Vancouver and surrounding areas
notes from Mom
to our city of natural wonders. Vancouver is celebrated as one of
the prettiest and fun places to visit in the world. Every year
seven million tourists visit our city. In fact, sometimes you
it wasn't so nice, because you get every Tom, Dick, and Harry visiting
you. We have friends, who literally spend their entire summer
out-of-town guests. My cousin from Holland couldn't stop talking
about the Stawamus Chief after we took him
it. After living in a flat country for so long he was spellbound
by the mountains. My friend's relatives from Germany love the
because in Germany there is very little shoreline. And my
sister comes here every year to go skiing, because in California snow
hard to come by.
Vancouver especially appeals to outdoor enthusiasts. Where else can you hike woodland and mountain trails, bike or roller blade along a paved causeway flanking the shoreline of a magnificent park, take your pick from three local mountains to ski on, kayak down river rapids, sail amongst tiny desolate islands, or swim in both fresh and salt water--all within half an hour from the city centre?
The climate too is perfect ;>) . We have four seasons, each lasting about the same length of time. Consequently, you seldom hear someone say, "I'm getting tired of this hot or cold weather," because it never lasts for very long. Temperatures usually don't dip far below 0 degrees C in the winter or go over 30 degrees C in the summer.
The main city of Vancouver has several peripheral cities which combine to make Greater Vancouver. All put together these equal more than 705,000 acres in size, making it the third largest city in Canada. The population of Greater Vancouver in 2003 was 2.1 million. Vancouver has one of the most colourful ethnic populations in Canada. Our son Nathan has Chinese, German, British, Iranian and East Indian friends in his classroom. Vancouver has the second largest Chinatown in North America, plus the Italian, Greek, Iranian, and Punjabi communities all have their own distinct shopping areas.
For families, it's the ideal vacation spot, and for those lucky enough to live here it has so many things to do, you're problem is not in finding something to do but in deciding what to do.
population 633,700 (2010)
If you're into arts and culture, you can while away your hours at the Vancouver Art Gallery (try the Art Gallery Cafe for lunch, their lasagna and pizza are delicious); go to the Vancouver Public Library, it's an architectural masterpiece; or visit Chinatown, one of the most authentic ethnic communities in North America. If you've got food on your mind, try Granville Island. It has one of the best Public Markets I've ever seen, plus an interesting array of artisan shops. If you're looking for a way to enjoy the great outdoors, go to Stanley Park. You can walk, roller blade, or cycle around the park. If it's hot, try the Second Beach Pool in English Bay, or take a five-minute drive across the bridge and go to our favourite swimming spot Kitsilano Pool.
The real show-stopper in Vancouver however is the view. With snow-capped mountains as a back-drop and water surrounding it, Vancouver is a beautiful city to look at. Even at night, you can't help but admire the skyline etched out by the bright city lights.
Areas north of Vancouver: The North Shore
The District of West Vancouver, along with the City of North Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver combine to make a geographic area known as The North Shore. After crossing the Lions Gate Bridge you can go either right or left. Right takes you to North Vancouver and left leads you to West Vancouver.
population 46,500 (2010)
P.S. If you're looking for a good cup of coffee, I can recommend the coffee at Delaney's in Dundarave Village or Torrefazione Italia, which is close to the library. By the way West Vancouver has a wonderful public library with a reading room that has big, soft chairs and a fireplace.
population 139,500 (2010 city and district)
We've lived in North Vancouver for four years and I'm still not sure what distinguishes the City from the District. The way I look at it is this: the City is the core and the District is the apple. The core has the greater concentration of business, restaurants and commerce. These are mostly found along Lonsdale Avenue and Marine Drive. The District includes outer residential and parkland areas such as Deep Cove, Lynn Canyon, and Edgemont Village. About 20% of the District is Parkland.
I can safely say, no matter where you live in North Vancouver, there's a hiking trail or park within five minutes. Over the time we've lived here our family has gone from spending 0% of our recreational time hiking to at least 50%. With places like The Lynn Valley Suspension Bridge, Capilano Salmon Hatchery and The Baden Powell Trail you can't help but get bitten by the outdoors bug. If you're looking for a challenge, you can try The Grouse Grind. It's straight uphill. My husband's friend, Brant, likes to cap it off with a beer at the Grouse Nest Restaurant.
