow as we explore more of the Vancouver area, but these family-friendly City Gems that can’t be missed!

This post was contributed by Jessica Spencer who is part of the Savvy Sassy Mom Product Scouts program. You can find more from Jessica on her blog, The Average Jess.

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VancouverI watched as my son clung to his father. That shark was so close. A little daddy protection was in order, but not for long. As my toddler realized the sharks and stingrays at the Vancouver Aquarium could not get to him, he warmed up to these salt water creatures, and the real adventure began.

Vancouver, located just over the border in the Canadian province of British Columbia, is one of those cities that those of us living in the Pacific Northwest take for granted, but is really an international destination worth the trek no matter where you live. Why would you drag your family north of the border? Well I’ve got five fantastic reasons why not only your kids will love it, but you will have a fabulous time too.

Science World at TELUS World of Science

For every science geek there is a museum that transforms your interest into an obsession. Science World can do that for you and your child. Incredible exhibits, like the upcoming LEGO Travel Adventure show (starts Feb. 1, 2014), and permanent galleries and programming makes this an all day destination when possible — or just a place to explore for a few hours at a time. Live animals and insects, hourly science shows, physics exhibits that come alive through water, light and sound, and even a special preschool area will help your budding scientist find their calling.

Science World

Food Carts

Food trucks, carts and trailers seem to be all the rage in every major city in North America. If your own town has them, why should you bother checking them out in Vancouver? For one thing they generally offer up cheap eats. Food gets expensive when traveling with a family. They also offer variety, so everyone in your clan can find something they love. But most importantly, Vancouver is a food mecca. You thought you had good sushi back home? Well they have 20 that will beat your best. Like noodles? Pick a cuisine and they will have it. Let’s not even get started on desserts. The food trucks in Vancouver are no different. They offer up quality food with a pride that will put some brick and mortar establishments to shame.

Food Cart

Stanley Park

Any city worth their weight needs to have a spectacular park, or at least that’s my feeling. If you don’t have green spaces to let the kids run and catch up on their vitamin D then you will miss a piece of the vacation puzzle. Stanley Park is Vancouver’s own Central Park. This is where you will find the aquarium, the miniature train, beaches, a waterpark and pool, bike trails, hiking trails and stunning gardens. Really you could spend your entire trip exploring the park and walking the Seawall. It’s that good.

Stanley Park

Fly Over Canada

You know how Disneyland has Fly Over California, but you just can’t get yourself (or bring yourself to go) to Anaheim? Well Vancouver has the answer—Fly Over Canada. This half-hour, multisensory experience shows you why Canada is a country worth exploring. The actual “ride” only lasts eight minutes, but it will take your breath away as you fly through open prairies while a whiff of wildflowers floats past your nose (literally) and you climb the Canadian Rockies into the damp clouds (an actual spray of mist will hit your hair!). This is sure to get your wanderlust flowing and the kids screaming for a trip to Alberta next.

Vancouver Aquarium

Vancouver Aquarium

Aquariums have always been a family favorite in our house. It was the first place my son really got excited as a baby. It was also our little “treat” when exploring the not so kid-friendly spots my husband and I love to visit. The Vancouver Aquarium is the perfect spot to explore on a cold and rainy day in Vancouver. They have more than a few of those — it’s not hard to schedule a trip in. Dolphins, Beluga whales, seals, turtles, clownfish, sharks and stingrays are just a few of the friends you will meet as you walk through the space. There is educational programming, including feedings, scheduled throughout the day. If you have a young oceanographer in your group try to splurge on an animal encounter or behind-the-scenes tour.

Vancouver Aquarium

This list doesn’t even begin to crack the surface of all there is to do in Vancouver, but it will certainly give you a good start. The city is bursting with activity, but like all things in the Pacific Northwest, you can always find a spot to slow down, grab a cup of coffee (or hot cocoa for the kids) and watch the world go by. No one will mind. Not even the sharks.

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Next up in this blog series is from Claudia Laroye and she is taking us to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

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I’ve lived in Vancouver, British Columbia, for twenty years, and I truly can’t imagine living anywhere else. In that time, Vancouver has grown into a hip, outdoorsy, and cosmopolitan west coast city. There is so much to love and enjoy about this vibrant and livable city, and I’m pleased to share some of my personal city gems.

