Our Family's Top Twenty

notes from Mom

1. Biking - The campus of the University of British Columbia
2. Bowen Island - A Day Trip
3. Burnaby Mountain Park - A Picnic
4. Cultus Lake - Chilliwack Area
5. Cypress Falls Park - West Vancouver
6. Fishing - Ambleside Beach Pier - West Vancouver
7. Fishing and Picnic - Jericho Beach Pier - Vancouver
8. Fort Langley
9. Granville Island - Vancouver
10. Harvest Time - Corn Mazes and Pumpkins - Greater Vancouver
11. Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve a.k.a. Seymour Demonstration Forest - North Vancouver
12. Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge and Ecology Centre - North Vancouver
13. Pacific Spirit Regional Park - Vancouver
14. Rainforest Reptile Refuge - Surrey
15. Richmond Trails and Dykes / Fish and Chips on the Pier - Steveston
16. Science World - Vancouver
17. Sea to Sky Highway - A Day Trip
18. Spawning Salmon - Hoy Creek - Coquitlam
19. Stanley Park - Vancouver
20. Swimming - Kitsilano Pool - Vancouver

We started this website about seven years ago.  Nathan was seven, Jen was four, and Coleman wasn't even born yet.  Since then we've grown from about 100 activities to our current (and still growing) 219.  Our kids have grown bigger too.  You've probably noticed the change in Nathan and Jen's perspective.  They're not little kids anymore.  And Coleman, our pride and joy, is the bigger picture when Jen gets wrapped up in her own little world and Nathan's teenage emotions get the best of him.  Anyway, despite the changing of the times, we hold true to our favorite activities.  The ones we liked most seven years ago are still the ones we like most now.  Nathan and Jen will never turn down a picnic on Burnaby Mountain or a trip to the Rainforest Reptile Refuge.  Even if the thrill is gone, their happy memories will always bring them back.  So here they are, our top 20.  I hope your family enjoys them as much as ours does. 

1. Biking - The campus of the University of British Columbia
At first glance this activity might look like a sleeper.  I highly recommend it, especially for parents who are thinking university in their kid's future.  Better yet, if you actually attended U.B.C. yourself.  Jen and Nathan had quite a laugh finding their Dad's graduation picture in the Commerce building.  We showed them the undergrad library where we spent many hours sleeping instead of studying.  Also en route were the swimming pool(s), Student Union Building, law building, hospital, hockey rink, gym, and for Nathan's benefit, the cafeteria.  We circled the entire campus, reminiscing and laughing about our university days, while the kids popped wheelies and rode around.

It's amazing what you remember.  Going back to your old school opens a door to memories you'd never think about otherwise.  I probably wouldn't mention taking remedial French if we hadn't walked by the French building.  The kids were amazed a school could have more than one building.  They asked us questions about how university worked.  Nathan wanted to know if everybody had lunch at the same time, and where he could park his bike when he had to go to class.  Jen figured she needed something with a motor on it to get in time from one building to the next.  The kids were pumped and excited about finally seeing the place we always talked about, and hoped would be a part of their future.
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2. Bowen Island - A Day Trip
Without fail, every March Break, our family takes the 20-minute ferry ride to Bowen Island.  Lately we've been taking bikes across, but we used to simply walk on.  Usually we'd kick things off with a hike to Killarney Lake.  We found out last time, you're not allowed to ride your bike on the trail around the lake-most other places, but not there.  I know this because I ended up pushing Cole's bike around the lake.

By the time we get back to the village it's lunchtime.  Where to eat is not hard to settle; there are only a handful of places to pick from.  The Snug is homey and casual, or if you're looking for more, venture up the hill to the newer restaurant with a view.  We go up the hill regardless and look around Artisan Square.  I have to admit, it's more a business centre than a hub of artistic talent.  If you're walking, take the path down rather than the road and detour left when you get to the bottom.  You'll stumble across the Bowen Island Community School.  It has a big playground with lots of equipment.  Your kids will love you for it.