Grouse Mountain is also the spot for paragliders and skiers in the winter months. Another place to ski is Mt. Seymour. You may find this hard to believe, but we hiked to Goldie Lake on Mt. Seymour in mid September and found drifts of snow from last year. The spot that has everything is The Seymour Demonstration Forest. It's the only place I know of where you can cycle, roller-blade, hike and fish. We tried fishing in early September in Rice Lake, and our daughter Jen caught a small trout. This bugged Nathan to no end, because he considers himself the better fisherman, and if anyone was going to catch a fish, it should have been him.
For smaller children, there's Maplewood Farm, a petting zoo. Every September they have a big hoe-down. Deep Cove is worth visiting also. It's a small community at the eastern end of North Vancouver. We took kayaking lessons one summer at Panorama Park and paddled next to a gigantic red poisonous jellyfish. Thank goodness I didn't fall in. The only downside about Panorama Park is often their coliform count is too high, so you can't swim in the water. If you go there try the Honey doughnuts at the cafe (the name escapes me) on the main road; you'll want at least one more to take home.
One of our all-time favourite activities is the tour of the old Britannia Copper Mine. You actually go inside a mine shaft on a rickety cart and see things like the explosives box, drills, and the "honey cart"--a portable toilet. My last recommendation is the eagles at Brackendale. Every year in December and January about 3,000 eagles nest in the trees along the Squamish river. They choose this spot because of the abundance of spawning salmon.
Areas south of Vancouver
Being a river delta, Richmond is unbelievably flat. It's the perfect spot for bike riding. Our kids love going to Richmond because in North Vancouver you can't go a mile without having a hill to climb. Two of the best places for flat riding are Iona Island (close to the airport) and the dykes which border along the Fraser River. There's a nice ride which stretches out north from Steveston. We like to combine it with fish & chips at Dave's and flying the kite at Garry Point Park. Oh, and I better not forget to mention the park. It has a gigantic wooden boat where your kids can play hide-and-seek inside. It's one of the few parks where our eight year old son is still happy to go.
Another big draw for families is the one-stop recreational complex called Riverport. It has a swimming pool, skating rink, big-screen movie theatres, bowling alley, and several restaurants all clumped together. Our niece had a birthday party at the bowling alley. The kids were quite excited when the lights went off and their bowling balls lit up. Jen wasn't thrilled when the smoke started billowing from the alleys. I think she thought the place was going up in flames. We also tried the big-screen theatres. To be honest with you, we didn't notice any difference in size.
The last point I want to make is that Richmond has a sizeable Chinese population. In fact, some people refer to it as Vancouver's second Chinatown. It does have a number of Chinese businesses and restaurants, but these are more modern and fancier than the ones in downtown Chinatown.
Three worthwhile places to visit are the 10,000+ acre Burns Bog, George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary, and the Deas Island Regional park. Our kids liked the bog because it was good for bike riding: flat and wide. Plus some parts looked like the set of a horror film: as Jen put it, "these trees have long hairy armpits." Last year we missed the snow goose arrival at the George C. Reifel Migratory Bird Sanctuary. Usually this happens in November and it's supposed to be quite spectacular to see.
Areas east of Vancouver and north of the Fraser River
Burnaby is home to a number of beautiful parks. If you're looking for a nice spot to have a picnic try Burnaby Mountain. It has a panorama view of Vancouver, the mountains, and the body of water called Indian Arm. In August, when the grass is good and dry, Jen and Nathe bring their sheets of cardboard and go sliding down the hills. I've noticed some people bringing huge blocks of ice, which seem to work well too (but you need to cover the ice or your bum will get soaking wet). Watch out for the coyotes when you're up there. Don't worry, they're not as vicious as you might think. The ones we've seen were basking in the sun on the grassy slopes.
Two other parks I can recommend are Deer Lake and Central Park. Central Park has a number of activities: pitch & putt golf, horse-shoes, swimming pool, athletic stadium and walking trails. What our kids like doing the most are trying to catch turtles in the two ponds (every time we go we see at least a couple of dozen) and playing in the playground. Central Park has some swings and a slide specifically designed for children with physical handicaps. Deer Lake is right next door to the Burnaby Heritage Village Museum and Shadbolt Art Centre. Apparently the museum has a wonderful carousel and vintage town you can walk through, which are both worth seeing if you're in the area.
population 66,900 (2010)
Two places which stand out in my mind are Queens Park and Westminster Quay. We used to live on the border of New Westminster and Burnaby, so I took Nathan often to both of these places. Queens Park is wonderful in the summer. It has a spray pool and petting zoo, in addition to a big red fire engine and adventure playground kids can play on. Nathan could never get enough of the pulley ride. I'd either have to drag him away or bribe him with candy at the concession stand.
