Vancouver is a year-round travel destination that offers something for everyone in the family. Part of this region’s allure is the unique blend of both urban and natural attractions. There are just as many impactful ways to spend your family time unplugged in Vancouver’s outskirts as there are in the city center.
While plenty of people visit British Columbia in the winter to ski in Whistler, the warmer months also offer bountiful outdoor activities. These are exceptional destinations for tourists seeking to explore Mother Nature’s pristine playground while also having access to first-rate accommodations and amenities. From hiking and top-notch parks, to biking, zipline tours, skiing and snowmobiling, adventure abounds.
Vancouver and Whistler are ideal locations for your family’s first international jaunt because they are jam-packed with outdoor beauty, natural splendor and cultural charm. I highly recommend both of these places to Angelenos with kids because they are easy to access from L.A. and easy to navigate after you arrive. These English-speaking destinations are as amazing as they are convenient. And they’re so unique that you’ll feel like you’ve traveled to another continent.
Sensational variety in Vancouver
Much of what makes Vancouver such an attractive city for first-time international travelers is that you can get less-than-three-hour direct flights from LAX to Vancouver. Moreover, traveling around Vancouver can be easily done, since the city boasts a robust public transit system with trains, buses and ferries.
We took the Canada Line Skytrain to get from the airport to downtown Vancouver in under 30 minutes. Then, for a fantastic introduction to the city, we went on the Vancouver Highlights Tour to soak up all the best sights in Gastown, Chinatown, Granville Island and Stanley Park. This tour ends in Granville Island, where the kids will love exploring the massive public market. My family and I ate our way through the market, and everyone enjoyed getting to try what piqued their curiosity. While on Granville Island, check out one of the most intimate and inspiring music stores we’ve ever encountered — Gandharva Loka, touted as “The World Music Store” with a variety of curious instruments to explore from around the globe.
If your family loves being on the water, you can take the False Creek Ferry on an island cruise for a unique way to view the city skyline (we adored it!). Your family can enjoy Vancouver from an elevated perspective at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, one of Vancouver’s most iconic and oldest attractions. There are plenty of interactive exhibits for young kids. It’s a great place to spend a half day outdoors exploring. Another fun way to experience Canada’s phenomenal scenery is to check out FlyOver Canada, a ride that uses advanced technology to transport you around the country. To infuse some exercise into your sightseeing, rent bikes from Cycle City and explore the Vancouver seawall trail and Stanley Park. We biked for 2.5 hours, awed by the scenery as we made our way around the entire park. There are plenty of snack, bathroom and epic vista stops along the way to make this a relatively easy ride.
If you’re traveling with a movie-loving teen, check out Vancouver Film and TV Tours for a walking tour around landmark film scenes in town.
Magnificent lodging: Fairmont hotels
After our arrival, we checked into the lovely Fairmont Waterfront hotel. Condé Nast named it the second best in hotels in 2021 — a testament to its overall stunning beauty. The views from this hotel are breathtaking, and we were hypnotized watching seaplanes take off over the harbor from the comfort of our beds. This hotel is central to everything and is steps away from the harbor, the waterfront SkyTrain station and all the eateries of historic Gastown. Fairmont Waterfront features an outdoor heated pool with unbeatable views of the harbor and a grand rooftop garden that houses a honeybee apiary.
We also enjoyed a stay at historic Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, which was officially opened in May 1939 by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Known locally as the “Castle in the City,” the hotel is a registered heritage property with undeniable charm and luxury, boasting Art Deco rooms and culinary delights. We booked time into our itinerary just to linger at the hotel and were glad we did. Recently renovated, the spectacular 14th Floor Heritage Suites offer an exclusive “hotel within a hotel” experience that delivers an unforgettable old-world charm. These rooms are worthy of royalty, both old and new. If you’re not a king or queen, you’ll feel like one. This property oozes grandeur, glamour and timeless elegance with impeccable service, classic hospitality and regal comforts.
Whistler — a year-round adventure wonderland
A scenic two-hour drive north of Vancouver (you can arrive via seaplane, shuttle or VIP Whistler car service if you don’t want to drive) will land you in Whistler, an undisputed year-round sports paradise that offers a cornucopia of all-season outdoor activities. During warmer months, you can embark on myriad outdoor adventures in this charming alpine village, including water sports at Lost Lake Park, ziplining, gondola rides, mountain biking and hiking.
We checked into the all-suite Westin Resort & Spa, Whistler, conveniently based right at the bottom of Whistler Mountain and in the epicenter of everything. We ventured out one night to eat some world-class sushi at Sushi Village. However, we contentedly ate most of our meals at The Grill & Vine Restaurant within the hotel, and after a day on the mountain we were happy to be fueled and refueled within steps of our beds. The best unexpected family travel bonus of all was that there were laundry machines on every floor of the hotel.
During winter months, Whistler offers world-class skiing, snowboarding and many opportunities to teach your kids how to do it all with lessons at the Whistler Mountain Ski School. In the summer, book a thrill-filled ATV tour through spectacular mountain splendor.
On our last day in Whistler, my husband and son darted between exploring the two side-by-side mountains that make up Whistler Blackcomb while I tucked into the spa for a much-needed restorative massage.
In Vancouver, we dined at ARC in the Fairmont Waterfront hotel, and enjoyed the stunning harbor views and creative flavors of its urban artisan dishes. To savor a nice variety of some local flavor, try the guided two-hour food walking tour, a Wok Around Granville Island Foodie Tour, in the island’s famous public market.
During our stay at the Fairmont hotel dinner, we fell in love with the creative regional fare at the hotel’s in-house restaurant, Notch8. We had a nice leisurely, memorable break from our sightseeing with some afternoon Tea at Notch8, a longstanding Canadian tradition at Fairmont Hotel Vancouver.
Margot Black is a Los Angeles-based travel writer, mom and founder of Black Ink PR.