Story by Tricia Edgar
Vacay.ca Outdoors Columnist
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — It’s beginning to feel a lot like spring in Vancouver. The birds are singing — scores of them — and the crocuses and snowdrops are peeking up from the soil. It’s the time of year when other snowbound Canadians look west with envy. If you’re heading out for a walk to celebrate the weather, here are five family-friendly sights surrounded by intriguing neighbourhoods that you can explore.
1. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
Snug in the middle of Vancouver’s downtown is a tiny Chinese garden named after the famous Dr. Sun Yat Sen. Voted the world’s top city garden by National Geographic, this little garden is tucked unobtrusively into a corner behind the Chinese Cultural Centre.
Get a taste of the gardens by visiting the free side, on your left as you face the gardens. Relax by the water that hosts fish and turtles, then duck into the more formal garden on your right, a relic of 15th-century China dropped into Vancouver’s downtown. Go for a tour to learn how the structure reflects many of the traditions of centuries gone by, and enjoy a cup of tea in the pavilion. Seasonally, the garden offers shows and art installations as well.
After your visit, explore Chinatown. Walk in and out of stores that carry traditional foods, intriguing games, and household wares. Head over to Ming Wo for kitchen goodies, visit one of Chinatown’s many restaurants, including Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada entrant Bao Bei, or step into the New Town Bakery for a steamed bun.
Admission to gardens: $12 adults; $9 students; free for children 5 and under; $25 for families (2 adults and 2 children up to 17 years).
2. Telus World of Science
Perched on Vancouver’s waterfront, there’s a big white globe that Vancouverites lovingly refer to as “the golf ball.” The structure is actually a geodesic dome, a much-loved relic of Expo ’86 that is now a science centre. The Telus World of Science (Science World) is packed full of activities for children and adults to enjoy. Science World’s spring displays include Travesia, which details the journey of the grey whale, and Creativity in Motion, 25 moving sculptures created from household items. Create your own sculptures as well!
Outside Science World, enjoy a walk along the waterfront of False Creek. Walk through Creekside Park and watch rowers on the water. If you’d like to explore the entire False Creek area, head over to the ferry dock and scoot across the water in a miniature, walk-on False Creek Ferry.
When you’re tired of walking, Science World is also conveniently located across the street from the SkyTrain station. This above and below-ground transportation system is Vancouver’s version of the subway, and if you’d like to travel farther afield, the SkyTrain connects you to areas throughout Metro Vancouver, including the airport.
Admission: $21 adults; $17.25 youth; $14.25 children (3-12).
3. Capilano Suspension Bridge
Heading to the North Shore? Stop by the Capilano Suspension Bridge, one of Vancouver’s most daring sights. The bridge is not only a bridge — it also boasts a canopy walkway and Cliffwalk, a new suspended walkway over the Capilano River.
Once you’ve had your fill of heights, you can head into the forest. In Capilano Regional Park above the bridge, you can go on a walk through old-growth trees. At the entrance to the park, there’s also a salmon hatchery where you can see fish swimming up through the current.
Admission: $31.95 adults; $19.95 youth; $12 children (6-12); free for children 5 and younger.
4. Grouse Mountain
Grouse Mountain bills itself as “The Peak of Vancouver,” and a tram ride up North Vancouver’s Grouse Mountain is an experience in itself. Making your way up the mountain, you pass the famed Grouse Grind trail — known for its 2,830 stairs and the workout they provide — buried in snow. If it’s a sunny day, you can see deeper into the mountains and across the Salish Sea, sometimes to Vancouver Island.
In the late winter and early spring, the mountain is still a refuge for snow-loving Vancouverites, with snowshoeing, skiing, and lovely winter views. As the year moves on, the snow disappears, but the mountain’s spring beauty arrives. Visit with Grouse’s two grizzly bears, Grinder and Coola, or watch the Birds in Motion demonstration or logging history shows. You can also make your way to the top of the mountain, then head down on the chairlifts over the treetops. Grouse is a day trip and a hiking opportunity all in one.
Admission: $39.95 adults; $23.95 youth; $13.95 children (5-12); free for children four and younger. (Includes gondola ride up the mountain, and access to Grouse’s numerous activities.)
5. Vancouver Aquarium
Dive into a family experience at the Vancouver Aquarium, one of Vancouver’s top attractions for families. Inside the aquarium, enjoy shows that feature many of the aquarium’s animals, including those from the Amazon, sharks, and marine mammals. If you’d like to go behind the scenes, you can book an Animal Encounter to get up close with the animals. When you get tired of walking, head over to the theatre for a 4-D experience that will turn you into a salmon swimming its way upstream.
After your visit, you’ll step out into the middle of Stanley Park, Vancouver’s most venerable and well-known park. Enjoy a walk around the seawall that surrounds the green space, stopping in at the totem poles and watching bikers and joggers go by.
Admission: $21 adults; $16 youth; $13 children (4-12); free for children three and younger. (Winter rates run until June 2013.)
From urban shops to mountaintop walks, there’s plenty to see at Vancouver’s top attractions for families — and in the neighbourhoods beyond, there’s a lot more to explore. These half-day trips give you a chance to visit a few of Vancouver’s diverse neighbourhoods. Slow down, go for a walk, and savour the food, sights, and atmosphere around some of Vancouver’s family-friendly attractions.