No Hotel Rooms? No Problem.

Kid-friendly Hotel Condon in Condon, Oregon

Hotel Condon in Condon, Oregon

I’ve recently been contacted by readers, despairing that my top hotel picks are either priced out of reach or unavailable for the upcoming summer. Family hotels in Portland, Victoria, Vancouver and Seattle are booked solid, sold out and too expensive!

Well, no surprise — I’ve dealt with the same situation, even as a travel writer. Here’s what I typically do when faced with sold-out hotel rooms, a planned trip and kids.

1. Set up in the suburbs. Now, some suburbs are better than others. For example, many suburbs of Vancouver offer the SkyTrain option into downtown Vancouver, so I’ll look for hotels near the SkyTrain. Portland offers this as well. Seattle is still working on getting their transit act together, so that’s not as much fun — but I’ve done it. Worst case scenario, I resign to driving into the city and paying for parking.

2. Use Priceline’s “Express Deals” tab. If it’s a heavily-booked weekend, I probably won’t hook a successful, low-priced bid for a decent hotel in my desired destination. But the “Express Deals” usually work at hitting the sweet spot of price and location. The potential downside: because you don’t get to choose your bedding type, you may end up with one King, three kids, and no sleep. To circumvent this, look for “Bed choice available” in the text of the express deal. This can allow you to choose two Queens, two doubles, or whatever you need. OR arrive very, very early in the morning, and you may end up with a bed choice (this has always worked for us, but we arrive at 9 a.m.).

3. BYOB (bring your own bed). With a teen and a kid (who will not share a bed with one another), I bring an air mattress for my younger child, or build a “sleep nest” out of pillows, cushions, blankets, and more pillows. This allows me some flexibility in the kind of bedding arrangements we can find, or which type of Priceline stay we reserve.

4. Get very creative or expand the budget. Home swaps? VRBO? AirBnB? Non-reservable, last-minute camping spots? Hostel rooms — there are family rooms available, but often booked far in advance; with teens you might find the bunk options reasonable? Vacation swaps? Petsitting or housesitting stays (I’ve found great petsitters through trustedhousesitters.com, although I haven’t used it as a traveler, yet.)?

5. Ask about a waitlist. If I have my heart set on a specific hotel, I might call 24-48 hours in advance of a stay and ask if there have been any cancellations. Or I’ll call earlier and ask if there’s a waitlist of any sort. Smaller hotel owners may be willing to work with a family — they want their hotel or inn filled for the weekend.

6. Reschedule the trip. This is the worst option, but sometimes necessary. Look for a weekend that isn’t insane — weekend festivals can pack Northwest hotels. This only works if I’m driving, not flying. I’ve done it many times. I’m unwilling to pay $150 for a one-star hotel room in the grottiest part of town, and there’s always another weekend that could work.

Sea Monsters, Star Wars and SNOT: This summer’s museum attractions for families

If making plans for summer, check out these new and upcoming kid-friendly museum exhibits in Seattle, Vancouver or Bend — the exhibits may inspire a day trip, weekend excursion or week-long adventure.

Sea Monsters Revealed
Vancouver Aquarium. Vancouver, BC.
March 5 to September 7, 2015

From now through the end of summer, discover what lies beneath the sea’s deepest reaches, where few humans have ventured. Sea Monsters Revealed uses plastination (seen in many human anatomy exhibits) to preserve the bodies of deep-sea creatures and ocean oddities, including a mako shark and a car-sized sunfish.

Vancouver with Kids, Summer 2015: Sea Monsters

Vancouver with Kids, Summer 2015: Sea Monster Exhibit. Photo courtesy Vancouver Aquarium.

GROSSOLOGY: The (Impolite) Science Of The Human Body
Pacific Science Center. Seattle, Washington.
June 20 to September 7, 2015

Two words: burp machine. This summer, animatronic exhibits and (probably too much) information edifies on snot, stink and other disgusting things that entertain kids. For example: The “Gas Attack” pinball game, “Urine: The Game,” a kidney-riffic experience, and a “Tour du Nose.” Despite being somewhat gross, it’s all in the service of teaching kids cool stuff about biology. Also, maybe, not to pick their noses so much. We’ll see.

Ultimate Dinosaurs
Science World. Vancouver, BC.
Opening Saturday, May 30.

Meet dozens of dinosaurs that evolved in the Southern Hemisphere, in the flesh (or close to it). The exhibit combines augmented-reality tech with fossils to create realistic Southern-Hemisphere dinos rarely found in North America, including those that outsize the toddler-beloved T. Rex.

Disguise: Masks and Global African Art
Seattle Art Museum. Seattle, Washington.
June 18 – September 7, 2015

This exhibit will include 50 masks and 10 costumes from SAM’s African art collection and about 100 objects on loan. The masks imitating and replicating animals are particularly fascinating for children.

Star Wars and the Power of Costume
EMP/SFM. Seattle, Washington.
Open January 31 to October 4, 2015.

If your kids are going through a Star Wars Phase (it’s a thing!), check out the 60 costumes at this traveling exhibit. Costumes cover the movies’ greatest hits; your Chewbacca, your Leia, your Darth Sidious, and so on, and there’s also an opportunity to see how illustrations become costumes and interactive pieces that encourage kids to touch fabrics. Who knows, it may inspire a costume design (or two) at home, as well.

Titanaboa: Monster Snake
Burke Museum. Seattle, Washington.
Aug. 22, 2015 – Nov. 15, 2015

He measured 48 feet long. He weighed up to 2,500 pounds. He was Titanoboa cerrejonensis, the largest snake in the world. This exhibit reveals more about the 60 million year old remains found in Columbia, along with other post-dino Paleocene critters. Skittish? It’s only a full-scale model of Titanoboa; the real thing is extinct. Whew.

