The Hills are Alive with the Sound of Music in Victoria and Vancouver

By Elena Epstein

family travel

Erin, left, and Emily Epstein enjoy a cool treat and the beauty of The Butchart Gardens. PHOTO COURTESY ELENA EPSTEIN

Ever since my daughters, Erin and Emily, were elementary-school age, they would spontaneously burst into songs from our family’s favorite movie, “The Sound of Music,” every time we were somewhere uniquely beautiful.

The first time it happened, we were visiting the Vanderbilt Estate in Rhode Island. As we walked through the gorgeous flower beds and past the gazebos on the immense grounds, my girls started singing “You Are Sixteen Going on Seventeen.”

So when 18-year-old Emily whizzed past us on a bike ride at Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia, last summer and I heard her singing “Do-Re-Mi,” I knew we were somewhere special.

This trip was memorable in many ways. It was the summer before Emily, our youngest, was heading to college. The empty nest was looming and I was determined to create a trip to remember for our family. I had lots of ideas, but my kids are adults and have lives of their own. Erin, my oldest, had a sorority trip to Chicago planned and Emily had scheduled a soccer trip to Spain. In the midst of it all we had dorm shopping to do and, of course, work deadlines to meet.

The summer was going by fast. Europe was out – we had neither the time nor the budget. We always love the beach, but I wanted something we hadn’t done before. And then it hit me: western Canada. Not too far, reasonable airfare, beautiful cities, great food, lots of outdoor activities and super-friendly locals.

For L.A. residents, western Canada is a perfect getaway and Victoria and Vancouver gave our family so many memorable moments as we inched closer to college move-in.

Our trip began with an easy two hour 45 minute flight from LAX to Vancouver, then a ferry ride to Victoria, British Columbia, where we spent our first three nights. The BC Ferries leave Vancouver’s Tsawwassen port every hour starting at 7 a.m. (6 a.m. departures are available Mon.-Thurs. and Sat.) and the beautiful 90-minute ride allows you to take your rental car with you.

Arriving in Victoria was like landing inside an enchanted storybook. It has all the English touches, but not in a kitschy, touristy way. It’s charming with gorgeous natural beauty, cool restaurants and tons of family-friendly activities, including all kinds of water sports, adorable water taxies that your kids will love, biking, hiking and totem-pole exploring.

The hub of activities is the Inner Harbour, one of the most charming waterfront areas we have seen. During the summer months, the harbor features live music, festivals and performances. There are also lots of restaurants in the area and the whole family will love watching the floatplanes land in the bay.

We set up camp in Bear Mountain at the Westin Bear Mountain Resort & Spa, about a 20-minute drive from the Inner Harbour. Our quest for family time brought us to this resort because it provided lots of outdoor activities steps away from our room, is surrounded by gorgeous mountains and hiking and biking trails and offers a great spa for some special mother-daughter time. It didn’t disappoint.

Our days in Victoria were filled with fun. My husband and daughters went zip lining with Adrenaline Zipline Adventure Tours. Meanwhile, not being a big fan of heights, I went for a great hike on the trails surrounding our hotel.

Back at the Inner Harbour, we enjoyed walking cobblestone streets lined with shops and restaurants, rode a horse-drawn carriage and a water taxi, saw a 3-D movie at the IMAX Theatre and explored totem poles in front of the Royal BC Museum.

We also relived our daughters’ princess days with afternoon tea at the historic Fairmont Empress, where we savored the Empress’ signature scones, pastries, clotted cream and strawberry preserves with fresh lavender.

One of the absolute must-see attractions in Victoria is The Butchart Gardens, 55 acres of breathtaking beauty featuring every imaginable flower and plant. We were lucky to be there during the last night of the summer fireworks show that takes place over the Gardens’ lake. Adults and kids of all ages will enjoy Butchart, where locals with picnic baskets mingle with tourists. Erin was so enchanted by the beauty of the flowerbeds that she bought several packets of seeds to plant on the patio of her college apartment.

Following our adventure in Victoria, we took the BC Ferries back to Vancouver for a few more days of family fun and exploration. We stayed at the Westin Bayshore, just steps from Stanley Park and a perfect family spot, close to restaurants, bike trails, parks and a great aquarium.

When visiting Stanley Park, definitely hop on a bike. This magnificent green oasis in the middle of urban Vancouver offers views of high-rise buildings, mountains, beaches and majestic trees. It’s one of the nicest rides we’ve taken.

The Vancouver Aquarium in Stanley Park is a family must-see with a stingray touch pool, Canada’s Arctic exhibit, Penguin Point, Treasures of the B.C. Coast and the Pacific Canadian Pavilion. The aquarium wasn’t too crowded and allows visitors to come face-to-face with an underwater habitat where divers mingle with halibut, crabs, kelp, sea stars and various Pacific fishes.

A few weeks after our Canada trip, we were packing for college move-in — Erin’s senior year and Emily’s freshman year. Our time in British Columbia was exactly what we had needed, with long family bike rides, beautiful nature, adventure and no cell phones. Definitely a few of our favorite things.

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