I'm incredibly lucky to live only two blocks away from what is considered one of the most beautiful urban parks in the world, Stanley Park, right in the heart of Vancouver's West End. With 400 hectares of west coast rain forest, beaches, gardens and kilometres of walking paths, its a true urban oasis. Surrounding the outside of the park is the Seawall, over 5km of a pedestrian and bicycle pathway, providing a wonderful stroll with amazing views of Burrard Inlet, Vancouver and the North Shore. Officially opened in 1888, and named for Lord Stanley, the Governor General at the time, the city recently held celebrations for the 125th anniversary of the parks creation.
Originally traditional land shared by the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, there were settlements scattered within the park including the largest, XwayXway, where Lumbermen's Arch now stands. Potlatches were held there up until 1875. During the 1880s, when the park was created, this was the largest settlement left on the peninsula, and it was raised when the road was put through the park. The inhabitants of the park, including Chinese workers and a Hawaiian settlement, Kanaka Ranch, were all eventually removed from the park., most by 1930. You can learn more about First Nations culture in the summer with a visit to Klahowya Village.
Now home only to wildlife and a small population of rough sleepers, the park is fantastic to walk through as often as I can. The list of attractions also includes the Rose Garden, The Greig Rhododendron Garden, Vancouver Aquarium, tennis courts, Lost Lagoon, a pitch and putt green and even a couple of restaurants such as The Fish House. The wild inhabitants include a variety of waterfowl, geese, swans, several species of ducks, and herons. You'll also see turtles, racoons and even possibly the odd coyote. And lots and lots of tourists and fellow Vancouverites. Go early in the day though as the Seawall can become quite congested, especially during summer weekends.
If you want to read further about the park, check out these resources.
Stanley Park's Secret by Jean Barman (available from the Vancouver library as well)