#60: Arbutus Greenway Park
“Fairly near lots of shops but a bit secluded from traffic.”
#5 in Kitsilano
2205 West 11th Avenue
From the outside it sort of seems like private property: four narrow green pathways, with a number of mixed-use townhomes and mid-rise apartments encroaching on all sides, all leading to a small playground and gazebo in the middle.
But Arbutus Greenway Park is both 1) a real public park, 2) weirdly not actually part of the Arbutus Greenway, 3) a place that’s definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area and enjoy parks.
Aside from the stately green corridors, that middle area is quite excellent. There’s not too many places in Vancouver with covered gazebos (for reasons), and the one here sits on top of a large staircase, adding to the fun.
The big highlight though is the playground — specifically, the giant tunnelled slide that goes down a steep hill. It’s a top-5 slide in the city, evoking that feeling of 2% terror and 98% thrill you want in a slide, in our humble opinion.
Add in plenty of grass to picnic on, and a large piece of art honouring the O’Keefe brewery that used to sit here, and you’ve got a stew going.
#59: Sun Yat-Sen Garden
“worth the price of admission. Incredibly peaceful.”
#6 in Downtown
578 Carrall Street
We aren’t architecture critics, so we’re in a place to judge the classical merits of the Ming Dynasty era Chinese gardenm built in the 1980s on the western edge of Chinatown. And we can’t say whether its place as the top city garden in a 2011 book by National Geographic was deserved or not.
What we can say is Sun Yat-Sen Garden is an incredibly peaceful place to be.
Technically there are two parts: the Sun Yat-Sen Park to the east, which is free and dominated by a pond. Then there’s the more intricate, authentic and walled-off Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden to the west, which costs a fee.
This helps fund the separate non-profit society that operates the park, but both parts integrate into one another well, and there’s so much to explore in the relatively small space — it’s the type of experience you would have at a top-tier museum more than a small urban park.
If you want, you can get right into the displays about how the garden embraces yin and yang, the specifics on how the tiles were made, the rotating exhibitions. Or you can simply enjoy the beautiful trees, the reflective pond, the enchanted patterns.
If how much kids would like a park wasn’t factored into our scores, Sun Yat-Sen would be the 11th best park in the city. But it is, and we’re realistic about the patience of children to enjoy a slow historical nature walk while avoiding running around and screaming.
You’re reading this though. Which means you’re not a kid — or if you are, a highly discerning one! — so you really have no excuse not to visit once it reopens post-pandemic.
#58: 6th and Fir Park
“Awesome little playground packed full of equipment that will appeal to kids, big or small.”
#3 in Fairview
1600 West 6th Avenue
Why does such a good park have such a boring name?
To make a long story short, the Park Board’s long-term plan for this entire city block at the edge of Kitsilano is converting it to a full-scale green space, which will eventually double as a terminus for the Arbutus Greenway.
That will take time and significant money. In the interim, there are two pop-up parks on each side of the block.
The one on the southeast edge is very good, the type of park that makes you lament Vancouver doesn’t have more small public spaces with a few benches, a few tables, a playground and some grass.
That’s really 6th and Fir Park is, but it’s all very modern and all very inviting. In particular, the community gardens blend into the “main” park area in a much more organic way than most of the more walled-off ones in the city, and the playground has a few unique structures for 3-7 year olds, including a digging area and a small pentagon rope apparatus.
And while there’s not a lot of adults, there’s ample spots to sit, and the Greenway and a Mobi bike share station is 10 metres away. Plus, Beaucoup Bakery is right across the street, so there’s no risk of going hungry while watching the kids play.
Though come to think of it, those pastries might be a boon for the kids as well.
#57: Humm Park
“I never even knew this little gem was near me and I’ve lived a couple blocks away for almost a year.”
#2 in Victoria-Fraserview
7250 Humm Street
Vancouver, it’s fair to say at this point in this exercise, has lots of parks: big ones, small ones, ones next to the water, ones that are giant fields, ones that are extended traffic medians, ones next to the water, dog parks, sports parks, ones next to the water, pocket parks, water parks, ones next to the water, and also, ones next to the water.
And yet, there’s only one park in the city where there’s not a single street connected to it.
