Vancouver Airport with Kids: Play Areas, an Aquarium & More

Whether you’re flying in or out of Vancouver International Airport (YVR) in British Columbia,  you’ll find plenty to do with kids. I love the diversity of offerings — where else can you find an outdoor park, a play area, a hands-on observation deck and an on-site airport aquarium? There’s so many fun activities, you almost want to book a trip just to play. Here’s a full map of the Vancouver Airport.

Children’s Play Areas at the Vancouver Airport

With three locations after security and one before security, there are a number of areas throughout the airport for kids to play and climb. Before security, near the domestic terminal food court (Departures Level 2), you’ll find a play area.

The indoor playground at Vancouver Airport

After security, there are three different play areas to choose from:

Domestic Terminal, Departures Level 3, Gate 3
Domestic Terminal, Departures Level 3,Gate 43
International Terminal, Departures Level 3, Gate 54

Family-Friendly Washrooms at the Vancouver Airport

A changing station is located within every washroom, male and female.

Nursing Mothers’ Area at the Vancouver Airport

A nursery room equipped with cribs, play pens and a changing area is available before-security in the United States Terminal, Departures Level 3. It can be accessed at a person’s request. It is a large, quiet area where parents can have some privacy if feeding or changing. There are family restrooms at every washroom location with full change stations. Of course, throughout the Pacific Northwest and BC, nursing in public is both accepted and welcomed.

Additional fun zones and things to do with kids at the Vancouver Airport (observation area, aquarium and park):

If you’ve got a child that loves to point to the skies every time an airplane flies overhead, you’ll want to take them to the Public Observation Area located before-security in the Domestic Terminal on Level 4.

Vancouver airport Observation Area

Vancouver airport Observation Area


Peer through telescopes to watch aircraft land, listen in on air traffic control, or learn about airport careers.

The kid-friendly Vancouver Airport aquarium

Vancouver Airport Aquarium and Creek

Located in the after-security area of the International Terminal is a 114,000-litre aquarium with over 5,000 aquatic dwellers. Kids can seek out a variety of Cascadia-native underwater fauna, including wolf eels, sea stars, sea urchins and more than 20 different species of fish. The Vancouver Aquarium also runs a duty-free store right at the airport, should you need some great souvenirs or toys for the plane ride home.

For families needing a little fresh air, the airport’s Chester Johnson Park houses First Nations art including K’san Totem Poles. Located right outside the International Terminal (before security), Chester Johnson Park is a great spot to go for a walk and take in some of B.C.’s beautiful landscape. Miss 604 offers a great write-up of Chester Johnson Park.

Read more about traveling with children here, at the Vancouver International Airport’s website.

Thanks to Jenny Duncan for background information and photos.

How to Get Good Seats on the Victoria Clipper

The Victoria Clipper passenger ferry is an efficient, pleasurable way to travel between Seattle and Victoria, whether you’re with kids, as a couple or boating solo. While you can take ferries from Anacortes to Sidney, or Port Angeles to Victoria, the Clipper is the fastest (no-flight) way to reach Vancouver Island’s shores from Seattle, or vice versa.

However, the Victoria Clipper boards in groups, and if you’re in the dreaded last boarding groups, you won’t have your pick of seats. You may find yourself wedged between strangers in less-than-ideal spots without views of the gorgeous islands, inlets and mountains.

I personally love the window-side, table-seating area (even if I do have to share it with other travelers), the front of the boat, the upstairs, or seats with plenty of play-room nearby. So I really want a spot in one of the first boarding groups. Here are three ways to get a Victoria Clipper seat:

How to Get Great Seats on the Victoria Clipper

1. Travel with your children under age two. Parents with young children qualify for pre-boarding, so you (and your stroller and other gear) will get on first. If you have kids older than two or still need special assistance, you can ask (but no guarantee). Ask about pre-boarding options at check-in or when purchasing tickets.

2. Get your assignment early. Visit the Clipper offices in Seattle or Victoria, check in and get your assigned boarding seven days before departure. You don’t have to wait until day of departure to get your assigned seating — and almost everyone else will be doing that — instead, you can check in and get your boarding group up to a week (7 days) in advance.

3. Join the Commodore Club. Clipper passengers who often travel between Seattle and Victoria may wish to sign up for this club, which gives you points toward a free Clipper trip with every trip purchased. According to the person who signed me up, the frequent-boating Club also lets you join Boarding Group 1 when you purchase tickets (if this is not your experience, please let me know).

