Best of Commercial Drive, Vancouver: Top 5 Must-Do Activities
Welcome to Commercial Drive, Vancouver’s vibrant and eclectic neighbourhood full of cultural experiences, top-rated restaurants, coffee shops, unique shopping, and a bohemian spirit. Affectionately known as “The Drive” by local Vancouverites, the sprawling 22 blocks features over 300 vendors and is a must-visit destination for tourists and residents alike. Keep reading to discover the best of Commercial Drive, Vancouver, and its history with our top 5 things to do for an unforgettable visit.
1. Explore Commercial Drive - History, Architecture & Art:
After WWII, many Italian immigrants settled around East Vancouver and Commercial Drive, bringing vibrancy and new businesses to the neighbourhood. Over the following decades, the community transformed into the diverse, inclusive and multicultural area it is today. Eight blocks of Commercial Drive (four blocks north and four blocks south of 1st Avenue) are known as ‘Little Italy,’ and each year, the community hosts Italian Day on The Drive, a street festival celebrating Italian culture, heritage and community showcasing 50 street participants and an estimated 300,000+ attendees of all ages and cultures. The Drive’s history is visible in the architectural beauty of the heritage buildings. Stroll down the tree-lined streets to take in the design, the public street art murals, boutique shops, and cafes.
The Vancouver Mural Festival takes place from August 4 – 13, 2023, and features new mural paintings across Metro Vancouver, pop-up events, and much more. See the truly impressive artists bringing building facades to life with their designs.
2. Culture and Entertainment at The Cultch Theatre and The Rio Theatre:
For those seeking a dose of artistic brilliance, The Cultch is an iconic venue celebrating its 50th Anniversary. Established in 1973, the theatre, now with two locations, offers a calendar of contemporary theatre, dance, music, circus, and visual arts. Immerse yourself in the creative spirit of Vancouver and enjoy local and international artists showcasing their talents.
Located at the south end of Commercial Drive at Broadway is the Rio Theatre. Established in 1938 and fully restored, the Rio boasts a state-of-the-art digital projector, surround sound, and a stage for live events. The theatre is known for its eclectic programming, from late-night screenings of cult classics (dressing in costumes is encouraged!) to the best feature films. Their programming also offers Hollywood classics, local live burlesque shows, comedy shows, and international musical performances, and they take part in film and comedy festivals.
The Rio Theatre is conveniently located steps from the Commercial Drive/ Broadway Skytrain Station.
3. Nature, Live Music, and Farmer's Market at Trout Lake:
Amid the vibrant energy of Commercial Drive, you’ll find tranquillity at Trout Lake Park. A short stroll from The Drive, this picturesque park surrounds the glistening Trout Lake. Certainly, it is a serene escape from city life. Showcasing walking trails, biking paths, and lush greenery, the park offers ample opportunities for relaxation and recreation. During summer enjoy picnics and outdoor free concert series featuring local music. In addition, enjoy family activities like the Lantern Procession at the end of August.
Saturday Morning Farmer’s Market
Each Saturday from 9 am – 2 pm, the park hosts the Trout Lake Farmer’s Market. The market brings the community together with 60+ local vendors featuring farms and producers, food, and coffee trucks too. The Trout Lake Farmer’s Market operates from April 1 – October 28, 2023, at the north parking lot of John Hendry Park.
4. Dining on Commercial Drive:
Amidst the top-rated restaurant scene of Commercial Drive in Vancouver, Sula Indian Restaurant stands out as an acclaimed dining establishment, boasting a steadfast dedication to both quality and hospitality. At this award-winning and locally owned culinary gem, Sula expertly guides its visitors on an exquisite culinary voyage, unravelling the diverse tapestry of India’s rich flavours. The thoughtfully crafted menu showcases an extensive array of delectable dishes, meticulously designed to satiate every palate, all the while maintaining an unwavering focus on utilizing authentic spices, treasured traditional family recipes, and the artful mastery of tandoor oven cooking techniques.
Sula’s welcoming and gracious hospitality, coupled with its tantalizing aromas, guarantee an unforgettable dining experience, whether you find yourself an aficionado of flavourful curries, in pursuit of the finest halal-certified meats, or on a quest for the most delightful vegetarian and vegan offerings. Bask in the Vancouver summer sunshine as you indulge in their culinary offerings, embracing the al fresco dining experience on the outdoor summer patio. This Commercial Drive eatery is further enhanced with a curated selection of street food delights, complemented by a medley of expertly crafted craft cocktails and enticing happy hour specials.
Coffee Shops & Sweet Treats
Livia Italian Bakery proudly stands on Commercial Drive as a cherished family-owned and operated establishment, helmed with passion by the dynamic duo, Claire Livia Lassam and Jordan Pires. Immersed in the heartwarming narrative of Livia, discerning patrons can delight in an exquisite array of impeccably hand-crafted espresso beverages, flawlessly harmonized with a delectable selection of freshly baked pastries and artisanal bread. Notably, Livia’s artisanal prowess is elegantly showcased through its enticing tradition – a unique, new flavour of sourdough for each day of the week.
Ice cream lovers (dairy & non-dairy alike) must add Elephant Garden Creamery to their activity list! You can try the staple flavour selections like Malted Milk Choco, Matcha Honeycomb Nugget, and the vegan Mango Coconut Sticky Rice. Or instead, opt for a creative rotational flavour offering with options including Dunkaroos and Lemon Yuzu Butter.
5. Shopping on Commercial Drive at Local Businesses and Vintage Shops:
Commercial Drive is a treasure trove for shoppers and visitors looking to take home unique finds. First, discover vintage boutiques like The Only Vintage, a fashion-obsessed vintage clothing recycler, and then local artisan stores like Craft Maison – Gift Shop for an assortment of one-of-a-kind items. If you have a sweet tooth, next on your list should be candy shop Commercial Drive Licorice Parlour. By supporting the small local businesses on Commercial Drive, the neighbourhood can continue to shine as a hub for bohemians, food lovers, artists, and entertainers.
Women’s Clothing and Lifestyle Boutiques
Gatley is on our visiting list for women’s clothing and accessories, home goods and apothecary items. Moreover, discover a selection of locally sourced products.
For conscientious shoppers, explore Wander Emporium’s unique, ethically sourced, and sustainable clothing, shoes, accessories, and lifestyle products.
In conclusion, Commercial Drive in Vancouver, BC, is a destination that captures the heart of the city’s diversity and creative spirit. With both its rich history as ‘Little Italy’ and its evolution into a bustling multicultural neighbourhood, it represents the best of what Vancouver has to offer. You can embrace the bohemian ambiance, savour the delightful flavours at Sula Indian Restaurant, immerse yourself in artistic brilliance at The Cultch Theatre and Rio Theatre, and lastly, take in the beautiful nature at Trout Lake Park. In short, “The Drive” offers an experience celebrating unity, culture, and community.