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Top 5 Van City Downtown Toddler Venues - The Little L Edition 2014

I was asked to compile my Van City list by Mitzi at East Van Baby, so I thought I'd jot down a few of our favourite places and haunts. Of course, this is a list that is constantly changing and evolving as Little L grows and develops different interests. For now, however, we can often be found at the following places:

1. Vancouver Aquarium
We are members, and we really admire their work as a non-profit, marine-animal-rescue service. Unlike a lot of other places that keep healthy aquatic animals in captivity, Van Aqua is home to those animals that cannot live in the oceans any longer due to injury and other limiting factors.

The facility has just undergone a major expansion, and now they have several single-use nursing rooms scattered throughout the gorgeous facility. The entire place is very toddler-friendly, with lots of places to climb up and look, or sit down and watch, or observe from behind glass. They even have a pretend-play area called the "Clownfish Cove" for the littles if you want to take a break on a padded bench. Though a bit overpriced, their canteen food is yummy too! Little L is a huge fan of the chicken fingers and Hubbs loves their battered fish.

2. George Wainborn Park
I think this is our favourite park at the moment. It's mostly for toddlers, with a wood-chip dual-slide play area that also features a ride-on chipmunk and turtle. The adult swings are on a separate woodchip area from the baby swings, of which there are four. The grass always feels good under our feet at this park, and the "fountain" area has a space where your littles can probably get away with dipping their feet or walking between the watery crevices of the rocks on a hot day. I love that there's a ton of green space for a grassy picnic, and the park is relatively shaded from the harsh summer sun. It's also not a particularly crowded park; most of the kids in the area gravitate towards the one near Elsie Roy School because it is more suited for older (or more agile) kids, but for Little L, who isn't keen on tall heights and climbing on ropes, this park is perfect!

3. Yaletown Roundhouse Train and "Plaza" Platform
For little train lovers, the free (donations-please) exhibit of a train-car that they can actually climb aboard is hugely appealing. For Little L, the colourful plaza outside is the draw. It is a wood-plank area that is often littered with these giant red avant-garde L-shaped structures that, for most of us, double as chairs. The platform is lit up at night with a Vegas-worthy set of coloured lights that are constantly changing. It's beautiful, and also shaded from the sun during the day because of the giant canopy that soars above the platform on the lit-up side. Sometimes they even turn on the "mist" feature, which causes cool mist "steam" to shoot up from the vents along the platform. We have been known to loiter there for 30 minutes at a time, sometimes to stop for a snack, and sometimes for Little L to burn off some energy at sundown. If you head to the main entrance area from the plaza, there are also cool art sculptures to look at and discuss... At length ;)

And if you need to use the loo, you can just run across the street to the Urban Fare, which has two single-use unisex/accessible bathrooms with change tables. Both are big enough to fit your jogger stroller inside, and it's usually pretty clean.

4. Chapters - Yes, the Robson store
Weird as it sounds, sometimes during the school year, this is the place to be at "nap time" (which is never Little L's naptime). All of the Chapters stores now have these sectioned-off children's book areas, which contain toys and seats for little patrons to use, as well as the many books for them to read. The Robson one has the added feature of the flagship "American Girl" shop in the city, and Little L *loves* looking at the miniature doll accessories and playing with the displays. Of course, I would never advise dumping your child there unsupervised for any length of time, since the accessories could be swallowed or your tot could wreak some serious havoc to the carefully-displayed doll scenes, but if you're watching and reminding them to be gentle, this could be a fun place to kill a few minutes. We have spent several hot afternoons looking at the American Doll babies. Her fave is the bathtub :)

5. Coopers' Park
I'm a little loathe to even tell you about this park (much like I almost didn't tell you about the Wainborn one). It's located beneath the Cambie bridge, so it is always a refuge from the hot sun. We've actually seen homeless people who have tried to set up temporary homes on the playground equipment, so I guess it's not a complete secret. The park has two play areas: one that has several "tall" slides, and one that has lower, baby-friendly (read:not too high or steep) slides. There are also a few swings for different age groups, plus a basketball court that I usually see being used as a skateboard park. We like this park because the grassy area is quite sunny and well-kept, there's usually a "puddle" for Little L to jump in (because of the leaky water fountains, which are disgustingly filthy and you would never in a bazillion years ever want to drink out of), and the park isn't super busy. Did I mention the shade? Because Little L and I are both not keen on super-hot temperatures, this park is great for escaping the heat (and also ducking out from the rain).

We also have memberships here. It's a great indoor, interactive place for kids of every age, although we don't love how crowded it gets on weekends or the fact that we had a multi-hour lockdown in here several weeks ago (yes, during the Yaletown shooting of 2014, we happened to be at Science World when the gunman biked his geriatric self to the venue and got into a shoot-out with the police). They also have a specific under-6 play area, a nursing room, and bathrooms scattered throughout.  Little L likes "sleeping" on the seats near the "tree" inside the animal exhibit, looking at the eggs, running through the beaver dam tunnel, dancing on the footsteps, drumming on the acoustic equipment, splashing in the water displays, looking at the giant urban density "red cake pop" exhibit, and checking out the seasonal exhibit (currently about "sports" but prior to that, a LEGO exhibit that was very hands-on). The on-site White Spot is perfect for lunches if you forgot to pack one, and the place is sizeable enough that your tot can run around and get his/her wiggles out before nap time.

The other places that we frequent include Elsie Roy's school playground, the park at Seymour and Davie (whose name escapes me at the moment), and another little playground in David Lam Park near the tennis courts. I don't love them as much, which is why they didn't make my Top 5.

We just checked out the water splash park at Stanley Park yesterday, and it was a ton of fun too! Free, except for parking. I might write up more on that if we go back a few more times, but it's not one of our "regular" places to go. These ones are.

Where do you like to take your tot(s)? Any "secret" discoveries in the city that you'd be willing to share? 


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