Sun Peaks with Kids: Five Reasons to Love BC’s Sun Peaks Resort

For Presidents’ Day Weekend, Joanna Veldhuisen’s family of four (plus two teen friends) headed north to Sun Peaks Resort in Interior BC for several days of snow play and skiing. The entire family agreed this ski resort makes for a fantastic weekend. I asked Joanna what she loved so much about the destination. She sent me some great photos, and this is what she said:

Size. Sun Peaks is the second biggest resort in BC, but it’s a fraction of the size of Whistler and as a result it’s very family-friendly. Many parents of older kids (12+) feel comfortable turning the kids loose to ski or at least lunch on their own in the one-horse village. You can’t get lost, and most condos and hotel rooms are just a few minutes’ walk from the village center and chairlifts. Even over President’s Day Weekend, the resort had a relaxed, un-crowded vibe.

Sun Peaks main street

Sun Peaks: Main Street

Awesome alpine skiing. Although the village is small, the ski slopes are not, and BC’s Interior snow is reliably good. Three mountains surround the village in a 360-degree layout of 124 long runs that terminate near or at the village. Getting from one chairlift to another is easy and the lifts are fast, so you can’t help but do a ton of skiing in a day. This British Columbia ski resort is particularly good for beginner and intermediate skiers, but also offers plenty of black diamond terrain for advanced runs. While I was busy on the green runs, the kids headed off to the harder stuff and everyone was happy. Here’s a map of the alpine runs.


Sun Peaks with Kids

A ski run at Sun Peaks Resort

Nordic skiing at Sun Peaks. For those who would rather get away from it all, Sun Peaks has miles of trails for Nordic and skate skiing as well as snowshoeing. My crew hit the slopes on the first day, and I hit the Nordic trails on my own, bumping into other friendly solo skiers whose families were on the alpine runs.

Kid-friendly activities at Sun Peaks. My kids didn’t take much time off the slopes, but Sun Peaks has plenty of other fun for youngsters, including a year-round, outdoor heated pool at the Sports & Aquatic Centre, a tube park, a terrain park, a bungee trampoline, ice skating, and dog sled tours. Many of the condos and rental houses come with a hot tub for added fun, and playing in the snow just outside the door has never been so easy.

A walk through Sun Peaks BC

A walk through Sun Peaks BC

Sun Peaks Village amenities. Like Whistler, Sun Peaks is laid out like a walkable alpine village. It contains a few clothing shops, boutiques, and restaurants and cafes for all tastes, enough to be interesting without being overwhelming. You’ll also find rental shops for any ski equipment you need, and lessons for all ages and ski styles.

Tips on accommodation and groceries at Sun Peaks Resort:

Sun Peaks offers condos, rental homes, and a variety of hotel lodgings. The hotels are conveniently located right in the heart of the village, but a condo’s fully equipped kitchen is unbeatable, as restaurant eating adds up quickly. Many kids will be too tired to go out for dinner, after a day in the snow.

Americans, I suggest doing your grocery shopping stateside and stop for fruits and veggies in Hope or Kamloops. Sun Peaks has a small general market for incidentals.

Getting there: Sun Peaks is the closest ski resort in BC’s Interior to the Lower Mainland and Seattle. The resort is located 45 minutes north of Kamloops, approximately 4½ hours north of Bellingham, 6 hours from Seattle via the Sumas/Abbotsford border crossing and 4 hours east of Vancouver. The Sun Peaks website says 5½ hours from Seattle, but that’s optimistic when accounting for possible road conditions, border waits, and shopping for fruits and veggies. Plan for an hour longer, and the drive home will pass a little quicker.

The resort’s website provides more information about taking the kids to Sun Peaks, including ski lessons. The Sundance Kids Centre is a daycare facility that entertains children from 18 months through 5 years.

Photo at right courtesy of Adam Stein/ Sun Peaks.

BC’s New Family Friendly Holiday

British Columbia has a new holiday that celebrates families. “Family Day” will occur on the second Monday of February, starting this year (2013).

Here’s a quick round up of events that will happen next Monday throughout BC, including street entertainment and face painting in Vancouver, all-ages concerts in Victoria and free skating in Nanaimo.

Family activities such as skiing and snowboarding on Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, sleigh rides, snowmobile tours, snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, ziplining and ice skating are always on the menu at Whistler and on Family Day, many local activity operators are offering discounts on these experiences.

Whistler Blackcomb is offering half-price lift tickets to B.C. residents on Monday, February 11 and including a free drop-in craft station at Millennium Place, kids’ yoga jam at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre and Park Rider Ski and Snowboard Sessions.

The Whistler Museum is offering entry by donation on February 11 while the Meadow Park Sports Centre (my favorite! I love the kids’ pool) is offering family drop-in rates at half the regular price. The Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre is offering discounted family admission passes February 9 and 10.

Now this sounds like a holiday we could all enjoy (hint, hint Washington & Oregon legislators).