If you have any time left over, explore the bay on the marina side.  There's a pretty hike which we've never actually finished.  Last summer Nathan took a kayaking lesson with his friend, Andrew.  Bowen Island has a popular kayaking program, but you have to make arrangements ahead of time.  If you end up staying late, try having dinner at Doc Morgan's.  We did.  Technically, Doc Morgan's is a fish & chip place, but actually their menu is much broader, and quite tasty too.  We like going to Bowen Island because it's like going on a mini-vacation.  The pace is slower and the only thing you have to worry about is catching the ferry back.
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3. Burnaby Mountain Park - A Picnic
During the time we lived in Burnaby I can't count how many summer nights we picnicked on the slopes of Burnaby Mountain.  At first Nathan and Jen were content to just play in the park nestled in the trees, while my husband and I watched the sun set.  Nathan eventually hit upon another "more funner idea":  "Lets slide down the slopes on a sheet of cardboard," was his suggestion.  It wasn't long before the kids had us saving every scrap of cardboard that entered our home.  You know what though, sliding down the hill on cardboard is a lot of fun.  Just make sure the grass is very dry (it usually doesn't get that way till August).  Coincidentally, that's when the Rose Garden (by the restaurant) is at its peak.
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4. Cultus Lake - Chilliwack Area
Usually when we go to Cultus Lake it's for the water slides.  But last summer was different.  We headed for the beach instead.  Nathan (our 14 year-old) dived into the water, no problem.  I saw him go in with ease and thought, "Hmm, it must be warm."  Boy was I wrong.  I thought my chest was going to cave in.  Actually the water usually is quite warm, but I guess we had an unusually cold summer last year.  Anyway, once our bodies got used to the temperature Nathan, Kelvin, and myself had swimming races from one dock to the next.  Nathan was quite proud when he beat us.  A sign of the times I'm afraid.

Jen was busy with her friend Becky and Coleman.  They were trying to lure tiny trout into their nets using a piece of bread as their bait.  For some reason there were hundreds of tiny trout swimming around the dock.  When their frustration levels got too high they skipped off to the adventure playground.  Three hours evaporated and we hadn't played mini-golf or tried the go-carts.  The kids didn't even mention the Water Slides across the street.  Going to Cultus Lake is like a one-day vacation; you can jam-pack a whole bunch of activities into a short period of time or just read a book on the beach and watch the world go by. 
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5. Cypress Falls Park - West Vancouver
When Mother's Day comes around I get to pick what we all do-Cypress Falls Park is what I choose.  The hike is not hard, but it's not easy either.  Coleman managed it when he was four years old.  Surprisingly, he didn't complain.  Too busy throwing twigs into the water I suppose.  Both he and Nathe love throwing leaves and branches in the water.  Then they stand and watch as the rushing water carries their paraphernalia out of sight.  When Jen was younger she thought the forest was enchanted.  She was always on a mission to find fairies.  There's never a dull moment on this hike.  Did I mention it has not one but two waterfalls:  one on the way up and the other on the way down.  Cypress Falls Park has plenty for big kids and little kids to discover.
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6. Fishing - Ambleside Beach Pier - West Vancouver
When you go to Ambleside Pier, you'll need to load a lot more than your fishing rods into the car.  If the weather is good, bring bathing suits, towels, and sand toys as well.  Ambleside Beach is about 400 meters away.  It has a little kids playground, skateboarding park, basketball court, tennis courts, pitch & putt golf, and grass fields big enough to fly a kite in.  Your pooch will never forgive you if you leave him at home.  There's a special area dedicated only to your four-legged friends.  Make your way towards the Lion's Gate Bridge and you'll walk right into Dog Heaven.

