1. Have Breakfast with the Bears
If you do one thing in Vancouver, make it having breakfast with the bears. You start with a Skyride up to Grouse Mountain—yes, it’s a gondola that travels over 1,000 metres into the sky but your kid will think it’s the most amazing adventure. Once you’re on the mountain, follow the bear footprints to meet Coola and Grinder, the rescued grizzly bears. A staff member will teach your cub all about grizzlies and what life is like for Coola and Grinder—did you know they enjoy pumpkin as a special treat in the fall? Then it’s time to head over to the Grizzly Lookout Cafe for a “beary” good breakfast that includes eggs, fruit, smoked salmon, pancakes and more. And don’t be surprised if the smell of honey and maple syrup brings Coola and Grinder over to watch you eat. When you’re finished, explore the rest of the mountain including the hilarious lumberjack show, the birds in motion demo and cool nature movies. And if you’re in Vancouver during the holidays, be sure to head up the mountain to meet Santa, a few of his reindeers and to go ice skating.
Find out more about Breakfast with the Bears
2. Relax on Kitsilano beach
Pack a picnic lunch and head to gorgeous Kits beach for a day of swimming and building sandcastles. Lifeguards are on duty from Victoria Day weekend to Labour Day. If you get bored of the waves, head over to the heated salt-water pool located right next to the beach. There are two slides for your kids to zoom down. When the water fun is done, it’s time to check out the playground, throw some hoops at the basketball courts, walk the seawall or grab your rackets for a few games of tennis. If the kids get hungry (and you didn’t pack a lunch), you can grab a quick snack at the concession stand or have a family-friendly meal at the Boathouse Restaurant. Now, who’s ready for a nap?
Find out more about Kitsilano Beach
3. Ride through Stanley Park
There are many ways to explore Stanley Park—Vancouver’s “green heart.” Rent bikes from one of the local stores and pedal through the seawall checking out all the boats. Or if the kids are tired, take an enchanting and guided horse-drawn tour where you’ll learn about some of the most famous parts of the park, like the amazing totem poles, the “Girl in a Wetsuit” statue and Deadman’s Island. Or for the ultimate kid experience, board the miniature railway—just be sure to check the schedule to make sure it’s running that day. When you’re done exploring, it’s time to cool off at Second Beach Pool, which is heated and has a waterslide. Or the kids can splash around in Variety Kids Water Park, where they will be soaked thanks to countless water canyons. Watch out below!
Find out more about Stanley Park
4. Meet the animals at Vancouver Aquarium
Did you know Vancouver is home to Canada’s largest aquarium? And the world’s cutest dolphin—OK, that one’s just our opinion, not a fact. But Helen, the rescued Pacific white-sided dolphin, is pretty darn adorable. The aquarium, located within Stanley Park, is broken up into different world zones—so in the Tropic zone expect to see everything from turtles to sharks to colourful fish. And this aquarium truly has every type of aquatic animal your kid could want to see—there are over 50,000 creatures—from barking seals to cuddling otters. Check the daily schedule (available online) for interactive features like meeting a penguin, sea lion feeding and shark talk. Once you are in the aquarium and your hand is stamped, you can go in and out as you please—so feel free to enjoy the other awesome activities in Stanley Park and come back later if there is a specific talk or animal you want to meet. Tip: Drinks sold at the aquarium do not come with a lid or straw because they are a choking hazard for the animals so bring a reusable water bottle to fill once inside.
Find out more about the Vancouver Aquarium
5. Enjoy the views at Capilano Suspension Bridge
Are you ready to take a walk in the treetops? Capilano Suspension Bridge offers some of the most spectacular views of Vancouver—seriously, you will never see trees this tall. You might be wondering if walking across a long bridge is kid-friendly—it totally is. So many toddlers waddled across it with huge grins on their faces and we did it with a baby (in a baby carrier) and a four-year-old who proudly proclaimed “I like heights” and asked to walk the bridge again and again. Once you’ve crossed the bridge and maybe grabbed a coffee and some doughnuts to energize you, it’s time to explore. The Kids’ Rainforest Explorers Program is a self-guided tour where young hikers look for signs and collect research while walking through the forest. Once they’ve collected every answer they get a Rainforest Explorer Badge! Be sure to check out the Treetops Adventure, which is seven suspension bridges that allow you to literally walk in the trees. And if it’s near Christmas, stop by to see all these magical trees lit up with Christmas lights.
