When it comes to weekend family road trips from Vancouver, Whistler might come to mind in the wintertime, but it's also a great summertime destination, too.
For starters, few drives are as incredible as what you experience heading up the Sea to Sky Highway. With those gorgeous vistas to drink in and lots of incredible places to stop and stretch your legs (and activities that can stretch your weekend trip hours, from easy hikes to everything on hand in Squamish or Britannia Beach), getting there is less about "are we there yet?" and more about enjoying the ride.
Of course, once you get into Whistler, families are spoiled for choices for what to see, do, and eat. Even though the slopes aren't for skiing, there are many other activities that emphasize "active," like biking, hiking, and more. For more on all Whistler has to offer in the summer months, check out this official guide.
Whistler is such a close destination, though, for Vancouverites that you can really make the most of your time there, even when all you've got is 24 hours. Load up the car and head north first thing Saturday morning, and you'll be on the patio for lunchtime in the Village. Pack your bags, and your hours, wisely, and by the time you head back down to the city on Sunday afternoon, you'll have seen and done a whole lot.
Curious how we spent a recent weekend jaunt to Whistler with a five-year-old in tow? Here's our V.I.A. guide to spending 24 hours in Whistler in summer with kids--a very awesome weekend getaway.
When you're packing the kids, it's always ideal to keep it simple, and when it comes to Whistler, that means staying somewhere close to all the action. Park your car and pretty much forget about it for the weekend, and use your own two feet to get you around Whistler Village and to all the sights, activities, and eats that await.
The Crystal Lodge's tagline is "at the centre of it all" and they really mean it. Located in the Upper Village, it's really easy to make the most of the hotel's amenities, like the pool and the restaurants, and be steps from shops and the mountain. Inside, the friendly staff are gracious, helpful, and welcoming. The rooms are comfy, and the WiFi strong and reliable--but of course you're in Whistler to be out and about, right?
There won't be fresh snow packed on the slopes of Whistler and Blackcomb mountains, but that doesn't mean those epic peaks are off-limits. If hiking and biking are what family time is all about for you, there are some great alpine trails worth checking out.
But you can explore those majestic mountains another way: The gondolas. The ride up to the top of Whistler Mountain on the gondola is about 25 minutes, and once you're there you can transfer to the Peak 2 Peak, which runs between Whistler and Blackcomb.
Depending on what part of summer you land up there you could experience some pretty wild weather up at the top, like, say, -2C temps and blowing snow. Brrr! No matter the weather, the views are extraordinary and it's hard to beat posing for a photo op like an Olympian. If you really want to trip out on your trip, wait for one of the glass-bottomed Peak 2 Peak gondolas.
Take a break from the heat and enjoy an exploration of the Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre (SLCC). This beautiful facility shares the rich history and culture of the two indigenous populations whose lands are overlapped right in Whistler. Time your visit to take part in a free tour of the SLCC, which begins with a drummed call to meet and a live song, followed by a short film, and then a walk around the venue.
Kids can get their hands on many things in the SLCC, including drums and a canoe they can climb in, plus an interactive play area and some hands-on crafting stations. The gift shop has some great souvenirs for kids (and adults!) too.
Just around the bend from the SLCC is the Audain Art Museum, which is home to a permanent collection that showcases the art of British Columbia from the late 18th century to present. Situated in an impressive structure with stunning architecture, the Audain is a great spot for families to get to know regional art.
On Sunday afternoons children can try their own hands at creating masterpieces based on current exhibits and their own imaginations at Family Studio Sundays. This summer, be sure to check out their special POP art exhibit, which runs June 30 through September 17, 2018.
The kids have to eat, and you do, too. Fortunately, Whistler knows how to treat families well, which means even the fanciest restaurants often have great menu options for younger diners. If your base is at Crystal Lodge, the hotel has several affiliated restaurants that will keep you fed your whole stay.
It's hard to beat a sunny summer afternoon on a patio, and Beacon is a great first stop to fuel up before exploring. They have plenty of super share-able appies like their signature poutine and DIY chicken wings (you choose the dipping sauce). You'll find some kid-pleasing options here, like a decadent kid-sized mac and cheese with fries, while the adults tuck into their craft beer list.
For some families, the fact that there's an Old Spaghetti Factory on the Crystal Lodge site might be a big bonus, but if your little ones go for charcuterie and softer lighting, head to Basalt for dinner. I've long loved this spot during the day for their meat and cheese boards, chicken liver mousse, and pressed sandwiches, but it's easy to see why many locals love Basalt for a nice dinner out.
Here the chef works with local suppliers to get the best of the season, so expect fresh menus and timely specials--including at times a wicked good three-course meal deal that includes dessert. A terrific wine list pairs well with their beautiful Italian by way of the PacNW fare.
Breakfast on-site is super easy at the Wild Wood Pacific Bistro, where they have a great kids' brunch menu (hello Banana Bread French Toast!) and a fun way for the grown ups to get the day going. If you can't decide between their many Eggs Benny dishes, go for the indulgent sampler, which lets you try three half-portions. Hey, you're on vacation, so why not? Perfect fuel for your second day of exploring Whistler and the drive back home.
Of course, if you do want to branch out, Whistler's food scene is full of gems, many of which are great for families. Besides the chains familiar to Vancouverites, you can bet on the high-end hotels being great for diners of all ages, and also finding lots of smaller spots perfect for snacks and treats (like Purebread in the Village). Don't forget that the Whistler Farmers Market runs every Sunday from 11 am to 4 pm in the Upper Village, which offers the perfect combo of food and fun for the family.
Whistler, B.C. basics
- Distance from downtown Vancouver: Approx. 120 km
- Getting there: 1.5 to 2 hour drive (from downtown Vancouver). Pacific Coach buses pick up from YVR and two downtown Vancouver hotels with one stop in Squamish. Harbour Air operates seaplane flights in and out of Whistler.
- Summer weather: Temps average 24-25C with about four days of rain each month, July-August
- For more info: Tourism Whistler has you covered