#30: Oak Park
“Pretty much the Cadillac of city parks.”
#1 in Marpole
900 West 59th Avenue
Some parks get a good score because of how they feel, and some parks accumulate a good score because of the amount of things they have for people to do. Oak Park is the latter.
In fact, it’s the only park in the city with washrooms, a spray park, all-purpose fields, a baseball diamond, tennis and basketball courts, and a place for ball hockey.
Is that list a little bit cherrypicked? Perhaps, but those sorts of amenities form the backbone of a park system, and you can enjoy all of them at Oak — and only Oak.
There’s more to park than just a collection of amenities though. Oak also has a quirky 80s vibe to its entire design, a spooky batting cage and large lights that allow for nighttime sports. The playground has three separate structures for different ages, and the spray park has a number of bridges and areas where water springs up, providing variety for a child’s experience. It’s definitely a top-10 park for kids, even if there’s no wow factor (though again, that’s the theme at Oak).
And while most of the park’s amenities are bunched up together in the north, the tennis courts are in a quieter area in the south separated by trees, which solves the aesthetic problem that large fenced-off tennis courts in the middle of parks often create.
There’s pretty much no things to do or places to eat near Oak Park, and it’s one of the last parks in this journey where we can’t say it’s absolutely essential for Vancouverites to visit if they’ve never been. Construction on a new modern community centre within the park is scheduled for 2023, with completion a couple years after that, at which point the area might become somewhat more of a destination.
Still, we judge most parks by how well it serves its intended purpose — and Oak does that and then some.
#29: Tecumseh Park
“Great space for parents and lots of things to keep young ones busy.”
#1 in Victoria-Fraserview
1751 East 45th Avenue
When you think of the best family parks in Vancouver, Tecumseh wouldn’t necessarily come to mind, but this smallish park in city’s southeast is popular for a reason.
First, there’s the playground: it was the centrepiece of a $500,000 renovation to the park a decade ago, and it shows. There are swings and a climbing apparatus, a bendy tree that seems to be upside down in the centre, a sandy pit with play equipment…and most importantly a tractor. A big old, honest to god tractor, one that kids young and old can climb on top of and feel very silly and joyful, and if that does not sound appealing we express regret for your lack of childlike imagination. Tractor!
Anyhow. A curved path surrounds the play area, one with plenty of benches, along with shadow figures of people practicing tai chi, a popular activity in the park. Virtually the rest of Tecumseh is devoted to off-leash dog activities — gentle grass with dandelions, maintained well enough for a picnics if there are no doggos otherwise enjoying the space.
It’s well laid out, and the entrance — going over a small bridge, surrounded by plants and trees — is particularly enchanted, in the way that a relatively secluded neighbourhood park can feel like an escape to a less busy world.
And that’s pretty much it: no sports fields, no spray parks, no tennis courts and no washrooms (though the park has enough room for a washroom, and it wouldn’t hurt given how kid-focused it is).
But we grade a park partly by the scope of its ambition, but partly on how well it fulfills that ambition. Tecumseh’s aims are modest — a quiet place where kids can play, adults can watch, dogs can run free and people can enjoy tai chi.
None of us are dogs, or kids, or people who do tai chi.
But all of the parks we visited, few seem appealing as this one.
#28: Musqueam Park
“One of the serene running walking trails in a major city in the world.”
#1 in Dunbar-Southlands
4000 SW Marine Drive
A lot of your enjoyment of Musqueam Park will depend on how much you enjoy Pacific Spirit Park or the inland Stanley Park trails.
That’s essentially the draw of Musqueam Park — named for the First Nation (one of three whose unceded lands include Vancouver) with extensive lands next to the park — and your mileage for this score will vary a lot depending on those feelings. Outside a couple generic sports fields, there’s not much here other than those trails.
But they are lovely: serene, tree-lined, with plenty of birds in the air and creeks and ferns on the ground, some dramatic river valleys and some areas that feel as though they haven’t been touched in centuries. It’s part of the Musqueam Park Walk, a 5km loop that has a number of pieces of art and markers of Musqueam culture and history along the way.
