#20: Habitat Island
“Best place for a beer with some great views and usually some really cool people hanging around too.”
#1 in Mount Pleasant
1616 Columbia Street
20 short notes on Vancouver’s 20th best park.
- Yes, Habitat Island is its real name. Not “Beer Island”.
- Why is it called Beer Island? Well, it’s a man-made island (technically a peninsula where you have to cross), and people like to drink there.
- People like to drink pretty much anywhere, of course. But Habitat Island is a relatively secluded waterfront area with many places you can sit, in an area highly populated with childless Millennials, so you do the math.
- Overall, its reputation as “Beer Island” is overblown — on any day you’ll see a few people quietly imbibing somewhere on the island or rocks surrounding it, but more people just enjoying the view,
- And the mystique of Beer Island takes away from the park’s actual backstory, which is plenty fun itself: the federal government required the city to create more shoreline when it took some away to create Olympic Village. An island was certainly one way to create a lot of artificial shoreline in a concentrated area.
- As the story goes, it was created from 60,000 metres of rock and gravel and sand from related Olympic construction.
- They also planted 246 trees
- And 20,929 shrubs.
- They also added a few little trails that go nowhere, and there’s enough big rocks and little bushes that it’s a fun area to explore for small kids.
- There used to be more trees and foliage before — that was probably more fun for people clandestinely drinking, but likely makes it a little more safe overall.
11. The ebb and flow of the rocks surrounding the island provides fun variety (and additional hangout spaces at low tide)
12. The legend is the park architects wanted to make it a true island at high tide, but it was nixed because of obvious safety concerns. It still happens from time to time though, and it is delightful.
13. This park is right next to Hinge Park, both in location and in ranking — we don’t know why they aren’t considered the same park, but obviously it would be a top 10 park if that were the case.
14. The level of detail and possibilities in a small space really is impressive
15. It’s also objectively ridiculous such a fanciful place exists right in the heart of Vancouver, and with so many iconic views: to the east is Science World, to the west is English Bay, straight ahead is BC Place, and they’re all completely unobstructed.
16. Two of the people in our ranking team put Habitat Park in their top 5 — most others had it closer to their 30th-40th best park in the city.
17. Were those two people the most likely to indulge in the nickname of the park?
Who can say yes.
18. No matter who you are, this is a fun park, a unique park, one of those parks that is neat to bring a friend from out of town, but pleasant to visit 1-2 times a year regardless.
19. You can give all the backstory you want, argue whether this ranking is too high or too low, but at the end of the day it’s a tiny island right in the middle of False Creek.
20. And it’s pretty neat that Vancouver has places like that.
#19: English Bay Beach
“It’s packed don’t come here.”
#3 in West End
1700 Beach Avenue
Sure, you could describe English Bay Beach, but what would be the point?
It’s sort of like describing the Eiffel Tower to people living in Paris or Parliament Hill to people in Ottawa — it’s the postcard image, the one you’ve seen and experienced again and again, the place where the fireworks happen and the Inukshuk stands, the “fabled front door” of the city, as Vancouver Sun writer Robert Sarti one called it.
There’s the curved beach and adjacent grass, the lovely art deco bathhouse, the way it funnels into Denman and all the frenetic activity of the West End, but how it also eases off into Stanley Park and the residential buildings to the north.
It’s old Vancouver, the city’s First Beach (which is why Stanley Park’s beaches are called 2nd and 3rd), the beach you see in all the archival photos and videos, linked to the story of Joe Fortes (the city’s first lifeguard, and one of its few celebrated Black pioneers) all across from the Sylvia Hotel.
It’s so populated by tourists, and so beloved by people in the West End, that there’s always a vibrant energy to it — a great historic beach with atmosphere galore.
It’s also, objectively, the least essential of all Vancouver’s major beaches.
Some of the blame is due to the lack of anything else *within* the beach — yes, it’s well located, but outside the washrooms, there’s no amenities at English Bay, unless you count the relatively thin strip of grass (where there’s competition for real estate with the birds), and the one slide out in the ocean.
This is nice, but consider the additional things you can do at Kits or Jericho, or how far out the tide goes at Spanish Banks, or the quality of the sand at Third. By comparison, English Bay suffers.
And then there’s the crowds, and while it’s fun to feed off that energy of people, it can get a little exhausting in the summertime. In the winter it’s a lovely extended backyard for thousands of West Enders, but that has limited virtue for the rest of us.
Of course, such is the ridiculous nature of Vancouver that what could be the most famous beach internationally — and the one with the most local history — is, all things considered, only the fifth or sixth best sandy space to go in the city.
Then again, one shouldn’t nitpick the details of having a postcard view, but just appreciate that you have it.
#18: David Lam Park
“The reason I fell head-over-heels in love with Vancouver a decade ago.”