Vancouver’s Aquatic Centre at Hillcrest Park

In British Columbia, Vancouver’s winter rains can make a Stanley Park visit dreary and walking the seawall with a toddler sheer drudgery. But in East Vancouver’s Riley Park neighborhood, The Aquatic Centre at Hillcrest Park is the perfect way for a family to splash away the doldrums.

This 66,500 square foot water zone — and Olympic legacy facility — is now the largest pool in Vancouver, and includes a 70-person hot tub, separate dive and 50-meter lap swim tanks (with moveable floors), plus a lazy river and children’s area with playful fountains, showers and toys. The depth of the children’s pools is under 1 meter (a little over three feet), but there’s a zero-depth entry path, thanks to the focus on accessibility.

In fact, the entire pool is designed with accessibility in mind, so wheelchair users can roll via a gentle ramp into all sections, even the hot tub and play area. A bonus: it’s one more free thing to do with kids in Vancouver, if you’re the parent of a child under age three.

Hillcrest Aquatic Centre, Vancouver family fun with kids

Hillcrest Aquatic Centre. Photo Courtesy Vancouver Park Board.

The pool complex embraces mid-century modern design, with knotty pine walls, globe-shaped lights and dramatic floor-to-ceiling window views of the North Shore. In short, it’s gorgeous.

Hillcrest Aquatic Centre wasn’t as oppressively noisy as the traditional public pool from our childhood days — I think either the soundproofing or tall ceiling heights help. It’s also much cheaper than the typical resort waterpark.

If you time your visit right, you can combine a trip here with the Vancouver Winter Farmers Market, an interesting (and more locally focused) alternative to the Granville Farmers’ Market.

In summer, kids can enjoy the outdoor pool with sprays and bubble jets.

Prices: $5.98/adult; $4.24/youth; $2.99 children (ages 3-12); Under-3s are free; Families (1-2 adults and children under age 18) are $2.99 each.

Shortcut to Hillcrest Aquatic Centre schedule and prices.

More Vancouver Pools, Spray Parks and Beaches.

Vancouver’s Kitsilano with Kids

One of the best ways to really “meet” a city is through staying, playing and eating in a real neighborhood. You can hang out with other locals, discover in-the-know restaurants and shops, visit less-touristed attractions and generally trade in your anonymous experience for something a little more personal.

This week, we have a special guest post on Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighborhood from Vancouver-based blogger Claudia Laroye, an avid traveller, mother of two, and author of blog. She is passionate about family travel and about educating children through the travel experience. Her blog offers a modern mom’s guide of ‘how to’ travel tips and information, as well as destination advice for the new or experienced traveller. She contributes to Tourism Vancouver’s, Canadian print publications, and other travel sites on the web. Let’s hear Claudia’s take on Vancouver’s hottest neighborhood.

Kitsilano, Vancouver, British Columbia

I’ve lived in Kitsilano for ten years. We’ve raised our children in this family-friendly neighborhood, and have felt very lucky to have done so. The neighborhood has everything – beaches, parks, restaurants, cafes, yogawear & clothing stores, and baby boutiques. It’s a funky area with high-density apartments and condos for young singletons and marrieds, and older single-family areas with larger (and now expensive) homes.

In the past, Kitsilano has been more of a hippie hangout with a more dodgy, free-love reputation from the 1960s. Those days are long gone, though, as real estate prices have increased and people discovered the desirable beach-front, west side location. Kits is a great place to live, but also a wonderful place to visit, a go-to beach and leisure spot for Vancouver residents and tourists alike. — Claudia Laroye

A Day in Kits

Waking up from your night at the Granville Island Hotel, begin your day with croissants and coffee from the Granville Island Public Market or La Baguette et L’Echalotte. Walk west along the waterfront, following the footpath towards Vanier Park. Spend the morning exploring the Maritime Museum, including the RCMP ship the St. Roch – the first ship to circumnavigate North America.

Continue walking west towards Kits Beach, and let the kids play in the newly renovated and accessible playground. Before lunch you can dip a toe into English Bay or visit Kits Pool, then stop for lunch at The Boathouse Restaurant at Kits Beach, or continue south a few blocks to Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. at First & Cypress St.

kids make your own pizza night at rocky mountain flatbread

Rolling out dough on make-your-own pizza night at Rocky Mountain Flatbread

You can spend the afternoon strolling the shops of West 4th Avenue, and take a playground break at Connaught Park, near the Kits Community Centre at 12th Ave. and Larch St. If it’s a summer weekend you may see soccer, rugby or cricket matches in progress.

For late afternoon and dinner, pick up a bunch of picnic goodies from Choices or Capers, and head down to Jericho Beach for some water play and to watch the sun set. Another wonderful Kitsilano day!

