At the corner of Clark Drive and E 6th Avenue in Vancouver, BC there is a 57-foot sculpture of the East Van cross (pictured below) by artist Ken Lum, welcoming everyone heading east from Downtown Vancouver to "East Van."
If you're a visitor to Vancouver, BC or a newcomer to the city, you may well wonder, "What the heck is East Van?"
It's East Vancouver (shortened to "East Van" by locals), and it's (basically) the eastern half of the City of Vancouver. This Guide is for anyone who wants to get to know East Van, it's culture, neighborhoods, and most notable landmarks.
What Is East Vancouver?
East Vancouver is the eastern half of the City of Vancouver. To be clear, East Van is not a separate city; it is part of the City of Vancouver. "East Van" covers all parts of the City of Vancouver east of Main Street.
In simple terms, Main Street runs north-south from Downtown Vancouver to the southern edge of the city. Everything west of Main Street is "Vancouver west" (or the "west side") and everything east of Main Street is "East Van" (or the "east side").
Because East Van is not an official area (instead, it's a local term for "the east side of Vancouver"), its borders are a bit fungible. Wikipedia puts its start at Ontario Street, two blocks west of Main Street, while Google Maps extends it to Cambie Street, but most locals I know would say Main Street is the dividing line.
Some of this fungibility comes from the gentrification of East Van in the last 20-plus years. As East Van--specifically, the neighborhoods closest to the west side--gentrifies, the border gets pushed farther east.
What About North Vancouver and West Vancouver?
This can be confusing to newcomers: There are three separate parts of the Metro Vancouver area that all have the name "Vancouver" in them.
- Vancouver, BC is the City of Vancouver, which uses the name "East Vancouver" to describe its east side.
- North Vancouver, BC is a separate city and district located just north of Vancouver, BC. North Vancouver attractions include the famous Capilano Suspension Bridge and Grouse Mountain.
- West Vancouver, BC is a district located across the Lions Gate Bridge, north-west of Stanley Park. It's home to Cypress Mountain and Ambleside Park.
Because there is a district named West Vancouver, the west side of the City of Vancouver is never called "West Van." It's always referred to as either the "west side" or "Vancouver west."
East Vancouver Landmarks: Commercial Drive
Most of East Van is comprised of residential neighborhoods. But there are notable East Vancouver landmarks that attract visitors and are beloved by locals across the city.
Commerical Drive--also known as "The Drive"--is the best-known landmark in East Van. A street packed with restaurants, cafes, pubs, and shops, the Drive was once dominated by European immigrants; you can still feel the European influence in its many Italian cafes and delis, its German pubs, and its cultural festivals, including the annual Italian Day every June. The Drive is also the go-to venue for watching the World Cup in Vancouver.
Today's Drive epitomizes a certain brand of East Van culture: multicultural, counter-cultural (Vancouver's Car-Free Festivals began here in 2005), pro-labor, gay-friendly, family-friendly, and theatrical (The Clutch, The Rio Theatre).
East Vancouver Landmarks: Craft Breweries
East Van is a must-visit for craft-beer lovers. Not only are two of Vancouver's Best Beer Pubs & Taprooms on Commercial Drive (Biercraft Tap and St. Augustine's), but most of Vancouver's craft breweries with tasting rooms are in East Van, including Storm Brewing (Vancouver's longest running independent craft brewery) and Parallel 49.
East Vancouver Landmarks: Trout Lake
Trout Lake--officially part of John Hendry Park but referred to simply as "Trout Lake" by locals--is located just south of Commercial Drive and is one of Vancouver's Top 5 Parks. It's particularly loved by families (the paths are perfect for walking with strollers) and dogs (who have their own off-leash area by the lake).
Trout Lake also hosts the popular Trout Lake Farmers Market on Saturdays, May - October.
East Vancouver Landmarks: The PNE & Playland
The PNE (Pacific National Exhibition) in the northeast corner of Vancouver is home to the Playland amusement park, Hastings Park, Hastings Racecourse, and--most famously--the annual Fair, the PNE, the giant, end-of-summer fair held every August.
For Halloween, the PNE hosts the popular Fright Nights at the PNE, one of the Top 10 Vancouver Halloween Attractions.
East Vancouver Landmarks: La Casa Gelato
One of Vancouver's best--and biggest--gelaterias is in East Van: La Casa Gelato. A beloved local favorite for over 30 years, La Casa Gelato has 218 flavors of gelato, from the sublime (chocolate Grand Marnier) to the sublimely wacky (pear gorgonzola blue cheese--yes, that's a real flavor, and yes, you can taste it for free).
East Vancouver Neighbourhoods
Vancouver is a city of neighborhoods. East Vancouver covers 10 Vancouver neighborhoods, though parts of Mount Pleasant (Main Street) and Riley Park straddle the east side/west side "boundary":
- Mount Pleasant - includes Main Street and South Main (SoMA)
- Riley Park - includes Queen Elizabeth Park and Nat Bailey Stadium
- Strathcona - includes Chinatown
- Grandview - includes Commercial Drive
- Hastings Sunrise - includes the PNE
- Kensington - includes Trout Lake
- Renfrew - Collingwoord
- Victoria - Frasierview
For newcomer's thinking of moving to East Van, make sure you consult Canada Line / SkyTrain station maps. The Canada Line / SkyTrain is Vancouver's rapid transit (metro), and there are SkyTrain stations running south-east from Downtown Vancouver, which make commuting much faster and easier than commuting by car.
East Vancouver Culture
Newcomer's to Vancouver may be surprised to learn that East Van was once the working-class area of the city. If, in the 1990s, you had predicted that the average single-home in East Van would cost a million dollars (or more!) in 2016, you would have been laughed at. Now, of course, Vancouver's increasing housing costs have made even East Van expensive for newcomers. (It is still less expensive than the west side, though.)
Today's East Vancouver is extremely diverse. Young, hip professionals have made Mount Pleasant (Main Street) and other parts of northern East Van into today's up-and-coming neighborhoods. The Commercial Drive area is also highly sought after by young families. Locals often claim that there are more authenticity and sense of community in East Van, versus the west side, where development and upscale businesses have crowded out the mom-and-pop shops and smaller homes that once gave west side neighborhoods their character.
For more information on the west side vs. east side of Vancouver, see Newcomer's Guide to Vancouver Neighbourhoods.