What we loved about visiting Vancouver in the summer: Our Vancouver trip highlights
Hi, my friends! I’m back! And boy, what a trip! In case you missed it, we just returned from a one-week trip to British Columbia, Canada, including four days in Vancouver and three days in Whistler. I wanted to share the highlights with you, because it was awesome, and I have a million pictures too.
Vancouver is only a 2-hour flight from San Francisco and is in our same time zone, so we were able to get out of the country without any jet-lag or horrendous days of travel. (But let’s be honest, when you calculate getting to the airport, checking in, flying, going through customs, getting bags and making it to where you going, all days of travel are long days — even if the flight is short.)
I asked for recommendations from friends and from all of you before we left, and we based our trip mostly off of what we heard from others. It was such a great vacation, and it was our longest and first vacation for pleasure with Brady too. We’ve taken Brady on tons of trips for holidays, family activities and work over his first 21 months of life, but this was the first time we went off somewhere just to explore and have fun together, with no real agenda. It was also his first time out of the country and both of our first times in Canada. Dave has been before, but not to the cities we visited.
Of course, it was a bit different traveling with a toddler who sleeps a lot, but we were pretty flexible with the schedule and did as much as we could, while still heading back to the hotel for his nap for a bit during the day and his bedtime sometime around 7 p.m. I had heard some horror stories from friends with toddlers who took long trips, so we went in with low expectations, and it was absolutely fun to have him, not a stressful thing at all. He was a true trooper, outside a few usual tantrums each day, which could happen anywhere and don’t phase us at this point.
And you know what was such an awesome an unexpected addition to this whole experience? Apparently our current cell phone data plan doesn’t support using the phone out of the country, so we decided only to activate Dave’s phone with an additional international package so he could be available for some work and we could use the map feature — and that meant I could only use my phone when on WiFi at the hotel. It totally helped me to be more present, and I enjoyed it immensely.
Alright, let’s get to the highlights from the first part of the trip in Vancouver, which was the “city” portion, then we’ll talk about the second part of the trip in Whistler, which was the “mountain” portion. Here we go …
Our Vancouver trip highlights
We flew into Vancouver airport and decided to do the Vancouver portion of our trip without a rental car, which was a great decision. We walked every single place we went and didn’t feel like we needed a car at all, even with a toddler in tow. Fun fact: Uber does not operate in Vancouver, but we didn’t need it anyway, and we only took a cab once from the airport to the hotel.
We stayed at Sutton Place in downtown Vancouver, which came recommended to us, and it was the perfect central location for all of our activities and for the city in general. The hotel was nice, and we got a suite, so we had a separate room to hang out after Brady went to bed — and I highly recommend that to other parents traveling with young ones. We borrowed a crib from the hotel and brought our own sheet, and it was perfect. Brady absolutely loved being in the hotel and looking out the window to the city below us. New surroundings are very appealing to a tiny man. He couldn’t keep still in the hotel room because it was so exciting.
Also, the weather: We had some rainy mornings, but the afternoons always cleared up, and the temperature hovered between the upper 60s and lower 70s, so it was great for being outside — as long as you had layers and good walking shoes.
Let’s get to the best things we did on the trip …
Biking around Stanley Park
Stanley Park is like the Central Park of Vancouver. It’s huge, it borders both the city and the English Bay, has lots of different areas and history and is very well done. We rented bikes from Spokes and rode all the way around the park. Sadly, it was rainy that day, but we still got to see a lot, and the whole ride took us maybe 90 minutes, with some stops, including one to visit the totem poles.
The best part about biking around Stanley Park is that it is very orderly and clearly marked. You can only bike in one direction around the path, and the bike and pedestrian lanes are delineated safely — I appreciated that, because I’m a bit of a nervous biker. Another fun fact: You have to wear bike helmets to comply with local laws, so we rented those and wore them too.
I would say this was Brady’s favorite activity, because he loves to ride bikes and we have a similar bike seat for him at home, but honestly, he loved everything we did. He pointed at everything and called out “bike” every time we saw a fellow biker. And there were bikers every minute.
Visiting the Stanley Park Aquarium
Okay, so I haven’t been to many aquariums in my life, but being a Florida gal who worked at Disney two times, I have high standards for theme parks and entertainment venues, such as this (although perhaps this should be considered more of an educational venue and not held to as high of standards).
The Vancouver Aquarium was a little underwhelming to me in that it wasn’t as big or as full of exhibits as I had hoped (definitely not as good as the Monterrey Aquarium). But I have to add this as a favorite activity, because we still had a great time there. The aquarium is actually located in Stanley Park, so we walked there from our hotel (took about 30 minutes, which is the perfect walk), and it is situated in the most gorgeous tree-covered area off the path of the park.
Obviously, the aquarium had all sorts of fish and marine life, but I liked watching the tiny monkeys in the Amazon rainforest section the best. Well, I also loved the otters — who doesn’t love otters? Brady was in awe of the fish and even cried when we had to leave the sea lion pool. Oh and a butterfly landed on his head in the Amazon section, which I just happened to catch on camera. Good times.
