Saturday, April 23, 2011

Traveling with kids in Vancouver: 13 things to do in Stanley Park

Third Beach in summer.
Vancouver's Stanley Park is a must-see for anyone visiting the city, and it's also a great place to take your kids, whether you're a tourist or a local. The park is massively big (1000 acres/400 hectares), with beautiful, big trees, playgrounds, restaurants, beaches, a pool, and much, much more: essentially a one-stop-shop for kid-activities.

Here's a list of 13 fun things to do with your kids in Stanley Park:

1. Take a walk around the Seawall - This is the walkway that goes around the entire park, right next to the beaches and ocean. If you do the whole thing, it's 22 km (13.7 miles), and you could walk, jog, bike, or roller-blade that distance.We usually make our walk around part of the Seawall, and it makes for a real nice day out. You can watch the ships, maybe spot a seal in the water: there's always lots to look at.

2. Visit the Vancouver Aquarium - I've mentioned the Aquarium before on this blog. It's a great place to take kids, but it is a bit pricey for a family to get in ($21 for adults, $13 for kids 4-12). Lots of stuff to see and do inside though. My kids especially like the shark tank, the octopus, the Amazon gallery (with parrots, sloths, butterflies, tortoises and more), and the belugas. I'm not overly fond of the Aquarium's cafĂ© however. The food is overpriced for what you get I think, and I usually bring a snack or packed lunch for the kids rather than spend my money on that. 

Keeping the balance at Brockton Point.
3. Take a look at the totem poles - There's an awesome collection of totem poles at Brockton Point. My kids like to figure out the imagery: telling the eagles and orcas from the thunderbirds and sea-serpents. It's a great place for photos, some running around in the grass, or a rest-stop on your way around the Seawall.

4. Enjoy the view (and some ice cream) at Prospect Point - The Prospect Point Cafe has a nice deck, with a gorgeous view of Lion's Gate bridge, and there's a coffee shop and an ice cream place as well. You might also see some fat squirrels in this area who live off leftover french fries, cookies and other obesity-inducing foods. We once saw a squirrel here who was almost to fat to climb a tree! Great place for any easy walk-around, a look at the view of the North Shore mountains, and some of that ice cream.

Third Beach in winter.
5. Swim, beach-comb or sunbathe on Third Beach - This is one of my favorite spots in Vancouver. The kids (and I) enjoy this beach whatever the season. Good swimming and splashing in summer, great sand for beach-combing or building sand-castles, good place to just stroll too.

6. Have fun at the playgrounds near Second Beach - Second Beach is located at the entrance to the park from Beach Avenue. It's right near the pool. Right nearby the washrooms and concession are two big playgrounds with a vast, grassy field in-between. The playgrounds aren't super-elaborate, but there's lots to keep the kids entertained: swings, some neat slides, an old (really old) fire engine, and lots of stuff to climb on.

7. Watch the birds in Lost Lagoon (and don't get rabies!) - Lost Lagoon is a small lake or really big pond, I'm never quite sure which, and is located near the Georgia Street end of the park. Lots of birds, including ducks and swans and hordes of Canada geese. The geese usually freak the kids out by hissing, but looking at the ducks is usually pretty entertaining for young kids. You might also see some rather bold raccoons, but be cautious about feeding them or petting them (seriously people, don't pet wild raccoons!). Rabies isn't common, but it's a possibility.

8. Walk to Beaver Lake - If you're not familiar with the park, consult a map and then head off into the woods to find Beaver Lake. It makes for a nice walk and usually there are lots of curious squirrels hopping around: bring some unsalted peanuts or sunflower seeds for them. Once you get to Beaver Lake, you can sit down and relax on a bench, watch the dragonflies, or cut through the woods and out the other side of the park. The trails in the park are well-maintained and you should have no problem walking there with a stroller if you're bringing one.

9. Ride the miniature train - The Stanley Park miniature train goes around a track with a lot of big trees and some animals and birds to see on the way. It's a big show for Halloween and Christmas, and at those times of the year it can be difficult to get a ticket to get on board. For train crazy little kids, it's good fun anytime of year.

Get wet!
10. Cool off in the water park - The water park near Lumberman's Arch is open June 1st to September 1st, and on a hot summer day the place is hopping (and splashing) with kids. There are waterfalls, sprays, a "stream" and some water cannons too. Just make sure you're covered in sunscreen, because there's not a lot of shade to be found here.

Chasing seagulls.
11. Run around the trees near Painter's Circle - Nearby the Aquarium is a big area with lots of grass, trees, birds and squirrels. Artists display their paintings along the paths, and there is a lot of room for kids to go bananas if they're in the mood for that. There's also a playground near the miniature train where they can have some climbing, swinging fun. This can also be a great place for a...

12. Picnic! - If the weather's good, and if you're in the mood for it, bring a blanket, a packed lunch or just some snacks along. Then plunk yourself down somewhere, let your kids eat, run free, and chase crows or whatever else they can think up. If you don't feel like packing a lunch, just bring a big blanket to sit on, and get some food from one of the concession places around the park.

13. Check out the 9 o'clock gun - Staying up late with the kids? Then you might want to check out the nightly firing of the famous cannon on the Seawall. It's pretty noisy, so if your kids are frightened by loud noises you might just want to go and have a look at the cannon in the daytime instead. There's a great view of downtown Vancouver from this spot too.

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