Guide to Kitsilano with Kids

What to See in Kitsilano with Kids

Kits is packed with Vancouver Tourism-brochure staples like the HR MacMillan Space Centre and Maritime Museum at Kits Point. Both of these museums are fantastic places to visit with kids, involving interactive displays, and lots of touching-feeling action. [The Maritime Museum has an online coupon for free kids admission with paying adult.] They are both located within walking distance of Granville Island (itself a major destination on the Kits/False Creek border), Kits Beach, and Kits Pool – which are popular destinations, particularly in summer.

Maritime Museum, Vancouver with kids

Looking for ships at the Maritime Museum

Kits Beach is the eastern-most point of the Kits beach ‘system’ that goes west towards UBC and Point Grey. The western beaches (in order east to west) are: Kits Beach, Jericho, Locarno and Spanish Banks. West of Spanish Banks the beachfront trail enters Pacific Spirit Regional Park at UBC. The beachfront trail is ideal for walking and biking, and all of the beaches are accessible by car, with free parking lots.

Shopping in Kitsilano with Kids

Where do we start? The main shopping streets in Kits can be found on W. 4th Avenue and West Broadway. There is also a niche shopping area at First & Yew near Kits Point.

West 4th Avenue has morphed into a bustling commercial district with unique boutiques and cafes, and what I’d term yoga/activewear, housewares, and baby ‘zones’. In other words, there are groupings of such retail clusters that specialize in baby and young children-related toys, clothes & supplies, as well as yogawear & various activewear retailers (think NorthFace, Helly Hansen, IceBreaker). Two not-to-be-missed stores for shopping for the under 5 set are Hip Baby and Crocodile Baby. For moms and dads, check out the original Lululemon location, and stroll the many funky boutique clothing and book shops. For the travel bug, Wanderlust is Canada’s largest travel retailer, with maps, luggage & books to suit planning for any and every future trip.

On West Broadway, the flavors become more Greek, literally. This section of Kits attracted Greek immigrants 50+ years ago, and it’s still highly visible in the shops, restaurants, and even the banks.

Greek shops in Kitsilano Vancouver kid-friendly

Greek delicacies in Kitsilano, Vancouver

The annual Greek Day festival in June is a summer highlight in the neighborhood. Must visit shops include my favorite bookstore, Kidsbooks, as well as the Toy Jungle toy store, and the Just Imagine costume company. For traveling moms, browse the lovely trinkets at the WishList Boutique, and for sublime chocolates (for your own consumption or as gifts), do not miss Thomas Hass and his world of chocolate excellence. His Sparkle cookies are a local (and now world-famous) legend.

Where to Eat in Vancouver Kitsilano with Kids

Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. is a very Kits pizza parlor, with a kids play kitchen area and local, organic ingredients. Earl’s on Fir & Broadway for West Coast tasty. (Be warned: they have no high-chairs). The Eatery for a unique — and funky — sushi experience. Moderne Burger for awesome handmade burgers in an authentic diner setting. Terra Breads for bread, baked goods & sandwiches. White Spot for BC tradition & family friendliness. Banana Leaf for amazing Malaysian cuisine (sharing plates is encouraged). Capers (Whole Foods) for beach/park picnic supplies ‘to-go’ from their deli-restaurant. Maria’s Taverna for great Greek food.

The best cafe (where cappuccinos approach those found in Rome, Italy), is at 49th Parallel, on 4th Avenue. It’s just the simply the best in town. Period. A delicious second choice is Caffe Artigiano, several locations.

Where to Stay in Vancouver / Kitsilano: Kits Hotels, B&Bs and more

The one thing that Kits does not have a lot of are hotels. There are a few small-scale bed and breakfasts, catering often to couples and adults. However, the Rose Garden Suite at the quiet and lovely Greystone B&B can accommodate up to six people, with a full kitchen, and breakfast is included.

The next best solution is staying at the Granville Island Hotel, in False Creek. It’s close to Kits, even within a pleasant walking distance, and is superbly located on the Island itself, near the Public and Kids Markets, community centre and artisan shops. The Hotel is also pet-friendly, the restaurant (Dockside) is kid-friendly, and the Granville Island playground and waterpark are within 200 feet of the hotel.

Granville Island Public Market with kids

Granville Island Public Market with kids

Thanks, Claudia! You can also follow Claudia (as I do!) on Twitter @travelling_mom

If you’d like more Vancouver neighborhood recommendations, check out my book, Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver.

