Oh, Canada: Weekend adventures with Kids in Vancouver, BC
A mix of Seattle and San Francisco – without the hills – the cosmopolitan core of Vancouver can be a great treat for kids of any age. It's got Stanley Park, a true urban oasis. The downtown is easily walkable, thanks to wide, level sidewalks and the paved seawall along most of False Creek, which surrounds the core of downtown. Between the huge skyscrapers and the majestic mountains, little ones will be looking upward all day, admiring their surroundings.
The Peace Arch border crossing at Blaine can be a mess, but if you avoid traveling on heavy weekend days and can make the border crossing at non-traditional hours – think early morning or after dinner – the wait can be only a few minutes either going into Canada or returning to the U.S.
A reminder about travel documentation: everyone over 16 must have a passport, enhanced driver's license (which indicates proof of citizenship and is accepted in lieu of passports at U.S. land and sea border crossings – though not at airports), or a Nexus card (specifically for U.S.-Canada border crossings).
A huge enticement right now is the strength of the American dollar, worth around $1.30 in Canada right now, depending on the day. So that $4 Starbucks latte every parent needs when on a solo trip with an energetic 3-year-old will only run you around $3.06.
Here are a few places around Vancouver worth checking out if Canada omes calling for a quick trip north.
Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co.
Kids get to try their hand at pizza creation at Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co.
It's another typical Sunday night at the Rocky Mountain Flatbread Co. Some in the restaurant are hip locals from the kitschy Kitsilano neighborhood coming in to enjoy freshly made brick-oven pizza – all ingredients come from local farms – and watch their beloved Canucks play hockey on the flat-screen TVs.
On Sundays, the joint fills up with families, and kids are invited to venture back into the kitchen and make their own pizzas. Youngsters are brought back in pairs, and a kitchen assistant helps through the entire process. A wad of dough is tossed on the flour-covered table and, scarily enough, kids are handed rolling pins to flatten their creations. Then come the sauces and the toppings.
Once ready, kids then follow their pizza conceptions to the brick oven and can watch the searing flames cook their pies. The pizzas, which are pretty darn good, are brought out within minutes. For those who aren't quite ready for the real deal, there's also a play kitchen where they can make pretend pizza masterpieces.
The restaurant – which looks more like a brew pub than an old pizza parlor – is only a few minutes from Vancouver's downtown core. It's not exactly easy to see from the street, but tracking down the entrance is well worth the effort. Kids' days are Sundays from 5 to 7 pm; Reservations are highly recommended, or plan on waiting between 20 and 30 minutes for a table. 1876 W First Avenue (between Cypress and Burrard). rockymountainflatbread.ca
Let's be honest. Living in the Pacific Northwest means a 70-degree day in April can be followed by six inches of snow a week later. You could easily plan a trip, hoping for a fun-filled day of romping around in Stanley Park, only to have a downpour force you to scout out an indoor alternative.
That's why places like Go Bananas are so great for kids and their parents. Located in five spots around Vancouver, Go Bananas play centers offer your basic assortment of ladders, ropes, padded slides, cargo nets and swinging rings – the perfect combination of obstacle course challenges to tire out your little ones.
The closest location to downtown Vancouver is in the Capilano Mall, just across the Lions Gate Bridge in North Vancouver, and on the way to the Capilano Suspension Bridge; They've got locations in North Vancouver, Surrey, Richmond, Chilliwack and Langley. Hours vary; most are open about 10 am to 6 pm. gobananasplaycenter.com
Yep, it's the giant golf ball-looking building at the far end of False Creek in downtown Vancouver. And it's a bastion of excitement and entertainment for kids of all ages, even toddlers who may not understand anything about science yet.
Basically, the domed building that was first used for the World Exposition in 1986 is a giant children's museum. There are computer stations that allow views of other science centers around the world. There's an IMAX theater and regular science demonstrations on the center stage.
Most important for little ones is the area sectioned off specifically for the youngest science minds, called Kidspace. With magnetic walls, water troughs and slides, the area focuses on the themes of water, color, light and movement. There's enough in this one second-floor section to keep toddlers occupied for quite a while. And parents will appreciate the kid-friendly bathrooms and nursing rooms in this area of the complex. There's limited parking around the complex, so if you're coming from downtown, take the SkyTrain light-rail line or either of the passenger boats that serve the south side of False Creek. It'll be fun for the kids and less hassle and expense. 1455 Quebec St. scienceworld.ca
OK, so there's an IKEA just off Highway 167 in Renton. Everyone who needs affordable furniture knows that. But with the exchange rate such a favorable advantage right now for Americans, it's worth taking a look at all shopping in Canada to see if a major discount might be at hand. If you're buying multiple high-ticket items and can save $50-$100 on each purchase, then the trip is highly worth it. Just be sure to do your research. The same item that goes for $100 here might cost $120 in Canada, making your savings minimal at best – or you might end up at a slight loss, depending on the exchange rate that day. If you go, though, one sure-fire advantage: the $1 ice cream cones, perfect for kids of any age. 3200 Sweden Way, Richmond; 1000 Lougheed Highway, Coquitlam. ikea.ca
Tim Booth is a sports writer in the Seattle bureau of The Associated Press.