If you want to keep things simple, you can just stick close to the pier and make sandcastles on the small beach right there.  Little kids love John Lawson Park.  It's another 400 meters in the other direction.  It has big swings, train, and a boat, plus a dock as well. Nathan used to love loading the caboose of the train with pieces of driftwood.  You get the picture.  When it comes down to it, you probably need a weekend to experience everything that's at Ambleside Beach.  One more thing, if you go around supper time, you may see one of the huge cruise ships leaving Vancouver.  The channel is quite narrow, so you get a terrific view.
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7. Fishing and Picnic - Jericho Beach Pier - Vancouver
How many places can you think of where the sand stretches out for miles on the beach, and you can watch for half-an-hour as the sun sets on the horizon.  I can only think of one (without having to get on a plane), and that's Spanish Banks.  Our children love Spanish Banks.  They would go even it was raining.  We usually load the car so full we can't see out the back windows.  Most important are bathing suits, towels, sand toys, kites, balls, and fishing rods.  If you have a barbecue and feel inclined, why not bring that too.  We tend to take it easy with food and pick up a pizza and sushi on the way.  After dinner is done we head for Jericho Pier and try our luck fishing.  We usually haul in around a half-dozen fish (all bullheads).  The pier is also a perfect viewpoint for watching the sunset.
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8. Fort Langley
Imagine living in the late 1800's.  Our children (and us) are so technologically bound, we really have no idea.  That's what's so neat about Fort Langley.  Our kids found out you didn't drive around in cars, but rode horses.  And if you needed a shoe for your horse, you went to the blacksmith and he forged one from steel.  You didn't make a living working for a big corporation.  Instead you might grow vegetables or grain and trade it, or trap beavers and sell their pelts to the Hudson's Bay Company.  Kids went to school in a one-room schoolhouse, and for fun they had sack races.  For protection you had a lookout and a wooden barricade with holes in it to shoot bullets out of.  Oh yeah, gold was a big attraction.  Some made their fortunes, while others lost their lives searching for gold.  Our kids spent hours washing sand out of their pans in the troughs at Fort Langley.  They always came home with a few gold nuggets jingling in their pockets.  Nathan's dream was to collect a whole bunch of nuggets and melt them down into a gold bar, which he would then sell for thousands of dollars.  Luckily he figured out the nuggets weren't real before he tried to make his dream come true.

When you're done at the Fort you still have the town to explore.  It's literally a five-minute walk away.  Fort Langley is a quaint town with a character all it's own.  There's a hat shop, old-fashioned kids toy store, a number of home furnishing stores and a fifties restaurant where they once shot a movie out of.
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9. Granville Island - Vancouver
I first started going to Granville Island about 20 years ago.  I took the False Creek Ferry from the Aquatic Centre to Bridges Restaurant dock.  I loved the market with its six types of mushrooms, tropical fruits, glistening fish, stuffed pasta shells, and locally grown berries.  If I needed a birthday gift, I could always find a one-of-a-kind present in one of the craft or gift shops.

Then I got married and had three children.  Over the years I've always made a point of enrolling at least one child in an art class at The Arts Umbrella.  Luckily all my kids inherited my love of Granville Island.  They have so many fond memories of riding their scooters to Vanier Park or the small park at False Creek School.  In the summer they cool off at the water park, and every day is The Kids Only Market day.  I almost forgot, the views of False Creek and the city are incredible.  If you don't know what to do with your visiting long lost relatives, take them to Granville Island, I guarantee they'll find something to talk about.
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10.  Harvest Time - Corn Mazes and Pumpkins - Greater Vancouver
If you really want to test your family's spatial orientation and problem solving abilities take them to a corn maze.  I've never been so frustrated in my life.  Mind you, it was also a lot of fun.  What you have to do is simple enough:  find the 12 or so checkpoints and get your card stamped.  But try doing it in a five-acre maze of corn rows that you can't see over the top of.

I wouldn't recommend going if the ground is wet.  The rows can get muddy and slippery-not good, if you want to keep your car clean.  One time I saw a boy literally covered in mud from head to toe.  No lie.  I'm not sure his own mother even recognized him.

Our family's Halloween would not be complete without a visit to the Laity Pumpkin Patch in Pitt Meadows.  Pumpkins galore:  pick your own from the fields or choose from the hundreds of pumpkins lined up on the side of the grass field.  But I'm getting ahead of myself; the pumpkins are actually last on the order of things to do.  First you need to visit the zoo of farm animals, try the corn maze, take a hay ride, and my favorite, visit the enchanted forest.  It has dinosaurs, a one-room schoolhouse, Santa's workshop, gnomes, a wooden woodpecker that Nathan busted the bill off of and a whole pile of other stuff.  Finally, the gold-panning troughs.  Our kids can't resist; although I have to admit the nuggets you find look more like gold sprayed rocks.  It's an event you can't miss.  We left this year with three huge pumpkins and one medium sized one for $20.  I think the entrance fee is $1 per person.
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11.  Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve a.k.a. Seymour Demonstration Forest - North Vancouver
If you have a family like ours with a big age span (in our case nine years), the Seymour Demonstration Forest is perfect.  There are so many activities you can do.  Nathan usually heads for the trails on his mountain-bike, while the rest of us stick to the main road.  It's perfect for family biking or rollerblading.  Cole likes to ride on his scooter and try tricks and I usually walk.  It's the best way to enjoy the scenery.