Family Travel! Bobbi Sue camps with kids in British Columbia

bobbisue2Bobbi-Sue Menard kicks butt at camping. This Kelowna-based freelance journalist and mom of five kids knows a LOT about camping in every type of weather and condition. She goes on 10-day camping trips, she’s experienced 12-hour drives, she copes with torrential rainstorms, she’s even gone canoe camping. Wow. Sort of puts the one-night outing in perspective. Let’s hear more:

Why do you love camping with your kids?

I love camping with my kids because we do it together with abandon.  Once we are out there, while we might have adventures, and it might not work out, life is kind of simple.  We’re camping and that’s it.

Do you have a favorite BC family camping spot?

We were at Shuswap Lake Provincial Park three weeks ago and loved camping in the middle of a cedar forest, just beautiful.  The sites seem like they are set up in a fairy glen forest.  We also have fond memories of the Lakes District around Burns Lake.

What’s the longest camping trip you’ve been on in British Columbia?

We did 10 days in two stages. The first spot was in Syringa Provincial Park, which we loved, although it doesn’t have showers. We were there for three days before moving on to our true destination, Waterton Lakes National Park.

We looked at the map and despite the fact we are experienced mountain drivers we estimated the second leg of the trip to be 7-8 hours drive; we were wrong about the travel distance, it was closer to 12 hours with traffic, plus we had a late start as we had had truck problems so we left late.

When we arrived at 11 p.m., we set up in Waterton at our reserved site on the flats at the end of the lake. It was the pitch dark, with the torrential rain driven by 60-90 km/hr wind gusts.  We pitched the brand new, 8-person dome tent in the shelter of our Expedition SUV, yet the wind was so strong, the tent would inwardly flex so the roof would touch our faces.

The next morning we tore down camp again and waited in line at the non-reservable campsite on the mountain side where the wind was still strong but bearable. After a morning blessedly free of rain, it turns out it was just saving up…it sheeted rain for the next two days.

Eventually it eased off into a steady drizzle for the remaining two days of our trip and we got in some hiking and went paddle boating. Nonetheless we considered the trip a triumph.  The kids were aged 9, 8, 5, 3 and 1 — and none of them were sick, everyone kept good spirits and we were able to tell some really fun stories.

Wow, that is hardcore. Is there a point at which you know you need to pack up the tent, call it off and go home?

Serious vomiting or diarrhea, significant equipment failure that we can’t reasonably replace and puts us in real discomfort or possible danger. For example, when the last kid to go pee doesn’t shut the tent properly and the sleeping bags at that end of the tent get wet beyond reason with no way to dry the bags — we go home.

We have canoe camped with young kids, despite tons of planning, the right gear, and short trips, it generally sucked.  Time in a canoe is rarely fun after the first half hour or so with small kids.

Any general tips on camping with babies or toddlers?

With babies or toddlers, divide and conquer. Take turns with the kid(s) while the other parent accomplishes the basic tasks.  Bring the portable play pen, put the toddler in it whenever necessary.  If you aren’t too tired, use your child backpack or baby carrier liberally.

If you are hiking to the most gorgeous waterfalls you’ll ever see and they are at the end of a 7 km trail, with a 7 km hike back, make certain you have had toddler in a backpack for a 14 km hike more than once.

Love the environment, but don’t be a fanatic, bring stacks of baby wipes, STACKS. (Lora says: And bring even more baby wipes! An unending supply of baby wipes! Or 1000 cloth washcloths, if you must).

I am in awe of anyone who manages cloth diapers on a camping trip.  Make certain you have a good system, because those diapers will either be locked in your vehicle overnight because of bears or in your hard sided, possibly un-air-conditioned car with you.

Invest in a box of large Glad freezer bags, they’ll fit a wet, soiled outfit perfectly and keep the mess safely stowed until you get home to your laundry.  When I said invest I meant it, handling liquids on a camping trip can be a hassle, with kids you could be relying on the sealing power of quality bags more than you think.

What’s the most difficult thing, in your opinion, about camping with infants and toddlers? How do you overcome that problem?

Accepting how infants/toddlers sleep schedule is going undergo a big shift and you will be at its beck and call.  Depending on your kid, day two or three could see a parent quietly sitting in camp while your darling naps away an entire afternoon while the other parent takes older siblings on an outing. Plan to keep your child well rested; that will cut down on accidents (trips and falls), keep the hot afternoon whining down, and your child’s eating more regular.

So, what’s your never-leave-behind item that you feel like every family should pack on a camping trip? Anything special when you’re camping with toddlers?

Never leave behind prescription meds, a photocopy of ID, emergency contacts and medical insurance, and $100 cash. That’s the civilized list.  For physical emergency, never forget a first aid kit, or rain gear.  Bring pull-ups/overnight diapers for any toddler night trained for less than a year.  It gets cold in a tent and when kids are TIRED, accidents are more common than you would like to believe.

