Vancouver, the beautiful beacon in the west – not only is the city in a region with abundant natural beauty, it also makes for a fantastic vacation with kids! I found this when I had my first mother – toddler trip with my 4.5 year old in Vancouver in July 2019.
I love having an only child. My daughter Siena and I have a very special bond and I love that she is my entire world. But when you are traveling with your only child, you need to make plans to keep him/ her happily engaged and entertained without tiring yourselves out completely in the process. And so, unlike our make-the-plan-as-we-go -along style, I had things to do planned for all of our days there. I even had back-up plans ready, and it helped that Vancouver has boat-loads of things that are fun for kids as well as for grown ups.
Day 1: Train ride, Vancouver Aquarium and Cactus Club Cafe:
We took an Uber to the Kings Street Station in Seattle and boarded the Amtrak to Vancouver. The ride aboard the train called Amtrak Cascades, became one of the highlights of the trip in of itself. It leaves Seattle and crosses Everett and Bellingham in WA state and White Rock in Canada to reach Vancouver in British Colombia, Canada. The train almost entirely rides along the coast and you get great views of water along Bellingham Bay and the Strait of Georgia.
Siena was very amused to note that there was a restaurant (read pantry car) in the restaurant! A new sticker book, the VTech kiddie zoom camera and her favorite shows downloaded on the iPad kept her busy during the 3.5 hour train ride, while I was engrossed in enjoying the views. I also got a feeling that Immigration checks at the border are faster for the train riders, as compared to the time it would take if you were crossing the border by car.
Pro-tip: From Seattle to Vancouver, try to sit on the right side on the train to get the best views, and vice-versa.
After depositing our luggage at the hotel, we took a taxi to the Vancouver Aquarium. When we visited, Uber had not reached Vancouver, but it is quite easy to hail a taxi especially when leaving from the hotel.
Vancouver Aquarium was lovely, and the highlight for us was seeing a dolphin at the Aquarium! We had never seen a dolphin before and seeing one was quite exciting. We also caught the show where the sea lions were entertaining everyone with their intelligent theatrics.
Vancouver Aquarium is inside Stanley Park, a huge park in Vancouver. After leaving the Aquarium, we walked along the Vancouver sea wall which borders Stanley Park and took in the beauty of the Vancouver Harbor.
For dinner, we walked from our hotel in downtown Vancouver to the Cactus Club Cafe restaurant. It was crowded and noisy and thus a perfect place to take a tired and hungry toddler.
Day 2: A scenic day outside Vancouver
The next day was full of beauty! We were picked up from our hotel promptly at 9 am for our bus tour of the Sea-to-sky highway, just a 45 min drive from Vancouver, with stops along the way.
Our first stop on the bus tour was Horseshoe Bay, located 25-minutes north of downtown Vancouver. This was a very scenic cove, and reminded me of Switzerland. We saw a big British Columbia ferry parked there, took pictures and played in the small playground.
Then the tour-bus continued onwards towards Squamish. This highway connecting Vancouver to Squamish is called the Sea to Sky highway and is really stunning. It borders the brilliant blues of Howe Sound.
Our second stop was the Britannia Mine Museum. These old mines converted into museums showcase how miners extracted copper from the mines and their daily working lives. The highlights include panning for precious metal (you can even find some if you are lucky), actually going inside the caves in rail carts, and a phenomenal sound and light show that really brings the old mining operations to life. This museum is sure to be great hit for 8-14 year olds.
Our third stop, the main reason for which I had booked the bus tour in the first place was the Sea to Sky Gondola in Squamish. The Gondola ride with the backdrop of the stunning blue water is amazing in of itself but once you reach the mountain, you are surrounded by mountains, valleys and an a aqua-blue water body. There is also a hanging wobbly suspension bridge between 2 mountains. While some folks were treading on it gingerly, our little one was totally nonchalant about crossing and posing on that bridge.
There is a restaurant/ cafe at the top, a gift shop, rest room, play area for kids, different view points and hiking trails. You could easily spend an upward of 4 hours here. And if you had to pick one thing from this blog post to experience in Vancouver, please pick this gondola ride.
Our last stop on the bus tour was Shannon Falls. Between guiding a tired Siena up the trail, and getting back to the bus on time, we got only about 10 minutes to marvel at the falls, and only saw the falls from one viewing platform, and I think there are more than one. Falling 1,105 feet, these falls make an impressive sight. As these are very close to the Gondola ride, these can be easily added to a trip to the Gondola.
Day 2 Continued: Gastown and Vancouver Lookout
After napping in the bus on the ride back, Siena was refreshed and ready for a night out in town. We walked from our hotel to the hip and trendy Gastown area. I remember the walk really well as Siena kept pointing at the cigarette butts on the sidewalk and I gave her a toddler-friendly lecture on how cigarettes and smoking are bad and littering is something we don’t do.
In Gastown, we checked out the iconic Steam Clock, had a lovely dinner at The Old Spaghetti Factory. It was crowded and chaotic but with so many other kids and families eating there, we did not feel out of place.
Our final adventure for this day going up to the Vancouver Lookout to take in the city views. The last elevator up the tower was around 9 pm and we just made it. The sight of Stanley Park, Coal Harbor and Canada Place at dusk was breathtaking. The big glass windows to enjoy the expansive views of Vancouver are at a height, which is a problem for little kids. But there are stools provided and Siena could stand on those to experience this adventure.
We walked to our hotel very happy and content. Our first two days in Vancouver were spent well and so far my first mom-daughter trip with our little trouper was going splendidly.
Note: A number of places/ experiences mentioned here are either closed right now, or have restricted hours due to COVID-19. Here are some useful websites to check current status of things:
Amtrak Cascades: https://www.amtrakcascades.com/
Vancouver Aquarium: https://www.vanaqua.org/
Britannia Mine Museum: https://www.britanniaminemuseum.ca/
Sea-to-Sky Gondola: https://www.seatoskygondola.com/
Vancouver Lookout: https://vancouverlookout.com/