Growing Up Western
High Desert Museum. Bend, Oregon
Through July 26, 2015

Kids at the turn of the 20th century — did they have it easy or rough? View kids’ clothes (like wooly chaps, kid-size saddle and Chinese shoes), learn about children’s work and play, and visit a replica of a child’s 1900 bedroom.

Gold Rush! El Dorado in BC
Royal BC Museum. Victoria, BC.
May 13 through October 31, 2015

Understand more about why some people traveled continents to seek a fortune. See BC’s largest existing gold nugget (The Turnagain Nugget), indigenous, pre-hispanic gold art treasures from Columbia and a million-dollar coin (May 13 to June 14 only).

New for Families from Victoria Clipper

For U.S. residents, there’s never been a better time to visit Canada. Thanks to the strong dollar, U.S. visitors will find items less expensive, from hotels to restaurants (if you withdraw Canadian money from an ATM, using your low-transaction-fee debit or credit card).

The Victoria Clipper has a few new options I thought I’d share — they’ve added a Family Fun on Bicycles tour that takes families on a private, two-hour cycling tour of Victoria ($41.75/adults, $26.50/children over age 2, prices in USD). The tours fit the family — so young kids may want to visit the petting zoo at Beacon Hill Park or feed the seals at a wharf, older children can visit historical sites or explore one of the beaches outside of downtown.

Meeting a Beacon Hill peacock; Photo courtesy The Pedaler.

Meeting a Beacon Hill peacock; Photo courtesy The Pedaler.

The Pedaler (leading the tours) can set you up with a cargo trike that can either be driven by a tour operator or a family member, bike trailers for toddlers or a trail-a-bike so your child can pedal behind your bike. Kid-sized bicycles are also available; the smallest size is 20”. Check out the options at The Pedaler’s site.

The Clipper also offers Shaw Ocean Discovery Centre as an add-on option to travel/accommodations. The centre is in Sidney, BC, which is either a 30-minute drive or very long bus ride from downtown Victoria. I’d suggest it only if you have an extra day or so, because of the time involved. However, Sidney (also called Sidney-by-the-Sea) is sweet, petite, fish ‘n’ chips-style town.

A few more notes for families:

  • Children under age 12 are $10 per paying adult when booked with an overnight package. The children’s tickets sans package aren’t too expensive either ($35). Go before they turn 12!
  • The Clipper now offers online check-in, and you’re assigned a boarding group when you pay for your reservation. BUT! Pre-boarding is still available for families traveling with children under age three. Request pre-boarding at the ticket desk at your departure terminal, even if you’ve already checked in. You want to board as early as possible to get the best seats (My favorite spots are the four-person tables near the bathrooms/exit; upstairs four-person tables; and front-of-ship seats)
  • On the breakfast menu, there’s a kid’s basket called the “Lil’ Sailor” with Kellogg’s cereal, milk, string mozzarella cheese, a cup of fruit and a fun surprise ($4.50), if you didn’t have time to pack a breakfast.
  • You’ll hear about contests and promotions by signing up for the Victoria Clipper’s email list — no quick-link, scroll to the bottom of the page and look for the “Subscribe” text-entry box. I heard about the new online check-in via the e-mail list. Or you can follow the Clipper on social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The BC Sunshine Coast with Kids

Today, we have a special visitor, Lori McGrath, who pens her thoughts at The Write Mama. In a Q&A, she’s  going to tell us about BC’s Sunshine Coast with kids — where to go, what to do, and where to eat.

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I grew up spending my summer vacations on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia, a truly beautiful place – filled with oceans and trails, cozy cottages and beaches, parks and wildlife. Now that I have a five-year-old son, my family is rediscovering all the things that make the Sunshine Coast such a great destination for families.

We stay at our family cabin near the town of Gibsons, which is the main marine gateway for the Sunshine Coast. Arriving in Gibsons requires no more than a 40-minute ferry ride from West Vancouver and a short drive. Further up the coast, you encounter the towns of Roberts Creek, Sechelt, Halfmoon Bay, Davis Bay and Pender Harbour.

Beach near Gibsons: Kid-friendly beach on Sunshine Coast

At the beach near Gibsons

Where are the best places to stay with kids on the Sunshine Coast?

The best way for families to stay on the Sunshine Coast is to check out a website like VRBO. A place to rent near the water, along the Strait of Georgia, is best. There’s nothing like drifting off to sleep listening to the sounds of the waves. Spend days walking logs, searching for shells, making sandcastles, fishing on the dock and swimming in the ocean with the kids. You’ll wish you could stay forever.

If you can’t find a rental, there are a ton of B&Bs and local resorts to choose from.

For camping families, Porpoise Bay Provincial Park in Sechelt has a lovely sandy beach, playground, picnic tables, tons of shade, real bathrooms and showers, hiking trails plus a campground within easy walking distance of all these facilities. It’s a truly lovely spot for a day visit or for camping.

Porpoise Bay Provincial Park Playground

Porpoise Bay Provincial Park Playground

You can also rent kayaks or book kayaking lessons or tours from Talaysay Tours right at the park. Reservations for the Porpoise Bay campground are busy so book ahead through the BC Parks Discover Camping Reservation Service.

What’s the best Sunshine Coast playground, in your opinion?

The best playground we have found in the area is at Porpoise Bay Provincial Park. Bring a picnic lunch and make a day of it playing on the beach and enjoying the picnic area in the park. Tons of shade. Tons of sand. Tons of fun.

