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.

10 Things to Do with Kids in Vancouver in the Rain

Vancouver is one of my favorite cities to visit, especially with kids. There’s so much to do — whether the winds are warm or wintery.

Here are my top 10 picks for cool-weather visitors.

1. Stanley Park. Yes, even in winter, Stanley Park provides family fun. Ride your bike rental around the park’s perimeter or head for the Aquarium. On weekends, ride the miniature train.

2. Vancouver Aquarium. My favorite aquarium in Cascadia. A total of 70, 000 fish, frogs, invertebrates, mammals and other creatures gurgle, splash and blow bubbles.

View live beluga shows, enormous tropical fish, reef sharks and hand-holding sea otters. Parents of toddlers and preschoolers should make their way to the popular Clownfish Cove, a niche created just for little ones, complete with storytime, an animal hospital and eye-level tanks. Older kids will get a kick out of the new 4D Experience ride.

3. Science World. Housed in one of Vancouver’s instantly distinguishable landmarks (a big silver sphere adorne with hundreds of lights), Science World is a consistent favorite with kids. In the Eureka exhibit, kids can explore the science of sound, water, music and light through enormous hands-on contraptions. Shoot balls up into a free-flowing waterfall, power a helicopter-style device, lift a 200-kg hippo and create music with your feet.

The newer Search: The Sara Stern Gallery offers a calm respite from the exciting — and noisy — museum. Climb inside a Red Cedar dwelling, enjoy the thoughtful discovery boxes or just create a nest with pillows and read a book.

4. Granville Island. Take kids to the Public Market to graze among the stalls, booths and stands offering fresh fruits, slightly stinky cheeses and exotic breads. The diversity of options means that even picky kids don’t leave hungry.

Granville Kids’ Market, housed in a rainbow-decorated two-story building, caters exclusively to kids and their grownups. Check out the 20 stores offering puppets, books, clothing, rain gear, toy shops and a store featuring only wooden playthings.

5. Grouse Mountain. Snow is a rare sight in downtown Vancouver, but you’ll find powdery fun just 15 minutes away from your downtown hotel. Grouse Mountain’s Sky Ride whisks you up for winter wonder. Little ones too small to ski can snowshoe among quiet stands of evergreens, or ice skate on the 8,000-square-foot small pond.

Also available: Sleigh rides, sno-limo, mountain ziplines and an indoor mini-theater. Order up some good grub at the Lupins Cafe, right down to the pound of poutine. (Hey, you’ve earned that cholesterol, haven’t you?)

6. Vancouver Maritime Museum. This museum is typically quiet when we’ve visited, and it’s certainly not on the tourist circuit. But the sea-worthy attraction is also the best Cascadia maritime museum for kids. Children can explore a pirate’s life, climb inside of a slightly claustrophobic dive suit, play at being a tug captain and read about shipwrecks.

In The Children’s Maritime Discovery Center, a bright-yellow wall of drawers holds hands-on learning opportunities. Pull one open and learn about women in maritime history, Vancouver’s relationship to the seas, and more.

7. Museum of Vancouver. Who slept through history class? (me! me!) But the Museum of Vancouver is anything but a snorefest. For example, my history class never featured real mummies. And the Museum of Vancouver does. Mr. Hibbard: 0. Museum of Vancouver: 1.

Learn about the city’s founding, play with antique-style toys, page through vintage parenting magazines (alarmingly the same as today, AKA “Why Billy is a Dull Child and What You Must Do About It”), and sit in a super-groovy 60s pad. Don’t miss the fliers that point out city landmarks by era — they can come in handy as you drive, bus or bike around town.

8. Chinatown. My kids beg and plead to come here –the third-largest Chinatown in North America– on every visit. It’s not just anywhere that you can pick up enormous Totoro stuffed animals, licensed and questionably-licensed Pokemon toys, and a variety of other character-istic merchandise.

Shop in a store or two, then wander through the narrow, busy streets. Consider the health benefits of dried medicinal herbs and teas — and then follow your nose to a Chinese bakery. Each is stocked full of unusual delicacies involving tropical fruit, flour, sugar and butter. Mmm.

9. Capilano Suspension Bridge. Sure, it’s something everyone says you have to do. But it is really is pretty cool — and not just for the rockin’ and rollin’ bridge alone. Before and after the bridge, explore totem poles, kids’ activities and interpretive displays on First Nations, wildlife and the ecosystem.

A series of connected wooden bridges that takes you through the evergreen treetops, where you get a new perspective from a bird’s-eye view. We visited right at dusk — a magical time to wander in the woods.

10. Bloedel Floral Conservatory. When the sky’s a grey pea-soup and the wind slips inside my raincoat, I enjoy visiting the tropics. Not by boarding a plane, but by visiting the Bloedel Floral Conservatory in Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Park. The triodetic dome wraps around a moist, steamy slice of jungle, complete with parading parrots and blooming bromeliads.

The Conservatory isn’t very big, and it only takes about 15 minutes to a half-hour to meander through the paths. But it’s a fantastic place for photos, both indoors and out; outside the Conservatory’s front doors, you’ll find amazing views of Vancouver’s skyline and surrounding mountains.

When it’s drizzling, where do you like to go in Vancouver?