Vancouver BC is a wonderful destination for family getaways in all seasons of the year. Many of the city's highlights derive from its spectacular setting, with forested mountains just minutes from the sea, and miles of beaches.
Below are a number of outdoorsy suggestions for Vancouver, in each season. For more general year-round recommendations, About.com's Guide for Vancouver suggests exploring Chinatown, renting a bike, hiking forest trails, and cycling on the Stanley Park seawall.
Stanley Park is a top tourist attraction, and is also home to the Miniature Railway (more, below) and the Vancouver Aquarium, which is perhaps the most popular attraction for families. If your visit includes some rainy Vancouver weather, head for indoor fun at Science World, the city's top museum for families.
Vancouver has miles of beaches to enjoy in summer, such as Spanish Banks and English Bay-- see About.com's Vancouver BC website for details. Spanish Banks lies between the trendy neighborhood of Kitsilano and the park-like University of BC campus, and is a particularly good choice for families because of its very shallow waters: at low tide, kids can wade and splash for a couple of hundred feet of shore. (Don't expect crystal-clear water at any of these beaches, though!) English Bay, meanwhile, is located at the entrance to Stanley Park and close to the summertime outdoor salt-water swimming pool and Second Beach.
Another thought for summer: take a day-trip to spectacular alpine hiking at Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort, an hour and a half away. You can even enjoy a sumptuous buffet meal on the mountain. The drive up, on the scenic Sea-to-Sky Highway, is a treat in itself, with magnificent views of islands, mountains, and sea.
Also fun in summer is the Blackcomb Family Adventure Zone-- read more about Whistler-Blackcomb in summer months.
Vancouver is in some ways more of a giant park than a city, and families can enjoy a fall hike at many outdoorsy places. To name a few choice spots: the Capilano Suspension Bridge (and also many free hiking trails in the Capilano River area); Cypress Mountain; Grouse Mountain, where you will take a (paid) ride up a gondola to mountaintop hiking; and Queen Elizabeth Park, which is also home to the beautiful Bloedel Conservatory. Another great place to walk is the seawall in West Vancouver, which is across the Lions Gate Bridge and faces Stanley Park.
Also consider a day trip to Bowen Island. Drive or take a bus to Horseshoe Bay (a half-hour from downtown, by driving, about an hour by bus) and then board a the BC Ferries Queen of Capilano for the fifteen minute ferry ride to Snug Cove, where you can enjoy ice cream and restaurants just steps from the ferry dock, or head off on a hike in Crippen Park.
Families visiting Vancouver in December can find some great places to enjoy holiday light displays. In Stanley Park, every year the Vancouver Firefighters put on Bright Nights: Admission is by donation and families flock here, many of them on their way to the Christmas Train at Stanley Park's Miniature Railway.
Also beautiful to visit during December are the Van Dusen Botanical Gardens, which are lit up with the Festival of Lights. About.com's Guide for Vancouver has more suggestions for Top Christmas & Holiday Events.
Spring is an especially good time to visit Vancouver: trees are in blossom and daffodils are out, yet people can enjoy day and night-time skiing just a half-hour away. I doubt that any major urban center has quicker access to ski runs than Vancouver, and certainly none would also have the stupendous views over the ocean from the snowy slopes. Even when the weather is overcast and dreary down at sea level, skiers and boarders can escape to a snow-white wonderland at Vancouver's three ski resorts. Typically these ski mountains stay open until through the second or third week in April; after that, families can do a day-trip to world-famous Whistler-Blackcomb which has one of the longest ski seasons going and usually offers great skiing and boarding well into May.
Festivals Through the Year
Vancouver has a procession of festivals throughout the year; almost all are family-friendly, and many are outdoors and free to attend. About.com's Guide for Vancouver does a great job detailing Vancouver's seasonal events.