Where are your favorite places to eat with kids?

It’s always a challenge to eat out with kids – a lot of times we whip up a picnic and head to the park for a special outing. But if you are looking for a family-friendly restaurant, here are some great affordable choices:

Old Boot Eatery, Sechelt: We stopped here for an Italian style lunch, with salad, pasta, pizza and baked sandwich choices. My son was offered an activity book and crayons to keep him busy. Your kids will enjoy the kids menu, as long as they are pasta eaters!

Molly’s Reach, Gibsons: This restaurant was a backdrop for the Canadian TV show “The Beachcombers” (1972 -1990). A fun bit of history is that the show tried to rent my grandparent’s cabin and when the TV crew rudely tried to make too many changes to it, my grandma Dody threw them out! If you were a fan of the show or just like checking out local lore, be sure to stop in for some fish and chips. The kids menu has a good variety of choices and prices are reasonable. Takeout is available if that works better for your family.

Mikes Gelato, Gibsons: Mosey around the Gibson’s Marina and check out the boats after your meal and then walk up to enjoy gelato. Don’t bother ordering the small size– you’ll need at least a medium to fully appreciate the burst of flavour you are about to enjoy (there is a kids’ size for the little ones too)!

Gramma’s Marine Pub, Gibsons: If you happen to have babysitting available and you are able to sneak away for a pub dinner, be sure to drop by. Sit on the patio with its oceanfront view of Gibson’s Harbour, and order some seafood and a margarita. Happily, there is also a takeout window available; find a picnic table nearby or walk over to Pioneer Park for a picnic. You can also order takeout straight from the pub.

Wheatberries Bakery, Upper Gibsons or Sechelt. When you are in the mood for a treat, I highly recommend stopping by this restaurant, which focuses on the handmade and organic. Kids love the cookies and the adults can get a latte and maple cinnamon bun and then take home some oven-fresh bread. I can’t wait to return next summer!

 

What are your favorite things to do with kids in Gibsons or nearby?

If you are in the mood for a movie, visit the one-screen Gibsons Cinema in Gibsons or the three-screen Ravens Cry Theatre in Sechelt. We watched a matinee of Monsters University this summer and it was a nice couple of hours out of the hot sun and we love how these smaller theatres feature very affordable prices.

On a past trip with our son, we visited the Chapman Fish Hatchery which welcomes families to drop in and tour the facility at any time. Every July, the hatchery hosts Catch a Trout Day and this year, kids are invited to stop by to catch a trout for the rest of the summer and early fall between 10 am – 3 pm Monday to Saturday.

The Sechelt Night Market runs on Thursday nights from June through September, and offers entertainment for the whole family. We enjoyed taking in the classic cars, the magician and the entertainment after a dinner out in the town. The on-site petting zoo was run by Mystique Andalusians & Farm Ventures, which also offers an interactive farm experience for families on their farm in Roberts Creek, but only on weekends by appointment.

Kids enjoy the nature trails, picnic area and interpretive exhibits at Iris Griffith Interpretive Centre at Ruby Lake. While there, check out the center itself, made of natural wood beams. The center even uses solar power and a solar water heating system. My son was fascinated by these features!

Iris Griffith on the Sunshine Coast

Iris Griffith on the Sunshine Coast

I wouldn’t do this 4 km hike yet with my five-year-old, but if your kids are older, head for the world renowned rapids of Skookumchuck Narrows at Skookumchuk Provincal Park in Egmont. Be sure to check the local paper which publishes the local tide tables before you go so you get there at the best viewing time. Allow 1 hour each way and be sure to bring plenty of water on a hot day!

How about your favorite shops? Any favorite Sunshine Coast toy stores?

Once and a while, I manage to sneak away from our cabin for a bit of me time and shopping. My first stop is always Wheatberries for a chai tea latte followed by a visit to a few of my favourite places when mama needs a moment alone:

  • Drop in at Yoga by the Sea in Roberts Creek for some relaxation during your vacation.
  • Visit the Swallow’s Nest in Upper Gibsons to browse amongst the unique vintage furnishings, home decor, fashion, jewelry, and gift lore.
  • Nip over to the Pastimes Toy Store in Sechelt or Greatkids Toys in Gibsons. Both stores have a great selection of games, crafts, and toys to choose from.
  • Peggy Sues Gifts Boutique at Gibsons Landing has a great selection of designer kids clothes as well as dancewear for kids and a small selection of classic toys.

    A fun photo at the Sechelt Night Market

    A fun photo at the Sechelt Night Market

  • My husband, a musician, always makes a point to stop in at the Melo Mania Music Store in Roberts Creek. It’s the only music store on the Sunshine Coast and my husband says he enjoys chatting with the owner as much as he enjoys checking out the guitars.

I hope this gives you a taste of the wonders of the Sunshine Coast. There is so much more to see and discover but you’ll just have to come for a visit to find out for yourselves!

 

BC Water Parks and Water Slides

Boomerang Ride at Cultus Lake Water Park, BC with kids

Boomerang Ride at Cultus Lake Water Park, BC

Cultus Lake Water Park, Fraser Valley, BC.

This waterpark offers a two new rides in 2013. The Boomerang takes up to four passengers in a raft  in a double-figure-eight slide, down 60 feet before diving to the ‘boomerang’ landing canal below. The Bazooka Bowls dares the daredevil — it takes riders through a black-hole flume, into a 30-foot bowl slide where they’ll rotate before dropping into a 9-foot bowl below. Too scary? There’s a spray “Pirate’s cove” that’s very cute and suited for younger children. OK to bring in your own food, and great discounts on the Cultus Water Park’s website.