There’s a number of places where you can go off the trail and find a little bike jump, or a half-completed (but safe!) treehouse, or a couple wooden benches to immerse yourself in the wilderness some more.
There are plenty of other areas in Metro Vancouver where you can get a similar experience of being surrounded by old trees while being cut off from the hustle of the city, but this is really the only park dedicated to that within the City of Vancouver, and that counts for something.
Plus, we’re pretty certain it’s the only park in Vancouver where people bring their horses on a regular basis.
#27: Riley Park
“A little something for ages 0-100+.”
#2 in Riley Park
1751 East 45th Avenue
With Queen Elizabeth Park just across the street, it’s easy for Riley Park to get lost in its shadows. But the truth is, this smaller family park is nearly as good.
A lot of that is owed to the modern renovation done about five years ago — what was once some baseball diamonds next to aging play equipment is now a modern, multi-use park, with much more space due to the community centre moving across the street to Hillcrest.
There’s a small forest, giant climbing rock (possibly the best in the city), and two separate play areas for kids, each with a different theme (one a big sandy pit, the other a more basic play structure, but with a zip line). And there’s still enough room for a couple community gardens and ample parking space.
The baseball field is pleasant, the field house well used by a number of groups in pre-pandemic times, and outside of game days at the baseball stadium, the traffic is fairly minimal. There’s energy and variety to Riley, but enough quiet nooks as well.
And then there’s the added bonus of a farmer’s market — one of the best in the city, right in the park, creating a dynamic atmosphere on Saturdays,.
Yes, you’ll take the visiting relatives to Queen Elizabeth, but this is the type of excellent, self-contained community park that you’ll keep coming back to long after they head back east.
#26: Queen Elizabeth Park
“Sad and cold and grey. Would not recommend unless you need a sad cold place to walk around by yourself and think about all the mistakes you made in your life. All the plants and trees are dead just like your hopes and dreams.”
#1 in Riley Park
4600 Cambie Street
It’s beautiful. It’s sprawling. It’s central.
And it’s overrated.
Queen Elizabeth Park was created in the 1930s, converted from a quarry site on the side of Little Mountain (its actual name), which had been used to build many of the roads in the quickly-growing city. With its majestic views and central location, it has been described as one of the jewels of Vancouver. If you were to go by marketing and general awareness, it would probably be the second best park in the city.
And there’s *some* justification for that: befitting a mid-20th century park named for royalty, the park has a languid, regal splendor — if you like pretty flowers, there’s pretty much no better walk in the city, with three separate gardens to peruse.
The Bloedel Conservatory is a lovely place to see exotic birds at an affordable price, the duck pond a relaxing place to see more common ones for free, the restaurant and surrounding viewing areas of downtown Vancouver a very solid (if overdone) setting for weddings or graduation photos. There’s a fairly good pitch and putt course, a passable disc golf course, and a giant arrangement of tennis, pickleball, basketball and ball hockey courts all slammed together. For our score, Queen E ranked only behind Stanley, Sunset Beach and VanDusen Botanical Gardens when it came to enjoyment for adults.
But we’re not considering parks solely for how much adults would like them. And there are plenty of basic ways Queen Elizabeth could be easily improved.
For one, a playground: literally a single one, anywhere in this massive park, would be nice!
For another, a transportation network that isn’t so car-centred (not to mention pay parking dependent!) would be helpful, considering it’s on top of a mountain. There’s no real internal path through Queen E, the roads and walking routes set up to promote going to one location at the top, enjoy the one thing there, and drive home.
We haven’t even mentioned the acres and acres of underused green space, the half-baked off-leash dog park, the concrete-heavy top of the park, all the sports courts being fully exposed to the sun, but you get the point: Queen Elizabeth is a collection of fun and interesting things to do — particularly if you’re older and like pretty flowers — more than it is a cohesively fun and interesting park.
