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A Family Morning at Granville Island in Vancouver

Granville Island is a popular Vancouver spot for tourists and locals alike. It has a vibrant market, many shops and art galleries, and plenty of fun things for children. In this post, we’ll explain what Granville Island is like and how we spent a morning there with a toddler. We’ll cover how to get there, what to do while you’re there, and some tips for how to organize you visit.

Keep reading to learn more about how we spent a family morning at Granville Island in Vancouver!

What is Granville Island?

Granville Island is located south of Downtown Vancouver, just across False Creek. It’s largely surround by water, but it’s connected to the mainland at Sutcliffe Park, so it’s not technically an island. In short, Granville Island is an entertainment, arts and shopping district. Most of the action is centered on the north/northwest side of the island.

The main attraction at Granville Island is Public Market. The large, indoor market is part farmers market (with stands selling produce, meats & seafood, fresh flowers, etc) and part food hall (with vendors selling prepared foods and meals to enjoy on the spot.) There’s seating inside and outside, plus frequent outdoor live music and entertainment.

Across from Public Market is Net Loft. This is basically in indoor shopping mall, but with quirky, local and artisan shops instead of H&Ms and Auntie Anne’s pretzels. It has a cool, curated selection of art, music, books, and clothing that is really fun to browse.

On the other side of Net Loft, there’s another stretch of shops that continues down Duranleau Street. These shops are strip mall style, each with entrances along the main sidewalks. (That is to say it’s not an indoor mall, like Net Loft.) This area has more souvenir and clothing shops, but still a few art galleries and shops.

The last big attraction is the Kids Market. The Kids Market is exactly what it sounds like: a market for kids. The shops inside are mostly toy stores, plus a handful of clothing shops and other odds and ends. On the second floor of the Kids Market is an arcade and (paid) indoor play area.

The rest of Granville Island is kind of a hodgepodge, including:

  • A handful of table-service restaurants, including the popular Granville Island Brewing and The Sandbar Seafood Restaurant.
  • A few shops and galleries east of Anderson Street, plus a few tour providers, boat charters and parking lots.
  • Park space with playgrounds, a free outdoor waterpark (summer only), and sports courts (tennis, basketball, etc.)

Taking the Aquabus to Granville Island

There are a few different ways to get to Granville Island, but the Aquabus is the most fun. Alternatively, you can take the bus or car/taxi/rideshare. There’s also another ferry line, operated by False Creek Ferries, that sails from the Aquatic Centre Ferry Dock a few blocks west.

The Aquabus is a small water taxi (boat) that runs back and fourth between Granville Island and Hornby Street Dock. The boat runs back and forth across False Creek continually throughout the day, and the ride takes just a few minutes.

Not only is the Aquabus usually quicker than alternate modes of transportation, but it also drops you off in a better spot. The Aquabus dock is right in front of the Public Market in the heart of Granville Island. By comparison, the bus stop is on the other side of the island, which is about a 10 minute walk to Public Market.

We were coming from Rosewood Hotel Georgia, which is about one mile straight up Hornby Street from the dock, near the Vancouver Art Gallery. While we could have walked — and did on the way back — we opted to take a bus most of the way down Granville Street, and then walked the last few blocks to the dock.

Once we got to the dock, things couldn’t have run smoother. The dock was clearly labeled with the brightly colored Aquabus logo. There was a bench on the dock, so we had a quick sit while we waited for the water taxi. We could see the water taxi from across the creek, and it soon arrived at our dock.

There were only a handful of other passengers at the dock when we boarded, so there was plenty of seats for everyone. We purchased tickets our tickets online in advance for the way there. The confirmation email had a QR code, which they easily scanned onboard. You can also buy tickets on the boat using card or cash.

By the time the skipper (Captain? I’m not sure what his rank was.) finished checking everyone’s tickets, we were already at the Granville Island dock. From there, it was a short walk to our first stop: Public Market.