The Westminster Quay is a scaled-down version of Granville Island. It has a public market downstairs and a food fair, plus some retail shops upstairs. When Nathan was small he'd like to ride his bike along the Fraser River walkway. Our destination was the playground with the submarine and spacenet. In the spring and summer the flower beds are bursting with beautiful blossoms, many of which I didn't even know the names--and my father grew flowers for a living. The river itself is a bee-hive of activity. I've seen tug-boats pulling huge log booms, barges full of sawdust and even some stacked full of flattened down cars, fishing boats and lots of speed boats. In May you even see hundreds of sea lions searching for oolichans. Now I think they've turned the Paddlewheeler into a floating casino so you can enjoy the river scenery and gamble at the same time.
Moody, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam), population 222,500 (2010)
Port Moody was the original west coast terminus for the trans continental railway. Every June/July they have a Golden Spike Days Festival to celebrate the city's rail heritage. Although I have to admit, there aren't too many other visible signs of railwayism in Port Moody. It does, however, have a beautiful lake for swimming called Sasamat Lake. It's nestled in amongst the evergreens and has a lovely sandy beach (but watch out for the geese poop).
Last year we visited Hoy Creek in Coquitlam. Every November the salmon make their way up the creek to spawn. I was amazed to see big salmon struggling in about six inches of water. At times they literally had to skim along the top of the water. Along the creek banks lay the dead carcasses of those that already laid their eggs or given up. That reminds me, the smell is pretty bad.
The best attractions in Maple Ridge though are Golden Ears Park and Alouette Lake. Golden Ears Park apparently stretches all the way up to Squamish. We were bound for the lake, so we only had time to walk in the Spirea Nature Trail and Interpretive Forest. Jen and Nathe enjoyed pushing the buttons to find out about the wildlife and vegetation. Alouette Lake is a beautiful spot, but the beach is kind of rocky. The water is a little on the cold side, but that didn't stop us. It's a popular spot for picnickers. I remember looking at the picnic site and seeing clouds of smoke from all the barbecues and hibachis.
On the way to Alouette Lake we also saw a beautiful playground with a water park, which we had to drive by. Nathan had a hard time forgiving us because he didn't get to see the big lighthouse.
population 34,505 (2006)
Areas east of Vancouver and south of the Fraser River
population 460,500 (2010)
For it's size, I wouldn't say Surrey has a star-studded recreational line-up. We've gone to Tynehead Park, which has some easy hiking trails for kids. And Kelvin's favourite place, the Rainforest Reptile Refuge in South Surrey, cannot be missed. I've never seen so many crocodiles, lizards and snakes. Apparently, people take their reptilian friends to the refuge when they can no longer care for them. When we were there, the owner was expecting a boa constrictor any minute. She already had about five, but just couldn't say, "No" to a homeless snake.
Rock, population 20,100 (2010)
If White Rock looks too hectic the day you're there, try Crescent Beach, it's only a ten minute drive north. It has a raft, but it's quite close to shore, so I don't think you can dive off it.
The other neat thing about White Rock is that it has a strip of restaurants and shops across the street from the beach. If you feel like eating something other than concession food, you don't have far to go. Most of the shops are touristy, but you may be able to find some treasures you can't live without.
population 110,600 (2010)
Two worthwhile places for you to visit are Fort Langley, the "Birthplace of British Columbia," and the Greater Vancouver Zoo in the community of Aldergrove. The zoo has about 126 different species of wildlife from around the world. My favourites are the giraffes and the elephants. They used to have a small petting zoo, where my niece lost her hat to a goat, but they've since then done away with it. The zoo was recently bought by a group of entrepreneurs who plan on making some Big changes. We'll see what actually comes of it.
Fort Langley is one of our children's favourites. Why?--because you can pan for gold nuggets there. Nathan and Jen could spend hours doing it. The first nuggets they found were so precious to them, but now that they each have a dozen or so, I think they've figured out they're not real. The Fort also has a trading post, demonstration of hearth baking, blacksmith, and several other exhibits. The little town is very quaint and only a ten minute walk from the Fort. If you go in October, you may catch The Cranberry Festival.
population 69,217 (2006)
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