13 Great BC Spring Break Ideas for Families

British Columbia’s mountains, lakes and harbors offer hundreds of great spring break family getaways. These standout cities and villages provide lots of great indoor and outdoor fun things to do for little kids, big kids and teens. Take a look and let me know if I’ve forgotten any of your favorite spring break destinations.

North and East BC Spring Break Ideas:

1. Fernie. Tour historic downtown (including the last standing wooden oil derrick in BC), visit the Fernie Nature Centre and enjoy all sort of great activities.

2. Fort Steele. In East Kootenay, this restored 1890s boom town boasts more than 60 heritage buildings, and spring break demonstrations of tin smithing, gold panning and dress making.

3. Kelowna. Ski and tube at Big White (look at the family spring break packages), visit the Kelowna Art Gallery for free on Thursdays and go for drop-in swim time in the wave pool at H2O Adventure Fitness.

4. Prince George. Learn about hands-on science and history at the Exploration Place Museum and Science Center (check out those dino models!), view constellations at the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Prince George Centre, play in the sprays, bubbles and lazy river at the Prince George Aquatic Centre.

5. Revelstoke. Chug your way through the Revelstoke Railway Museum, slalom your way down Revelstoke Mountain Resort (where kids stay, eat and play free through March) and tour the Rogers Pass National Historic Site.

West BC Spring Break Ideas

6. Harrison Hot SpringsSpring break-themed deals and packages for families abound at Harrison Hot Springs and Resort, on the south shores of Harrison Lake.

7. Vancouver and West Fraser Valley. Visit nearby Fort Langley and hear stories by the fire, learn about historic weapons and then back into Vancouver to visit Kitsilano with kids. If it’s raining? No problem. Check out this list of great rainy day activities in Vancouver.

8. Whistler. You’ll still find fresh powder in the impressive Blackcomb-Whistler community; if you stay right in Whistler village, everything (restaurants, lifts, and activites) is walkable. Ride the Peak 2 Peakswing at the new playground and oh yeah, ski! Check the Whistler family deals and activities page at the Whistler-Blackcomb site.

9. Steveston. No, it’s not big and fancy or all that far from Vancouver.  But this little seaside fishing village has charm to spare, and feels worlds away from the big city. Walking the historic streets feels like a step into a quiet past — so it’s just the right speed for a getaway-from-it-all BC spring break with kids. Stay in Vancouver or Richmond (don’t miss taking the kids to sample the international flavors of Richmond’s Aberdeen Centre) or just visit for the day. Read more at Steveston with Kids.

Vancouver Island Spring Break Ideas

10. Ladysmith. On Vancouver Island, this laid-back town offers shopping, beach play and a bright red-and-green little trolley. But before you book your destination, review this round-up I wrote on kid-friendly Vancouver Island resorts.

11. Parksville. Also on Vancouver Island, this beach town was made for families. Explore Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Park, go on a self-guided tour of Morningstar Farm, wow over the springtime enthusiasm of Little Qualicum Falls and warm up at Nature World, in the butterfly-dotted tropical gardens. 

12. Tofino. Vancouver Island’s western shores offer stormwatching, beaches, movies and even more fabulous kid-friendly excursions. Read more on Tofino with kids, with tips from a Tofino dad.

13. Victoria. One of my favorite destinations if you prefer a pedestrian-friendly spring break; leave the car at home and push the stroller or hold hands in the compact downtown. Enjoy toddler-friendly activities and 35 free and cheap things to do with kids in Victoria.


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 thetravellingmom.ca 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 InsideVancouver.ca, 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.

Ew, Camping! Alternatives to tent camping to reserve NOW

Camping isn’t for everyone.  These options will get you out into nature and the outdoors — but you won’t wake to mud sloshing around your tent.

Alternatives to tent camping in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia:

Yurts. At Washington’s 412-acre oceanfront Grayland State Park, sleep in a 16-foot-diameter heated yurt outfitted with a queen-size futon, an end table and heater (a fine choice for a first camping trip with a baby or toddler). Or try Cape Disappointment’s yurts, which offer bunk beds that sleep three, a heater, floor lamp and an end table — and you’re never far from spectacular Washington Coast views of the Pacific Ocean. Read more about renting a Washington State Parks yurt. Or research on the BC Parks yurt page and the Oregon State Parks homepage. Renting a yurt on the Oregon Coast is the best of all worlds, and locals know it — these round-a-bouts are booked up fast.