There's also Rice Lake.  You can either hike around it or do what we do, fish for trout.  Rice Lake gets stocked with fish twice a year, and that's the time to go.  I once saw a guy catch a garbage bag full of trout, using shrimp for bait.  We even caught one trout that day.  Unfortunately we didn't know the proper way of releasing the trout back into the water.  Nathan just tossed the trout back in and it never swam off.  The poor fish just floated on top of the water and eventually died.  The whole time we fished this dead trout was bobbing around the dock making us feel even worse than we already did.  None of us felt like fishing anymore, so we packed it in early.
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12.  Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge and Ecology Centre - North Vancouver
Every out-of-town guest we've ever had has crossed the Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge.  It's an experience you won't want to miss.  Walking above the rushing waters and jagged rocks along a bridge that jiggles every time a new person comes aboard.  Don't worry, you won't fall off; but to tell you the truth, I never waste time getting to the other side.  Once you set foot on the other side, you have a choice to make:  go right to the Twin Bridges, make your way north to the Seymour Demonstration Forest, or do what most people do, follow the trail down to the pools where people even swim when the weather is hot.  It's a great family outing no matter what you do.
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13.  Pacific Spirit Regional Park - Vancouver
The first time we went to Pacific Spirit Regional Park Nathan still had training wheels on his bike, and Jen was snuggled in a backpack.  The trails were perfect:  a little up and down, not too many roots, and a mass of trees.  We've evolved now into a three-kid  bike riding family.  I thought Nathan would pass the last time we asked him if he wanted to come.  Maybe he was too cool for the trails on his big mountain-bike.  I was wrong.  Nathan came along, making jumps off the beaten path, while Jen and Coleman rode the trails chasing anything that moved.  Still a perfect spot for family bike riding.
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14.  Rainforest Reptile Refuge - Surrey
The Rainforest Reptile Refuge adopts reptiles, amphibians, and other exotic animal species  from people who can no longer care for their cold-blooded friends.  It's incredible what they've taken in.  We saw an albino boa constrictor (which has since died) tarantulas, pythons, bats, caimans, bearded dragons, turtles?  In fact, I think their collection is the most diverse I've seen in British Columbia.  In 2005 they boasted a total of 66 species amounting to 300 animals.  They have 22 caimans alone.  Our eyes nearly popped out of our heads when Christine (the curator) started scrubbing a caiman's back with a brush.  She was waiting for another boa to be dropped off at any time.  Later on in the day she had to pick up a shipment of crickets from across the border.  Apparently crickets make tasty morsels for the tarantulas.  We all left totally amazed.  If you're looking for a different kind of experience, and you don't mind humid, stinky air give the Rainforest Reptile Refuge a try. 
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15.  Richmond Trails and Dykes / Fish and Chips on the Pier - Steveston
We live in North Vancouver.  Anytime we go anywhere there's a hill to go up or down.  Richmond is the exact opposite, flat.  I think that's what drew us there.  We needed some flat terrain for the kids to ride their bikes on, and, more importantly for me to push the stroller along.  Anyway, if you're looking for flat, Richmond is the place to go; miles and miles of dykes.  The scenery is good and bad.  On the one side you have marshland and water with fishing boats, waterfowl, and bulrushes, and on the other side you have big ditches.  Richmond has a lot of ditches, but you learn to ignore them.

After working up an appetite on the dykes, it's time to head for Steveston, a small fishing village nearby, and have a snack or indulge yourself in some fish & chips.  Some of our readers recommend Pajo's on the dock, but it's an eat-out kind of place, which may not work if the weather is not cooperating.  Actually, you can't go too far wrong with fish & chips, so any restaurant would probably be okay.
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16.  Science World - Vancouver
If teachers are complaining your kids are falling asleep in science class, take them to Science World.  (When I say "them" I mean your kids, but actually it's probably the teacher who also needs to be turned onto science).  One time we spent 15 minutes standing outside the front door.  No, there wasn't a line-up.  Nathan was mesmerized by the gigantic ball machine.  Once inside the kids literally ran from one exhibit to the next.  There was so much to see and only a day to do it in!  Imagine a gigantic bubble-making machine, sound rooms where kids can create their own music, an optic-illusion room, drawers you pull out and find all sorts of crazy stuff like bugs, bones and butterflies in, a big tree you can climb inside, and a gigantic pulley.  I'm only scratching the surface.

