My husband and I took our 3.5 year old daughter and 20 month old son to Courtenay, BC for a day trip. We had such a great time. There is so much to see and do for a young family on a budget – cute shops, a museum and a number of places to eat . We visited in early March, but I know the downtown really comes to life when the weather is optimal.
Man oh man is Courtenay, BC great for families who want to have special experiences while on a budget. We hit up Cardero’s Cafe and the Courtenay and District Museum and Palaeontology Centre (and Costco, because we’re cool like that). We barely scratched the surface of what Courtenay has to offer. The kids loved the dinosaur bones and mum and dad loved the Americanos.
The Courtenay and District Museum and Palaeontology Centre is located at the bottom of 4th St, just across the street from the water. There are both stairs and a ramp, so the museum is easily accessed by people with strollers or with mobility issues. The entrance to the museum opens just off of the gift shop (just a heads up parents). The shop has a great selection of unique gifts. Speaking of gifts, let’s get to the gift the museum gives you – the museum is FREE. That’s right, I said it, FREE! That being said, they would appreciate a donation for entry (and when you see how beautiful the displays are and how well organized the museum is, you’ll appreciate where your donation goes to).
Taking little people to museums and galleries can be nerve-wracking, because you never know how bringing children will be received. The nicest part about visiting the museum was being told as soon as we entered that it wasn’t a library, to let the kids have fun and not worry about them being quiet. It was music to our ears and freed us up to have such a relaxed and wonderful visit. On the main floor there are dinosaur bones, footprints, fossils, a replica river to demonstrate where the fossils are found and a resident lungfish to name a few things. Upstairs there is a beautiful First Nation exhibit, a taxidermy bear and more displays celebrating the history of the greater Courtenay area.
We stopped in at Cardero’s Cafe on 5th St. Let’s face it, what family trip is complete without a java infusion for the parental units? The atmosphere at Cardero’s is warm and welcoming to families. My husband sat with the kids in big comfy armchairs while I got an Americano to go. While we didn’t eat at the cafe, it had a delicious selection of treats in the front display that I will definitely enjoy next time we’re there. The staff was super friendly as well.
We drove to Courtenay in our trusty van. Courtenay is located just off of Highway 1 on Vancouver Island. The Google Maps app helped in figuring out where to grab coffee and how to get to the museum. Though in a classic parenting moment, we loaded the kids up in the van after our Cardero’s Cafe stop and I checked the app for directions to realize we were only one block away. There is ample street parking downtown Courtenay with one or two hours free.
Our plan this year is to try doing more staycation-type trips. We are a young family with only one parent working (I’ve elected to stay at home with the kids), so we don’t have much room in our coffers at the moment for big getaways. We live in Parksville, BC, so Courtenay was just under an hour up the road and definitely able to be squeezed in post-nap for our youngest.
As we were only going for the afternoon, we didn’t pack much beyond diapers, snacks and water bottles.
A note about the museum – you’re only allowed to use your camera in certain sections of the museum. There is a gorgeous First Nation exhibit there where you need to be sure to put the camera away. There will be signs to let you know where it isn’t appropriate to snap pictures.