I'll be in Vancouver for 3-5 days around the first of the year. It's our first visit, coming from the San Francisco Bay Area. Not the ideal season, I realize. :) But we've wanted to come there for decades, so it's time.
We're a family of four, so we'll want to do kid friendly things, but not necessarily excessively touristy ones. They're used to to wandering through the neighborhoods, going to cafes and enjoying good (not necessarily expensive) restaurants with us. We like to explore neighborhoods and do things we might do if we lived there along with sightseeing.
To save some money, we're flying to Seattle and coming in from there. A few things I'd love your help on:
1) I'm figuring to rent a car. Would we be well served to get to Vancouver by other means and go without a car while there?
2) Lots of hotels are downtown. Is it preferable to stay elsewhere? Again, we like neighborhoods, though surely we'll explore downtown, too. We may also do a vacation rental if something looks good, but I'm not sure we'll be there long enough for that.
3) Is there a notable local food co-op kind of store?
4) Any ideas of places to go for day trips that would give us a feel for the region's natural environment and beauty? It all looks good on a map, but we only have so much time.
5) If we have a car, we could return to Seattle for our trip home via Vancouver Island. How many hours driving would that be? Is the drive to Victoria as scenic as other things we might do as an alternative? Is Victoria touristy to the point of kitschiness? Does the ferry run between Victoria and WA this time of year? Google Maps is making me think I'll have to return back through Vancouver.
6) Any can't miss things in Vancouver that the kids would particularly enjoy? That could be parks, museums, anything.