U.S. Forest Service cabin, cottage, guard station or lookout. Some are more like mountainside or prairie chalets, complete with running water and flush toilets (but look carefully — some of the running-water perks are only available in summer). Others are more vintage-Victorian or pioneer days (complete with outhouse) but offer propane cookstoves, fridges, heat and light.

Airstream trailer. Silver Cottages offers a unique (although expensive) stay. Prices start at $849/three nights but includes delivery, setup, sleep spots for four occupants (i.e. two adults, two kids or one adult, three kids) in 31-foot silver Airstream trailer, complete with kitchenette, fridge, microwave, dinette, heat and air. Sleep in Bellingham, San Juan Islands and Lakedale Resort.

Officers’ Quarters. Take shelter in one of the dozen homes lined up in a row, tidy and upright. As they were once officers’ quarters of the early 1900s, you’ll find lovely crown molding, bannisters and loads of vintage touches. Read more about Washington vacation houses on the Washington State Parks website, which also lists lighthouse keepers’ quarters.

Teepee. Fields Spring State Park offers the only two teepees in Washington State, and one even offers an indoor/outdoor carpet floor. Yes, you have to bring your own sleeping bags and pads, but you don’t have to set up the tent! Oregon offers teepees at Owyhee park.

Log cabin. Sleep pioneer-style in a real log cabin — right on the Oregon Trail. Read more about the Emigrant Springs Totem cabins.

Beach house. Once a 1930s fishing resort, the Cama Beach cottages are now rented out by the Washington State Parks. Snore inside a retro cedar bungalow that overlooks the Puget Sound and Whidbey Island. Only a 90-minute drive from Seattle, this is a sweet nearby getaway. However, unless you book a bungalow rental, you’ll still cook outdoors. The upside from your kids’ perspective? That means s’mores for sure.

Treehouse. Want to sleep IN the trees, not under the trees? Check out Vertical Horizons Treehouse Resort for a B&B in a tree. Parents of teens (16 and over) can look into Free Spirit Spheres on Vancouver Island — these orbs float in the trees, like little alien pods. Pretty cool. Here’s a YouTube video about staying in a sphere treehouse.

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.”

Writers’ Round-up: Camping in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia with kids

Reading a first-person online camping story is excellent way to feel out a possible campsite – before you’ve even arrived! Here’s a quick round-up of sites (and sights) around the blogosphere, along with great takeaways. If you’d like me to include your camping related-post, leave a comment.

Northwest Cheapsleeps: I love this Seattle-based mom’s car camping checklist.
Takeaway: StingEze takes the bite out of mosquito nibbles. You don’t know how badly I needed this information.

Weelife: What’s a roof-top tent? Let BC-based camping expert weelife tell you all about this new way to camp, then let her tell you about kid fun on camping trips, and then how her hubby MADE A CAMPING SHOWER (yes, that deserves all caps). I think she married MacGyver, but without all the explody parts. After that, check out all her posts under the “wee camp” tag for recipes, crafts and more.
Takeaway: I’m going camping with Weelife.

Royal BC Museum: How did families camp in the olden days? Check out these photos. As archivist Ann ten Cate says of one photo, “This group seems to be the living embodiment of the phrase ‘happy campers’… they’ve got a guitar, a fiddle, a paddle and a rifle. What more do you need?”
Takeaway: Name your tent or RV. Artist Emily Carr named her caravan … “The Elephant.”

PDX Family Adventures: Learn about camping near Portland at Oxbow State Park or camping the Oregon Coast at Cape Perpetua.
Takeaway: Our region has become a confusing morass of day-use fees and annual passes, and the rules change all the time. Call your campground in advance to see what you need to bring with you – or pay up.

Growing Up Green: Vancouver-based mom Tovah from Gumboot Adventures tips us off to natural bug protection, a holistic first-aid kit and even solar-powered heat for your tent trailer.
Takeaway: A little research reveals worthy green alternatives to traditional camping equipment.

Kids in the Woods: Camping with a baby at Rialto Beach in the Olympic Peninsula.
Takeaway: “Bring plenty of burp cloths.  Staying dry is a worthwhile effort on the trail, and spit up is just as wet as (and much more predictable than) rain!”

Calico Garden: Inspired by tales of kid-friendly Washington State campgrounds? Check out Calico Garden’s photo-rich post on Penrose Point (one of our family favorites) and Middle Fork.
Takeaway: Don’t let a little rain scare you away from the campground.

