Vancouver’s Stanley Park
One of Vancouver’s best features, and certainly one of the reasons for its high livability ratings, is Stanley Park. The Project for Public Spaces rates its 6th best in North America/16th best in the world, while a travel blog puts it as high as 2nd (second only to Hyde Park in London). The point is, this is a world-class park undoubtedly on a par with the best, including New York’s Central Park and San Francisco’s Presidio or Golden Gate Park.
One of the best things about the park is that it is incredibly accessible, directly connected to downtown Vancouver (which is just off the bottom of the map above) and only about 1 mile or so from the heart of the city centre. While it is a pleasant walk from the city centre or along the waterfront, there is also trolley bus service right into the park (which also channels San Francisco’s two big urban parks).
On Saturday, after my meetings were over, I took advantage of the free bikes that the hotel had available and borrowed the BMW bike to take a trip through the park. First, I pedaled along the very pleasant waterfront promenade, which is lined with hotels, restaurants, and modern residential buildings on the city side and amazing views, lots of marina spaces, and the seaplane action of the Vancouver Harbour Water Airport.
My trip through the park by bike was primarily along the acclaimed seawall. Within the park, the seawall is a magnificent, level 5.5-mile path along the perimeter of the jagged peninsula, offering incredible views of the harbour. Apparently there has been a lot of controversy over the use of this popular path over time – luckily, it has been expanded and configured so as to minimize conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians, giving each a separate part of the path. What also helps tremendously is that the cycling path is one-way…and I only encountered one person (who did not appear to be Canadian!) going the wrong way. Of course, the setup also pretty much means that once you start, you’re going the whole way around!
The seawall path is lined with a variety of monuments, as well as other attractions – playgrounds, fields for sports (including cricket), and several beaches. Inland, the dense forested area includes a variety of paths and even a couple of lakes.
While not quite in the class of the Golden Gate or the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Lions Gate is pretty impressive with the mountains in the background, in a very Pacific Northwest/Canadian subdued green colour. Like those bridges, it is a child of the 1930s, and is now a National Historic Site. It is called “Lions Gate” because of a pair of mountains directly to the north known as the Lions – the bridge’s formal name is the First Narrows Bridge because it crosses the first narrows of Burrard Inlet, which is the coastal fjord formed during the last ice age that separates Vancouver proper from West and North Vancouver. Incidentally, the bridge is also the namesake for Lions Gate Entertainment, the indenpendent film and TV production/distribution company that was founded in Vancouver – of Weeds and Mad Men fame. This perhaps reinforces Vancouver’s claim as Hollywood North.
Overall, I was very impressed with the park and the seawall, and highly recommend it as a great afternoon!