The Best Kept Play Secret Nobody’s Telling You About

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Ever wished for a go-to spot that you know won’t be too crowded, is clean, bright and full of cool stuff and maybe even combines some learning with the energy-burn? And hey, open everyday and free admission would be nice, too while we’re at it. Well, it does exist and is within a stone’s throw of wherever you are right now.

This place is so fantastic it is often shared in hushed tones at playgrounds, overheard in whispers around Jamison Fountain or discussed in code over dressing room curtains. It is THAT good. And while it is not technically in Portland…or even Oregon…it IS worth the rally. Come one, come all. And have an amazing time with the kiddos!

Enough Already! What? Where?
It’s the awe-inspiring, full of outstanding play, learning and sensory delights, just across the Columbia River, quick trek up the 5 – Vancouver City Library! Named one of the top 10 children’s libraries in the US, it devotes a whole floor to kids. Take a moment to think about what that means. No more hairy eyeballs from the mystery section when your high-energy munchkin cannot master his or her inside voice.  No more keeping one eye on the front door while you browse the stacks. You are on the third floor with kids, kids and more kids who are all opening, turning, twisting and exploring.

Nothing Ordinary Here
There is so much to discover here. In the Early Learning Center for ages baby to five uncover a play kitchen, a table to set and serve tea parties, a kid-sized rowboat and submarine for under and on-water exploring, and a wooden music box where the kids make the music. Exhibits and displays are hands on with steering wheels, fans, movable magnets and wooden pegs and portholes. A giant tee pee centers the room with cushions for curling up with oh… thousands of good books.

You Gotta See This!
Definitely check out the world map made entirely out of the coins in use by each country. It’s awesome! And be sure to read the paddles with quick tips and “did you knows” for parents. They are ridiculously well-researched and informative. Oh and if you want a library card you can have that, too, despite living in the (503).

The Place for Big Kids
For the six to eleven year olds there are quiet nooks to read, work a puzzle, finish homework or sit down for a game of chess. Tables, comfy chairs and cozy rugs make it easy to sprawl out with the latest novel. The big kids are separate from the littler ones but still within earshot and eyeshot of Mom. Floor Three also offers up plenty of after school meet ups (LEGOS and More draws a mighty crew), game clubs, movie nights and craft classes to keep things humming.

Good On Ya!
Story times for babies through preschoolers abound. In keeping with all of their thoughtful details, here is yet another winning and seemingly obvious idea. Vancouver City Library presents Tiny Tots or Toddler Time story hours at both 9:30 AND 10:30 on the same morning! If you make the Herculean effort to get out the door and manage to get all the way to the library but are too late to join the first story time, or are closed out due to crowds, all hope is not lost. You and the nugget(s) can catch it within the hour. Hooray!

In the warmer months, they rock a summer reading program and play host to a weekly hour long Dance Party playing excellent adult-worthy tunes; not only do these librarians know how to put a playlist together they totally get it that your kiddos may not last the hour. Heart them!

Not Sold Yet? There’s More…
The building itself is gorgeous. Four story atrium, open stairway, and floor to ceiling windows create brightness on even the gloomiest days. Small lights on the floor of the kiddo area make for an easy follow the sparkles game. If that still isn’t enough: Thatcher’s Coffee is encamped on the first floor and open everyday, much like the library itself.

Ease On Down The Road
It is very easy to find. Jump on 5 North over the Columbia River into Washington. Take exit 1B City Center/Convention Center. Follow straight on to C St and the building is on your right. You can’t miss it. It’s the new (opened in 2011), gorgeous glass monolith. Vancouver City Library is open Monday through Thursday 10:00am to 8:00pm and Friday through Sunday 10:00 am to 6:00 pm Hooray!

Insider Tips
Parking is on the east side of the building, while the entrance is on the west. It can be a long, wet walk if you’re toting crabby kids or it’s pouring. There is a grassy stretch alongside the walkway into the library so if you have a runner, know that there is a spot to let off some steam before going inside or getting back in the car. About a dozen street parking options line the west and north sides of the building, so there are closer options for your team if you prefer to not deal with a long walk or managing the temptation to roam, but then you are dealing with meters and such. Airplanes fly by regularly on their way to and from PDX, so plan on some possible distraction and noise from that as well.

Glad All Over
Kids of all ages have such a blast here. It’s time to giddy-up and go! And really, what is not to love? It’s bright, clean, engaging, full of books, dry, free and has coffee. You and yours will have a ball and you’ll be more in the know than ever!

901 C Street
Vancouver, Wa

Tell us about your trip to the Vancouver City Library in the comment section below. 

-Liz Overson

Special thanks for the photos to Fort Vancouver Regional Library and Vancouver City Library.