Mad Hatter Mom: There are 10 Reasons to Camp with Kids from this Oregon-based mom.
Takeaway: Even if you don’t like camping, camping with kids is fun.

Sunset Magazine: Not a blog, but this story on car camping on the Oregon Coast is told from a mom’s perspective.
Takeaway: Don’t leave the French press at home, and don’t book a campground next to a highway.

The Travelling Mom: The best campgrounds in British Columbia.
Takeaway: Book BC spots up to three months advance at Discover Camping.

Sillimanians in British Columbia: A photo-only post about camping at Cultus Lake, BC.
Takeaway: Camping is more fun with music.

Otownmommy: Camp in Revelstoke, BC alongside the amusing Otownmommy and then read her “Rules of Camping.”
Takeaway: If you’re in bear country, wear “tent clothes” and “day clothes” so the bears don’t think you’re dinner.

Play Outdoors: Survive tent camping with kids in Central Oregon.
Takeaway: Embrace dirt!

Life with the Boo: Find out what it’s like to stay at Rathtrevor Beach Provincial Campground with a toddler.
Takeaway: Bring a bike or ride-on toy for little ones’ entertainment.

Savvymom: Sleep peacefully at Alice Lake with Michelle.
Takeaway: Book a campground near enough to civilization to make a marshmallow run if you forgot yours at home.

The Urban Momtographer: Another Alice Lake Post, with a set of wet-weather pictures in documentary style. You can almost taste the Jiffy Pop and feel the rain.
Takeaway: Don’t leave your camera at home!

The Pleasants: Beach camping might be the best of all worlds for kids – see this family’s post about camping in Long Beach, Wash.
Takeaway: When going to the beach, plan for every type of weather.

Bike Portland: Combining camping with a 41-mile family bike trip? Why not? (Great photos!)
Takeaway: After a 41-mile bike trip, you may want to sleep in a cabin.

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.

Five Favorite Vancouver Hotels for Families: From cheap to posh

We’re celebrating Vancouver, BC with a week’s worth of Vancouver- and BC-centered posts. I’ll give you the skinny on my favorite kid-friendly hotels, restaurants and activities.

Our family always stays in the downtown core or in the West End. The downtown core is convenient for catching the SkyTrain to Science World and walking along Vancouver’s “high street” – Robson Street. Downside: Very expensive parking, often starting at around $20/day. The West End is convenient to Stanley Park (which will soon become your kids’ favorite park in the whole world) and offers a U.N.-worthy selection of inexpensive, international eateries. I personally avoid staying anywhere along upper Granville street (before you hit Robson) or too near the Gastown neighborhood; both are too noisy and crazy at night for my taste. However, those areas are just fine for young people who like to party.

Here are my top recommendations. We’ve stayed at many more Vancouver hotels over the years. If you’d like my opinion on a possible hotel, e-mail me at lora AT cascadiakids.com and I’ll let you know what I think. I’m sure there are additional hotels that could be added to our list here – add your recommendation if you like. You’ll also find more recs in my book, Northwest Kid Trips: Portland, Seattle, Victoria, Vancouver.

Favorite Kid-Friendly Hotels in Vancouver, British Columbia:

The Westin Bayshore, Vancouver This bright hotel sits right on the edge of Stanley Park and offers expansive views of Coal Harbor. There’s a pedestrian path right in front of the Bayshore Westin – go northwest toward the park’s Vancouver aquarium and water playgrounds, or east toward the Coal Harbour Community playground and gelaterias. You can’t lose! This 511-room upscale hotel is a family favorite; kids love the children’s pack with toy treats and a free in-room movie. An incredible outdoor pool for sunny, warm days and an indoor pool for cloudy, cool days. It’s not cheap, however, and when we’ve stayed, we’ve stayed with Priceline (but the hotel doesn’t come up often). Posh.

Vancouver Marriott Pinnacle Downtown Hotel. This hotel often comes up on Priceline. Thank goodness. Despite being part of a large chain, this Marriott quickly feels homey – we’ve seen the same staff working the front door for years. Guest rooms with two doubles work well for young families, and the location places you right down the street from the Coal Harbour seawall, movie theaters and Robson Street. Kids are welcome in the 52-foot indoor lap pool. For a splurge, try the morning breakfast buffet or pick up one of the online booking packages with breakfast included. The hearty spread is worth the expense. Posh.