#1 in Downtown
1300 Pacific Boulevard
Let us consider all the ways David Lam works.
The downtown park is packed with things to do: two play areas for two different age groups on different sides of the park, tennis and basketball courts, and public restrooms. Most prominently, there’s the large field in the middle, big enough for dozens of small picnics and barbeques and badminton matches to be happening at the same time.
The design is simple but elegant — the big field is surrounded by towers to the west and east, Pacific Boulevard (with an ample transitionary plaza) to the north, and False Creek to the south.
The seawall-long cycling/walking path divides the field from the water, while the trees surrounding the sports courts provide some cover and give a little bit of breathing room from the condos.
There are a few pieces of art next to the water, a large fountain to the west side, and a number of places for people to enter or exit the park if they’re not arriving via the seawall.
It’s the type of modern mix of green space, glass towers and ocean people associate with Vancouverism, the end result of transforming industrial waterfront and negotiating with developers for community amenities (in this case, Concord Pacific), but none of it would matter if it felt empty, soulless and detached from the greater community.
Yet David Lam is always busy with something, from small games of soccer to the annual jazz festival, young adults gallivanting and young children playing, Yaletown locals enjoying it as their neighbourhood park, and weekend visitors appreciating it as a stop along their Vancouver Semi-Touristy Experience.
Add in the fact it’s the first park in the city named for an Asian Canadian — Lam immigrated from Hong Kong and went on to become lieutenant-governor — and it’s a park that reflects Vancouver in all its modernity, a park befitting of being called the best in the Downtown core.
Of course, those condos surrounding the park have tripled in value since it opened in the 1990s. But that’s another story about Vancouver’s modernity.
#17: Clark Park
“Fun park, mostly on a hill.”
#2 in Kensingon-Cedar Cottage
1500 East 14th Avenue
There’s a relaxed vibe to Clark that betrays its history.
As recently documented in Aaron Chapman’s book “The Last Gang in Town”, Clark Park was once the centre of a rougher side of Vancouver (particularly on the city’s east side), a time with less organized crime and more disorganized mayhem. The city was smaller and the stakes were too, but the violence no less real.
That was the 1960s and 1970s. The east side has gone through successive waves of gentrification, the region’s gang centres have moved eastward, and the main thing Clark Park means for today’s generation is a lovely place to catch the sunset on a blanket with friends or family.
That sunset — ideally viewed about midway up the giant hill that dominates the park — is truly lovely, but so are a lot of other things about Clark, just the second park in the city when it was established in 1889.
There’s the large forested area near the top of the hill, neatly dividing the park from the lower section (soccer field, sandy playground with zip line and giant tires) to the upper section (baseball diamond, woodchip-based playground with a very inventive wooden climbing structure). There’s ample seating, a basketball and tennis court, and plenty of different paths one can use to explore the park.
Perhaps the most impressive thing is that despite being next to both busy Knight Street and Commercial Drive, the design of the park makes it blocks out most of the vehicle noise.
Clark’s biggest drawback, aside from the lack of a killer app (beach, pool, amazing playground or sports facilities) is there being no washroom.
And if that’s the largest flaw to the park, well, that’s plenty.
#16: VanDusen Botanical Garden
“One of Vancouver’s great jewels.”
#1 in Shaughnessy
5251 Oak Street
The story of how VanDusen came to be is like a lot of stories about how Vancouver came to be: it involves railway executives and forestry money.
Most of the middle of the city, you might remember, was given to the CP Railway company in the 1880s in exchange for the cross-country rail line ending in Vancouver (the idea that Indigenous people might have legal rights to the area barely acknowledged at the time).
Bit by bit CP Rail developed the land, or leased it to groups like the Shaughnessy Golf Club. But by the 1960s the golf club had decamped to its current position south of UBC, and there was much consternation over how the land would (or should) be developed.
Eventually a compromise was struck: CP Rail would sell the land to Vancouver in exchange for being able to build more houses on their own lands; the city would then convert the land into a modern garden, with a million dollar donation from MacMillan Bloedel executive Whitford Juilan VanDusen making the numbers line up.
There’s not exactly a cohesive theme to VanDusen — if you want that, you’re better off going to Sun Yat-Sen or the trails in Stanley Park. Instead, there’s a huge array of different plants, gardens, geographical themes and artwork, all elegantly designed and meticulously maintained.
It’s all extremely pleasant, though the desire to be all garden things to all garden people can be a bit aesthetically jarring: one moment you’re in the Sino-Himalayan section, then it’s on to the hedge maze, and hey what’s that giant wooden owl doing over there?
We lightly chide, because the truth is all those different themes means there’s likely at least one part each person will fall in love with. In addition, the prices of $4 to $12 depending on age and time of year is definitely more than fair value, although the replay value for children may be slightly limited — at the end of the day it’s still just a garden, elaborate though it may be.