Bridal Falls Waterpark, near Chilliwack, BC.

This BC water park is pretty straightforward — heated water (up to 80F) pours through four advanced slides, two intermediate, one tube and three kiddie slides under the shadow of looming mountains, along with a giant hot tub for the grownups. OK to bring in your own food. Near Harrison Hot Springs.

Harrison Water Park, Harrison Lake, BC

A summer water park actually located in a lake, Harrison Water Park functions like a freshwater playground. Scramble, bounce and slide on the inflatable equipment in the middle of Harrison Lake. It’s for ages 6 and up only; kids need to be at least 10 years old to be here unsupervised.

Splashdown Park, Tsawwassen, BC.

Just a short drive from metro Vancouver (and near the ferry to Vancouver Island), this park serves up a ramp slide, river run, body slide, five children’s slides and a big outdoor pool to splash in — a nice collection of water slides for the BC summer.  Look for the $8 off coupon on the park’s website.

Variety Kids Water Park,  Vancouver BC.

This free Stanley Park water playground or “sprayground” brings on the sprinklers, cannons and streams to create Vancouver’s largest outdoor spray park. On Granville Island, kids can play in the Granville Island WaterPark, which offers one slide along with a “spray park” area for toddlers and big kids. There’s also an outdoor spray park at Vancouver Aquatic Centre.

Atlantis Waterslides, Vernon BC.

In the hot, sunny BC interior, this water park keeps kids cool with 10 water slides, including the bumpy “River Riot,” three fast flumes and two gentle slides suited for preschoolers or toddlers. About 45 minutes away, young kids will like the colorful municipal Kelowna waterparks. (Check out this photo of Ben Lee Waterpark).

Harrison Hot Springs with Kids: Where to Eat, Sleep & Splash

My kids and I recently went on two trips to Harrison Hot Springs, which is about 90 minutes east of Vancouver, and two hours north of Seattle. And we loved it.

Harrison Hot Springs Resort outdoor pool.

Harrison Hot Springs Resort outdoor pool.

The hot springs of the town’s name are located inside Harrison Hot Springs Resort. While there are little restaurants and hotels in the town of Harrison Hot Springs, this is a town that takes up all of about four blocks, and in order to use the hot springs, you must stay at the resort. So for that reason, check out the family deals and specials offered through the hotel’s website.

The hotel itself, although called a “resort,” is a straightforward middle-class retreat. You won’t find a lot of fancy touches (although there is free wifi) or luxe trappings. The property almost feels like it’s from the 1980s, and I mean that in a good way. The resort attracts people of all income levels, nationalities and languages. No one is here to put on airs — you’re walking around in a bathrobe, for goodness sake.

The pools at Harrison Hot Springs:

Natural hot springs come out of the ground at 150-degrees Fahrenheit; cool water is added, then the mix is fed into the resort’s five pools (which are also chlorinated for hygiene). Outside, plunge into one of three pools: the rectangular lap 87F/30C pool or the asymmetrical curved lines of the 95F/35C larger family pool or adults-only 105F/40C-degree pool. The water is warm enough to sit around in, whether it’s summer or winter, night or day. After sunset, we saw kids bringing glowsticks into the pool — and at night, you can look up and name constellations overhead without city light pollution.

Outdoor pools at Harrison Hot Springs

Rainy day at Harrison Hot Springs Resort

In summer, a spray park sits beneath surrounding towering mountain range –great for toddlers and preschoolers.

Indoors, you’ll find two more pools — another large, rectangular warm pool, and a very hot circular tub (38C/100F) below a dramatic ceiling and skylight. You can go from warm to cool to hot in a matter of steps.

Rooms at Harrison Hot Springs

Inside Harrison Hot Springs Pools

No poolside towel service exists here; you receive towels in your room, and you might not have enough of them during your stay. It seemed like our towels were constantly wet. You might bring some super-absorbent pool towels from home.

Poolside deck chairs are available, but you won’t find much shade. Pack sunscreen. Also, if you’d like a deck chair on a sold-out weekend, you may need to send a member of your party down to scout out chairs early (7 or 8 a.m., perhaps).

Rooms at Harrison Hot Springs:

Family-friendly rooms at Harrison Hot Springs

East Tower rooms at Harrison Hot Springs

Rooms come in more than 25 configurations in four different buildings: each were developed during different time periods. Choose from the East Tower, Main Hotel, West Tower and West Wing. The East Tower offers the most modern, with larger rooms. The family rooms — in the Main Hotel — are historic (so historic, they don’t have air conditioning in summer…). The East Tower and West Tower have balconies, and most rooms have two Queen beds. Views are categorized as garden, pools, lake, mountain and village.

I don’t like a lot of commotion, and rooms facing the inner pools get noisy, so I ask for a lake view room. Many young professionals and groups of friends come here to enjoy the adult-only pool late into the night (the pools are open past midnight), so you might want to figure that into your room choice considerations.

Because the rooms are smaller, you may want to pack some board games and books for the common areas, which are spacious. Lots of little nooks, two-person chairs, couches in front of the fireplace and table-side seats.

Awesome stuff: Arrive by 4 p.m. to take advantage of the daily tea service, so you can get a cuppa and a cookie. On very busy weekends, you may not be able to check in right away at 4 p.m., if your room isn’t ready, so be prepared to walk along Harrison’s lovely beachside path or go play at the town’s playground for a few minutes.