Times Square Suites. I’ll come out with it – this is my hands-down favorite spot in Vancouver. I love the location (right next to Stanley Park), the suite amenities (full kitchen, washer/dryer, separate sleeping area for grownups or kids) and the affordable parking. I love popping over to either a community or Granville Island market and picking up seasonal vegetables, locally made sauces and fresh pasta to cook right in my room. It is the place I always recommend to vacationing families, and you can often score a great deal by booking through their online site. The only downside: This aparthotel is right at a busy corner, so windows facing the street can get noisy, particularly on summer weekend evenings. Ask for a quieter room if you’re sensitive to noise (I am). It’s not the most luxe or fashionably appointed building, but it’s got everything a family needs to have a fantastic Vancouver stay. Cheap to midrange, depending upon season.

Rosellen Suites. If the Times Square is too expensive for my weekend or I want a quiet place to stay, I opt for the Rosellen Suites. This hotel offers very spacious, family-friendly rooms that were once apartments; some rooms have been updated, others are a bit more worn. If a low price is your primary concern, go with the older “classic” suites, which are just fine if you’re not super picky. If you’re on the pickier side, go with the Personality Suites. Either way, you’ll find TVs, kitchens, free WiFi, and one- or two-bedroom options. The Katharine Hepburn Penthouse Suite is super-swank with over 1900 square feet of room, lovely contemporary furniture, two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Cheap.

Granville Island Hotel. The upside: Wonderful location, right in the heart of Granville Island, where you’ll find a children’s market, a children’s theater, fresh and inexpensive restaurants, a playground and waterpark. Downside: Very small quarters for a family. Plan accordingly (as in, plan to be outside, enjoying your wonderful location).  Families who are planning to make Vancouver their big-city, big-ticket vacation can request a luxurious Penthouse room, which comes with a Jacuzzi that looks out over False Creek. Niiice! Posh.

Bonus rec: If you’re going with teens who enjoy vintage style or a stroller- or sling-carried baby  — or even if you’re going on a parents-only holiday weekend — you may want to look into the character-rich Sylvia Hotel, located on English Bay. It’s a lovely, historic property, but the location makes it more of a haul for little legs. Cheap.

Winter Break Vacation Deals & Ideas for Washington, Oregon & BC

Where will you go for the kids’ two-week break? If you haven’t yet made plans, don’t despair. There are plenty of wonderful ways to celebrate (and rooms to book) in our area. Whether you’ve got the budget of a pauper or a prince, or whether you’d rather stay in a small town or big city, there’s a getaway just right for your family’s travel lifestyle.

British Columbia winter break vacation ideas:

You know I love Victoria, BC: all those great kid-friendly Victoria activities and restaurants. Now’s the time to go, too — Tourism Victoria is promoting special Christmastime rates, starting at just $69/night. Go and enjoy Butchart Gardens’ Christmas lights, caroling and ice skating. The photo at right? It’s a pic we took while enjoying holiday tunes at Butchart Gardens.

Create your own deal for Vancouver, BC. Use my tips to do a little Priceline bidding (four-star rooms are usually plentiful over Christmas break) or take advantage of Tourism Vancouver’s third-night-free package. Then, head up to the snow-draped Grouse Mountain (just 10 minutes from downtown Vancouver), which offers a Santa’s Workshop, ice skating, reindeer, live entertainment, mountaintop sleighrides, a children’s village and classic Christmas movies for a family rate of $79.95. Oh, and there’s skiing and snowshoeing up there too. It’s really a fantastic getaway, right in the city.

If you want to go all out, Whistler’s upscale Fairmont Chateau Whistler puts on the ritz for Christmas. Check out the on-site festivities: The Family Fun Room offers an internet cafe, bouncy castles and video games to keep non-skiing kids occupied; the hotel hosts gingerbread house decorating, tea with Santa and children’s stories with Mrs. Claus. It’s not cheap — but at about $1000 for three nights (and an amazing breakfast, typically around $70/family), it’s the same as you’d spend on two (maybe three) tickets to Hawaii. If you’re looking for more affordable offerings, go before Christmas (rates can be as much as 30% less than the week AFTER Christmas) and take a look at what’s available on Whistler.com.

