#40: Sunset Park
“The dog park here is excellent!!”
#3 in Sunset
404 East 51st Avenue
Sunset is a mid-sized but well-balanced space that understands parks are used for more than just sports or playgrounds in 2020.
Major renovations that completed just a few years ago mean there’s ample places to sit across the park — be it large boulders and logs that come together like an amphitheatre, a covered seating area, and a few simple benches. There’s a modern playground, with a disc swing and a delightful rotating bubble kids can jump inside of and be swung around. And there’s a large off-leash dog park, fenced in but with a nice walking path around its perimeter.
There’s just enough traditional field space for sports, plenty of flowers and interesting bushes, bike and walking paths going throughout, and a more hilly area and gated playground next to the Sunset Community Centre. And while it’s closed to the public, you can catch enough hints of the large nursery in the middle of the park, which provides the seasonal flowers and plants for the rest of the parks system.
None of this is groundbreaking stuff. It’s all well executed though, and is the rare inland park south of 41st Avenue in the city that can be said to be a true highlight.
#39: Renfrew Community Park
“I love that there is such a beautiful creative park inside the city.”
#2 in Renfrew-Collingwood
2929 East 22nd Avenue
Renfrew Community is one of those places that is a laundry list of things you can do more than an 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.
#38: Harbour Green Park
“There is never a dull moment in this park.”
#3 in Downtown
1199 West Cordova Street
“There are 38 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 38 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 contained 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 (both shuttered in 2020 due to the pandemic), 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.
#37: Charleson Park
“My friend found GOD THERE really cool the pictures are very nice!”
#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 water.
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 for the park’s biggest visual selling piece — a close, straight-on view of downtown. 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.
To be honest, the only thing preventing us from giving Charleson a top-20 ranking was no washrooms and the lack of a modern playground.
Well, after six months of construction, a new playground opened at Charleson shortly after our research ended. There are trampolines, accessible swings, SLIDES COMING OUT OF BIG WOODEN SHIPS, and we’re tremendously excited to revisit our assessment in 2021.
Yes, ridiculous views like the ones at Charleson are ridiculously common in Vancouver. It still takes work to make everything around it effective.
#36: 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 around 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 is super helpful, and it goes without saying that the washrooms are both helpful and essential, given the clientele.
There’s also a community garden and a ghost 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?
#35: 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.
#34: Hadden Park
“Pretty underrated park if you want amazing mountain and water views.”
1/24 in West End
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 the city 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 neat to peer 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 a 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 — just sometimes in a more direct way than others.
#33: 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 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 clear directional sense 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 tension in the main purpose of the park between the younger adults enjoying a loud pincic 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.
#32: 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, and it’s in a place where it doesn’t intrude upon other sports, but leaves enough space for a game if other fields are sufficiently empty.
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 that are a little bit more extensive, or are slightly more vibrant, but it’s hard to find much wrong with Trafalgar — and a lot to find that’s good.
#31: 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 is due to the park being on top of a cliff leading to the Jericho grounds, 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 it is frankly due to 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, no matter what name it’s formally given.