Eating at Harrison Hot Springs:

Most rooms come with a mini-fridge, which is great if you’d like to bring snacks or your own breakfast. We enjoyed the hot breakfast buffet in the resort’s Lakeside Cafe once, and it was okay (great views if you’re lucky enough to score a window). But the buffet is not something I would make a habit of, due to the price (unless you get a Harrison resort package or deal). So you might bring cereal and milk for the fridge.

Lakeside cafe kid-friendly restaurant in Harrison Hot Springs

Getting served at the Lakeside Cafe

The resort’s “Miss Margaret” cafe serves quite good (and shareable) wraps and salads, perfect for a poolside lunch. The hotel’s Copper Room is renowned for its live music, fine dining and light-up dance floor. There’s even a children’s dance floor. However, it is very expensive — sort of a special night out. I’ve never eaten there.

Dining in town is also sort of 1980s  — at 2025 prices. Harrison Pizza is decent, has great service, and offers good deals.  The Yukiya Sushi spot is also fine (despite what the Yelp reviews say), but expensive. In the sushi restaurant, there’s a cute little table-booth that feels a bit more private — as a family, I’d go for that booth. 

Muddy Waters Espresso Bar serves up gourmet sandwiches featuring local ingredients (until 2 p.m.). But mostly, this is a town with $11-12 children’s meals (yes, you read that right), so you may well want to plan for PB&Js or sandwich wraps in the room. There’s no grocery store in town, so stop at the Costco in Abbotsford, at the Abbotsford Farm & Country Market or a grocery in Chilliwack, 25 minutes away to the west.

Kids at Harrison Hot Springs:

The hotel supplies you with two adult robes, but no robes for children. Bring robes for the kids from home, and do bring them — walking between the rooms and the pools can get very chilly, especially at night. During peak travel seasons, the hotel plays kids’ movies.

Be aware that because of the high mineral content in the water, your muscles get tired (aka “relaxed”) very easily, so don’t let the kids wear themselves out on the first day. There’s a zero-entry point (like a beach) for the outdoor pool, perfect for babies and toddlers visiting Harrison Hot Springs Resort.

Bring flip-flops to make an easier (and cleaner) transition between hotel room and outdoors, and between the indoor and outdoor pools.

Kids can wear floatation devices, bring toys into the pool with them, and so on — so don’t forget those toys, either.

There are no lifeguards at these pools. You are 100% responsible for your own kids.

In the main building, kids might like the game room with some old-school arcade games. The resort’s gift shop is definitely the best one in town for families, with board games, activity books, t-shirts, and water toys. Outside, on the resort’s grounds, there’s a small garden suitable for hide-and-seek.

Family Activities in Harrison Hot Springs:

Okay, the truth is that my kids and I mostly like sitting around and playing in the hot springs. If you’d like more though, there’s a nice playground and beach (bring sand toys) lakeside, a water park (like a water playground), surrey bikes for rent and bumper boats for rent. Nearby, you can hike at Sasquatch Provincial Park, which offers picnic tables and Bigfoot (or so I hope, although I didn’t see him when I was there). A public swimming pool sits right in the town center, but it’s not really worth a visit.

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Later this week, I’ll talk about what else your family can do around Harrison Hot Springs, if you’d like to make it a multi-day stay.

BC Okanagan with Kids: Camping, Parks, Restaurants & More

Jennifer Kossowan is a mom to a 2.5-year old daughter, blogs at her delightful site Mama. Papa. Bubba and lives in Vancouver. But both she and her husband grew up in the Okanagan, part of BC’s sunny central interior that offers warmth and long, lazy summer days. Where would Jennifer send a friend who’s visiting the Okanagan for the first time. She’s most familiar with the Vernon-Lumby-Winfield-Kelowna area, so that’s what we’re covering here.

Family at Echo Lake Fishing Resort

Kossowan with her daughter at Echo Lake Fishing Resort

1. What’s your favorite Okanagan destination with kids?

It’s hard to choose as there are so many wonderful places to visit with children in the Okanagan. That being said, if I had to pick just one it would be Davison Orchards Country Village, near Vernon, BC. It’s been a favourite of mine since I was a girl, and with each year, it gets better and better. On top of being able to pick your own produce (or buy it pre-picked in the market), the orchard includes a small kid’s playground with horse-shaped tire swings, a large grassy knoll perfect for picnicking, hourly tractor tours, a café serving delicious homemade food, a petting zoo that includes chickens, goats, bunnies, sheep, and a donkey.

Family at Davison Orchards

In the Crazy Cow Corral

Even more enticing than all of that though, is the Crazy Cow Kid’s Corral, a huge play enclosure that includes a ride-on tractor track, rubber duck races, giant slides, a tree house, corn bins to play in, a mini golf course, and a huge sandbox, complete with vintage truck and tractor. When you visit, be prepared to stay for the better part of the day – the kids will love it that much.

2. What are some of your favorite Okanagan parks and things to do with kids and why do you like those spots?

Visiting some of the plentiful parks and beaches is an absolute must when visiting the Okanagan with kids. Kalamalka Lake Provincial Park and Ellison Provincial Park, both located in Vernon, are wonderful for biking, hiking, and swimming adventures, while Kal Beach (Vernon), Skaha Beach (Penticton), Hot Sands Beach (Kelowna), Paddlewheel Park (Vernon), and Canoe Beach (Shuswap) offer an array of swimming areas, playgrounds, water parks, and water sports rentals.

Other than beaches and parks, the Okanagan has several really unique spots geared towards families. One of our favourites is Rawhide Ridge Ranch, a working ranch run by passionate owners and filled with wild animals – buffalo, turkeys, and zebras included! Also on the unique animal front, Kangaroo Creek Farm in Kelowna offers the opportunity to learn about and interact with kangaroos and wallabies in a completely non-commercial setting.