And then there's the Omnimax Theatre which shows jumbo screen movies in 3-D.  Jen just saw one with her class on how the digestive system works.  Science World also presents a major exhibit, which they change every three or four months.  This could be anything from gross science, to secrets behind superheroes, robots, creepy crawly bugs, and mazes.  Unfortunately Nathan got lost in the maze exhibit.  What seemed like a big joke when he took off on me was not a joke by the time I found him.  Which reminds me, it's a good idea to keep an eye on your kids.  Typically there are a lot of people at Science World, and if your kids are happy and excited they may get distracted or wander off. 
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17.  Sea to Sky Highway - A Day Trip
If you're in the mood for a Sunday drive, the Sea-to-Sky Highway is hard to beat.  It's jam-packed with picture-perfect scenery and unbelievable sights.  Half the route hugs the coastline, giving you fantastic views of Howe Sound and the adjoining islands.  There's also some awesome mountain scenery, which my relatives from Holland couldn't get over.

Our first stop is usually at the Stawamus Chief to see if we can spot any rock climbers.  Next is Shannon Falls with lunch across the street at the Roadside Diner.  If it's January you can also make a pit-stop at Brackendale to see the bald eagles.  As the weather gets better you have sights like the B.C. Mining Museum, the West Coast Railway Heritage Park in Squamish, Alice Lake, and Brandy & Wine Falls to pick from.  If you're on a roll, why not make Whistler your final destination.  It takes about one-and-a-half hours to get there-if you don't make any stops.  You could still make it there and back, if you plan your stops wisely.  You really can't go wrong on the Sea-to-Sky highway, particularly if you have out-of-town guests.
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18.  Spawning Salmon - Hoy Creek (and Hyde Creek) - Coquitlam
The first time we saw the spawning salmon was at Hoy Creek.  None of us could believe our eyes:  hundreds of battered salmon fighting to make their way up rocks, currents, branches, sometimes only in inches of water.  Some didn't make it; they lined the creek shores or lay amidst the mud on the bottom of the riverbed.  That was our lesson from Mother Nature:  the instinct to give birth overpowers the desire to live.  We all felt sad to see the beaten up fish struggling against all odds, but then it made us realize Mother Nature is not always a neatly wrapped package.
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19.  Stanley Park - Vancouver
The first time we went to Stanley Park Nathan asked, "Where do we start?"  Good question.  Stanley Park has about 1,000 acres of  forested parkland plopped on the most picturesque bit of coastline in British Columbia.  That's not all:  Stanley Park has totem poles, the Vancouver Aquarium, a train, Second Beach Pool, playgrounds, a spray pool and tons of trails.  Circling the entire parkland is a paved walkway built right next to the coast.  You can walk, roller blade, scooter, or ride your bike. 

If you're on wheels, make sure you go in the right direction.  Remember the traffic is one-way from the Westin Bayshore towards English Bay.  This creates a predicament when you have little ones who can't make the seven-mile trek.  What we used to do is start at Third Beach, ride to Second Beach, play at the playground and take the road back.  Another option is to start at Georgia and cut in at the spray pool.  Your kids would have to walk back through the park, but you could distract them with the train, playground, or even the Aquarium.  Whatever you do, don't leave without your camera.
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20.  Swimming - Kitsilano Pool - Vancouver
I love swimming at Kitsilano Pool, my husband loves swimming at Kitsilano Pool, and all three of our children love swimming at Kitsilano Pool.  It's huge.  The pool stretches out for 100 meters smack-dab along Kitsilano Beach.  It's perfect for little kids and even babies, because it has two wide beach-like areas where you can play in an inch of water if you want to.  The older kids can dive off the deep end or take a ride on the slide.  If you're into exercise you can do that too.  The centre of the pool is dedicated to lap swimmers.  What I like too is there are several alert lifeguards stationed around the pool, to keep an eye on your kids.  When I say kids, I mean the ones who know how to swim, but don't want their parents breathing down their backs.

I haven't even mentioned Kitsilano Beach.  It's a beautiful, sandy beach equipped with lifeguards, a couple of rafts, and a totally awesome view of the North Shore and English Bay.  Kitsilano Beach is where the pool is.  Need I say more.
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