It’s a big reason a new master plan for the park is being considered, with possible upgrades coming in the future. With so many new developments underway in the area (or already built along the Canada Line), it would be nice to have such a hyped park live up to its massive reputation.
By all means though, take your graduation photo there, get a nice seat at Seasons In The Park, and enjoy a game of pitch and putt.
There’s lots to do, and lots to Instagram. And just because it doesn’t live up to its reputation doesn’t mean it’s not a nice place to spend an afternoon.
#25: Quilchena Park
“Great park with a good frisbee golf course.”
#1 in Arbutus Ridge
4590 Magnolia Street
In 2010, Vancouver Sun columnist Barbara Yaffe wrote that “Quilchena is a park that’s green and clean and screams Vancouver”, and that’s pretty much its appeal in a nutshell.
But it’s more accurate to say it screams a certain type of Vancouver: that sort of expansive, genteel, lightly rolling tree-lined paradise that evokes the sort of aspirational middle-upper class Englishness that permeated the city as it evolved, particularly on its west side.
None of that is to disparage Quilchena, a wonderfully peaceful park that takes up several city blocks near Arbutus and 33rd. In fact, it’s one of the six parks in the city we gave a B or B+ to in all four categories, such is its pleasant mix of amenities and atmosphere, with well-designed areas for sports, exploring, hanging out — or just lying on the hillside and watching it all pass by.
There’s the requisite field space in the middle of the park, but it’s very lush grass, and it’s surrounded by a gentle slope on the north and east that provide very nice views. Along that gentle slope are washrooms, a skatepark, an off-leash dog park, and a hidden disc golf course among the trees — none of which are amazing, but all of which do a very good job. And the Arbutus Greenway on one side and large trees on the other makes the park feel fairly removed, even if it is close to two relatively busy streets.
There’s walking paths everywhere, and at the bottom of the slope on the northwest side there’s a Hellenic Garden, and while it has a bit of an underdeveloped feel, it integrates well with the adjacent Greek Orthodox church, and there’s no such thing as a bad immersive art experience.
Ironically for all its old world charm, Quilchena is one of the newest large parks on the city’s west side, only coming into existence in the 1950s and 60s after the city purchased the land from CP Rail, which had previously leased it for a golf course.
Call it another case of Vancouver being more manufactured than you think — or another case of the city always knowing how to make wonderful parks.
#24: Riverfront Park
“It’s not Stanley park but it certainly is peaceful, sunny, and not over crowded.”
#1 in Killarney
2750 East Kent Avenue
Small but subtle ways the south side of the city gets less attention than the north, Vol. 384: consider all the elaborate names for waterfront parks next to English Bay/Burrard Inlet/False Creek. And then consider the two large parks that interact with the mighty Fraser are called “Fraser River Park” and “Riverfront Park”.
But a lack of attention to the name is contrasted to the serious attention put into Riverfront Park.
Spanning about 800 metres of land right on the river (duh), the park effectively has four separate stages. One is the longer walking trail that continues from Gladstone-Riverside — a nice walk next to old train tracks interspersed with a few water views, with plenty of benches to sit and relax.
The second stage is the main park area — a mid-sized field, good enough for casual soccer games and the like, with an impressive amount of covered seating. There’s also a community garden, a small older playground, and some tennis and basketball courts. By itself, it’s an above-average neighbourhood park, but add in the waterfront views and the appeal is obvious.
Then the path starts up again, and we soon enter the third stage — technically not in the park, but rather a large field owned by the city that could become a school or childcare centre in the future. For now though, it’s an additional bit of large field space in a part of the city that lacks it.
And finally, we come to the fourth area at the end — a wooden boardwalk that juts out into the marshy area at the edge of the water, and a smaller playground with a fun wooden shipwreck theme for 3-7 year olds. It’s all a bit disjointed, but all excellent stuff for a city to have in one place.
Built a couple decades before Vancouver started developing the River District in earnest, Riverfront has gained a reputation as a hidden gem, based on being one of the quieter waterfront green areas in the city.