Another great spot is the Enchanted Forest. Situated in a gorgeous old growth forest in the Monashee mountains between Revelstoke and Sicamous, the forest is a world of fantasy brought to life. If you’re looking for a little more adventure, Atlantis Waterslides in Vernon is the place to go. With kiddie slides, a popular river riot ride, large hot tub, and slides of all sizes, there’s fun for all ages.

Okanagan splash park

Playing in the splash park at Polson

Lastly, Polson Park, also located in Vernon, is not to be missed. Home to a floral clock, beautiful gardens, duck ponds, a lawn bowling club, a space and science centre, plus a skate park, water park, and children’s playground, you can definitely make a day of your visit.

3. Do you have any favorite restaurants to go with your child in Okanagan?

Though we don’t eat out a whole lot, Friesen’s Country Tyme Gardens in Vernon would definitely be somewhere I’d recommend taking the kids. With hearty, homemade food reminiscent of Baba’s cooking and lots of outdoor seating, wee ones can take in the fresh air and enjoy a delicious meal all at once.

4. Can you recommend any preferred family-friendly hotels or rentawhls? If someone were visiting the Okanagan for the first time, where would you suggest that they stay?

Though it can be a bit of a splurge in the summer months, staying at Lake Okanagan Resort is an Okanagan adventure in itself. Rentals range from studio apartments to 3-bedroom suites, and include gorgeous balcony views and kitchen facilities, which is very convenient when travelling with kids. The resort includes a spa, golf course, multiple pools, various courts, a kid’s playground, an interpretive trail system, horseback riding, and summer kid’s programs, so mom, dad, and the munchkins are sure to be happy.

Echo Lake Fishing Resort a place to stay with kids

Echo Lake Fishing Resort

If you prefer the complete opposite – something small, quiet, inexpensive, very outdoorsy, and not at all commercial, we really enjoy staying at the Echo Lake Fishing Resort. Located outside of Lumby, Echo Lake Fishing Resort has seven small, rustic cabins that line the lake. The cabins come equipped with electricity, propane-operated fireplaces, kitchenettes, cold running water indoors; there are personal outhouses, fire pits, and wharfs outdoors. A small kid’s playground is onsite, along with endless nature to observe and inexpensive boats for rent, which makes for a serene family getaway.

5. Any favorite hikes or camping spots in the Okanagan?

Ellison Provincial Park in Vernon, mentioned before for its beaches and hiking and biking trails, is a very family-friendly spot to camp. In addition to a playground that is almost always filled with kids, it boasts a huge waterfront picnic area, a volleyball court, and designated swimming areas. Haynes Point Provincial Park, located on Osoyoos Lake, is very popular and sometimes difficult to get into, but most would say the ultra warm water is worth the fight. The combination of warm water, lakefront sites, and it being in Canada’s only desert area makes for a special experience.

Also on the popular but worth the effort to get into list is Shuswap Lake Provincial Park. It offers hiking and biking trails, great scuba diving experiences, a large adventure playground and big grassy knoll, as well as horseback riding, parasailing, bumper boats, go carts, and water sports rentals very nearby. The last one is actually a campsite I’ve yet to visit, but always hear great things about. Cedars Campground, just east of Sicamous and the Shuswaps, is known for its river setting, indoor pool, jacuzzi, and elaborate playgrounds.

6. Any toy stores, clothing stores or small-biz shout-outs — somewhere to pick up a new plaything while staying in the Okanagan?

I’m probably a little biased towards Vernon businesses, as that’s where we spend the majority of our time when in the Okanagan, but Vernon Teach & Learn on Main Street is an amazing store that started out small and has grown into a one stop shop for teacher resources, quality children’s toys, and unique learning materials. It also includes a cute ice cream and sweets shop now too! Equally awesome is Chicken Little, a barn-shaped store on 29th street. It’s the best place to buy children’s clothes, baby basics, and innovative kid’s items that aren’t carried anywhere else in the city. They also have a small but wonderful consignment section, and great end of season sales.

Thanks so much, Jennifer! Readers, where does your family eat, stay and play when visiting the Okanagan? Please leave a comment.

Family-Friendly Hotels & Rentals in Whistler & Blackcomb

Allura Direct. Want to enjoy all the comforts of a separate bedrooms, a full kitchen  and a washer and dryer?  Try a vacation rental through Allura Direct, which connects Whistler vacation rentals by owner to families hoping to find a little home-away-from home. More than 400 condos, homes and lodges around Whistler, Blackcomb, Creekside and further. The booking engine even allows you to note whether you need free baby equipment, a pet-friendly rental or a private yard.

Kitchen at the kid-friendly Sundial Suites in Whistler

Kitchen at the kid-friendly Sundial Suites in Whistler

Sundial Boutique Hotel.  One of my favorite places to sleep in Whistler — I love this little independently owned boutique hotel, from the compact, fully equipped kitchens to the two-bedroom suites. A room with a view of the skiers (winter) or mountain bikers (summer) provides free entertainment year-round, and is worth the splurge. Sign up for the online e-mail blasts and find out first when the hotel offers deals and specials on the suites.

Tourism Whistler. This site connects you to hotels with availability, so you can compare prices and quality levels. Double-check your deal with a site like Tripadvisor to get some honest reviews (some of the hotels listed wouldn’t be my first choice, but might be yours). Many of the upscale hotels I’ve stayed at (below) I scored through their “Suite Secrets” deals,  which matches budget-minded travelers with Whistler accommodation inventory that hasn’t yet sold. You must book within the next 14 days, so it’s best for last-minute Whistler deals.