Aquabus to Granville Island at a Glance

  • Hours: 7 AM to 9 PM daily, all year
  • Schedule: Continual service, usually departing every 5 – 10 minutes.
  • Price (CAD): One Way: $4.50 / Round Trip: $7.50 / Day Pass: $19 (Discounts are available for children 4-12 and seniors +65. Infants 3 and under travel for free.)
  • How to buy tickets: You can buy one way tickets onboard with cash or card. You can also buy round trip tickets and day passes online in advance here.
  • Docks: In addition to roundtrip service between Granville Island and Hornby, the Aquabus also stops at a few other docks around False Creek. You can find the full route here.

Breakfast & Coffee at Public Market

We were off the Aquabus just before 8 AM. We didn’t mean to arrive so early, but we just flew in from NYC the day before and woke up around 5:30 AM local time, so we had an early start.

Public Market as a whole doesn’t officially open until 9 AM, but a handful of eateries open earlier. Our first stop was Blue Parrot, which opens at 7 AM.

Blue Parrot is a coffee shop and cafe on the waterfront side of Public Market. We needed coffee and breakfast and they were open, so it was the perfect spot. They had plenty of seating and it was pretty quiet during the off-market hours. The coffee was good and they had a great kids menu (drinks and food!), too.

Now we had a decision to make. We could either kill a full hour at the cafe waiting for the rest of the market to open, or we could walk around the island doing a few other things and circle back to the market later. Since breakfast only actually took 20 minutes, we opted for the later.

Our first thought was to take a walk around the waterfront side of the island. Unfortunately, we learned pretty quickly that is not really an option. The map looks like you can walk around the periphery of the island, but you really can’t. We went north and then east away from Public Market, and quickly had to abandon our plan as we passed the docks and charters.

We cut over Duranleau Street, only to discover that the shops don’t open until 10. I think I did know that, but hoped we’d find at least a few open. So we did what any self-respecting parent would do when they needed to kill time: find a playground.

Playgrounds on Granville Island

It was now 8:45 AM. The rest of Public Market would be opening soon, but we were on the other side of the island at this point. The highlight on this side of the market was the Kids Market, which didn’t open until 10 AM. So we settled on relaxing and playing at the playgrounds in the area until then.

Granville Island has a handful of playgrounds, centered mostly on the south side near the Kids Market. At the time, we were using Google Maps to the find the playgrounds, but they’re much more clearly marked on the Granville Island map here.

We first wound up at the play area just outside the Kids Market. There was a large climbing apparatus, that was a little too big for our fresh 3-year-old. We decided to try to find something better. There was a little cafe nearby with a really cool cotton candy vending machine that was just opening as we left.

As it turned out, it was a good thing we left when we did because the next playground was way better. The best playground at Granville Island is located right beside the waterpark.* This particular playground is not even listed on Google Maps, so we almost missed it.

*NOTE: The Granville Island waterpark is only open during the summer months. It primarily splash pad style, with one large waterslide. It’s free and open to the public. It was closed for the season during our visit.

This playground had all sorts of fun stuff for little kids and big kids. There was a really cool climbing/spinning thing that looked like something I’d have loved as a kid. As soon as my toddler found the sandpit though, that was literally all they cared about it. Along with their new friend who shared their toy truck, we happily played here the requisite hour as we waited for the Kids Market to open.

There is one last playground on Granville Island, tucked back by the art galleries and shops on the east end. This one is a bit smaller, and probably not worth going out of your way for unless the other one is too crowded.

Granville Island Kids Market

I had a feeling that the Granville Island Kids Market was going to be a hit with my toddler, and I couldn’t have been more right. However, as an adult, I was a bit underwhelmed. I loved the idea of a market for kids, but in reality that essentially comes out to a bunch of toy stores. Hence why my child loved it much more than me.

The first floor of the Kids Market is the actual market area. It’s an indoor space with several different shops targeted to children. Most of them are toy stores, but there’s also a magic shop, a few clothing shops, and some other kid-centric odds and ends.

Luckily for me, my toddler is at the perfect age where they love going to toy stores to play and aren’t at all disappointed when they can’t actually buy the toys. We had a great time looking at all the different toys and even put a few “on the list.” (As far as my kid is concerned, a toy being on their list is as good as actually having it.)