Humm was built in the 1970s in the midst of Vancouver quickly filling out the southeast section of the city. For whatever reason, the city decided here — and only here — that the park would be set in a square entirely surrounded by Vancouver’s ubiquitous alleyways.
The result is essentially a secret park: one that has existed for 40 years and has 13 reviews on Google; one that hasn’t been discussed by city council or the park board in decades; one that hasn’t been talked about in a single newspaper story, ever.
And it’s a pretty good park! Even if you were to place it off a generic street, there’s a tennis court, a basketball court, just enough grass for a barbeque, and a small but 6/10 playground, with a couple slides, swings, and most importantly (and I am not making this up) multiple educational displays about elks.
All of this is nice enough, but the fact it backs up to alleyways in all directions creates a tiny oasis, a private park for a private house development, except it’s 100% public.
That there’s no public documentation as to why the park board made its unique decision here is vexing. That Humm ultimately isn’t interesting enough to visit if you don’t live in the area is, well, like a lot of parks.
But if you happen to stumble across it, be grateful for finding such a unique — and underexplained — addition to the city’s catalogue of parks.
#56: Vanier Park
“Beautiful view of the ocean and downtown Vancouver. Not many clean places to sit.”
#4 in Kitsilano
1000 Chestnut Street
It’s set up to be a great park. It should be a great park.
And yet, Vanier is a big case of squandered potential.
It doesn’t *seem* that way on first blush: after all, it’s a giant green space right on the water, right to the west of Burrard Street Bridge, with multiple pieces of iconic city art, including the Gate to the Northwest Passage and the giant grab fountain outside the Space Centre and Vancouver Museum. A former air force base transferred to the City of Vancouver in the 1960s, there was a clear desire to make it a great public space from the beginning.
There’s a lazy walking and bike trail lacing the water, a giant pond, even a hidden dirt bike track in the small forest in the south of the park. Bard on the Beach is here every year, tourists flock to it, and it’s easily accessible by car, bike or feet. What’s not to like?
Well, the goose, for one. Specifically, their poop. And look, one can debate whether the government’s moratorium on killing geese has run its course or not, but objectively there is no park in Vancouver with a greater density of geese, and excrement on the grass, creating a spongy layer that renders the large grassy area unusable for most activities for most of the year.
Still, let’s be charitable, and presume the goose poop suddenly disappeared for completely ethical reasons (what a weird sentence to write!). We would still have a park without any real amenities and no playground, a park with strange design choices — consider an undeveloped marsh area with a bridge that goes nowhere, for example — a park with no beach area.
It means Vanier Park is a wonderful place to pass through, given its expansive and spectacular views. And it’s an excellent place to attend an event, or enjoy a quick walk before or after a trip to the Space Centre.
But as a park? A place to hang out and frolic and enjoy on its own merits?
It’s above average. And given everything it has going in its favour, that’s frankly a bit disappointing.
#55: Beaconsfield Park
“Great open park with lots of recreation options.”
#4 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 their 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 separating the main sports area from the rest of the park. It’s also one of the main headquarters for the thousands of crows that seem to congregate around 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; that’s being upgraded over the winter months, one of the seven playgrounds in the city getting a revamp in 2020-2021.
All of which is to say: while Vanier hasn’t truly put in the work to make the most of its site, Beaconsfield has. It’s a really nice large neighbourhood park, and those who live nearby are lucky to have it.
#54: Everett Crowley Park
“Great dog park with tons of trails and cute doggos.”
#2 in Killarney
8200 Kerr Street
The story of Everett Crowley Park, 38 hectares of urban wilderness in the far southeast of the city, is well celebrated: the city’s largest landfill for decades in the middle of the 20th century, it was closed for nearly 20 years, slowly being reclaimed by nature (and losing residue methane gas) before becoming a park in 1987.
That was largely due to the persistence of local residents, many of whom volunteered in the years after to improve the park by removing invasive plants. Now, the park is a large collection of small trails, along with a duck pond, a small meadow, ample room for off-leash dogs, and a few reminders of its landfill past, including a giant tractor tire one can hypothetically jump into.
It’s a credit to Vancouver to have a place like this, that it almost feels unfair to point out that the trails are a little repetitive, it sometimes feels like a tree tunnel, there’s few open spaces or real views, and there’s nothing particularly here for kids.
