#50: Sunnyside Park
“Came at night, was very dark.”
#4 in Kensington-Cedar Cottage
1100 East 17th Avenue
Fundamentally, Sunnyside is a pretty simple park: some swings and an early 90s playground, on top of a raised grassy area with plenty of trees.
So what is it doing here?
Well, there’s the clever design — most parks in the city have a sunken bevel, but being on top of a small hill gives a different feel. And the park is filled with trees in a way most others aren’t — it feels a bit like a wooded area in the English countryside, particularly given most of the trees are of the plane variety. A rare permanent bench and table, underneath a structure that can easily be covered with a tarp, gives options for family gatherings.
But really, the highlight of the park is something not technically in it: the giant 25-foot high climbing structure that’s between the park and Charles Dickens school. There isn’t a taller climbing structure available for free in the city, fun for both larger kids and adults, and “just” tall enough with “just” enough gaps between the intricate tightropes that there’s a sense of danger.
Factor in the closed off street between the park and the school, filled with basketball courts and funky benches, and it’s an excellent example of how a few unique additions can make a neighbourhood park something special.
#49: Granville Island Water Park
“It might just be the best water park in Vancouver but it’s not always packed which is great.”
#2 in Fairview
1348 Cartwright Street
For a while it was branded as “the biggest free water park in North America”, and while we’re not sure if that was ever objectively true, Granville Island’s water park is objectively awesome.
The biggest attraction, of course, is the mini-waterslide, and while it’s not particularly fast, it is a FREE MINI WATERSLIDE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CITY, IF YOU’RE SIX AND NOT EXCITED BY THIS WHAT ARE YOU DOING.
Sorry, got a little excited there.
But there’s also a little tunnel and tons of hoses, a large expanse of more generic water park features, all in one of the most unique urban areas in all of Canada. If your kid doesn’t like water? Well they
are a coward have other options, with a more generic playground that has slides and a tiny climbing structure that rotates.
So, yes, best park for kids in the city (though you could make an argument for a few others, if you wanted). There’s not a lot of reason for adults to stop here if they’re not with young ones, but there’s a number of convenient places to watch over the young ones — including a huge covered picnic area right next to the park, which we may have taken advantage of once or twice during the pandemic.
That pandemic meant the waterslide part of the park was closed this year — may it be once again be open in 2021, and with it the sound of screaming kids getting to delight in one of the city’s best free attractions, largest in North America or not.
#48: Grays Park
“Family friendly, with a neighborhood spirit.”
#3 in Kensington-Cedar Cottage
4850 St. Catherines Street
Grays Park is a fascinating and fun example of what happens when a community takes over the purpose of a park from a government.
That’s a little unfair: after all, the lawn still gets mowed at Grays, the garbage gets taken out, the small playground is modern enough, the tennis, basketball and ball hockey courts are still in good condition, and the washroom gets cleaned, all courtesy of the park board.
There’s also a number of mosaic art pieces, plenty of benches, a small walking trail and a covered area with a table.
But consider the lawn bowling area and small community centre abandoned five years ago — the neighbourhood has repurposed it into a small dog park, in an area without a lot of space for dogs.
Or consider the centre of the park: another one of those wading pools that in a good year is open for about 15 hours a week a couple of months in the summer, but otherwise is drab cement. In 2020, people turned it into a little bike park for kids, with a few small jumps, integrated with a nearby hill and dirt path.
It all means a number of generic park amenities and a number of unique ones; all put together reasonably well in a small area; all well-used by the community.
A very good park, in other words. And an interesting one, too.
#47: Tatlow Park
#3 in Kitsilano
2845 West 3rd Avenue
Even if Tatlow wasn’t one of the oldest neighbourhood parks in the city (built in 1907), even if it wasn’t literally the park in Robert Altman’s 1969 film That Cold Day in the Park, it would be worth talking about.
For one, there’s the split level design — the northern half, closer to the ocean, has casual winding paths and a quiet pond, something of regal nature next to the Killarney Manor.
Go deeper, and you’ll find a heavily wooded playground area: its age is showing, but there’s still separate areas for younger and older kids, along with ample slides. Tennis courts subtly tucked in between a few houses, along and a field house are also on site, giving enough amenities for the neighbourhood.
The overall feel is a park that provides a small journey in itself; a relaxing but unsung area worth checking out. And the expected restoration of the stream through the park (along with adjacent Volunteer Park) should make the experience even better in the future.
#46: Aberdeen Park
“They could have had one huge park instead of few small ones around this area.”
