Exploring Vancouver with Kids

Vancouver has everything: active excursions from beaches to mountains, plus shopping, dining and art. Whatever your travel plans, make sure to get the most out of your stay in this picturesque city.

We spent 3 nights and 4 full days in Vancouver hiking, biking and playing outside during July before heading south to Seattle, Bainbridge Island, and eventually Portland (check out our road trip itinerary). We stayed downtown in a high-rise building with a fantastic view of the city, which we arranged through AirBnB. Here are our highlights, some tips and a few recommendations for a fun family vacation.

Bike the Stanley Park Seawall

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Situated on a peninsula on the northwestern edge of downtown, Stanley Park is one of Vancouver’s main tourist destinations. There are beaches, miles of paved and dirt trails, Canada’s largest aquarium, a miniature railway, some lakes, restaurants and a public pool. If that’s not enough, there are interesting landmarks, gorgeous gardens, and a forest of cedar, fir and hemlock trees. It is the perfect oasis outside of a bustling city.

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There are numerous bike rental shops located near the edge of the park. We rented bikes and rode around the the length of the Stanley Park Seawall, originally constructed to prevent erosion. This path, approximately 6 miles (9 km) around the perimeter of the park, is part of the world’s longest uninterrupted waterfront path. Stunning views of English Bay and Vancouver’s mountain landscape are plentiful, as well as opportunities to see wildlife. The ride is easy and flat – perfect for kids. It took us a couple hours to navigate our way around the entire seawall and stop numerous times for pictures, snacks and a swim. This was definitely a family highlight.

Tips & Planning Tools:

  • Don’t want to bike? See what else Stanley Park has to offer.
  • The bike path is one-way only! Make sure to get a good trail map, like this one.
  • Don’t try to explore the inner trails of Stanley Park by bike with kids unless you know where you’re going. We had a hard time navigating the map and trying to locate the landmarks as we were biking.
  • Stanley Park could definitely take up one whole day – or two half-days, since there are many attractions within the park.

Eat and Shop on Granville Island

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Granville Island is a hub of activity, with the Granville Island Public Market at its center. Surrounding it are multiple shops, artist workshops and craft studios. Wander in and out of these storefronts and studios, catch a street performance, or grab a picnic from the various food stalls inside the market. Getting to Granville Island is also fun: take an affordable Aquabus – one of the brightly colored mini-ferries that traverse False Creek from several dock locations.

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Granville is a great place to sample loads of food – from cheese and fresh produce to handmade sausages and gourmet sweets. After filling up the kids’ bellies and picking up a few souvenirs, we took a short rest at The Liberty Distillery for some handcrafted cocktails (yep, happy parents = happy kids).

Tips & Planning Tools:

  • To get you started, use this website for all things Granville.
  • Visit this website for routes, locations and fares for the Aquabus. Depending on where you board, you might drive by the recent work of the famous OSGEMEOS, Brazilian twin graffiti artists. 2015-07-18 16.59.48The mural is painted on six gigantic industrial silos – the largest public mural of their career and their first in Canada.
  • If you know your approximate plans, make a reservation at one of the waterfront restaurants on the island ahead of time. When the shops close, restaurants fill up quickly and wait times can be long without a reservation.
  • Our favorite store was Make, located in the Maritime Market. Interactive and creative, customers can create designs to be printed or embroidered on any garment – and watch as the final product is made. There were also unique and silly gifts and souvenirs that appealed to all ages.

Visit Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

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The Capilano Suspension Bridge was originally built in 1889 and stretches across and above the Capilano River. Over the years, other attractions have been added to this large park, nestled in mature pine forest on either side of the bridge. Test your courage on the new Cliffwalk – a cantilevered walkway that juts out from the cliff high above the canyon. Walk the Treetops Adventure of suspension bridges that take you up above the forest floor, offering a unique perspective of the forest. There are nature tours, kids’ programs and other entertainment opportunities also.

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Tips & Planning Tools:

  • For rates, hours and more information, visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park website.
  • There are numerous free shuttles from the downtown area to the park that are well-marked and easy to navigate. The ride is approximately 20 minutes.
  • Get there when it opens as it gets crowded very quickly during the summer. Make sure to do the Cliffwalk first, as it is single file and slow moving. We spent a little less than 2 hours in the park before moving on.
  • From Capilano, you can take the city bus easily up the road another 10 minutes to Grouse Mountain. These two attractions can easily be done in one day.

Explore Grouse Mountain

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Grouse Mountain is a resort with a multitude of adventures and programs available at any time of year. The famous Gondola Skyride takes visitors on a 1 mile ride to the top, with breathtaking panoramic views of the city and the surrounding mountains. During the summer, there are activities from nature programs to paragliding – start your research here to get an idea of all of the options available. We chose the Ultimate Adventure, which included  a ride on the Screaming Eagle Chairlift, admission to the Eye of the Wind and a trip down the mountain on the Skyride.

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We decided to hike to the top via the Grouse Grind. Otherwise known as “nature’s stairmaster”, it is a mostly vertical climb of 2,830 steps. The trail is 1.8 miles long with a 2,800 foot elevation gain – the ultimate thigh burner. The trek up took us about 75 minutes, and we ate a huge lunch when we arrived at the top. This hike was our favorite trip memory – and it was free!

Tips & Planning Tools

  • To help plan your itinerary at Grouse Mountain, use this handy online tool.
  • On the way back down, take the city bus from Grouse Mountain back into Vancouver instead of going back to Capilano Suspension Bridge Park for the free shuttle (lines for the free shuttles from Capilano are incredibly long by late afternoon).

Soak up the Sun(set) at English Bay Beach

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Last but not least, if you have spectacular weather, stop at one of Vancouver’s many beaches. Due to location and accessibility, we visited English Bay Beach in the late afternoon, with grocery store snacks in hand. This is a perfect city beach with lots of locals and close access to restaurants. There is a large floating dock with some slides not far from the shore. We ate a late dinner, took pictures by the public art display across the street, enjoyed some ice cream, and watched the sunset.

Until next time Vancouver.

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To get a handle on Vancouver’s neighborhoods and their proximity to other attractions and  dining options, visit this extensive list from the Sidetracked Travel Blog.

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5 Outdoor adventures in and around Vancouver to explore with (or without) kids!

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6 thoughts on “Exploring Vancouver with Kids

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this great info. My husband and I are heading there in May and can’t wait to do the bridge and hopefully spend some time in Stanley Park. Loved all the tips. Thanks again for sharing.

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  2. Great coverage of such an incredible city! I’ve done just about every activity you have listed here and I couldn’t agree more! How did your kids handle the Grouse Grind? My wife and I did it woefully unprepared (sandals and right after a huge breakfast) and thought we might die by the time we got to the top! Worth it though!

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    • Kevin, thanks for your comment. Ha – we were totally shocked (and super proud) that the younger 2 (ages 6 and 8) went all the way to the top. We really weren’t sure if it was a good idea and were prepared to try it out for 1/4 of the trail to see what it was like. Our 12yo ditched us and never looked back; the 8yo followed – I was a bit worried about her but knew she couldn’t get lost. I think our youngest was motivated by showing his siblings (and others on the trail) he could do it. We must’ve had that perfect balance of mood and fuel as well. It was really tough!!

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  3. Phew I am exhausted just reading about all the fantastic things you can do in Vancouver! I love them all – totally up our street from hiring bikes to the aqua bus. Silly I know but I always think of cold weather and snow in Vancouver, but it’s lovely seeing it in a different (sun) light 🙂 Thanks for linking up with #MondayEscapes

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