A vibrant and colourful community in the heart of East Vancouver, Commercial Drive is a great spot for food, shopping, entertainment and events.
The specific stretch of Commercial Drive that this article covers is roughly from Venables Street to East 12th Avenue. It’s the most interesting section of the street.
This article contains the following information about Commercial Drive:
Little Italy | Car Free Day | Places to Visit | Parks in the Area | Restaurants and Places to Eat | Places to Shop | Car Free Day Video | Other Information
Commercial Drive in East Vancouver
One of the most well-known streets in Vancouver, Commercial Drive has a lot to offer those who visit! Whether you’re looking for a meal, a place to shop or somewhere to chill and relax, there are options on Commercial Drive.
The fact that the area is easily accessed by transit only adds to its appeal. The Commercial-Broadway Station has stops for two of Vancouver’s main SkyTrain lines. The neighbourhood is less than a 15-minute train ride from Waterfront Station.
Commercial Drive runs north to south, roughly halfway between Clark Drive and Victoria Drive. It’s situated right in the middle of a primarily residential area, so there’s definitely a strong community vibe.
The most well-known cultural and ethnic group in and around Commercial Drive is the Italian community. At the beginning of the area’s major growth decades ago, Italian immigrants represented a large part of not only the people who lived there but also the businesses that became permanent fixtured on “The Drive.”
The eight-block stretch that is four blocks on either side of 1st Avenue became known as “Little Italy,” a name that has stuck to the present day. In 2016 the City of Vancouver officially named this stretch of Commercial Drive Little Italy.
Italian Day on the Drive
The biggest event on Commercial Drive, Italian Day on The Drive is an annual celebration that takes over close to 15 blocks from Venables Street to Grandview Highway on the second Sunday in June. The event is family-friendly and good fun for all ages.
Over a 100 vendors set up along the road and sidewalks, with many local businesses moving their goods outside for the day. Outdoor patios are set up, serving Italian dishes and desserts, and there are plenty of activities on offer.
There are multiple stages set up on the road that host a variety of different bands. As well there are usually street performers, a fashion show, cooking demonstrations and some soccer to be played. According to the organizers, as many as 300,000 people have attended the event in past years.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the 2020 event was cancelled. It didn’t happen in 2021 either and in 2022 it was just a smaller, scaled-back event. Italian Day on The Drive returns on Sunday, June 11th, 2023 and hopefully it’s in its usually pre-pandemic size and format. You should definitely check it out!
Car Free Day
One of several Car Free Day events in Metro Vancouver, Commercial Drive Car Free Day usually takes place in July. However, the event was cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19. It didn’t happen as a live event in 2021 either (although a number of online and smaller activities were offered instead). In 2022 it took place as a live in-person event in September. In 2023 the event happens on Sunday, September 9th.
Blocking off a long section of the road from vehicles, Car Free Day sees thousands of people take to the street and have a fun day outdoors. There are food trucks, music and all sorts of displays set up by local businesses.
Like Italian Day, Car Free Day is fun for people young and old. There is often a game or two of road hockey set up in the street, with children welcome to participate. Other family-friendly activities take place as well.
Places to Visit on Commercial Drive
Even when there aren’t large-scale events happening, Commercial Drive has plenty to offer year-round. Here are some of the places to check out:
- The Rio Theatre – one of the best independent theatres in the city, it was saved from closing a few years ago by a fundraising campaign. Located at 1660 East Broadway, the theatre has a liquor license and hosts different live shows as well as movies.
- Grandview Lanes – a family-owned bowling alley at 2195 Commercial Drive, Grandview Lanes offers both 10-pin and 5-pin options. There is also glow in the dark bowling and league play.
- Havana Vancouver – this Cuban-inspired restaurant has a 60-seat theatre inside the building. The show lineup includes dance, theatre and comedy stand-up and improv. You can check it out at 1212 Commercial Drive.
Parks in the Area
There are multiple parks on and very close to Commercial Drive. Below are a few of them. The first three are smaller parks. The last one is quite large.
- Grandview Park – right along The Drive between William Street and Charles Street, this park has a good children’s play area, a sports court built for bike polo, and a stage. It’s also the site of an annual Remembrance Day ceremony.