Is there anything that you think a family COULD leave at home?

You COULD leave home your dog on the first trip ever.  The first time can be a bit overwhelming and a dog can be a lot of stress.  You could also leave home everything electronic. Try the trip without a DVD player — play ‘I spy’ or ‘Simon Says’ in the car.

Any tricks for preparing for a camping trip with five kids?

For me the big thing is to think through solutions to situations before I leave so that my expectations are managed.  Then I tell the family how we are going to handle things when they go wrong.  For example: We now bring on board game for vehicle breakdowns.  We laugh about it, “This trip Monopoly only gets played it the truck dies…” etc.

For little kids we go over our expectations each day, “We are camping, we are here to have a good time, but as a person although you are small, you must remember please and thank-you, no whining and you wash your hands with the baby wipes before you eat anything.”

Tofino with Kids: Advice from a dad insider

Tofino BC with Kids

Tofino with Kids

Tofino is where wilderness and luxury meet. It’s a wave-washed destination where even the public campgrounds are never far from million-dollar views.

John Platenius is the parent of two children (ages 5 and 7) and a resident of Tofino, a top summer vacation spot along Vancouver Island’s western shore. Platenius has just put out a fine new book on the region, Tofino Guide, retailing for $19.95. Read more at his Tofino-focused website or leave questions below in the comments.

Here are Platenius’ tips on things to do with kids in Tofino, his recommendations for great hotels and campgrounds, and even the best hiking trail with a preschooler. (Photo at right, Platenius’s son playing on a Tofino beach)

1. Can you recommend a good Tofino hotel, if you’re staying with kids?

Platenius: Oh oh — prepare yourself for long answer, because there are so many great hotels and resorts in Tofino. Most people come here for the beaches, so it’s a natural fit to recommend a place located on one of the beaches. I can truly say that you can’t go wrong by any of the hotels and resorts that are located on a beach. For many families visiting Tofino, price is the main determining factor. Luckily for budget travelers, our peak season of July and August is relatively short, and there are incredible deals outside of these months. If adventurous families want to come to Tofino in the winter months, they can find a room or even a cabin at a luxury resort for $100 per night — and that’s for a stupendous beach location with cushy amenities!

The most established family-oriented hotel and resort on the beach is Pacific Sands Beach Resort. It’s located on Cox Bay and is a great choice. But it really comes down to taste and what’s available at the time. Pacific Sand’s neighbors, Cox Bay Beach Resort and Long Beach Lodge get rave reviews and are equally stunning in terms of location and amenities.

Chesterman Beach only has one hotel, the Wickaninnish Inn. The Wick is a Relais and Chateâux property and it’s the definition of luxury. My family goes there for coffee fairly often to take in the incredible atmosphere and feel special. If price is not your determining factor for accommodation, I would recommend it in a heartbeat. They have a kid-friendly   special called “Wick Kids” which has a kid-version of a gift basket and they offer complimentary child care when guests dine at their restaurant perched over the Pacific.

And then there is MacKenzie Beach, which has two places that I often recommend — again depending on the price and need for amenities. Middle Beach Lodge is an established resort that offers an out-of-this world experience. It was built with heritage materials and is appointed with marine antiques and artifacts that create a warm and relaxing mood. The owner likes to quote a writer who visited there and said “Ralph Lauren would be happy here,” and I too think that’s a great description. Middle Beach has a good approach to welcoming kids to a resort, with family-specific cabins, which are located a great distance from their adult-specific lodge. It’s a 40-acre property, so there’s lots of room for everyone.

The last place I’d recommend on the beach is Ocean Village Beach Resort on MacKenzie Beach. It was recently purchased by a green development team that revitalized the property. It is one of the few places in Tofino that has an indoor swimming pool. It also has an expansive lawn that leads down to the sandy beach, which makes it very attractive to families with wee ones.

OK – there’s one more on MacKenzie Beach that I should mention: Crystal Cove Resort. This place has an awesome private play park for kids. While it is mostly set-up for RVs, they have some really nifty cabins for rent that are built up on stilts, so it feels like your sleeping in a tree fort.

It’s also important to point out that many families choose to stay in vacation rentals — entire houses that have been set up for nightly rentals. My family loves to stay in a vacation rental when we travel, because we can cook our own food, and the kids have more space to roam around and play freely. Most of the resorts that I mentioned above have cabins that they rent in this fashion and there’s two large vacation rental management companies in town: Tofino Vacation Rentals and Tofino Beach Homes. Additionally there are over 100 privately owned vacation rentals in Tofino, so there are tons of options available.

