#40: Renfrew Community Park
“I love that there is such a beautiful creative park inside the city.”
#3 in Renfrew-Collingwood
2929 East 22nd Avenue
Renfrew Community is one of those places that is more a laundry list of things you can do than a fully integrated park, but those things are all very solid.
For starters, there’s the recently refurbished forested area around Still Creek (better staircases and an accessible walkway were added), which has surprisingly immersive small trails for being no more than 20 metres away from open air at all times. A fun bonus is the eerie Fruiting Bodies sculpture at the bottom, inspired by a Renfrew Ravine squatter named Ted Twetie who lived until he was 107 years old (what a sentence to write!)
With the renovations came a new off-leash dog park, one with a nice woodchip base and the excellent ambiance of the forest next to it.
As for the more traditional part of the park, a slope from the playground down to the sports fields gives some nice texture to the place, and there’s a rare lacrosse box in the northwest corner.
It’s the last park on our list that doesn’t attain “great” status — the play equipment is pretty old, there’s no clear journey through the park, and outside of a great pizza place on the southwest corner there’s not a lot nearby — but Renfrew is plenty interesting for a park anchored by a community centre.
#39: Harbour Green Park
“There is never a dull moment in this park.”
#3 in Downtown
1199 West Cordova Street
“There are 39 great parks in Vancouver” is a bold and silly claim to make, but this is a bold and silly exercise, so let’s elaborate.
There were 39 parks in our scoring that got at least 29 points, and a certain point it became pretty clear that anything with at least 29 points was the type of place we would actively want to come back to. Some of these parks were solid across the board — plenty to do with no weak aspects — while some of them had one or two special calling cards.
Harbour Green is definitely in the latter category: there’s no playground and there’s not really any opportunity to play sports, unless you’re doing something relatively small on the long thin stretch of grass between the seawall and the condos.
But it’s that long stretch of grass and seawall, the eastern tip of Stanley Park beckoning in the distance, the glass towers to the south and floating Chevron gas station to the north, the Convention Centre to the east and boats on the west, the bikes whizzing by and the tourists taking selfies, all of it comes together in this expression of pure Vancouverness, which is to say uniquely beautiful, used as a generic modern waterfront in untold film productions, and partly funded by developers.
Still. It’s a beautiful view. The long stretch of grass and benches gives lots of flexibility for how you use the space. In the middle there’s a spray park and restaurant, and walkways further from the ocean provide some interesting plants and artwork.
Harbour Green is also home to a very well done and fairly expansive memorial to the Komagata Maru incident, and a quirky art piece of an old boat shed raised ten feet in the air.
If that feels like a weird whiplash of things in a single park, well, Vancouver is a weird whiplash of a city.
It’s mostly great though. So is Harbour Green.
#38: Jonathan Rogers Park
“Lovely views. Nice for a cheeky park beer!”
#4 in Mount Pleasant
110 West 7th Avenue
Say you enjoyed beer and lived in Mt. Pleasant, and say you enjoyed a relaxing afternoon at Jonathan Rogers Park.
But then I repeat myself.
While it’s Dude Chilling Park that has the reputation for urbanite Mt. Pleasant Millennials gatherings for a couple cold beverages, it’s really Jonathan Rogers where the action happens.
In theory, the giant grass field can be used for games of sports, but the reality in the summer is it’s dotted by dozens of small groups of people between 20-40 in age, enjoying some food and drink, maybe with a few dogs roaming around, maybe with a few families using the spartan playground on the east side.
The park is high enough up Mount Pleasant that you can get a partial view of downtown and the mountains, but it also gets plenty of sun. The steep slope down from the street gives a sense of grandeur to the park, but also provides additional flexibility for where people choose to chill. The nearby presence of Milano Coffee and 33 Acres Brewery is a definite plus, the regular presence of a food truck with the best hamburgers in Vancouver is a big benefit, and it goes without saying that the washrooms are both helpful and essential, given the clientele.
There’s also a community garden and a wading pool, and, you know, they’re nice too.
That’s not who the park really serves though — it’s for the community of young adults who like to have an evening hanging out with a group of friends, maybe having a couple beverages, and departing at a reasonable hour.
For most of 2020, that was pretty impossible to do inside somebody’s home, if you were a responsible adult abiding by the local guidelines of a global pandemic.
As a result, Jonathan Rogers became a periodic gathering place for a heck of a lot of people in the area who didn’t have backyards, or families, or ways to see friends inside safely.
