Starting out as an unpromising little sandbar, Granville Island now shines as an example of what a community with chutzpah and vision can achieve in a couple of decades. Vancouver, B.C.’s original name was Granville, so it is fitting that this little island (technically peninsula) has the original name, as it seems to distill all the best things about Vancouver into one place. Granville was once a marginal area, home to hobos in the 1920s and heavy industry from the 1940s to the 1960s. Today, Granville is host to the Emily Carr School of Art and Design, The Granville Island Hotel — a boutique hotel right on the water — and the beautiful Public Market, which teems and bustles with beautiful produce, fish, meats and crafts. There are several theatres, artist studios, eclectic gift shops and excellent restaurants. Even on busy days, free parking is readily available.
Granville is a particularly great destination with children of any age. A first stop for families with little ones is Granville Island Kids’ Market, a collection of toy stores around a multi-story play area called Adventure Zone and kid-friendly eatery called The Beanstalk Bistro. Every major brand of toy is available in store-upon-store of toy glory. The Kids’ Market also has space for birthday parties, and The Hairloft is a great place to get little ones a new ‘do — individual TV screens and salon chairs in the shape of cars keep squirmy ones occupied while the experienced staff go to work de-tangling and trimming those messy tresses. The Carousel Theatre for Young People near the Kids’ Market on Cartwright Street often has regular family-friendly shows like Seussical, based on the books of Dr. Seuss, and Busytown, which is inspired by the popular Richard Scarry books. The Kids’ Market also rents strollers for carting around tired little tots.
A visit with the kids doesn’t have to be just Granville. Another great kid-friendly adventure is to take one of the Aquabus jitneys from the boardwalk behind the market down False Creek to Science World at Telus World of Science. A word about big, municipal science museums: they are not all great. Some have a lot of broken exhibits, some are worn down, some have maybe one great feature and a lot of mediocre displays. This is not true at Telus. Interactive displays, hands-on science experiments and beautiful outdoor art spaces for sculpture and imaginative installations are just some of its features. It’s also surrounded by water and a nice place to wander around, picnic, take in the breezes. Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the summer, the museum also offers summer camps and science clubs. There is also an Imax theatre for those who like big-screen adventure. Telus Science World is a gem on False Creek, and the journey by Aquabus makes it that much more fun.
For less kid-oriented fun and shopping, the Net Loft has eclectic stores with beautiful handcrafted jewelry, crafted wooden pieces and one of the finest stationery stores in Vancouver, Paper-Ya. Granville stores make the most of their proximity to the Emily Carr School of Art and Design, so it’s not uncommon to find inexpensive but finely crafted gifts and jewels in many of the local shops. There are so many alleys and shopping streets to explore, it’s impossible to list every great find here. But do check out Tribal Rugs and Art, which also outfits local movies and television shows shooting in Vancouver, and Gigi B., which has great home décor. If nautical is your thing, there’s an entire Maritime Market, chock full of seashore-inspired art and culture.
Vancouver is a good biking city, and Granville Island is a great jumping-off place for adventuring with the kids. The traffic heavy but orderly, and there are bike stores that rent bikes all over the city. For proximity to Granville, Reckless Bike Store is just at the top of the hill above Granville on Fir Street.
There is so much to do in Granville, staying overnight is a good idea. The Granville Island Hotel offers luxury accommodations at reasonable prices. The rooms are lovely, with exposed beams and beautiful views of False Creek, the Vancouver skyline, and Telus Science World’s sparkly dome.
The dining choices on Granville can be dizzying. Quite apart from the Public Market, which offers fresh food galore, there are several restaurants, bistros and cafes to match any budget or appetite. Two favorite regular haunts are Bridges, which has a lovely view of the marina at False Creek, and The Sandbar, which sits along False Creek with views of the skyline across the water. Both are of good reliable quality, kid-friendly and have big menus that start with very reasonable prices.
While Vancouver is a big and bustling city, Granville is a concentrated area of the arts, culture and exquisite culinary tradition of Vancouver, but on a smaller scale. Worthy of a few days in a row or repeated visits, Granville Island rewards your visit year-round, with activities, concerts, events and more.
Getting There: From Bellingham and points south, take I-5 through the Peace Arch crossing (don’t forget your passport, children need a birth certificate) and drive until I-5 becomes Highway 99. Highway 99 becomes Oak Street. Either take a left onto Park and merge onto Granville Rd., or take Oak St. straight and take a left onto W. 6th Ave. From personal experience, the latter is a little more direct.