It’s sprawling, peaceful, cut off from the rest of the city, and definitely a place worth exploring for an hour or three.
#15: Grandview Park
“Essentially a outdoor community center in the heart of East Van. Great for people watching and experiencing the less homogenous side of Vancouver. Everyone welcome <3.”
#2 in Grandview-Woodland
1255 Commercial Drive
At the heart of Commercial Drive is a park that beats to the same drum as the neighbourhood: a little bit discordant, but full of heart and intoxicating, authentic energy.
Right on Commercial Drive, across the street from the Havana restaurant, Grandview is home to East Side Pride, rehearsals for a brass band, the end of the annual Dyke March, the city’s only bike polo court (don’t worry, you can use it for ball hockey), and all sorts of other community events, formal and informal, that enjoy the welcoming space.
The openness of the park to everyone can cause some tension — the park board did an extensive renovation a decade ago in part to try and reduce open drug use the caused consternation with local businesses and residents — but overall there’s enough space to fit everyone, and enough space between the cenotaph area where adults gather and the playground at the bottom of the hill to alleviate problems.
And that playground really does need to be highlighted: a comprehensive wooden theme, with a little tree hut and large stumps complementing the standard Giant Triangle Climbing Thingy and New Play Structure With Lots Of Slides that are all the rage these days. And it’s right next to a water park, which admittedly is a bit too small to appeal for kids over 4 or 5 years old, but there’s few places in the city with a new playground *and* a spray park, and Grandview does both well.
There’s solid modern washroom facilities, a small grassy space in the middle, a great view of downtown from the top of the park, and just enough benches and tables if you want to grab a meal from a nearby restaurant.
It’s not a large enough park or unique enough to be truly amazing, but everything is well executed, with activities for all ages, and it’s the product of a community that has put its values into the space.
A grand park, in other words.
#14: Charleson Park
“a doggy park but it also has a nice view can see the ocean.”
#1 in Fairview
999 Charleson Street
Charleston Park is another park next to another bike path next to another body of water, and yes it’s exhausting, we get it, but by our measurement, 16 of Vancouver’s 38 great parks are next to the ocean.
Is that due to the city placing greater focus on green spaces with waterfront views over inland areas? Our biases as a park ranking team? A fundamental reality of Vancouverism?
No matter: Charleson is great — a large area right in the middle of the South False Creek neighbourhood, created as its centerpiece park to the planned community in the 1970s.
The seawall walk and cycling path is flat, but the grass next to it is decently hilly, giving excellent contours to see Downtown from. It also provides a nice bowl shape for the large off-leash dog area in the middle of the park as well.
(For the record, designated off-leash dog areas don’t get points because we like dogs — the proprietor of this website actually doesn’t — but because they fill an important need in the city and prevent the sort of conflicts that arise when an area becomes an “unofficial” dog park because of a lack of nearby spaces)
There’s a couple of ponds that are pleasant to look at (or for a dog to dip in), and if you go further south up the hill, you’ll discover a semi-secret forested area, with a couple small trails and a connection to Laurel Land Bridge. And there’s even a big soccer field, should you live in the area and need that space for sports.
The only thing preventing Charleson from being a top tier park for a while was the lack of a modern playground.
But the new playground that opened in late 2020 has trampolines, accessible swings, slides coming out of wooden ships, and while there are a couple better parks in the city, it’s incredibly well-used and will serve the neighbourhood well for decades. Somewhat frustratingly though, no washroom was added when renovations were done, making this the highest ranked park in the city without one.
Yes, ridiculous views like the ones at Charleson are ridiculously common in Vancouver. It still takes work to make everything around it work though.
It’s not a large enough park or unique enough to be truly amazing, but everything is well executed, with activities for all ages, and it’s the product of a community that has put its values into the space.
#13: Douglas Park
“Fantastic playground for kids of all ages! It’s a borderline theme park, as far as playground designs go.”
#1 in South Cambie
801 West 22nd Avenue
Douglas Park has the best playground, bar none, of any park in Vancouver, and if you have kids under 10 and live in or around Vancouver, you should go there.
That could be our entire review; it would certainly be blunt and get the point across, but it’s worth espousing on the exact merits of the Douglas Park playground, along with why playgrounds matter and why the one in Douglas sticks out in Vancouver.
First, the merits: the $760,000 playground, opened in 2018, is dominated by a sprawling wooden structure that has suspension bridges, slides, climbing walls and more slides coming out every which way.
It feels like something kids might construct in a Lord of the Flies scenario, a defensive battlement, and sits on top of ground that is mixed with woodchips and springy turf paths for accessibility. Complementing all this are a number of springy swing toys, modern swings, a sandy play area, a trampoline, a tiny log house and a number of balancing beam elements.