#3 in Renfrew-Collingwood
3525 Foster Avenue
Aberdeen is one of the three parks making of the triad of amenities in the Collingwood village of condos and townhomes created at the beginning of the 21st century. The three parks are all within two blocks of one another, and while Gaston focuses on baseball/soccer and Melbourne on tennis/basketball, Aberdeen is the chill hangout/playground of the three.
We think it’s the best of the three — and while that *could* be because we generally prefer chill hangouts over playing sports, it also has to do with the design of the park.
It has three distinct sections: a playground for kids around 4-8 with a bunch of slides and mini rock climbing walls, a walking path that goes up an artificial hill to a concrete circle at the top, and a small field area with a number of benches next to another walking trail. Each part blends to the other through the use of walkways and gentle slopes.
The effect is a park that has a whole bunch of people casually using it in different ways. It’s definitely the backyard for the apartments that surround it, but it also feels open to the general public. And the trees planted two decades ago on the perimeter are starting to mature and create some noise separation from the street.
It’s all an example of how a mid-sized urban park can be built in the 21st century, and how it doesn’t need to be anywhere near downtown to be successful.
#45: Locarno Park
“Usually less busy than most of the other beaches.”
#4 in West Point Grey
4445 NW Marine Drive
A Vancouver koan riddle: where does Spanish Banks end and Locarno begin? And where does Locarno end and Jericho Beach begin?
Most people would probably give short shrift to the boundaries of Locarno, even though it extends out quite a bit — from Jericho Pier in the east to Tolmie Street to the west, its many beach logs and volleyball courts dotting the sand.
That’s because aside from being stuck between two more iconic beaches, Locarno Park is also a less integrated park, with a collection of parts that have no real connection. There’s the marvellous beach of course, and the clumping of trees across from the beach, and then there’s the baseball field further inland, along with the middling field that functions mostly as an off-leash dog area.
Which are all good things to have, but doesn’t answer the question “why would you go to Locarno?”, given Jericho has more to do and Spanish Banks has better sand and a longer tide.
Maybe it’s the fact it’s usually 10-20% less busy but still has those amazing views, or that amplified sound isn’t permitted, adding to the sense of relative quiet. Maybe it’s that the mini forest gives options if there’s people in your group that want a bit more shade, or the long history of the neighbourhood fighting to keep all the green space around the beach from development. Ma
Whatever the reasons, Locarno has lots of value, even if it ends up being less than the sum of its parts.
#44: Andy Livingstone Park
“It’s got everything for a recreational park.”
#5 in Downtown
89 Expo Boulevard
Complex and complicated is probably the best way to describe Andy Livingstone Park.
Built for $7 million in the 1990s, partly funded by Concord Pacific as part of the city’s post-Expo north False Creek development, the park broadly consists of two parts: the giant artificial turf complex on the eastern half, and the hilly green space and playground on the western half, with an overhead bridge linking the two.
It’s a technically impressive park; the fields are always very busy, the new playground (part of Crosstown Elementary) has excellent steep slides and climbing structures for all ages and difficulty levels. There’s also a passable dog park, washrooms, a tennis court and basketball court (again adjacent to the school), checking off a lot of boxes for a great park.
And yet, it isn’t. Part of that is due to the cramped nature of the park and the constant noise from the viaducts and SkyTrain, making it less a place to relax and more a place to go for a specific purpose. Part of it is the turf fields are starting to show their age, becoming easily waterlogged after a normal day of rain in Vancouver, which is to say 80% of the time from November to April.
But part of it is also the uneasy tension of a park that caters both to families with schoolchildren, but also some of the most marginalized folks in society. The western half of Andy Livingstone is fairly small, and within two years of opening the Vancouver Sun reported on nearby residents concerned about needles in the park; a trend that has continued since. This reporter sometimes shows amazing views from park — but he doesn’t show the occasional screaming matches or fights, though they do happen with some regularity, particularly on the bridge or the sitting area at the base of the park.
Of course, there’s a few places with an uneasy tension in Vancouver. That’s the case with a lot of big cities in 2020, and we muddle through, show empathy, and try and improve things best we can.
It means there’s a limit to how universally beloved Andy Livingstone can be, but one can still appreciate the park for what it is.
#43: Memorial West Park
“As far as parks go it’s got what you need….Grass, dirt, plants and Trees!”