On the lower level, you can also see the bottom of a big slide and part of the play area for The Adventure Zone. The entrance to that area is on floor 2, so we went upstairs to see what that was about.

The Adventure Zone is an indoor play area with paid admission. It costs $13 per child for an all-day pass, which includes access for one parent with children 3 and under. It did look pretty fun, and there were several kids playing at the time. We weren’t planning to stay for the whole day, so we took our talents to my child’s actual favorite thing: the arcade.

The arcade in the Kids Market takes up about half of the second floor. It’s free to enter the area, but you need to purchase a game card to play the games. Game cards are for sale at kiosks around the arcade, but at the time they only accepted cash. In order to buy a game card with a credit card, we needed to go to the customer service desk.

It wasn’t that big of a space, but there was a good variety of games for different ages. You can earn points for playing the different games, and then cash them in for prizes. There’s also a little snack stand up there.

The arcade was a huge hit and they could have stayed for hours, but we had more to see! After about an hour at the Kids Market and arcade, we ventured back out onto the island.

Shops & Art Galleries on the Island

We decided to hit up a few of the shops and stores on Granville Island before heading back to the market for lunch. We took the long way east up Cartwright Street and back down Johnston Street a ways before cutting down Old Bridge Street and peeping our heads in Railspur Alley. Honestly, this half of the island was pretty dead this time of day.

After passing the Kids Market again, we went to the main shopping area on Duranleau Street. Most of the shops open at 10 AM, so they were all open and lively by the time we arrived just after 11 AM. My biggest complaint about this district was that it wasn’t pedestrianized. There were sidewalks, but it wasn’t very pedestrian friendly. More on that later.

After popping into a few stores, we cut over to Net Loft, which also opened at 10 AM. This was our favorite shopping area on Granville Island. There was so many great stores inside. We particularly loved the book shop, paper store, and kids clothing/book store.

It’s worth noting that there are a lot of art galleries, studios and supplies shops around the island. There are also several performance spaces, theaters and stages. It’s hard to judge those things as a passerby. If you participated in these activities a bit more or scheduled your day around a performance, I’m sure you’d have a very different experience with these spaces.

We only spent about an hour shopping and exploring these areas, but I could see this taking much longer if you were a more avid consumer.

Lunch at Public Market

Another reason we only shopped for an hour was because we were hungry! There are a few different table-service restaurants on the island, but we knew we wanted to eat at the market.

Like I mentioned, the Public Market has two sides. The side that I refer to as the Farmer’s Market Side has a variety of vendors selling fresh foods and goods. Here you’ll find things like fresh produce, flowers, breads, uncooked meats, jarred goods, etc. This half would be great for piecing together a picnic lunch or picking up groceries to take to your Airbnb.

The other half of the market, what I call the Food Hall Side, sells prepared foods that you can eat on the spot. You’ll find things like fish & chips, hot and cold sandwiches, noodle dishes, pizza by the slice, etc. This is where you can order full meals, which are freshly prepared and served quickly. There’s a lot of indoor tables and seating on this side, plus even more outside.

We didn’t end up spending much time on the Farmer’s Market Side, because we needed a full lunch pretty quickly. There were plenty of vegetarian options for us, including Beyond sausages at a German stand. I picked up that, along with a side of pierogi for my toddler, while my husband grabbed a Pad Thai for himself. The food was delicious!

The entire market was very crowded around noon. However, the lines at the stands moved fast. We got our food in about 15 minutes, and snagged a table pretty quickly. I’d definitely recommend planning for longer though, especially on a weekend or during peak travel season.

Outdoor Entertainment at Granville Island

We were closing in on nap time, so we were ready to make a beeline for the Aquabus. However, as we left Public Market, we caught our first glance of the entertainment offerings on Granville Island.

Just outside of the market was an open seating area, with a singer/guitar player at the center. It looked lovely and we wished we could have stayed. If you’re interested in live music, definitely check out this outdoor area before you commit to an indoor table.

This is one of the reasons why I think it pays to visit Granville Island a little later in the day, even at the risk of more crowds. Not all of the performers are listed, but it did seem like they were more common in the afternoon and on weekends.