Foodie Favorites

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Food Truck revolution has hit Vancouver. There are more than 100+ plus delicious trucks and carts to choose from throughout downtown and local neighborhoods. We love Japadog, Tacofino and Fresh Local Wild.

Cactus Club is a successful local chain restaurant, with an eye to high quality, west coast ingredients and a menu the reflects the many ethnic cuisines of Vancouver. The Jack Daniels burger and chicken rice bowls are personal favorites. I’m also quite partial to their Kavorka martini.

Temaki Sushi is our go-to sushi house, in a city loaded with incredible sushi options. Temaki’s ebi mayo, freshly prepared sushi, and tuna sashimi are super fresh, delicious, and great value.

Family Time

vancouver_aquariumphoto courtesy of the Vancouver Aquarium

The Vancouver Aquarium is one of Vancouver’s favorite local attractions, and is dedicated to marine preservation and education. Families with young children can spend hours running through the facility, exploring the shark tanks, Amazon zone, wild west coast exhibits, clownfish cove and penguin point.

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The Granville Island Kids Market is housed in an old industrial factory, and features more than 30 shops, services and activities for kids and families. There’s also a train caboose, pond, and tugboat to climb over, and the Island’s water park is just steps away.

Sweet Treats

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Thomas Haas Chocolates & Patisserie is the best chocolaterie in town. His artisanal chocolates, packed in beautiful ballotins, are made with the freshest ingredients, and his baked confections, macarons, and cakes will please anyone with a sweet tooth.

Lee’s Donuts satisfies everyone’s deep-down need for fried, sweet dough. Lee’s is a Granville Island institution that handcrafts its many flavors of yeast and cake donuts several times daily.

Style In My City

Walrusphoto courtesy of Walrushome.com

Walrus Home in the Cambie Village neighbourhood features local and internationally sourced high-quality products that bring cool haute design into your home. Perfect for unique gift shopping for those tough-to-buy-for friends and family.

Lululemon was born in Vancouver, the true home and native land of the yoga pant and the ladies who love them. It’s hard to miss their top selling Groove pants around town, given that yoga wear is the daily uniform of many Vancouverites.

Holt Renfrew is the gorgeous home to every fashion mama’s dreams. This luxury retailer features international fashions grouped by designer, as well as showcasing bling, accessories, cosmetics and perfumes, many of them exclusive to Holt Renfrew, including Byredo, my personal favorite.

Date Night

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Kits Beach is the best place to be for walks on a summer’s night, with or without kids. The walk along the beach offers beautiful views of Stanley Park and the north shore mountains, and goes past Kits Pool, playgrounds, the Maritime Museum, and ends up at Granville Island.

La Quercia in Kitsilano serves up an exceptional 7 or 10 course menu that changes daily. This cozy restaurant specializes in northern Italian cuisine, and each course in the prix fixe menu offers a delicious surprise of antipasti, homemade pastas, meats, fish, with a sweet finish.

Hotels

FPRphoto courtesy of the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel

Fairmont Pacific Rim reflects Vancouver’s casual and cosmopolitan nature. It’s the luxurious home-away-from-home for chic city visitors. Luxury suites, top drawer tech, and iPad2 devices in every suite. Plus, televisions in the bathrooms? But of course.

Granville Island Hotel is smack in the middle of everything on Granville Island. It’s also just a quick hop, skip and jump onto an Aquabus ferry for a crossing of False Creek to Yaletown, the West End and downtown.

About our City Gem author

bloggers-0164Claudia Laroye writes the travelling mom, a modern mom’s guide to travel sanity with your family. She’s passionate about the value of traveling as a family, and shares travel tips, advice, and destination guides on her site. She also writes as the Curious Travel Mama on San Diego-based TravelMamas.com. She lives in Vancouver, Canada, with her husband and two teenaged sons. Find Claudia also on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+ and Vine.

