Editors' Picks: Outdoors

Best little-known gorgeous view of the city

The wooden pier jutting out into the waters of Burrard Inlet from Crab Park, at the north end of Main Street beyond the railway tracks, offers a superb view of the Port of Vancouver, the North Shore Mountains, Canada Place, and Gastown. Look to your left as you approach the pier on foot to see a beautiful and ethereal canoelike structure, made from interwoven willow boughs, floating on a small pond.

Best chance at satori

Mark October 15 on your calendar. On that date, at precisely 4 o’clock in the afternoon, at the Nitobe Memorial Garden at UBC, the sun will shine through the Nitobe lantern and strike a cleft rock on the “mountain path”. No, we’re not kidding. Nothing in this gorgeous setting—considered to be one of the top five Japanese gardens outside of Japan—is accidental. Not the Nitobe lantern itself. Not the placement of any tree or rock. And certainly not the way a shaft of sunlight falls once a year, inspiring perhaps that longed-for “aha!” moment.

Best metaphor in the naked outdoors

On any given summer day in Vancouver, locals and tourists alike can be found pounding down the forest path to Wreck Beach (named one of the top 10 nude beaches in the world by the American Association for Nude Recreation). But only a few devout locals adhere to the time-honoured tradition of raising driftwood logs up vertically to stand them in the sand like so many uncarved totem poles. The GVRD will take said poles down if the holes they’re placed in aren’t at least five feet deep, and fair dinkum. No unsuspecting sunbather should have to worry about being brained by falling wood. But for those who can really dig a good hole, why not do as custom dictates?

Best place to earn your holly-hauling halo

Want to help preserve our local forests? Throw on your green cape and gumboots and join the other ecological superheroes digging in the dirt to eliminate invasive species like holly and English ivy from Pacific Spirit Park. You too can be a holly hauler, ivy puller, or crazy bogger (as the diligent volunteers who labour to preserve the Camosun bog title themselves). From the botanically literate to the know-nothing neophyte, all are welcome to join the environmental stewardship efforts of these and other ecological enthusiasts organized by the Pacific Spirit Society. For info, e-mail volunteer@pacificspiritparksociety.org

Best place to lose yourself in grassroots Vancouver beauty

Strathcona Community Garden
Southwest corner of Prior and Hawks streets

You could take your out-of-town guests to the beautifully manicured Queen Elizabeth Park or VanDusen Botanical Garden. But if they want to see some quintessentially Vancouver botanical beauty, head for the Strathcona Community Garden. Stroll through the plots and enjoy each gardener’s decorating scheme, their unique combination of vegetables, fruits, berries, and flowers. Together, the plots form a joyful patchwork of riotous colour, and even the most jaded skeptic can’t help but feel better about the world after witnessing the love and hard work that go into each tiny garden. (There are 290 plots in total.) You could even bring a picnic lunch and eat it by the espaliered orchard or the “wild areas”, home to native plants and trees. The whole garden is a bird sanctuary, and herbicides and pesticides are prohibited. The compost area is a work of art in itself. In short, the Strathcona Community Garden demonstrates some of the most positive results of Vancouver’s ecoconscious culture.

Best outdoor location to find Iranian Canadians celebrating

Ambleside Park

This 24-hectare recreational area and beach in West Vancouver has become a social focal point for the Iranian Canadian community, where they gather for picnics and get-togethers. But it also hosts thousands of Iranians each year on the Wednesday before Norouz, the Persian New Year, usually held around March 20 (depending on the vernal equinox), for a celebration observed by Ismaili Muslims and Zoroastrians that lasts for about two weeks. There, they take part in a fire-leaping tradition celebrated by Persians for more than 4,000 years. Norouz marks the beginning of spring, a time for rebirth, and flames symbolically clear away any sadness and negativity in preparation for a healthy, prosperous year to come.

Best place to see nongentrified Vancouver neighbourhoods

Windsor Way

This cycling path along Glen Drive and Windsor Street from Great Northern Way to East 43rd Avenue in East Vancouver is sometimes called the Windsor Bikeway. There’s something about the 20-minute, 4.3-kilometre ride from one end of Windsor Way to the other, through the Mount Pleasant and Kensington–Cedar Cottage neighbourhoods, that warms the heart of a cyclist. Maybe it’s the absence of cookie-cutter condos and overly groomed monster homes. Maybe it’s the glimpses of actual aboveground rental suites in some of the houses, or the fact that dozens of residents have planted flowers in traffic circles and along the sidewalks, not only in their own private gardens. It could be that most houses have lawns and gardens that look like they’ve been nurtured over years and years. Or maybe it’s just that every block or two there’s a house you don’t remember seeing before—a tiny, quirkily painted cottage squeezed in between two larger buildings, or a rambling house almost hidden by tall trees. It’s a side of Vancouver that can be hard to find nowadays, and well worth getting on a bike to explore.

Most skillful use of a lawn mower in the Lower Mainland

If you’ve ever checked out the rolling lawn on the southeast side of Granville Island, shaped into 11 grassy steps, you’ll agree that someone takes their lawn maintenance very seriously. The mowing technician behind this spectacular example of living art isn’t messing around. We’re talking years of sod theory and mower training to get these precise angles just so. This isn’t the handiwork of some pimple-faced teenager ripping around on a high-powered Lawn-Boy; the landscape wizardry on display is top tier.

Best place to see ideas in bloom

The Flower Factory
3604 Main Street

Gracious service by innovative arrangers who get their customers involved in the creative process. The selection is remarkable and the prices are fair. What else could you ask for?

Best very Vancouver food-and-gardening business


You’ve mastered the 100-mile diet and the term locavore, then along comes foodscaping, and the “art” of growing your own backyard patch or balcony pots of herbs and vegetables. You’ve tried to do the PC thing, but your thumb is black instead of green. Maybe it’s all too much. This being Vancouver, there is someone—Mirit Kattsir, to be exact—ready to ride to the rescue. This backyard chef will do it all, from designing and planting your plot or pots to weeding and harvesting the veggies. More? A local chef will teach you how to use your haul or cook you a tasty feast with your garden’s pickings.

Best reason to love Vancouver

The air

It’s nice to get off a plane from New York or London or Toronto or L.A. and be able to breathe fresh air. Real air. The kind that doesn’t leave traces of black residue in your nostrils after spending the day outside. Let’s keep it that way!