British Columbia's capital city offers stunning scenery, friendly citizens, great hotels and dining… and lots of surprising activities for visiting families.
We left the snowy East Coast in February for Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada – by plane, actually, not for our usual road trip – and hoped that the expected seasonal rainfall would beat another foot of snow on the driveway.
We chose well. Few cities combine such stunning vistas and gracious citizens with so many family-friendly spots. Over four mostly sunny days we took in some sights suggested by FTF contributor and local Vancouverite Janice Mucalov, as well as others worth mentioning.
Our home base was the luxurious, centrally located Metropolitan Hotel (604/687-1122), whose staff was absolutely charming to our 10- and 8-year-olds. We’ve stayed in countless urban hotels with Madeleine and Jamie over the years – we rank this one near the top. And though much of Vancouver is a pedestrian-friendly city, and there’s plenty of public transportation, well, this family decided to pick up a local SUV and make this a weekend driving trip.
Twenty minutes from downtown sits beautiful Grouse Mountain (604/984-0661), the peak of Vancouver. We hopped the funicular for the 3,700-feet ascent and spectacular view of the city and bay. Winter visitors to Grouse can ski, snowboard, snowshoe, take a sleigh ride; we hit the ice skating rink after a hearty lunch in the chalet. In summer, Grouse offers a lumberjack show, paragliding, mountain biking, hiking, helicopter tours – even a refuge for orphaned grizzly bears. It quickly became clear why locals often head up to Grouse after a day at the office.
The Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre (604/659-3474) is a step above many urban aquariums. Although not as slick as the Baltimore aquarium, Madeleine loved feeding and frolicking with the Beluga whales. While Pat took Jamie to see the sea lions, Maddie and Chris pulled on waders and walked out onto a ledge above the whale pool to feed them. Their fondest memory? The small globs of whale snot that fell on their hands when they held them over the baby beluga’s blowhole. The place is educational and fun and makes for a great half-day for kids from 1 to 92.
For anyone fearful of heights, the Capilano Suspension Bridge is – well – fearful. The 450-feet suspension bridge stretches 230 feet above the Capilano River Canyon, totally enveloped in a backdrop of majestic old-growth evergreens. Yes, it’s Vancouver’s oldest attraction and rather touristy, but floating on planks and cables above stunning scenery is an uncommon experience. Once you summon the necessary nerves.
Pacific Rim cuisine is king in Vancouver. One evening we ventured into the hip and historic Yaletown neighborhood to dine at the Blue Water CafÃ© (604/688-8078), an expensive, yet funky old converted warehouse space. While we enjoyed terrific seafood and a local wine to match, the wait staff and kitchen accommodated our tired and finicky eaters. Then Madeleine was inspired (the air? the setting? the hour?) and chowed down on our jellyfish salad, sushi, and soft-shell crab.
On top of a mountain, on a footbridge over a rain forest or in its urban heart, Vancouver stands out for its views and its people. One day soon we’ll make another spectacular seaplane landing in Vancouver harbor, surrounded by mountains and one of the prettiest and friendliest cities in the world.
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