#30: Creekside Park
“Too many children.”
#2 in Downtown
1455 Quebec Street
At the risk of making this a further exercise in the Extended McElroy Universe, the reason Science World is considered the most iconic building in Vancouver has a fair bit to do with its shape, but a lot to do with what it represents and where it stands.
Science World, of course, was created as the signature building in Vancouver’s 1986 Expo; an event which itself was linked with years of city boosterism and development before it actually arrived.
As a result, virtually all of the key physical centerpieces of the Expo Era — Science World itself, but also BC Place and the first line of the SkyTrain system — sort of coalesce at the same place, where False Creek ends and the full weight of downtown opens up.
So if you were a kid living in B.C. in the 90s, and made a trip to Vancouver, you were making a trip to the big city, and it was on the Expo Line, when it curves around Science World and shows the full scope of downtown, that you were really wowed, and realized how small Victoria or Langley or Kamloops was in comparison.
All of that is to say that Creekside Park, sitting right to Science World, sitting right next to False Creek, with a walking path on one side and a bike path on the other, well, it has a lot of built-in advantages.
But even if you’re not enjoying the view and its symbolic joy, there are things to do, mostly if you’re a kid. The playground was renovated a few years ago, and is top-tier, with arguably the best slide in the city roaring down from a faux-tree fort high in the air. It’s also worth mentioning a number of smaller slides and swings, a zip line and a little sandy area, all designed to be as accessible as possible — the only drawback being a lack of a spray park, just how busy it gets, and a minimal amount of sitting areas for adults.
And ultimately, it’s the lack of things for adults to do that holds Creekside back from being a Top-10 park: aside from competing with the geese for room on the lawn to suntan, there’s not to do.
Luckily, the conversion of Concord Pacific’s endless parking lots next to Creekside into a pop-up park has finally happened, and that has provided adults with a much better space to enjoy themselves (Ping pong tables! Fancy chairs! Benches galore!), but that’s not actually in the park.
The limited space is well-designed though, particularly how the bike path loops behind the park. And on a summer night, with the sun setting slowly behind Science World, False Creek, Downtown, and the expanse of ocean behind it all?
You understand a little bit why this city entrances — and why this exact spot was designed as one of its main selling points.
#29: Prince Edward Park
“Great little park.”
#3 in Riley Park
3773 Prince Edward Street
There’s nothing amazing about Prince Edward Park, which is why you’ll never see it in a touristy promotional campaign. It’s a neighbourhood park next to an elementary school, where the grass slopes down from the street and a large field is the centrepiece. You know, a Vancouver park.
Despite the lack of bells and whistles, there is plenty that’s very good. For kids, there’s solid play equipment for all ages, including a climbing triangle, three slides and some fake drums. And there’s a fun mushroom-themed spray park that may not excite the older ones, but has an excellent vibe to it.
For adults, there’s a serviceable field for soccer or baseball, and a number of places with strategically placed trees and boulders for general chillaxing.
For everyone, there’s a field house with washrooms and generous fountains.
Add in a community garden, and a few random pieces of fitness equipment, and you’ve got pretty much the platonic ideal of a sneakily neighbourhood park; a community space that pretty much anyone can use for all sorts of purposes.
#28: 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 courts, 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. Plus, there’s a quirky 80s vibe to the entire design, a spooky batting cage and large lights that allow for nighttime sports. The playground has three separate structures for different ages, while 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 separated by trees in the south, which solves the aesthetic problem that large fenced-off tennis courts often provide.
There’s pretty much no things to do or places to eat near Oak Park, and it’s one of the last places in this journey where we can’t say it’s absolutely essential for Vancouverites to visit if they’ve never been.
Still, we judge most parks by how well it serves its intended purpose — and Oak does that and then some.
#27: 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 the southeast of the city 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 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 beel 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 also by how well it fulfills that ambition. Tecumseh aims are modest — to be 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.
#26: 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, and with a pavilion scheduled to be built over the next two years.
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.
#25: 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 a little mountain (its actual name), 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) 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 for adults, Queen E ranked only behind Stanley, Sunset Beach and VanDusen Botanical Gardens.
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 paths set up to promote going to one location, 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 more a collection of fun and interesting things to do — particularly if you’re older and like pretty flowers — than 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 between 2023 and 2026. With so many new developments coming 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 or disc golf.
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.
#24: 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, a great mix of 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 all 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, 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, the theme 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.
#23: 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 it’s 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 bit of a hidden gem, based on it being one of the quieter waterfront green areas in the city.
That is changing — and will continue as thousands more flow into the adjacent Fraser Lands east neighbourhood — but the park was built to fit a lot of people, and so it will continue to be well-loved in the decades to come.
#22: 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 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 in part to a well done 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 2020: 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 scores), 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.
#21: 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 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: extremely 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.
Yes, 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.