2. Which beach is the best for toddlers or preschoolers visiting Tofino?

Platenius: In my mind, all beaches are great for young ones. Exploring, digging, boogie boarding, skipping rope with bull kelp — what fun! In Tofino Guide, I recommend MacKenzie Beach as the calmest beach for toddlers looking to wade around in the water. It’s relatively protected from the swell and wind, which generally makes for calmer water. There’s also some spectacular tidepools at one end of the beach that make for wonderful exploring if it’s a low tide. Kids love to squish their fingers into sea anemones and giggle as the alien-like blob squirts out water and closes it’s tentacles.

3. Can you recommend any family Tofino/Ucluelet restaurants where you can take kids?

Platenius: Ooooh. That’s a tough one. Most of the restaurants in Tofino are attractive for families, and all of them are good. Three come to mind, and I’ll explain the perks of each. All three give crayons and have kid-friendly choices.

SoBo — which stands for Sophisticated Bohemian — is run by parents of two young ones, so it’s a natural first choice. The owners recently commissioned a local father to build an attractive but functional play toy for kids to use on their patio. He built a mini replica of the purple bus that they used to operate out of when they first opened and it’s a great draw for kids. Our kids love to eat lunch at this restaurant, and they usually order a kid-friendly version of their miso oudon noodle soup. SoBo’s polenta fries are practically a staple for many Tofino families.

Shelter Restaurant is another great choice for kids, especially for lunch. It’s a bit darker, and more lounge-like than the other three, which I think can be fun for kids to experience. They have the best booths in Tofino — big and cushy. They also play surf movies on four or five TVs, which my kids love to watch. The kid’s pizza there is a great choice.

And then there’s the restaurant at the Weigh West Marine Resort, which has been around for a long time. It’s perched right over the water on wooden pilings, so kids can lean over the window and watch the marine life below. It’s common to see river otters and sea lions swimming right by your window, and you can watch the star fish clinging to the pilings. You are literally dining in an intertidal zone! The kids fish and chips is great, and it’s a good value too.

4. What is your favorite hiking trail in the area (that would be suitable for a family with young kids), and why?

Platenius: The Rainforest Trail, Loop B is my first choice. It’s about one kilometer long (0.6 miles), which I find a perfect distance for my 5-year-old daughter. The entire loop is boardwalked, which makes for easy walking, and there are great interpretive signs about the temperate rainforest ecosystem. One section of the trail crosses a ravine by way of a huge log that fell who-knows how long ago, which impresses the kids and the adults in the crew.

5. Can you recommend a favorite family-friendly campsite near Tofino? Why is it good for kids?

Platenius: Before I answer this one, I should mention that if families are looking to camp in Tofino in July or August, they should make reservations well in advance.

All of the campgrounds are family friendly, but I think Green Point Campground, in the Pacific Rim National Park is probably the top choice for families. It’s situated up above Long Beach, which is about a five-minute walk from most campsites. The reason I choose this one is because it gets you away from it all, but still has all the amenities you’d expect at a campground. Because it’s in the National Park, it’s significantly cheaper than the others. There’s a theater in the campground that hosts naturalists and park staff who present evening shows on topics like black bears, gray whales and the local indigenous culture.

Families Travel! Okanagan with Kids

Amy and Mike Sztupovsky live in semi-arid Oliver, British Columbia (about halfway between Pentiction, BC and the US-Canadian border). This couple are real travel aficionados – something made easier by the fact that they unschool their two kids, Lan (5) and Kayden (3).

“When our oldest was coming closer to school age we started to research homeschooling options,” Amy says. “I had never heard of unschooling before but when I started to learn about it, the method really spoke to my heart.”

So this family doesn’t need to worry about pulling the kids out of preschool or school to travel, and travel becomes part of the kids’ schooling. Naturally, Amy’s own website is called Worldschool Adventures. Let’s find out why unschooling and traveling fit together, and what to do in the Okanagan with kids.

(All photos courtesy Amy Sztupovsky: at right, Tuc-El-Nuit Lake)

How did you decide to unschool? What is unschooling?

Unschooling is best described as interest-led learning. We watch for the sparks of curiosity in our children and then we expand upon their interests so that they’re always engaged, involved and curious.

Mike and I have been planning on doing long-term traveling with our children since before they were even born!  The more I read and learned the more excited I became about the unschooling philosophy and I started to attend homeschooling meet-ups in our area.  I questioned mothers who were already doing it and began to get more and more comfortable with how it would work with our family.  We dove into unschooling head first and haven’t looked back since!

Like any type of homeschooling approach, unschooling allows us to take advantage of the off season (and off season prices!) We also like to do many of our outings on weekdays when things are less crowded.

What’s it like to live in Oliver, British Columbia and unschool?