You can view the full calendar of events here, but again, it might not include all of the smaller acts.

Taking the Aquabus from Granville Island

The journey back from Granville Island to Downtown Vancouver was just as easy as our journey there. However, it was a bit more crowded.

We headed down to the dock at about 12:30. There was a boat at the dock when we arrived, but we also saw a short queue of people ahead of us. We jumped in the queue (which was clearly marked), but we all fit it onboard the waiting vessel.

Since this boat was much more crowded than our first one, they started checking/selling tickets before we left the dock. Impressively, they finished this process in the short 5 minutes it took to cross the creek.

We didn’t buy tickets in advance this time. While we could have saved a few dollars buying round trip to start, we weren’t sure if we’d end up taking the Aquabus back. There was a chance that we ended our day over on the Kids Market side, in which case it would have been faster to take the bus. That didn’t end up being the case, but we were happy to have an excuse to ride the water taxi again, even if it did cost a bit more.

Buying tickets on the Aquabus was super easy. They had a handheld credit card reader that they brought around, and quickly processed everyone’s order. (That’s my way of saying it wasn’t awkward or annoying to pay with a card versus cash.)

After our quick boat trip, we decided to walk up Hornby all the way back to our hotel. In hindsight, we should have walked there (downhill) and taken the bus back (uphill), but the walk was lovely nonetheless.

Tips for Visiting Granville Island

Overall, Granville Island is pretty easy to enjoy. It’s small, so it’s easy to navigate, and the official website and map are very helpful. Even still, here are a few tips to the get most out of your first visit to Granville Island.

  • Take the Aquabus. The Aquabus is as fun as it is efficient. If you’re staying in the Downtown Vancouver area, the Aquabus is the easiest way to get straight to the heart of Granville Island.
  • Check the hours. Many of the different shops and restaurants on the island are individually operated and open at different times. This is most important if you’re visiting in the early morning or later in the evening. Basically, don’t just assume everything on Granville Island opens at 9 AM just because Public Market does.
  • Check the schedule. Granville Island hosts a slew of performers, events and festivals throughout the year. If you want to see a specific show or participate in a specific activity, be sure to check the schedule in advance. (Just as importantly, if you want to avoid events — aka crowds — you should also check the schedule.)
  • Expect crowds. Granville Island is one of the most popular destinations in Vancouver, and most people come to eat and drink. The restaurants in Public Market and around the island get crowded at mealtimes. I wouldn’t necessarily say to avoid these hours, but just be prepared for some potential waits and crowds.
  • Visit in the afternoon. We visited Granville Island in the early morning, thinking we’d beat the crowds. It was fun, but we spent a lot of time killing time waiting for things to open. I would also argue that the crowds are part of the charm. It’s more fun when it’s busy and vibrant, plus there’s more going on. If you’re on the fence between a morning or afternoon visit, I’d say spend your morning in Stanley Park and then visit Granville Island in the afternoon.

Closing Thoughts on Granville Island

Granville Island is the darling of Vancouver. It is technically touristy, but it is also popular with locals. It’s a fun place where people can gather to enjoy good food, good entertainment and good art. While there are some indoor spaces, it’s most fun during the warmer months when people can enjoy time outdoors.

It’s one of those places though, where it feels like there is more to see and do than there actually is. The map looks jammed packed, but there was really just the few main areas. I think it also really depends on the entertainment lineup, because without that, it is primarily a shopping and dining destination. I wanted to like it a little more than I did, but I still had a really lovely time.

If I have one real complaint about Granville Island, it is the cars. I mentioned this once already, but it’s worth noting again. The island is small and walkable, and yet it’s not very pedestrian friendly. There are sort of sidewalks, but they aren’t clearly differentiated from the roads. There’s no ledge or barrier. I think limiting cars on the island would greatly improve the experience.

Overall though, Granville Island is definitely worth visiting if you’re in Vancouver. It’s a great place to get a meal, enjoy some time outdoors and pick up some unique gifts and souvenirs.

Looking for more to do in Vancouver? Be sure to check out these 10 Things To Do In Vancouver On Your First Visit.