Washington State winter break getaways:

Take your muggley self to Seattle, where the deluxe Hotel Monaco’s Harry Potter Package offers accomodations, discounted tix to the Pacific Science Center’s Harry Potter: The Exhibition and complimentary valet parking. Down in the hotel’s restaurant, the premium desserts include a Molten Hot Cauldron Cake with Cockroach Clusters and Make Your Own Potion. You never know — you may leave Seattle a wizard, after all.

In the charming little burg of Fairhaven, the Fairhaven Village Inn will offer horse-drawn carriage rides and a Santa visit on December 18. Fairhaven is right outside of Bellingham, Wash. (read more about Bellingham with kids); the adorable village close enough to enjoy the college town but far enough to feel like you’re in a small community.

Over in Eastern Washington, in the Methow Valley, this winter will mark the first StorySki Experience among the region’s popular cross-country ski trails. The Storytrail helps kids keep moving along by posting pages from the book, “Polar Opposites” (by Erik Brookes) along a 1k loop. You’re skiing your way through a children’s picture book, reading more of the story at each stop. The trail will debut at Christmas and stay up throughout the winter ski season (mid-March or so), moving. Kids (under age 12) ski free throughout the Methow.

Oregon winter break vacation packages:

A mere 20 minutes from Central Oregon’s Mt. Bachelor, and about 20 minutes from Bend, Oregon, Sunriver Resort hosts Traditions, a holiday celebration that reaches across generations and includes innovative activities like snowmobile excursions, cocoa mug making, holiday trivia, elf tuck-ins, an ornament workshop and more. Check out Sunriver’s page of packages, because the Sugarplum package starts at $149/night, and includes a $50 resort credit toward your on-site activities, including the appropriately named Ft. Funnigan (which both of my children enjoyed, despite their disparate ages — 4 and 10!).

Portland is another wonderful, family-friendly and discounted destination for families during winter. Plenty of kid-friendly Portland activities and plenty of kid-friendly Portland dining, and Travel Portland is offering an unequalled Portland Perks deal AND $50 in cash. But only through December 20th! I’m sure it will revert to the usual Portland Perks deal after the 20th, but you should take advantage of that $50 rebate. A great destination to visit with toddlers and preschoolers — visit Zoolights and the take in the Christmas Ship Parade.

Do you have any favorite family holiday getaways in our region?

Camping with Kids in British Columbia

Looking for a BC vacation deal? British Columbia offers pitch-perfect camping options for every family: seven national parks, 900 provincial parks and hundreds of private campgrounds and RV parks. BC’s provincial parks typically only charge between $10 to $24 per site for car campers.

Jayne Seagrave is an expert on BC camping, and a mom to two boys (aged 10 and 11) — two lucky boys who’ve been camping since birth. She’s also the author of Camping British Columbia and Camping With Kids: The Best Campgrounds in British Columbia and Alberta.

Let’s find out what Jayne recommends for BC family camping.

1. For families visiting Vancouver, can you recommend a close-in campsite with a playground or other kid-friendly features?

There are no provincial park campgrounds within Vancouver. The nearest is Porteau Cove, about a 30 minute drive away. There is a small beach here (on the road to Whistler – Highway 99). (Lora’s note: I love the dramatic viewpoint at Porteau Cove — check out the photo at right).

Better to drive 90 minutes up to Alice Lake. Alice Lake is near Vancouver and the town of Squamish, so if it rains or you decide you don’t like camping, a Squamish motel is only 10 minutes away. Alice Lake offers a great kids play park, very safe beach, easy hiking trails, and a play park.

2. If a family wanted to take advantage of Whistler’s fun but didn’t want to pay for a hotel, what would you suggest?

Nairn Falls Provincial Park is fine and is the nearest to Whistler and there is a great 30 minute return trail to the falls, but no flush toilets, nor kids play area (although they can cycle around the campground). Nairn is about a 20 minute drive from Whistler, Alice Lake about 40 minutes, and there is so much more to do at Alice with children.

3. Can you recommend a campground on Vancouver Island for families? Why is it fantastic?

Rathtrevor Beach has everything for families and is close to the popular town of Parksville. You’ll find a huge beach, showers, easy paved roads to cycle upon, nature house and programs.

4. Any other favorite BC campgrounds for families with kids?

All campgrounds offer own personal attributes, below is a list of those I feature in Camping With Kids as they are the better ones for children, in that they might provide playparks, showers, flush toilets and kids’ programs.