The park was often packed. The vibe was often happy. The cheers at 7pm were often loud.
Jonathan Rogers is, and was, a public space that made people’s lives a little less stressful. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what a great park is about?
#37: George Park
“Always a little awkward being here though because it has the same name as my ex girlfriend’s son.”
#2 in Sunset
500 East 63rd Avenue
George Park isn’t going to wow anybody on first impression — but it’s quietly one of the best small inland parks in the city.
Truth be told, it’s pretty straightforward: the west side is a basic sports field, nothing more, and the east side has a solid playground, a covered picnic area and some rolling hills.
That covered picnic is weirdly rare to find in Vancouver, and worth big bonus points just for that. The playground is starting to get into middle age, but is quite extensive and will keep most kids 6-10 entertained for a good half hour.
And those rolling, mogul like hills in the back are a treat, protected by trees and creating a secret garden ambiance (the trees bordering the entire park also contribute to the feeling as well).
All of these are reasons why George is a great, well thought out park.
Another reason is that after a warm summer evening where we relaxed after a few hours of park exploration, two of the people in this project told us they were expecting their first child together.
A reminder that the parks we remember fondly often have little to do with design, and a lot to do with the people we share them with.
#36: Hadden Park
“Pretty underrated park if you want amazing mountain and water views.”
#2 in Kitsilano
1905 Ogden Avenue
It was front page news in 1928.
“Harvey Hadden, Pioneer Investor in Vancouver, Presents Park to City,” the Vancouver Daily Province effused. “Donates Two Whole Blocks of Land Fronting On English Bay…Dedicated Specifically To Women And Kiddies.”
A prominent landowner, Hadden purchased the property from the Canadian Pacific Railway company (which owned huge amounts of Vancouver well into the 20th century), and quickly gave it to the city, which is among the more altruistic reasons for having a park named after yourself.
It took a few decades for Hadden to be developed into the mix of attractions that it became known for — the Vancouver Maritime Museum, the harbour of heritage boats, a large totem pole that is currently removed for restoration — but now it’s an outstanding part of our extended public waterfront, the type of place that would be a huge tourist attraction in other parts of North America, but in Vancouver is just another ho hum space.
What makes Hadden special though? Chiefly, it’s the amount of interesting things packed into a relatively small area.
That harbour of old-timey boats is neet to peer at, and is right next to Elsje Point, which itself is one of the most photogenic spots in the city. The lawn between the walking path and the museum is adequate for picnics and home to a popular yoga class. The washrooms are a nice bonus too.
And Hadden has a secret weapon in its off-leash dog beach; a dense area of sand and logs where doggos can live their best life. If that’s too frantic, you can go to the even smaller beach on the eastern edge of the park, ideal for gazing across to English Bay and the West End.
It’s an embarrassment of riches for a small park that never gets too busy because Kits Beach is right next door, but Hadden is worth visiting in its own right.
But back to that front page from 1928: the newspaper reported that Hadden’s “only request … is that in developing the area the commissioners retain, as far as possible, the natural beauties of the place, and that it be especially regarded as a haven for tired mothers to rest and for little children to play.”
85 years later, those requests formed the basis of a lawsuit against a proposed $2.2 million bike lane through the park, the petitioners arguing it violated Hadden’s terms of keeping the land “as near as possible in its present state of nature.”
A court gave an interim injunction halting construction, and the park board decided to go in a different direction. The past influences so much of Vancouver’s parkland — sometimes in a more direct way than others.
#35: Mount Pleasant Park
“Tends to be busy on weekends so you won’t be able to make a big game on the field, but very nice for hangouts and picnics.”
#3 in Mount Pleasant
3161 Ontario Street
You would hope the park named for the best neighbourhood in Vancouver (according to some yahoo’s exhaustive project) would be very good, and indeed Mount Pleasant Park is.
At just one city block it is not particularly large, but one thing we noticed again and again is that park planners in Vancouver did better work when land was at a premium.
And so there’s a community garden in the northeast section, a basketball court in the northwest, a playground and small skateboard park in the southwest, and a lawn in the middle, multiple paths going throughout to make it easy for folks to get to their destination of choice. All very utilitarian, but well done, clear detail put into each part, with excellent splashes of colour and a sense of internal geography to the park.
None of the amenities are amazing — the park is modern, with a few slides and the type of climbing pentagon structure that’s all the rage these days. But it bears mentioning that basketball, skateboard parks, new playgrounds and a good grassy lawn are very popular with Vancouverites, and work particularly well in this young, middle-class neighbourhood.