Other Vancouver parks might have a bigger highlight (see: Creekside’s slide), or have an outstanding spray park (see: Granville Island), or have multiple playgrounds (see: Stanley), but none have an individual playground as good as Douglas. Little wonder it’s always packed.
All this matters because playgrounds are still where kids gravitate to, and are still the easiest way of getting kids outside and exploring a physical environment in a safe way.
And the truth is that Vancouver’s suburban municipalities tend to have more standout playgrounds: a quick look across the internet will see plenty of praise for Richmond’s Terra Nova, Coquitlam’s Queenston, Port Coquitlam’s Lions Park and many more east of Boundary and south of the Fraser River, while discussion of Vancouver’s playgrounds drops off quickly after Creekside and Douglas.
There are reasons for that — including suburban municipalities trying to attract growing families, or having less space for expansive field-based parks and prioritizing playgrounds instead — but nevertheless, the playground at Douglas rocks.
And it’s surrounded by a big park with plenty of field space, a basketball court, a cricket pitch, and a solid community centre. Put an A+ playground in the middle of a B park, and this is the score you get.
Of course, Douglas is the centrepiece of a neighbourhood that regularly is among the busiest Halloween centres in Vancouver.
Little wonder the park is just as bustling the other 364 days a year.
#12: New Brighton Park
“Big open spaces with unique waterfront views.”
#2 in Hastings-Sunrise
3201 New Brighton Road
“Here Vancouver Began,” read the plaque at New Brighton Park when it was named a historic site in 1968, one of those bits of quiet Indigenous erasure as the city created a narrative around its founding throughout the 20th century.
But the northeast corner of Vancouver does have plenty of colonial history — it’s where the Hastings Townsite began, and with it the city’s first post office and roads, along with a historic hotel that gave the area its name.
And New Brighton integrates that history into its design, with the port activity on either side and a prominent grain elevator giving full reminder of the fact Vancouver primarily grew because it was a convenient intermediary point for raw materials reaching the rest of the world.
Even without that historical context, one can appreciate New Brighton as one of the most unique parks in the city from a visual standpoint. And even without those views, New Brighton is still plenty fun.
There’s the outdoor pool, for one — a large rounded square, with dedicated swimming lanes and more casual wading areas, only matched by Kits in the city for the size and joy it brings.
And in many ways, all of New Brighton is East Vancouver’s version of Kits Beach: less busy, less celebrated, slightly grittier but nearly as beloved.
Take the shoreline itself; the beach isn’t really much to write home about, but it will do in a pinch. More importantly, there’s unique views of the eastern section of the North Shore, little walkways to get further out on the water, and a more natural, wetland feeling than most waterfront parks in the city.
In addition, there’s a large field in the middle, a new dog park right next to the water, and a decent playground — though arguably that’s the only part of New Brighton that feels rather ordinary, with its dated and inaccessible design and it’s weird location.
No, it’s not where Vancouver began. But it’s where people can swim and see the shoreline without being swarmed by people, while enjoying plenty of green space.
And that is more than enough.
#11: Maple Grove Park
“A beautiful old park with old trees in a part of the city most people just drive through. It’s popular with locals, it seems, and rightly so.”
#2 in Kerrisdale
6875 Yew Street
While so many of Vancouver’s great parks scream their Vancouverness, Maple Grove has a more universal feel, as though it could be dropped in any growing city in the 1950s and suddenly be packed with families enjoying its pleasures.
There are two particularly noteworthy things about Maple Grove. The first is its pool, and while that might sound like repetition right after New Brighton, there are only five outdoor pools in the city, and Maple Grove’s has a unique shape, more of an elongated liver with little curves everywhere, providing plenty of exploring opportunities for youngsters.
The second is its trees. Or more specifically, the stumps: huge century-old beasts, kept in place in 1913 after the trees were logged, “so that children, years hence, would have an idea of the great stands of timber that once covered Point Grey”. Or at least so says the plaque.
These are excellent for small children (or adults who are small children at heart) to run into and create their own little worlds. But there are also plenty of regular trees — much more than most city parks, where they would likely have removed decades earlier to create more field space — and they provide a unique separation between each area of the park, along with a quieter section to explore or to picnic in.
And in general, we’re in favour of parks with little forests (you’ll see a lot of them near the top of this list) because aside from providing variety and a connection to nature, they also help create some internal routing through a park, instead of a hodgepodge of activity areas.
One must also note the washrooms and concession stands, picnic tables and two barbeques on site, a playground (though it’s old and needs an upgrade) and field space for soccer and baseball.
It all adds up to an excellent park for families, a fairly unique park in Vancouver as a whole, and a quiet gem.