A good park though and a wonderful atmosphere though, one that 20 years ago was in danger of being shrunk so Fraserview Golf Course could expand to accommodate the potential move of an annual PGA Tour event held in Surrey.
That golf tournament no longer exists. Odds are Everett Crowley will for a long time to come.
#53: Lillian To Park
“Small but we had so much fun there.”
#4 in Riley Park
3276 Yukon Street
In the middle of last decade, Vancouver built two mini parks a few hundred meters from each other, each intended to be a complementary space to an already-existing transportation corridor.
But while Sun Hop Park (next to Main Street) is a soulless concrete plaza next to a bank, Lilian To Park (next to the Yukon bike lane) is a well-used parklet that already feels fully part of the neighbourhood.
Created after the city built a corner residential lot in 2013 for $1.6 million (now a verifiable steal!), Lilian To packs a lot into its space — some grassy areas, a bike repair station, a place to exchange children’s toys, some benches and giant rocks that also work as benches. If you pass by on your bike or just looking for a peaceful place to get out of the house, you could do much worse.
The pièce de résistance, however, is the small play structure; specifically a giant disc swing that can fit a couple of kids (or kids at heart) at once: anchored by four large planks of wood, the swing can be pushed up and around before rotating with the force of a tiny roller coaster for 30 to 40 seconds. It’s a fun little engineering marvel that can’t be found anywhere else in the city, and combined with a climbing web, will provide enough replay value for most kids.
There are drawbacks to Lilian To, as there would with any park the size of a small residential lot — you never feel fully removed from the city and it’s not the type of place you would want to hang out in for more than 30 minutes. But in a short time, it’s arguably developed a reputation as one of the best mini parks in the city, and for good reason.
#52: MacLean Park
“really is the center of the community with a nice balance between play areas, seating and open field.”
#1 in Strathcona
710 Keefer Street
The prototypical Vancouver park is a couple blocks large, allowing for a bit of everything — some nature, some sports, some playgrounds — without necessarily being great at any of them.
MacLean is an argument that perhaps the city should have thought a bit more compact.
A busy tree-line neighbourhood park surrounded by houses, corner stores and Strathcona charm, MacLean is the size of a small city block: this means it is big enough for a single baseball or soccer game, but not big enough that it feels like endless lawns with no definition. There’s washrooms, and a large play area with multiple structures, a mid-sized climbing triangle, and a few swings.
Notably, there’s also an excellent spray park where the water shoots very high in the air, objectively a top five water park in the city, and overall a top 10 park for kids (though with the caveat that suburban cities generally have better ones).
More than all that, there’s an excellent sense of community — rare is the day in the summer where the park isn’t packed, or there isn’t some sort of small event taking place, including small concerts.
Part of this is likely due to Oppenheimer and Strathcona becoming homeless camps, making MacLean the only large park within easy walking distance for the entire neighbourhood. But it’s also a product of a smartly-designed space, making what could be another pedestrian park into something a bit greater.
No doubt a city needs a few giant sports fields; but Vancouver could also with a few more MacLeans.
#51: Nelson Park
“Not a good park in any way at all.”
#4 in West End
1030 Bute Street
Amazingly (or maybe not, given property values), Nelson Park is the only inland park between Stanley Park and Chinatown that’s a full city block large.
That puts a lot of pressure on it to fulfill a lot of needs; little wonder The Province had a 2004 headline saying ‘Every urban issue is in this park’, and not a decade goes by where there’s not some temporary panic over the future of Nelson, and whether the park and Mole Hill neighbourhood can withstand another torrent of downtown development.
That’s warranted, because Nelson is a lovely urban park, always well used with a lot of uses. The dog park is dusty but just large enough, the community gardens are designed so some of them are face the sidewalk — subtly integrating the park into the neighbourhood a bit more — and there’s ample amount of benches and wide cement paths. And we’re not even including the farmers market that takes place on the adjacent street.
There’s a fun climbing apparatus for smaller kids, though we wish there was a bit more for them to do. There’s a bit of needless fencing separating each area as well, and we’re getting to the point in these rankings where being solid across the board only gets you so far.
Debate over Nelson will likely intensify in the next decade, courtesy the installation of a hydro substation under the park and the redevelopment of nearby St. Paul’s Hospital.
With so many West End residents who care for it though, we imagine it’s in good hands.