Lower Mainland campsites:

1. Alice Lake Provincial Park
2. Porpoise Bay
3. E C Manning Park

Vancouver Island campsites:

1. Rathtrevor Beach
2. Gordon Bay
3. Miracle Beach

Okanagan campsites:

1. Ellison Provincial Park
2. Bear Creek
3. Haynes Point

Northern BC/Rockies campsites:

1. Kokanee Creek
2. Lalelse
3. Kikomun Creek

5. Why is camping in BC such a great experience for both BC families and visitors to BC?

Larger provincial parks have Jerry’s Rangers Programs specifically for kids which teaches nature courses, safety outsides, talks on bears and insects and frogs and fish and beaches, depending where the park is located. Only the larger parks offer these.

There are also evening talks and interpretive programs suitable for all age groups. Most of the campgrounds I recommend will have the talks but only in peak summer months and some only on certain days. I’ve attended loads, the evening ones are an easy way to pass an hour in the early evening and usually involve audience participation, which kids really like.

At a BC campground, you can get away from electronic devices and can explore in a very safe environment. Camping is also very reasonably priced in BC. Make sure to use the reservation system to avoid disappointment at www.discovercamping.ca. You can reserve most of the best family campgrounds.

6. And I understand that you suggest new-to-camping families might try taking a spin in an RV first. What was your experience with an RV rental?

I used Go-West Campers, we flew to Calgary and “delivered” an RV back to Vancouver. When the kids were under 2 you are only paying for adult flights to Calgary and the Camper was free as we were delivering it back for rental company. BUT the gas was VERY VERY expensive. There are millions of RV Rental companies. Cruise Canada RV Rental and Sales and Fraserway RV are both well-known.

Thanks, Jayne! I can’t wait to make my reservations for a BC camping vacation with my kids.

Read more about camping in BC with kids at The Travelling Mom’s The Best Campgrounds in British Columbia.

Farm Stays with Kids in Washington, Oregon and British Columbia

Reader Question:

Where can I vacation in a family-friendly bed and breakfast — on a working farm — in Washington State, Oregon or British Columbia?

– Juliana, mom of two kids (5 and 1), Seattle, Wash.


Thanks for the great question! Here’s a quick rundown of what I found online. Unlike larger hotels, most bed and breakfasts do not allow children to stay free, but you’ll get a cool experience in exchange.

Because few are listed on sites like Tripadvisor.com, I might call to speak with the owners, and ask for a reference if you’d like to hear from someone who enjoyed their visit.

British Columbia family-friendly farm stay:

Arrowvale Farm has Sicilian donkeys, horses, a cow and goats. Sleep in one of the cottages (kids are $15/extra), or during summer, the campgrounds are a steal at around $25/nt. Located in Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, 2 ½ hours from Victoria, BC.

For a more upscale experience, foodie farmer Mara Jernigan offers cooking classes for grown-ups, and luxe cottages for families (summer only) in BC’s fertile Cowichan Valley, 45 minutes north of Victoria, BC. The 130-acre Fairburn Farm farm raises one of the most unique animals among the farms I saw – water buffalo!

On Quadra Island, off of Vancouver Island’s coast, the Bold Point Farmstay program allows kids to pick produce, feed the chickens, ride a ram or just hang out. The distance may be too far for many though – about 3 ½ hours north of Victoria, BC.

Family-friendly Oregon farm stay:

The adorable-appearing Leaping Lamb Farm encourages visitors to help collect eggs and feed the sheep. Kids 3 and under stay free. This farm appears to particularly welcome families with kids, based on their site. Located two hours south of Portland in Alsea, Ore., and you could include it en route an Oregon Coast vacation.

Washington State family-friendly farm stay:

Dog Mountain Farm is rustic but interesting — $150/nt to stay in a platform tent, with a furnished interior.  Or stay on the farm’s campgrounds. From June through September, the “Young Farmers Program” keeps kids busy with an hour of farm chores and a packet of information. Collect eggs, feed and water horses, chickens, dogs and cats. There are even beekeeping(?!) opportunities. Located in Carnation, Wash., 40 minutes east of Seattle.

If you like, you could also consider a home rental. This one on Whidbey Island, Wash., is located on a working farm, and kids can help with farm chores. It’s located Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, which is a great bird-watching destination.

Good luck! And if any readers know of another farm stay, let us know? E-mail your questions to lora AT cascadiakids.com