Kid-friendly Whistler Chateau Fairmont

Kid-friendly Whistler Chateau Fairmont

Fairmont Chateau Whistler. Amazing breakfast, lots of family activities, (including board games, complimentary bathrobes, tot fun packs), but a bit of a walk from the main Whistler village. However, if you’re planning to spend time at Blackcomb Family Adventure Center or the tubes, it’s perfect. The breakfast at Wildflower is killer (nom, those Pemberton potatoes). If you can, get a mountainside view; the kids may find that watching wildlife is better than  TV.

Westin Whistler. Tidy, tight rooms – but many have a mini-kitchenette and a sofa, and the Whistler-side ski lifts are literally minutes from your door. Check out the “typical” Junior Suites (with oven and microwave) or the one-bedroom suites. The hotel also makes jogging strollers available upon request.

Pan Pacific Whistler. Five-star luxury in two locations — one in the village, and one on the mountainside. I love the Whistler Mountainside‘s gorgeous outdoor hot tubs and spacious suites (with full kitchens). On the other hand, I like the Whistler Village Centre’s great location and free buffet breakfast .

Finding Family Whistler Hotel and Condo Rooms and Deals:

For lodging in Whistler, BC, the peak period is Christmas through New Year’s Eve, when you could pay up to $800 per night or more for a hotel room (No, there’s not an extra $0 in that number) at top properties. Less expensive Whistler accommodations are available in late spring and fall (through the second week of December), although I’ve also found great deals in the middle of summer, when you can take the Mountaineer train up from Vancouver. Winter prices are reasonable, as long as your timing doesn’t coincide with BC school spring break.

When you’re booking your room or condo, ask about noise — any hotel with windows facing certain outdoor plazas and restaurants can get loud until late at night (not good for littles and light sleepers). Construction is often done in summer, so ask about the possibility of jackhammers destroying your baby’s naptime along with outdated hotel rooms.

Have you been to Whistler? I’m always looking for new ideas for great Whistler hotels. Where did you stay, and did you like it?

10 Great Places to Eat in Whistler with Kids

Crepe Montagne: A great place to eat with kids in Whistler

Crepe Montagne: A great place to eat with kids in Whistler

1. Crepe Montagne offers beautiful atmosphere and crepe prep. I love the warm lodge-like interior, fresh juices, French-language kids books and savory crepes with egg, ham and cheese. It’s also a great dessert destination, with preschooler-friendly crepes like caramel and chocolate or that tasteful favorite, Nutella and banana.

2. Options are the name of the game at Splitz Grill, which makes it a Whistler restaurant good for kids. Pick a meat (veggie burger, beef or chicken), then pad the bun with your selections of fresh veggie add-ons, sauces and dressings. The dining area is sort of cafeteria-style, but the food is filling, cheap and served-to-order.

3. At the base of Blackcomb mountain, Nagomi Sushi, a kid-friendly sushi joint, dishes up everything from fried edamame to fresh rolls. Sushi in Whistler (IMO) is not all that different from one place to the next  (I’m ducking as I write that). Locals and visitors debate over which one is best (Sachi Sushi and Sushi Village are the other favorites). What do I suggest? Choose the restaurant you can find seats in.

Pasta Lupino: Handmade, kid-friendly pasta

Pasta Lupino: Handmade, kid-friendly pasta

4. Pasta Lupino is a solid pick if you’re not quite ambitious enough to make a full-blown dinner in room, but you don’t want to sit through yet another restaurant meal. Here, mix-and-match a pasta shape (like short radiatore, short spinach cesare, linguini, spaghettini) and a pasta sauce (like alfredo, bolognese, tomato and basil, the spicy sausage arrabiata), for fun, let the kids pick one combo, and then choose another for grown-ups.

5.  Ciao-Thyme Bistro fills your plate with shareable omelettes, wraps and griddle cakes for a hearty start to the day. At lunch, the sandwiches, melts and wraps are solid options. Dinner can get expensive (entrees $25+), so consider it a splurge. It’s a bustling, buzzing Whistler restaurant, and therefore great for kids.

6. Pizza is a cheap and delicious way to refuel — but Creekbread takes it to a new level, with lots of all-natural ingredients (free-range pork, locally grown veggies and even housemade organic olive oil) atop wood-fired dough, baked in a clay oven. Flavorful toppings, big broad wood tables, outdoor seating and a gregarious atmosphere. We loved this place so much, we visited twice. A great place to take toddlers and big kids, too.

Other options: Beet Root Café (yummy cookies), quick deli lunch at the Whistler Marketplace IGA, veggie dishes and sandwich pitstops at Ingrid’s Village Cafe in Whistler Village and Portobello for kid-friendly pizza, fresh sandwiches and homemade soups.

Bonus: The Lift Coffee Company makes a hot latte and breakfast (including great pastries and oatmeal).

21+ Awesome Things To Do in Whistler with Kids

I love Whistler resort’s Euro-village streets, where you can walk from bar to bookstore in just a few steps. I love the joyful atmosphere — it seems like there’s always a film festival, children’s art fest or apres-ski happening. I love the outdoor activities — nowhere else is it as easy to ski, snowshoe, skate, and swim within just a few miles.

Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort is an accessible, playful, family-friendly town where it feels like anything can happen — and if you haven’t yet visited, you might be missing out.