Exploring Granville Island Public Market
If you’ve ever been to the Ferry Building in San Francisco and enjoyed it, then you’d love the Granville Island Public Market. It’s much bigger, has multiple buildings and lots of quick food options and food samples and all sorts of trinkets to buy. We walked to the market from our hotel, on a rainy day, which wasn’t ideal as we went over the bridge leading to Granville Island, but it wasn’t cold at all, and we got to see a lot of the residential areas. And we also came into contact with the most polite drivers at all the pedestrian intersections.
(Sporting a new Lululemon outfit I bought the day before. Lululemon is actually headquartered in Vancouver. These joggers are amazing, and here’s the top.)
I loved sampling sweets and treats in the market, and we all shared a maple-glazed donut, as well as a green smoothie while we were there (balance, folks). It was very busy that day, being a rainy weekend day, and that made it a little overwhelming to maneuver the stroller down the little aisles, otherwise we could have stayed there a lot longer than we did. After about an hour of exploring, we bought some souvenirs and checked out the kids’ market, where Brady got to play on a toy car and get a balloon animal made special for him on the spot.
I’d definitely recommend the market, but would suggest going on a weekday, as I imagine it’s not quite as crazy then. But who knows.
Dining out in the Gastown neighborhood
Gastown was actually the first neighborhood in Vancouver, and you can certainly see the history when walking around there — there’s an old clock that blows out steam that people were flocking too, which was pretty cool.
We went out to dinner and drinks in Gastown two times while staying in Vancouver and loved every place we stopped. (We were very lucky that a friend of mine connected us with a babysitter in Vancouver, who came over to our hotel after Brady was asleep two nights in a row — adult time — woohoo.)
There are coffee shops, cafes, stores and lots of restaurants in Gastown, and lots of people watching too. One night we had Italian food, one night we had gastropub food, and it was all tasty. Although, I wasn’t a fan of the poutine we had at the fancy gastropub. Poutine is a traditional Canadian dish featuring fries with gravy and cheese. It wasn’t for me. I’d way prefer sweet potato fries straight up. But this tartare …
The best part about the dinners out were the fact that Dave and I got dressed up and walked down to Gastown from our hotel together, perused each spot and decided where to go on the fly. It reminded me of our days living in SF and doing much of the same, always on foot. Lots of good food and drinks all around!
(New oversized jacket I bought while in Vancouver and a new dress, which I bought for the trip.)
Walking and talking with pastries, matcha and healthy treats too
Because we were on foot and didn’t have any food with us (other than little snacks for Brady that we brought from home), each morning after we woke up and got ready, the three of us would head out and find a coffee shop and a little breakfast. I had a matcha latte every single morning (and most afternoons too), and we tried different spots for breakfast. While I’m normally a collagen-filled-green-tea-and-oatmeal-with-almond-butter-kinda gal, on this trip, I ate whatever felt right — and that usually meant a pastry of some sort. No protein, no healthy fats, just deliciousness.
Our favorite stop was Cobbs Bread (which apparently has U.S. locations as well, but we’d never been), and we were there twice for the most decadent scones ever. We had great lattes from Blenz Coffee (which is a Canadian coffee chain) and from a place that served Illy Coffee too. I was impressed with all the alternative milk options at all of the coffee shops and the availability of matcha. Three cheers for that!
We had some amazing lunches as well, and those may have been some of my favorite meals. The salmon in British Columbia is soooo richly colored and all wild — a major benefit.
We even ate at a Paleo restaurant, which was fabulous, and the coconut cacao brownie dessert will be on my mind for weeks to come. Consumed while walking and talking, of course.
Choosing new spots, ordering everything out and about without having to prepare food or do dishes — these are all good things in this momma’s book.
People watching and enjoying the view at Canada Place
One of the only things we did on our own that we weren’t planning to do was visit Canada Place, which is an area where some of the Olympics festivities took place in 2010, and is also home to the convention center and much more. It’s a sparkly facility, where the cruise ships take off as well.
(Jumping for joy in front of where the torches were lit in 2010.)
We walked over there a few times and watched all the people and enjoyed the view of the water and boats. One day, we even stumbled upon a huge Zumba class taking place outside — so cool and made me want to do group fitness outdoors as well.
There is a virtual Canada experience attraction, called Flyover Canada, that we wanted to try, but Brady couldn’t go in, and the experience was too long for us each to go separately — it looked like it was sort’ve like the Soarin’ ride from Disney. Maybe next time.
And those are the highlights!
Overall thoughts on our Vancouver trip
It may seem strange to vacation to a city, rather than a relaxing beach, but we truly enjoyed all the walking, urban activities, excellent shopping and outdoor stuff we could do while there — very toddler and family friendly. We ate tasty food, felt completely comfortable in our surroundings and had great weather for about 75 percent of the time too (wish it would have been 100 percent, but you can’t win them all, and it was least better than the weather in Whistler). And when it rained, we used our umbrella and kept on trucking — a little rain definitely didn’t ruin our time.
