When I set out to explore Vancouver’s Granville Island on a sunny Monday afternoon, I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. Known best for its upscale public market and boutique shops, I certainly didn’t think it would have much to entice kids. I was wrong. Granville Island began winning me over before I even got there: from the dock at the very end of Hornby Street, I waited (all of two minutes) for the Aquabus to carry me across the hairsbreath of water that separates the mainland from the island, and when it arrived in all it’s cute, multi-colored glory, bumped up against the dock, and the operator gave a friendly wave, I was in love.
Once on-island, the public market is only a few blocks away. I stepped in, looked around, and instantly reached for my camera: the colors, smells, and sheer artistry of the arrangement of food and wares was enough to take my breath away (or just make me want to breathe very deeply). I’d wondered what there’d be for kids to do, but between the samples being offered around every corner, the merchandise piled high in all directions, and the people watching, I shouldn’t have worried.
I immediately bought a French crepe with cinnamon and sugar, then set out to see what other tricks this little island had up its sleeve. The shops along the adjacent streets were indeed upscale, but not stuffy. I’d estimate that I’d feel comfortable taking my kids into at least every other one to poke around. The best was one (or rather several) I stumbled upon by accident: Kids Market on Cartwright Street. This two-story marketplace stuffs 25 shops under one roof, and the result is an eye-popping array of toys, stuffed animals, puppets, clothing, and books overflowing from every countertop, shelf, and hallway. If the kids get tired of wandering (ha!), there’s even a play space with brightly colored tubes and ball pits that run the length and height of the building.
After my visit to toy heaven, I returned to the public market for lunch: the countless options within close proximity make it an ideal place for a family meal. Among the long stretch of food stalls, I found a vegetarian Thali dish served on a tin plate (you get a $2 deposit back for returning it). Next to me, a toddler ate organic cheese and grapes bought a few isles down, and a little girl worked her way through a danish as big as her head.
Also on-island are restaurants, comedy clubs, art galleries, parks, and kayak and boat rentals. Talented street musicians perform most days, and kids can walk along the harbor watching the boats come in. It’s a wonderful way to either spend very little money or quite a lot while experiencing Vancouver.
Date last visited: June 13, 2011
Distance from downtown Vancouver: Two minutes by boat or bridge.
Admission: None, but passage on an Aquabus will cost $3.25 for adults and $1.75 for kids (one way) from the Hornby dock. No need to purchase ahead of time. (Full list of schedules and fares.)
Hours of operation: The island is open seven days a week, 9 am to 7 pm.
Directions: The Hornby dock is a 15-20 minute walk from most points in downtown Vancouver. (It took me 20 from Canada Place.) City bus routes can also get you there. If you opt to drive, the Granville Bridge is accessed by Granville Street.