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When you announce that your little bundle of joy is on the way the words “you will never travel again” starts to pop up left and right, as if your life stops until your darling children are off to college. Even worse, people start to talk about all of the theme parks you are destine to visit, because that is surely the only place capable of entertaining your children for more than 30 minutes. Well stop right there ladies. I’m here to tell you that there is a big wide world out there just waiting for you to explore with your kids, and most of it is not made of plastic. Here’s a little sampling of the adventures that our planet has to offer, and yes, I have done them all with a toddler and baby in tow.

Hawaii the Big Island

Hawaii, The Big Island

Let’s start off small with the Hawaiian Islands. While most families head to Maui because it is so easy to get around, in fact it was our first trip with my oldest son, I say turn your back on convention and head to Hawaii’s Big Island. If you want a great town with baby beaches, restaurants, and easy access to stores galore then your best bet is to stay in Kona. The farmer’s market there is scrumptious and just down the street you will find the best french toast of your life at Island Lava Java. If you are looking for a quieter experience, head to the east side of the island south of Hilo. You will have more time to explore Volcanoes National Park away from the crowds, and have the chance to rub elbows with the locals at the Pahoa Farmer’s Market. The Champagne Ponds are the perfect place to let your little ones explore while you sneak a little snorkeling in, or you can head to the fresh water ponds and black sand beach south of Kapoho.

National Gallery London

London, England

Another no brainer, but often overlooked spot, is England’s capital city of London. This is a major metropolitan area with grocery stores carrying diapers, baby food and formula in many of the major brands you know from back home. And in case you hadn’t heard, they also speak English there, making it a breeze to navigate the city and ask for help. If your kids are Pixar fans you can bet they will be thrilled to walk by Parliament to get a peak at Big Ben, or as Cars 2 fans know him, Big Bentley. There are plenty of public parks, playgrounds, and most of the museums are free, making this a parent’s dream destination if they want to pop in a little educational experience into the itinerary.

Loreto Mexico

Loreto, Mexico

This is not your average college spring break destination. Oh no. Those kids head south of Loreto on the Baja Peninsula to soak up the sun and more than a few margaritas in Cabo. You can safely bring your kids to this sleepy little town on the Sea of Cortez, where retired snowbirds head south to stay warm for the winter along side the gray whale population that is a must see when in the area. With only one flight per day, and a 2-hour direct flight  from LAX, you could be on the beach or sitting at your pool by the afternoon. If you want an authentic experience, skip the expensive resorts outside of town, and stay at a local inn or casita run by locals or American expats. You will be able to walk to some of the most delectable food you can imagine at rock bottom prices, and there are at least three shops to grab ice cream for the kids after a long day of adventure.

Kyoto Japan

Kyoto, Japan

Crossing the Pacific may seem like a stretch for many families, but I am here to tell you that it is possible AND worth it. Kyoto is a city rich with tradition, culture, architectural wonders, and some of the most beautifully presented food you will ever lay eyes on. The city is pretty flat, making it easy to walk, and the bus system is exceptional. Even though you may not find as many English speakers as you thought you would, everyone is excited to help you, and they aren’t afraid to try a little sign language and miming to communicate. There are exceptional parks and open green spaces to let your kids run as well as easy to follow paths at the temples and shrines that keep toddlers roped in when mom and dad want to explore a few cultural elements. Prices can seem high, but if you find a nice rental off the main drag, cook a few meals in your temporary home, and dive into the food courts in the basements of the department stores, you can make this a very economical excursion.

Vancouver Aquarium

Vancouver, Canada

While our neighbors to the north may get a bad rep for excessive amounts of snow and a very sparse population, Vancouver offers up city amenities your entire family will be rushing out the door to explore. The Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park and Science World will help you cram in a ton of learning fun on your next vacation. Once you’ve had enough science run off to Granville Island to sample some of the areas best produce, handmade desserts, and readymade foods for a picnic lunch before heading over to the Kids Market. Warning: your kids will never want to leave! If you are looking for a little more outdoor adventure don’t miss the Capilano Suspension Bridge, Grouse Mountain and a stroll through Chinatown.

With so many incredible spots that are not only easy to navigate, but also very kid friendly, why would you ever limit yourself to the package idea of what a family vacation has to be? Open your mind to the possibilities, throw a dart at a map, let yourself dream a little, and then start planning your next adventure with your kids. Who knows, maybe they will actually start to teach you a little along the way.

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