It’s extremely busy but doesn’t feel too cramped, though there can be a bit of a silent tension in purpose between the younger adults enjoying a loud picnic and younger children enjoying the nearby playgrounds.
That said, it’s a solid B+ park, one filled on many sunny summer days, a food truck across the street, a bike share station next to the entrance, the epitome of a pleasant time in a pleasant neighbourhood.
#34: Trafalgar Park
“Best playground in the whole west side of vancouver!!!!”
#2 in Arbutus Ridge
2610 West 23rd Avenue
There is nothing especially special about Trafalgar Park from a design standpoint: it’s a big park with a bunch of big fields that are good to play sports.
There are a few things that elevate it though. One is the hedge-covered fence for the main baseball field; a neat old-school touch in a city where many of the fields have a samey quality. There’s also a cricket pitch, one of just five in the city.
Those elements, plus washrooms, go a long way, but it’s the playground that is the big selling point — while technically in the elementary school boundaries and paid for by parents, it blends into the park such that there is no discernible difference.
And it’s a great playground! Potentially the best on the west side of the city (most of the modern play spaces have gone to the eastside and downtown in the last 20 years because of population trends), with a triple slide structure and one of the biggest climbing diamonds around.
Plus, there’s the visual of the houses on top of Arbutus Ridge peering down at the park, giving a unique vibe compared to many inland parks that are more geographically bland.
There are a few non-destination neighbourhood parks in the city that are a bit more extensive, or slightly more vibrant, but it’s hard to find much wrong with Trafalgar — and a lot to find that’s good.
#33: West Point Grey Park
“It’s a park. Not much to say. Good basketball hoops.”
#3 in West Point Grey
2250 Trimble Street
Yes, it’s called West Point Gray Park. Not Trimble Park, even though it’s on Trimble Street, even though people call it Trimble Park, even though the biggest annual community event (the Point Grey Fiesta) advertises itself as being at Trimble Park, even though the City of Vancouver itself acknowledges that’s what it’s often called.
Get that annoyance out of your system, and it’s an excellent example of the city’s “big old field” template.
Part of that comes from the park being on top of a cliff leading to the Jericho Lands, allowing expansive views of downtown and the North Shore. But it’s also because of clever design choices, like a basketball court separating the two baseball fields, or a tall row of trees separating the green space from the playground area.
(That playground area is fine enough — while the main play equipment is dated, there is a lot of it, and there’s a newer mini-rock climbing wall that is also lots of fun).
And part of the appeal frankly comes from the sheer number of amenities available. In fact, outside of Stanley, it’s one of only six parks in the city with washrooms, tennis and basketball courts, fields for baseball and general sports, and a playground.
Add in a great lawn bowling facility and a lack of any real noise, and it’s clear why it has a great reputation, by any name you call it.
#32: 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 — coalesce in the same area, where False Creek ends and 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 sort of fake 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: unless you want to compete 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.
#31: Beaconsfield Park
“Great open park with lots of recreation options.”
#2 in Renfrew-Collingwood
3215 Slocan Street
A lot of parks in this city are sort of homogenized into an ur-Vancouver celebration of mountains and waters in lieu of quirks that celebrate local demographics or history, which is a roundabout way of saying we hecking LOVED that Beaconsfield Park has a giant pizza oven available for use; a nod to the Italian Cultural Centre next door and the community’s historic* importance in the northeast quadrant of the city.
(The Park Board as a whole hasn’t really emphasized the Indigenous history and subsequent colonial expropriation of its parks in any visible way, so that legacy is not really a visible part of any park experience, which is the main reason it doesn’t really come up in many of our writeups, for better or worse)
Aaaanyways, the pizza oven is one of the big reasons that Beaconsfield, just south of Grandview Highway and Slocan, is a touch above most “fields and playground” parks in the city.
Not the only reason though. There’s the expansive community garden, the secluded basketball court, the way the dense treeline and slope separates the main sports area from the rest of the park. It’s also one of the main headquarters for the thousands of crows that congregate in east Vancouver/west Burnaby most evenings, which may or may not be a plus depending on your point of view.
The park’s weak spot was an old and pedestrian playground; but that was recently upgraded to become thoroughly modern, with accessible slides, multiple inventive climbing structures, and slides and sand pits for smaller children.
All of which is to say: Beaconsfield is a really nice large neighbourhood park, and those who live nearby are lucky to have it.