What to do with kids in Whistler, year-round:

Peak 2 Peak in summer

Peak 2 Peak in summer

  1. Hold on tight and coast from one mountain to another in a glass-bottom gondola on the Peak 2 Peak. Even if you don’t ski, a trip in a gondola up Whistler, on the Peak 2 Peak, and back down Blackcomb is a heart-pounding adventure. Don’t forget to stop for a cup of hot chocolate. In summer, you may even spot a bear from your perch inside the gondola — bring binoculars.
  2. Pick out a trinket, activity book or board game at Whoola Toys, a Whistler mom-owned toy store literally packed from floor to ceiling with great, eclectic choices. It’s a good place to pick out a special in-hotel play set or cool hand-held toy for the drive home.
  3. Browse the paperbacks and pictures books at Armchair Books, which is well stocked with both classic and brand-new titles.
  4. Hold your breath and jump into the lazy river at Meadow Park Sports Centre; the Centre also boasts a slide, a six-lane lap pool, a vortex and hot tubs for mom and dad. If your Whistler resort hotel doesn’t have a fantastic pool (or that pool is just too darn cold), head here — you won’t be disappointed.

    Candy at Great Glass Elevator in Whistler

    Candy at Great Glass Elevator in Whistler

  5. Fill your bag with candy at the Great Glass Elevator Candy Shoppe, which offers bins of jellybeans, chocolates and sweet ‘n’ sours to scare a dentist. Yum.
  6. Fly through the air with the greatest of ease at Bounce Acrobatic Academy, which boasts a giant indoor trampoline, padded walls and a foam pit. Drop-in rates available.
  7. Rainy day in Whistler? No problem. Catch a flick at Village 8 Cinemas. Visit the website to grab some coupons for this Whistler favorite.
  8. If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands along with your toddler at a Whistler Public library storytime, or just sit and snuggle up with a good book.
  9. Learn to weave at Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre; this culturally rich museum is best for older kids who’d like to learn more about the First Peoples of the area.

    Whistler Inclusive Playground

    Whistler Inclusive Playground

  10. Enjoy the swings, slide and ramps at Whistler Inclusive Playground, a 13,000-square-foot outdoor play area with innovative spinning disks, swings and carved structures. I love all the smooth, formidable wood here – it’s one of the most aesthetically appealing playgrounds I’ve seen in the Pacific Northwest. Read this Whistler.com post on Whistler playgrounds for more information. If it’s cold? Just bundle up and grab a coffee, because your kids will want to play here.
  11. Let the kids climb the walls at The Whistler Core, which offers rock-climbing classes for big kids, evening climb/dinner childcare options and fun Whistler summer camps.

What to do with kids in Whistler in summer:

Farmers Market Summer

Whistler Farmers Market

  1. Nosh your way from stall to stall at the Whistler Farmers Market, where you’ll find hand-picked local berries, mushrooms and veggies. You’ll find crafts here too (although those are not nosh-able).

    Driving a mini-car at Whistler Blackcomb Adventure Zone

    Driving a mini-car at Whistler Blackcomb Adventure Zone

  2. Bounce on the bungee trampoline, drive a mini-car or walk the rope course at the Family Adventure Zone, where tickets purchase rides scaled for all ages: toddlers through teens. A super-fun summer Whistler activity with kids, and near the Blackcomb-side lifts.
  3. Ollie at the Whistler outdoor skate park.

    Family canoe trip along River of Golden Dreams

    Family canoe trip along River of Golden Dreams

  4. Navigate the waters along the grass-lined River of Golden Dreams. Bring binoculars, a camera, snacks and a sense of adventure; on calm days, lazing along the river, mountains in sight… it’s Northwest travel at its best. If you’re not sure your kids are ready for this, try paddling Lake Alta. In any case, we rented (and got great advice) from Backroads Whistler’s family self-guided tours. You could also hire a guide, but I don’t have any experience with that (and the self-guided is the less expensive option).
  5. Sing through the treetops on a Ziptrek Tour; children as young as six years old can go on these bird’s-eye-level trips through the evergreens.

    A busking entertainer at Whistler

    A busking entertainer at Whistler

  6. Watch the street entertainers — bring a Loonie or a Toonie to drop into the busking cases of your favorites. One of my favorite (free) forms of entertainment in the summer.

    Lost Lake BC near Whistler

    Lost Lake BC

  7. Hike or bike your way along some of the region’s stunning trails. See this map of hiking and biking trails in the Whistler area; I recommend trails near Lost Lake in particular.

What to do with kids in Whistler in winter:

  1. Coast on giant inner tubes down the Whistler Blackcomb Tube Park snow. Best for parents of older preschoolers and up — you must be 3 years old to ride here.

    Whistler with kids

    A gorgeous day on top of Whistler mountain.

  2. Slip along kilometres of cross-country groomed paths at Lost Lake Park, when in season; pick up your toddler-friendly chariot carrier at Cross Country Connection. Even very young children can snowshoe or ski for short distances, and Cross Country will be able to suggest good ski paths and destinations.
  3. Play Wii at the Nintendo Gaming Lounge; there are two lounges, one located on Blackcomb, the other on Whistler mountains.

    Whistler Kids Ski and Daycare

    Whistler Kids Ski and Daycare

  4. Sign the kids up for ski or snowboard school or daycare. Check the kids’ ability charts online before you enroll them, to make sure you’re signing them up for the right class. Don’t miss the children’s play areas on the mountain if you’re going it alone.
  5. Chill out on the ice skating rink (winter only), which only accommodates 150 skaters at a time.
  6. Wow even hard-to-impress teens at the Fire and Ice Show, which runs from December through March. Snowboards dive through fiery hoops and acrobats juggle flaming torches; do not try this at home.

Do you have a favorite Whistler activity, attraction or playground? Let me know!