Vancouver is a lovely city, which seems a little bit older than San Francisco and bigger — but trendy and inviting all at the same time. We totally enjoyed it!
Thanks so much for stopping by the blog to read today. I’ll share about the rest of our trip in a separate post (and here it is, all about our Whistler trip). And if you want to see some behind-the-scenes videos and fun, I saved a Vancouver trip highlight on my Instagram stories, so you can check that out too. Have a great start to your week, my lovely friends!
P.S. If you’re a momma considering travel with a tot, check out this post I wrote after taking almost 10 round-trip flights with a baby last year: “What I’ve learned from traveling with a baby across the country multiple times.”
Questions of the day
Have you ever been to Vancouver?
When was the last time you took a trip and where did you go?
City or beach or mountain?
Ah I LOVED following along with your Vancouver trip on Instagram. I just fell in love with the city when we visited in May.
I think we were lucky with Granville Island market on our trip – we were super jetlagged after flying in from Scotland so were up early and arrived there just as everything opened on a Sunday, so it wasnt too crazy wandering around and we got a nice table outside in the sun to eat our snacks. However, when we we returned on a Sunday 2 weeks later it was around 2pm and totally different, almost stressful it was so busy, and that was without a toddler! Well worth it though for the choice and colours and flavours and souvenirs.
Look forward to hearing about Whistler!
ps We will have to agree to disagree on poutine hehe, so bad but so good!! 🙂
Hi lady! I’m so glad you loved Vancouver too — it’s a beautiful city with a lot to see and do. And yes, I think the market would have been better less crowded. I can’t say that I won’t try poutine again if I ever find myself back in Canada — maybe the second time will be different hehehe. Thanks for following along our trip!! Where’s your next vacation??
We will definitely return to Canada as we have family there (lucky!) but our next vacation will be our honeymoon next year EEEK – we are coming to the US, I think Vegas and a bit of road tripping!
So fun! I happen to love Vegas — so many shows and restaurants, sounds like a great stop on your US tour. How about Napa too?? 🙂
Possibly yes! I do love wine!!!
You will love Napa then. Or Sonoma!
So happy to hear you loved Vancouver. It’s definitely a place to enjoy during the summer- there’s much less to do in the winter when it’s raining often.
I was at Granville Island the other day and commenting how hard it must be to navigate those halls with a stroller. I refuse to go except for an hour before they close- it’s usually super dead by that time!
Sorry to hear about your poutine. There’s a lot of bad poutine that you can get- as a lot of places make it, but not a lot of places make it well. But when it’s done right- it is delicious 🙂
Hi Sarah! Yessss your thoughts on the stroller and market situation are correct hehehe. And I totally get it that I only tried poutine once, so can’t totally write it off. Perhaps I’ll have it on my next trip to Canada. Thanks so much for your tips too. We had great sushi and did most of what you suggested hehe. What brought you to Vancouver??
Ahh! That sounds like so much fun! I’ve been meaning to plan a trip to Vanvouver and your guide really helps. Thank you for sharing 🙂
Hi lady! Yessss — apparently summer is the best time to go, and I would recommend it for sure. We really enjoyed the city!
Happy to hear you enjoyed Vancouver! Its a great city, I love it there as well. And if it only rained 25% of your time there, consider yourself lucky, lol! I am Canadian and live on the prairies now, but look forward to any chance I get to visit Vancouver. Tough luck on the poutine, it is my cheat every now and then.
Looks like it was an awesome time, and that food looks delicious! My husband and I spent two days in Vancouver before hopping on an Alaskan cruise back in May, and we had a fabulous time. We hit Granville Island Market and Stanley Park, but we’ll have to check out Gastown next time we’re there. We also had some amazing sushi at Miku downtown!
Glad you enjoyed the trip, and that delicious-looking food! My husband and I spent two days in Vancouver before hopping on an Alaskan cruise back in May and really enjoyed it. We hit Stanley Park and Granville Island market, but we’ll have to explore Gastown next time we’re there! We also had some fabulous sushi — we went to Miku right at Canada Place!
Hi Hilary! So cool — that’s awesome you had two days to see Vancouver. And how nice is the view at Canada Place??
Did you find Vancouver expensive? Food, activities, lodging, etc.? I know you have your own perspective coming from the Bay Area, but I’m curious what to expect if my family and I take a trip north. We’re in Portland!
Hi Sheila. So, the US dollar has a great conversion rate to the Canadian dollar right now, so we actually felt like everything seemed cheaper than what we’re used to in the Bay Area. Restaurants were very reasonable, entertainment tickets were as expected and hotels too. Rental cars were way more expensive though — and we used on for Whistler only, we didn’t need one in Vancouver. Overall, we felt like everything was priced normally — sort’ve just as it is here (which is quite high ehehehe) — so we have a skewed perspective. Hope this helps. 🙂