- McSpadden Park – built alongside Queen Victoria Elementary School, it’s a block away from Commercial Drive at 1850 East 3rd. It has a nice playground (plus a second one at the school). It also has two soccer goals in a large grass field. The park is popular for dog-walkers.
- Victoria Park – also a block away from Commercial Drive, at 1425 Victoria Drive, it has a popular bocce lane and a fairly new playground. There is a lot of shade as well.
- John Hendry Park – not as close to The Drive as the above parks, but probably the most well-known in the neighbourhood. It’s home to Trout Lake, a great community centre, the Trout Lake Farmers Market and other amenities. The park is about a 10- to 15-minute walk from Commercial-Broadway Station. The Trout Lake Community Centre’s address is 3360 Victoria Drive.
Restaurants and Other Places to Eat
If there’s one thing Commercial Drive has a lot of, it’s good places to eat! Below are some favourites, although there are plenty more.
- Belgian Fries – the #1 spot for poutine (and fish & chips) on The Drive, it’s the place to go when you crave those dishes. Located at 1885 Commercial Drive, the restaurant also has several large TVs that show live sporting events.
- Cafe Deux Soleils – a cozy place at 2096 Commercial Drive that serves all vegetarian food. It has a small play area for kids and often has live performances from local artists in the evenings.
- Dolce Amore – the street’s premier gelato spot sits at 1588 Commercial Drive. With an always-shifting lineup of flavours, this is a can’t-miss place if you’re looking for a cold dessert.
- Fratelli Bakery – the most popular bakery in Little Italy, it has a variety of delicious treats from cakes to biscotti and coffee. Its address is 1795 Commercial Drive.
- La Grotta del Formaggio – right next door to Fratelli’s, on top of functioning as a small deli and grocery store, La Grotta specializes in making delicious and very customizable Italian sandwiches.
- Marcello Ristorante & Pizzeria – possibly the most well-known pizza place on The Drive at 1404 Commercial, this restaurant offers a wide range of Italian dishes. It also has a large wooden pizza oven carved in the shape of a face!
- Siddhartha’s Kitchen – a warm and well-decorated restaurant, Siddhartha’s serves delicious Indian food. On top of dine-in and delivery options from its location at 2066 Commercial Drive, it also offers catering.
- The Downlow Chicken Shack – a popular place that serves (you guessed it) chicken, particularly in sandwich form. It’s definitely good, but the lines can be massive! If you’re willing to brave the wait, go to 905 Commercial Drive.
Places to Shop
Commercial Drive has plenty of stores of various kinds. Below are some examples of places you might find interesting.
- Bonerattle Music – an in-depth music shop at 2012 Commercial Drive. As well as selling instruments and equipment, Bonerattle also offers instrument repairs and private lessons.
- Kalena’s Shoes – a family-owned store that sells high-end Italian shoes and other accessories. A long-standing piece of Little Italy, it’s located at 1526 Commercial Drive.
- Mintage – a unique clothing and accessory store that focuses on older items and fashions. If you’re on the hunt for vintage outfits, then go to 1714 Commercial Drive.
- Pulp Fiction – one of the multiple bookstores on The Drive, located at 1830 Commercial. If they don’t have what you’re looking for they’ll order new books at a discount. They also buy books from residents. Other bookstores in the area include Canterbury Tales and The People’s Co-op Bookstore.
- The Drive Skate Shop – the home of everything related to skateboarding. In addition to being open to walk-in customers at 1997 Commercial Drive, they ship all across Canada.
Commercial Drive Car Free Day Video
To give you an idea of what Commercial Drive looks like, check out the following video. It shows what the street and neighbourhood look like on Car Free Day. Commercial Drive doesn’t normally look like this, and there aren’t normally so many people on the street. It just looks like this on Car Free Day. It also looks similar to this during Italian Day on the Drive which is another event in the summer.
Although the video below doesn’t show what the street looks like on a typical day, it does show you what the neighbourhood looks like, more or less. For an idea of what Commercial Drive looks like normally, use your imagination to take away all the people on the street in the video and replace them with cars.
Other articles that might be of interest include the following:
- Italian Day on The Drive
- Car Free Days in Vancouver
- Vancouver’s Most Famous and Interesting Streets
- Robson Street
- Granville Street
- Main Street
- Vancouver’s Best Places for Shopping
- Best Places to Eat and Drink in Vancouver