Oliver is a very rural area, which offers both pros and cons for unschooling.  One of the cons is that our town is just too small to offer many of the amenities and programs that a larger center would offer.  But of course, there are many advantages to growing and learning in the rural Okanagan community.  We know where much of our food comes from and take an active roll in the process by supporting farmers markets and u-pick orchards.

Oliver has a fabulous paved pathway along the Okanagan River and we can ride our bikes into town and to Oliver’s fantastic water park, Kinsmen Water Park, near the Kinsmen Playground. We attend local festivals like The Festival of the Grape held every September.

Riding bikes in the Okanagan

Much of our learning stems from observations in our environment and the South Okanagan provides ample opportunities for hiking, biking, and swimming in the summer, and in the winter Mount Baldy Ski Resort is only a half hour drive away where one can ski, snowboard, snowshoe or cross country ski.

Do you go camping with kids in the Okanagan, in British Columbia?  How early do you have to reserve a spot?

There are so many campsites in the Okanagan. The summer months see many tourists passing through and camping on our many beautiful lakes and rivers.  We, however, like to head for the hills when the camping season starts.  Our best resources are a Back roads Map and a Camp Free in BC book.

Almost every mountain lake will have a forestry campsite on it with groomed sites, picnic tables, fire rings, and pit toilets.  They are beautiful and best of all they are free!  Most can be reached within a half hour to an hour drive of the towns but try to get there early as many will fill up on a Friday night. Our favorites are Isintok Lake and Idleback Lake near Penticton.

Do you have a favorite kid-friendly restaurant (or restaurants) in the Okanagan region?

Our favourite restaurant in Oliver is the Fire Hall Bistro.  This old converted Fire Hall has memorabilia and photos of its glory days. What kid wouldn’t want to eat in an old fire hall?

When is the best time to visit the Okanagan?

Many tourists come for skiing in the winter but most of our visitors come in the summer months.  We get very hot weather in July and August and people flock here for our lakes and beaches.  If I were to recommend a time of year though, I would say come in June or September.  Things won’t be so crowded but the weather is still great!

Read more about Oliver, British Columbia at the Oliver Tourism website.

Seven Funky, Must-Visit Vancouver Stores

So, you’ve been to Granville Island. You’ve enjoyed the hip shops along Vancouver’s 4th Avenue. Ready for something different? Don’t want to buy just another mass-produced souvenir from the Robson stores? Here are seven indie-owned Vancouver shops that everyone will love.

1. Urban Source. Hundreds of bits ‘n’ scraps fill this store – no, it’s not a hoarder’s dream. Instead, it’s a clever shop that challenges children and adults alike to craftily reuse and recycle. Take paper and caps and create a flight of fancy in the form of a bird, or make your own decorative wrapping paper. It’s a fun way to spend $10 and make something beautiful once you get home.

Gettin' crafty with the bins at Urban Source

2. Regional Assembly of Text. If you’re helplessly devoted to type, this tiny shop will get your ink flowing. Create your own button-pin with the store’s typewriter and art supplies, browse cool ‘zines, select a handmade card, pick up a screenprinted shirt and otherwise immerse yourself in a type-cast world.

GumDrops helps you weather the weather.

3. GumDrops. Yes, it rains here. A lot. That’s no reason to hide inside. Head into the rain-focused GumDrops and pick up a gumball-colored matching set of raincoat, hat and boots. Children’s sizes are available, along with more sedate, urban rain fashions and summer (all weather!) sandals. You’ll weather any storm.

Chinatown, a kid-friendly place to go in Vancouver

4. Miscellaneous shops in Chinatown. In Vancouver’s Chinatown, a stuffed-animal wave awaits even the pickiest of children. Shops overflow with Pikachu, Hello Kitty and Disney Princesses (some authorized, some questionably authorized). We particularly like browsing businesses for Totoro-themed school supplies, cool Chinese sandals and stuffed animals. Don’t forget to visit side streets to enjoy a serendipitous shopping experience.

5. Stepback offers clever vintage and refurbished housewares, including melamine plates, children’s chairs, and 1940s-60s pastel-hued accessories. It’s a sure stop if you’re hoping to uniquely outfit the new baby’s nursery.

At 3H Craftworks

6. 3H Craftworks. This texture-rich store benefits both the manufacturer (a craft collective of developmentally disabled adults) and the consumer (you). You’ll find imaginative storyboards, hand puppets, sun hats, hand-stitched dresses and yes, even a sock monkey or two.

7. Smoking Lily. Our family’s must-stop shop for unique screenprinted tees for teens and adults, cool skirts (well, only for the ladies of the family), beautiful housewares and other one-of-a-kind items. These ahead of the trend tees, dresses and skirts aren’t cheap, but you may luck into a sale.

Do you have a favorite Vancouver shop?