#2 in Dunbar-Southlands
4701 Dunbar Street
When the first world war ended, there were technically three separate municipalities in Vancouver — Point Grey, South Vancouver, and the Vancouver we know today — and they each built separate parks to honour those that served, but while Vancouver named its memorial Victory Square, both South Van and Point Grey opted for “Memorial Park”, which is how we ended up with the geographic signifier being added after the three communities amalgamated.
Now that you know that boring origin story, we can enjoy what a balanced park Memorial West is. It’s another park with a community centre, but rather than putting the building in the centre and awkwardly surrounding it with a bunch of fields, the Dunbar Community Centre is in the far northeast corner, allowing the rest of the park to flow naturally.
And that greatly helps: one section of the park is devoted to baseball, another to a play area (it’s old and wooden, but there’s a zip line), another to lawn bowling and tennis, and another to a small forest, with a couple walking paths and benches amongst the trees and meadow grass.
In the middle of this lies a charming old wooden field house, along with public toilets and a concession stand for baseball. All told, four city blocks, all used up efficiently.
It’s all very pleasant, all well-proportioned, all old-fashioned without being excessively so, all good but not great, all very Dunbar.
#42: Burrard View Park
“I didn’t want to give this place 5 stars because it’s a hidden gem of East Van.”
#3 in Hastings-Sunrise
650 North Penticton Street
Of the 241 parks in the city, the accurately named Burrard View is the only one to get a B grade in all four of our categories — which is to say, a mark between 7 and 7.5. Let us explore why there is such consistency in this unique park.
For Kids: the playground is quite old, with the smaller play structures for smaller kids in need of significant TLC. But those play structures are quite extensive, and the old wooden teeter totter and play structure hold ample charm, even if the gravel and rock bottom loses it some points. The underused wading pool is an underused wading pool.
For Adults: There’s a small but good off-leash dog area, with a gentle hill and a few rocks and bushes that provide some variety. There’s also two tennis courts on the far south side of the park, and several benches to take in the view of Burrard Inlet. And there are washroom facilities as well, which are never a bad thing.
For Design: It’s hard to go wrong with such an excellent view of the Inlet and the North Shore mountains behind it. Otherwise, it’s a tricky park to make the most of because so much of it is on a hill or used by the St. James hospice, but the dog park does a good job of mitigating that. Still, there’s no real fence or signage denoting you’ve entered The Dog Park Area, and the south side of the park between the playground and the washroom is a little underutilized.
For Atmosphere: “Atmosphere” can mean a lot of different things, and often people used it as a way to put their thumb on the scale for things in (or around) the park they particularly liked. Burrard View has a heritage feel in a quiet part of the city, a wonderful view and a neat backstory — the park was formerly home to an orphanage, juvy detention home, and family court — even if there’s no natural path through the park, or things to do around it.
In short, nothing about Burrard View Park is great. But everything about it is good.
#41: CRAB Park
“Where else can you view the north shore mountains, watch the cranes of the dock operate, or see a helicopter take off?”
#4 in Downtown
101 East Waterfront Road
The most confusing thing about CRAB park are the pictures of crabs in the spay park.
That’s because the park’s name is an acronym: Create A Real Available Beach, the name of the committee led by Downtown Eastside residents that pushed for public water access in the area in the 1980s.
After a few protests and tent cities, the powers that be transferred some land from the port authority to the city on a long term lease, and the park was born. Today, there’s a small playground and spray park with a vague nautical theme, a bit of area in the east for dogs to roam, a small pier to fully take in the view, and a number of pieces of art, including monuments to DTES Missing Women and a Kmagata Maru mosaic.
It’s all interesting to look at, and the gentle rolling hills in the park help make what is very much an artificial green space feel a little more natural.
In recent years there have been protests about the port expanding its water encroachment (partly blocking the view) and another tent city that was quickly removed by the port authority. Given the park was created out of controversy, and even named out of controversy — the city originally named it Portside Park over local objections, only changing it to CRAB Park at Portside in 2004 — one can expect future controversy as well, such is its DNA.
It truly is an oasis from the bustle of downtown, but that’s partly due to it being a bit cumbersome to get to if you’re not driving — you’ve got to walk on a long overpass across the rail lines to get there. And when you do arrive, you’ll find that the “beach” itself is only about 60 metres of substandard sand in length, which also lessens demand.
All these caveats ignore the fact that it’s still a quiet waterfront area in Vancouver, one of the rarest things you can find, with plenty of room to walk, to sit, to run or to contemplate.
The playground could be bigger and beach longer, sure, but then it might become more popular, and who would want that?