That is changing — and will continue as thousands more flow into the neighbourhood — but the park was built to fit a lot of people, and so will continue to be well-loved in the decades to come.
#23: Norquay Park
“Splash pad, playground, sand put, basketball court, large field, paths around the structure for bikes, public bathroom. This little park has it all.”
#1 in Renfrew-Collingwood
5050 Wales Street
John Norquay was premier of Manitoba in the 1880s, and visited Vancouver once during that time — if he had a greater connection to this city, it certainly hasn’t been highlighted by local organizations.
Nevertheless, that begat Norquay Street, and Norquay School, and the Norquay Ratepayers and Community Association, which in 1926 successfully lobbied the municipality of South Vancouver to name the new park at Kingsway and Wales for Norquay as well, and that’s how you get the name of a neighbourhood, not through any real thought or explicit declaration, but by the slow advancement of average ideas until there’s no real alternative.
Enough about Crosstown though.
We’re here to talk about Norquay Park, and it’s a good one, once again thanks to a well-executed renovation by the park board about a decade ago.
It’s a tale of two parks, really: the unrenovated part in the south is an unremarkable field, a couple of lightly maintained baseball diamonds but little else, the type of green space you can find anywhere in the city.
But the north area! It’s really, really good!
It’s a densely-packed area with all the amenities that would get you high scores if you were playing a “design a park” board game in the 2020s: a spray park, basketball court, playground with multiple play structures for all ages, and community garden. There’s also a washroom (which is close to essential at this stage of the ranking), and a nice paved circle with benches, good for tai chi or just relaxing. And next to the spray park is a little rain garden which families can also enjoy.
The only drawback is the relatively cramped space, and the noise coming from Kingsway. But the noise isn’t overpowering, and what might seem cramped for an adult could feel like tremendous kinetic energy for a kid. Both times we went to the park it was buzzing with kids; one person replied to us saying “my kids think Norquay … is basically Disneyland North.”
It’s an example of how a few smart renovations can make an old park feel fresh, evolving with the needs of a neighbourhood — even it’s named for a 19th century politician from another province.
#22: Hinge Park
“Innovative park with nature, fields, playground water feature and dog park all in one small area.”
#2 in Mount Pleasant
215 West 1st Avenue
For a park barely a decade old, Hinge sure feels timeless.
Part of that comes from the little touches of history in the park, namely the rusty submarine-looking bridge that crosses a creek and the railway ties at its southern end.
Part of that comes from the wetland that takes up the southwest portion of the park — someone new to the city would scarcely believe it was so new, with the beavers and waterfowl that make their home in the area.
Part of it comes from how lived-in the park feels, even though it was an industrial area transformed as part of the Olympic Village: it’s incredibly popular for the thousands of people who live in the neighbourhood and don’t have a larger nearby park, so it ends up serving a lot of different needs.
And part of it comes from the sense of exploration the park affords: there are all sorts of little hills and rock circles and walkways over the wetland that give multiple options for getting to know the park.
Oh right: there’s a dog park, and a playground with swings and climbing structures, and a big field with a gorgeous view of downtown Vancouver, all in a relatively small area.
All of this helps explain why the park has been featured in plenty of websites and presentations focusing on urbanism and modern park design: it’s the most recent large park created by the city, one with a big $7 million budget, and they arguably made the most of it.
One can nitpick. The structured play area is quite small (though the long water pump makes up for it when it’s open), there are much better dog areas and community gardens in other parks, and the main field area is scheduled to turn into an elementary school — while definitely needed, it will put a further stress on large accessible green space in the area.
But a quick look at Hinge on virtually any day of the week, at any time, will see a bustling park of families and young adults, tourists and locals. And there’s not much more you can ask for.
#21: 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. A (long-needed) elementary school for Olympic Village is slated to be built in the grassy field part of adjacent Hinge Park later this decade. If it does it will no doubt change the feel of the Habitat Park, to say nothing of the construction beforehand, so consider a trip if you haven’t been recently.
20. 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.
21. And it’s pretty neat that Vancouver has places like that.