6. Grab a scoop at Rain or Shine Homemade Ice Cream
It’s not just kids that scream for ice cream—we all do! And in Vancouver we all want Rain or Shine ice cream. All their flavours, including salted caramel, cracked mint and coffee toffee, are homemade and seasonal options use mostly locally-sourced ingredients. Bonus: Many of their ice creams are gluten-free and egg-free. They also have sundaes and milkshakes. Can we have two scoops of London Fog, please?
7. Visit Granville Island
You might never get your children to leave the Kids’ Market on Granville Island—we apologize in advance for that. Tell them to bring their allowance money because it’s full of so many toys. But the fun doesn’t end there. Your kids will have a blast in the indoor playground, complete with a slide that goes through multiple floors. Or maybe they prefer to visit the arcade and see how many tickets they can win? There’s also bumper cars, virtual reality games, ride-on toys, an art zone and magic shop. It’s basically the perfect place to visit on a rainy day. When the kids are ready for a snack, head over to the Public Market for one of Lee’s Donuts. And when the weather does cooperate, there is an outdoor playground right next to an amazing water park, complete with a big, yellow spiral slide.
8. Go whale watching
You have to see some whales while you’re in Vancouver—it’s one of those once in a lifetime experiences. You should book a half day tour, which is usually three to five hours long (just long enough to see some whales, but not too long that the kids lose it). You’ll likely see some mesmerizing orcas swimming through the pacific and some seals lounging on the rocks. Be sure to bring snacks and water for the ride, as well as sunscreen, hats, sweaters and rain jackets because the weather can be unpredictable. Whale watching is pricey, but it’s worth it, and with many companies, like the highly-rated The Prince of Whales, kids one or younger are free.
9. Go back in time at the Maritime Museum
Pirates and shipwrecks and excavations—oh my! The Vancouver Maritime Museum is a great place to visit if you have a young historian on your hands—or a kid who loves boats. Go back in time to 1944 by stepping onto St Roch, Canada’s RCMP Arctic schooner, where you get to be one of the crew on her most famous voyage through the Northwest Passage. Check out the interior cabins (can you believe how small they are?), walk the decks and even steer the ship! When you disembark, head down to the Children’s Discovery Centre, where kids get a hands-on experience driving a submarine, trying on a diving helmet, looking out of telescopes or checking out the ship, Discovery.
10. Hop on a boat
If you’re looking for a fun (and traffic-free) way to explore Vancouver, check out the Hop-on Boat Tour that docks in three parts of the city—and you can hop on and off it as you please. In downtown Vancouver, you dock in Coal Harbour where the kids can watch the cruise ships or seek out the 2010 Olympic Cauldron. After stopping for a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants downtown, pop back on the boat and head to North Vancouver where you you can check out Shipyard Park or the live entertainment in Lonsdale Quay. There is also a free shuttle bus from here to both Grouse Mountain and the suspension bridge. Finally, it’s back to the boat to visit Granville Island—you know that place with the best kid’s store ever?
Find out more about the Hop-on Boat Tour
11. Help out at Maplewood Farm
Are you ready to meet Rosie the Donkey and Petunia the Pig? Maplewood Farm is just 20 minutes from downtown Vancouver and lets little farmers get a behind-the-scenes look at country life. Kids can help with daily egg collecting and washing, grooming the animals, feeding the chickens, milking the cows and if you bring your own fruits and veggies, feeding the bunnies. Plus, you get to meet all the animals, including goats, sheep, horses and cows.
Find out more about Maplewood Farm
12. Bounce around at Apex Adventure Plex
The weather in Vancouver can be bright and sunny—or it can be rainy. When it’s grey out, take the kids to Apex Adventure Plex in Richmond. In the jump zone, kids can jump (obviously), play dodgeball or throw some hoops on the trampolines. Then there’s the ninja warrior obstacle course that is best for children six years of age or older. They get to swing through ropes, leap up ramps, climb nets and more.
Find out more about Apex Adventure Plex
Some of the writer’s costs were covered by Tourism Vancouver.
Stay in touch
Subscribe to Today's Parent's daily newsletter for our best parenting news, tips, essays and recipes.